The Cosmic Conspiracy, Part 17
The commotion and confusion that ensued after the great outpouring of the Holy Spirit was still reverberating through Jerusalem. Over the next number of hours and days, thousands of converts to this new sect of Judaism (the term Christianity/Christian had not been coined yet) were being baptized and filled with God’s Spirit. In the first century, baptism was not a benign religious ceremony to celebrate one’s decision to follow a new religious teaching. It was seen to be a life-altering decision by the one being baptized that from the moment they entered the watery grave their past lives and allegiances were dead and buried. Coming up out of the water symbolized a re-birth, and going forward their lives were to be fully dedicated to the obedience and practice of the faith that they had accepted as their own. These converts were now wholly committed to the outpouring of God’s Kingdom, filled with the Holy Spirit, and a growing threat to the kingdom of darkness!
Judaism had many variants and sects that were tolerated by the leadership hierarchy of the Jewish nation. This one, however, bore the marks of a very dangerous movement with the potential to dismantle the centuries-old control that the religious systems of Judaism had worked so hard to maintain. Indeed, even Satan had grown accustomed to using these religious systems to propagate his own pseudo form of godliness to keep God’s chosen people in religious bondage. As the city was abuzz with reports of these strange and wonderful happenings, Satan, his demons, and his puppet religious leaders were in a hellish huddle feverishly trying to figure out what to do next.
Over the ensuing weeks and months the fledgling church was burgeoning not just numerically, but powerful signs and wonders were happening all over Jerusalem. People were coming from miles around to hear the message of the Gospel and receive healing and deliverance. It was as if Jesus had been reincarnated in these people, who were now called the “people of the way,” as they were proclaiming the way to salvation through the name of Jesus, and demonstrating the truth of the Gospel with signs and wonders that could only come from Heaven.
On numerous occasions, the ringleaders, the 12 disciples who had been commissioned apostles of Jesus, were pulled before the Jewish courts, interrogated, and severely warned (and in a few cases, flogged) not to teach and preach any longer in the name of Jesus. With no regard for their lives, these totally transformed men stood their ground and considered it an honor to suffer persecution in any form for the cause of Jesus and His Kingdom. It seemed as if there was no way to stop The Way from advancing.
Satan and his cohort of conspirators were scrambling for a way to infiltrate this movement. It seemed that everything they had attempted from the outside fell miserably short of having any effect on slowing the spread of this highly contagious Gospel. People from all strata of society were coming together with no segregation or prejudice. The rich and poor were celebrating their new-found faith and freedom everyday in the temple and sharing meals in one another's homes. They seemed to be completely devoted to the teachings of the Apostles. There was a wild fervor in their prayers at the Temple that other devout, but devoid Jews began to notice. Miracles, in magnitude and numbers that marked Jesus’ ministry, were breaking out all over the city.
This new sect had such a life-consuming effect on its followers that many of the wealthy among them were selling their properties and giving the proceeds to the Apostles to distribute to the poor of their ranks. It seemed that there was not a needy person among them. This movement was going from marginal to mainstream like a freight train and showed no signs of stopping or slowing.
This was no ordinary religious fire that was burning. The zeal was real and seemed to be coming from a source that just grew stronger with every attempt to resist it. Satan, now grasping for a handle, pulled out his old play book and turned to the page where the strategy, “if you can’t beat them, join them,” was laid out. It was time to get a mole inside and plant some wicked weeds. But where was the entry point, and what would be the seed?
Acts chapter 5 describes one of the most powerful and yet disturbing portions of New Testament scriptures. A number of months had passed since the outpouring of Pentecost and the church was swelling in numbers, impact, influence, and affluence. Large sums of money were flowing into the coffers of this new sect through the grace-born generosity of its new converts. Up to this point the church had successfully navigated through many pitfalls, potholes, and traps. How would they handle access to all this money?
Throughout history Satan had used the lurking specter of “mammon” to entice greed-filled human hearts into the self destructive web of self sufficiency through the acquisition of wealth. Money had proven to be a powerful poison that could corrupt even the most resolute integrity. In Satan’s economy, cash is king, and many a king had sold out his kingdom for the power and prestige wealth could obtain. Wave enough of it around and you are bound to catch more than a few fish. Money looked to be the ticket in.
Mammon is commonly understood to be an ancient word that means, riches. But the etymology and origins of this word reveal a much more sinister and debasing revelation. Although mammon is manifested in material wealth and goods, it was believed to be a malevolent spirit that personified greed and the relentless pursuit of wealth, which this spirit deceivingly purported as the path to satisfaction, security, and sovereignty.
Jesus called this spirit out as one of the chief obstacles to the gospel. Jesus said that it would be extremely hard for a rich man to enter the Kingdom of God (Mark 10:5). In His parables, one of the most common themes was dealing with riches, wealth, and greed. In Jesus’ foundational teachings on the Kingdom of God in the “Sermon on the Mount,” a large portion is dedicated to dealing with the suffocating effects of fear and anxiety that are the major symptoms of the spirit of mammon bound up in the human heart. At the end of that portion of scripture Jesus lays it out straight, "No servant can serve two masters; for either he will hate the one and love the other, or else he will be loyal to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon." [Luke 16:13 NKJV, emphasis added]
There it was, from Jesus’ own mouth, the great disqualifier; either man’s money or God’s majesty, they were mutually exclusive. There could only be one master of the human heart. Up to this point, mammon had had a powerful and devastating effect on the will of God being done on the earth. Biblical and secular history is replete with stories of great people and civilizations rising to power only to succumb to mammon’s greed and then crumbling under the weight of the gold and goods that were thought to be the path to prosperity and posterity. The glittering of this gold could punch a gaping hole in the protective wall around the church that was standing against every scheme of Satan up to this point.
