SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR!
Copyright Š 2006 Trumpet Ministries, Inc. All Rights Reserved
Scripture taken from the HOLY BIBLE, NEW INTERNATIONAL VERSION. Copyright Š 973, 1978, 1984 International Bible Society. Used by permission of Zondervan Bible Publishers.
There are people set forth in the Bible who were so close to God, to Divine Glory, and yet so infinitely far from His Kingdom. There are people today who are so close to Christ, and yet so infinitely far from His Kingdom. It is a sobering thought!
SO NEAR AND YET SO FAR!
Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. With his wifes full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles feet. (Acts 5:1,2NIV)
The following essay is enough to frighten all but the most presumptuous believer. It frightens me!
For some reason or another, a few days ago I began to think about Ananias and Sapphira. I had never given much thought to these two people. But they are worth considering because of the unusual sudden violence with which the Holy Spirit judged their conduct.
Every Christian knows the story, how these two early Christians sold a piece of property, brought part of the proceeds to the Apostles and kept the rest of the money for themselves. Actually it was Ananias who kept back part of the money, but he did it with his wifes full knowledge.
Now Peter could have dealt with their lie in several different ways. He could have barred them from the fellowship. He could have demanded the remainder of the money. He could have chastised them and told them never to do this again. He could have given them back what they offered and told them God was not interested in anything less than total consecration to His will.
Why the violent judgment?
"Didnt it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasnt the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied to men but to God." When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. (Acts 5:4,5NIV)
Maybe the sudden violent judgment came because of the extraordinary presence of the Holy Spirit. As Peter pointed out, Ananias had not lied to the Apostles but to God. Perhaps this is the issue. Ananias was lying to God. His heart was not right toward God.
Ananias and Sapphira were members of the early church, so they were probably Jewish believers who were keeping the Law of Moses but had received Jesus as the Messiah. There is no evidence they were anything except members in good standing of the Christian community.
The believers had decided to share their material goods. I dont recall reading that God had commanded them to do this. Maybe they were trying to put into practice what the Lord told the wealthy young man when He said "Sell all you have, give the proceeds to the poor, and follow Me"; or it may have been a carryover from the days when the disciples of Jesus shared a common purse.
As Peter pointed out, the money belonged to Ananias. No one was pressuring him to give away any of it.
The issue was not that Ananias gave part and held back part, it was that he and his wife were pretending to be as fully consecrated as their fellow worshipers.
You can see the same problem in Judas. No one was forcing Judas to follow Christ. Judas decided to be a disciple, and the Lord Jesus went so far as referring to Judas as being "chosen."
Then Jesus replied, "Have I not chosen you, the Twelve? Yet one of you is a devil!" (John 6:70NIV)
So there are devils following the Lord Jesus and fellowshiping with the true disciples.
In the Psalms the Lord Jesus spoke of His grief over Judas.
If an enemy were insulting me, I could endure it; if a foe were raising himself against me, I could hide from him. But it is you, a man like myself, my companion, my close friend, With whom I once enjoyed sweet fellowship as we walked with the throng at the house of God. (Psalms 55:12-14NIV)
Do you see the problem in the above verse? The reason the actions of Judas brought such grief to Jesus had to do with Judas closeness to the Lord. If Judas were an enemy, Christ could have endured it. Maybe this is why the Lord said, "I would rather have you cold than lukewarm."
The Divine wrath came on Judas to the utmost.
May his descendants be cut off, their names blotted out from the next generation. May the iniquity of his fathers be remembered before the LORD; may the sin of his mother never be blotted out. May their sins always remain before the LORD, that he may cut off the memory of them from the earth. (Psalms 109:13-15NIV)
The closer we are to God the more our conduct is of concern to Him, just as the conduct of those closest to us are of concern to us.
What is it that drives people to want to be close to God, to Jesus, when in their heart they desire to cling to the world?
