Grace, Encouragement, and Faith at the Apostles' Feet (Sermon)
Grace, Encouragement, and Faith at the Apostles’ feet
Hi, I am pastor Rob. It is great to be with you today.
Have you ever built a sand castle? There is a company in the area that does a fantastic job building anything in the sand. It seems beyond normal. Here is an example of Janet’s work.
Can you do that? Now imagine this castle on the beach. The wind picks up. The rains come. What will happen? It will be destroyed in a matter of minutes, won’t it? Think of all that effort and beauty gone in a flash flood.
Life is Like a Sand Castle
Life seems like that from time to time. We get a taste of perfection, and then it is swept away. Even our church can have the feel of heaven one second and be gone the next. We go to a Sunday School or hear a message or sing a set of songs and we are transported to Jesus’s feet. However, it doesn’t last. We hear something that reminds of a problem at home or work. We don’t like one of the songs. You are not sure the theology or just aren’t feeling it. It is too loud, or it is too quiet. The temperature is too cold, or you are too hot. All of a sudden you notice your pants are too tight or your shirt is too itchy. You are hungry. You forgot to eat breakfast, or you remember there is no food in the house. You are tired. You didn’t sleep well. Your neck hurts, your back hurts. Your head hurts. Not only can distractions be inside us, but they can also be outside us too. We might think, Where is so and so this morning, you wonder. Why aren’t they here? You don’t like how one person dressed or how they greeted you. Your kids keep asking for things you think they should be able to do themselves. Get your own water or go without water, or you spilled the water? Your spouse keeps asking for something. When is your turn to ask for something? You might think, Doesn’t anybody care about me? Do voices and thoughts like that run through your mind ruining those picture perfect moments? Today we get a taste of bliss, and on the coattails of grace, Satan and secret sin rush in to spoil the harmony of the community. The story ends soberly as God deals with this disruption and the church shutters with the fear.
ATTENTION - LEAD TO BIG IDEA - TRUTH
We are continuing with our series in the book of Acts. Luke, the author, is detailing the historic spread of the early church. We will be reading Acts chapter 4, verses 32 through chapter 5, verse 11. I have asked L and J. M. to read for us. Please stand if you are able to in reading God’s word.
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need. 36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet. 3 But Peter said, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard these words, he fell down and breathed his last. And great fear came upon all who heard of it. 6 The young men rose and wrapped him up and carried him out and buried him.
7 After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 And Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you sold the land for so much.” And she said, “Yes, for so much.” 9 But Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to test the Spirit of the Lord? Behold, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” 10 Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last. When the young men came in they found her dead, and they carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 And great fear came upon the whole church and upon all who heard of these things.
Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God. We are so thankful for your word. These words are hard. Your word is light and heat. It offers direction for our days. It provides warmth for our souls. We live in darkness. Around us is a cold dark world in need of your truth. You are the truth. Speak to us this morning. Challenge us this morning. Drive us to you this morning, no matter the cost. AMEN. You may be seated.
The year is about 32 AD. The church was born about a year or two before that. The Spirit is moving. In chapter 1 verse 8 Jesus said to the Apostles, “... you will receive power when the Holy Spirit has come upon you, and you will be my witnesses in Jerusalem.” In chapter 2 and 3, what Jesus said was coming true. The Apostles were filled with power from the Spirit in Jerusalem as they witnessed. God gave them the ability to speak foreign languages previously unknown to them. God’s power came upon them, and a middle-aged disabled man was healed in Jesus’s name. In chapter 4, 5,000 people came to faith in one day because of their witness. Jesus was right. The gospel was marching forward, and the Spirit was doing amazing things. The kingdom of God as advancing and the church was growing.
