She was broken. She was wracked with guilt. She was a sinner. But not just any sinner, her sinful life had stood out in her town. She was rejected by the pious and religious as an obvious sinner who was far away from the law of God- far away from good.
But this woman, broken and wracked with guilt, approached, Jesus, the Lord of life, and friend of sinners. She came to Jesus crying, drenching his feet with her own tears, then wiping the tears with her hair, kissing them and pouring perfume on them.
And Jesus, the one who came to seek and to save the lost, had mercy on her. He forgave her. He took away her guilt. He freed her from her punishment. She came to Jesus weary, and burdened with guilt, she left as a free and forgiven child of God.
Jesus came for sinners. We see that very clearly in the gospels. But sometimes, people get the idea that God just changed in the New Testament. They say that He was harsh and severe in the Old Testament, but with Jesus was mercufyk. Others say that the Old Testament is all about law and punishment, and the New Testament about grace and forgiveness. That is not true. God is a just God and a gracious God all throughout the Bible. As a matter of fact, in our lesson for today, we are going to see God’s grace to one of the most infamous sinners in the history of God’s people- Manasseh, the king of Judah.
Manesseh became king of Judah when he was 12 years old. The Bible tells us that he reigned for 55 years over God’s people. That’s a long time! To give you an idea of that, imagine if a man became president of the U.S. in 1970 and would still reign until 2025- nine more years! Manasseh became king around the year 700 B.C. His father was the great king Hezekiah, who brought about a great spiritual reformation to God’s people, getting rid of idols. Hezekiah had worked closely with the prophet Isaiah, the great prophet who gave many prophecies of a Savior who would be crushed for our iniquities and pierced for our transgressions.
But Manasseh was wicked. He did evil in the eyes of the Lord. He undid the great reformation that his father had begun. He set up altars to the false gods of the wicked nations around him- He worshiped Baal and his mother Asherah. He bowed down to the stars and worshiped them. He went into God’s temple and built altars to the stars and other false gods- right next to the altar of the true God. He even sacrificed his own sons in the fire like the terrible nation of Moab did. He practiced sorcery, witchcraft and casted spells like the Babylonians did. He looked for people who could communicate with the dead- consulting with mediums and spiritists.
But this was not even the full extent of the evil of Manesseh. 2 Kings 21:16 tells us: Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end. Manasseh persecuted the true prophets of God and killed them. Jewish tradition teaches that the prophet Isaiah was martyred under Manasseh by being sawn into two pieces. Manasseh, the king, and spiritual leader of God’s people- led God’s people astray and promoted wicked practices of pagan nations and even killed off the prophets who spoke the true word of God.
The Lord warned Manasseh and the people of their sins, but the people paid no attention. They rejected God. So God brought the powerful nation of Assyria against Manasseh. They captured him. They humiliated him. They put a hook through his nose. They chained him and bound him with bronze shackles and took him to Babylon. They completely and utterly humiliated Manasseh, but it was ultimately God who was behind all of this.
As Manasseh was humiliated and in distress, he humbled himself. He repented. He confessed his sin and his guilt of all the evil that he had committed and all the ways that he had led God’s people astray- and the Lord forgave him.
God then brought him back to Jerusalem, and Manasseh was a changed man. He trusted in God and in the promise of the forgiveness that would come through the Messiah- Jesus Christ. He then came back and strengthened Jerusalem. He got rid of the foreign gods. He got rid of the altars to the false gods that he had built in the temple. He tried to undo all the wickedness that he caused, but he couldn’t carry it out completely. After his attempts to undo his wickedness, his son who came after him would continue to plunge Israel further into idolatry and wickedness. The consequences of Manasseh’s wickedness would continue to plague Judah until it was destroyed in 586 B.C., but nevertheless the Lord had forgiven Manasseh.
Can you even imagine what it would have been like to live under the wickedness of Manasseh? Could you imagine living in a place where the worship of false gods is encouraged and even accepted by those claiming to be God’s people? Could you imagine leaders of God’s people encouraging prayer with leaders of other religions that worship false gods? Could you imagine living in a place where those who are called to be God’s children live no differently than the pagans living around them? Could you imagine living in a place where millions and millions of innocent babies are sacrificed because they are sacrificed to false gods offering more money, more convenience and more freedom? Could you imagine living in a place where this was actually being encouraged as a good thing by the leaders of the nation? Could you imagine living in a place where those who proclaim God’s truth are looked upon as enemies of society?
