How Could This Happen?
20th Sunday after Pentecost
How Could This Happen?
Text: 2 Kings 21:1-15
“Hezekiah trusted in the LORD, the God of Israel. There was no one like him among all the kings of Judah, either before him or after him. He held fast to the LORD and did not cease to follow him.” That’s how the Bible describes Hezekiah, the king of Judah. As it said, he was a king unlike any other.
About 200 years before Hezekiah, Solomon died and the kingdom of Israel split in two with Israel in the north and Judah in the south. The kings of Israel were almost all awful kings that dragged the people into wicked sins. A majority of the kings of Judah in the south were also sinful. They built idols and temples to gods like Baal and Asherah. As male and female gods, the worship of Baal and Asherah often included men and women coming together to combine adultery with the idolatry. Some kings even worshiped the god Molech. That worship often included the sacrifice of humans, usually children, in fire. And if those gods weren’t enough, some Israelites even worshiped the bronze snake that God had told Moses to make in the desert. Needless to say, Israel and Judah had become lands filled with horrible wickedness and with people who knew very little about the one, true God and his Word.
But then Hezekiah came around—the king unlike any other. He tore down pagan idols and temples. He brought massive reform to the land. He trusted the Lord. He obeyed the Lord. And the Lord blessed with great success. Finally! A turn around! Finally! God’s people were rededicating themselves to the Lord and to the truth. Hezekiah was one awesome dude for the Lord.
Then there was Manasseh, Hezekiah’s son, the subject of the first lesson this morning. When Hezekiah died Manasseh became king at the age of 12. Great! Another king from the family of Hezekiah! More turn around, right? More reform, right? Another great and godly king, right?
Not even close. You heard about the despicable and disgusting things that Manasseh did. He rebuilt all the heathen god altars his father tore down. He built altars to Baal and Asherah, promoting that adulterous idolatry. He worshiped the sun, moon, and stars. He built altars to false gods and the stars in the temple of the true God. He practiced sorcery and divination. He consulted mediums and spiritists. And if all that weren’t enough, as if he needed more gods, he also worshiped Molech by sacrificing his own son in the fire.
God had warned his people about being careful to follow all of the commands he gave them. In verse 9 we hear the dire assessment of the situation though: “But the people did not listen. Manasseh led them astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the Lord had destroyed before the Israelites.”
How Could This Happen? Manasseh’s father Hezekiah was one of the greatest kings in the history of Israel. He brought the people back to the ways of the Lord. But in the 55 year reign of Manasseh, two generations of people, Israel turned back to their evil ways and abandoned the Lord. Tradition even has it that the great prophet Isaiah was sawed in half during the reign of Manasseh. These people became worse than the godless, heathen people that lived their before them! How Could This Happen?
I suppose we could say the same about the gospel today. Jesus told a parable about a man who owned a vineyard. He sent workers to the vineyard but the tenants killed the workers. Then he finally sent his son but they killed him too. Jesus was talking about himself. God sent the prophets to the Israelites, but they didn’t listen and killed them. God sent his own Son, Jesus, who was standing in front of them warning them and telling them this parable, but about three days later they would be nailing him to a cross. How Could This Happen?
I suppose you could say the same about Europe. Next week we will celebrate the Reformation of the church pioneered by Martin Luther. In the 1400-1600’s, great growth happened in the Christian church as many people brought great reforms, much like king Hezekiah in Judah. But now Europe is largely unchristian and most of those big beautiful cathedrals are standing empty except for a few tourists. How Could This Happen?
I suppose you could say the same thing about the United States. This was a nation that once was founded under general Christian principles. This is not to say that every founding father was very theologically sound, or even necessarily a Christian. But for generations this had been a country of decency and morality. Now, I think America could give Manasseh and his people a run for their money at adultery and idolatry. How Could This Happen?
But Satan strikes even closer to home than that. I have former friends or classmates from my Lutheran high school; I know of former pastors and teachers that went through our college or seminary; I know of children of pastors and teachers—all of these people have abandoned the truth for very sinful and godless lives. I would guess you might know similar stories. How Could This Happen?
And yes, it even happens here in our church. Some have left over the years to move or for personal reasons. But there have been a fair share of people who have left this church only to go their own ways. They don’t really go to church anywhere now. They have abandoned the truth. They do whatever they want and serve themselves. I have often found myself asking the same question. I taught these people. I heard their confession of faith when they joined the church. I saw them in worship and Bible study. Now they are completely gone and want nothing to do with God. How Could This Happen?
But maybe it’s not just those around you. Maybe it’s not only the corrupt cultures over the years that have turned away from God. Maybe you’ve asked that question about yourself a time or two. How Could This Happen? How could I fall into sin again? How could I do that same thing over and over again? How could I do something so awful and horrible? How could I sit in this church and pretend like everything is hunky dory when I know the sins of my youth (and the sins of last week!)? How could I be so strong one day and so weak the next? How Could This Happen?
It’s actually not that hard of a question to answer. Manasseh and the Israelites. The Jews of Jesus’ day. Europe. The United States. Me. I know how and why this could happen: Sin and Satan.
No one is born perfect. We are all born with corrupt hearts that are tainted by sin. And the Bible tells us that, “The sinful mind is hostile to God; it does not submit to God’s law, nor can it do so.” That verse means that natural inclination of my heart is to fight with God, to reject God, to want nothing to do with God. Satan knows that, and Satan wants to exploit that.
Satan also know who is a Christian and who is not. He doesn’t need to worry about unbelievers. He’s got them already. But what he wants is you, with him, forever in hell. That combination of my sinful flesh that is hostile to God plus Satan’s temptations is deadly. That’s why the Bible says, “If you think you are standing firm, be careful that you don’t fall.”
