The Power of God to Reveal Sin
"Be Sure That Your Sin Will Find You Out"
Acts 5:1-11; Numbers 32:23
One of the classic American horror films is Alfred Hitchcock’s 1960 thriller Psycho. Most of us know the story: Marion Crane (Janet Leigh) is a woman in love. Marion embezzles $40,000 from her employer and leaves town so she can marry her boyfriend, Sam Loomis. As she drives to surprise her boyfriend and give him good news, she becomes tired and she is forced to stop at the dilapidated Bates Motel, on the side of the highway. There she meets a rather shy middle aged man, Norman Bates, who is controlled by his domineering mother.
In what is one of the most famous scenes in cinematic history, Marion is brutally murdered by a mysterious woman while showering. A mortified Norman quickly cleans up and disposes of the remains of his mother’s rage. He desperately wants to hide the evidence of what has happened.
(Show clip—begin with ch. 12-shows license plate of car)
58:14-59:46--Clip ends with Norman smiling & the camera shifts back to the water which has covered the car & the scene fades to black. Cut when it fades to black)
The deed is hidden. It is covered up. No one need know.
But if you have seen the movie, you know that they DO find out and in the last scene as “The End” appears, the car is being pulled out of the swamp.
Ultimately, the secret cannot be hidden.
That is one of the truths of the story of Ananias and Sapphira found in Acts 5.
Theme: Sin cannot be forever hidden. Its fact and its consequences will eventually come to the light of day.
I. The Deception by Ananias and Sapphira (5:1–2)
This story is recorded right after the account of Barnabas’ gift at the end of chapter 4. Barnabas becomes a fairly significant character in the New Testament. His name means “Son of Encouragement” and that describes his character. He is the one who convinces the apostles that Paul has indeed converted from a murderer to a disciple of Jesus. He travels with Paul on his first missionary journey. (“Paul and Barnabas”). He is willing to split with Paul in order to show his faith in the young man John Mark. Barnabas and John Mark eventually go off to Cyprus to preach the Word.
But here in ch. 4 we meet Barnabas for the first time.
Acts 4:36-37: Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, whom the apostles called Barnabas (which means “son of encouragement”), sold a field he owned and brought the money and put it at the apostles’ feet.
We don’t know all of the details, but that story is immediately followed by the story of A&S.
They, like Barnabas, sell a piece of property and bring the money and give to the apostles for the church’s use.
But there is a significant difference. Unlike Barnabas, they choose to lie about the amount they received for the land.
The Greek word - to embezzle or to steal by misappropriating for oneself. (EXPAND?)
Ananias had evidently sold a piece of land, like Barnabas, and also like Barnabas had pledged the full proceeds to the community. This can be assumed from the use of a rare Greek verb in v. 2 is νοσφίζω (nosphizoo) to describe his action in holding back part of the money. The verb means to pilfer, to purloin, to embezzle. One does not embezzle one’s own funds but those of another, in this instance those that rightfully belonged to the common Christian fund. Significantly, the same rare verb occurs in the Greek version of Josh 7:1–26, the story of Achan, who took from Jericho some of the booty “devoted” (i.e., set aside for God) for sacred use. Achan received a judgment of death from God himself, and Luke may well have seen a reminder of his fate in the similar divine judgment that came upon Ananias and Sapphira. They too had embezzled what was sacred, what belonged to the community in whom the Holy Spirit resided. One must assume either that the practice of the community was always to pledge the full proceeds of a sale or that Ananias and Sapphira had made such a pledge with regard to the sale of the field.
Now as Peter makes very clear later, their sin is not holding back part of the purchase price. It was their land, they were free to give some, all or none of the money to the church.
It is important to keep in mind that their sin was NOT in keeping back some of the money. Their sin was in lying about it.
But we as humans like approval. We like praise. And we like the little bump from being on top. It was not, “A&S have been very generous. They sold a piece of land for $5,000 and from that have given $3,000 to the church.”
That (at least for them) was far different from “A&P have sold a piece of land for $3,000 and have given the entire purchase price for the use of the church. They had no thought for self, but in their commitment have given all that they received.”
People think, “How are they going to provide for themselves? That land was a very important asset to them. They are real people of faith. Trusting that God will take care of them, they have given all that they received. What a guy! What a gal!”
They are often like us. There are two sides to the coin—we like to look good and we don’t like to look bad. If our sin is widely known, then people will think less of me. They will be disappointed in me. I may lose the position I have in the church. I may not be asked to teach that class anymore.
THEME: But sin cannot be forever hidden. Its fact and its consequences will eventually come to the light of day.
II. The Discovery of Ananias and Sapphira (5:3–4)
How Peter knew that A&S were lying, we don’t know.
- Perhaps God directly revealed it to him.
- Perhaps he perceived it on Ananias’ face or voice. Most of us are not great liars. If we have any conscience at all, the guilt will show on our face, the averted eyes, the increased breathing or holding our breath.
- In Hamlet, Queen Gertrude notes that it is not hard to discern when someone is lying when she comments of the Queen in a play that she is watching, “The lady doth protest too much, methinks.”
- Peter knew what it felt like to fall to Satan’s temptation. He had denied Jesus three times.
- Perhaps God had arranged it so that Peter had heard how much they had gotten for the land.
- We don’t know.
But Peter knew that Ananias was lying: Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.”
In Numbers 32 the people of Israel are preparing to cross the Jordan River and invade Palestine and attack Jericho. And two of the twelve tribes—the descendents of Reuben and Gad come to Moses and say, “The land we have already taken on this side of the Jordan is perfect land for we and our families. Let us settle here and not have to cross the Jordan River to fight the Philistines.
Moses basically blew his stack and said that they were like their ancestors—people who doubted the power of God.
