Sometimes, the stories from the Bible that we most need to hear aren’t the pleasant, uplifting ones about the righteous who overcame through God. Instead, they’re the sobering ones about when God’s people chose to forsake Him and paid the penalty. As Paul points out in 1 Corinthians 10, we are sure to face the same temptations that those people did. If we come to those temptations unprepared, that makes it all the more likely that the devil will overcome us and destroy us as he did those unfortunates so long ago.
As a result, it’s important for us to spend some time considering those stories, but it’s even more important for us to consider our own lives in their light. Could it be that our souls today are imperiled as the souls of the ancient Israelites were, or the souls of the church in Ephesus were? This kind of introspection is the only cure for the disease of self-deception. With this in mind, then, let’s spend this evening considering the first Christians in the entire Bible whom we know for sure were lost. Let’s consider Ananias and Sapphira.
This downbeat story, though, begins with an upbeat narrative about how our first-century brethren were of ONE HEART AND SOUL. Let’s read about them in Acts 4:32-37. Because many of the brethren in the Jerusalem church were only in town for the Passover when they obeyed the gospel on Pentecost, the local Christians had to step up and provide for them. This they did joyfully, even selling their houses and lands when that became necessary to support their brethren.
In this section of the story, I see two main lessons. The first is that good hearts bear good fruit. Luke begins by observing that the Jerusalem church is of one heart and soul, and he is able to point to particular actions taken by brethren, sometimes even particular brethren, to back up his claim. So too for us. We know that this congregation, like every congregation, is supposed to be of one heart and soul too. If we are, that’s going to show up in the way we lavish money, time, and energy on one another.
Second, this is one of several places in Scripture where we see evidence of a church treasury. Sometimes you’ll hear folks arguing that there’s no Scriptural authority for a church to have a treasury. However, in this text, it’s clear that money was being laid at the apostles’ feet for them to distribute in a time and manner that seemed best to them. If an accumulation of money to be spent over time isn’t a church treasury, I don’t know what is!
This takes us, though, to THE SIN OF ANANIAS. Look at Acts 5:1-2. I’ve heard it said that hypocrisy is the tribute that vice pays to virtue, and so it is here. Ananias and Sapphira see all the acclaim that people like Barnabas are getting for their generosity, and they want that praise too. However, they don’t want to give everything to the Lord, so they keep part of the proceeds back for themselves while claiming they’ve given all.
On one level, this seems like a victimless crime, doesn’t it? We don’t have to imagine too hard to see Ananias and Sapphira convincing themselves that their little white lie wouldn’t hurt anybody.
Indeed, we have to watch out for this trap in our own lives. We must beware of the temptation to give part while acting like we’re giving all. We want people to think of us as super-Christians, as pillars of the church, so we talk a good game around brethren, but we don’t live the way we talk. We wring our hands about how filthy our society is, then we go home and watch the latest pornfest on HBO. We exalt selfless love in marriage, but behind closed doors, we treat our spouses like dirt. This too seems like a harmless pastime, a victimless crime, but we must be aware that God sees things differently.
We see just how much differently in PETER’S INDICTMENT of Ananias’s sin. Let’s continue with Acts 5:3-4. As Peter points out, there was no good reason for Ananias’ hypocrisy. The property belonged to him; nobody made him sell any of it. Likewise, nobody required him to give every penny from the sale. When it would have been easy for him to tell the truth, he chose to lie instead.
In this, I think there are two lessons for us. The first is that when we lie, we must remember whom we’re trying to lie to. I suspect that Ananias didn’t have the slightest thought that his “little white lie” was directed at God. He figured that he was going to fool his brethren and go his way. However, the spiritual consequences of his sin—and our sin too—were much wider than he thought.
Second, we must remember that hypocrisy never fools God. Sure, we might well deceive everybody at church. We might go on fooling them for decades. However, we never should think that we are deceiving the Lord, not for an instant. He knows what we’re up to, and He is not pleased.
The story of Ananias and Sapphira ends with GOD’S JUDGMENT. Consider Acts 5:5-11. The husband-and-wife team tells the same lie, and both of them meet the same fate. God strikes Ananias down, and a few hours later, He strikes Sapphira down too.
Once again, I think there are two applications here for us. The first is that God hasn’t changed since the Old Testament. Of all the myths of pop religion, this is one of the most persistent and dangerous. People say all the time that God in the Old Testament was wrathful and harsh, but in the New Testament, He is merciful and forgiving.
The problem with this theory is that it simply doesn’t match up with the evidence. By the end of this story, Ananias and Sapphira are no less dead than Nadab and Abihu, or Uzza, or any of the other poor fools who put God to the test in the Old Testament. God’s conduct does not change because God does not change, nor will He ever do so.
From this, we can conclude that God will judge iniquity. In fact, I think this is the reason why God did what He did. He destroyed Ananias and Sapphira to leave us with no doubt about what the fate of hypocrites always will be. If we practice hypocrisy, God may not blast us on the spot (although He might!). However, when we choose to continue in sin, secure in the delusion that we will not suffer for the wrong we have done, we do nothing less than make our punishment certain.
As you know, one of my favorite things to do in the pulpit is to preach sermons based on the requests made by members here. After all, the whole point of me being up here is to help y’all on to heaven, and the more you tell me what you need, the better able I am to do that!
This morning’s topic came to me from Billy Tanner, who suggested that I ought to preach on laying up treasure in heaven. This is a familiar topic. I can remember studying Jesus’ teaching on this in children’s Bible classes when I still lived in New Jersey. However, even if we know the words to Matthew 6:19-21 by heart, I think there is still more for all of us to understand about them. Without further ado, then, let’s consider the subject of treasure in heaven.
The Lord opens His discourse on this subject by observing that there are TWO OPTIONS FOR TREASURE. Look at Matthew 6:19-20. As I’ve said, this is a passage that many of us have known all our lives, but because it’s so familiar, I think it’s hard for us to appreciate how amazing the Lord’s teaching here is. We have a mental category for “treasure in heaven”, but that category did not exist until Jesus invented it.
He did so to address the struggle that all of us face when we are presented with an opportunity to be generous. I know that when I put my check in the collection plate, or when I give money to a poor person, that money’s gone. However, if I don’t open my wallet, the money stays with me, and I can use it for whatever I want.
When we think that way, Jesus wants us to understand that we’re looking at things exactly wrong. When we refuse to be generous with our money, all we are doing is ensuring that one day we’re going to lose it. Moth and rust can eat it up, and even if they don’t, one day we’re going to die and leave it all behind. As the saying goes, you never see a hearse pulling a U-Haul!
On the other hand, though, He wants us to see that the money that we apparently give away is the only money we keep. When we are generous, we are actually saving up that money in the only place it will be safe—in heaven. Of course, this is not literally true. There is no First National Bank of Heaven. However, it is true that God will see our good works, remember them, and reward them.
Next, Jesus wants us to consider the connection between TREASURE AND THE HEART. Let’s read Matthew 6:21-24. Before I go on, it’s worth noting that for some reason we want to cut the context off at v. 21. That’s actually not correct. Jesus’ discussion of treasure in heaven continues to the end of the chapter.
In this section he observes that in addition to not being effective, storing up treasure on earth has another problem. Wherever we put our wealth, that’s where our hearts are going to be too. If we store up treasure in heaven, our hearts will be set on heavenly things, but if we store up treasure on earth, our hearts will be set on earthly things.
The next two verses illustrate the problem with this. When Jesus is talking about the eye here, He’s actually talking about our desires, the things we want. Contextually, He’s talking about whether we desire the things of heaven because we have stored up treasure there, or whether we desire the things of earth because we’ve stored up treasure there. If our hearts are set on heavenly things, our whole lives will be filled with goodness, but if they are set on earthly things, those lives will be filled with darkness and corruption.
At this point, we might find ourselves wondering if we can split the difference, if we can make part of our lives about storing up earthly treasure and part of them about storing up heavenly treasure. No dice, says Jesus. He points out that trying to love both God and money is like trying to be a slave with two masters. In the final analysis, we are always going to belong to one of those masters, and if we think that somehow we have managed to set up a time-share arrangement, Jesus wants us to see that we’re wrong. If we think we’re serving both God and wealth, it’s really Mammon who owns our hearts.
After this, Jesus presents us with OUR APPLICATION. Let’s conclude our reading for the morning by considering Matthew 6:25-34. Once again, allow me to observe that a passage we commonly treat as a separate context actually isn’t separate at all. Notice that v. 25 begins with the words “For this reason”.
For what reason? Well, it’s everything we’ve already studied in the previous six verses. It’s because laying up treasure on earth isn’t effective and laying up treasure in heaven is. It’s because our hearts follow our treasure. It’s because if we think that both earth and heaven can be our goal, we’re fooling ourselves.
