Saved, yet as through fire
1Corinthians 3:9-15, 2Chronicles 33:1-20
Last time I preached the Word of God to you we heard about the grace of God as we looked at God’s dealings with Ahab: how many times God offered him grace to worship Him and to repent from worshipping the despicable idol, Baal. There was almost hope for Ahab as we saw the signs of repentance; however, it was superficial, and soon he slipped back in his old ways, only to die in his sin – all because God is just, righteous and holy.
The Word this morning tells us about another such story. I have titled it: “Grace trampled, grace offered, grace received.” The subtitle “Saved, yet as through fire” are from the New Testament reading from 1Corinthians 3. In this chapter the apostle Paul says each one’s work will be put to the test: some will not stand, yet by God’s eternal grace and Gospel call, they will be saved, yet so as through fire.
Like someone who is trapped in a burning house, losing everything he has worked for, facing death himself, only then to be grabbed by the scruff of his neck by the fire-fighter and taken to safety. Stripped of everything, but alive! Manasseh of the Old Testament was such a man.
Grace trampled – obnoxious rebellion
Manasseh grew up in a godly home. Hezekiah, his father, was a good king and led the nation in spiritual a revival. His son however became the worst king.
Why would this young king, who most probably shared the throne with his father for ten years and when old Hezekiah eventually died, turned away to rebel against God? He who had seen and tasted the fruit of God’s blessing upon his godly father, why would he turn away from it to become known as more rebellious and worse than the kings who reigned in Israel before the Israelites got there.
There are very fine Christian homes with godly Christian parents in which a son or a daughter rebels against everything. But it also true that some young drifters were neglected at home. They saw godless, materialistic parents who were quarrelling all the time; they might come from broken homes, homes that were centred merely on self and selfishness. You can understand why they rebel against all of that, and just walked out. But why is it that a son or daughter will simply rebel and out of a lovely, Christian home and join a crowd which rebels against all which is good and winsome?
All young people go through a period when they feel that their parents are old-fashioned, and may I say, stupid. But others are rebellious. Their life is eventually destroyed and they themselves become a picture of destruction.
But God’s mercy is unfathomable. We will never understand why God is so merciful to even include the worst of sinners, the most evil of rebels into his Gospel call.
Let’s look at the path of destruction of Manasseh. He reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. This man reigned much longer than others, longer than David, longer than Solomon, longer than his father. Why? Because the sovereign God is merciful.
Manasseh deliberately pulled down the altars his father had built for the worship of the living God and replaced them with altars to Baal. This man’s mind was bewildered and dulled by an explicit desire to rebel against God. His life is a picture of someone who gained the whole world, and yet lost his soul.
Manasseh made a systematic and persistent attempt, and all too successfully, to banish the worship of God out of the land. He reinstated the fertility cult of worshipping under every green tree, giving way to sexual immorality and depravity. Once this was introduced one thing followed the other, the next more wicked that the previous.
He introduced right into the temple in Jerusalem the worship of the hosts of heaven: like the worship of Jupiter, the worship of Mercury, the worship of Venus. He established worship of the horoscope there. You could have had your horoscope read in the temple in that day. This is of course not only a sin in God’s sight, but also an extremely dangerous activity. God commanded the Law:
And when you look up to the sky and see the sun, the moon and the stars—all the heavenly array—do not be enticed into bowing down to them and worshiping things the LORD your God has apportioned to all the nations under heaven. (Deuteronomy 4:19)
The argument goes that when such-and-such a star crossed such-and-such a star, it would be a very important time (or not) for you. It is amazing that in our day intelligent people can place so much confidence in the constellation of stars. Remember, a friend of this world cannot be a friend of God. Look at Manasseh. Manasseh was very much interested in worshipping the stars.
“And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord.” And he didn’t stop there.
He defiled the temple of God by actually bringing the images into the temple. The expression, “In Jerusalem shall My name be forever” (verse 4) was both a promise of Gods’ presence and protection for his people, and a declaration of punishment if this name is profaned or defiled. Manasseh was playing a dangerous game.
The Philistines, even before the Israelites occupied the land practiced divination in different forms: Letting drops of oil fall into a cup of water and observing the patterns that appear; watching the various shapes from the smoke of incense. They looked into the stars and made observations: They listed the months of the year and told which months were favourable for certain kinds of tasks. They also listed activities that a person should engage in or avoid for each day of the month. From all of this, astrology was born.
And we thought we are modern! Brother and sister, if you are tied up in these activities, stop it immediately. It is a sin before God. Look at the life of Manasseh!
He went further: he sacrificed his own sons to the worship of the god Molech.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, (Deuteronomy 18:10)
I will set my face against the person who turns to mediums and spiritists to prostitute himself by following them, and I will cut him off from his people. (Leviticus 20:6)
Divination is an attempt to decipher the will of the gods through the use of magical techniques. We are talking about the value people put on dreams and other measures as apposed to being content knowing the God is in control.
Let no one be found among you who sacrifices his son or daughter in the fire, who practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these detestable practices the LORD your God will drive out those nations before you… [The] nations you will dispossess listen to those who practice sorcery or divination. But as for you, the LORD your God has not permitted you to do so. (Deuteronomy 18:10-14)
Manasseh knew that God promised good for those who obey Him, and destruction for those who disobey; and yet he pushed forward.
