Beware the Fear that Falls

February 6, 2015 at 3:18 pm | Posted in The Fives | 1 Comment
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After Jesus was Resurrected He stayed on the earth for 40 days, then ascended into Heaven. Next came the Day of Pentecost, when the Holy Spirit appeared and indwelled the believers who waited in the upper room. This was the beginning of a new era, in which all who believed on Christ unto salvation would receive the Holy Spirit. It was also the beginning of the time during which the New Testament was written – as the same Spirit inspired Apostles and prophets to reveal God’s inerrant and infallible Word.

It was an exciting time, and new Christians were very enthusiastic about financially supporting the work of getting the Gospel message spread throughout the world. However, whenever there is opportunity for ministry, there is also opportunity for recognition, and the desire for recognition can be a dangerous thing.

A married couple named Ananias (the husband) and Sapphira (the wife), wanted to show that they were willing to sacrifice for the work of the ministry, so they sold some land they owned, and brought the money from the sale, laying it openly at the Apostles’ feet. This sounds spiritual and inspiring, but the problem was that Satan influenced them to lie about what they were doing. They pretended to turn over the total amount of money they received from the sale of the land, but they secretly kept a portion of it for themselves.

The result for both of them, beginning with Ananias, was disastrous. Peter found out the truth and rightfully accused him of lying to the Holy Ghost and to God.

And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.

Acts 5:5

The Bible says that Ananias “fell,” and he did. He physically fell down dead. But his spiritual fall had come earlier, when he decided to try to deceive God and His people. In order to impress upon the early Christian believers how important it would be that the Gospel ministry be handled with honesty and forthrightness among them, the Holy Spirit caused “great fear” to come upon everyone who found out about Ananias’s fate.

We need to remember this principle as Christians even 2000 years later. A desire to exalt ourselves above our fellow Christians and to proudly make ourselves seem extraordinarily spiritual could very well result in a great (possibly embarrassing, possibly humiliating, possibly even deadly) fall. God is a loving Father, and the Holy Spirit is our Comforter, and the Lord Jesus is a caring Shepherd and Friend, but the Triune God is not to be trifled with. A healthy fear and respect of His omniscience and power over life and death will remind us that our outward actions are never to be hypocritically severed from our inward motives.

Exposing the Enemy and Going Forth with the Truth

June 30, 2009 at 10:57 am | Posted in Acts | 20 Comments
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Acts Chapter 8 introduces us to Saul of Tarsus, who would become the Apostle Paul.

And Saul was consenting unto his death. And at that time there was a great persecution against the church which was at Jerusalem; and they were all scattered abroad throughout the regions of Judaea and Samaria, except the apostles.

Acts 8:1

Saul saw Stephen stoned, and he approved of it. But you have to wonder if it affected him – if God used it to begin to prick his conscience.

And he said, Who art thou, Lord? And the Lord said, I am Jesus whom thou persecutest: it is hard for thee to kick against the pricks.

Acts 9:5

Something was bothering Saul, stabbing at his conscience as he charged down the road to Damascus like an angry bull.

As for Saul, he made havock of the church, entering into every house, and haling men and women committed them to prison.

Acts 8:2

He “wreaked havoc” on the early Church – tore it to pieces like a wild beast – the way Samson once did to a lion (which normally tears the lamb.) But the early Church was empowered by the Lamb of God; persecution only caused it to grow.

Therefore they that were scattered abroad went every where preaching the word. Then Philip went down to the city of Samaria, and preached Christ unto them.

Acts 8:4-5

Philip went to Samaria. The Samaritans were half-Jewish and half-Gentile. When the Assyrians had conquered the northern tribes of Israel, they brought in people to intermarry. The Samaritans were the second ethnic group in Acts upon which God poured His Spirit.

Philip’s revelations were confirmed by special miracles for a special ethnic group.

But there was a certain man, called Simon, which beforetime in the same city used sorcery, and bewitched the people of Samaria, giving out that himself was some great one:

Acts 8:9

Simon was doing satanic miracles; Philip was doing God-empowered miracles.

To whom they all gave heed, from the least to the greatest, saying, This man is the great power of God. And to him they had regard, because that of long time he had bewitched them with sorceries.

