When a child first learns to walk, there are wonderful moments of victory and progress but also inevitable stumbles along the way. The same might be said about the early church, and today’s reading shows both victories and setbacks.
The first serious setback came with the actions of Ananias and Sapphira. Having sold their property, they claimed to have given the full purchase amount to the church, but in reality they had retained a portion for themselves. They desired the honor of being big donors, but lied about their real actions. As Peter reminded them, they lied not just to humans, but to the Spirit of God Himself. Their resulting deaths remind us that God takes the sin of hypocrisy seriously among His people. Unfortunately, that particular sin persists in the church today.
Nevertheless, the church continued to grow in numbers and power. That success in teaching and miracles, however, infuriated the priestly regime, who promptly imprisoned the Apostles. But the gospel could not be stopped: freed by an angel, the Apostles continued preaching in the temple the next day. When brought to trial before the Sanhedrin, they preached the message of Christ to them as well, reminding them of His death and resurrection and the powerful gift of the Spirit.
The Sanhedrin were incensed and ready to kill them, but a Pharisee named Gamaliel wisely cautioned that “if their purpose or activity is of human origin, it will fail. But if it is from God . . . you will only find yourselves fighting against God” (v. 38–39). Flogged and instructed to cease from preaching, the Apostles went forth rejoicing in the privilege of suffering for Christ. What might seem like humiliation to the world was counted as victory to these faithful followers of Jesus.