When God Strikes Someone Dead

When God Strikes Someone Dead
Death of Ananias by Raphael

In the fifth chapter of the Book of Acts we read one of the more interesting and chilling passages in the New Testament. A man named Ananias and his wife Sapphira sell a piece of property, keep part of the money and give the rest to the church. Trouble is, they tell the church they are giving the full price received for the land (Acts 5:8).

As a result of this deception, God struck both of them dead. This has always seemed harsh to me. While it’s true the wages of sin is death (Romans 6:23), that payment is not usually required on the spot – thank goodness!  Why so in this case? Of all the sins we see recorded in scripture, why instant death for lying about the price of a piece of property?

The answer can be found by looking at the context of this passage in the Book of Acts and how God deals with His people throughout scripture.

This passage comes between the first arrest of the Apostles by the Jewish authorities (Acts 4:1-31) and the second (Acts 5:17-42). From her beginning the New Testament church was under attack.  The Enemy tried to destroy her one of two ways – the same two ways he does today – either from within or from without. When the first attempt to stop the spread of the gospel using the external threats of the Jewish leaders failed, there was a change of tactic. Satan tried to weaken the church from within using the deceit of Ananias & Sapphira (Acts 5:3) and the Holy Spirit dealt with that decisively. This was God protecting the church in her infancy.

God takes the purity of His church seriously. A pure church is a powerful church. So it’s no accident that right after Luke tells us about the purge of Ananias and Sapphira we again read about signs and wonders done by the apostles and the increase in the number of believers.

You see a similar pattern in the Old Testament.

Shortly after the Levitical priesthood was inaugurated, the sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, failed to follow God’s instructions regarding the fire used for burning incense before the LORD. This was likely because they were drunk (Leviticus 10:9). As with Ananias and Sapphira, God immediately struck them dead and their bodies were carried outside the camp (Leviticus 10:4). Then, right after the conquest of Jericho, the very first battle in the Promised Land, the disobedience of Achan was dealt with similarly. He and his entire family were stoned to death at the LORD’s command (Joshua 7:15).

In each of these cases, a new chapter has begun in the history of God’s people. In each case as well, an internal threat to that new work arises and the Lord takes decisive action to address the threat and provide an example for others. The deaths of Ananias and Sapphira lead to a healthy fear of the Lord within the church (Acts 5:11).

It’s significant that it was not the Jewish officials persecuting the church who were struck dead on the spot but two church members. The lesson is that internal threats to the church are far more serious than external ones. External persecution tends to strengthen the church whereas internal threats tend to weaken her.

When churches die or apostatize it is virtually always because they failed to take seriously deceit, false teaching, personal sin or other disobedience to the Lord within their ranks.

The Trojan Horse is more dangerous than the battering ram. To remain healthy churches must, as Jude tells us, “contend for the faith once for all entrusted to the saints.” (Jude 3).

Does Leviticus 27 Teach that Women are Worth Less than Men?

Does Leviticus 27 Teach that Women are Worth Less than Men?One of the charges leveled at the Bible and at Christianity is that it devalues women. In support of this belief, certain proof-texts are often trotted out.

One such passage is Leviticus 27:1-8. In this passage, Moses gives the Israelites instructions for how to “redeem” a person who has been dedicated to the LORD’s service. In Old Testatment Israel, it was possible to make a vow dedicating yourself or one of your children to the LORD. This person then served full time in the temple. You see an example of this in I Samuel chapter one. Samuel’s mother Hannah dedicates him to the LORD’s service and Samuel goes to live in the temple beginning right after he’s weaned, eventually becoming Israel’s last Judge before the monarchy is established.

However, in this passage in Leviticus, Moses explains how, by paying a specified amount to the Temple, the person dedicated to the LORD can be released from the vow. A value is specified for each type of person with the value to redeem females set lower than the value for males. Gottcha! The Bible says women are worth less than men!

But, there’s more to it than that. As you read the passage, notice there are differing values for several categories of people. The most valuable is a male between the ages of 20 – 60. After that is a female in that age range. Then for younger males and females there are lower values – the younger the person the lower the value. The same is true for those in advanced age. People over 60 are valued less then people between 20 – 60. But still, within each age group, the value placed on females is less than that placed on males.

While that seems to say women are not as valuable to God as men, I submit these amounts have nothing to do with the intrinsic worth of the individuals. This is a value based on financial or productivity considerations. In an agrarian, manual-labor intensive society, young, strong men were worth more to the culture than were women, children and the aged. Even when younger or older, a man, because of his strength, was worth more compared to a woman of the same age. But, it’s interesting to note, a woman in the prime of health (between the ages of 20 – 60) is worth more than an older or younger male.

