In the last article we spoke about the image of God’s Son being engraved into our nature by the Work of God.
In this article we shall look at a completely different type of image – one that does credit to no one, and ends in death. But although the subject may seem to be so negative, it nevertheless contains a most important lesson, and may save someone from disaster, who reads it.
Our theme is that of a man and his wife who belonged to the early church in the days when Peter and the eleven were very much to the forefront of spiritual activity in Jerusalem. Their names were Ananias and Sapphira.
Ananias means “God is gracious”, and Sapphira is “Sapphire”, the beautiful blue gemstone. What lovely names they had! It seems that in this respect their names also betrayed something of their character. Outwardly they loved to be considered all that is gracious and beautiful, all that God might desire of those who belonged to His church. But sadly it was only window-dressing, only an IMAGE which was presented, an image of acceptability, an image of respectability, a dutiful image, a loving and caring image, which would bring them the praise of many others, especially all those poorer souls in the church, who were now dependent on the generosity of the rich.
In those early days a strangely united and powerful church had grown up in Jerusalem, strangely because seldom since then has it ever been found again. In the fourth chapter of Acts we read that the people were of “one heart and one soul”, and that they had “all things in common”. The apostles had “great power” and also “great grace”. They “lacked nothing”, and after sharing their possessions, made “distribution according to need.” Undoubtedly the move of the Holy Spirit in their midst was such that the Master’s words in the Gospels were attended to in a very literal and immediate way.
But not all men were under that beneficent influence. Ananias had land, and because of the pressure he was under from the example of the rest of the church, he felt obliged to sell up. But his heart was not in it. Things had not quite gone as he would have liked them. He wanted to keep his land, but knew that he couldn’t. The tide of activities in the church was too great to stand against. And of course, there was the matter of IMAGE. He was looked up to and respected, and wanted to keep his good image. A good image is a very comforting thing. It is so nice when people speak well of you. It makes you feel warm, accepted, and satisfied within yourself. You can held your head up in society and feel inwardly proud of yourself. Of course, you wouldn’t say this to others, because they might get quite the wrong (?) impression, but in the inner recesses of your own heart, you feel good, and like it that way.
This was Ananias’s dilemma. He shared his thoughts with his wife. They were both of the same mind. “What else can we do?” he said. “I see no alternative. We shall have to sell up otherwise we shall lose our good image with the rest of the church, and I can’t allow that to happen.” “No, of course not,” answered his wife, “I quite agree with you.”
But then a nasty little thought wormed its way into his mind, and it grew rapidly, far more rapidly than Jonah’s gourd. In Acts 5:3 we read that “Satan filled his heart to lie to the Holy Spirit.” I am sure that it started as just a germ of a thought, because that is how Satan works. If he supplied a complete ”package” all at once , then its origin might be spotted by the receiver, and he would be the loser, but he just plants a seed. It all started when he said to Eve, “Has God said?” and so waiting for a few minutes, he allowed his suggestion to gain ground in the mind.
They sat together in silence for a while, lost in thought. and then Ananias looked up. His wife could see that something was germinating in his mind. “What if – -?” “Go on,” she said, “What were you going to say?” “What if we sold the land, and then kept back a part of the proceeds for ourselves. No one would know. How could they? I don’t think things can last quite like they are at the moment. The Jewish authorities are too antagonistic towards us all. Sooner or later there will be a bust up, and then we shall have nothing to fall back on. But if we kept back say half the price,then we could salt it away somewhere for time of need.” “What a good idea,” replied Sapphira, “Let’s do just that.”
The Satanic principle was now fully formed in their minds. He went on to say to Sapphira, “You see, we get the best of both worlds then. We retain our good image before the church, AND look after our own interests for the coming days.”
And so they carried out their plan exactly as conceived. But there was just one dimension they had left out of their thinking. They were unaware that Peter, together with the other apostles, possessed strange new abilities. The Holy Spirit had given them the “Gift of Knowledge” and they were able to see into people’s minds in a manner similar to that of their Master when He walked the same streets.
He handed the money over, thinking that was the end of the matter. But Peter looked at him in a strange way. What was he thinking? And then he spoke. “Ananias, that field was your own property, to do with as your pleased. And even after you had sold it, the money was all yours. But you have come here with only a portion of it, yet telling us that it is the whole. You are false. You have lied, not just to your fellow brethren, but also to the Holy Spirit.”
We know the rest of the story. They both lost their lives. And it brought great fear upon the church, and I do not doubt that the fear extended well beyond the church. Things are not the same now. Only very occasionally does a similar thing occur. Usually people are able to ‘get away with it’, as we say. But what does the Lord think? Suppose we should act like Ananias, and never get caught. All for the sake of our IMAGE. The Master said, “Beware when all men speak well of you.” That which is not found out on earth, IS UNDOUBTEDLY KNOWN IN HEAVEN. Can we expect to stand before the Master and not be treated the same as Ananias?
In the coming Kingdom, God says, “Morning by morning I will destroy all the lawless in the land, that I may cut off all workers of iniquity from the City of the Lord.” (Psalm 101:8) As with Ananias, in those soon-coming days there will be immediate judgment; no waiting; no need of prisons. And great fear will be upon all peoples, because the thoughts of the heart will be exposed to view. May we tremble at this.