Acts iv: 32, to v: 42.
N those early days the Church of Christ in Jerusalem was like a great family; for each one was full of love for all the others. No one said of any thing that he owned, "This is mine," but they had all things together, as belonging to all. Those who owned lands or houses sold them, and brought the money, and laid it down at the feet of the apostles. This was not because a rule was made commanding it; but because each member loved the rest, and wished to help them. The money that was given in this free way the apostles divided among those that were poor, so that no one among those who believed in Christ was in need.
There was one man especially who gave away all that he had to help the Church. His name was Joseph, but he was called "Barnabas," which means "The one who encourages," because he was so helpful and cheering in his words. Barnabas sold his land, and gave the money from it to the apostles, that they might help with it those who were poor; and Barnabas spent all his time, as well as his money, in doing good.
But there was another man in the Church at Jerusalem whose spirit was not that of Barnabas, to give up all and live fully for the Lord. This man, whose name was Ananias, wanted to have the name of giving all, while he kept a part for himself. Ananias sold some land which he had owned, and agreed with his wife Sapphira to give a part of the money to the apostles for the Church, and to keep back a part for themselves. This they had a right to do, or even to keep it all. But they agreed together to act as though they were giving all the money, and that was agreeing together to tell a lie.
Ananias brought his money and laid it down before the apostles. But Peter, by the power of God, saw what was in the thought of Ananias, and said to him, "Ananias, why has the evil spirit filled your heart to tell a lie by your act, in keeping back part of the money? Before it was sold was not the land your own? And after it was sold, was not the money in your hand? You have tried to tell a lie, not to man, but to God; and God will judge you."
As Peter spoke these words, Ananias fell down before him, and in a moment was lying dead upon the floor. The young men in the meeting took up his dead body, and wrapped it with long rolls of cloth, and carried it out and buried it as was the manner of the Jews.
Death of Ananias.
After three hours, Sapphira, the wife of Ananias, came into the room. She did not know that her husband was dead, for no one had told her; such was the fear upon all.
Peter said to her, "Tell me, did you sell the land for so much?" And he named the sum that Ananias had placed before him.
Sapphira said, "Yes, that was the price of the land."
But Peter said to her, "How is it that you two people agreed together to bring down God's anger upon you? Those who have buried your husband are at the door, and they shall carry you out also!"
Then Sapphira fell down, struck dead by the power of God. The young men coming in found her dead; and they carried out her body and buried it beside her husband. A great fear came upon all the church, and upon all who heard how Ananias and Sapphira died. After that no one dared to try and deceive the apostles in their gifts to the Lord's church.
And every day the apostles went to the Temple; and standing in Solomon's Porch, they preached to the people about Jesus, and salvation through his name. They wrought many wonders also in healing the sick. From the houses those that were sick were brought out into the street, lying on beds and couches, so that as the apostle Peter passed by, his shadow might fall on them. And from the villages around Jerusalem they brought people that had diseases, or were held by evil spirits; and by the power of God in the apostles they were all made well.
All these wonderful works brought great multitudes to hear the apostles, as they spoke in Solomon's Porch. Very many believed in Christ as they heard, and men and women in great numbers were added to the church.
But all these things, the wonders wrought, the crowds brought together, and the people believing in Christ, gave great offence to the high-priest and the rulers: for they were the ones who had led in sending Jesus Christ to the cross, only a few months before. These rulers sent their officers, who seized all the twelve apostles, and thrust them into the common prison of the city. But at night, an angel of the Lord came, and opened the doors of the prison and brought the apostles out, and said:
"Go and stand in the Temple, and speak to the people all the words of this life."
Then, very early in the morning, just at the breaking of the day, they went into the Temple and preached to the people. On that day the high-priest and all the rulers met together, and sent to the prison-house to have the apostles brought before them. But the officers who were sent did not find them in the prison. They came back to the rulers, and said:
"The prison we found shut and locked, and the keepers standing at the doors; but when we opened the doors and went inside we found none of the prisoners there!"
When the captain of the Temple and the rulers heard this they wondered greatly; for they could not understand it. Then came some one, who said, "The men whom you put in prison are standing in the Temple and are teaching the people!"
Then the captain of the Temple went with his officers, and again took the apostles, but without doing them any harm, for they were afraid that the people would stone them if they dealt harshly with these men, whom all held in high honor. They brought them into the hall where the rulers were met together. The high-priest said to them:
"We told you not to speak in this name, or about that man; and now you have filled Jerusalem with your teaching, and you are trying to bring the blood of this man upon us."
But Peter, in the name of all the apostles, answered the high-priest:
"We must obey God rather than men. You put Jesus to death, hanging him upon the cross. But the God of our fathers raised him from the dead, and lifted him up to be at his right hand as a Prince and a Saviour, to give the forgiveness of sins. And we declare these things; and God's Holy Spirit tells us that they are true."
When the rulers heard these words they were made very angry, and thought of causing the apostles to be slain. But there was among them one very wise man, named Gamaliel, a man who was held in honor by all the people. Gamaliel asked to have the apostles sent out of the hall, while he would speak to the rulers. When the apostles were taken away, Gamaliel said:
"Ye men of Israel, be careful in what you do to these men. If what they say comes from themselves alone, it will soon pass away; but if it be of God, you cannot destroy it, and you may even find yourselves to be fighting against God. My advice to you is: do no harm to these men and leave them alone."
The rulers agreed with these words. They sent for the apostles, and caused them to be beaten; then they commanded them again not to speak in the name of Jesus, and they let them go. The apostles went forth from the meeting of the rulers, happy in suffering for the name of Jesus. And in the Temple and among the homes of the people they did not cease from preaching Jesus as the Saviour and the Lord.