Recently in Connecticut, a pastor stood in front of his church and confessed to the sin of adultery. Then the pastor fell down dead, right in front of everyone. This proves that God expects his people to live holy lives and if they don’t, he’ll kill them.
Of course, that’s complete nonsense. The story is true – a Connecticut pastor really did die – but the interpretation is all wrong. The fact is, God doesn’t treat us as our sins deserve. But what are we to make of Ananias and Sapphira who, like the poor pastor, dropped dead in a church (Acts 5:1-11)?
The bizarre deaths of Ananias and Sapphira have been debated for 2,000 years. Why did they die? Did God kill them? Why did God kill them? Why is this story in the Bible? Am I supposed to learn something from it? What? Will God kill me if I lie?
Questions like these have provided sermon material for countless fear-mongers. “God killed Ananias and Sapphira because they sinned and if you’re not careful he’ll kill you too! So fear God and behave yourself.” Has there ever been a more damnable lie inflicted on those whom God loves? (Actually, I can think of several worse lies.)
Unpunishable on account of Jesus
I could give you a hundred scriptures to show you that God did not kill Ananias and Sapphira for their sins and to assure you that he won’t kill you for yours, but three should suffice:
(God) doesn’t punish us as our sins deserve. (Psalm 103:10, CEV)
The punishment that brought us peace was on him… (Isa 53:5b)
God is not counting people’s sins against them. (2 Cor 5:19b)
The very good news of Jesus is that your sins and my sins and the sins of that Connecticut pastor and the sins of Ananias and Sapphira were condemned on the cross and there is nothing left to condemn! God was angry with your sins, which is why he poured out his wrath and dealt with them once and for all at Calvary (Rom 8:3).
Those who accuse God of killing sinners are confused about the cross. God doesn’t kill sinners, he saves sinners. God doesn’t hate sinners, he loves them!
But God demonstrates his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. (Rom 5:8)
If God killed Ananias and Sapphira then the Bible is wrong and Jesus is not the Lamb of God who carried the sins of the world. (If you’re wondering about Herod, read this.)
There’s no shortage of sinners in this world. Why would God kill one couple and leave the rest alone?
I’ve heard it said that God killed Ananias and Sapphira to warn and purify the infant church. By making an example out of these hypocrites, the church would be filled with a holy fear and kept safe from liars and cheats. If so, then God failed spectacularly. Liars, cheats and hypocrites have always been with us, and there were plenty in the New Testament church.
I’ve also heard it said that God set up this killing to establish the authority of his apostles. Never mind that Peter had been commissioned by the Lord and filled with the Holy Spirit. Like a kid going through a gangster initiation he had to kill someone to establish his bona fides. How absurd! How utterly inconsistent with the message Peter had been commissioned to preach.
Meanwhile back in Connecticut
People sometimes ask me, “Did God kill Ananias and Sapphira?” When I reply in the negative I am invariably asked, “So who did?” as though there was some murder mystery to be solved. But the facts of their deaths may be more prosaic.
The pastor in Connecticut died from a sudden heart failure, which is very sad. Perhaps it was the stress of hiding a lie or losing his reputation that triggered the attack. At the time of his death there was speculation in the press that he didn’t plan to confess at all – the adultery was a long time ago – but he had been ambushed by church members who had heard about his affair. Emotions were running high. There was shouting. The man died. Whatever happened, it’s a sad story. But I am struck by the similarities between the Connecticut story and the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira:
- By having a secret affair, you could argue that the pastor lied to his church and he lied to God, as did Ananias and Sapphira.
- The pastor was confronted by church members, as were Ananias and Sapphira.
- The pastor dropped down dead, just like Ananias and Sapphira.
As far as I know, no one is blaming God for the pastor’s death, so why would anyone blame him for the deaths of Ananias and Sapphira? If you must blame someone, blame sin. Sin kills people. Sin ruins marriages and destroys lives. Sin is bad.
And this is exactly why Jesus came – so that you might be free from the curse of sin and live. If there is any takeaway from the Ananias and Sapphira story, it’s that the wages of sin is death. That’s the bad news. But the good news is that God is good, he doesn’t treat you as your sins deserve, and he freely gives life to sinners.
That’s the gospel of Jesus that we all need to hear!