A similar principle is seen later in the chapter with regard to valuing land (Leviticus 27: 22-25). The closer in time to the year of Jubilee, the less was required to redeem the land because there was less productive time left before the land reverted to the original owner. Exact same parcel of land but differing values for redemption based on the amount of productive output expected.

So what’s being recognized here is that young, strong men are worth more when you have manual labor to do than are their female counterparts.

You have similar valuations based on skills today. A doctor is “worth” more from a financial standpoint than a sales clerk. It has nothing to do with the intrinsic value of the person but with what they bring to the culture skills-wise. Sometimes the value is based on circumstances.

Is a plumber “worth” more than a doctor? Yes, if I have a broken pipe pouring water into my basement.

Is a young man in ancient Israel “worth” more than a woman? Yes, if I have a field to plow.

While the Bible speaks of differing roles for men and women, it does not teach that men and women have different worth in the eyes of God simply because of their gender.

Every Dream in the Bible

Is God communicating with me through a dream?
Jacob’s Dream by José de Ribera

Jeffrey Kranz at OverviewBible.com has designed a helpful graphic compiling all the dreams in the Bible.

 There are many reasons this is helpful and interesting but here’s what stuck out to me: In the entire sweep of biblical history covering hundreds of people and thousands of years, there are only 21 times God used dreams to communicate something. All but 6 of those times are in the Old Testament. Among those in the New Testament, 4 of 6 were to Joseph regarding his role with and protection of the Christ child.

Also, the majority of the dreams (perhaps all, depending on how you look at it) are given to move forward the history of redemption culminating in Christ. After the dream of Pilate’s wife, just prior to Christ’s crucifixion, no further examples of this kind of communication from God exist in scripture.

So what do we make of this?

One thing is, if I think God is communicating with me directly via a dream, I’m probably wrong. The instances of God communicating this way are so infrequent in scripture as to be statistically insignificant and seem to be reserved for those with a special role in God’s outworking of redemptive history. Dreams are never given just to convey information about personal life decisions or even for the purpose of evangelism.

However, there is one sure fire way to be sure we’re hearing from God and that is to be a student of His Word. The truth is we don’t need dreams or other extra-biblical communication from God in order to know and do His will. There is nothing we need to know to live a life pleasing to God that is not contained within the pages of the Bible.

 All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, equipped for every good work. – II Timothy 3:16-17

Why Did Jesus Teach Using Parables?

Why Did Jesus Teach Using Parables?
Parable of the Sower (Photo credit: Lawrence OP)

There are questions we have about the scriptures that simply will not be answered this side of eternity. We can speculate about them, within reason, but in the end, we must realize God has chosen not to reveal the answer to us in His Word and be content with not knowing.

Things in this category range from “What was Paul’s ‘thorn in the flesh’?” to “When will Christ return?” We get in trouble when we answer questions like these definitively when Scripture has not. For example, enough egg has landed on the face of American Christianity from well-meaning people telling us when Christ will return to make an omelette the size of (The Late Great) planet earth.

By the same token, there are questions scripture does answer directly. Where we go wrong in those cases is to either pretend scripture doesn’t address it or to dislike scripture’s answer and substitute our own answer instead.

So where does the question in the title of this post fit?

I’ve seen this question addressed with a variety of responses, most of which  view the use of parables as some kind of teaching technique we should emulate or some learning strategy Jesus is employing.  But is that right? How can we know for sure? If only someone had asked Jesus this question during his earthly ministry and one of the gospel writers had written down His answer!

Oh, wait…

10 Then the disciples came and said to him, “Why do you speak to them in parables?” 11 And he answered them, “To you it has been given to know the secrets of the kingdom of heaven, but to them it has not been given. 12 For to the one who has, more will be given, and he will have an abundance, but from the one who has not, even what he has will be taken away. 13 This is why I speak to them in parables, because seeing they do not see, and hearing they do not hear, nor do they understand. 14 Indeed, in their case the prophecy of Isaiah is fulfilled that says:

“‘“You will indeed hear but never understand,
and you will indeed see but never perceive.”
15 For this people’s heart has grown dull,
and with their ears they can barely hear,
and their eyes they have closed,
lest they should see with their eyes
and hear with their ears
and understand with their heart
and turn, and I would heal them.’ – Matthew 13:10-15

 

Did you get that? Jesus didn’t teach in parables to make things more clear or to help simple people understand complex theological topics or any number of other reasons commonly given. He spoke in parables to hide His message from those who were perishing, those to whom the Kingdom of God had not been given. Jesus teaching in parables was a form of judgment on the nation of Israel.