I doubt that anyone forced Gehazi to be the servant of Elisha. The pay probably was not that outstanding. For whatever reason, Gehazi wanted to be near the man of God. Yet in his heart Gehazi desired personal wealth. Perhaps it was a great honor to be the servant of such a distinguished prophet. Gehazi may have seen in Elisha an opportunity for his own advancement.
I have noticed ministers of today who have the ability to become wealthy in the business world. But they go into the ministry. There, because of their natural ability, they soon are successful and well known. Then they send their agents around to the elderly so the easily befuddled senior citizens will change their will and make the evangelist the beneficiary.
Why, when they could be millionaires in the secular realm, do these talented people desire to minister under the anointing? Like Ananias, they keep back part of the proceeds, so to speak. They end up robbing the poor.
Such wolves in sheeps clothing are thought of today as giants of faith, but when the Lord comes He will drive them from His Presence.
Why did such severe wrath fall on Gehazi, on Judas, on Ananias and Sapphira?
We may picture the four of them as devils with horns and long tails. They were not. They were religious people. They wanted to be known as Gods people. They desired the company of the saints.
If you had known them you probably would have considered them fine people, true friends in the Lord.
The same thing is going on today. We have fellowship with people who pray, who give (Ananias did give money to the Apostles, maybe a considerable amount), who worship along with us, who may perform ministry of some kind, who may speak in tongues and prophesy.
But in their heart they are lying to the Spirit of God. They are pretenders. They are hypocrites. And I would go further in stating that while they may realize they are lying, in another part of their consciousness they do not realize they are lying.
This is why I said the present essay is frightening. What if such hypocrisy is true of you? Of me? Are we holding back part of the proceeds or are we really part of the army of the Lord, of those utterly sincere, faithful people who are not holding back part of the proceeds, who are giving all that they are and possess to the Gospel of the Kingdom of God?
When I see people who love to worship with the saints, who desire to be counted as a true brother or sister, and yet I know they are holding back in their heart, keeping one foot in the world, I pray for them. I pray that God will do something to show them the lack of sincerity in their personality. For if God does not do this but permits them to continue living a lie, they will have no part in the Kingdom of God. There are no hypocrites in the Kingdom of God; in the churches perhaps, but not in the army of the Lord, in the true Kingdom of God.
Such people are so close to eternal glory, and yet so infinitely far from eternal joy and glory!
What drove Ananias and Sapphira to want to be with the Apostles of the Lamb? Was it the Divine Glory they felt? Did they truly believe Jesus is the Messiah? They must have, because they put their lives in danger by gathering together with the believers.
Ananias and Sapphira truly desired the Kingdom of God. But there remained in them a trust in the world, a desire for the security and happiness the world appears to offer. They were not quite ready to launch out on the sea of complete trust in God.
This remaining flaw in their personality was enough to bring down Divine judgment upon them. There are not many accounts in the New Testament of the Holy Spirit acting so abruptly against sin. God is telling us something very important in this narrative. If we are to be counted as true members of the Body of Christ we must be utterly sincere, utterly faithful. Any lesser degree of consecration will finally bring destruction on the believer.
It is fashionable among Christians to claim if a believer continues in sin he or she was never saved in the first place. I do not believe the Bible bears this out. There is no evidence whatever that Ananias and Sapphira were not genuine Christians. Peter did not say, "Ananias, you never were a true Christian in the first place." Rather Peter dealt with the sinful act itself.
We cant just draw conclusions in order to fit our theology. We have to have Bible support for what we believe.
We understand Judas had been stealing from the other disciples. Yet the Lord included him among the chosen, even though the Lord knew there was sin in his heart.
But that Judas was not thoroughly evil is revealed in the depths of his repentance once Satan had had his way with him. Judas threw away the thirty pieces of silver, which is a remarkable action on the part of a thief. Judas was genuinely remorseful over the fact he had betrayed an innocent person, not because he believed he had betrayed the Messiah of Israel.