Amid this widespread idolatry there was not a shortage of faithful prophets (Isaiah, Micah) who voiced God’s disapproval and warning. But their fidelity only aroused bitter hatred, and a period of cruel persecution against all the friends of the old religion began.
There is an old Jewish tradition that Isaiah was put to death at this time. He was sawn in two, as Hebrews 11:37 suggests. Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end, and 2Kings 24:3-4 says Manasseh had filled Jerusalem with innocent blood, and the LORD was not willing to forgive. (2 Kings 24:3-4)
Grace offered – “Thus sayeth the Lord”
And still, God did not forget his people. Listen to 2 Chronicles 33:10:
And the Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen. (2 Chronicles 33:10, NKJV)
2 Kings 21 is about the same time in Israel.
And the Lord spoke by His servants the prophets … (2 Kings 21:10, NKJV)
The gracious God still speaks! He is still busy, calling to repentance. There is still grace. Grace comes through the Word where God speaks. We have heard this gospel over and over again. This message is about Jesus Christ, the son of God who came into this word to seek and to save the lost. It is a searching message, just like God looked for Adam and Eve after they sinned; and God asked, “We are you?” (Genesis 3:9).
So God is still speaking today. You hear this, and once again God is offering eternal life through Jesus Christ. It is free, it costs nothing. Yet, this offer will not be there forever. We might face our last day living in rebellion, outside of the grace of God and face eternity without God. Listen:
Come now, and let us reason together,” Says the Lord, “Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow; Though they are red like crimson, They shall be as wool. If you are willing and obedient, You shall eat the good of the land; (Isaiah 1:18–19, NKJV)
This free offer of grace has a flip-side. The verses from Isaiah 1 continue:
But if you refuse and rebel, You shall be devoured by the sword”; For the mouth of the Lord has spoken. (Isaiah 1:20, NKJV)
Sin has consequences. Disobedience has a cost. Listen to verse 11:
So the LORD brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria, who took Manasseh prisoner, put a hook in his nose, bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. (2 Chronicles 33:11)
Did you see the “So” in the beginning of this verse? It means “therefore”, “as a result”.
Manasseh, once a royal king, was chained and taken to Babylon with hooks in his nose. The day of punishment arrived. It was time to go. God’s hourglass was full. Roles are reversed, as the king became a prisoner and beggar. He was thrown in prison.
Grace received – humility before God
The old song says, “It is no secret what God can do, what He’s done for others, He can do for you.”
The apostle Paul in 1Timothy 1:15-16 says:
Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners—of whom I am the worst. But for that very reason I was shown mercy so that in me, the worst of sinners, Christ Jesus might display his unlimited patience as an example for those who would believe on him and receive eternal life. (1Timothy 1:15-16)
Manasseh remembered the days of his father Hezekiah. Like the prodigal son he remembered the good old days. There in the darkness of his cell, with his hands and feet in fetters, barely able to speak as the hooks in his nose obstructed his speech, this killer of prophets, this Nero of Jerusalem, this blasphemer, this practiser of sorcery and divination, this father who had his own sons killed as a sacrifice to idols, turned to God for mercy. He reached the end of his rope. He was empty. He was eating from the swine troughs of this world. He was hungry, blind, sick and cripple.
Is there hope? Is the grace in Jesus Christ enough for this broken sinner? If you where God, what would you do? If you were Manasseh, would you turn to God? How dare he ask for forgiveness? How dare he not ask for forgiveness?
Before the holy God he pleaded for grace. Not just as quick, “Forgive me my sins, Amen”; no, he humbled himself greatly before God. Who knows what exactly went on in that cell?
This God was the God of his fathers – the covenant God. The merciful God who forgives not after we try to improve ourselves, but the One who sent his Son Jesus Christ into the world for this reason: to save sinners – that is, those who realise they are lost and on their way to eternal hell. For those who plead before Him for forgiveness.
How did come about? He had nothing to offer before God, but a humble prayer. A simple, and yet powerful prayer of confession. This prayer was recorded in two important books of the time. It became an example of a sinner who begged for forgiveness.
God heard his prayer. God forgave him and restored him as king in Israel.
Is that fair? Is grace ever fair? Grace is defined as: there is nothing I can do so God will love me more; and there is nothing I can do for God to love me less. God’s is sovereign in his grace. He can forgive if He wants. Gods is always gracious, and thank Him, never fair.
Manasseh is an example of true repentance. He, the once godless king, went back to his people and made restitution. Confession is one aspect of repentance, turning around and committing yourself to God is another aspect. Manasseh had the guts to go back and become a preacher of grace. He took away the gods he had placed in the temple. But he also commanded Judah to serve the Lord God of Israel.
If you ever doubted the grace of God, look at the example of God gracious love towards this once murderer. If you ever thought you are too sinful; if ever you thought it is too late to turn to God, look at the cross of Jesus Christ. That is God’s answer to a life of rebellion. On that cross Jesus Christ was nailed to take away the certificate of debts with its charges against us – He nailed it to the cross.
Maybe you are not a big sinner. You have not killed anyone. You don’t practice divination and all those ugly things. But you still need salvation. Without God’s forgiveness and grace in your life you are still lost. Why don’t you hear the offer of grace today and ask for forgiveness?
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 18 September 2016