The Prodigal Son

Sermon by Derek Thomas on August 22, 2007

2 Chronicles 33:1-20

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The Lord’s Day
Morning

April 22, 2007


II Chronicles 33:1-20


“The Prodigal Son”

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Now from the beauty of Brahms’s Requiem to the
ugliness of Judean kings, 700 years or so before Christ. Turn in your Bibles
now, if you would this morning, to II Chronicles 33. And I want us this morning
to examine together the life–biography, if you like–of what has been called by
many commentators of Scripture the most wicked king ever–certainly the most
wicked king, I think, in the history of Judah, and the Bible seems to put him on
a par with some of the wicked kings of the Northern Kingdom of Israel.

Now, I was reading the newspaper recently, and came
across this:

“Dear Abbey,

I’m 44, and would like to
meet a man with no bad habits.”

“Dear Rose,

So would I.”

Well, Manasseh had bad habits…well, Manasseh had very
bad habits. Manasseh was a very, very bad king. When I was in school in the
‘60’s as a teenager, the book that everyone, it seems, was reading was a book
entitled 1066 and All That. It was a history of England, with a subtitle:
“A Memorial History of England Comprising All the Parts You Can Remember,
Including 103 Good Things, 5 Bad Things, and 2 Genuine Dates”–I suppose the kind
of history book you’d like to read! But in that book it describes King John. You
all know King John, of course…at least, you know his brother, King Richard. King
Richard was the king at the time of Robin Hood. Now whether Robin Hood actually
existed is another point entirely, and not with our consideration this morning!
But King John was the brother of King Richard, the king in the time of Robin
Hood. King John was the one who established, founded, put his seal upon the
Magna Charta
, something like the constitution of England. And 1066 and
All That
summarized the entire life of King John with these words: “A very
bad king who did one good thing.” A very bad king who did one good thing–well,
that summarized Manasseh. He was a very bad king, but he did one good thing.

We could look at this story this morning from two
points of view. We could look at the big picture. We could look at the
macrocosmic picture. We could look and ask the question, “Where does King
Manasseh belong in the history of redemption, in the unfolding purposes of God
with respect to the gospel that unfolds from Genesis 3:15 [the seed that would
crush the head of Satan]…in that plan that culminates in the coming of Jesus,
His life and death and resurrection, and ascension and session, and Second
Coming and all of that–where does King Manasseh belong in all that? And that
would be a wonderful thing to do, a useful thing to do, an important thing to
do, proper thing to do. And the answer that we would come to is that Manasseh
was a bad king. Actually he was a bad king that spelled the end of all the
kings, because sixty years after King Manasseh, five or six kings down the line,
the nation of Judah would be no more. Jerusalem would be destroyed in 587 by the
Babylonians, and that would be the end of that. And saying of course, loud and
clear, that no earthly king can be our savior, but only the King of Kings can be
our Savior and Redeemer.

But that’s not where I want to go this morning. I
want to focus in. I want the lens to come down close, and I want us to look at
King Manasseh, his life, who he was, what he did, and to ask ourselves, “What
does it have to say to me?” because I think it has something very important to
say to us this morning.

Now before we read the
passage together, let’s come before God in prayer.

Lord our God, we thank You for the Scriptures,
that they are able to make us wise unto salvation through faith which is in
Christ Jesus our Lord. Holy Spirit, come and help us now to read, mark, learn,
and inwardly digest, and bring out of these lines of Scripture truth that might
challenge and convict, and nourish and edify our souls. And this we ask for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

Now turn with me to II Chronicles 33:

“Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned
fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did evil in the sight of the Lord
according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord dispossessed before
the sons of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah his father had
broken down; he also erected altars for the Baals and made Asherim, and
worshiped all the host of heaven and served them. And he built altars in the
house of the Lord of which the Lord had said, ‘My name shall be in Jerusalem
forever.’ For he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of
the house of the Lord. And he made his sons pass through the fire in the valley
of Ben-hinnom; and he practiced witchcraft, used divination, practiced sorcery,
and dealt with mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the sight of the
Lord, provoking Him to anger. Then he put the carved image of 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 from all the tribes of
Israel, I will put My name forever; and I will not again remove the foot of
Israel from the land which I have appointed for your fathers, if only they will
observe to do all that I have commanded them according to all the law, the
statutes, and the ordinances given through Moses.’ Thus Manasseh misled Judah
and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord
destroyed before the sons of Israel.

