1But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; 2with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3“Ananias,” Peter asked, “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? 4While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” 5Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. 6The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him. 7After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened.8Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” 9Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10Immediately she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.
Ananias and Sapphira. C’mon guys.
Let’s just start by acknowledging: this is a wild story.
We sin in ways like this all of the time, and yet, we’re not seemingly struck dead immediately. If you’re reading this, it means you’re alive – so you’re living proof of that. So am I. Although Luke (who wrote Acts) doesn’t say God struck them dead, I think we know God does not generally strike people dead like this. So what does this passage show us about God?
Ananias’ and Sapphira’s primary sin was lying to God’s Holy Spirit. In verse 4, Peter seems to imply that Ananias could have kept part of the money. That wasn’t the issue. The issue was that Ananias “laid it at the apostles’ feet” as if he was giving everything. In effect, he was attempting to deceive the church and look like a hero while doing it. As a landowner, he was most likely a wealthy Christian – and maybe even a leader. Maybe he thought that made him special, or like he was ‘above it’. Did he think this left him entitled? Maybe he thought insiders had different rules.
For one thing, this shows us that God hates superficiality and deception within the church, regardless of who is guilty of it: rich, poor, young, old, insider, outsider, leader or not. God is not interested in our phony piety. Why are we so interested in it sometimes? If we are tempted to lie, deceive, or misrepresent things in order to gain esteem in others’ eyes, then we need to knock it off. God’s church must be one of honesty, integrity, and authenticity. Plus, God knows what we’re really doing. We’re not going to fool him. It shows us that God shows no favoritism.
It also shows us that God takes sin seriously. Like really seriously.
Serious enough that he sent Jesus into the world to die to save us from its consequences. It is so refreshing to see a church leader like Peter take it seriously as well, and it didn’t even matter that Ananias was a big donor! As a grade-A sinner himself, Peter knows what ‘covered up’ sin does to our relationships, to ourselves, and to the church. It’s just another form of deception. We’re seeing this in our cultural moment too: smack in the middle of all of the sexual abuse revelations happening in our country right now is the reality that churches can often have a monstrous role in covering up and excusing sin amongst leadership. And it destroys people.