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Thursday, May 21, 2009

SABBATH SERMON: BADDEST OF THE BAD

1. HOW STRONG IS LOVE?
Can you tell me if I’m saveable?

How strong is your love?

Would it upset you if God’s grace was so amazing and His love so strong and would chose to forgive Tony Adlington? He is strongly suspected to have hit his wife Debbie three times with an axe on the head and almost killed her in their Marina da Gama home in Cape Town on January 16, 2002! He then used the same weapon to kill his three children Kevin (12), Katelyn (10) and Craig (9), carried their bodies into the study, poured petrol over them before setting them alight. After that he shot himself in the head and fell on top of his children’s burning bodies!

Would it upset you if God’s grace was so amazing and His love so strong and would chose to forgive Jean Bedel Bokassa, former president of the Central African Republic (1966-79)? He was a ruthless and brutal president before he was overthrown in a coup (1979). He was later (1987) arrested and charged with torture, murder, and cannibalism. During his reign he caused untold suffering to his people and it is believed he ate human flesh!

Would it upset you if God’s grace was so amazing and His love so strong and would chose to forgive the organisers of a project called Cape Town PRIDE 2001? This was a festival and a celebration organised by the gay and lesbian societies of Cape Town, that took place in the city on December 17, 2001! Cape Town is now considered and has recently been recognised as the 5th most popular Gay destination world-wide! Listen to what the organisers had to say, “This is our time to celebrate and our platform to advocate for change in the society. Following the example of more than 500 cities world-wide, Cape Town PRIDE has the potential to become the largest cultural event in the city”! Thousands of gay and lesbian visitors from all over the world descended upon Cape Town and participated in the event.

Would it upset you if God’s grace was so amazing and His love so strong and would chose to forgive Adolf Hitler, the leader of Nazi Germany (1933 – 1945)? He started a terrible war in Europe! His systematic and well structured killing machinery, resulted in the holocaust, the massacre of over 6 million Jews and millions of other who did not fit into his picture of the Arian race! And if per chance like the thief on the cross, in his last dying moments, Adolf Hitler realised his sinfulness, confessed his sins and accepted the atoning blood of Jesus Christ – Would it upset you?

Would it upset you if God’s grace was so amazing and His love so strong and He chose to forgive the men who hijacked the four domestic flight aeroplanes in the USA on the morning of September 11, 2001? They flew two of the machines into the twin towers of the World Trade Centre (New York), one machine into the US-Department of Defence (The Pentagon) and one crashed in Pennsylvania! Over 4 000 people died that day, and the event shocked New York City, the USA and indeed the whole world! War broke out in Afghanistan, world economies went into a recession and the event revealed our vulnerability and irrevocably changed modern man’s perception about the future! Would it upset you?

Would it upset Stephen, one of the first deacons of the early Apostolic Church, to see Saul from Tarsus who later became the Paul, in heaven? The same Saul, at whose feet the men who stoned Stephen laid their coats (Acts 8:1)!

Would it upset you if God’s grace was so amazing and His love so strong and He chose to forgive the most evil person who ever lived, the baddest of the bad?

His bloody record was the most heinous, the most atrocious, the most wicked and the most terrible of all Jewish kings!

He was the Adolf Hitler of his own people!

His record was so awful that after his death the bible summarises it in 2 Kings this way, “…moreover he shed so much innocent blood, that he filled Jerusalem from end to end.” (2 Kings 21:16)!

Now relive with me for a brief moment the tale of a lost king. Turn to and read 2 Chronicles 32:33 – 33: 9.

2. A QUEST FOR SELF DETERMINATION
Hezekiah, the beloved and honourable king dies. The whole nation mourns his death. But he has a son – Manasseh – who succeeds him. And this is the story of a son who rejects all his father’s spiritual values. Manasseh throws away all that composed the value system of his family.
Almost as if he was determined, that the rejection of all his father’s spiritual values was the only way he could establish his own independent identity. As if to declare publicly – I am not my father, I want to be me, and I am gonna prove it to you!

