Then Comes Pentecost — Part 4

5791375269_3bf1bd8ce9_bIn the early days after Pentecost the church throbbed with spiritual vitality. It grew rapidly in numbers. Even when persecution struck, its joy could not be quenched.

Then, unexpectedly, the young church was beset by an incident that  stands out glaringly in comparison with the joy and blessing God was bestowing. Here’s the background.

A spirit of generosity had broken out in the church (Acts 4:32–37). Some members even ceased considering their possessions as their own. From time to time they sold valuable holdings and placed the full proceeds at the Apostles’ feet to be used in meeting the needs of other believers.

Then came trouble. Ananias and Sapphira were a couple who wanted to appear large-hearted along with other givers. They agreed between themselves that they would sell a piece of their property, hold back a portion of the proceeds, but give  the remainder as if it were the whole.

When Ananias laid the money before Peter the Apostle instantly discerned their deception. “How is it,” he asked, “that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land?” (Acts 5:3).

Peter addressed him directly and with force: Wasn’t the land yours before it was sold? And wasn’t the money you received yours?  Why did you twist those straightforward facts into a lie? Your lie is not really to men, but to God.

Ananias slumped to the floor and died. The young men came forward and, according to custom, took care of a same-day burial.

Three hours later Sapphira arrived, not having yet learned of her husband’s sudden death. Peter questioned her as he had questioned Ananias: Is this the price you and Ananias got for the land? Very deliberately she responded, “Yes, that is the price.”

She too died on the spot. The young men responded as before and buried her body beside that of her husband.  To modern eyes there is surely much in the story that seems harsh and therefore eludes us.

But Peter helps us identify the central issue:  In horror, the two had agreed between themselves to “test the Spirit of the Lord.” Peter’s reference was to the Mighty Spirit who had been poured out at Pentecost. It was the Spirit who was enabling the Apostles to preach and perform miracles with his supernatural power.  And it was He who upheld those who were facing persecution.

Questions arise:  Were the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira immediate judgements for sin, not deferred as judgment often appears to be for us?  Or did they see the horror of what they had done in such a stark way that a discharge of stress chemicals such as epinephrine stopped their hearts?

Our questions go unanswered. Still, what is certain is that the incident is reported in Sacred Scripture to make believers of all ages aware that when deception or dishonesty invade leadership ranks in the church, great care must be taken to call for repentance and redress.

Lying to the Holy Spirit is a grave offense. The Holy Spirit is more than a feeling or an influence. He is the third person of the Trinity.

As severe as the treatment of Ananias and Sapphira would appear to be, when the two were moved from the scene, the church went on witnessing to the resurrected Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit. Good results continued to follow.

If the Apostle had brushed the lie aside in order to protect the reputation of  these two donors, or out of greed for their gift, the response might have been passed off as an act of compassion, or as  justified by the good their money could do.   But the history of the early church would have been less glorious. Sin obscures God’s glory.

The early church had been spared from its first brush with corruption. Since sin always entices, the modern church will continue to face similar tests to its integrity. The energy of Pentecost was poured forth not only to make the church powerful in its proclamations of Jesus the Christ, the world’s Savior, but pure in its everyday dealings.

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Image credit: Waiting for the Word (via flickr.com)

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2 thoughts on “Then Comes Pentecost — Part 4

  1. Thursday was Ascension Day,40 days after the the start of Easter. I went to my church for Ascension Lord’s Supper at 7.30 pm . It was a joint service with the Cathedral congregation & the congregations of both our other Coventry city big medieval churches – St John’s & Holy Trinity Ascension is a Feast of Obligation in our church,yet we were only a congregation of around 40,even from 3 big churches.A church is it’s congregation ,not a building. Maybe Ascension doesn’t seem vital to some Christians ..As Pastor Don said about Pentecost in Pentecost 1

    ”There are some Christians who will hardly know it has come and gone”

    What a shame. Surely both Pentecost and Ascension are great dates in the Christian calendar ,to be celebrated,commemorated and learned from,sending us back to our bibles for study and reflection.