Acts 8:10-11

Simon’s miracles bewitched the people; Philip’s preaching set them free.

Satan got Simon to infiltrate Philip’s ministry.

And when Simon saw that through laying on of the apostles’ hands the Holy Ghost was given, he offered them money, Saying, Give me also this power, that on whomsoever I lay hands, he may receive the Holy Ghost. But Peter said unto him, Thy money perish with thee, because thou hast thought that the gift of God may be purchased with money.

Acts 8:18-20

The laying-on of hands is there in Chapter 8, but not in Chapter 10 when the Gentiles receive the Holy Ghost. Laying-on of hands is not necessary for Spirit baptism – and notice that only the Apostles could do it. There is only one prerequisite for Spirit-baptism: Salvation.

Simon the sorcerer has a word named for him: simony. Simony is the buying and selling of church offices. Simon was willing to pay for the ability to lay hands on people and impart the Holy Spirit to them. There is much division and confusion and strife about this among the professing Christian church today, and, obviously, if you read this, you can do what you want, but I would be very careful about paying money – whether you call it a “love offering” or “sowing a seed” or whatever – for some “anointed” object.

Peter was very good at ferreting out Satan, and he spoke harshly to Satan’s secret agents when they were exposed. When he exposed Ananias, Peter asked him, “Why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost?” (Acts 5:3) He told Simon:

Repent therefore of this thy wickedness, and pray God, if perhaps the thought of thine heart may be forgiven thee. For I perceive that thou art in the gall of bitterness, and in the bond of iniquity.

Acts 8:22-23

It is possible that Ananias and Sapphira would have destroyed the church in Jerusalem, and likewise Simon could have destroyed the church in Samaria. It may be that Peter was so good at spotting Satan’s infiltration tactics because of his past experience with Satan trying to infiltrate the disciples through Peter himself.

But he turned, and said unto Peter, Get thee behind me, Satan: thou art an offence unto me: for thou savourest not the things that be of God, but those that be of men.

Matthew 16:23

And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.

Luke 22:31-32

Acts Chapter 8 also contains the important account of the Ethiopian eunuch. This Ethiopian servant would have been wealthy – he was riding in a fancy chariot. And it may be that he was not a real “eunuch” in the modern sense of the term, but rather a high-ranking servant who had retained the name. In any event, he had a scroll of Isaiah – which would have been very rare to have in those days. He apparently had an interest in being a Jewish proselyte. However, if he was in fact a real “eunuch,” he would have been barred from temple worship due to his physical mutilation. He could have still been what was known as a “God-fearer” (this is what Cornelius was). God-fearers were Gentiles who tried to observe the Jewish laws and rites, even though they could not be true Jews. Joseph pretended to be an Old Testament example of this. He gave his brothers a hint when he sent them home, saying, “This do and live; for I fear God.” (Genesis 42:18)

And Philip ran thither to him, and heard him read the prophet Esaias, and said, Understandest thou what thou readest?

Acts 8:30

The Ethiopian was reading from Isaiah 53:

He was oppressed, and he was afflicted, yet he opened not his mouth: he is brought as a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before her shearers is dumb, so he openeth not his mouth. He was taken from prison and from judgment: and who shall declare his generation? for he was cut off out of the land of the living: for the transgression of my people was he stricken.

Isaiah 53:7-8

This passage of Scripture deals with the Messiah as a substitutionary sacrifice.

Then Philip opened his mouth, and began at the same scripture, and preached unto him Jesus. And as they went on their way, they came unto a certain water: and the eunuch said, See, here is water; what doth hinder me to be baptized? And Philip said, If thou believest with all thine heart, thou mayest. And he answered and said, I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God. And he commanded the chariot to stand still: and they went down both into the water, both Philip and the eunuch; and he baptized him. And when they were come up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord caught away Philip, that the eunuch saw him no more: and he went on his way rejoicing.

Acts 8:35-39

Please note that the Ethiopian had to be saved before he could be baptized.

Philip was “caught away” – this implies a supernatural phenomenon. He ended up at Azotus, and then preached his way back to Caesarea – about 60 miles. There are few spiritual events that will energize your Christian life like leading someone to the Lord and seeing him saved.