Last week we saw the first challenge to this picture perfect church, the world. The same people who arrested Jesus arrested some of the Apostles. They were annoyed because the apostles were quote “teaching the people and proclaiming in Jesus the resurrection from the dead” (4:1). However, all they could do was give a lecture and a gag order. They couldn’t go against the will of the people. Any punishment by the officials at this time may have been political suicide. The Apostles, Peter, and John, got out of prison and went back to their friends (4:23). They reported what had happened. In response to this, the church prayed. They asked God for boldness, opportunity, and more power. Then, while they were praying, the place literally shook, and the Holy Spirit filled them. They continued to speak the Word with boldness (4:31). What an incredible story of the gospel progressing in spite of oppression. I picture a taste of heaven. What would it have been like to hear the ministry update of Peter and John? What would it have been like to feel the room quake as they prayed? What would it have been like to witness their boldness and see people respond positively? The church was growing. The Holy Spirit was moving. The power of God on earth was palpable, you could feel it.,
Acts 1:8 was coming true. At the same time, they were living out Acts 2:44-47. Luke reported in chapter 2,
44 And all who believed were together and had all things in common. 45 And they were selling their possessions and belongings and distributing the proceeds to all, as any had need. 46 And day by day, attending the temple together and breaking bread in their homes, they received their food with glad and generous hearts, 47 praising God and having favor with all the people. And the Lord added to their number day by day those who were being saved.
What happened in chapter 2 was happening in detail in chapter 4 and demonstrates my first point:
Grace at the Apostles’ Feet.
The whole church experienced God’s grace. It culminated in People selling their property to meet the needs of the church community.
Let’s see it for ourselves, Acts chapter 4, verse 32. Read along with me.
32 Now the full number of those who believed were of one heart and soul, and no one said that any of the things that belonged to him was his own, but they had everything in common. 33 And with great power the apostles were giving their testimony to the resurrection of the Lord Jesus, and great grace was upon them all. 34 There was not a needy person among them, for as many as were owners of lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold 35 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.
What is Going On Here?
What is going on? God’s grace was everywhere. Great grace was upon them all verse 33, all 5,000 of them. This mega-church was probably swamped with organizational concerns like:
- How do they meet?
- How do the leaders lead?
- How does the church disciple?
- How do they shepherd?
Yet, they shared with one another, and grace was on them all. There was not a needy person among them. They were unified. They had everything in common. The church was growing and filled with the Spirit. Wouldn’t you want to join this church?, I would.
Grace came to the Apostles’ feet. That was something we long for, don’t we? The growing early church was experiencing God’s grace.
WHAT COMES NEXT
In verses 4:36-37 & 5:1-11, Luke illustrates how this grace grew and almost derailed. First, he recounts a specific financial transaction by a man named Barnabas. Look at verse 36 with me.
36 Thus Joseph, who was also called by the apostles Barnabas (which means son of encouragement), a Levite, a native of Cyprus, 37 sold a field that belonged to him and brought the money and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
The reason they had their needs met I believe was due to encouragers like Barnabas. We heard about Grace at the Apostles’ feet. Now let’s talk about
encouragement at the Apostles’ feet.
Let us talk about Barnabas. What do we know about Barnabas? Luke tells us that Barnabas came from the island of Cyprus. That is a 400-mile long island off Greece with a Jewish population. Barnabas was of the priestly tribe, the Levites. He came, like many others, to Jerusalem. At some point, he became a follower of Jesus. He saw the needs around him and sold his property. An act like that may have been why he had a nickname son of encouragement. He was an encourager. Later in Acts, he encourages Paul, endorsing his ministry and serving as a missionary with him. After the first missionary journey, he parts with Paul to support Mark, his cousin, (Colossians 4:10). Barnabas plays a vital role in connecting the ministry of Peter and Paul in Acts and is identified as an encourager from the beginning. Who has been an encourager in your life? Maybe it was a parent, grandparent, coach, teacher, or manager. Encouragers are priceless. Here Barnabas was not just offering lip service or flattery. He was selling his property and giving it away to care for the body. Land was expensive. You can only sell it once. In ancient times it was in the family for generations. Consider the significance, the risk, the radical nature of giving up land to help those in need. This was a monumental act of generosity that was one of many examples fanning into flame more of God’s grace in the Christian community.
YOU ARE GENEROUS
For some of you, God has put on your heart to give significant portions of your income away to help us advance God’s kingdom to spread God’s grace.
- We just finished a year of raising money to support missions.
- Together we raised about $116k! In seven years, that is an all-time high and $11k more than we budgeted!
- This next year we anticipate raising $108k!
- You helped us buy a building in New Buffalo without debt.