The same was true of the rich man in Hell. Even while in agony he expressed concern over the members of his family.
I suspect Judas may have wondered if Jesus might not actually be the Messiah. If He were actually the Messiah, Judas stood to be in a place of power when the Lord took His throne as King of Israel. But the closer the disciples came to the cross the more they began to see that the end of following the Carpenter was going to be disaster.
Thus the suicidal remorse of Judas was that of a somewhat righteous individual whose conscience tormented him over the fact of having betrayed an innocent person.
We have some notions in our thinking that are not scriptural and therefore not in line with spiritual realities. We tend to believe people are totally wicked or totally righteous. This is not true. Most of us have both tares and wheat in our personality.
Do you remember how the king of Israel questioned Gehazi about the great things Elisha had done? Gehazi, the leper, did not refuse to answer the king, although he would have refused to answer if he had been burning with hatred against Elisha for putting the disease of leprosy on him. Instead one gets the impression that Gehazi was boasting about the marvelous experiences he had had when he worked as the servant of Elisha.
The king was talking to Gehazi, the servant of the man of God, and had said, "Tell me about all the great things Elisha has done." Just as Gehazi was telling the king how Elisha had restored the dead to life, the woman whose son Elisha had brought back to life came to beg the king for her house and land. Gehazi said, "This is the woman, my lord the king, and this is her son whom Elisha restored to life." (II Kings 8:4,5NIV)
No, Gehazi, Judas, Ananias, and Sapphira were not devils in red suits with long tails, holding pitchforks. They were people just like you and me who desired to be close to the things of God. They were not thoroughly wicked people.
There undoubtedly were numerous Israelites in the days of Elisha who were more wicked than Gehazi.
There were many Pharisees in the days of Jesus more wicked than JudasPharisees who out of envy called for the Lords death. Notice how these wicked, heartless people responded to Judas remorse.
When Judas, who had betrayed him, saw that Jesus was condemned, he was seized with remorse and returned the thirty silver coins to the chief priests and the elders. "I have sinned," he said, "for I have betrayed innocent blood." "What is that to us?" they replied. "Thats your responsibility." So Judas threw the money into the temple and left. Then he went away and hanged himself. (Matthew 27:3-5NIV)
After getting Judas to do their dirty work they left him to his own tortured conscience.
The Pharisees were so totally wicked and perverse that they sought to kill Lazarus after Jesus had raised him from the dead, because people were believing the testimony of Lazarus.
There were numerous Jews more wicked than Ananias and Sapphira, as we note how the Jews followed after Paul, going from city to city to try to kill Paul and destroy the work of the Gospel. I doubt Ananias and Sapphira would have done this.
Yet, God did not kill those Jews as He did Ananias and Sapphira.
So we have Gehazi, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira. People like you and me, like our friends in the church.
Why was Gehazi afflicted with leprosy when he was no worse than anyone else?
Why has Judas gone down in history as the son of perdition, the forerunner of Antichrist? At one time Judas had been a little boy in the village of Kerioth, playing with his toys.
Why were Ananias and Sapphira, probably pretty good folks as people go, made an example of Gods attitude toward hypocrisy, an example that has been preached throughout the world for two thousand years?
What about you and me? What about our friends in the church? Are we so close to the glory, to the Kingdom of God, and yet so infinitely far from what we think we desire?
How can we tell?
We do know, from what we have just read, that seeking to draw close to the Fire of Israel when our heart is not right, when there is a lie in us, is a dangerous thing to do. The people we are studying brought such destruction on themselves because they wished to be counted among those who are close to God.
Fire can destroy that which is not fireproof!
But how can we tell if we really are acceptable to God, if we actually will have a place with the Lord in His Kingdom?
There is a verse I have quoted many times.