So if that’s the logic, what’s the conclusion? Jesus says it’s that we shouldn’t be anxious about even the necessities of life. To us, this may seem like a leap, but it really isn’t. Think about it. When we store up money primarily on earth, isn’t that because we trust in money to be powerful? This money will take care of me. It will keep me safe from harm. On the other hand, when we store up money in heaven, that’s because we trust in God to be powerful. God will take care of me. God will keep me safe from harm, and I’m so sure that He will that I’m even willing to give away the money that would otherwise protect me.
If we choose the first path, we’re going to be anxious. You know why? Because no matter how much money we have, it never will be enough to guarantee our safety. The right job loss, the right stock-market crash, the right illness—all those things still can wipe us out. And so we fret and worry and are miserable.
On the other hand, if we are truly putting our trust in God, we won’t feel anxious. We’ll feel safe. Unlike money, God is great enough to fully protect us. He won’t make us rich, necessarily. He won’t protect us from hard times, even. However, He never will abandon us, and He will make sure that we always have enough.
When we seek His kingdom first, we are putting our trust in His promise, and that’s a good place to put it. There’s not one story in the Bible about God abandoning His faithful children, and I’ve never seen it happen to a faithful Christian in real life either. Only God can keep us safe, and He will always do it.
On God my hope is set,
The God of earth and heaven,
And I will not forget
The mercy He has given.
He found my soul enslaved
But freed me by His love;
By grace I have been saved
To seek the things above.
On God my hope is set,
The help of each believer:
My strength in every threat,
My shield from the deceiver.
Through danger and alarm,
No fear shall frighten me;
He bares His holy arm,
And every foe must flee.
On God my hope is set,
And He will yet deliver
A life without regret,
And joy that sings forever.
Though I be laid in dust,
My hope shall never dim;
My life is safe in trust,
For it is hid in Him.
When my way has been lost in sinning
And my prayers go unheard above,
In Your grace, grant a new beginning;
Give me life in Your steadfast love.
Give me life, O Father;
Hear my cry above;
Give me life forever;
Give me life in Your steadfast love.
When my soul is weighed down in trouble
And with longing I look above,
May Your kindness and care redouble;
Give me life in Your steadfast love.
When this body of earth is failing
And my spirit is called above,
With Your purpose and oath prevailing,
Give me life in Your steadfast love.
Psalm 86 is an appeal to God for help. It begins by listing a number of reasons why God should intervene: because David is poor and needy, because he is godly, because he prays continually, and because God Himself is good and loving. David then shifts to praising the virtues of God: His willingness to answer prayer and His uniqueness among all other gods. He asks God to teach him His way and promises to praise Him for His deliverance. The psalm concludes by contrasting the wickedness of David’s enemies and God’s goodness. God should respond by blessing David and defeating them.
Psalm 87 is about the city of Jerusalem, founded on Mount Zion. God loves her and glorifies her. Indeed, just as it was meaningful to be a citizen of the great cities of the ancient world—Babylon, Tyre, and so on—it’s meaningful to be born in Zion because God remembers her citizens. Zion is so beautiful that she inspires those who praise her.
Psalm 88 is one of the darkest psalms in the psalter. The psalmist cries out to God continually and asks Him to bless him. His life is so bad that he’s practically dead, and he attributes his plight to the wrath of God. God has done this to him. He’s been abandoned by his friends, he’s so desolate that he can’t see, but God won’t help him.
The psalmist rhetorically asks God if He thinks he will praise him if he is dead. Do dead people even care about God anymore? Nonetheless, even though he prays all the time, God continues to hide His face. He’s miserable, he feels attacked by God, and all of his friend have vanished. The end.
Psalm 89 is nearly as gloomy. It begins on an optimistic note. The psalmist expresses his determination to praise God forever because He is faithful. Particularly, He has established a covenant with David. For this, he glorifies God as incomparable. He has defeated His enemies, and He reigns over the heavens and the earth. He is righteous, and His people rejoice in Him.
The psalmist then returns to the subject of David. God anointed him and promised to protect him from his enemies. In response, he was supposed to honor God. Similarly God would confirm his offspring on his throne forever, and even if those offspring sinned, God swore that He would not reject them completely. David’s descendants would endure forever.
However, now it seems like God has done the opposite. He appears to have rejected the descendants of David. Jerusalem has been conquered and looted. The enemies of Judah are happy. The king has been defeated and humbled by his foes. The psalmist asks how long God is going to allow this to continue? He urges Him to remember how frail and fleeting the lives of men are. He asks where God’s faithfulness is, and he urges Him to remember how God’s anointed is being mocked. Nonetheless, he continues to lift up God as blessed.