July 10, 2011

Secrets of the Heart

A couple of weeks ago we looked at a pivotal event in the early church. Peter and John healed a lame beggar and were arrested. “The next day their rulers, elders, and scribes assembled in Jerusalem, with Annas the high priest, Caiaphas, John, and Alexander, and all who were of the high-priestly family.” (Acts 4:5-6) They demand to know “By what power or by what name did you do this?”

Once again, Peter is “filled with the Holy Spirit” and preaches to them about “Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified, whom God raised from the dead.” Only a couple of months earlier, this same Peter cowered in the courtyard of the High Priest and denied knowing Christ. Now, he is chastising the rulers of the Temple. They are amazed and “when they saw the man who had been cured standing beside them, they had nothing to say in opposition.” (Acts 4:14)

In a vain effort to stop the teaching, the Council “ordered them not to speak or teach at all in the name of Jesus.” Peter and John boldly reply, “‘Whether it is right in God’s sight to listen to you rather than to God, you must judge; for we cannot keep from speaking about what we have seen and heard.”

I wonder how often we listen to the voices of friends, family, those in authority, etc. rather than hearing the word of God in our hearts. Perhaps too often. The Holy Spirit is always more ready to guide us with the “still small voice” than we are to listen. Peter and John listened to the Holy Spirit and courageously gave their response, to which the leaders had no response. Their action encouraged the other followers of Christ.

When Peter and John return to the rest of the apostles and converts there is great rejoicing and prayers of thanksgiving were offered. “When they had prayed, the place in which they were gathered together was shaken; and they were all filled with the Holy Spirit and spoke the word of God with boldness.” (Acts 4:31)

One aspect of the early church is that “no one claimed private ownership of any possessions, but everything they owned was held in common…There was not a needy person among them, for as many as owned lands or houses sold them and brought the proceeds of what was sold. They laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need." (Acts 4:32-35)

However, not everyone was honest. What happened to Ananias and Sapphira must have been shocking to the believers. The couple sold their property, but did not give all the proceeds to the apostles. Peter sees through the deception and confronts Ananias, the husband, “Ananias, why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit and to keep back part of the proceeds of the land? While it remained unsold, did it not remain your own? And after it was sold, were not the proceeds at your disposal? How is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You did not lie to us but to God!” (Acts 5:1-5) At Peter’s words, Ananias falls down dead.

Peter gives Sapphira a chance to be honest, but she too lies and “she fell down at his feet and died. When the young men came in they found her dead, so they carried her out and buried her beside her husband.” (Acts 5:10-11) It is no wonder that “great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.”

The sin of Ananias and Sapphira was not that they kept some of the money back, but that they lied about it. Do we ever hold back part of our gifts from God? It may not be money that we withhold. It could be our willingness to follow the urging of the Holy Spirit. God “knows the secrets of our hearts.” (Psalm 44:21) Denying our gifts, our ministry, our calling is a form of lying to God.

The Lord tells Jeremiah, “Before I formed you in the womb, I knew you.” The prophet tries to deny the call of God, “I do not know how to speak, for I am only a youth.” He is told “Behold I have put my words in your mouth.” (Jeremiah 1:4-10) Jeremiah goes on to preach judgment on the people of Judah and Israel, but also the promise, “I know the plans I have for you…plans for welfare and not for evil, to give you a future and a hope.” (Jeremiah 29:11)

God’s promise is to give us good, a future, and hope and our response is to give all to God, just as Peter and John and the early followers did. Are there secrets in your heart the only God knows? Have you heard them whispering in a still small voice? Can you offer all you are and have to God?

Next week we’ll look at the courage of Peter and the apostles when they meet resistance and persecution from the leaders of the people.

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