    Maybe the idea of Jsus ascending to Heaven like a slow rocket is strange and difficult to grasp.Evangelist Tom Wright , formerly UK Bishop of Durham,now Professor of New Testament at St Andrews,wrote his 2 volume ‘Acts for Everyone’ (published in 2008 by the Society For The Promotion of Christian Knowledge).In it , he understands Heaven to be God’s dimension.You can’t get to God’s dimension by building a tower so high it goes beyond the moon and stars.Or by rocket travel.

    Nowadays,modern scientists tend to understand Jesus’s Ascension by Particle Physics or Quantam Physics.There’s even talk of an Ascension Physics.Most physics is beyond my understanding ,paricles likr the Higgs Bosun and charmed quarks especially! I simply believe the truth of the Bible message. Faith is my starting point. Jesus went to join His Father in Heaven, 40 days after His Resurrection.Heaven is a better rplace than earth.So Heaven is higher in the sense it’s perfect .Not higher in the sense you have to travel x miles vertically to reach Heaven.

    As far as I’m able to understand, whenever I look, science always points to Biblical truth. Science and Faith are not opposed,I think. .For instance I’d never thought of what Pastor Don said ,that epinephrine could have caused the hearts of Ananias and Sapphira to stop. ,But there’s a rational explanation right there. Sin,guilt and stress have physical effects

    .Our reason and understanding is not always sufficient to understand Bible truths straight away.But again and again reasson upholds faith.

    The disciples must have been confused and sad at Ascension.They just got Jesus back after crucifixion,at the Ressurection.Now He was gone again. To God’s dimension – Heaven.But the two people in white ( surely Angels) assured them Jesus will return.And Jesus had told them to wait in Jerusalem.For at Pentecost,10 days later ,the Spirit of Jesus,the Holy Spirit ,would settle on them forever.

    Easter was 40 days before Ascension. 10 days after Ascension it’s Pentecost.

    As Pastor Don explains for us, ,even when persecution struck ,the joy of the Spirit could not be quenched.And what awful persecution our church forfathers and mothers faced.Yet even today,Christianity is the most persecuted faith in the world.Recently Rupert Shortt ,religion editor of UKs ‘Times Literary Supplement’ published his book ‘Christianaphobia:A Faith Under Attack’ In a vast belt from Morocco to Pakistan there’s scarcely a country in which Christians can worship without harassment.

    In 2009, in Coventry,UK,where I live,are offices of the Barnabas Fund for hope and aid for the persecuted church, The Barnabas Fund published Patrick Sookhdeo’ & Bishop Michael Nazir – Ali’s ‘Freedom to Believe: Challenging Islam’s Apostasy Law’ Please pray for our brothers and sisters around the world, called to become Christians, who face the death sentence for becoming Christians.

    Even in UK some Christians are banned from wearing the Cross at work,and some schools are banned by local Councils from putting on Christmas Nativity plays.It’s worse elsewhere .The global oppression of Christians is often ignored in the press.

    In Bolivia ,in the village of Chucarasi,the evangelical church was destroyed by an angry mob and a congregational elder beaten unconscious.In Cuba the government curbs the growth of Christian house churches.

    Even in America over 30 churches were burned in 11 states between 1994 and 1998 by self syled Satanist Jay Scott Balinger.

    Genocide of Christians by the Taliban was reported in Pakistan.I pray for our persecuted fellow Christians around the world.

    Today I especially go to church to pray for our Christian sister Mariam Yahia Ibrahim Ishag, in Sudan.I heard on the news today ,that in prison,shackled by her swollen legs,,alongside her 20 month old baby son,she gave birth to her second baby.So now she is sentenced to 100 lashes and hanging for being a Christian.Mariam was born Christian,of her Christian mother and raised in her mother’s faith,her denomination the Ethipian Orthodox church.

