Posted by: Johnold Strey | June 18, 2013

Sermon on 2 Chronicles 33:1-6,10-18

THE GOD OF SECOND CHANCES

Text: 2 Chronicles 33:1-6,10-18

I.

Should Jamarcus Russell get a second chance? The Oakland Raiders fans here today probably have an opinion on that one. Jamarcus Russell was the Raiders’ first round (and first overall) draft pick in 2007. He held out from practice until after the regular season had started, and after the Raiders signed him to a $61 million contract. He played 25 games as a starter in three seasons, but only won seven of those games. The Raiders released him in the spring of 2010, disappointed with his poor performance and reported lack of a good work ethic. The team even filed a grievance hoping to get back some of the money they had paid him. Russell was later arrested on drug charges. But now, in the current offseason, he has been working out, losing weight, getting in shape, and working hard toward finding an NFL team that will sign up—and probably not with a lucrative contract or a starting job this time. So should he get a second chance, or has his opportunity passed him by?

Should Manasseh have gotten a second chance? Football fans probably knew who Jamarcus Russell was before I gave his abbreviated NFL biography, but even fairly decent students of the Bible may not know who King Manasseh was. The ancient nation of Israel became a monarchy, ruled by Kings Saul, then David, then Solomon. After those three kings, the nation split into two kingdoms in 930 B.C.—the northern kingdom was still called Israel, while the southern kingdom took the name Judah. The northern kingdom was eventually wiped out by the nation of Assyria in 722 B.C. The southern kingdom stuck around a little longer before the nation of Babylon deported them in 586 B.C. Manasseh was king in the 600’s B.C., and based on the record in today’s First Lesson, he wasn’t a very godly king, either.

Verses two through six in our reading contain a laundry list of Manasseh’s sins that get successively worse with each verse. “He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites.” That’s not exactly a compliment to hear that the nations Israel once destroyed at God’s direction as a punishment for their wickedness were now the model of behavior for Judah’s king. “[Manasseh] rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them.” The high places that were once locations of idol worship were put back into practice, and the false gods of the surrounding nations along with their sexually deviant worship practices became accepted cultural practice under Manasseh’s reign. “He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever. In both courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts.” It is one thing to encourage people to worship false gods; it is that much more offensive to set up the worship of phony gods in the holy temple of the one, true God. And now here’s the clincher: “He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists.” As if Manasseh’s sins could get any worse, he even engaged in child sacrifice, killing his own sons who would have succeeded him on the throne, and engaging in every form of witchcraft imaginable. Our reading expresses the situation quite tamely when it concludes, “He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, provoking him to anger.” Should he get a second chance? 

Perhaps we also need to pause and ask ourselves if we should get second chances from God. Oh, it’s true enough that there are no child-sacrificing idol worshippers here. But then again, maybe we shouldn’t ask ourselves if we’re as bad as Manasseh was; maybe we should ask ourselves if we’re as bad as we are capable of being. We can rightly point an accusing finger at the Manassehs of the past and present, but haven’t we also broken God’s laws in ways that we are personally quite capable of doing and comfortable with doing? Have we broken God’s laws in ways that are socially acceptable today, just as Manasseh’s sins were deemed socially acceptable by the pagan nations around Judah? Do we also need a second chance from God?

II.

I suspect that if we were calling the shots, the jury would still be out as to whether or not Manasseh got a second chance. Amazingly, God’s answer early on was, “Yes, he gets a second chance.” God’s message to repent came through his prophets (cf. 2 Kings 21:10-15), but it fell on deaf ears.  “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 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.” Notice how God directed the affairs of this world—in this case, sending the heathen nation of Assyria in to take Manasseh prisoner, binding him with bronze shackles and treating him like an animal to be controlled and tamed with a nose ring, a sign of utter humiliation and complete submission to the one who conquered him. Manasseh had a second chance, and what did he do with it? He wasted it.

But isn’t that often the story of our lives? God warns us. He warns us repeatedly through the written record of his prophets and messengers and other godly influences he places in our lives. He gives us parents who teach us to stay in the right crowd, to avoid the relentless temptations like drinking and drugs and premarital sex and the other sins of youth, but how often do we listen? And the temptations don’t go away when you get older. He gives us Scripture and sermon to teach us to be content with our blessings, to lead us to love our spouse and family, to direct us to show respect and concern for the reputations of others. And yet our hearts can be filled with greed and our eyes with lust and our lips with lies and “massaged truth.” God warns us: Stay away from sin! It will surely kill you as it killed Adam and Eve! But do we listen? Not always. Not often. And the sad final result is that we find ourselves bound in the bronze shackles of our sin and being led by the nose to the eternal slaughterhouse of God’s judgment.

III.

At this point in the account, Manasseh surely doesn’t deserve a second chance, does he? At this point, isn’t any cry for God’s help just crying “uncle!” and admitting he was wrong only because he was caught? Listen to our reading: “In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. And when he prayed to him, the Lord was moved by his entreaty and listened to his plea; so he brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.” I can see Manasseh finally getting the message and pleading for mercy. But God actually was merciful? Really? After all that he had done? How many thousands of people had been spiritually led astray from the Lord by all his pagan practices? All we see from him is a pitiful prayer, and God’s attitude toward him changes? Really? Why would God give him another second chance?