"They will make war against the Lamb, but the Lamb will overcome them because he is Lord of lords and King of kingsand with him will be his called, chosen and faithful followers." (Revelation 17:14NIV)
I would venture that Gehazi, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira were at least called by the Lord. The Scripture states that Jesus had chosen Judas.
But there is another realm of characterthat of faithfulness. One of the most prominent characteristics of the Lord Jesus is faithfulness. He is Gods faithful and true witness. Those who will appear with Christ have been proven faithful.
Integrity, a virtue lacking in America today Im afraid, is a compound made up of faithfulness and sincerity.
Gehazi was called and chosen by Elisha but he was not utterly faithful.
Judas was called and chosen by Jesus but he was not utterly faithful.
Ananias and Sapphira were called of God and chosen to be part of the early church, it appears. But they were not utterly faithful.
We do not know whether we are faithful until our discipleship costs us something of great value to us.
I think we have come to a crossroads in the Christian religion. I believe God desires to bring to the world an end-time witness of His Person, will, and way. There is very little witness today in Americaa considerable amount of ministry, but little witness.
Yesterday a friend was telling me how he had been treated in his denomination. He is an ordained minister. My friend got into an argument with his immediate supervisor. This conflict went from bad to worse until a higher official was called in. The higher official took my friend aside and said to him in a kindly manner, "You might as well resign your church because your supervisor is a vindictive person. There will be nothing but trouble from now on."
My friend resigned his pastorate.
Is this supervisor a true witness of God? He thinks he is, being a leader in a denomination, but is he really? Is Christ a vindictive person?
The Christian witness in America has been destroyed by the antics of prominent "ministers." God loves the world and I think He is going to prepare a true witness to the world of His Person, will, and ways in Christ.
How, then, will these witnesses be prepared?
I think they will be prepared by suffering.
We can be called and chosen, but we must be proven faithful. God permits Satan to sift us, to put us in one kind of prison or another. God does not immediately deliver us. He allows the testing to continue to see if we will be proven faithful.
Do not be afraid of what you are about to suffer. I tell you, the devil will put some of you in prison to test you, and you will suffer persecution for ten days. Be faithful, even to the point of death, and I will give you the crown of life. (Revelation 2:10NIV)
You and I have Gehazi in us. We have Judas in us. We have Ananias and Sapphira in us. We are so close to the Glory of God. But what will we do when we are called upon to suffer; when our most intense desires are withheld from us? Will we force our way out of our prison and then continue to seek to be the companion of fervent Christians?
How many married men or women have become disgusted with the seeming lack of spirituality of their husband or wife, have found someone who is "so spiritual," have then left their husband or wife, and possibly children, and have run off with "their true mate, the one God has given them." Then they become prominent in the Christian churches, singing, preaching, performing as great ministers of the Gospel.
How do you think God views such individuals? They are in very great danger of eternal destruction. God in His mercy may bring them through the fire in order to save them into His Kingdom, or He may not.
They seem to be so "anointed"! Everyone is so blessed! But they are a stink in the nostrils of Christ. They indeed shall be vomited from His mouth.
We do not know God today! We may know all about the house of God, but we do not know God! We have Him confused with Santa Claus.
Here we have a group of sincere disciples. They have given everything to Christ. They are learning their lessons each day, remaining in their prison, surviving five minutes at a time, trusting that their brothers and sisters also are enduring patiently their own crosses. Maybe they are in an area of persecution and are in constant danger of imprisonment, torture, or death.
In their group there may be believers just like themselves, sharing the elements of the Communion, giving of their substance, praying with them, fellowshiping with them, working hard to help with the tasks of the assembly.
Yet they may be holding back part of the proceeds, so to speak. They have reserved enough money and possessions to protect themselves in case of an emergency. They may reason that they are doing this in order to assist the group, but they are lying to themselves. Their concern is themselves and their close familyespecially themselves.
I am not saying by this that the Christians in America should not set aside money for their retirement or for a medical emergency. I am speaking rather of splitting their allegiance between God and the world. Only the individual believer can determine to what extent he or she genuinely is giving his or her best to Christ.