We all know of people like that. Born and brought up in Christian/Adventist families. Grew up in homes were they had family worship mornings and evenings. Attended children’s Sabbath school and afternoon youth meetings. Even went to Adventist schools. But somewhere down the road they chose to rebel.

But when I think carefully about it – it occurs to me that we have all been there. All of us, at one time or another have rejected or at least ignored some of the spiritual values we have learnt. In our quest for self-determination we have sometimes rejected the familiar system of truth. Maybe some among us today are in the process of rebelling on already on the rebellious path. But merciful for father Hezekiah, he dies and would never know the depths to which his boy falls.
So we read in 2 Chronicles 33 an X-rated story. If it were a film, viewing would be restricted to adults only (R-rated: Restricted/Under 18 requires accompanying parent or adult guardian)

3. THE SINS OF THE NATION
Hidden behind some technical religious terminologies lies the tragic story of King Manasseh who, among other things, cohabited with both male and female prostitutes. First he did it secretly and then in the end shamelessly and publicly. Not only did he partake of these sins but he also led his nation into a moral decadence, never experienced before by the Kingdom of Judah.

When God gave the promise to Abraham that his descendants (Israel) were to become a great nation, he also told him that after the 400 years of slavery in strange land they would come back to Canaan and possess the land after the sins of the Amorites and other heathen nations have reached their full measure (Genesis 15: 13-16). And when Israel came from Egypt, God used them to mete out punishment and judgement on the heathen nations of Canaan.

In the book of Deuteronomy God commands Israel to destroy the heathen Canaanite nations. A total eradication of nations – killing all inhabitants, children, adults, old people and even the animals. It borders on genocide under the explicit command of God.

But God had instructed Israel in Deuteronomy 7 that He would drive out the Hittites, the Amorites, the Canaanites and other heathen nations. He had also instructed Israel not to make any treaty with them, not to intermarry with them, to break down the heathen altars, smash their sacred stones and cut down their Asherah poles, because “you are a people holy to the Lord your God. The Lord God has chosen you out of all the peoples of the earth to be His people, His treasured possession” (Deuteronomy 7: 5, 6).

But Scripture records of King Manasseh that “He did evil in the sight of the Lord, according to the abominations of the nations whom the Lord had cast out before the children of Israel.” (2 Chronicles 33:2).

King Ahaz, Manasseh’s grandfather had led Judah into idolatry (2 Chronicles 28). He had built high places for the worship of Baal. When Ahaz died his son Hezekiah became king. And in the very first month of his reign Hezekiah restored temple worship. He purified the temple, reinstated the priests and Levites. He broke down the high places and altars of Baal.

And now Manasseh becomes king and returns to the idolatry of his grandfather Ahaz.

He rebuilt the high places which Hezekiah, his father had broken down (2 Chronicles 33:3). He raised up altars for the Baals and made Asherah poles. Asherah was a Phoenician goddess. Asherah poles were therefore wooden poles or sacred trees. An emblem of the Canaanite goddess of fertility: The mistress of 70 deities, the mother of gods, the Lady of the Sea, the female counterpart of Baal.

King Manasseh placed Asherah poles besides the altar. Her image stood in the Temple of Jerusalem. Prophets were installed to serve her. Just like King Ahab and Jezebel, who had 400 prophets of Asherah, who the Prophet Elijah killed on Mount Carmel (1 King 18:19, 2 Kings 23:4).

As if that was not enough Manasseh goes on to build altars for Baal in the Temple of the Lord. He erects altars for the hosts and stars of heaven in the two courts of the temple. Sin knew no bounds. Going right into the heart of the Old Testament worship and declaring that Baal has taken over the place of Jehovah God.

