29 Then the Spirit of the Lord came upon Jephthah. He crossed Gilead and Manasseh, passed through Mizpah of Gilead, and from there he advanced against the Ammonites. 30 And Jephthah made a vow to the Lord: “If you give the Ammonites into my hands, 31 whatever comes out of the door of my house to meet me when I return in triumph from the Ammonites will be the Lord’s, and I will sacrifice it as a burnt offering.”
32 Then Jephthah went over to fight the Ammonites, and the Lord gave them into his hands. 33 He devastated twenty towns from Aroer to the vicinity of Minnith, as far as Abel Keramim. Thus Israel subdued Ammon.
34 When Jephthah returned to his home in Mizpah, who should come out to meet him but his daughter, dancing to the sound of tambourines! She was an only child. Except for her he had neither son nor daughter. 35 When he saw her, he tore his clothes and cried, “Oh! My daughter! You have made me miserable and wretched, because I have made a vow to the Lord that I cannot break.”
36 “My father,” she replied, “you have given your word to the Lord. Do to me just as you promised, now that the Lord has avenged you of your enemies, the Ammonites.”
1 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 to men 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 the 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 agree to test the Spirit of the Lord? Look! 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.
How many of you have made New Year’s resolutions?
How’s it going so far? If you’ve stayed on the straight and narrow, then well done – you’ve completed nearly 57 hours so far.
Promises like New Year’s resolutions have been around for a long time, and if we go back to the Old Testament, we’ll find them there too. They might not be called New Year’s resolutions, but the Bible is full of promises and vows made by the Israelites to God.
Vows are commitments to God to perform some duty or abstain from some activity.
A multi-millionaire was lying on his deathbed, while his minister talked about God’s healing powers.
“If God will heal me,” he gasped, “I’ll give the Church a million rand.”
Miraculously he recovered and within a few weeks was out of the hospital.
One day, several months later, he and the minister happened to bump into each other.
“You know,” said the minister, “when you were in hospital, you said you’d give the Church a million rand if you were healed. We haven’t received the cheque yet.”
“Did I say that? That just shows how sick I really was!”
Dear Lord Jesus, I believe that you died on the cross for my sins.
I ask you now to come into my heart and to make me a new creation.
Forgive me of all my sin.
Wash me. Cleanse me.
I promise to follow you for as long as I live.
I thank you Lord Jesus for coming into my life.
Many of you have prayed that same prayer in one form or another.
You made a promise to be faithful to Jesus.
You made a promise to serve Him and Him alone.
This was your resolution, and it was a resolution that has eternal consequences.
The best New Year’s resolution we could ever make as Christians is to remain loyal to Christ, to excel in our service to Him and to obey His Word.
Many New Year’s resolutions deal with physical issues like losing weight, not smoking, increasing exercise, or eating healthier foods.
Some people promise to learn a new skill or to take up a new hobby.
These are all good things, but let your number one motivation in this New Year be continued faithfulness to the Lord and obedience to His Word.
When making a New Year’s resolution or promise, make sure it includes Jesus.
Evaluate your resolution in the light of eternity.
How will this pledge help you to be more like Christ or move closer to the heart of God?
And once a vow has been made, it becomes an irreversible contract with God. In other words, never take vows or promises lightly.
Numbers 30:2 says, “When a man makes a vow to the Lord or takes an oath to obligate himself by a pledge, he must not break his word but must do everything he said.” Deuteronomy 23:21-23 expands on this a bit – “If you make a vow to the Lord your God, do not be slow to pay it, for the Lord your God will certainly demand it of you and you will be guilty of sin. But if you refrain from making a vow, you will not be guilty. Whatever your lips utter you must be sure to do, because you made your vow freely to the Lord your God with your own mouth.”
What that means in plain English is that it is a sin to make a vow, and not keep it.
We are under no obligation to make vows, but once we do, failure to live up to them will bring God’s judgement.
Jephthah learned the hard way about making rash promises, when his daughter came out to meet him after returning from battle. Of course, many would ask, ‘yes, but what about God’s mercy? Surely He wouldn’t expect anyone to go through with such a vow?’ The lesson God wants us to learn here is this: Committing ourselves to being disciples of Jesus Christ is a serious commitment. You don’t become part of the life of the Church like you do a sports or social club, where you can simply move on to the next thing when the novelty wears off or if some of the people you have to mix with annoy you. Being a Christian means submitting to the Lordship of Jesus in every area of your life. There is a cost to discipleship.
Solomon says in Ecclesiastes 5:5-7, “It is better not to vow than to make a vow and not fulfill it. Do not let your mouth lead you into sin. And do not protest to the temple messenger, ‘My vow was a mistake.’ Stand in awe of God.”
Basically what we are being taught here is that God has to be treated with awe and respect. When we made promises as little children, if our fingers were crossed we didn’t have to keep that promise.
But God is not to be taken lightly. He’s not our cosmic buddy. He is Holy and He is almighty.
Breaking God’s laws, and not fulfilling promises we make to Him are a serious matter.
