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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Title:You can come back! God's grace abounds to humble and contrite sinners
Text:2 Chronicles 33:10-13 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Repentance
 
Preached:2016
Added:2016-07-12
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Psalm 66:1-3

Hymn 24:2,3 (after the law)

Psalm 66:4,5

Psalm 66:7,8

Psalm 116:1,9,10

Scripture reading:  2 Chronicles 33:1-20

Text:  2 Chronicles 33:10-13

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

If you had never read 2 Chronicles 33 before, I think you’d probably be surprised by how it unfolds.  That’s especially true if you’d been reading the other stories of kings from Israel and Judah.  And if you’d read the other story of King Manasseh’s life in 2 Kings 21, what’s here would still be very surprising.  When you read the words of verse 2, “He did evil in the eyes of the LORD,” if you’ve read anything about the other kings, you know this probably won’t end well.  When Scripture starts by telling you that a king was evil, you generally know what to expect.  The evil-doing king goes from bad to worse and he pulls everyone along with him.

But that’s not what happens with King Manasseh in 2 Chronicles 33 and it’s surprising and amazing.  The incredible thing is that this wicked king turns from his sin and turns to the LORD.  Carrying on in sin is what we expect, but repentance is what we get.  In Manasseh, we see a man deeply in his sin, entrapped by his sin, pursuing and loving his sin – and then suddenly he doesn’t.  He makes a total turn-around.  What can explain this?  What can we learn from this? What can we learn especially about who God is and how he’s worked in history and how he works in our lives? 

I preach to you God’s Word and I’ve summarized it with this theme:

You can come back!  God’s grace abounds to humble and contrite sinners

We’ll see that our text speaks of:

  1. Rebellion
  2. Reproof
  3. Repentance
  4. Restoration

We need to first take a moment and set the stage here.  Let me give some background.  Our text takes place around 650 years before Christ.  King David had reigned about 350 years before this.  A lot of things had taken place in those 350 years.  There’d been many different kings.  Some were far better than others.  Hezekiah was Manasseh’s father and he’d been one of the best kings since David.  Hezekiah and Manasseh his son ruled over Judah.  It’s important to realize that the kingdom had been divided shortly after the rule of David’s son Solomon.  There was a northern kingdom of Israel and a southern kingdom of Judah.  By the time of our text, that northern kingdom was gone.  Because of their wickedness, God sent the Assyrians to the northern kingdom and many of the Israelites were deported to Assyria.  Meanwhile, the southern kingdom of Judah carried on for some time.

As I mentioned, Hezekiah was the king before Manasseh.  He was Manasseh’s father and Scripture says in 2 Chronicles 29:2, “He did what was right in the eyes of the LORD, just as his father David had done.”  Hezekiah was descended from David – therefore so was Manasseh.  They were in the line of David, a line of kings that would eventually lead to the great king, Jesus Christ.  In fact, if you read the genealogy of Jesus in Matthew 1, you’ll find both Hezekiah and Manasseh mentioned there.  These are the royal ancestors of King Jesus.

So when we’re looking at Manasseh and what happens to him in our text, we need to remember those things:  he’s the King of Judah, and he’s also a great-grandfather of Jesus.  Closely related to that is the fact that he’s part of God’s covenant people.  Manasseh wasn’t some random pagan out there in the world.  Remember:  Hezekiah his father was a good and faithful Jewish king.  So when Manasseh was born, you can be sure that he was circumcised on the eighth day.  He received the sign and seal of God’s covenant.  That means that he was marked as someone who belonged to God.  Manasseh was called to believe God’s promises and follow him.  He was privileged to have God’s attention.

Let’s just stop here for a second and draw a couple of lines.  Are you a king?  Well, you haven’t been appointed as a king over a nation.  You have a king, though.  His name is Jesus Christ.  If you’re a Christian, you have his Holy Spirit living in you and therefore you share in his anointing.  So if you are united to Christ, you are a king.  What are you called to do as a king?  As the Catechism puts it in Lord’s Day 12, you’re called to fight against sin and the devil in this life.  Are you a covenant member?  If you’re a Christian or your parents are Christians, then yes, of course you are.  When you were baptized, like Manasseh, you were marked as belonging to God.  Like that king of old, you’ve been called to believe God’s gospel promises and follow him.  Let’s keep those things in mind as we move through our text and that’ll help us in applying what we read.