    Mariam’s muslim father deserted her and her mother when she was an infant.Mariam continued a Christian and married a Christian.On 15 May this year Mariam was sentenced to death under the apostasy law,,because though she is Christian,born to a Christian,her deserting father was born muslim. Mariam refuses to renounce Christ,though they threaten to beat her 100 times and kill her.
    I pray the Holy Spirit uphold Mariam and our Lord saves her .

    Christians have important work to do for the Lord.Jesus taught His disciples the Lord’s Prayer.To pray for His Father’s Kingdom to come on earth as it is in Heaven.That God’s Will be done on earth as in Heaven.

    Jesus is present physically only in the opening verses of the first chapter of Acts.Acts is about the acts or deeds of the Apostles.But the main actor is Jesus ,in His Spirit,Jesus in His Holy Spirit is behind all the Apostles deeds.

    In ‘Acts for Everyone’ ,evangelist Tom Wright says a memorable thing.That Acts is like a play.
    ,and

    ””This is a play in which we are invited to become actors ourselves”

    Pastor Don shows how Pentecost is the birth of our Christian church.How a Spirit of generosity breaks out in the early church.How then came trouble.Satan fills the heart of Ananias so he lies to the Holy Spirit.

    It is the Holy Spirit who upholds those Christians facing persecution.Both 2,000 years ago and today Christians face persecution yet,as Passtor Donald says,their Spirit and faith is not quenched.The Holy Spirit which came at Pentecost is so strong for us.

    Ananias and Sapphira could not have been allowed to undermine the Spirit.For all our sakes and for their sakes as well.

    The early church survived it’s first brush with corruption.I think the church will have to continualy renew ourselves.As in the first few hunred years.As in the Reformation.As in the Wesleyan Revival in 1700s England ,which spread to the Americas and throughout the world.As in Buffalo ,New York in the 1850s when Benjamin and Ellen Roberts opposed the corruption that is Mammon and slavery , and Freemasonry and inequality between men and women , and intemperance.Even in the church revived and renewed by God’s servant Wesley .

    Last Saturday,a week ago, my church marked the special red letter day for John and Charles Wesley marked in our calendarAt noon Lord’s Supper we celebrated the lives of John and Charles Wesley.Only the minister presiding,a verger assisting and we 5 other congregants attended to share Lord’s Supper7 in all..But I was very pleased that we included 2 Roman Catholics.And pleased afterwards to talk about John Wesley with them and talk about Christian Unity.

    This Pentecost blog has been the most illuminating for me.Showing how we need to keep the church effective in spreading Christ’s message.Also keep the church holy and pure in everyday life.

    In my Wycliffe bible,forerunner of the Authorized Version, Acts of the Apostles is translated as ‘Deeds of the Apostles’.Christian acts or Christian deeds must continue everyday in the church.Just as in Luke’s sequel to his gospel, Acts,the second volume of his inspired history of the mission of the first Christian ministry.

    All we Christians,like the Apostles ,have deeds to do for our Lord.We are part of His mission,once baptized. Sunday 8th June we celebrate the birthday of the church.I want to remember then, that I too have a part to play in the life of the church.To keep the church holy and pure 7 days a week,not just on Sundays.And to spreads the good news of Jesus.Like all we Christians I shall remember God has a plan for my life. I shall celebrate that at Pentecost.

  2. Good news ! Yesterday I went to church for noon Lord’s Supper and 4 hours later for the induction of our new Pastoral Canon.Those 4 hours in between ,I stayed in church praying for Mariam ,in Sudan ,sentenced to death for being Christian.

    I kept sending short shooting prayers all day tor Mariam,the kind of prayers Pastor Don once suggested in one of his blogs about prayer. Many Christians will have prayed hard for Mariam.The Lord hears and answers.

    Soon as I got home from church I put the radio on.A Sudanese foreign minister was speaking.He said they’d decided to probably set Mariam free in 2 days time and she could rejoin her Christian husband and leave the country if she wanted.

    I’m filled with hope.

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