In Leviticus 26:14-20, He says, “If you will not listen to me and carry out all these commands, and if you reject my decrees and abhor my laws and fail to carry out all my commands and so violate my covenant, then I will do this to you: I will bring upon you sudden terror, wasting diseases and fever that will destroy your sight and drain away your life. You will plant seed in vain, because your enemies will eat it. I will set my face against you so that you will be defeated by your enemies; those who hate you will rule over you, and you will flee even when no one is pursuing you. If after all this you will not listen to me, I will punish you for your sins seven times over. I will break down your stubborn pride and make the sky above you like iron and the ground beneath you like bronze. Your strength will be spent in vain, because your soil will not yield its crops, nor will the trees of the land yield their fruit.”
This is scary stuff, maybe not what you were expecting to hear at the beginning of a new year, a time when we all have renewed hope for the future, but they’re not something I made up – they are God’s words.
The consequences for breaking your promise to serve the Lord can and will have devastating results on your life.
Maybe this why so many people don’t like the Old Testament – because it’s too harsh. They far prefer the more gentle teaching of the New Testament.
But how gentle is our reading from Acts 5 – the story of Ananias and Sapphira?
Ananias and Sapphira had made a promise not only to the Apostles but to God, and breaking that vow became a capital offence.
We dare not take lightly our commitment to Christ, because He certainly doesn’t.
In verse 9 Peter asks the question, “How could you agree to test the Spirit of the Lord?” God will not tolerate hypocrisy and deceit.
Ananias and Sapphira craved personal attention, praise and prestige, and through unethical means they pretended to have given all the proceeds from the sale of their land. And they paid the price.
But what about us?
What does all this mean to us today?
Jesus said in Matthew 5 that we should not swear at all – not by Heaven or Earth – we should simply let our yes be yes, and our no be no.
If others know you as a person of integrity, then they will come to accept you for your word.
If you say you’re going to do something, do it.
We need to think carefully about the promises we make to God.
If you are prepared to make a vow to Him, it must be something that will have a significant impact on your life, but that will not be impossible to keep, because there are dangers and consequences in not keeping our promises.
Joshua was nearing the end of his life when he gave these words of encouragement and warning to the people of Israel:
Joshua 23:2-13 – “I am old and well advanced in years. You yourselves have seen everything the Lord your God has done to all these nations for your sake; it was the Lord your God who fought for you. Remember how I have allotted as an inheritance for your tribes all the land of the nations that remain - the nations I conquered - between the Jordan and the Great Sea in the west. The Lord your God Himself will drive them out of your way. He will push them out before you, and you will take possession of their land, as the Lord your God promised you. Be very strong; be careful to obey all that is written in the Book of the Law of Moses, without turning aside to the right or to the left. Do not associate with these nations that remain among you; do not invoke the names of their gods or swear by them. You must not serve them or bow down to them. But you are to hold fast to the Lord your God, as you have until now. The Lord has driven out before you great and powerful nations; to this day no one has been able to withstand you. One of you routs a thousand, because the Lord your God fights for you, just as He promised. So be very careful to love the Lord your God. (Now comes the warning…) But if you turn away and ally yourselves with the survivors of these nations that remain among you and if you intermarry with them and associate with them, then you may be sure that the Lord your God will no longer drive out these nations before you. Instead, they will become snares and traps for you, whips on your backs and thorns in your eyes, until you perish from this good land, which the Lord your God has given you.”
Those of you who were at our Communion service on Wednesday will remember that I said the Christian faith is not about simply obeying a list of rules, and much of what we’ve looked at today may seem to contradict that, but we must never forget God’s mercy.
We have all made empty promises to God and have failed to keep them. He is a just God, and sin will be punished, but in the same breath we must remember His grace and mercy shown to us. God does not expect perfection from us, but He does want us to take seriously our commitment to love, serve and obey Him. When you do fail Him, remember His grace. When you do obey Him, it is because He has given you the grace to hold to your promise to Him. The point is that it is all about Him, and not about us. One of the best New Year posts I’ve seen for a while on Facebook during the past few days reminds us that it really is all about Him. It’s an extract from the poem St Patrick’s Breastplate, the patron saint of Ireland: “Christ beside me, Christ before me, Christ behind me, Christ within me, Christ above me.”
It’s all about Jesus. My aim today is not to put us onto some kind of guilt trip, but rather to point us to the Cross of Calvary. Each time you fail, and you will, remember Jesus. Remember that He paid the price of every one of your sins. This is one of the reasons we are coming to the Table this morning. The next time you fail Him, remember His death, and thank Him for it. Remember also the power of His Spirit within you, and Paul’s words in Philippians 4:13 “I can do everything through Him who gives me strength.”
So my prayer for each of us in 2016 is to stay strong in Jesus.
As I wrote in the bulletin today, we don’t know what the future holds, but we know the One who holds the future. Let that be the assurance you need to face whatever challenges lie ahead for you this year. The Bible warns us that things will not get easier – it will become harder and harder to remain faithful to Jesus Christ, so may your number one New Year resolution be a continued faithfulness to Jesus and complete obedience to His Word. He will give you the strength you need to be faithful to Him. God will honour your efforts if you honour Him.
Remain faithful. Stay on course.
And you might be blessed in ways you never dreamed possible.