Actually, Christ does not need our money or service. It is true rather that He makes an opportunity for us to give of ourselves to God so when the Kingdom comes we can share in the joy of the inheritance. What we will receive in the Day of Resurrection is directly proportional to the extent to which we give of ourselves and our possessions to the work of the Gospel. Some will reap thirtyfold, some sixty, and some a hundred.
It grieves me when I see people who are losing part or all of their inheritance because of their unwillingness to be totally sincere with God. Life is so short! This is our one opportunity to serve the King!
I have observed this lack of diligent consecration on more than one occasion. It exists because of the generations of American Christians who have learned how to play the "church game," that is, to talk great religious talk in the church service, and then go out to live their lives in their own way, meanwhile criticizing and slandering their brothers and sisters of the assembly. From what I have seen, this whole generation is fated to die in the wilderness of unbelief and disobedience. I guess it will have to be the children and the new Christians who will be sold out to God to the extent that they can inherit the fullness of the Kingdom of God. We who are pastors and elders must begin to build such integrity today, for it has not, with notable exceptions, existed in the past. A few Joshuas and Calebs might help lead the way!
I have felt Gods anger toward the prevailing hypocrisy. I have witnessed the rejection from the Lords army of those who are clinging to the old ways of hypocrisy and criticism. They eliminate themselves from the forward movement of the Kingdom.
Such are not thoroughly bad people. Neither were Gehazi, Judas, or Ananias and Sapphira. This is the frightening aspect of the situation. If they were like Hitler or some of the other wicked people of history we could assign them to the "tares" and go on our merry way, rejoicing that we are of Gods "wheat."
But these are not obviously wicked, at least not in the sense we ordinarily view thorough wickedness. They are friends, honest, generous, conscientious people, as was probably true to a great extent of Gehazi, Judas, and Ananias and Sapphira.
In other words, what happens to them could happen to you and me! Let us search our hearts and see if we are holding back part of the proceeds from the sale of the property.
I think suffering is on the way in order that a pure witness may be brought forth. This means many may leave the churches because they simply are not sincere and faithful enough to accept the new demands for total consecration.
We usually do not think of revival as being a reduction in the number of believers. We used to refer to a reduction in the number of believers as a "back-door revival." Maybe you have heard this expression. I think we are in for the greatest back-door revival in the history of the Christian churches.
Why is this? It is because the Christian churches, in numerous instances, are in theological confusion. The reports that come back to us are nearly unbelievable. Some of the "ministers of the Gospel" are claiming that all Christians are to be rich and have all their bills paid while the rest of the world is impoverished. Then, it is being stated, the world will know Jesus Christ is the Son of God.
Dont you just know this is the true Gospel! Do you understand why Gods people are being led into such foolishness? It is because they are not praying and reading their Bible. They are not seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Therefore God sends delusion on them and they believe the lies that are being preached in the name of Jesus.
I never thought I would live to see the day when such confusion would be filling the Christian churches. People are being told that it doesnt matter how they behave because they are saved by grace and never can be lost to the purposes of God. Is it any wonder, given the demonic spiritual environment in which we are attempting to survive, that the United States is filled with sexual lust? We in this country are sick!
I believe the problem originated with the Protestant Reformation when such an emphasis was laid on salvation by faith. We have departed from the Scriptures. It is absolutely true that we cannot save ourselves by behaving righteously. It also is absolutely true that the only dependable evidence that we have been genuinely converted is the coming forth of a new righteous creation.
As the Apostle John has written, "No one who knows the Lord keeps on sinning." Read it in the third chapter of First John.
If and when the Christian leaders begin to teach and preach the Scriptures, and if at the same time God sends both glory and suffering, we are going to have a back-door revival.