Was his humility the reason for his second chance? Now he finally got the message, now he finally acted like he ought to, now he finally humbled himself before God. That’s why God gave him a second chance! Or is it? Maybe not. Didn’t his long-overdue humility come not so much because God called him to repent and humble himself, but more so because he was brought to humility by a conquering king and a foreign imprisonment? There’s nothing in his humility that suggests that he soothed the Lord’s anger earned a second chance with God.

Was his anguished and heartfelt prayer the reason for his second chance? Now he finally gave up all his misguided idol worship, now he finally turned in faith to the God of his fathers, now he finally prayed to the one, true, and only God. That’s why God gave him a second chance! Again—is it? Again—maybe not. Manasseh’s prayer of repentance didn’t come because of God’s warnings. His prayer came because of God’s punishment. He had already passed by his second chance with more of the same. His prayer couldn’t have erased his very guilty past track record; it couldn’t have earned him a second chance with God.

Were his follow-up actions the reason for his second chance? Now he finally behaves like the king of God’s chosen people should behave, now he finally destroys idol worship, now he finally restores the temple as the place to worship the Lord God Almighty. Our reading records this turn-around: “He got rid of the foreign gods and removed the image from the temple of the Lord, as well as all the altars he had built on the temple hill and in Jerusalem; and he threw them out of the city. Then he restored the altar of the Lord and sacrificed fellowship offerings and thank offerings on it, and told Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel.” That’s why God gave him a second chance! Once more—is it? Once more—maybe not. To suggest that his behavior was the reason for his second chance would be to put the cart before the horse. Manasseh’s godly but overdue turn-around came after God restored him to the throne, not before he was released and restored. And quite frankly, his turn-around wasn’t all that complete, because our reading tells us that many Jews continued to worship at the so-called “high places” where worship was forbidden: “The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.” Yes, things were better, but the damage had been done. His godly turn-around couldn’t have balanced out his many prior ungodly years; his turn-around couldn’t have earned him a second chance with God.

And all of that is something for us to keep in mind. Should God give us a second chance because we pray to him more? Because we act more humble? Because we try harder? Because we start balancing out our bad past with a better future? Christians in general and Lutherans in particular know that that’s not what Scripture teaches, but there’s still a part of us that likes to think it works that way. But that’s a bad assumption to make. What acts of humility would ever be enough to appease the CEO of the universe whose divine handbook we have torn to shreds? What prayer from today can undo yesterday’s rebellion? What community service could erase the disservice we have sometimes done to the name of God and the mission of his kingdom?

IV.

Why did Manasseh get a second chance? And why should we? The reason we haven’t found the answer yet is because we’ve been looking in the wrong direction. The reason Manasseh got a second chance had nothing to do with him or his repentance. It had everything to do with the God of second chances to whom he repented.

Something in verse 12 jumped out at me: “In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” Now the Lord was not just some traditional moral trendsetter of Israel’s past. Manasseh’s repentance brought him to an understanding of the one, true, eternal God who was his God. And that God is the Lord. Every time you see the all-caps LORD in the Old Testament section of your English Bibles, it refers to a specific name for God used in the Old Testament, Yahweh. And that name wasn’t just a term. It had a specific meaning attached to it. The Lord defined his own name earlier in the Old Testament (Exodus 34:6-7) when he said, “The Lord, the Lord, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness, maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin.”

The God who punished him for wandering also forgave him when he returned to him in faith. The God whose jealousy does not tolerate anyone worshipping a phony God is also the God of free and faithful grace whose love will not reject a single soul who turns to him in repentance. The God whose law condemned Manasseh’s actions is the God whose grace went into action and sent his Son to endure the guilt of our sin and remove it for us by his future death on the cross.

Why should God give you a second chance? Wrong question. Why does God give you a second chance—and many times, at that! That question leads us not to look at ourselves, but to look at God. Look to the God whose love for our first parents caused him to promise a Savior who would undo their sinfully foolish acts. Look at the God who promised for centuries that his own Son would enter our world and take on our human flesh and take up our guilt and burden. Look to the God whose love for you led his Son to the cross where the punishment for all our failures to love him perfectly was endured by Jesus Christ. Look to the God whose love for you is so powerful that he raised Jesus from the dead to proclaim his love and forgiveness to you. Look to the God whose Word is so certain that just as he raised his Son from the dead, so he will raise you who believe in him from death to eternal life with him.

Look to the God whose love for you is greater than your past sin. Look to the God whose love for you is so great that he delights to give you a second chance again and again just so that you might be his own forever. Look to the God who willingly forgave Manasseh; look to his Son, Jesus, who gladly forgave the sinful woman in today’s Gospel account (Luke 7:36-50); look to his Holy Spirit, who gladly delivers forgiveness to the repentant sinners who have gathered here in God’s house again today. Look to the God of second chances whose love for you is boundless.

V.

Should Jamarcus Russell get a second chance? You can debate that after the service, but you can’t help but notice that the opportunity for a second chance has led him to step up his work ethic just for the opportunity to get on another team’s roster.

Should Manasseh have gotten a second chance? Not if his track record is the reason, and not even if his repentance is the reason. But those aren’t the reasons. God, the LORD, the God of free and faithful grace, delights to forgive and renew his people. And that doesn’t only apply to seventh century B.C. kings; that also applies to twenty-first century A.D. people with real guilt who have a real Savior who has really restored them to himself for eternity. What a joy to know and believe that the Lord who has called you into his family of faith is and always will be the God of second chances! Amen.

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