The Double Edged Sword of the Holy Spirit
Can Either Heal or Condemn
[Acts chapter 5, verses 1-16]
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At the conclusion of last week’s study when we finished the last of Acts chapter 4, we found out that the organization, purpose and propagation of Christianity was markedly different from that of the modern church. We discovered that the early Church was organized into what we would call today a peer-to-peer network. Moreover, it was a socialistic arrangement as far as meeting the people’s needs were concerned. That is, its internal management structure was of a lateral nature rather than hierarchical. Those who were able to work, or who were skilled tradesman or business owners contributed what they could towards the Church’s needs, and those who attended from elsewhere helped out financially whenever they could. Today we would call this a nonprofit, but without any government funding. Another thing I want to illuminate right here is that since this was a period when Christianity was criminalized by the Roman Empire, having a building in which to hold their services was out of the question. My point here is that the early Church had no rent or mortgage to pay. There were no utility bills, no Internet bill, and no property taxes to pay. All the funds that were collected – virtually 100% of it – were allocated to take care of the needs of the people, particularly the most vulnerable. There was no tithing as we understand it today. All the gifts were made voluntarily, and nobody was asked to give 10% of their income each week.
For this week’s study as we begin chapter five, we will get to see the flip side to this arrangement. What I mean is that I want to show you all in vivid detail what can happen in a worst case scenario when anyone tries to abuse the Holy Spirit of the Risen Lord. I would even go so far as to argue that this is a sacred order of things that was first being put into practice by the first century Christians. And so to abuse or misuse that sacred order, which the Holy Spirit presides over, is to court disaster. So let’s get started today at verse 1 of Acts chapter 5. “Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wife’s full knowledge, he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it and the apostles’ feet. Then Peter said, ‘Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? After it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God.’ When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. Then the young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him.” (Acts 5, verses 1-6)
So the moral of the story here is that nobody, and I mean absolutely no one, trifles around with the Holy Spirit of the Risen Savior and gets by with it. There are no exceptions to this rule at all – absolutely zero! In fact, disobeying this ‘rule of the universe’ can and does have lethal consequences. Why did Ananias lie about his gift to begin with? One possibility was to help save on his tax bill, and Roman taxes were steep. Problem was, Ananias had to lie to the Holy Spirit and to Rome in order for his plan to succeed. If Ananias would lie to the authorities he would lie to God too. But Peter knew all of this by the time Ananias arrived. By whatever means, including supernatural, Peter was fully aware of Ananias’ scheme. And so when Peter confronted Ananias, he apparently died of a massive heart attack or stroke right where he stood. The tragic part is that he died needlessly. All he had to say to Peter was that he had sold the land but needed some of the money to pay off debts, and give Peter the rest. But Ananias failed to take the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit into account, and that mistake cost him everything, including his place in heaven. Now, let’s pick up at verse 7 and see what happens to his wife.
“About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter asked her, ‘Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?’ ‘Yes’, she said, ‘that is the price’. Peter said to her, ‘How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.’ At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.” (Acts 5, verse 7-11)
If that is the kind of life-and-death power possessed by the Holy Spirit of our Risen Lord, how much more of this power has been stored up over the centuries for those who have yet to see it but believe in it anyway? Moreover, how much more of this awesome power is in store as wrath and rebuke for those who dismiss it? If a simple lie from a married couple can kill, how much more so can murder, adultery or sexual promiscuity, pollution of our environment and the waging of war be killers of our own souls? Sapphira didn’t have to lie about the money either. She could have saved her own life just by telling the truth about the money, but she underestimated Peter and the Holy Spirit with which he was filled. Like her husband before her, she collapsed and died right where she stood, and nobody dared say anything about it in Peter’s presence. They had already seen the overwhelming power of the Holy Spirit firsthand. If this doesn’t put the fear of God into you, better have someone call 911 to come and bring you back to life! And now let’s finish today’s lesson, starting at verse 12.
“The apostles performed many miraculous signs and wonders among the people. All the believers used to meet there in Solomon’s Colonnade. No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded among the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number. As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by. Crowds also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” (Acts 5, verses 12-16)
Here again, as we saw in the beginning of this week’s teaching, there are two sides to the Holy Spirit, which was left behind after Jesus rose into heaven. One is a giver of life, healing, peace and balance, and it can save the souls of all who want to be saved by it. The other can instantaneously destroy all who stand against it, or who actively reject it. There is no middle ground with the Holy Spirit of the risen Lord! “No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded among the people. Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.” In 21st century English this simply means that no one dared join the first true believers unless they were 200% serious! After what had happened to Ananias and Sapphira, no one dared to tamper around with God.
“As a result, people brought the sick into the streets and laid them on beds and mats so that at least Peter’s shadow might fall on some of them as he passed by.” By this point, the Holy Spirit anointing was so strong on Peter that he no longer found it necessary to lay his hands upon the sick and disabled, to pray for them and heal them individually. All he had to do was walk by someone while in prayer for everyone in his sight, and they were all healed as he went! If nothing else, Peter – the “born again” Peter, the post Pentecost Peter – was a very efficient worker. No wonder the Lord chose him and the other eleven with him! “Crowds also gathered from the towns around Jerusalem, bringing their sick and those tormented by evil spirits, and all of them were healed.” As things were at the beginning of this week’s lesson, so it is at the end. The early Church collected no weekly tithes where they demanded 10% of people’s incomes like churches do today, and none of the Twelve, from Peter to Matthias, charged for their services. The churches and evangelists of our modern era, especially the so-called “prosperity” preachers, would do well to relearn these important lessons. Of course, what the apostles were doing was raising the ire of most of the religious authorities. Next week in part 2 of Acts chapter 5, we’ll find out how the authorities react to the remarkable success of Christianity in its earliest form, word and deed. See you then….