Back to Acts 5. Satan found a husband and wife team to perpetrate his plan. The scriptures record that Ananias and Sapphira conspired together (you can bet that Satan was inspiring this) and conceived a plan to sell a tract of land they owned, give some of the proceeds to the church, hold some back for their own use, and tell the leaders of the church that they were giving the entire amount of the sale for the work of the ministry. Apparently, this couple wanted the appearance of “laying it all down for the Lord'' to put them in high standing with the leaders of the church. Why this deception?
The principle is simple but the ramifications are profound. In short, large sums of money that are given for a cause can carry with it a “quid pro quo” (this for that) expectation. In other words, money has the power to influence the decisions of leaders and the direction of movements (or companies, governments, AND CHURCHES). The donor, who gives a large sum of money can use the leverage to open the door to the board room and get the ears of the decision makers.
With the dangling carrot of, “there is more where that came from,” the donor now has the ability to shift and sway decisions in the direction of the underlying agenda of the donor. The saying, “money makes the world go round” is not just a catchy lyric for a song. It is a stark reality that everything can be bought for a price - even betraying Jesus for a week’s wages!
Up to this point, every large donation that was laid at the Apostles feet was given out of generosity and sincerity with no strings attached. There is no record of any favoritism for large benefactors. How would the Apostles react? Would this large gift from this conspiring couple corrupt the purity of the offerings going forward? Would this large gift put this couple in a place of honor and influence in the growing community of believers? What happens next is unsettling.
You can read the account for yourself. In short, Peter is queued in to the deception lurking in this Trojan Horse by the Holy Spirit and calls this couple out. The plot is uncovered. Peter boldly stated that this couple has not lied to him or the church, but to God. Peter did not shrink back from declaring the truth even with the money laying right at his feet. Peter could not, would not be bought. He was not tempted to let a large sum of money, which could have been used to further the mission of the Kingdom, rob him of his commission and put him in submission to the spirit of mammon.
After this declaration, (in separate instances after they were caught in the deception) the husband and wife fall dead in the presence of Peter and the others who were there and they were carried out and buried. Behold, the severity of God! Shock and awe ensued and a great reverence (and even fear in some cases) covered the ministry of the church. I am surmising, but I can imagine even Satan was shocked by this extreme form of justice that was served. The God of love, Who gave up His life for the salvation of humanity, had just taken the life of two people. Where is grace and forgiveness? Where was the opportunity for this couple to repent? Satan’s plan not only backfired, but he was now left with scheming against a side of God that he never expected to see. Was this a one-off event or was this going to be the norm for dealing with the spirit of mammon that was trying to creep into the camp?
This event has confounded theologians for centuries and has been the cause for debate and even division in the Church. The method is a mystery, but the message is clear: God will not tolerate the spirit of mammon in His people or in His Church. There can only be one Master. Have there been other Ananias & Sapphira moments in church history? We cannot say for sure. However, church history is filled with individuals and institutions that have succumbed to the spirit of mammon, and like shooting stars, have fallen from their places of leadership and influence and have left a wake of scattered, angry, and confused believers who get more jaded with each new revelation of another leader who sold out to mammon.
One would think that with this event, as the backdrop and precedent-setting moment for how God feels about and deals with the spirit of mammon in His people and Church, that the reverence and awe would have remained, even to this day. The history of the church, sadly, speaks otherwise. Satan, knowing that there had to be weak links in this chain, regrouped and pounded the church and work of God with mammon. He continues to wave large donations under the noses of leaders who get hooked and are led around by their nose by those who have quid pro quo agendas. Apparently, lessons were not learned, and mammon has been given the key to the front door.
For fear of losing funding and support, the mission of the church (and every other human institution) has been hijacked by money and mammon. The agenda generated donors to continue to lobby leaders to water down the message, edit out entire portions of scripture, stay away from controversial topics, and ultimately shut off the power flow of the Holy Spirit.
Satan does not mind believers and churches being blessed (he often helps the process along) as long as he can keep their faith benign. A prosperous, bloated church is a powerful weapon against the advancement of the Kingdom. If Satan can keep the mouth of the church where the money is he can preach from thousands of pulpits on any given Sunday. Take a look at Revelation 3:14-22 to get Jesus’ opinion of mammon minded ministry...
The sad truth is that Satan’s Cosmic Conspiracy is being funded in part by mammon controlled churches and ministries. The light from the biggest and brightest stars in the church universe are being swallowed up in the darkness of the broken and corrupted cities where they have been planted by the Lord to bring the light of truth and a demonstration of power. These churches seem to be prospering in all the measurable churchy ways, but the spiritual poverty in their communities is catastrophic.
The account in Acts 5 reveals God’s heart regarding mammon and the resolve of the believers to surrender everything to the Lord and His mission. For the time being, the entry door of mammon was slammed shut in Satan’s face. But just as when Satan left Jesus in the wilderness after tempting Him, the scriptures state that Satan would come back at a more opportune time. As the early church was expanding so were the opportunities to derail this train of glory that was heading out of the station into the uttermost parts of the world. Would it be, “all aboard” or all aborted? Tune in next time...
by Pastor Jim Anan