But a certain man named Ananias, with Sapphira his wife, sold a possession,
From the conduct of Ananias and Sapphira we see:—
I. The vital difference between the spirit and the fashion of Christianity. (1) We may imitate Christ, yet not know Him after the Spirit. (2) We may mingle with Christians, and yet know nothing of the spiritual power of Christianity.
II. The fatal temptation to give the part as the whole.
III. The concealed sin, as well as the public iniquity will be followed by the judgment of God. (1) There is yet to be a reading of hearts. (2) Not only what we have done, but what we have left undone is to be judged. (3) Sins which apparently do no harm to society, are to be punished.
Parker, City Temple, vol. ii., p. 124.
Acts 5:3I. The facts which are here related should lead us to rejoice with trembling. We are members of a Church which is the body of the Lord Jesus Christ, and in that Church the Lord lives and operates with all the fulness of His power. Coming to that Church, we come in contact with a living force, with the breath of an Almighty Spirit, with a Divine inbreathing, which sweeps over the sensitive waters of the soul, either to freshen it to new life, or to involve it in the darkness and tumult of a destructive storm. But while this fact should teach us to be humble, let it rejoice us to know that this spirit, this Divine principle, is the secret of the Church's unassailable strength. It is by reason of this that the mightiest powers of the world have assailed the Church vainly from age to age. It were easy to throw down the walls of this magnificent temple; it were easy to raze to the earth all the noble and stately buildings which the self-denying faith of our forefathers raised to the glory of God; but it were impossible, not only to dry up, but even to reach the sacred Fountain of the Church's life. Nothing can destroy the Church of Christ; nothing can touch her life; and when to such a purified and sanctified Church the armies of aliens are pressing in on every side, in the confident expectation that they have only to strike the death-blow, what shall they find?—an empty shrine in the despoiled and enshrouded tabernacle? Nay, but the intolerable glory of God, which shall burst forth like a destroying flame from the desecrated holy of holies.
II. Though this may be an encouraging thought to the Christian, it is naturally suggested to us that it would probably cause the worldly, the careless and unconverted to feel that it were best to get as far as possible out of reach of such a formidable power, as far as possible to ignore its existence. But can we? Can the most careless and hardened among us be altogether as the heathen? There is a worse punishment than the temporal death-stroke of Ananias; there is an eternal death, in which the stroke shall be apportioned, not according to a man's knowledge, but according to a man's privileges, not according to what he has known and believed, but according to what he might have known and believed, if he had used to the utmost of his power those privileges which were afforded to him. If then you would not be found out to your everlasting shame, come to the Lord Jesus Christ.
Bishop Moorhouse, Penny Pulpit, No. 133.
References: Acts 5:1-11.—Homilist, 2nd series, vol. iv., p. 205. Acts 5:2.—Outline Sermons to Children, p. 216. Acts 5:3.—Parker, City Temple, 1871, p. 429. Acts 5:12.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. v., p. 32. Acts 5:12-16.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 127. Acts 5:12-42.—J. Oswald Dykes. Preacher's Lantern, vol. iv., p. 577.
Acts 5:15St. Peter's Shadow
I. The first idea suggested by the text is that of a superstitious reliance of the multitude upon the person of St. Peter, operating as a charm upon those brought into juxtaposition with him. They had seen his word and his touch potent to relieve sickness and impart strength. These effects seemed to place St. Peter and all that appertained to him entirely above the commen world. They stayed not therefore to reflect and reason. They passed, in their unthinking enthusiasm, to an exaggerated estimate of the Apostle as the fountain head of health and life, from whom, as from the unconscious sun, radiated a virtue to heal of his peculiar infirmity whosoever stepped within his shadow. It is not difficult to identify the error into which these people fell. They degraded God's grant of miracle to the Apostles, as responsible agents, into a magical influence seated in their bodies. That, however, which God saw to commend amid much worthy of rebuke, was the simple but intense faith which these persons manifested in the Divine power working amongst them. The early disciples, in the earnestness of their belief, sank into a superstitious notion of miraculous virtue attaching itself to unconscious things—a cloth, a shadow. We, in our slowness to look beyond the material universe, are in peril of denying the reality of a spiritual world intersecting at every point our own, of questioning the verity of all influences which we can neither calculate nor trace.
