The actors: Acts 5:1-11:

5 Now a man named Ananias, together with his wife Sapphira, also sold a piece of property. 2 With his wife’s full knowledge he kept back part of the money for himself, but brought the rest and put it at the apostles’ feet. 3 Then Peter said, “Ananias, how is it that Satan has so filled your heart that you have lied to the Holy Spirit and have kept for yourself some of the money you received for the land? 4 Didn’t it belong to you before it was sold? And after it was sold, wasn’t the money at your disposal? What made you think of doing such a thing? You have not lied just to human beings but to God.” 5 When Ananias heard this, he fell down and died. And great fear seized all who heard what had happened. 6 Then some young men came forward, wrapped up his body, and carried him out and buried him. 7 About three hours later his wife came in, not knowing what had happened. 8 Peter asked her, “Tell me, is this the price you and Ananias got for the land?” “Yes,” she said, “that is the price.” 9 Peter said to her, “How could you conspire to test the Spirit of the Lord? Listen! The feet of the men who buried your husband are at the door, and they will carry you out also.” 10 At that moment she fell down at his feet and died. Then the young men came in and, finding her dead, carried her out and buried her beside her husband. 11 Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events. (NIV)

It cannot be denied that this is a disturbing story, and there is an irony about the words of (11): ‘’Great fear seized the whole church and all who heard about these events.’’ You think, ‘Yes that would be pretty scary – to belong to a church like that, where your dark moral secrets could be exposed, and where it’s not unknown for people to be struck down dead for hypocrisy!’ You might think twice (or more) about joining (13).Someone described Annanias and Sapphira as ‘posers’. In a church where there was an outpouring of generosity; where there were people like Barnabas (4:36, 37) who gave sacrificially, these two posed as being in the same league. But it wasn’t true of them. They were hypocrites. The Greek word translated ‘hypocrite’ means an ‘actor’. For Ananias and Sapphira, this was a performance for the crowd. But it wasn’t who they really were. They were playing a part. They knew they were living a lie. More to the point, so did God.

Yesterday I saw a picture of Sherlock Holmes. I recognised him. Yet it wasn’t Sherlock. It was Benedict Cumberbatch who plays him so well in the BBC television series. It looked like Sherlock, but in fact it was Benedict! This is great acting.In the infant church there were these two people, a married couple, who looked like generous givers. But they weren’t anything like as good as the impression they gave. They were into ‘image management’ – but they got found out. If God put all hypocrites to death in the church, who of us would remain alive? Nevertheless, we should never rest easy with any form of hypocrisy. Sooner or later, truth will out. When we see you, do we see you? Or do we see an actor strutting for a brief hour on life’s stage?