What happened with King Manasseh?  The first nine verses of this chapter give a summary of his rebellion against the God who made him a king and called him his own.  Manasseh became proficient at wickedness.  He was an expert rebel.  Everything good thing his father Hezekiah had done, Manasseh undid.  He reached the pinnacle of wickedness in the Old Testament; no one surpassed Manasseh’s corruption.  Not only did he do what the pagan nations had done (verse 2), but he even went beyond (verse 9).  The wickedness of this covenant child was worse than that of the unbelievers.  They sinned in ignorance, but Manasseh the son of Hezekiah, he sinned with an uplifted hand.  He sinned in open, flagrant rebellion against God.  How? 

He brought idolatry back and took it even further.  He profaned the temple of God by setting up idols in it.  There’s a lot here that’s left unsaid because the first readers would have known what this all involved.  The first readers of Chronicles would have right away known that much of this idol worship was sexual in nature.  They had seen it or heard of it.  We know this today from archaeology and various literary sources.  You have to know that this idol worship was not like Muslims bowing down to Allah or something – no, it involved cult prostitution and other gross forms of public immorality.  Manasseh loved it.  He even went so far as to sacrifice his own children to these pagan gods.  Can you imagine taking a one or two year old child and watching them burn to death tied to an altar?  Manasseh did it and he did it with his own sons.  Second Kings tells us that Manasseh shed much innocent blood – and we know that the blood included his own offspring.  But there was more.  He was deeply involved in the occult.  Sorcery, divination, witchcraft, mediums, spiritists – all of it.  Manasseh opened himself up to Satan and his demonic forces – he warmly embraced the evil one.

If an Israelite individual were to do all the things that Manasseh did, that would have been bad enough.  But Manasseh was not just any Israelite.  He was the king of Judah.  He had a responsibility to lead the people in God’s ways.  Instead, he led them in the opposite direction.  That’s clear from verse 9.  He was a leader in wickedness.  Not only did he personally do worse than the nations kicked out of the land in the conquest, but he led his people to be worse.  He led them into deeper unbelief and rebellion.  That has enormous consequences later on, as we’ll see.

So we have Manasseh – and the people following him – deeply immersed in rebellion against their God.  So what does God do?  Verse 10 says that the LORD spoke to them, he spoke to Manasseh and his people.  That means that he sent prophets to expose their sin and warn them of the consequences.  He still loves his people and he wants them to turn, so in his grace, he pursues them through his servants the prophets.  God doesn’t want to leave them in their sin and rebellion.  He wants them to turn and be saved.  This is a remarkable thing.  He could justly have left them and just destroyed them.  But because of his mercy, he keeps going after them.  They pursue their sin, but he pursues them.

“But they paid no attention,” says verse 10.  They didn’t obey the warnings of the prophets.  They didn’t believe that consequences would come from their rebellion.  Life would go on, just status quo, they would keep on worshipping idols, having their fun, and nothing would change.  This refusal to listen to God’s gracious word of warning was also rebellion on the part of Manasseh and his people.

There’s this king and he’s supposed to be one thing and he’s completely something else.  He was supposed to be God’s servant to lead and bless his people, but instead he’s a servant of the devil to mislead and curse the people.  He’s the complete opposite of his father Hezekiah.  Hezekiah pointed to Christ with his reforms and his love for righteousness.  Manasseh’s rebellion points away from Christ, in fact, he threatens to derail redemption altogether.  God promised redemption through the royal line of Judah, but this Manasseh in verse 10, he looks like a dead end.

There’s this king and he’s supposed to be one thing and he’s completely something else.  Here we are – we share in Christ’s anointing as king.  He fought against sin and the devil and was victorious.  He conquered these enemies.  Because we’re joined to him, we too are called to fight against sin and the devil in this life.  Some of us are even called to be leaders in this.  We can think especially of the fathers among us.  You’re called to lead and bless your children by showing them how to fight and struggle against sin.  You’re supposed to be one thing, but are you something else completely?  Instead of struggling against sin, do you chase after it, and worse, are you a leader in pursuing sin?  If so, God’s word of warning comes to you in our text.  Because he still cares, the LORD speaks to you, and he says, “This is the path of Manasseh and it led him and the people astray.  They heard the Word.  They paid no attention.  What about you?”  Loved ones, the broad path of Manasseh’s rebellion is littered with spiritual corpses.  You have to see that.  You also have to see that it’s so much better to hear God’s word of warning, hate sin, and fight against it.  In Christ and through the power of his Spirit, you can come back from your failures.  It doesn’t have to be this way.  It’s not hopeless!   