II. Note the manner in which God met this childlike faith of these primitive Christians. It is not distinctly stated that where the shadow of Peter fell sickness vanished and the hues of health returned; but the tone of the narrative implies as much. And, if so, then the miracle assumes a very peculiar character. God throws His power into the impotent sign which man has devised. These people fancied that the Apostle's shadow would be their cure; God meets them half-way and invests that shadow with an efficacy which in itself it had not, making it, to those who believed, the instrument of health and strength. Almighty love overflows the prescribed channels, and, in condescension to the creature's infirmity, heals him in his own way. It is not a knowledge of mysteries, but an intense childlike faith in Himself, as the Fountain of all good, that God prizes. There is no error of understanding which can hinder the outgoings of Divine compassion to those who, in whatever depth of ignorance, lift up their souls to Him.
Bishop Woodford, Sermons on Subjects from the New Testament, p. 79.
We all exert unconscious influence, and thus, even in our spheres of secular life, we affect one another. (1) Our voluntary efforts are only occasional and interrupted, while our unconscious energy is everywhere operative and constant. (2) Our constant and silent energy is most expressive of our real character, and therefore comes most into the sphere of what we call moral influence, which is always the most important. Consider this thought in its practical applications.
I. It should impress us with a sense of the importance of human life.
II. Even for the unconscious influence of such a life we are solemnly responsible.
III. Surely death does not destroy all the unconscious influence of human shadows.
C. Wadsworth, Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 1.
References: Acts 5:15.—Contemporary Pulpit, vol. v., p. 61. Preacher's Monthly, vol. iv., p. 1. Acts 5:17-32.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 190. Acts 5:19, Acts 5:20.—W. J. Henderson, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxvii., p. 275. Acts 5:20.—J. Natt, Posthumous Sermons, p. 50. Acts 5:29.—Preacher's Monthly, vol. ix., p. 326. Acts 5:31.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. xxii., No. 1301; Ibid., Morning by Morning, p. 113; Preacher's Monthly, vol. x., p. 106; E. Cooper, Practical Sermons, vol. i., p. 160. Acts 5:31, Acts 5:32.—T. Hall, Christian World Pulpit, vol. xxviii., p. 270. Acts 5:33-42.—Homilist, 3rd series, vol. iv., p. 252.
Acts 5:34I. In the New Testament, Gamaliel appears twice, and both times in the most interesting way. First, he is the teacher of St. Paul, and so we are constantly led to speculate as to what part of his great pupil's character is due to him; and in the second place, when the Apostles were arrested very soon after the Pentecost for preaching Christ in Jerusalem. Gamaliel, a member of the Sanhedrim, before which they were brought for trial, uttered a memorable plea for toleration and delay of judgment. In the light of all the facts about him, it is not hard to see what sort of a man Gamaliel was. He was a great teacher and a great preacher of toleration. The scholar of truth must trust truth; that is Gamaliel's ground. The man of mere affairs may be a bigot, but not the scholar; the student must claim for himself and for all men, liberty.
II. There are some men whose whole influence is to keep history open, so that whatever good thing is trying to get done in the world can get done; not the doers of great things, but the men who help to keep the world so truly poised that good forces shall have chance to work. These words of Gamaliel seem to point him out as being such a man. To him, evidently, surrounding all that man does—behind it and before it, and working through it—there is God. And with God are the final issues and destinies of things. Work as man will, he cannot make a plan succeed which God disowns; work as man will, he cannot make a plan fail which God approves. That is a noble and distinct faith. It is stepping across the line between fear and courage, between restlessness and peace, between intolerance and charity, when a man thoroughly, heartily, enthusiastically, enters into that faith, when he comes to really believe that with all his heart and soul. These words of Gamaliel are the words of all really progressive spirits. The final glory of Gamaliel lies there. He believed that God was the only life of this world, that all who did not live in Him must die. We do not know whether Gamaliel became a Christian before he died, whether in this life he ever saw that the true light which these poor prisoners adored was true and gave himself to Christ. But at least we know that if we have rightly read his character and story, he made the Christian faith more possible for other men, and he must somewhere, sometime, if not here, then beyond, have come to the truth and to the Christ Himself.
Phillips Brooks, Sermons in English Churches, p. 243.
References: Acts 5:38.—Three Hundred Outlines on the New Testament, p. 110; S. Macnaughton, Real Religion and Real Life, p. 309; C. P. Reichel, Church of England Pulpit, vol. x., p. 337; Phillips Brooks, Ibid., vol. xxi., p. 279. Acts 5:38, Acts 5:39.—Ibid., Contemporary Pulpit, vol. iv., p. 54; Ibid., The Anglican Pulpit of To-day, p. 397. Acts 5:41, Acts 5:42.—C. J. Vaughan, Church of the First Days, vol. i., p. 204. Acts 5:42.—Spurgeon, Sermons, vol. vii., No. 369; Contemporary Pulpit, vol. vii., p. 180; Homiletic Magazine, vol. vii., p. 327; H. W. Beecher, Christian World Pulpit, vol. ix., p. 232; vol. xxviii., p. 357; v.—Clergyman's Magazine, vol. i., p. 285.