He also built rooms for male shrine prostitutes in the temple of the Lord (2 Kings 23:7). That was the temple, which Solomon had dedicated to God. In his prayer of dedication King Solomon said “God we ask that you give attention to your servants and our plea for mercy. May your eyes be open toward this temple day and night, this place of which you said you would put your name there. Hear us when we pray… hear from Heaven your dwelling place, and when you hear forgive’ (2 Chronicles 6: 18 – 21) .God had said – He will put His name on the temple forever (2 Chronicles 33: 4).
Manasseh goes on complete and total defiance of God.

He institutes human sacrifices, causing his sons to pass through the fire in the Valley of Hinnom. This was a valley to the south of Jerusalem, which was a scene of some of the most cruel and revolting rites of Canaanite worship (Joshua 15:8, 18:16; 2 Chronicles 28:3). Children were sacrificed as burnt offerings to a god called Molech. This was one of the most terrible abominations of Palestine (Leviticus 18:21, 20:2; Deuteronomy 18:10, 32; Jeremiah 7:3).

Manasseh’s record speaks of the dark and desperate movements into the occult, soothsaying, witchcraft, astrology and sorcery. He consulted mediums and spiritists. Thus the powers of evil and satanic agents were used by the king to direct the affairs of the nation.

In our recent past is has been known that Nancy Reagan, the wife of Ronald Reagan (USA President 1980-1988) consulted spirit mediums. She consulted them for advice on how her husband should make decisions as president. It is believed she advised President Reagan on how to plan his appointments, which days and times were most suitable for him to meet certain world leaders and travel overseas. And that in a nation that has on its dollar notes the inscription “In God We Trust”!

Manasseh seduced Judah and the inhabitants of Jerusalem to do more evil than the nations whom the Lord had destroyed before the children of Israel. His sins were worse than those of the heathens.

Have you noticed that often when people who have once believed in God, but then reject and rebel against him, sometimes they become more evil than those who never knew God? As if they want to catch up for the times they were believers. As if they want to prove to everybody and convince the devil, that they are now on his side.

Sometimes the greatest sinners are those who have once known God. As the Apostle Paul says to the Romans, “… and God gave them over to a depraved mind, to do what ought not to be done. They have become filled with every kind of wickedness, evil, greed and depravity. They are full of envy, murder, strife, deceit, and malice. They gossip, slanderous, are God-haters, insolent, arrogant, boastful AND THEY EVEN INVENT WAYS OF DOING EVIL...” (Romans 1:28-30). Talk of being creative in sinning.

4. INFLUENCE OF EVIL ADVISORS
Manasseh was 12 years old when he became king and he reigned for 55 years. How can a 12 year old boy single handed lead a whole nation into this horror? Impossible – someone did it for him.

There was always in Jerusalem a section of the society that hated the Jewish law. As soon as this 12 year old became king, they hastened to secure his favour and became his advisors. Whatever little Manasseh had learnt from his father was quickly wiped out and suppressed from his young and impressionable mind.

He did not plunge into sin the day his daddy died. Little by little, one compromise here and another one there, until evil and sin began to dominate.

But God did not silently watch sin propagate itself from the king’s palace into the whole of Judah. Read 2 Chronicles 33:10 “The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they would not listen.

God speaks in various ways and one of them is through His messengers, the prophets. One of them was the prophet Isaiah, who lived in Judah during that time. In fact he had a personal relationship with King Hezekiah (Manasseh’s father). He was a frequent guest in the palace. He was Hezekiah’s confidant, his spiritual guide and mentor. Someone who did not need to have an appointment arranged by the secretary at the front office of the King before he could see the King.

Isaiah knew Manasseh from the day he was born. Remember when Hezekiah got sick and God told him he was going to die. Hezekiah prayed and asked the Lord for more years (2 Kings 20 & Isaiah 38). God gave him 15 more years.