- We have a fantastic playground at Sawyer through your generosity.
- Each month we have people give over an above to help the benevolent needs of the body. This week the benevolent team gave $100 away for food to a family who needed it and over $100 to help pay a utility bill for a family with terminal cancer and little income. And a significant financial gift to help a widow who is in dire circumstances.
That is encouraging. You are meeting the needs of our body through your generosity. That fans into flame the grace of God. Barnabas could give like that. Not everyone does.
SPIRITUAL GIFT GENEROSITY
Paul wrote about the spiritual gift of giving in his letter to the church in Rome. He said,
4 For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, 5 so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. 6 Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; 7 if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; 8 the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.
Barnabas had the gift of giving. Some of you have this gift. Thank you. Us pastors intentionally don’t seek to know about individual giving. We have a financial administrator, Jamie Nokes, who takes care of that for us. Thank you, Jamie. We don’t want money to get in the way of us telling you what we believe the Bible says. However, I do know that we cannot do ministry, missions, special projects without your financial help. Thank you.
- Jeff Dryden is able to go to central Asia right now and train people who have no way of getting formal training in how to teach the Bible because of you.
- Joe Koehler has an amazing youth program because of you.
- Pastor Mike and I cannot serve the way we serve, counsel, lead, plan, teach without your support. Thank you. You make our job a joy. Thank you. Your encouragement spreads the grace of God in our church as I think Barnabas’ gift did the same.
If God called you to sell a property for his kingdom, would you? How can we do that? Maybe you have? Do you see a need and meet it? Maybe you don’t have that kind of wealth. You might say, I am not gifted economically. I would love to, but I can’t. I don’t own anything I owe. Okay. That may be. However, all of us can be encouragers in another sense. All of us have that ability to say thank you, or I see God at work in you in specific ways. Hebrews 10:24-25 calls us all to encourage one another,
24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Barnabas, the son of encouragement, laid an encouraging gift at the Apostles’ feet. Let me encourage you to encourage one another and be a Barabas in the church no matter what your bank statement says. Let us spread the grace of God in our midst through encouragement.
Whom can you encourage this week? From time to time, I will talk to God about that. He will bring people to mind someone whom I can text, email, or call to encourage. Whom can you encourage this week? Let us be sons and daughters of encouragement.
The story of the church was not over. Luke had just begun. The beauty of the church was on display. God was getting the glory, yet; a storm was brewing. Luke recounts another example that was incredibly hard. It was the story of Ananias and Sapharia, directly contrasting Barnabas. He records,
5 But a man named Ananias, with his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property, 2 and with his wife’s knowledge he kept back for himself some of the proceeds and brought only a part of it and laid it at the apostles’ feet.
We have seen grace at the Apostles’ feet and encouragement, now let’s look at
faith at the Apostle’s feet.
We all have faith. We all believe in something. Ananias and Sapharia had faith. The question was, where was their faith or what was their faith in? Friends, it was not in God as they laid their gift down at the Apostles’ feet.
This story demonstrates that the early church was not perfect. Anyone who says we need to get back to the early church forgets Ananias and Sapharia. Yes, they were doing a good thing for the needs of the church. Yes, they were giving to the poor. That was great. That was commendable. That was helpful. The problem was not that they only gave part of it (5:4). The problem was that they were lying about it. Why?
- Were they trying to look good?
- Were they hoping to use a part of the money left over for something for themselves and didn’t want to be judged?
- Were they wondering what people would think of him if they said they only gave part away and Barnabas gave it all away?
- Were they competing with Barnabas?
- Was there peer pressure to conform to everyone, but they didn’t want to?
Why lie? We don’t know for sure. The text doesn’t say. What we do know is that Ananias only laid part of it down claiming to lay all of it down. I bet he thought no one would know. It won’t hurt anyone. Everyone lies. However, God knows. He sees.
Peter confronts Ananias in verses 3 and 4 about this. He says,
3 ... Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back for yourself part of the proceeds of the land? 4 While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, was it not at your disposal? Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.
I find it fascinating that Satan, an outside force, was back at it again trying to ruin a good thing, a God thing, the Christian community. Satan shows up and fills a man’s heart, contrasting the Spirit-filled heart of Peter.
