Like Button

Monday, March 14, 2016

Felonies and Misdemeanors

Do you remember the story of Ananias and Sapphira (Acts 5:1-11)? In that story the couple sold some property and then conspired to lie about how much they sold it for and tell the apostles that the money they gave was the total amount. Small issue, really. At least, you'd think so. But Ananias tried it out and was ... killed on the spot. His wife showed up and repeated the lie and she, too, died on the spot. The violation? "You have not lied to man but to God."

There is another strange story in the book of Acts.
Now Herod was angry with the people of Tyre and Sidon, and they came to him with one accord, and having persuaded Blastus, the king's chamberlain, they asked for peace, because their country depended on the king's country for food. On an appointed day Herod put on his royal robes, took his seat upon the throne, and delivered an oration to them. And the people were shouting, "The voice of a god, and not of a man!" Immediately an angel of the Lord struck him down, because he did not give God the glory, and he was eaten by worms and breathed his last. (Acts 12:20-23)
I don't know about you, but to me the first response here is ... "What?" I mean, lots of people do lots of bad things and Herod was no exception, but here we have a guy who simply gives a rousing speech that the people praise him for and, boom, he's struck dead on the spot. Literally. "An angel of the Lord struck him down." Ouch! Ananias and Sapphira lied to God and died on the spot for it.

In the name of justice, how is that reasonable? I mean, isn't that a bit of an overreaction? I would argue that it is not.

In Exodus God reveals an interesting aspect to His character. "I the LORD your God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers on the children to the third and the fourth generation of those who hate Me." (Exo 20:5) Jealous? Isn't that bad? Not in this case. The context was a prohibition against worshiping other gods, and the point was that God's glory was the ultimate issue. He said, "I am the LORD; that is My name; My glory I give to no other." (Isa 42:8) According to Scripture, "For by Him all things were created, in heaven and on earth, visible and invisible, whether thrones or dominions or rulers or authorities -- all things were created through Him and for Him." (Col 1:16) Get that? All things were not created for you and me or whomever else you might think, but solely by and for Him.

We tend to take the glory of God in minimalist sense. "Yeah, yeah, give God glory. We're on board. Just don't make it a big issue. I mean, we'll proclaim Your glory and all, but it won't be that big of a deal." Over against this we see this universal accusation from God, "All have sinned and fall short of the glory of God." (Rom 3:23) See that? We admit that "all have sinned", but it's difficult for us to think in terms of the universal result of that sin -- falling short of the glory of God. That is the problem for all mankind. Romans 1 says this:
For the wrath of God is revealed from heaven against all ungodliness and unrighteousness of men, who by their unrighteousness suppress the truth. For what can be known about God is plain to them, because God has shown it to them. For His invisible attributes, namely, His eternal power and divine nature, have been clearly perceived, ever since the creation of the world, in the things that have been made. So they are without excuse. For although they knew God, they did not honor Him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened. Claiming to be wise, they became fools, and exchanged the glory of the immortal God for images resembling mortal man and birds and animals and creeping things. (Rom 1:18-23)
We are "without excuse" and become guilty because we "suppress the truth" and exchange the glory of the immortal God for something less. Big problem.

Paul told the Corinthian Christians, "For what we proclaim is not ourselves, but Jesus Christ as Lord, with ourselves as your servants for Jesus' sake." (2 Cor 4:5) He told the Colossian Christians, "Whatever you do, in word or deed, do everything in the name of the Lord Jesus, giving thanks to God the Father through Him." (Col 3:17) He also said, "Whatever you do, do all to the glory of God." (1 Cor 10:31) God, then, is serious about His glory. What we do we do for His sake. Everything we do is supposed to be "in the name of the Lord Jesus" and "to the glory of God". A single sin, a "minor infraction" -- as in the case of Ananias and Sapphira, even a "white lie" -- is a violation of God's glory and deserving of extreme punishment. Herod was struck dead on the spot for the "simple" violation of not giving glory to God because God's glory is paramount, and violating that glory by any method is deserving of the utmost punishment.

Is it justice? It is, indeed. In fact, when we minimize sin -- "It's only an infraction, an error, a mistake. It's out of ignorance. It's a boo-boo. Hey, we didn't know!" -- we commit the very same violation of God's glory and earn the eternal punishment due someone who violates the eternal God. We are without excuse. Now, I don't say all this to scare you. I say all this to help you realize the magnitude of God's mercy. It was justice that killed Ananias, Sapphira, and Herod for the sole violation of taking away from God's glory. We all deserve that. It is not the fact that they died on the spot that is amazing; it is the fact that we do not. That is mercy in the extreme when the violation is against God and the punishment is not meted out. The closer we get to realizing that, the closer we get to glorifying God.

No comments: