Okay, this is also a sermon . . . WAIT, don’t leave. It’s a busy week for a congregational leader. I promise I will not turn this blog into a forum for my sermons, but I think this one is worth your time if you can spare five minutes.
Suppose God were to write an account of your life. How would it read?
Let me make up an imaginary person, so no one gets offended. Let’s call him George.
I imagine God’s epitaph on my grave: “Here lies George — 49% Sinner, 51% Saint.”
I imagine a biographical sketch: “George was 15 years old when he began to follow HaShem. He lived 61 years in the Spirit. His deeds were for good and for evil, for self and for others. He did not remove the high places from his life. He did not cleanse his inner temple fully for HaShem. Yet when cancer overtook his bones, he cried out to HaShem and HaShem heard. He lived ten more years and then gave himself completely to God. The other deeds of George, are they not recorded in HaShem’s book? And George slept with his fathers.”
As you may have recognized, that biographical sketch was in the style of the books of Kings. Maybe George would get a letter from Yeshua, like the ones in Revelation: “To the angel of George, write: I have seen your deeds, that you were slightly warmer than lukewarm, but not hot enough to scald. I know your years of wasted selfishness and pride and I know the needless pain you suffered in your immaturity. Yet I also know how you cried out in your anguish and I heard and I came to dine with you. I know you came to a late love, but better than to have never loved at all. There is laid up for you a temple of golden stone and a place that will never fade or perish. Only persevere in these last years and do not take your hand away from the plow. For I am the morning star and I shine forever.”
Yom Kippur is coming. The time for spiritual inventory is here.
Inventory means work. Have you been to a Walmart during inventory? Hundreds of extra people are running around scanning everything. Inventory is not easy. Are you taking spiritual inventory at this season?
If so, then you can imagine how God would write your spiritual biography. What would an account of your life look like?
We are going to look at the prophetic account of a man’s life. This one won’t be made up — but real. We will look at two versions.
The very idea of God’s account of our life story should give us pause. We should tremble to think what he would write. If you got nervous when it came time for grades to be finalized in college, imagine that day when your life gets a grade.
Let’s look at two accounts of a man’s life. Let’s imagine as we read, how our life will look when God surveys it.
2 Kings 21:1-9
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. His mother’s name was Hephzibah. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the despicable practices of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that Hezekiah his father had destroyed, and he erected altars for Baal and made an Asherah, as Ahab king of Israel had done, 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, “In Jerusalem will I put my name.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his son as an offering and used fortune-telling and omens and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of Asherah that he had made he set in the house of which the Lord said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever. And I will not cause the feet of Israel to wander anymore out of the land that I gave to their fathers, if only they will be careful to do according to all that I have commanded them, and according to all the Law that my servant Moses commanded them.” But they did not listen, and Manasseh led them astray to do more evil than the nations had done whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.
Okay, that’s not a good report. Manasseh did just a few things wrong.
1. He undid the progress his father, Hezekiah had made.
2. He promoted idolatry, false religion in the land of HaShem.
3. He put altars to idols RIGHT IN HASHEM’S TEMPLE!!!
4. He worshipped the sun, moon, and stars INSTEAD OF HASHEM!
5. He even BURNED HIS OWN SON AS AN OFFERING TO AN IDOL!
Those are pretty bad things. What are the worst things God would write in your account?
George lied his way into better jobs.
George never found a person he couldn’t gossip about.
George looked away from the needy and despised their concerns.
George committed adultery with his eyes nearly every day of his life.
George loved only himself until the later years.
George left a miserable wake of ruined friendships behind him.
George’s children never received any meaningful love.
George’s wife left him and found real love somewhere else.
That’s George’s list. What’s yours?
The rest of Manasseh’s story in Kings is depressing. He suffered in his later years for what he did. The author of Kings lets the story rest there. Manasseh was wicked. End of story.
But in 2 Chroncicles, we find out there was more. Oh, to be sure, it starts the same. But there is a better ending.
