Online Worship for Christmas Two, Sunday January 3, 2021
Sermon for Christmas Two – Sunday January 3, 2021
Calvary/Marquette ● Soli Deo Gloria
Grace be unto you and peace from God our Father and the Lord Jesus, the Christ. Amen.
Acts 5:1-4 (NKJV)
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
In the Name of Jesus, the Christ,
Who promised to send the Holy Spirit,
Who explains how we may recognize Him,
Dear Fellow Redeemed by His Work through the Scriptures,
The Love of Christ changes hearts, attitudes and opinions. It changed simple fishermen into missionaries. It changed fearful, timid disciples into fearless ambassadors. It changed naturally self-centered people into people who looked at one another as those for whom Christ died.
This isn’t some ‘pie in the sky’ piece of fiction. It’s what we find in the second volume written by the Evangelist Luke, known simply as the Acts of the Apostles. Its message isn’t really about the Apostles, but about Jesus Christ, and what He continued to accomplish after having ascended into heaven (cf. Mark 16:20) in the early days of Christianity. It’s full of lessons that we could all stand to learn in our ‘me first’ self-centered times.
The Book of Acts is also sometimes misunderstood…specifically with regard to what some view as communism. Acts tells us about the inner unity of the early church (Acts 2:42):
42 And they continued steadfastly in
the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship,
in the breaking of bread, and in prayers.
We are also told in the 2nd Chapter how the Love of Christ manifested itself in the early church (Acts 2:44-45):
44 Now all who believed were together, and had all things in common, 45 and sold their possessions and goods, and divided them among all, as anyone had need.
This wasn’t communism. The church didn’t require its membership to place all of their possessions into a common pot to be distributed to all It was a time and a place where poverty was common, and some, in love for the others sold some of their possessions and laid the proceeds at the feet of the Apostles to help those in need (cf. Acts 4:35, 37). This didn’t happen because the Apostles thought it best to require it. It happened because the Holy Spirit prompted some by the Love of Christ to give selflessly. For the most part the names of those who gave are withheld. There was no golden plaque set up to glorify their giving.
Once more, at the close of the 4th Chapter, we are told how the Love of Christ manifested itself in the Congregation at Jerusalem. This was not demanded or required, but was the result of the Love of Jesus (Acts 4:32-36):
32 Now the multitude of those who believed were of one heart and one soul; neither did anyone say that any of the things he possessed was his own, but they had all things in common. 33 And with great power the apostles gave witness to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus. And great grace was upon them all. 34 Nor was there anyone among them who lacked; for all who were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the proceeds of the things that were sold, 35 and laid them at the apostles’ feet; and they distributed to each as anyone had need. 36 And Joses, who was also named Barnabas by the apostles (which is translated Son of Encouragement), a Levite of the country of Cyprus, 37 having land, sold it, and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
What is the point of all this? Is it time to produce the yearly budget for Calvary and this is the pastor’s way of calling upon us all to tighten up our belts and give more generously? Certainly NOT.
It sets the scene for one of the more difficult accounts in the New Testament, that of Ananias and Sapphira. There are two possible motives for our actions…the love of Christ or the love of self. We will see clearly into which category the gift of Ananias and Sapphira fell.
This will serve to move us to evaluate our giving – to be sure – but it will also remind us who it is that imparts to us Godly desires and self-less acts. It’s not us, it’s the Holy Spirit. He is the one who through the Scriptures moves us to give of ourselves, time and treasures to support the Work of Christ.
May God the Holy Spirit therefore bless our study of this account. Moreover, may he kindle in us the fire of Christ’s love so that whatever we do in word or deed, we do in love for Christ. Amen.
There are a number of what seem to be natural comparisons in the Bible.
Cain and Abel -- It seems natural to compare the two brothers, Cain and Abel, and their gifts. A quick glance at the 4th Chapter of Genesis might result in the conclusion that God didn’t like the sacrifice of fruit of the ground that Cain brought but accepted the animal brought by Abel. The letter to the Hebrews reveals that the difference wasn’t in the gift itself; but in the fact that Abel’s was a fruit of faith (Hebrews 11:4) while Cain’s was not.
Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter -- It seems natural to compare Judas Iscariot and Simon Peter, because both of them denied Jesus. Judas betrayed Jesus and regretted it. Peter denied Jesus and regretted it. The difference was Peter was moved to godly sorrow (cf. 2 Corinthians 7:10) and penitence, while Judas despaired of God’s forgiveness and committed suicide.
Barnabas and Ananias/Sapphira – Then there are the gifts brought by Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira. Once more, at first glance they seem two identical gifts. Barnabas sold property and brought the gift to the Apostles to support those in need. Ananias and Sapphira also sold property and brought the gift to the Apostles.
We wouldn’t be able to tell the difference, except that the Holy Spirit tells us the rest of the story.
But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession. 2 And he kept back part of the proceeds, his wife also being aware of it, and brought a certain part and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
We really aren’t very good judges. We aren’t good at being unbiased. We are influenced by our relationship with others (identical actions of a family member and an enemy are judged differently). We are influenced by the way people look, by their reputation, by our initial opinion of them.