Brothers and sisters in Christ, I don’t think our society has quite plunged into the open wickedness that existed at the time of Manasseh, but it also is not that far away either. So, what is God’s answer to all of this? – Jesus. Listen to these verses from God’s inspired Word: Luke “The Son of Man came to seek and to save what was lost.” 1 Timothy “God our Savior wants all men to be saved and to come to a knowledge of the truth.” 2 Peter “God is patient with you, not wanting anyone to perish, but everyone to come to repentance.”
For those – who have gone along with the culture- trusting in things that are not God- for those who have considered pagan religions- Islam, Budhism, Hinduism, just as valid as Christianity- for those who are ridden with the guilt of abortion- for those who have persecuted God’s people- God calls out REPENT! If you are one of those who have participated in the immoral ways of our culture and society- look at Manasseh! Confess your sins to God! Then look at the lamb of God who takes away the sin of the World! Look at Jesus Christ dying for all sins- even and especially yours! Look at the graciousness, the forgiveness, the mercy of God in Christ as His Son paid for all of your sins. God offers you the peace of conscience, the peace of eternal life that His Son won for you through His death on the cross and that he has guaranteed to us through His resurrection. He has done that for you- you who consider yourself too lost for God. Look at the example of Manasseh, and look at the mercy of Christ! He really gives this gift to sinners- to the undeserving. And He doesn’t wait to do this until you clean up your act- He gives this to you as a gift! Believe it!
Yes, the forgiveness of sins in Jesus offers us peace. But it is also offensive. Could you imagine the family members of those martyred by Manasseh seeing God having mercy on him? Could you imagine what pious Jews who were distressed by Manasseh’s wickedness to see God bringing him back? Could you see the reaction of the Pharisee when the sinful woman came and anointed Jesus’ feet with perfume and her tears? The Bible tells us that the man said- If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is- that she is a sinner.’ This Pharisee’s reaction is similar to what many think when they hear the gospel- “You’re telling me that a thief on the cross who lived a terrible life, had all forgiven in his last moments?” Jesus’ mercy offends many.
There is a temptation for us, brothers and sisters in Christ, that exists in living in a culture that seems to be coming apart at the seems and that appears to be getting more and more immoral by the day. There of course is the temptation to conform to the culture and live like everyone else. That is dangerous and deadly. But there is another temptation that is a lot more subtle, but just as dangerous and deadly- and that is to become a Pharisee- to be a person that forgets that we all enter God’s family through God’s undeserved love as a gift and that we remain in His family as a gift as well.
When we start to lose track of our own lostness, and look at how much better we are then everyone else- we are beginning down a dangerous path. When we go around giving the impression that Christianity is just about being more moral, and who thinks that everyone else needs to achieve the moral excellency that we have achieved- we are living like the Pharisees. When we begin to act and speak that unbelievers just need to change a couple of their actions to be a little better, or when we look at people who live such depraved lives and think that there is no hope- then we are in danger of forgetting about the mercy of God. You see, all of us need to remember what the apostle Paul said in 1 timothy 1:15, “Here is a trustworthy saying that deserves full acceptance: Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners- of whom I am the worst.” So, also you, the one who has begun to think that your status as a child of God was somehow won by your efforts, or by your moral superiority- God also says to you: Repent! God didn’t only come for the Manassehs of the world, Christ also came for the Pharisees. He came to break down the pride of the arrogant, and to bring the humbled to Himself. Jesus came and lived completely humbly for you. He paid for all of your sins that are really there- he paid for your pride and washed it away in His cross.
Brothers and sisters in Christ, we are all sons of God not through our own efforts, but only through the efforts and the merits of Jesus Christ- who gave Himself for the sins of the world. He then took you and baptized you into this forgiveness in the gracious waters of baptism. God has made you his child. When you understand your own need for forgiveness, and you realize just how gracious God was and continues to be with you- you want to take this grace to others. Because the more deeply we recognize our own sin, and the more deeply we understand and reflect the mercy of Christ- the better the evangelists we will be.
If there is one thing that I have learned in reaching out to the lost it is this: It’s messy work. It’s messy getting involved with people who have lived without Christ their whole lives. It’s messy in their family life. It’s messy battling with false ideas. It’s messy hearing confessions of how they used to live. It’s messy trying to deal with it all- but here’s the thing: Christ wasn’t and isn’t afraid to get messy. He forgave and ate with prostitutes and tax collectors. Before His birth, the Son of God showed mercy to the wicked king Manasseh. And Jesus wasn’t afraid to get dirty and messy when He carried our sins to the cross, and in the darkness, shame and blood of that day, wash our sins away in His blood. Take heart! Christ came for sinners. Christ came for the lost. Christ came for you! Amen.