The Blessing and the Cost of an Honest Report

June 15, 2009 at 4:06 pm | Posted in Acts | 16 Comments
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Previously, we saw the powerful prayer of the Apostles. When they had prayed, God shook the whole building.

And when they had prayed, the place was shaken where they were assembled together; and they were all filled with the Holy Ghost, and they spake the word of God with boldness.

Acts 4:31

We are tempted to wonder what would happen if such an occurrence took place today. However, the early church leaders did not determine to stage this prayer meeting over and over again, hoping for more signs and wonders. Instead they went to work. Instead of selling admission, they started giving.

Neither was there any among them that lacked: for as many as were possessors of lands or houses sold them, and brought the prices of the things that were sold, And laid them down at the apostles’ feet: and distribution was made unto every man according as he had need.

Acts 4:34-35

This was not an example of what we know today as Communism – this was giving motivated by love, not by force or for political ideology.

Satan had tried to attack the Church from without. Now he would try to attack it from the inside.

But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession, And kept back part of the price, his wife also being privy to it, and brought a certain part, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 5:1-2

This is the beginning of the account of Ananias and Sapphira. They were Satan’s counterfeit givers. Contrast their giving with that of Barnabas.

And Joses, who by the apostles was surnamed Barnabas, (which is, being interpreted, The son of consolation,) a Levite, and of the country of Cyprus, Having land, sold it, and brought the money, and laid it at the apostles’ feet.

Acts 4:36-37

Barnabas had not been motivated by fame. However, I’m sure his noble act had brought some coincidental fame to him. This fame made Ananias and Sapphira jealous. That’s when Satan pounced. We see the motivation of Satan in the pride and hypocrisy involved in Ananias and Sapphira’s sin.

Hypocrisy and pride are two sins that are especially abominable to the Lord. But before we look down our nose too much at Ananias and Sapphira… Their sin was a way of trying to look more spiritual in church than they really were, for their own glory. It was sin that involved lying to the Holy Spirit, and it was against the Church. If they could have gained a good standing in the Church, Satan would have had a couple of effective “inside agents.”

If a fighter is losing a fair fight, and he is a dirty fighter, he may try to get an unfair advantage by picking up something handy and throwing it at his opponent. My younger brother’s favorite projectile was a steel-spiked track shoe. I have a friend whose younger brother once threw a cat at him!

Satan, the dirtiest of all the dirty fighters, will often pick up a person, the way we would pick up a rock or a vase (it may be a person very close to you – maybe even a fellow church member), and throw this person at you.

Satan picked up Ananias and Sapphira, and threw them at the other Christians. For their sin, God killed Ananias and Sapphira. Their punishment was severe because their sin occurred at the outset of a new period in the history of salvation.

There are other instances like this, where God, at the beginning of what some people call a “dispensational period” of salvific history, will deal very harshly with sin that challenges or threatens the onset of a new revelation by Him, or a new era in Christian history.

Here are a couple of examples: Just after the tabernacle was erected, God killed Nadab and Abihu (Leviticus 10). This was the incident of strange fire in the censer. Just after Joshua entered the promised land, God had Achan killed (Joshua 7). Achan “took the accursed thing” in the sacking of Jericho.

At the end of Acts Chapter 5, the Apostles are arrested, and they go before the Sanhedrin and the Sadducees. They are beaten, and Gamaliel attempts to get rid of them by trivializing their Lord.

The next recorded problem to arise in the Church had to do with the Greek-speaking widows, who believed that the Hebrew- (or Aramaic-) speaking widows were getting preferred treatment.

Then the twelve called the multitude of the disciples unto them, and said, It is not reason that we should leave the word of God, and serve tables. Wherefore, brethren, look ye out among you seven men of honest report, full of the Holy Ghost and wisdom, whom we may appoint over this business.

Acts 6:2-3

The Apostles were spending too much time “waiting tables,” and it was taking away from their time studying the Word, preaching, and praying. So, inspired by the Holy Ghost, they commanded that seven men be found. The Apostles were not “too good” to wait tables, but they were doing what others could be doing just as well. And Acts 6:3 sets forth the qualifications for what type of men they were looking:

Honest report:
Someone who can be trusted. All Christians ought to establish a reputation for trustworthiness. If you want to obtain an honest report, you will need to show up, even when you’re not feeling well. You will need to consistently raise your hand, and say, “I’ll help clean up;” “I’ll volunteer to do that; “Somebody’s missing – I’ll fill in.” And when these opportunities arise, you will strive to do a good job.