However, Peter was not always filled with the Spirit nor honest. In Matthew chapter 16, Jesus was talking to the disciples and asked whom they thought he was. Peter boldy shot out that he was the Christ the Son of the Living God. Right on! He nailed it. Jesus said the heavenly Father revealed it to him. Then Jesus began to predict that he would go to Jerusalem, where the religious leadership will cause him to suffer and eventually die. Hearing this,
22 ... Peter took him aside and began to rebuke him, saying, “Far be it from you, Lord! This shall never happen to you.”
Peter thought Jesus was wrong. He didn’t want Jesus to die. He didn’t like that. That was not how he saw things going down.
23 ... “Get behind me, Satan! You are a hindrance to me. For you are not setting your mind on the things of God, but on the things of man.”
Peter went from being the head of the class to the dunce. Moreover, Peter failed even more. He lied three times about Jesus. Hours before his hanging on the cross, he denied knowing him in front of Jesus. He lied. Peter knew Satan and his ways, yet he confronted Ananias on behalf of God.
Why would Ananias die and not Peter? Who sinned greater? Peter’s sin seems worse. What are we to do with this? Commentator I.Howard Marshall recognizes this problem writing, “The story must be ranked among the most difficult for modern readers of Acts” (I. H. Marshall p. 110). I think time helps Peter. We see a repentant heart, and Jesus’s forgiveness extended in a mission to feed his sheep, the church. Someone asked me if Ananias and Sapharia were Christians. Will they be in heaven? I don’t know. Maybe the death of Ananias and Sapharia was loving discipline, preventing further pain and destruction. The Bible says God disciplines those he loves (Hebrews 12:6). On the other hand, Jesus also said the tree is known by its fruit (Matthew 12:33). Paul wrote to the church in Galatia Do not be deceived: God is not mocked, for whatever one sows, that will he also reap (Galatians 5:7). The fruit of lies was not from a root of faith in Christ. Deuteronomy 29:29 teaches
The secret things belong to the Lord our God, but the things that are revealed belong to us and to our children forever, that we may do all the words of this law.
We are not the judge. God knows.
DO WE TRY TO DO THAT?
We do know that God sees what is done in secret. Do you have a secret sin you are carrying? Sin begins in the heart. What is in your heart. I think this passage is hard because we can relate to Ananias and Sapharia. Their deaths seem far too severe. We know why fear fell on the whole church who heard this. Who can escape the judgment of God if he took Ananias and Sapharia?
A study by a “behavioral economist Dan Ariely, [a]... Duke professor” created a simple 20 question math quiz a few years back. He gave it out to 40,000 people, 40,000. He gave them less time than they needed to figure out all 20 questions. The questions were super basic. He paid for their answers. When the test was completed, each person was to shred his test and tell an attendant how many they completed correctly. The attendant took the person’s word for it and paid them. However, the shredder didn’t really shred the tests all the way, just the edges. The research group took the tests back and compared the 40,000 tests to the reported correct answers. They found 70% cheated. The cheating was often just a little bit, but that little bit, over 28,000 tests, cost the study $50,000. This illustrated what we know in our hearts that people lie. In fact, we lie or have lied. Wouldn’t you agree? Any of you never lied?
What motivated us to lie? What do we gain? Lying is not good. God put it in his top ten list of commands: don’t bear false witness (Exodus 20:16). Why then do we do it? Maybe it is because we think our way is better than God's? Maybe we are afraid. Maybe we want something and think that it is a shortcut to get it. Maybe we think it is not that big of a deal. Regardless, lying is a matter of faith but not faith in God. Last week Pastor Jeff talked about functional Atheism. Sometimes our actions are saying not only do we know better than God, but we also don’t need God, God is wrong, worse God doesn’t exist, a functional Atheism. Our actions demonstrate our hearts. We can’t know other people’s hearts, but we can understand our own.
Is there anything you have been lying about? How truthful are you? As I read this, it struck me with questions about my own image management. I am tempted to make myself look better in conversations. Why? Do we exaggerate or manipulate or leave off things to misrepresent and mislead? Lying is a lack of faith. Do we trust God enough to face the truth?