The Old Testament passage Jesus quotes is from Isaiah 6:9-10. It occurs immediately after the Lord asks who He can send and Isaiah responds “Here I am, send me.” The Lord sent Isaiah to the people as a judgment. Isaiah was to deliver a message that the Lord had already ordained would not be believed by many, a message that would further harden their hearts and would leave them without excuse before almighty God. Isaiah wasn’t preaching to his contemporaries only about judgment to come in the future. His presence among them preaching a message they were unable to understand was also God’s judgment on them in the present.

Jesus is doing the same thing for the Jewish leaders and many others in the nation of Israel during His day. He preached a message of salvation to those with “ears to hear” (Matthew 11:15) but for the rest His words were designed to prevent them from understanding and coming to repentance. Mark says this even more directly:

11 And he said to them, “To you has been given the secret of the kingdom of God, but for those outside everything is in parables, 12 so that

“they may indeed see but not perceive,
and may indeed hear but not understand,
lest they should turn and be forgiven.” – Mark 4:11-12

 Jesus spoke in parables to cloak His message from the reprobate because they had not been given to Him by the Father (John 10:28-30) and therefore were not citizens of the Kingdom of God.  Wow. There’s no denying that’s a difficult teaching. And that’s why I think so many people answer this question wrong. They don’t like Jesus’ answer so they come up with one of their own that’s more palatable.

But, no matter how difficult the teaching, we must present it as the scriptures present it. We’re called to be the King’s messenger, not His editor or His spin doctor. As Augustine said: “If you believe what you like in the gospels, and reject what you don’t like, it is not the gospel you believe, but yourself.”

What Is Christ’s Role in Our Salvation?

What is Christ's role in our salvation?

In the eighth chapter of the Gospel of John, Jesus makes an amazing claim: Those who saw themselves as God’s people, who were sticklers for keeping the law and could trace their lineage all the way back to Moses were “children of the devil” (John 8:44). So much for the Jesus-who-judges-no-one of liberal theologians.

Throughout the New Testament, two groups of people are in view. Sometimes they are called “the lost” and “the found” other times “children of the Devil” and “children of God.” No matter what descriptors are used, it’s always two and only two groups. One is either “lost” and a child of the devil or “found” and a child of God. The most important question anyone can ask is: How do I move from the first group into the second? How do I cross over and become a child of God?

Thankfully, the Bible is clear on the answer to that question. Only through faith in Jesus Christ can one be made right with God (John 14:6) and move from being God’s enemy to being His friend (John 15:15). People hated that answer in the first century and have continued to hate it in every century since. As a result, all kinds of aberrant belief systems have arisen seeking to get around the clear teaching of Jesus that by grace through faith in Him alone can men be saved. Most of these systems fall into one of two categories:

The Christ and.. Method

This method teaches that, yes, I’m a sinner and yes, Christ is necessary in order to deal with my sin but Christ is not sufficient to do so. Trusting in what Christ did on the cross is certainly a course requirement but I still have to get some extra credit through my works in order to be reconciled to God (or in some cases to stay reconciled). In this category would be the Roman Catholic Church and, within Protestantism, the Church of Christ.

The Christ or…Method

Some take it even a step further. Sure, Christ is a way to be reconciled to God but it is arrogant and ethnocentric to claim He’s the only way. There are many ways to God.  Whether one starts out a sinner or not in this belief system is not a given. Some in this camp would say yes, others no. Unitarian Universalism as well as many of the liberal mainline Protestant denominations in the United States fit here.

Here’s an example of this teaching from the presiding bishop of the Episcopal Church in the USA:

So what is the answer?

The Christ period. Method

The absolute best we can do in pursuit of righteousness Isaiah says is but “filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6). There is nothing we can do to be made righteous or even to be made more righteous. Righteousness in the eyes of God is not a matter of degrees. A person is either righteous or they’re not.  Jesus is and we’re not. Only when God imputes Christ’s righteousness to us can we stand before Him blameless (the only way one can stand before a holy God and not be destroyed).

The perfect life Christ lived and the sacrificial death He died are all that is needed to justify us, make us right with God. When we trust in Christ by grace through faith, we are justified. No additional work on our part is required to supplement that and no other religious tradition can accomplish that because Christ is the only righteous person who ever lived and is therefore the only acceptable substitute for our own “filthy rags.”

What then is Christ’s role in our salvation? The author of the book of Hebrews answers for us:

“Therefore he is able to save completely those who come to God through him, because he always lives to intercede for them.” – Hebrews 7:25 (emphasis mine)

Have you trusted in this Christ who can save completely?