We are in a royal mess today. But the Spirit of God is moving among us. All of these aberrations, from the pre-tribulation rapture through to the new wrinkle that because we now are in the Year of Jubilee we do not have to pay our bills, are based on our faulty definition of Divine grace. We have made Gods grace an alternative to righteous behavior. This is the common denominator of the many false doctrines of the twentieth century.
But it is not the doctrine that is the issue, it is our behavior. God will not abide where there is sin. We ought to know this, but we have been talked out of it. We absolutely must return to the Lord, humble ourselves, confess our sins, and by the grace of God in Jesus Christ turn away from our sins and start serving the Lord.
We are going to be tested. If we guard the word of Christs patience, not fleeing from the cross God assigns to us, Christ will guard us from the hour of temptation. Sin is going to become so abundant that only those who are thoroughly consecrated will be able to denounce and renounce the lusts of the flesh. Only the power of the Lord Jesus Christ can keep us from falling.
Many pastors and ministers are falling from their place in God, in our day, because of sexual lust. Let each one of us who thinks he stands take heed lest he or she also fall.
We have been called. We have been chosen. Now, are we going to be faithful to Christ or not?
Gehazi was a good man but not utterly faithful. Judas probably was a fairly decent person, whatever his faults, but he was not utterly faithful. Ananias and Sapphira, a Jewish couple, may have had many friends who thought highly of them, but they were not utterly faithful.
God will test our faithfulness in the present hour. The Christian assemblies must be pruned of those who are holding back part of the proceeds, for they are weakening the hands of the men of war.
I do not like to see anyone leave the churches, but the Kingdom of God cannot move forward until unrighteousness is removed from our midst.
The present hour is one of splendid opportunity in the Kingdom of God. Many that are last in time will be of first rank in the Kingdom. We can build on all that has gone before us, profiting from the past mistakes. The base camps have been established by the saints who have left bloody footprints in the snow. The Lord Jesus Christ is ready to help each one of us climb to the summit.
We are so very close to indescribable, incomprehensible glory. But dont forget, to whom much has been given, much shall be required.
We have been given so much today, especially in America. But we also are living in Sodom and Gomorrah, so to speak. Sin is readily available. Wealth also is available to many.
It is nice that we go to church with other Christians. But are we really that sold out to God? Are we truly utterly sincere, utterly faithful, or are we holding back enough money and goods that we can survive personally in case of calamity?
One time, when I was attending a large Charismatic church, the Lord asked me, "What would the people of your church do if the knock on the door came at 2:00 in the morning: We want you to stop talking in tongues in the church service or you will never see your children again?"
Notice that the demand was not great: just dont talk in tongues in the service. Almost scriptural. Just three grains of corn offered to the Emperor.
"How many," the Lord queried, "would reply instantly that they were servants of Christ and would obey Him rather than man, whether or not they ever saw their children again?"
I thought I knew the answer. Very few! We all were happy Christians, talking in tongues, prophesying, singing the songs of Zion. But that consecrated to Christ? Not really!
We look at the poor wretches in Kosovo and think, "This could never happen in America!" Why not? What is so special about us? Why shouldnt we or our children be forced to lay in thin clothes on the iceice covered with our own frozen vomit?
Does God love us more than He does those Muslims? I dont think so.
But what will we do if such does happen? What if we are invaded by China and Russia, or terrorists manage to blow up our atomic installations or poison our main water supplies? What if we wake up one morning and fifty million Americans have been killed? "Impossible," you may say. I am referring to a circumstance that can and may take place. We are not as safe as we think we are in America.
What is the Lord telling you in prayer?
Are we really faithful to Jesus Christ to the point that our life is as nothing as long as He is glorified?
I think we have some growing to do. I think God loves America, even though we have been unfaithful, and will bring enough fire on us to save us into His Kingdom.
We are near to the fullness of the Glory of God, perhaps closer than any other generation of history.
But if we are not utterly faithful and sincere, we are infinitely far from the new world God has prepared for those who love Him.