In today’s passage we have an update on the growth of the Church, but there are a couple of verses here that cause us to scratch our heads if we’re paying attention.
The little episode with Ananias and Sapphira had at least three different effects on three different types of people, and I find it pretty interesting. The first group that was affected by this was the group of believers within the church at Jerusalem. This is actually a pattern we find repeated in Scripture. When the Lord’s ready to inaugurate a new era with his people, he sets up certain expectations. Then—and I’m sorry, but there’s no other word for it—he makes a very public example of the first knuckleheads who disregard his instructions. For example, near the beginning of life under the Torah, when Aaron’s own sons disregarded and abused their holy office, fire came from the Lord and burned them to a crisp. Then the Israelites entered Canaan, and Achan decided he didn’t need to follow the rules. He took some clothing and valuables from the city of Jericho, and he paid for it with his life. Often when the Lord is about to turn a corner in his dealings with his people, he shows at the outset that he’s not to be trifled with.
That was the case with this married couple. They didn’t murder anyone or commit adultery. They only lied about their gift to the Lord. They pretended to be more holy and generous than they truly were, and God dropped them dead on the spot. What was the lesson the Lord wanted to hammer into their heads at the very beginning of the new Age of Grace? Even in this age of grace and mercy, the Lord is not Someone to play games with.
And the Church got the message, at least for a while. Vs. 11 says that “Great fear seized the whole church.” Yes, we're saved by grace through faith. Yes, the Lord loves us and has bled and died for us. But he’s still God, the holy and righteous Judge of all creation. He’s not your buddy. He’s not your pal. He’s still the One before whom angels shield their faces lest they look directly at the Almighty. The believers within that church at Jerusalem learned to hold a healthy respect and a godly fear of their Lord. As the children in The Lion, The Witch, and the Wardrobe learned, he's good, but he's not safe.
The second group (vs. 13) heard about these things, and they were afraid as well. They weren’t believers, but they knew that something was going on. They “highly regarded” the church, but they weren’t ready to join. Why not? And how do we reconcile this with vs. 14, which seems to contradict vs. 13? What vs. 13 is referring to—when it says that “no one dared to join them”—it’s referring to half-hearted prospects for membership. Whenever the church isn't being persecuted and it’s more popular to be associated with it, you’ll find plenty of “members” who show up. They come on at least some Sunday mornings, they might contribute some money, but they aren’t true followers of Jesus. But this event with the dead couple hindered that trend. This incident put the stop to half-hearted discipleship. And quite frankly, I’d rather someone not be associated with the church than have that. Just like my Savior, I'm much more concerned with quality of disciples rather than quantity of Christ-followers.
But then there’s the third group. These are the brave souls whose fear of the Lord drove them to the Lord instead of away from him, which is at it should be. Their thinking seemed to be “This might be a dangerous place, but if there’s a God like this, I want to get to know him!” They figured that this God would be either their best friend or their worst enemy, and they knew they wanted to be on the right side of him.
So do any of these descriptions fit you?
Lord Jesus, you truly are the worst enemy and the best friend anyone could ever have. I thank you so much that because of the blood you shed, you call me your friend.