Sunday, January 24, 2016

It's never too late for you!

33 Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty and five years in Jerusalem:
But did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord, like unto the abominations of the heathen, whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.
For he built again the high places which Hezekiah his father had broken down, and he reared up altars for Baalim, and made groves, and worshipped all the host of heaven, and served them.
Also he built altars in the house of the Lord, whereof the Lord had said, In Jerusalem shall my name be for ever.
And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.
And he caused his children to pass through the fire in the valley of the son of Hinnom: also he observed times, and used enchantments, and used witchcraft, and dealt with a familiar spirit, and with wizards: he wrought much evil in the sight of the Lord, to provoke him to anger.
And he set a carved image, the idol which he had made, in the house of God, of which God had said to David and to Solomon his son, In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen before all the tribes of Israel, will I put my name for ever:
Neither will I any more remove the foot of Israel from out of the land which I have appointed for your fathers; so that they will take heed to do all that I have commanded them, according to the whole law and the statutes and the ordinances by the hand of Moses.
So Manasseh made Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to err, and to do worse than the heathen, whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel.
10 And the Lord spake to Manasseh, and to his people: but they would not hearken.
11 Wherefore the Lord brought upon them the captains of the host of the king of Assyria, which took Manasseh among the thorns, and bound him with fetters, and carried him to Babylon.
12 And when he was in affliction, he besought the Lord his God, and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers,
13 And prayed unto him: and he was intreated of him, and heard his supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord he was God.
14 Now after this he built a wall without the city of David, on the west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entering in at the fish gate, and compassed about Ophel, and raised it up a very great height, and put captains of war in all the fenced cities of Judah.
15 And he took away the strange gods, and the idol out of the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built in the mount of the house of the Lord, and in Jerusalem, and cast them out of the city.
16 And he repaired the altar of the Lord, and sacrificed thereon peace offerings and thank offerings, and commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.
17 Nevertheless the people did sacrifice still in the high places, yet unto the Lord their God only.
18 Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer unto his God, and the words of the seers that spake to him in the name of the Lord God of Israel, behold, they are written in the book of the kings of Israel.
19 His prayer also, and how God was intreated of him, and all his sins, and his trespass, and the places wherein he built high places, and set up groves and graven images, before he was humbled: behold, they are written among the sayings of the seers.
20 So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own house: and Amon his son reigned in his stead.