You might be surprised by a friend or family member who has gone astray. You might be surprised by someone who has left our church. But you shouldn’t be. You also shouldn’t be surprised when you fall into sin and you should never say, “That could never happen to me!” It could happen to anyone who follows the sin that is already in their heart and Satan who is eager to lead astray.
The warning against rejection is very strong, too. Jesus shared through his parable that those who rejected the owner of the vineyard and his Son would come to a wretched end. The vineyard would be taken away, given to others, and those who rejected would be broken to pieces and crushed.
Or how about God’s wrath and anger over the sins of Manasseh and his people? Verse 12 is frightening: “Therefore, this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such a disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle.” This is why the Bible says about those who reject, “It is a dreadful thing to fall into the hands of the living God.”
This is also why Sundays like this are important. We need regular wakeup calls. We need to reevaluate our lives. We need to look at our church attendance, our Bible reading time, our prayer lives, our priorities and we need to ask ourselves: “Am I slipping a little? Is my relationship with God what it could be?” And more importantly: “If I don’t maintain a strong relationship with the Lord, what might happen to me?” I need regular wakeup calls before someone says about me: How Could This Happen?
So I come here each week. And though I am standing when I say it, mentally I am falling to my knees with my fellow brothers and sisters in Christ. And each week I confess: “Merciful Father in heaven, I am altogether sinful from birth. In countless ways I have sinned against you and do not deserve to be called your child.” And then I beg and I plead: “Lord, have mercy. Christ, have mercy. Have mercy on me according to your unfailing love. Cleanse me from my sin, and take away my guilt.”
Friends, that’s not just a rote routine. That’s not saying the same old words week after week because, “That’s tradition and Christians have always said that.” No, that’s called a wakeup call. That’s called repentance. That’s called turning away from the temptations of Satan and the sins of this world and turning back to the one, true, living God. That repentance is necessary—not just every week but even every day.
But do you remember what I said today, the same kind of thing I say every week? On behalf of Christ I told you: “God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever. You are his own dear child.” Other times I say, “As a called servant of Christ and by his authority, I forgive you all your sins in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit.”
For all the detestable things that Manasseh and his people did, for all the things the Jews did rejecting Jesus and even killing Jesus, for all the detestable things that go on in our world and in our country, and for all the detestable things that I have done—it is truly a wonder that God doesn’t shoot lightning bolts out of the heavens to blast us into oblivion. It’s a wonder that he loves us enough to spare us even one minute of life. And it’s even a greater wonder that he would love us enough to forgive everything we have done.
But he has, through the work of his Son Jesus Christ. God promised Manasseh and his people a disaster that would make their ears tingle. But there is a worse punishment than having your land destroyed. It’s having your your body and soul destroyed forever in hell. That makes your ears tingle, your skin crawl, and sends shivers down your spine.
But Christ came for that very punishment. As God’s judgment thundered down from the heavens, Christ is the one who hung on the cross to endure the blast. Christ is the one who offered his blameless life in the place of your sin-filled life. It was one Savior who was perfect before God dying for people who have minds that are hostile to God.
How often do your really take time out of your day to think about what an incredible Savior we have? How often do you really think carefully about the words you speak and hear at the beginning of our services? I’ll say it again: “God, our heavenly Father, has forgiven all your sins. By the perfect life and innocent death of our Lord Jesus Christ, he has removed your guilt forever. You are his own dear child.”
God has given you a new heart and a new mind, one that is forgiven and one that belongs to him. God has wiped away everything you have ever done wrong—even the worst things. He has declared you innocent and removed your guilt—forever! You are God’s own dear child! It’s no wonder we follow those words each weak with “Glory to God in the highest,” or this week: “Praise to the Lord the Almighty.” There is no better way to respond to God’s love and forgiveness than to praise the Lord and give him glory.
Seeing the story of Manasseh today is scary. Seeing what has become of the Jews is scary. We will celebrate the Reformation next Sunday, but seeing what has become of Europe is scary. Seeing what is going on around us is scary. Seeing what has become of some of my good friends, or some who once were so faithful, or some who once attended this church—that is scary.
If I think I am standing firm I need to be careful that I do not fall too. My sinful flesh wants me to. Satan wants me to. But Jesus doesn’t. He has purchased and won me to be his own by his own blood. So now our Good Shepherd makes us this promise: “I give them eternal life, and they shall never perish; no one will snatch them out of my hand.” Jesus promises to protect us and keep us in his sheep pen. No one can take us away from him.
But can I jump out of the pen on my own? Yes I can. So daily I come to my God in repentance. Daily I wash myself anew in his forgiveness. Daily I sing, “Glory to God in the highest” for his grace. Daily I set myself out to stay connected to him in prayer, in meditation, in his Word, in study, in worship, with other sheep of the sheep pen.
Today we see stories of incredible, godless rejection and we wonder How Could This Happen? Well we know what Satan can do through sin. But we also know what Jesus has done to sin and Satan for us. So heed the warning. Stand firm. Stay close to your Savior, and no one will snatch you from his hand.
Posted on October 27, 2014, in Church, Sermons and tagged 2 Kings, 2 Kings 21, Adultery, Asherah, Baal, Church, Falling Away, Hezekiah, Idolatry, Idols, Isaiah, Manasseh, Molech, Parable of the Workers in the Vineyard, Rejection, Sermons, Sin, Temptation, Unbelief. Bookmark the permalink. Leave a comment.