Poser Outcome

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.” Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.

Acts 5:9-10

Chiffon Margarine had a series of commercials in the late 1970’s in which “Mother Nature” would appear and taste what she thought was sweet cream butter. The announcer’s voice would then reveal to her that she had not sampled real butter but stick margarine. Mother Nature would then deliver the tag line “It’s not nice to fool with mother nature”, and with a wave of her arms, thunder clapped and natural calamity followed. For those who fool with the Holy Spirit, supernatural calamity follows.

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Posing is temporary. The Holy Spirit who reveals truth (John 14:17, 16:13) to those He fills, cannot be fooled and fools should beware of Him. Ananias and Sapphira misrepresented their generosity with the offering they laid at the apostles’ feet, but their duplicity was short-lived. Ananias died under the scrutiny of the Holy Spirit as Peter questioned him. Carefully constructed facades can only mask unsightly deceptions for a short while when an all-knowing God is involved.

Posing is ugly. Sapphira’s name means beautiful, but her full participation in her husband’s lie shows us that beautiful people can sometimes do very ugly things. Just like Ananias, so also was Sapphira called to account. Both were offered an opportunity to tell the truth and repent, but both persisted in their deception. When Sapphira affirmed the lie, “Immediately she fell down at his feet and breathed her last.” Her body fell to the place of submission, the same location offerings were laid—at the apostles’ feet (Acts 4:34-36). God was not mocked, but in his justice He was satisfied. God the Spirit is beautiful in His holiness, but when He judges sin it is ugly.

Posing is strange fire. Ananias and Sapphira have an Old Testament counterpart. Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu were priests like their father. However, unlike their father, they made an unauthorized offering to the Lord of fire mixed with incense, and they knew better (Leviticus 10:1-7). God’s justice was swift, poetic, and horrible. Fire came out from the presence of the Lord and consumed them. Moses then turned to his grief-stricken brother and offered these words, ““This is what the Lord has said: ‘Among those who are near me I will be sanctified, and before all the people I will be glorified.’” Notice that both of these incidents center on the disposition of the ones making offerings to holy God. Both Nadab and Abihu and Ananias and Sapphira made offensive offerings. They were not motivated by the Holy Spirit nor by faith, but rather foolishness, so their offerings were lies. One may rightly reason that those who offer strange fire, get burned.

How can we be sure we won’t get burned? To the woman at the well, Jesus said, “But the hour is coming, and is now here, when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such people to worship him. God is spirit, and those who worship him must worship in spirit and truth” (John 4:23-24). We must worship God in spirit and truth, but how can we be sure we are? Jesus is the answer. His person and work is the centerpiece of Christian worship. His Spirit lives in His Church and leads His worshippers into truthful worship of the Father. We have a relationship of total dependency on Christ, our mediator; he is our true fire screen before the consuming fire of holy God.

My friend David loved to take me to visit his grandmother and great grandmother. A dear soul, his great grandmother was nearing ninety years of age and was as fragile as one might imagine. On cold winter mornings, she liked to warm herself by the fireplace, but on one such occasion she could not feel the heat very well so she removed the fire screen to stand a little closer. Unfortunately, she got a little too close and her clothing was set ablaze, badly burning a large portion of her skin. She was able to make an arduously painful recovery, but I have never forgotten her.

Jesus is our fire screen before holy God. We need Him to keep our worship honest so that we don’t stand too close the fire.

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Poser Origin

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? …Why is it that you have contrived this deed in your heart? You have not lied to man but to God.”

Acts 5:3-4b

Have you ever pretended to be something you were not? Skaters invented the term poser to refer to someone who has all of the gear, dresses the part, and hangs around the skate park, but is not a “real” skater; they just pose as a one.

Posers will do anything to win. The 1994 Winter Olympics were embroiled in a drama worthy of daytime soaps or nighttime reality shows. Gold medal hopeful Nancy Kerrigan was brutally attacked by a man in the employ of Tonya Harding’s the ex-husband. Despite maintaining her innocence, Harding pled guilty to obstructing justice and received a lifetime ban from her sport. Kerrigan and Harding were on the United States Women’s Figure Skating team, but only one was an Olympic champion, the other was a poser.

Posers are the fool’s gold of genuine disciples. In the wake of Joseph Barnabas’ generous gift to the Jerusalem church (Acts 4:36-37), a husband and wife also came forward with a lavish offering. But there was a problem. Like Barnabas, Ananias and Sapphira sold their property, but unlike the “son of encouragement” they conspired to hold back a portion of the proceeds while misrepresenting their gift as the full price. Perhaps the couple coveted the acclaim paid to Barnabas and wished to purchase a bit of his good will or position. What we can be sure of is that Barnabas was honestly motivated by the Holy Spirit while Ananias and Sapphira were Satanically-motivated and lied to the Holy Spirit. Whether they were Christians or not is unclear, but Ananias and Sapphira were familiar enough with the Holy Spirit to lie to him. Discerning their deception, the Spirit-filled Apostle Peter illuminates the lies’ origin: “why has Satan filled your heart to lie to the Holy Spirit?” Like Eve (Genesis 3:1-4), the scribes and Pharisees (John 8:44), and Judas (Luke 22:3-6), Ananias and Sapphira believed “the father of lies”. Posing is fool’s gold and begins in a fool’s heart.