In our text, there was human rebellion in refusing to listen to God’s Word.  But it’s striking that God still doesn’t give up.  In his love, he takes things to yet another level.  If they won’t listen to his Word, maybe they’ll listen when he sends the Assyrian army their way.  That’s what happens in verse 11 as he reproves or disciplines them.

We don’t know how the events unfolded that brought the Assyrians to Judah.  There are theories, but they’re not important.  What is important is that God brought them there.  God brought the Assyrian armies upon King Manasseh and his people.  Once again, you have to realize that the first readers of Chronicles would have gotten something here that we don’t right away get because of the passage of time.  Back then, someone reading Chronicles would see the mention of Assyria and right away shudder.  The Assyrians were brutal.  They were like the ISIS of their day.  They were considered a nation of serial killers, rapists, and torturers.  If you were on the wrong side of the Assyrian army, it was going to be a very bad day.  So when verse 11 says that the Assyrian army came against the people of Judah, there’s stuff left unsaid.  This would have been a very ugly event.  There would have been lots of violence and suffering.  A quick death would have been regarded as merciful.

As the king of Judah, Manasseh didn’t get to die.  Instead, the Assyrians made sure that he was properly humiliated, thoroughly and publically shamed.  They put a hook in his nose.  They treated him like an animal.  Oxen would often have hooks or rings put in their noses so that they could be led around.  The Assyrians were known to do this to their enemies to humiliate them.  “Here’s the great king of Judah, Manasseh, with a hook in his nose just like a cow or ox.  Look at how great he is now!”  The great sinner gets greatly humiliated and he deserves it.  His great grand-son Jesus would also be greatly humiliated at the hands of pagan soldiers, but he wouldn’t deserve it.  He would do it for great sinners like Manasseh – and us.

Manasseh’s humiliation continues with his pair of bronze shackles.  He’s in chains.  This is where his slavery to sin has led him.  He was in spiritual chains, and now he’s in physical chains, suffering horribly.  You have to realize that these chains are not smooth or humane in any way.  They’re rough and heavy and they cut into your skin.  Manasseh doesn’t get any special, kind treatment because he’s the king.  Instead, he gets treated as harshly as a common prisoner, maybe even more so, just so that the Assyrians can humiliate their enemy to the max.

They took him to Babylon, Scripture says.  Why Babylon?  These are the Assyrians, their capital is Nineveh.  That’s why Jonah was sent to Nineveh.  But Manasseh goes to Babylon.  That gets our attention.  From extra-biblical sources, it appears that there was a power-struggle going on in the Assyrian empire at this time.  Babylon was a rising center of power.  So there’s that side of it.  But there’s another side.  Babylon is also where the people of Judah eventually end up in exile some years later.  This is a foreshadowing of that, a foretaste of it.  God is saying to his people, “This is where you’re going to end up, if you don’t come back to me.”  So Babylon has that significance here as well. 

The important thing to see here is that God doesn’t throw in the towel.  Though Manasseh and the people are in rebellion, forsaking their place in the covenant, God still goes after them.  He reproves or disciplines them through the Assyrians.  He tries to get their attention, so that they would turn back to him. 

Would God still do the same today?  If we were living in rebellion against him, might he send something horrible to wake us up and bring us back to him?  It says in Scripture that God disciplines those whom he loves.  It first appears in the Old Testament, but it appears in the New Testament in some form three more times.  One of those times comes from the lips of Jesus in Revelation 3:19, “Those whom I love, I rebuke and discipline.”  Through discipline, through trials and hardship, sometimes God is trying to get our attention and call us back to himself.  It’s not always the case when something horrible happens, but it can be and we should be open to that.  We should be thinking and reflecting on whether it might be the case that God is disciplining us for our good, so that we would repent of some sin and come back to him.  But brothers and sisters, wouldn’t it be much better to take things a step back, and just hear the Word calling us to repent and act on that instead of needing the discipline?  You can be sure that Manasseh wished he’d done that.  With a hole through his nose and chains on his limbs, you can be sure that he wished that he’d just listened to the prophets who called him to repentance.