We live in a day and age where most people judge someone by their past. Many has been the person who started life badly. They developed a reputation for being bad. But, watch what happens when that person turns their life around and begins to live for Jesus. Most that either know them, or know of their reputation, will usually say, "Yea, right! I have a hard time believing that one." 
In today's passage, we have a young king who took all the wrong steps. He had all the right tools. His father, Hezekiah, was a great and godly man. He led his kingdom to live for God, made much needed reforms, and did not tolerate evil. Tall shoes indeed for a twelve year old boy to fill. 
But, one thing about young boys, especially in their teen years, is that they tend to rebel against their elders. Some of them come to their senses. Some never do. As soon as Manasseh (whose name means, "causing to forget." He was named after Joseph's son who was so named for God's blessings causing Joseph to forget being sold into slavery by his brothers, wrongly accused by a harlot, and being forgotten in prison.),he began to stretch his royal wings and take the country in directions that his godly father never would've agreed with. 
His life was the poster child of ungodliness. He allowed and encouraged his country to become "multicultural." Everyone who wanted to serve their foreign idols were not only allowed to do so, but aided in doing it by the young king's government. 
"Oh how wise you are," said one of the young king's advisers. "Be more inclusive and the rest of the world will love you," said another. "If you want to show how truly great you are, and how great our nation is, you must allow people to follow the truths that they were raised to believe," said his religious adviser. "Imagine how the international community will love you if you stop all this religious exclusivity, your highness,"
Listening to these voices, Manasseh allowed all manor of ungodliness into his kingdom. Alters were built to idols in the mountains and the valleys. Groves were built. This was a place where the worshipers of Ashtaroth (a fertility goddess) could go and (for a small fee) sleep with one of her "priestesses" in order to gain a blessing for their crops and/or help their wives to conceive a child. (Makes sense, huh? Sleep with one woman in order to help your own wife become pregnant? SMH) 
They had their own version of abortion on demand, too. They threw their children in the unholy fires of Molech, seeking the blessing of the false god. (Much as America kills millions of babies every year for the "blessing" of personal freedom.)
The young king even started practicing sorcery and witchcraft! He became so full of himself that he placed altars to his own handmade idols in God's own temple! (Boy won't that preach today?) He had -and therefore the kingdom had- no fear of almighty God at all. If a nations leader(s) have no fear of God, the nation won't fear him, either.
God sent prophets to warn the king and the nation to repent of their evil ways, but to no avail. 
Finally, the one, true God had had enough. 
He sent the mightiest nation in the world (and the world's first terrorists), Assyria, against King Manasseh and his country. God didn't back his people. He allowed them to be overrun and the king to be taken captive. He was stripped of his finery, placed in chains, taken back to Assyria as a captive and thrown in a dungeon to rot.  
His story could have tragically and sadly ended there. He could have died in that dark and dirty place, never to be seen or heard of again. 
But, king Manasseh began to think on his life. He remembered how things were before all of his glorious "reforms." He remembered how peaceful and wholesome things had become under his god-fearing father's reign. He recalled the truth's that his father had taught and championed and how blessed the country had become by following them. 
Slowly, it dawns on Manasseh just how foolish he had been- and just how evil his advisers advice (and his following them) had been. He remembered the prophets that God had sent to him to try and warn him to repent. 
He's overwhelmed and cries out in real repentance. 
How long this process took, we're not told. How many times the enemies whispers of "It's too late for you, king," kept him from crying out, the scriptures do not say. 
All we know is that, at some point, he makes up his mind and cries out in spite of the voices, "God forgive me!" 
If God were as harsh and unforgiving as many people try to say that he is, Manasseh would've died in his hell hole. But, rather than giving Manasseh the fate he deserves, God reaches down and forgives this ungodly man- even in his prison cell. 
Still, that could've been the happy ending of Manasseh's story. "Evil King repents, is forgiven, and dies in prison." Most of the religious folks would've have told that story of a loving God's mercy for years to come! 
But, it doesn't end there. Nope! 
God not only forgives him, but he sets him free and restores him to the same position he held before God had passed judgement on him! Oh, the forgiveness of our God! 
But, here comes the real test for Manasseh. 
The city gates are open wide. No expense has been spared. The king is returning! The streets have been cleaned. The riff-raff have been run off. The advisers have spruced themselves up. The religious leaders are prepared to thank their god's for the return of the king. 
The truly pious aren't in the mood for celebration. To their minds, here comes more of the same ungodly policies.
Trumpets blare and the king enters the city in his chariot. The people applaud!
The king waves and his feet touch the ground in his beloved city. You can almost see him fall to his face and kiss the ground he never thought he would see again. When he arises, there are tears in his eyes. He's so glad to be home! 
But, looking around as he had entered his country and now his capital, he became more and more aware of the awesome tasks that were set before him. For a truly repentant heart cannot allow things to continue as before. Changes must come. And they must come as quickly as they can possibly be made. 
The king calls his counselors together and begins to explain what he has in mind. The more he speaks, the more alarmed his counsel becomes. "Does he really want to undo and destroy all the progress we've made through the years?" 
When it becomes apparent that's exactly what he intends to do, an outcry arises. "King, you can't do this!" "My lord, the people will revolt!" A cacophony arises that is full of objections. 
The king rises to his feet and silences the room with one cry, "Silence!"
Gone is the timid boy who could be sweet talked into ungodliness. Gone is the young king who's baser instincts could be appealed to to convince him to make the reforms they wanted. 
In their place stands a man of God, full of the power of God. His mind is made up! His advisers are fired and replaced. His word is full of the wisdom of God and his will is made of iron. 
He strengthens the defenses of his nation and begins to tear down and destroy the idol places that he himself had helped to set up. 
You can almost hear the religious folks saying, "Who does he think he is? He helped set all this up." "It's true we prayed for reformation, but he can't be the one! His past is too bad to be God's man for this hour!"
If Manasseh had listened to these voices, the revival of his country wouldn't have happened. 
But, Manasseh remembered the God of Grace and Mercy that had given him a second chance when he was in his dark and cold prison cell. He remembered the voice that he heard in that hopeless place and spoke life and purpose back into his life.    
So, Manasseh ignored the naysayers. He ignored the finger pointers. He just focused on God and the task that he had been assigned. He didn't let the talk bother him. Manasseh had a mission from God and he was going to accomplish it- even if it killed him. 
True repentance is much more than saying, "I'm sorry." Real repentance is a change of heart and mind that connects the ungodly sinner to the God of mercy. It changes the sinner into a willing vessel. It opens the door for a miraculous change that will effect many more people who see the evidence of Jesus in the life of the penitent soul. 
My friends, if you are trapped in a prison created by your own sin, it's not too late for you. If you feel that your life is over and God cannot use you, you're wrong. Repent, and watch God work!
But, when the naysayers arise, ignore them. Hold on to what God has told you. Go about the work he has sent you to do. And above all else, don't let your past dictate your future. "He whom the son hath set free, is free indeed!"