Challenging the Gates of Hell
In Genesis 3 we have a story about a man and his wife. Adam and Eve.
And in this story, they are tempted by Satan to eat the fruit from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil - fruit from a tree that God tells them NOT to eat.
Now Eve is directly tempted by Satan, but Adam goes along with the plan too - he is culpable in this crime too.
And Adam and Eve conspire against God and they sin against God by taking and eating the fruit of this tree, which God tells them not to eat.
They did what was right in their OWN eyes, and as a result they died.
That’s not what God wanted…but man and woman thought they knew best.
And after they sinned God took a walk in the garden of Eden, but he couldn’t find the man and woman he created, because they were hiding
They thought they could hide their sin and disobedience from an all-knowing God.
Before they sinned they lived in an idyllic setting - a perfect garden, with everything they wanted to eat. They had a perfect relationship with God. They lived in a state of blessing and favour of the Lord.
And Satan didn’t like it.
And Satan wanted to derail this utopia. He wanted to derail this state of bliss and blessing and favour with God and so he tempts the woman who tempts the man, and as a result, their relationship with God is derailed...
This utopia comes to and end - and Satan was happy.
In Acts 5, this story is replayed.
The church has blossomed and grown. The Spirit is moving in unimaginable ways.
People are coming to faith in Jesus Christ left, right and centre. People are being healed, the Apostles are able to speak in different languages.
46 Every day they continued to meet together in the temple courts. They broke bread in their homes and ate together with glad and sincere hearts, 47 praising God and enjoying the favor of all the people. And the Lord added to their number daily those who were being saved.
They enjoyed the favour of all the people.
The early church had exploded into existence, and they are in the honeymoon period. They are experiencing the favour of the people, but not only that - they are experiencing the favour of God, who is blessing them numerically, spiritually. They are in a period of blessing and favour from the Lord.
And Satan doesn’t like it.
So what does he do?
Well, in Acts 4 he tries to derail this utopia from the outside, by having Peter and John seized and brought in front of the Jewish authorities to answer for what they have done…and all they did was heal someone.
But that didn’t work. In fact, I love the verses at the end of chapter 4 when the apostles met together to pray and they prayed...
27 Indeed Herod and Pontius Pilate met together with the Gentiles and the people of Israel in this city to conspire against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed. 28 They did what your power and will had decided beforehand should happen.
29 Now, Lord, consider their threats and enable your servants to speak your word with great boldness.
Now, look at what they are saying here. They essentially say - we hear the threats of Herod and Pilate. We understand full-well what might happen if we continue preaching about Jesus…
but instead of praying, ‘so God, remove these people from us. May their threats come to nothing. May you protect us’…instead they pray, ‘I hear these threats - we could die here…therefore enable us to speak your word with GREAT BOLDNESS.’
Now that’s a surprise right there. Satan would have wanted them to give in, to cave in to the threats, but instead they preach with even more boldness.
So what’s Satan going to do now?
Well, there’s something that worked for him a few thousand years earlier in a garden somewhere nearby…Maybe this play will work.
So he chooses a man and a woman - Ananias and Sapphira, and he tempts them.
And both of these people are in on this plan to sell land, keep money for themselves and present the rest to the Apostles as if it was the full amount.
And as a side note, Peter explains that keeping money aside for themselves wasn’t a sin.
People were selling their possessions and giving it centrally to help the poor and the community.
Barnabas sold a field and brought the money to the apostles. It was his prerogative to do that. This wasn’t a commandment by the apostles. This wasn’t a new law.
This was a result of the movement of the Holy Spirit among the believers.
And that’s where the sin of Ananias and Sapphira was...
They gave the appearance of being moved by the Spirit too… ‘Look here, we have also sold a field. Here is the money that we got for it…We’re giving it all to the poor because THEY need it more than us.’
If they had said, ‘we sold a field too. Here’s 60% of what we got. We’ve kept some back to buy a hot tub, but you’ve got 60% of it so that’s not bad,’ there would have been no issue.
Their sin was that they were trying to look great, as if God had moved them to sell this field and give ALL the money to the poor.
And they would have discussed this with each other beforehand - the text says as much. They were both culpable in this, like Adam and Eve were culpable in the garden.
So in this time of blessing and favour in the church, Satan tempts a man and a woman, causing them to sin...
…and they did what was right in their OWN eyes...
…and they tried to hide their sin...
...and as a result, they died.
Now, perhaps Satan’s plan was going to work.
Maybe NOW this church will be derailed. Maybe now this utopia they had is going to be derailed.
And perhaps, for Satan, this went better than he imagined…because, as a result of what happened to this man and woman - being struck down dead for sinning, who would want to be a part of this church?
