Acts 5 is a study in how different people respond to the God revealed in the gospel. I detect 5 different responses.
Firstly, there’s Ananias and Sapphira. On the surface, they’re “good church folk”. If you met them, you’d think they were out and out believers. They were, after all, early members of the church. And in a community of self-sacrifice and love for others, they seemed to be doing the right thing. But, with the Holy Spirit’s insight, the apostles “out” a different version of this couple. They’re all about winning people’s approval. For them, God isn’t really an active and present agent in the world. They think that they can con God as easily as one can con a human. As they find out, to their detriment, they couldn’t be more wrong. Their response to the gospel was to try and use it to make themselves look good.
Then there are the crowds. They are infinitely aware that there is something supernatural going on here. They hold the apostles in high regard. They recognise that they have power to heal and drive out demons. Afraid to join (14) directly, many are nevertheless brought to the Lord. Their response to the gospel: fear and awe.
Thirdly we see the high priest and his officials. What drives them is in part the same thing as what drove Ananias and Sapphira: a desire to be seen as “good people”. They’re jealous of the apostles, who are teaching the people with an authority and power that the priests could never muster. What’s more, they were upset that the apostles were saying that the religious leadership had had Jesus killed. (Glossing over the inconvenient truth that this was what actually happened). Their response to the gospel is to try and crush it.
Then there’s Gamaliel, a Pharisee. His response to the gospel isn’t to enthusiastically embrace it like the crowds, nor to try and crush it like the priests. Rather, Gamaliel is cautious in his response: if this is a work of God, he recognises, nothing can stop it. (39).
Finally, there are the apostles. For them, the gospel means everything – and demands everything. They are jailed and beaten – and yet consider it pure joy to suffer disgrace for the name of Jesus. Because for them the gospel means life and hope and future. For them the gospel is the good news: Jesus is the Messiah.
How do I respond to the gospel?
Jesus, please help me to respond rightly to your gospel. Keep me from wanting to impress people; may I desire to honour you above all others. Help me to remember that you know not just what I do, but also why I do it. You know my innermost thoughts. I pray that you would help me be honest with you. Lord I know that you are all powerful. I’m sorry for the times I have been deceitful like Ananias and Sapphira. I’m sorry for the times that I have been a people-pleaser like the priests. I’m sorry for the times when I’ve been cautious but uncommitted like Gamaliel. Give me some of the awe that the crowds had in Jerusalem back then, I pray. May I so value you that I am willing to endure the scorn of others for the sake of your name and your kingdom.