Then a high-powered delegation came from Babylon to visit the once-sick but now healed King of Judah. Hezekiah showed them everything in his palace. And after the visitors had left, the prophet Isaiah went to King Hezekiah and asked him:

Where did those men come from?
What did they say to you?
What did they see in your palace? (2 Kings 20:14, 15 & Isaiah 39)


After Hezekiah’s death Isaiah certainly went to the palace to see the young King Manasseh and offered spiritual guidance. And surely as Manasseh fell deeper and deeper into sin, Isaiah’s voice of rebuke and correction grew louder and louder. But Manasseh’s evil advisors turned him against the prophet of God. And according to both Jewish and Christian tradition, Manasseh finally ordered that Isaiah be killed.

The 90 year old prophet flees into the forest and he hides in the hollow trunk of a dead cedar tree. The soldiers find him and at Manasseh’s command the trunk is sawed in half with the prophet inside.

In the parallel passage (2 Kings 21:16) the record says: “Moreover Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from one end to another…” Evil could not tolerate the convicting presence of right. Darkness always seeks to blot out the light.

5. CAPTIVITY AND REPENTANCE
But Bible says there came a point when God said enough was enough. Read 2 Chronicles 33:11: “So the Lord brought against them the army commanders of the king of Assyria…”

They took Manasseh prisoner.
They put a hook in his nose.
They bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon.
The king of the Jews is now a captive of the Assyrian king.
The baddest of the bad has now fallen to the bottom of the bottom.
He who was so powerful is now a helpless prisoner.


And now enter one of the most dramatic portrayals in history of a lost man and a loving God. Read 2 Chronicles 33:12, 13: “In his distress he sought the favour 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 God brought him back to Jerusalem and to his kingdom. Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God.”

Amen and Amen!

Two short verses.
It only takes a few seconds to read.

Because what transpired here is recorded in such briefness, there is a great possibility and great danger that most of us might miss the importance, the weight, the significance, and the magnitude of this event.

Utterly breathtaking!

On his hands and knees
In that dark and gloomy dungeon
A contrite heart cried
With no one but the presence of loneliness
A sinful man, a man who had innocent blood on his hands cried out
A man who had desecrated the holy temple of the Holy God
He prayed a prayer nobody heard except God Himself!

And then the amazing thing happened!

That which is amazing about God’s grace is that you can fall to the bottom of the bottom and become the baddest of the bad, and still find grace in the eyes of the Lord and forgiveness in the heart of the father.

God is moved by Manasseh’s prayer and He listens.
He doesn’t only listen to the prayer, He immediately forgives Him.

One gets the impression that God has been waiting for so many years for that prayer. Like the Father of the prodigal son, who looks out daily to the road, hoping anxiously that His wayward son comes back. God brings Manasseh back to Judah and gives him back the kingdom.

Manasseh becomes king again.
The bloody record of a lost king is wiped away.
As if he never sinned and God said you can start all over again.

And Manasseh knew that the Lord was God.

It is only when we realise and experience this grace of God that we know who God is. In his Concise Commentary on the Whole Bible, Matthew Henry (1662 – 1714) thus writes about Manasseh’s repentance:

“We have seen Manasseh's wickedness; here we have his repentance, and a memorable instance it is of the riches of God's pardoning mercy, and the power of his renewing grace. Deprived of his liberty, separated from his evil counsellors and companions, without any prospect but of ending his days in a wretched prison, Manasseh thought upon what had passed; he began to cry for mercy and deliverance. He confessed his sins, condemned himself, was humbled before God, loathing himself as a monster of impiety and wickedness. Yet he hoped to be pardoned through the abundant mercy of the Lord. Then Manasseh knew that Jehovah was God, able to deliver. He knew him as a God of salvation; he learned to fear, trust in, love, and obey him. From this time he bore a new character, and walked in newness of life…And who among us can complain that the way of heaven is blocked up, when he sees such a sinner enter? Say the worst against yourself, here is one as bad who finds the way to repentance. Deny not to yourself that which God hath not denied to you, it is not your sin, but your impenitence, that bars heaven against you.”

Have you ever experienced those times when you think your sins are too bad that you feel embarrassed and ashamed to confess them?
You feel that God can not forgive you?
There is good news for all of us!
We can come as we to Him. Manasseh did!


6. ALL OF US ARE IN NEED OF GRACE
All of us are in need of grace and there is sufficient grace in the heart of the Lord.
No matter how much we have wandered away from God – there is enough love in the heart of the Father.
All you need to do is ask.
But even if you don’t ask – there is grace and forgiveness in His heart.
Why? Because the middle cross of Calvary proved it.


Did you know that when Jesus prayed “Father forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.” (Luke 23:34) ALL our sins were included in that prayer.

Desire of Ages, Page 745 affirms “God's purpose was reaching its fulfilment. Jesus was earning the right to become the advocate of men in the Father's presence. That prayer of Christ for His enemies embraced the world. It took in every sinner that had lived or should live, from the beginning of the world to the end of time. Upon all rests the guilt of crucifying the Son of God. To all, forgiveness is freely offered. "Whosoever will" may have peace with God, and inherit eternal life.”

At Calvary God offered pardon to the entire human race before anybody here asked.
Before any one of us – prayed for forgiveness.


Chuck Swindol, an Evangelical theologian and preacher, uses the following analogy in his book The Grace Awakening:

Imagine you have a 6 year old son/brother whom you love very much.
He is horribly murdered, and after a thorough investigation the murderer is captured.
Now Chuck Swindol says - you have a choice, actually 3 choices
1. If you were to use all means in your power and at your disposal to kill the murderer for his crime – that would be vengeance.
2. If you were content to sit back and let the legal system do its job – lay of charges, fair trial, plea of guilty and then capital punishment or life in prison – that would be justice.
3. But then there is a 3rd choice. If you would plea for the pardon of the murderer, then forgive him completely and on top of that invite him into your home and above all adopt him as your son – that would be grace.


And Grace was the option God chose 2000 years ago at the cross.
There He justified, pardoned, forgave, freed and adopted the ungodly into Sonship and Daughtership.
You and me can come home now as if there never had been a charge against us.

The apostle John could not comprehend that.
It was beyond his scope and he cried out to the whole of humanity:

Behold, come and see, just look, you have to see it for yourself, my words can never be enough to describe it – see for yourself – What manner of love the Father has bestowed upon us that we should be called Sons and Daughters of God! (1 John 3:1)

The uniqueness of our God is that He came down to the level of His creatures and died as atonement for their sins.

Incomprehensible?

All other religions are founded on the principle whereby people sacrifice and pay the price for the atonement of their sins and to appease their gods.

But Jehovah God says – it is I who pay the price for your sin.

The Apostle Paul, who called himself “Chief of Sinners” (1 Timothy 1:15) says “we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to the Jews and foolishness to the Gentiles...” (1 Corinthians 1:23).

7. AM I SAVEABLE?
Only when we come to a complete and full realisation of who we really are (sinners in need of a Saviour) and who we can be (Sinners saved by grace) will we know how precious it is to be called children of God.
We will also understand that we are mere sinners that live from God’s forgiveness.
If it wasn’t for His abundant grace and forgiveness none of us would be here.
We have a Saviour and we can claim His grace.
And as we all stand at the foot of the cross, we realise we are all equal.
There is no one better than the other.
Then our obedience and faithfulness to God will be a response to His amazing grace and love, and not a means to earn salvation.
May we continue to be amazed by His grace.
May this old old story, of Jesus and His love, continue to resonate in our hearts.
May it not become so familiar to us that we are no longer touched by it.
May it draw us closer to Him.
Then and only then, would have grasped and come to know who God really is.

AMEN!

Preacher: Dr. Alvin Masarira
Place: Mowbray SDA Church (18/o8/01) & Goodwood SDA Church (02/02/02)
Praise: I sing the Mighty Power, O Love of God & Come Thou Fount
Paintings: Lars Jutinen

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