‘Come, follow Jesus. Repent, ask for forgiveness of your sins…turn away from your sinful life and accept the grace and forgiveness of Jesus and join us in worshiping God and helping others know Jesus in a real way…come join us...’
‘uh…no thanks. People are dropping dead for sinning…I don’t want to be a part of that.’ And so it says...
13 No one else dared join them, even though they were highly regarded by the people.
Maybe Satan had won this time, like he thought he won in the garden.
But the next verse tells us that wasn’t the case, because for another group of people, this was liberating...
14 Nevertheless, more and more men and women believed in the Lord and were added to their number.
The fact that this event happened to Ananias and Sapphira didn’t deter everyone. In fact, more and more men and woman believed in the Lord and were added to their number…KNOWING the real possibility that if they hide their sin, they might drop dead at the drop of a hat.
But perhaps the attraction of that was that people could be open and honest with their sin and struggles, which I think is a really important thing to do.
If hiding their sin, which is futile in front of a God who knows everything and sees everything, but if hiding their sin could mean that they drop dead in an instant, it means that for some people, they aren’t going to hide their sin.
They are going to be open and honest with their sin and struggles and their need for Jesus’ grace, which in turn would actually bring life and not death.
And that’s attractive....certainly more attractive than the alternative - which is the possibility of dropping dead in a heartbeat.
Now, let me ask you - which would you prefer…to keep your sins hidden or expose them to God - to confess them?
[ would you prefer to keep your sins hidden?]
Cos if you want your sins to stay hidden, and you don’t want to know what they are (even though you probably do), but if you don’t want to examine yourself and see where you are sinning and address it…if you’d rather just stay blissfully ignorant of your sins...
…if that’s what you would rather want then this passage is a wake-up call to you. Because you can’t hide your sins from God. And your sinning against him, and so your relationship with God is not where it should be.
Satan has derailed your life with God…in fact, he may have even derailed you even experiencing God to begin with and you are dropping dead, albeit over a number of years.
However, if you would rather KNOW that you’re sinning so that you can bring them before God in repentance... that shows a completely different heart.
Because, while that is an extremely brave road to travel, and it is humbling, think about what that will do with your relationship with God...
…it will bring you to your knees in dependance on Jesus and his grace to forgive you, and that will increase your relationship with Jesus. It will bless you even further and it will bring more and more life to what you’re experiencing right not.
It’s kinda paradoxical.
But knowing that an honest and open approach to our sin will increase our love and devotion of Jesus and increase our relationship with God should make us WANT to know where we are sinning so we can bring it to the feet of the crossn and experience more and more grace and love.
IF we’d rather NOT know where we’re sinning it means that we’re proud and hard-hearted and we don’t want a strong relationship with God, because we can’t have a strong relationship with God if we are hiding our sin (which we can’t do anyway, since God knows our sin and that makes it even worse).
But that’s what Satan wants.
So, in our passage, Satan was unsuccessful, because the church continued to grow in number and also in power.
And how do we know that? Well, after this event, we see of more miracles being performed and many people being healed as well as those who were possessed by Satan’s demons - more attempts to derail the movement of the church - were healed and the demons were driven out.
So the church of Jesus Christ was moving and snowballing and growing and expanding and people were being blessed and healed.
But isn’t this what Jesus said in his ministry?
13 Now when Jesus came into the district of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, “Who do people say that the Son of Man is?” 14 And they said, “Some say John the Baptist, others say Elijah, and others Jeremiah or one of the prophets.” 15 He said to them, “But who do you say that I am?” 16 Simon Peter replied, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.” 17 And Jesus answered him, “Blessed are you, Simon Bar-Jonah! For flesh and blood has not revealed this to you, but my Father who is in heaven. 18 And I tell you, you are Peter, and on this rock I will build my church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it.
So in the region of Caesarea, Philippi, Jesus says to Peter that on this rock he will build his church, and the gates of hell will not prevail against it.
Now, we often think of this verse meaning that the gates of hell are pushing in on Jesus’ church. That there’s this oppressive force against the church trying to infiltrate the church.
Now, there is an oppressive force against the church under Satan’s power, but that’s not what this verse means.
What this verse means is this...
That the church of Jesus Christ WILL be built, and like the kingdom of God starts as a mustard seed but ends up becoming the greatest tree in the garden, Jesus’ church - the kingdom of God - will grow and grow and expand so much that it is THE CHURCH that will push on the gates of hell - not the other way around.
[The church will push on the gates of Hell, not the other way around]
But the phrase, ‘gates of hell’ also isn’t what we think. This phrase wasn’t used anywhere else by Jesus when talking about Satan - Jesus called him by name.