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.
But Peter said, Ananias, why hath Satan filled thine heart to lie to the Holy Ghost, and to keep back part of the price of the land?
Whiles it remained, was it not thine own? and after it was sold, was it not in thine own power? why hast thou conceived this thing in thine heart? thou hast not lied unto men, but unto God.
And Ananias hearing these words fell down, and gave up the ghost: and great fear came on all them that heard these things.
And the young men arose, wound him up, and carried him out, and buried him.
And it was about the space of three hours after, when his wife, not knowing what was done, came in.
And Peter answered unto her, Tell me whether ye sold the land for so much? And she said, Yea, for so much.
Then Peter said unto her, How is it that ye have agreed together to tempt the Spirit of the Lord? behold, the feet of them which have buried thy husband are at the door, and shall carry thee out.
Then fell she down straightway at his feet, and yielded up the ghost: and the young men came in, and found her dead, and, carrying her forth, buried her by her husband.
And great fear came upon all the church, and upon as many as heard these things.
And by the hands of the apostles were many signs and wonders wrought among the people; (and they were all with one accord in Solomon's porch.
And of the rest durst no man join himself to them: but the people magnified them.
And believers were the more added to the Lord, multitudes both of men and women.)
Insomuch that they brought forth the sick into the streets, and laid them on beds and couches, that at the least the shadow of Peter passing by might overshadow some of them.
There came also a multitude out of the cities round about unto Jerusalem, bringing sick folks, and them which were vexed with unclean spirits: and they were healed every one.
Then the high priest rose up, and all they that were with him, (which is the sect of the Sadducees,) and were filled with indignation,
And laid their hands on the apostles, and put them in the common prison.
But the angel of the Lord by night opened the prison doors, and brought them forth, and said,
Go, stand and speak in the temple to the people all the words of this life.
And when they heard that, they entered into the temple early in the morning, and taught. But the high priest came, and they that were with him, and called the council together, and all the senate of the children of Israel, and sent to the prison to have them brought.
But when the officers came, and found them not in the prison, they returned, and told,
Saying, The prison truly found we shut with all safety, and the keepers standing without before the doors: but when we had opened, we found no man within.
Now when the high priest and the captain of the temple and the chief priests heard these things, they doubted of them whereunto this would grow.
Then came one and told them, saying, Behold, the men whom ye put in prison are standing in the temple, and teaching the people.
Then went the captain with the officers, and brought them without violence: for they feared the people, lest they should have been stoned.
And when they had brought them, they set them before the council: and the high priest asked them,
Saying, Did not we straitly command you that ye should not teach in this name? and, behold, ye have filled Jerusalem with your doctrine, and intend to bring this man's blood upon us.
Then Peter and the other apostles answered and said, We ought to obey God rather than men.
The God of our fathers raised up Jesus, whom ye slew and hanged on a tree.
Him hath God exalted with his right hand to be a Prince and a Saviour, for to give repentance to Israel, and forgiveness of sins.
And we are his witnesses of these things; and so is also the Holy Ghost, whom God hath given to them that obey him.
When they heard that, they were cut to the heart, and took counsel to slay them.
Then stood there up one in the council, a Pharisee, named Gamaliel, a doctor of the law, had in reputation among all the people, and commanded to put the apostles forth a little space;
And said unto them, Ye men of Israel, take heed to yourselves what ye intend to do as touching these men.
For before these days rose up Theudas, boasting himself to be somebody; to whom a number of men, about four hundred, joined themselves: who was slain; and all, as many as obeyed him, were scattered, and brought to nought.
After this man rose up Judas of Galilee in the days of the taxing, and drew away much people after him: he also perished; and all, even as many as obeyed him, were dispersed.
And now I say unto you, Refrain from these men, and let them alone: for if this counsel or this work be of men, it will come to nought:
But if it be of God, ye cannot overthrow it; lest haply ye be found even to fight against God.
And to him they agreed: and when they had called the apostles, and beaten them, they commanded that they should not speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go.
And they departed from the presence of the council, rejoicing that they were counted worthy to suffer shame for his name.
And daily in the temple, and in every house, they ceased not to teach and preach Jesus Christ.