“And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no
attention. Therefore the Lord brought the commanders of the army of the king of
Assyria against them, and they captured Manasseh with hooks, bound him with
bronze chains, and took him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he
entreated the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his
fathers. When he prayed to Him, He was moved by his entreaty and heard his
supplication, and brought him again to Jerusalem to his kingdom. Then Manasseh
knew that the Lord was God.

“Now after this he built the outer wall of the city of David on the
west side of Gihon, in the valley, even to the entrance of the Fish Gate; and he
encircled the Ophel with it and made it very high. Then he put army commanders
in all the fortified cities of Judah. He also removed the foreign gods and the
idol from the house of the Lord, as well as all the altars which he had built on
the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them
outside the city. And he set up the altar of the Lord and sacrificed peace
offerings and thank offerings on it; and he ordered Judah to serve the Lord God
of Israel. Nevertheless the people still sacrificed in the high places, although
only to the Lord their God.

“Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh even his prayer to his God,
and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord God of
Israel, behold, they are among the records of the kings of Israel. His prayer
also and how God was entreated by him, and all his sin, his unfaithfulness, and
the sites on which he built high places and erected the Asherim and the carved
images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the records of
the Hozai. So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his own
house. And Amon his son became king in his place.”

Amen. May God bless to us that
reading of His holy and inerrant word.

Now I want to see
quickly five things: a problem; perversion; a prayer; a program of reform; and,
a postscript.
I’m telling you those five things up front in case we get
lost. At least you will know where we ought to have been!

I. A
problem.

Now, first of all, a
problem.
There’s a problem with numbers here…the length of years of his
reign. I’ll not go into that this morning, only to say that as with most of the
latter kings of both Israel and Judah, there was a period when the son would
co-reign with his father in a kind of…well, apprenticeship, if you like. And
that helps us through the numbers problem.

Of a far greater issue
and import is a theological issue.
Why would God allow Judah, His people,
His chosen people, from which would come the Messiah…why would He allow Judah to
suffer 50 years and more of the wicked reign of Manasseh? Imagine (if you had
been alive) for most of your life, perhaps all that you would ever have known
would be the wickedness of this king. Why does God allow that? And the answer
seems to lie in something that the prophet Isaiah had already said [Isaiah had
come and gone by the time Manasseh was on the scene]. Isaiah, in Jerusalem
speaking to Manasseh’s father, had said in the third chapter of his prophecy in
answer to the question, “How will we know that God is judging the nation?” The
answer, he said, is that God will give them wicked rulers. God will give them
wicked rulers. So written all over Judah for fifty years was a sign that said
“God is judging this people. God is bringing an end to this reign of earthly
kings.”

II.
A perversion.

Secondly, a perversion.
In verse 2, “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord.” In verse 6, “He did much evil
in the eyes of the Lord.” In the second half of verse 2, he is said to have
sinned like the Canaanites. You remember of course; it’s a moral and ethical
question of some import as to what right did Moses and the children of
Israel…what right did they have to dispossess the Canaanites of their land? And
the answer, of course, the Bible gives us: that the iniquity of the Canaanites
was so great that God came down and judged them, using the Israelites as His
instrument. And now God is saying about Manasseh, king of Judah, that he is
sinning like the Canaanites whom God came down and judged.

In verse 19, the
chronicler uses a very specific word full of connotations: unfaithful. He
was unfaithful. And the word unfaithful still rings in our ears
today, doesn’t it, if someone is unfaithful in a marriage? A husband or wife is
unfaithful…broken covenant vows, spurned love that has been shown to them. And
here is Manasseh, king of Judah, being unfaithful to God, spurning the covenant
love that God has shown to them. And the chronicler gives a list of all the sins
that he committed: fertility worship; the altars of Baal; the Ashera poles, with
all of the cultic prostitution that went along with it; astral worship; foreign
altars in the temple; child sacrifice [he sacrificed his children in the valley
of Ben-Hinnom]; sorcery; divination; witchcraft; mediums. He put a carved image
of himself in the temple where God had put His own name. He led not just
himself, but he led Judah astray so that Judah sinned (verse 9) just like the
Canaanites. And his father was godly Hezekiah. Perversity….