But there he was experiencing God’s reproof and discipline – and finally it had the intended effect.  This extreme measure was the LORD’s instrument to work a surprising repentance in Manasseh’s heart.  Verse 12 tells us that Manasseh was in distress – as you can well imagine!  But it turned his heart back to Yahweh, back to the LORD.  He sought God’s favour, his grace and mercy.  He humbled himself.  He took ownership of his sins.  He confessed his sins to God and asked for forgiveness.  The language here is striking.  Look closely here at verse 12.  “…He sought the favour of the LORD his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.”  Yahweh is Manasseh’s God and the God of his fathers.  Earlier in the chapter, it didn’t seem that way.  Earlier in the chapter, Manasseh had all these other gods.  Yet, because of the covenant of grace, Yahweh was still Manasseh’s God.  Manasseh just failed to reckon with that.  He wouldn’t acknowledge it until God’s discipline came heavy upon him.

So, incredibly, Manasseh repented and turned back to Yahweh.  While in exile, he came back spiritually speaking.  He had to go away to come back.  But come back he did.  The wickedest king who had ever sat on a throne in Israel, repented and believed.  The one king who could have been voted the least likely to repent actually repented.  Mind blowing, isn’t it? 

How do we explain this?  Well, I’ll tell you how we don’t explain it.  We don’t give the credit to Manasseh.  We don’t go to Manasseh, “Hey, you can be proud of yourself for your turn around.  You came to your senses and good on you.  You really turned it around for yourself, Manasseh.”  Scripture doesn’t give us any reason to pat Manasseh on the back and give him the credit.  Instead, God tells us in his Word that this was completely a work of his sovereign grace.  God granted Manasseh the gift of repentance.  In Acts 11, Peter was reporting on the conversion of Cornelius.  When the believers heard about it, verse 18 tells us that they praised God and said, “So then, God has granted even the Gentiles repentance unto life.”  What that means is that repentance unto life is a gift, not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles – for everyone.  Whenever anyone repents, it is a gracious gift of God.  This was also true for Manasseh.  He came back because his God worked this in his heart. 

Maybe there’s someone here this morning who needs to come back.  Though you’re a covenant child, you’re living in some sin and not turning.  Instead of fighting against sin, you make excuses and give into it, embrace it.  Now you hear that repentance is a gift.  What if you haven’t been given the gift?  Can you use that as another excuse?  “God hasn’t given me the gift, so I’ll just keep doing what I’m doing.”  No, that’s snake-think.  That’s what the Devil wants you to think so you just carry on with him, following his way.  No, you can come back.  You must come back to your God and you can – by praying!  You can pray and ask for the gift of repentance.  God will hear you and grant that gift.  You can and must pray for repentance – tell the LORD that you see how wicked your sin is and where it’s going to end up, and how you want to hate it and fight against it, but you need his help, you need his grace and favour.  It’s not too late.  The opportunity is here right now to come back.   Charles Spurgeon once said, “Sin and hell are married unless repentance proclaims the divorce.”  Do you get that?  The repentance of Manasseh proclaimed the divorce of his sin and hell.  It can for you too. 

And repentance led to Manasseh’s restoration.  We learn about that in verse 13.  Here we see the fullness of God’s grace abounding to this humble and contrite sinner.  God had already been gracious in going after him with the prophets and with the Assyrians.  But now that repentance is happening, he’s showing even more grace.  Yahweh heard the humble prayer of Manasseh.  He was “moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea.”  These are wonderful words, pregnant with gospel truth.  When a sinner humbles himself or herself and repents in prayer, God hears and answers.  He forgives and brings about restoration. 

Now we should stop there for a moment and ask why.  On what basis did God forgive Manasseh and restore him?  It’s because of his covenant promises, promises ultimately fulfilled in Jesus Christ.  God heard Manasseh’s prayer and was moved by it, not because Manasseh had earned it, but because of God’s own promises for salvation.  When a sinner in the Old Testament repented and took hold of those promises, he would be forgiven.  Similarly, today, when a sinner repents and takes hold of Jesus Christ (to whom those promises pointed), he or she will be forgiven.  In Jesus Christ, God shows abounding grace to humble and contrite sinners.  Anyone can come back by turning to him.    

In Manasseh’s case, he was not only released from his spiritual bondage, but also from his physical bondage in Babylon.  The Chronicler tells us that God brought Manasseh back to Jerusalem and allowed him to resume his reign.  In what follows in chapter 33, we learn that he made many efforts to reverse the evils that he had introduced to Jerusalem and Judah.  His repentance was not just a matter of pious words, he also showed the fruits of repentance in his life.  He began hating sin and fighting against it the way that he should have all along.  By God’s grace, as a king he began to reflect the image of his great-grandson King Jesus.  He knew that Yahweh (the LORD) is God – he no longer lived under the illusion that Yahweh was irrelevant or undesirable to serve and worship.  All because of God’s grace! 