Then, people will say, “You know, we trusted him to do that last time, and he did a good job; we can trust him to do that again.” Pretty soon you’ll have an “honest report.”

Even a child is known by his doings, whether his work be pure, and whether it be right.

Proverbs 20:11

If even a child is known for his “report,” how much more a man?

Too often we want to be known by our sayings, when we should want to be known by our doings.

Full of the Holy Ghost: The Apostles weren’t looking for men who had filled up on the Holy Ghost once a week, after 45 minutes of music. They were looking for men who were “being filled” continually with the Holy Ghost. If I’m going to be continually filled with the Holy Ghost, I’m going to have to do more than sing and exuberantly worship. I’m going to have to get rid of the sin in my life. This does not mean I won’t ever sin, but I’ve got to hate that sin – confess it, and forsake it right away. Is the Holy Ghost comfortable in your heart, or are you grieving the Holy Ghost?

Full of wisdom: Too often, people are claiming to be full of the Holy Ghost, but are acting like muttering drunks. A characteristic of being filled with the Holy Ghost is wisdom.

Wherefore be ye not unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is. And be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess; but be filled with the Spirit;

Ephesians 5:17-18

What a shame if the Spirit truly wants to lead us, and the best thing we can do in response is to act big, talk loud, sit around, and do nothing. That’s what drunks do. They talk big, but they’re too uncoordinated to do anything. God has called us to do much more than just show up once in a while – even more than just to show up regularly. He wants us to be actively involved in ministry. We have an example of this in Acts 6 – an example of a man who met these qualifications: Stephen.

I’m not a Greek scholar by any means, but my understanding is that there are two different Greek words for “crown:” diadem and stephanos. (Stephanos is probably where we get the name “Stephen.”) A diadem can be inherited; a stephanos must earned – or won in an athletic contest.

Stephen was full of faith and full of the Holy Ghost. We know he was full of faith because, as he began to preach, and as the crowd he was preaching to got angrier and angrier, and as they began to stone him, he kept right on going. We know he was full of the Holy Ghost, because he preached with power. The Bible even says he was full of power.

And Stephen, full of faith and power, did great wonders and miracles among the people.

Acts 6:8 (emphasis added)

He was so filled with the Holy Ghost that he even asked the Lord to forgive them as they killed him.

And all that sat in the council, looking stedfastly on him, saw his face as it had been the face of an angel.

Acts 6:15

We say that someone who is really smart is “bright,” or that someone who comes up with a great idea is “brilliant.” Stephen was visibly brilliant! He told the truth from God’s Word.

His sermon is recorded in Acts Chapter 7. Part of it reads like a lecture on Jewish history. He preaches about Joseph from the Book of Genesis. He preaches that God does not dwell in houses built with human hands. He preaches that the temple of the Jewish faith is of God, but that the temple is not God. He preaches that the Law of the Jewish faith is of God, but that the Law is not God.

This preaching drove the unconverted Jews who heard it mad. Yet, they could not speak honestly against it, or intimidate Stephen. He was full of the Holy Ghost, he knew the Scriptures forward and backward.

In the Old Testament there are a number of “types” of Jesus Christ, which foreshadow the importance of His coming in the Incarnation. Stephen is a sort of New Testament “type” of Christ, in the sense that we can draw some comparisons between them. No one can truly be like Jesus. He was and is perfect. However, Holy Spirit-filled Christians ought to strive to be as much like Him as possible.

The Bible tells us Jesus was full of grace; it tells us the same thing about Stephen. Jesus performed miracles; so did Stephen. Jesus boldly confronted the religious establishment of the day; so did Stephen. Jesus was convicted by lying witnesses; so was Stephen. Jesus was executed despite being innocent of any crime; Stephen was executed for a crime he did not commit. Both Jesus and Stephen were accused of blasphemy. Both died outside the city, and were buried by sympathizers. Both prayed for the salvation of their executioners.

How much are we growing in Christ-likeness each day?

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