Moses concludes his rant in v. 14-15: “And here you are, a brood of sinners, standing in the place of your fathers and making the Lord even more angry with Israel. If you turn away from following him, he will again leave all this people in the wilderness, and you will be the cause of their destruction.”
The Gadites and Reubenites backtracked and offered: if Moses would allow them to build pens for their livestock and houses for their wives, the men would cross the river and fight for the rest of Israel. After Canaan had been taken, then Moses could dismiss the Gadite and Reubenite men to return across the Jordan to reunite with their families.
Moses agrees, but in v. 23 he gives them a warning: “But if you fail to do this, you will be sinning against the Lord; and you may be sure that your sin will find you out. (REPEAT BOLD)
That verse comes from that one specific instance, but it is a principle of life:
· Cain thought that no one would know that he had killed his brother Abel…but his sin found him out.
· Joseph’s brothers thought that noone would know they had sold their brother into slavery instead of him being killed by an animal……but his sin found him out.
· Moses thought that no one would know he had killed the Egyptian…but his sin found him out.
· Achan thought that no one would know he had taken the gold booty for himself and hidden it under his tent…but his sin found him out.
· King Saul thought that it wasn’t a big deal that they had not destroyed all of the possessions of Agag, kind of the Amalekites, but had kept the best livestock for themselves…but his sin found him out.
· King David thought that no one would know that he had slept with Bathsheba and then killed her husband …but his sin found him out.
· Hamaan thought that no one would know that he was trying to exterminate the Jews to get back at Esther’s uncle Mordecai because he had hurt Hamaan’s pride…but his sin found him out.
· King Ahab thought that no-one would know or dare protest that he had murdered Naboth and taken his vineyard because he coveted it…but his sin found him out.
· Elisha’s servant Gehazi thought that no one would know that he had gone after Naaman & taken part of the reward that Naaman had offered to Elisha for healing him…but his sin found him out.
· Peter thought that no one around the fire would know that he was lying about not being a disciple of Jesus …but his sin found him out.
III. The Deaths of Ananias and Sapphira (5:5–11)
When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened.
It was not unusual for the Hebrews to bury on the same day as death. It WAS unusual for it to happen without notifying the wife. Why they didn’t notify Sapphira, we don’t know. Perhaps they couldn’t find her. Perhaps since they colluded, Peter wanted to give her an equal chance to tell the truth as her husband had.
There was no call for repentance. In Acts 8 there is a man named Simon the Sorcerer who tried to buy Peter’s healing power with money, but Peter warns him repent before Satan takes hold of him.
Here there was no chance for repentance. Peter in this case knew that Ananias and Sapphire knew the law of God. They KNEW what they should do and refused to do it.
Simon the Sorcerer was not a Jew, he was a Samaritan and was just newly introduced to Jesus. Peter gave him the chance for repentance.
But why such a harsh verdict. DEATH.
Just as the sin of Adam & Eve affected all human beings who have lived since, so the sin of Ananias & Sapphira could have corrupted the purity of the early church.
When the Israelites consecrated themselves to God by observing the rite of circumcision and celebrating the Passover feast (Josh. 5:1–12), Achan’s sin of stealing from God effectively destroyed Israel’s moral purity. Thus his sin affected every Israelite. Ananias’s deception likewise could have destroyed the purity of the early church, which was displayed through unity, love, and harmony.
It was critical that it be clearly shown in these early days that sin in the church was unacceptable. To wink at it in this public situation would have set the tone for compromise from then on.
We must remember that the character of God demands purity. God’s character cannot allow sin to go unexposed.
Today, too many of us look at how close to the moral edge we think we can go, but that way of thinking is totally outside of the realm of God’s way.
God’s character is pure. God is all-knowing. There is nothing that we do that fools God. There is nothing that we can do of which God is unaware. For him to permanently allow it to remain hidden would implicate God in participating in the sin.
God’s character requires that sin be exposed. It may happen immediately. It may happen days or months or years later. It may happen at the great judgment throne of God. But God’s character requires that sin be exposed.
(Maybe-Loretta and I used to pray that Ryan and Trevor would get caught when they did things wrong. Was that a cruel and warped prayer? No…we did not want them to think that they could get away with the small things and be tempted to try to get away with the big things.)
My purpose in today’s sermon is not to preach a “God’s gonna git ya,” type of sermon.
God is a God who desires to forgive and restore. But he cannot while we are harboring sin. And in order to root it out, he must expose it.
But there are some important life principles that we need to see from this text:
1. When Satan comes to a believer to lead him into sin, that man or woman is fully responsible if he gives Satan permission to enter his life. The believer must be aware of the power of the devil and resist him by standing in the faith (I Peter 5:8–9).
2. Repentance sooner is better than God exposing the sin later. When Peter had asked the question of Ananias and Sapphira, all they had to do was tell the truth.
Ananias and Sapphira found their lifelong patterns of being closed people made it impossible to confess their sin and make a new start. I think they really wanted to die as a way out. Their bodies complied!
3. We never know when our last chance for repentance will be. God does not wait forever. There will come a time when it is too late.
4. The difficulty in local churches today is not the keeping back of part of the proceeds of a sale of property, it is the holding back of part of ourselves. (Ogilvie, The Preachers Commentary)
Repent today. Believer, whatever it is of which you need to repent, don’t delay.
Repent today. Non-Christian, God’s patience with your delay will not last forever. Do not delay making the decision to give your heart and life to Christ another day.
When Marion Crane’s car is pulled from the swamp at the end of Psycho, it is covered with mud, muck and mire. It is much dirtier than when it entered the water. But it serves as a reminder that Sin cannot be forever hidden. Its fact and its consequences will eventually come to the light of day. (theme)