In the midst of death, the church responded in fear. I would too. Dying like that is scary. If God held us to this standard, none of us would be here. This is the kind of thing we think of in the Old Testament, not the New. Friends, if you put your faith in Christ, he died to forgive you, and you will certainly be saved as was said last week. You don’t have to fear His wrath. You can have a reverent, respectful fear of the Lord. I think that is the intended response to hearing this story. Remember last week’s message. Jesus took our punishment. If you trust in Christ, you will be saved; there is no other way. Salvation can be found in no one else (Acts 4:12). I know some of us get hung up on our past. We travel to a place that reminds us of our sin. We hear a name and feel the sting of shame. We see a picture or object, and we are transported back to a time and guilt that sticks to us like gum on a shoe.
What are we to do? Let me encourage you, face your secret sin. Meet God. See a metaphorical mirror in these verses, but don’t stop there. Friends, if you are living a lie, come clean today. Today, you can confess. And God will forgive it all because he died for the sins of any who put their faith in him. Tell the truth. Stop lying and start relying on God. Tell him what you did. Tell him what you said. Tell him what you thought. Be honest. Confession doesn’t offer new information. What confession does is it aligns us with Him. Let’s take a moment to clear our conscience through confession. Tell God in your heart what He already knows in the quiet of the moment.
Some of you have a secret sin you need to repent of. Repentance means change. It means to stop it and start, following God. The path of repentance may mean you need to confess how your sin impacted others around you. If you sinned against someone else, confession to God is not the last confession. Seek out unqualified forgiveness apologizing for what you have done and change. Is there someone you need to confess to? Is there someone you need to make amends with?
Let’s take a moment to talk to God about that now. If your conscience is clean, pray for those around you. The Holy Spirit is moving. God is not dead or done. His glory can be manifested in our your pursuit of holiness. Let’s take a moment to talk to God to see if a name comes to mind.
If God brought a name up of someone you need to talk to, do that this week. Trust in God and do that. If you are unsure how to do that, find a safe person of faith you trust to help you think it through. Trust and obey.
Friends, don’t mess with sin. The consequences can be grave. The church was filled with fear because I think they realized they were sinners too in need of God’s grace. We have a holy God who doesn’t think sin is funny, cute, or a game. God is loving and forgiving, but he is not someone to push around and mess with. We must take sin seriously and run to God’s grace.
The great thing about the gospel is that the most heinous hideous truth about who we are is forgivable at the cross, even our secret sins. Your sins are forgiven as far as the east is from the west he has removed them from you people of faith (Psalm 103). That is something to worship about.
God cannot be thwarted by human cunning or Satan’s craftiness. We know who wins in the end. Let us pursue living holy honest lives. Let us embrace faith in the gospel.
Receive His forgiveness. King David knew his sin. He committed adultery and murder. Yet, he eventually was broken before God for what he had done and forgiven. He wrote Psalm 32, and it helps remind us sinners who our savior is. Let us read it aloud together.
READING A PSALM OF DAVID
1 Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven,
whose sin is covered.
2 Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity,
and in whose spirit there is no deceit.
3 For when I kept silent, my bones wasted away
through my groaning all day long.
4 For day and night your hand was heavy upon me;
my strength was dried up as by the heat of summer. Selah
5 I acknowledged my sin to you,
and I did not cover my iniquity;
I said, “I will confess my transgressions to the Lord,”
and you forgave the iniquity of my sin. Selah
6 Therefore let everyone who is godly
offer prayer to you at a time when you may be found;
surely in the rush of great waters,
they shall not reach him.
7 You are a hiding place for me;
you preserve me from trouble;
you surround me with shouts of deliverance. Selah
Where was David’s hiding place? Where was his hope amidst his transgression? Friends, it was in God, not his moral perfection. His hope was based ultimately on his descendant, Jesus.
Jesus is our hope too. Sometimes church and life seem like a beautiful castle and a glimpse of heaven. We want everyone with us. We are pumped. God’s grace is on all. We are encouraged. Other times we see God’s hand of discipline and judgment, and we are struck in reverent fear sobered reality. Let us fear the Lord, put our faith in Him, be an encourager, and embrace His grace.
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