Persecution attacks the body, but posing attacks the heart. For preaching in Jesus’ name, the Jerusalem church was violently resisted by the Sanhedrin and all the temple authorities (Acts 4:1-22). However, because of the Spirit’s abiding presence, the Church is made powerful when persecuted (Acts 4:29-31) and kept pure from posers (Acts 5:4-5).

New Jerseyans don’t pose. Dave Cropco of Clifton New Jersey was a college friend. Despite being part of the same university student body, we could not have been more dissimilar. Our friendship was a strange combination of urban New Jersey Italian extroversion and rural Florida introversion, but for a while, we really enjoyed each other’s company. Dave used to crib lines from a vile, late 1980’s comedian and inject them into conversations to add levity. One of his favorite comedic quotes was a reaction to the advice “fake it ’til you make it”. Whenever anything of the kind was suggested, my friend, speaking in his most exaggerated south Jerseyan, would say, “Pretend? I’m from Jersey—I can’t pretend!”

Jesus doesn’t pose. He came from the Father, became flesh, and is “full of grace and truth” (John 1:1, 14). He’s real. The diametrically opposite of poser is Jesus. How salty the world would be if when tempted to pose, Christians answered, “Pretend? I’m from Jesus—I can’t pretend!”

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Persecution Produces Selflessness

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 and laid it at the apostles’ feet, and it was distributed to each as any had need.

Acts 4:34-35

When the heart is generous the needy will appear. Deep within the heart of the Church is Holy Spirit-inspired selflessness.

Need is preceded by and matched by Christian generosity. Jesus said, “the poor you will always have with you”. Perhaps he literally meant “with you who believe in me.” Jesus’ words add an interesting backdrop to “There was not a needy person among them” (Acts 4:34). Notice how carefully the words are constructed. God’s Word does not say “there was not a poor person” or “poverty was eradicated”, but “there was not a needy person”. The needs of the poor were being met by the Jerusalem Church. How were those needs met?

Stewardship took precedence over ownership. Christian disciples of the first century viewed themselves as managers of God’s property. As the needs of the poor among them became known, believers would meet those needs by selling houses and lands and laying the money “at the apostles’ feet”. “At the feet” is the place of surrender. The enemies of David’s Lord are made a “footstool” for His feet (Psalm 110:1). Jesus, taking on the nature of a servant, washed his disciples’ feet (John 13:1-15). Mary learned at Jesus’ feet (Luke 10:39). As a student, Paul sat “at the feet of Gamaliel” (Acts 22:3). John, on the island Patmos, fell dead at Jesus’ feet (Revelation 1:17). Christian stewardship begins by laying everything we have and everything we are at Jesus’ feet only to discover our everything is already His.

Luke celebrates outsiders. He gave us the principle of Christian stewardship in the ancient Church, but who embodied the principle? Joseph, a Levite from Cyprus, is the patron saint of Christian selflessness (Acts 4:36-37). Because he was a Levite, Joseph’s ancestors would have owned no land in ancient Israel (Numbers 18:21-24). It is therefore speculated that Joseph received his property in Cyprus from either his wife’s or mother’s family. How difficult would it be to liquidate an inheritance such as his? Apparently, he heard of Jesus and all he was doing in Jerusalem and believed so deeply that he sold what he had, personally surrendered the money, and joined the work. For this reason, Joseph was nicknamed Barnabas, or Son of Encouragement and became a missionary companion of Paul. What property values were in first century Cyprus is unknown, but the amount of money Joseph gave caused the Church to laugh with gratitude. Although he was an outsider, Barnabas did what many of the Disciples did—gave up businesses, possessions, and positions to follow Christ. Despite the persecution in Jerusalem, Joseph Barnabas ran from his possessions and in to Jesus.

Acts’ pattern is one of celebrating those who “give up” to follow. What pattern do we celebrate? Often the case seems to be that we emphasize the “great gain” of following Jesus almost to the exclusion of the “great sacrifice”. Lest our current blessings should create a historic blind spot, let us not forget that life was difficult in Acts 4. The Church was under attack. For following Jesus, Christians lost family, social position, property, businesses, money, friends, and eventually even their lives. How did they respond? Did they hold back because times were tough? No, they gave and risked even more for Jesus. Selflessness of that magnitude demands our celebration and emulation.

Some Christians watch war movies; some live them. Several years ago, I read a story by Voice of the Martyrs titled, “Another Christian Martyr In Iraq”. When “Muhammad” first converted to Christianity from Islam, he kept his new faith a secret. The first person he told other than his wife and son was a Christian named “Joseph”. Muhammad knew the risks of sharing his faith in Iraq, but felt led to witness to his extended family. Following the radical teachings of Islam, his family members killed Muhammad. After the martyrdom of her husband, his widow sent their friend Joseph the following e-mail: “I have bad news. Muhammad is dead. Our family killed him for sharing his new faith in Jesus Christ. I miss him dearly. Muhammad left me two important things: my son and our Bible. I’ll never forget why he died. He died for Jesus.”

Jesus calls every Christian to selflessness. For some, that calling will cost their lives, for others it will cost their possessions, but it will cost us all something. Since Jesus laid His all on the altar, have you laid your all at His feet?

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