Give It Time

Acts 5:33-42 (NRSV)

When they heard this, they were enraged and wanted to kill them. But a Pharisee in the council named Gamaliel, a teacher of the law, respected by all the people, stood up and ordered the men to be put outside for a short time. Then he said to them, “Fellow Israelites, consider carefully what you propose to do to these men. For some time ago Theudas rose up, claiming to be somebody, and a number of men, about four hundred, joined him; but he was killed, and all who followed him were dispersed and disappeared. After him Judas the Galilean rose up at the time of the census and got people to follow him; he also perished, and all who followed him were scattered. So in the present case, I tell you, keep away from these men and let them alone; because if this plan or this undertaking is of human origin, it will fail; but if it is of God, you will not be able to overthrow them—in that case you may even be found fighting against God!”

They were convinced by him, and when they had called in the apostles, they had them flogged. Then they ordered them not to speak in the name of Jesus, and let them go. As they left the council, they rejoiced that they were considered worthy to suffer dishonor for the sake of the name. And every day in the temple and at home they did not cease to teach and proclaim Jesus as the Messiah.


The “them” in the opening sentence of this passage consisted of Peter and the other apostles, who were going about in the earliest days of the church performing miracles and preaching that Jesus is the Christ.

The leaders of the temple in Jerusalem were, in the words of Acts 5:17, “filled with jealousy,” so they had the apostles arrested, only to discover these men of Christ were preaching again the next morning in the temple. An angel had freed them from prison overnight, telling them to get back to delivering the message that gives life.

So, the temple leaders had the apostles arrested again, this time intending to kill them.

As we see in our passage today, a much cooler, wiser head prevailed. Gamaliel, as we are told, was deeply respected by his fellow leaders. By the way, one of his rabbinical students was the Apostle Paul, who at this point in the story of the church had not experienced Christ on the road to Damascus.

Gamaliel correctly understood that he and the other Jewish leaders should be centered on one important task: Seeking the will of God. He also believed God would reveal whether these apostles and others who would claim to speak for God were right in what they said.

Gamaliel was spot on. Ultimately, messages and movements opposed to God will fail. All of creation is moving toward reconciliation and reunion with God, so it’s only logical that movements opposed to God will eventually collapse, even if that process sometimes takes longer than we like.

Gamaliel’s colleagues did arrange for the apostles to receive a beating none of us would want to face today. As long as evil and good continue to grow side by side, angry, jealous men will sometimes extract the vengeance they so desperately desire.

That part of the story reminds us that doing what God asks—in the apostles’ case, preaching the Good News—may require some sacrifices.

Dear Lord, your Good News has continued to be preached for nearly 2,000 years, reaching people all around the globe. May we have the courage of the apostles, trusting that the truth of Jesus Christ as Lord and Savior will always be vindicated and reign supreme at the end of time. Amen.

A Healthy Fear

Death of Ananias, Raphael, 1515.

Acts 5:1-11 (NRSV)

But a man named Ananias, with the consent of his wife Sapphira, sold a piece of property; with his wife’s knowledge, he kept back some of the proceeds, and brought only a part and laid it at the apostles’ feet. “Ananias,” Peter asked, “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!” Now when Ananias heard these words, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard of it. The young men came and wrapped up his body, then carried him out and buried him.

After an interval of about three hours his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. Peter said to her, “Tell me whether you and your husband sold the land for such and such a price.” And she said, “Yes, that was the price.” Then Peter said to her, “How is it that you have agreed together to put the Spirit of the Lord to the test? Look, the feet of those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out.” Immediately 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. And great fear seized the whole church and all who heard of these things.


Just to be sure we are all on the same page, I should point out what most careful readers will observe. This harsh, shocking story is not about money.

It is instead about the very serious nature of Christians’ relationship with their church, “church” being a gathering of people sharing a mutual belief in Jesus Christ, and the mission flowing from that belief.

Readers of the Bible have struggled for centuries with this story, finding themselves confused by the rapid judgment falling upon this couple. Was there no room for them to repent and find grace?

Peter’s words and a particular Greek verb in the text, one used only when divine judgment is at hand, make it clear the answer is “no.” Working through the hearts of this couple, Satan had dared to enter the holy group established by God to spread the gospel over all the earth.

Such deceit from this couple could not be tolerated. These two likely were hoping to leverage their false gift into acclaim, and their acclaim into power, and God could not allow the devil to embed himself so deeply in the fledgling church.

We should read this story as a reminder to take very seriously the vows we make as Christians, be they the words we say at baptism and confirmation or commitments we make later. We especially need to be sure that any actions we take to support or participate in the life of the church are intended for the glory of God.

The devil still seeks to find entry, and God still sees his holy, catholic church of believers to be precious and worth defending.

Lord, help us to search our hearts continually as we serve the kingdom through the church. May our motives be pure. Amen.