What an amazing turnaround we see in this passage.  It does lead us to praise God, doesn’t it?  God can take the worst of sinners and bring them back, bring them to repentance and faith.  There are many examples in history of God doing exactly what he did with Manasseh with others.  You can think of someone like Rosaria Butterfield.  She was once a lesbian English professor at an American university.  She hated God and lived in rebellion against him.  Through his amazing grace, God brought her to repentance and faith.  You can read about that in her book The Secret Thoughts of an Unlikely Convert.  It’s a fantastic story of God’s mercy to sinners.

But…but the story of Manasseh doesn’t end on a totally joyful note.  There’s still sadness and brokenness.  Even though Manasseh repents, even though he’s restored to the throne, he can’t totally undo the damage that he did in his sin.  There’s another powerful warning in this.  You see, our passage is about his personal repentance.  But it doesn’t say anything about the repentance of the people who followed him.  In verses 10 and 11, the LORD’s attention is not just on Manasseh personally, but also on the people of Judah who went after him.  But in verses 12-13, we only read of Manasseh’s repentance.  Sure, in what follows, he imposes changes on the land, but from elsewhere in Scripture we know that tremendous spiritual damage had been done.  Manasseh personally repented, but his life of sin before that had dragged many of the people of God down and widespread repentance amongst them just didn’t happen.  That eventually leads to the exile into Babylon.  Second Kings is very clear that there’s a direct line between Manasseh’s sinful leadership and the Babylonian exile.  His repentance was not Judah’s repentance.  His restoration was not their restoration.

Do you see where we’re going with this?  Earlier I mentioned how Manasseh’s sin was a failure of leadership.  It not only affected him, but those he was supposed to lead.  He repented and he was restored.  But what about those under his leadership?   I want the attention of everyone who is a father here this morning.  Mothers too, sure, but especially fathers.  You are called to be a leader, brothers.  You might personally have to repent of something, and if so I pray that you will.  But if you have led others to sin, your repentance may not lead to their repentance.  This is another reason why sin should scare the daylights out of you.  Sin is deceitful and destructive, not only for you personally, but also for people around you, especially those you’re called to lead.  What if Manasseh had repented early, when the prophets first came to him?  Perhaps some would have still been led astray, but not as many as were led astray by delaying repentance until heavy discipline became necessary.  Loved ones, Manasseh’s story teaches us to repent early – as soon as possible, also for the sake of those who look up to us.  No matter how little the sin, repent and turn away from that sin.  Take ownership of it, confess it, seek forgiveness for it through Christ, hate it, and flee it.                  

In this text, we’ve seen the depths of human depravity – rebellion and refusal to listen to God.  But contrasted with that are the incredible heights of divine grace – mercy and favour to a miserable sinner.  God is revealed here as the one who is faithful to his promises, who keeps on pursuing wayward sinners long after we would have given up.  We see him here as the God who calls sinners back to himself, back to life and fellowship with him.  Brothers and sisters, when you fall into sin, remember that he always provides a way back through his Son Jesus Christ.  See your sin for the horror that it is, cast contempt on it, and turn to him.  Come back, and you will be restored!  AMEN.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

Thank you for being a gracious and merciful God.  You pursue your children even when they have slapped you in the face and turned away from you.  We saw how you did that with Manasseh and we praise you for that.  We praise you for how you worked repentance and faith in his heart so that he could be restored.  For your sovereign grace, we exalt you.  We thank you for Jesus our Saviour through whom it’s possible to come back to you.  Father, when we sin, please bring us quickly to repentance.  Help us not to delay.  Help us with your Spirit, so that we confess our sins and seek your forgiveness through Christ.  If there’s anyone here this morning living in sin, we pray that you would convict them right now.  We pray that you would open their eyes and make them see what they’ve been doing, so that they would turn to you and live.  We pray for that because we care about our fellow sinners, but we also want to see your name praised for your grace and mercy bringing sinners to repentance.  Father, we also pray for those who are leaders, and we think especially of fathers.  Help us to provide good leadership to those under our care.  Help us to show by our example how to hate sin and fight against it in union with Christ our King.  Father, since this is so hard and we are so weak, we turn to you and ask for your Spirit to strengthen us.       

                                            




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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