If we were to sit in a jury and look at the gift of Ananias and Sapphira, it would be considered identical to that of Barnabas. After all, both Barnabas and Ananias and Sapphira voluntarily sold a piece of property and brought the proceeds to the Apostles to be used to support those in need of the necessities of life. Barnabas was called ‘a son of encouragement.’ Ananias meant ‘The Lord is gracious.’ Sapphira means ‘beautiful’ the word being related to the gem Sapphire.
The gifts weren’t the same. Barnabas’ gift, like that of Abel, was a gift of faith, prompted by the Love of Christ. Ananias’ and Sapphira’s gift was prompted by pride, by a desire to be glorified. It was given not to glorify Christ, but to gain them praise and honor. It was a lie.
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not refusing to give; they sold property and brought a gift.
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not in keeping part of the amount; there was no requirement that they give all.
The sin of Ananias and Sapphira WAS in pretending that part was all; of attempting to appear that they were doing something that they weren’t. It wasn’t an accident. They both were aware of it, but boldly brought the amount in the presence of the congregation, as if it was the identical gift given by Barnabas. and tried to pass off.
They weren’t only trying to deceive the congregation. They were trying to deceive the Holy Spirit. They had been tempted by Satan and had given in to the temptation to sin. It was love of self, not love of Christ.
We could actually be guilty of the same sin… if we give in order to be recognized, to be honored. If we give of our time to be exalted, we are guilty of the same sin. If we give of our talents in order to be recognized, we are guilty of the same sin. If we think first of ourselves and not Christ, there is the very real danger that we are acting out of love of self, not love of Christ.
There is good reason why we are urged to give in faith, from the heart (2 Corinthians 9:7):
7 So let each one give as he purposes in his heart,
not grudgingly or of necessity; for God loves a cheerful giver.
How did Peter know? Peter knew because the Holy Spirit revealed it to him, even as he had to Elizabeth and Zacharias. Instead of receiving the praise they desired, Ananias and Sapphira were confronted with their sin:
3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and keep back part of the price of the land for yourself? 4 While it remained, was it not your own? And after it was sold, was it not in your own control? Why have you conceived this thing in your heart? You have not lied to men but to God.”
Why would Ananias and Sapphira attempt to deceive the Apostles? Why would they attempt to deceive even the Holy Spirit by pretending to bring the identical gift as Barnabas?
Ananias and Sapphira had turned from Christ and were under the control of Satan. They were deceived by the devil into thinking that they could get away with it! So also, today, many are under the influence of Satan and believe that they can pretend to be Christians while still living for themselves.
So, what has any of this to do with the theme,
“I Believe in the Holy Spirit?”
How do we know that the gifts of Barnabas/Ananias and Sapphira were not the same? We know because the Spirit of God here reveals it in the Scriptures.
Even as none of us would be able to tell the difference between the gift of Barnabas and that of Ananias and Sapphira without the revelation of the Holy Spirit, so also none of us would be able to confess in faith, “I believe in the Holy Spirit” without the Holy Spirit. This isn’t an opinion, but the simple declaration of the Spirit Himself in the Word of God. It was the Apostle Paul that the Holy Spirit moved to write (1 Corinthians 12:3, NKJV):
3 Therefore I make known to you that no one speaking by the Spirit of God calls Jesus accursed, and no one can say that Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit.
We human beings have a natural, inborn desire to want to say, “I did it.” We, like Ananias and Sapphira want to be recognized, even glorified. But the greatest gift of all, faith in Christ, is not our doing, but the work of the Holy Spirit. The Apostle Paul thanked God that the Thessalonians believed through the Word of God, not the Thessalonians themselves (1 Thessalonians 2:13; 2 Thessalonians 2:13):
13 For this reason we also thank God without ceasing, because when you received the word of God which you heard from us, you welcomed it not as the word of men, but as it is in truth, the word of God, which also effectively works in you who believe.
13 But we are bound to give thanks to God always for you, brethren beloved by the Lord, because God from the beginning chose you for salvation through sanctification by the Spirit and belief in the truth,
Even today, God the Holy Spirit speaks to us in the Scriptures. There He reveals to us what has been done for us in Christ, resulting in Love for Christ (1 Corinthians 2:1-16).
When we confess, “I Believe in the Holy Spirit” it’s not because we’ve seen the Spirit of God! We believe that the Holy Spirit exists because the Bible tells us it is so and the third person of the Holy Trinity works through that Word.
We know that the Holy Spirit is at work when Jesus – not us – is glorified. It is as the Savior Himself said (John 16:13-14, NKJV):
13 However, when He, the Spirit of truth, has come, He will guide you into all truth; for He will not speak on His own authority, but whatever He hears He will speak; and He will tell you things to come. 14 He will glorify Me, for He will take of what is Mine and declare it to you.
We confess, “I Believe in the Holy Spirit” and know that He is at work because Jesus is glorified. Jesus was glorified by Barnabas gift; Ananias and Sapphira attempted to glorify themselves by their gift. When we glorify ourselves, may God move us to repentance, seeking forgiveness in Christ for our pride.
God help us that we strive to glorify our Savior by all that we say and do, as it is written (1 Corinthians 10:31):
31 Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.