III.
A prayer.

Prayer. God comes
down, sends an Assyrian king–probably Esarhaddon–and literally puts a hook in
his nose, and chains, bronze chains, about him, and he is taken a thousand miles
away from Jerusalem to Babylon. He’s a captive.

God humbled this
man. God brought this man to his lowest point. It was as though God was saying
“Enough!”–that he’d reached a point of no return.

Two weeks ago, Gary [I
won’t give his last name]…he was a member of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity at
Rider University in Princeton. He drank three-quarters of a bottle of vodka in
fifteen minutes, and died. He reached a point of no return. There was no coming
back from that. And Manasseh has reached a point of no return, and he is
captive, and he has a hook in his nose, and bronze chains about him, and he’s at
his lowest point, and he prays–perhaps for the first time in his life. He prays
to the Lord God of Israel. He sought (verse 12) God’s favor. He humbled himself
greatly. And God (verse 13)–God was moved. That’s the kind of God that we have.
That’s the God of the Old Testament, a God who is moved by the cries and pleas
of a man who is at the end of his tether–a wicked man, an ungodly man. Had God
come down and judged him and taken him out…if fire had come down from heaven and
devoured Manasseh, it would have been too good for him. You and I would not have
spilled one drop, one tear…not one tear would be shed on behalf of Manasseh if
God had consumed him there on the spot.

Theodore Beza, Calvin’s
successor in Geneva, was converted and brought to saving faith in the Lord
through adversity and pain. He wrote later:


“Pain was to me the gateway to heaven.” Pain was to me the gateway
to heaven…and this ungodly wretch of a man who had sacrificed his children,
who’d been involved in cultic prostitution, who’d been consulting all kinds of
mediums and sorcerers and everything except God, who had spurned the prophets
and seers that God had sent to him, God brought him to the lowest point. And in
that lowest point he prayed and asked for God’s mercy and favor, and God was
moved by his prayer. He learned, you see, that there is forgiveness with God,
that He may be feared. There is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin.
There is a door that is open, that you may go in. At Calvary’s cross is where it
begins, when you come as a sinner to Jesus. There’s a way back to God from the
dark paths of sin, and it’s the cry, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner!”

William Perkins was one of
the greatest theologians of all time. He lived that span, that period, around
1600 or so. He taught theology at Cambridge University in the early 1600’s. We
still read his books. But William Perkins as a young man was a drunkard, and he
tells the story of his conversion: How a mother was saying to her child who was
misbehaving, “Hold your tongue!” the mother would say, “or I’ll hand you over to
that drunkard Perkins!” He said it was like an arrow in his heart. It was like
an arrow in his heart, and there and then he called on the name of the Lord, and
there and then the Lord came and rescued him and saved him, and brought him to
Himself.

Thirty-five years ago the
late Douglas MacMillan, a wonderful, wonderful man, and preacher…preacher from
Scotland…a shepherd for most of his life on the hills of Scotland, and a
wonderful conversion story…I haven’t time to tell it now…wonderful preaching…I
haven’t time to tell that now either! But I remember hearing him preach a sermon
all of 25 years ago, and in the sermon he said he had had this dream the night
before. You know, he wasn’t one of these crazy wild types; he was a sensible
fellow, but he had this dream. And in this dream he’d seen the pearly gates, and
coming up to the pearly gates were the patriarchs…Abraham, Isaac, Jacob,
Joseph…and one by one they entered through the pearly gates. And then came the
apostles…Paul, and John, and Peter…and one by one they entered by the pearly
gates. And then the Reformers…Calvin, Luther, Melanchthon, Baza, others…one by
one they entered through the pearly gates. And then, lo and behold, he saw
Manasseh, this ungodly wretch; and, lo and behold, Manasseh went through the
pearly gates! When he awoke, he said he recalled saying to himself, “If God can
save Manasseh, He can save me.”

