In Acts 5, which we studied this past Sunday, we saw great fear coming over the people in two instances (in v. 5 “great fear came over all who heard of it” and in v. 11 “great fear came over the whole church”). Something is going on here. Phrases are not repeated in the text because the writer could not think of anything else to say. Phrases are repeated because they are important.
From chapter 2-4 we have been reading about the advancing of the church through miracles and sermons. We have read in both chapter 2 (vv. 42-47) and chapter 4 (vv. 32-36) how the early church cared for itself. All the sudden chapter 5 explains that one family, being wealthy enough to own property, sought personal gain through generosity. They wanted to become known. They wanted a certain reputation, possibly like that of Barnabas (see 4:36). Yet, the reputation that they actually received was quite different.
Why Did They Fear God?
It is in that context that we are told two times that great fear came over the church. Something happened in the hearts of those who heard about it that was significant. The challenge we have is unpacking what this “fear” really was. Fearing the Lord is a common concept in the Bible. According to Proverbs 1:7 “The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom.” In Acts 2:43 the term fear is used (normally translated “awe”) to describe the reaction of the people on the day of Pentecost. Acts 9:31 explains that the church, which has now expanded from Jerusalem to all Judea and Samaria, was living “in the fear of the Lord and the comfort of the Holy Spirit.” In Acts 19 the sons of Sceva attempted to perform miracles in the name of Jesus and were beaten by a demon possessed man. In response, fear came upon the people and the name of the Lord was exalted.
At key junctures, Luke (the writer of Acts) gives us a picture of what is happening in the hearts of people. In doing so, he often explains that “fear” is that response. If we unpack this notion of fear I think there are two basic things that we can say about it:
- People feared because they watched an amazing and powerful God do amazing and powerful things. The acts of God were totally different than the acts of other gods. There was nothing awe inspiring done by the other gods. People were drawn toward a God who could heal the sick, mend the lame, and cause different languages to be heard.
- People feared a God who was so powerful that he could enact such swift and severe judgment for rebellion. Ananias and Sapphira’s judgment was immediate and severe. This again was not part of the way the pagan gods related to their worshippers.
How Should We Respond?
I think first we should rejoice in a great, mighty, and powerful God. Just as the Lord can take life, he can give it. Until the day of judgment there is always hope that this same God can work in the direst of circumstances. As we wake up in the morning our thoughts should be drawn to the God who can do truly amazing things. He is the God to be worshipped, loved, praised, pleased, and talked about. So let me encourage you today to meditate on phrases like,
“He is mighty to save. He is mighty to save.” and “My chains are gone, I have been set free.” We serve a great and mighty God.
A second way to respond is to be all the more motivated to avoid sin. We serve a great and powerful God who can give sight to the blind, make the lame to walk, soften the hardest heart, and save the most rebellious soul. But our God is also the God who can bring swift and severe judgment if we think more about ourselves, our reputation, and our status, than we think about his glory, his holiness, and his reputation. God does not always judge greediness or lying so quickly today, but fearing the Lord reminds us that our God is so mighty and powerful that he can choose at any moment to deliver discipline as he sees fit. Wise is the child of God who listens to warnings so they can learn from Ananias rather than be like him.
Before this Sunday please finish reading chapter 5 and write out the top 3 issues you found in the text. Finally, talk to someone you know about what we are doing in church. They just might be willing to come with you.