Friday, May 13, 2011

Acts 5: Ananias, Sapphira, and Gamaliel

No more will God’s people stone the ungodly.

In the Old Testament, the Law called for the people to stone their fellow Israelites found guilty of murder, idolatry, and other capital crimes. The lesson I draw from the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira is that in the Kingdom, capital punishment flows only from the hand of God. God’s people must never pick up stones of judgement again.

Sapphira – the “enabler” half of this sinful couple – seems as guilty as Ananias, who actually “did the deed”. Couples are one flesh. Sometimes the flesh is corrupted. I am reminded of an elderly Vermont couple that has spent their lives laboring on behalf of abortion and euthanasia. They love each other and walk hand in hand to and from the legislative hearings at which they push for laws that would result in the unnecessary deaths of the very young and the very old. They are united in their anger at activist Christians. Should grace break through to one or the other, I hope he or she will be willing to choose the Kingdom over corrupted oneness.

Ananias and Sapphira pretended to holiness while loving money. In fact, it is the sin of the Pharisees, and Spirit of God is jealous, jealous, jealous over His bride and will not share her with that wicked spirit.

And speaking of those Pharisees – not all of them were ungodly! Witness Gamaliel, one of the great teachers of the Hebrew faith. His “leave them alone and let God sort it out” is at odds with the practioners of the Stamp Them Out School of Religious Discipline, but is more in line with the stone-free Kingdom and, practically speaking, with the new reality that Israel is no longer a free theocracy, but a people subjected by its own idolatry to pagan rule. It also reminds me of advice an aged John Wesley gave to a young William Wilberforce: if God is directing your work to end slavery in the British empire, never give up, because if God wills it, you cannot fail.

On the subject of Gamaliel, Wikipedia agrees with Luke: he “was a leading authority in the Sanhedrin in the mid 1st century CE. He was the grandson of the great Jewish teacher Hillel the Elder, and died twenty years before the destruction of the Second Temple in Jerusalem (70 CE).” Jewish literature has him instructing the king and queen, probably Herod Agrippa and his wife Berenice. Hillel, by the way, was the sage who was asked to explain the Law of God while balancing on one foot. He answered, “do no harm to your neighbor. All else is explanation.”

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