Actually, the Gates of Hell is a place. It it was where Jesus was standing.
Because, where Jesus was standing was nicknamed the gates of hell, because Graeco-Roman mythology said that it was the place where some boyo called Aeneas was able to travel from Hell to Earth via some kinda of portal, which is why the place was called the gates of Hell - in other words, the gates TO Hell.
But the name of the place was subsequently changed to Caesarea, Philippi - which is named after a king - Philip and a roman governor - Caesar.
Now, if you remember earlier, after the church started to expand and the building project was underway, who were making the threats in Act 4? It was Herod and Pilate - the King and the Roman governor.
So join the dots here - Jesus is saying to Peter, “My church will be built, and I’m building it on YOU…and neither Herod nor pilate nor Caesar - neither Rome nor any other kingdom of this world the underworld will be able to stand against it.”
So in this political world with Brexit looming and governments becoming less morally upright, take courage friends, because Jesus is building HIS church and no kingdom of this world, whether political or spiritual will ever be able to stand against it.
But at the same time, Satan will do whatever he can to derail this train.
And he does it through us. He does it through our sin - tempting us. Telling us to hide our sins - don’t confess them, be deceitful.
Satan whispers in your ear, “your sins aren’t even that bad. It’s not like you’re murdering anyone. You’re a good person. You even come to church.
You don’t need to examine yourself to see where you’re sinning. Don’t bother with that - you’re NOT a sinner. You’re a good person.”
or he says, ‘what you’re doing in justified - you were well within your rights to do that or say that. So what if it wasn’t true - they needed to hear it.’
And all the while you are slowly dropping dead... or your relationship with God is growing weaker and weaker. Because Satan brings death.
He doesn’t want you to believe in Jesus and confess your sins, or, if you have at one point, he wants you to be ineffective for Jesus and to be cold in your faith by convincing you that you don’t need to continually bring your sin before him.
‘It’s OK to hide it...’
But that’s what Adam and Eve tried to do.
And that’s what Ananias and Sapphira tried to do...
And it didn’t work.
Brothers and sisters, today could be a turning point in your life.
Don’t be like Ananias and Sapphira. Don’t be like Adam and Eve - learn from their mistakes. History has a habit of repeating itself - don’t let it happen again with you.
You cannot hide your sin from God.
But leaving your sin unaddressed and unconfessed will derail your relationship with God and cause death all around you - in your relationship with God, in your relationships with others, your husband or wife or family members. It will cause death in so many areas…and that’s what Satan wants.
And in the case of Ananias and Sapphira - their sin caused disunity in the fellowship and God took them out.
Don’t underestimate God - OUR sin can cause disunity in the fellowship, and God can take us out too...
But being open and honest about your sin before God might be humiliating or humbling - but it will bring life all around you. Life in your relationship with God, life in your relationships with others, with your husband or wife or family members - it will bring life in so many areas.
So what’s your choice?
Satan wants to derail your life and the life of this church by hiding people’s sin.
8 If we claim to be without sin, we deceive ourselves and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive us our sins and purify us from all unrighteousness.
And if we all do this, we’ll see this church grow and snowball and no power or politician, no kingdom of this world or the underworld will be able to prevail against it.
This event in Acts served to make people fear the Lord, but it also made the church expand.
Imagine going to a church where you could be completely open with your sin and struggles, knowing that everyone else is struggling with something too. It’s liberating.
You can see how that is attractive TO ANYONE WHO WANTS TO BE EFFECTIVE IN THEIR RELATIONSHIP WITH JESUS.
If people come to church for any other reason than to worship God and grow in their faith then they won’t want to come to a place where their sin is exposed.
But if you want to grow in your faith and love of Jesus then you will welcome a place where sin can be addressed and confessed and where you can cry and be broken and receive the grace of Jesus on a weekly and daily basis. That’s what church should be like.
In fact, if I ever get called to a church, that’s the kind of church I would like to see. It will put some people off - like it did in Acts, but for those who want to grow and experience the love and grace and awesome power of Jesus, it will be attractive.
Let’s take time now to bring our sin before God…and I don’t mean let’s sit and think about dinner. I mean, let’s be open and honest with God. You could be dying right now because of your sin. Jesus is offering life to anyone who is humble enough to admit that they are a sinner and they have a problem.
If God is pushing you right now and bringing to mind your sin, please take this time and opportunity to bring it before him. He knows it anyway. You can’t hide it from him, but by not addressing it and confessing it, it will eat away at you and you will die.
Bring your sin before him. Confess it. Accept Jesus’ forgiveness and his grace and let him wash you clean from all your sin.
And watch as more and more life surrounds you and your relationships.