2 Chronicles 33:1-9
Manasseh was twelve years old when he began to reign, and he reigned fifty-five years in Jerusalem. And he did what was evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord drove out before the people of Israel. For he rebuilt the high places that his father Hezekiah had broken down, and he erected altars to the Baals, and made Asherahs, 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, “In Jerusalem shall my name be forever.” And he built altars for all the host of heaven in the two courts of the house of the Lord. And he burned his sons as an offering in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, and used fortune-telling and omens and sorcery, and dealt with mediums and with wizards. He did much evil in the sight of the Lord, provoking him to anger. And the carved image of the idol that he had made he set in the house of God, of which God said to David and to Solomon his son, “In this house, and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my name forever, and I will no more remove the foot of Israel from the land that I appointed for your fathers, if only they will be careful to do all that I have commanded them, all the law, the statutes, and the rules given through Moses.” Manasseh led Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem astray, to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord destroyed before the people of Israel.
Did you recognize that? You should. It’s almost word for word from the book of Kings. The same sins, including building altars in God’s temple and burning his own son to an idol.
But the Chronicler goes on to tell more of the story. Manasseh had an interesting end to his life.
2 Chronicles 33:10-20
The Lord spoke to Manasseh and to his people, but they paid no attention. Therefore the Lord brought upon them the commanders of the army of the king of Assyria, who captured Manasseh with hooks and bound him with chains of bronze and brought him to Babylon. And when he was in distress, he entreated the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers. He prayed to him, and God was moved by his entreaty and heard his plea and brought him again to Jerusalem into his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.
Afterward he built an outer wall for the city of David west of Gihon, in the valley, and for the entrance into the Fish Gate, and carried it around Ophel, and raised it to a very great height. He also put commanders of the army in all the fortified cities in Judah. And he took away the foreign gods and the idol from the house of the Lord, and all the altars that he had built on the mountain of the house of the Lord and in Jerusalem, and he threw them outside of the city. He also restored the altar of the Lord and offered on it sacrifices of peace offerings and of thanksgiving, and he commanded Judah to serve the Lord, the God of Israel. Nevertheless, the people still sacrificed at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.
Now the rest of the acts of Manasseh, and his prayer to his God, and the words of the seers who spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, behold, they are in the Chronicles of the Kings of Israel. And his prayer, and how God was moved by his entreaty, and all his sin and his faithlessness, and the sites on which he built high places and set up the Asherim and the images, before he humbled himself, behold, they are written in the Chronicles of the Seers. So Manasseh slept with his fathers, and they buried him in his house, and Amon his son reigned in his place.
Did you catch all that?
–God brought consequences into Manasseh’s life, The cruel Assyrians came. They put hooks in Manasseh’s chest and dragged him in chains a prisoner.
–Manasseh was in agony, walking with hooks in his chest for many hundreds of miles to Babylon.
–Then, festering in a cell in Babylon, Manasseh had a spiritual awakening.
–He must have thought, “My idols did not save me. My father was right. If only I could be a child again and live in my father’s house. I would learn from him and be a man of HaShem.”
–He cried out to God.
–And God said, “Too bad, Manasseh, you’re a sinner and I don’t help sinners.”
Right? No, wrong.
Manasseh prayed and God said, “At last.”
In a rabbinic commentary on the book of Numbers, we read this:
“If anyone says that God does not accept the repentance of a repentant Jewish person who wants to return to God, then refute him in the following manner: King Menasseh, who committed more sins than anyone ever did, was totally pardoned of all his sins when he made repentance.”
Manasseh, it says, finally knew that HaShem was God. Manasseh went home to Jerusalem and repaired the city. He took all idols away from the temple of HaShem. He did not remove the high places, but he commanded that only HaShem should be worshipped there. He made offerings to HaShem. And I love verse 19, “And his prayer, how God received his entreaty, and all his sins and his faithlessness . . . are they not recorded in the Chronicles of the Seers?”
As we enter Yom Kippur, I want us to take away a few lessons.
1. Don’t wait until you have hooks in your chest and chains on your wrists to start taking spiritual inventory.
2. Know that REPENTANCE is great, and even the righteous, the rabbis tell us, cannot stand in the place of the repentant. Yeshua said something like it, “There is more rejoicing in heaven over one sinner who repents than 99 who need no repentance.”
3. Know that God accepts small steps, even if they are late.
Manasseh did not start a revival like his father. He was not a great king. Too much of his life was wasted.
But he moved toward God.
And God ran to meet him.