I don’t know where you are
this morning, or who you are, or what you’ve done. You may have come here this
morning bowed down with a load of sin and guilt and shame. You may have done
things about which you could not tell us here in public…shameful things,
horrible things, terrible things, and you’ve been brought to the end of
yourself, perhaps. And I’m saying to you this morning, if that’s where you are,
if God has brought you to the lowest point, if He’s brought you even to the
gutter, if He’s ruined you financially, if you’ve been separated from your
family, I’m saying to you this morning, if God can save Manasseh, He can save
you. There is a way back to God from the dark paths of sin. There is a door open
that you may come in, and it starts, my friend, at the cross. It starts, my
friend, at the cross–whoever you are. If God can save Manasseh, if God can save
Saul of Tarsus, if God can save the Philippian jailer, He can save you. He can
rescue you. He can reach down to you wherever you are, whatever you’ve done,
whatever you’ve committed, and He can bring you into His family and into His
kingdom. My friends, it’s this way:

“Nothing in my
hands I bring,

Simply to Thy
cross I cling.

Naked, look to Thee for dress;
Helpless, look to Thee for grace.

Foul, I to the
fountain fly;

Wash me,
Savior, or I die.”

Do you feel your sins? Do
you feel your guilt? Do you feel your need? Then run to Christ, because when
Manasseh prayed to the Lord, it moved God. God was moved by that prayer, because
that’s the kind of God He is. A prayer that rises from the pits of dereliction
and abandonment and hopelessness, and God will hear that prayer, my friend.

IV.
A program of reform.

And a program of reform.
Well, he did many things. He’s brought back to Jerusalem, he begins to
demonstrate the genuineness of his repentance, and he rebuilds Jerusalem’s
walls, and he reorganizes Judah’s army, and he begins the work of restoring the
temple. He doesn’t do it completely; he doesn’t destroy the idolatrous nature of
some of the items that were in the temple and burn them as the Lord demanded. He
simply threw them out, and we’ll see the consequence of that in a moment. He
begins a program of reform, but it’s all too late, because God takes him home.
God takes him home.

V. A
postscript.

And the fifth and final
thing that I want us to see in this passage is a postscript. Now, we didn’t read
it. It’s the next section. Who reigned after Manasseh? His son, Amon. And of
Amon we read in verse 22 that he did evil, like his father. The years
of Manasseh’s perversity had so shaped and molded his son that the short, brief
time of his conversion had no effect upon him.
The die had been cast, and no
sooner was Manasseh dead and buried than Amon found the idols his father had
thrown out of the temple (because he hadn’t destroyed them), and he brought them
back in again. And Amon ruled for two years…just two years, and he was
assassinated; and the seeds of Judah’s decay are now set in motion, and within
forty years of this period of time also Judah will be gone.

Yes, my friends, there is
a way back from the dark paths of sin, and I truly and genuinely and sincerely
believe in deathbed repentance; I truly believe that
the dying thief upon the cross went straight into heaven. No matter what sin, no
matter what perversity, no matter what guilt you have, cast it all on Jesus
Christ and you will be saved.

But sometimes, my friend,
you can’t undo the legacy of your former life, and the die had been cast, as far
as Manasseh’s son is concerned. And you see what the lesson is: Don’t leave it,
my friends, until you are in the gutter. Don’t leave it until there’s nowhere
else to turn before you run and beg for mercy at the hands of God. Run to Him
now. Trust in Him now. Don’t waste your life. Young people, don’t waste your
lives, but trust Him now and serve Him now, and be a disciple of His now.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for
this account of an ungodly king. We find such hope and such comfort, and such
reassurance in it, that You would save a wretch like him. But Lord, we pray this
morning that You would have dealings with our own hearts and with our own souls,
for we would all know that assurance that we have truly and genuinely put our
trust in Jesus Christ…and to do that early, and to do that quickly, and to do
that now. And come, Holy Spirit, and hear our prayers. And we ask it in Jesus’
name. Amen.

Let’s stand and worship
God, singing I Hear Thy Welcome Voice.

[Congregational Hymn]

Grace, mercy and peace,
from God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ be with you all. Amen.

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