I remember one of the best funerals I ever conducted...not because I did a good job or anything, but because of what there was to say. As I share this with you, I'll change the gentleman's name. I stood in the pulpit and said:
"Nobody liked Ronnie. Ronnie was an abusive drunk. He was mean to everybody, and didn't seem to have a good bone in his body. Ronnie was a low-down, dirty, rotten scoundrel...until he met Jesus."You see, I never met the Ronnie that most of you knew just two or three years ago. I met Ronnie when he staggered to the front of the church at a revival service and gave his heart to Jesus. And Ronnie was changed from that point on.
"Not everybody who has a "salvation experience" genuinely has a conversion experience. But Ronnie did. Jesus changed him from the inside out. He didn't just say, 'Praise the Lord, I'm going to heaven when I die.' No--Ronnie said, "I'm going to live every day until I die, serving my Jesus!'
"And he did. Now, don't get me wrong--Ronnie didn't instantly become perfect, or suddenly change into SuperChristian. But he did change. So, the Ronnie I knew wasn't the same person as the Ronnie that most of you knew. The Ronnie I knew was better. The Ronnie I knew lived for Jesus--and he died in the arms of Jesus, trusting His Lord for the future, just as he trusted Him to cover the sins of the past."
Now that was a good funeral! Not because of what I said, but because of Ronnie's life, that I had the privilege of testifying about.
As I read our Old Testament passages today, Manasseh reminded me of Ronnie. It seems there are two Manassehs almost--the one we find in 2 Kings and the one we find in the second part of the 2 Chronicles 33 account.
2 Chronicles 33 says:
2 He did evil in the eyes of the Lord, following the detestable practices of the nations the Lord had driven out before the Israelites. 3 He rebuilt the high places his father Hezekiah had destroyed; he also erected altars to Baal and made an Asherah pole, as Ahab king of Israel had done. He bowed down to all the starry hostsand worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the Lord, of which the Lord had said, “In Jerusalem I will put my Name.” 5 In the two courts of the temple of the Lord, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his own son in the fire, practiced divination, sought omens, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the Lord, arousing his anger.
7 He took the carved Asherah pole he had made and put it in the temple, of which the Lord had said to David and to his son Solomon, “In this temple and in Jerusalem, which I have chosen out of all the tribes of Israel, I will put my Name forever. 8 I will not again make the feet of the Israelites wander from the land I gave their ancestors, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them and will keep the whole Law that my servant Moses gave them.” 9 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.
10 The Lord said through his servants the prophets: 11 “Manasseh king of Judah has committed these detestable sins. He has done more evil than the Amorites who preceded him and has led Judah into sin with his idols. 12 Therefore this is what the Lord, the God of Israel, says: I am going to bring such disaster on Jerusalem and Judah that the ears of everyone who hears of it will tingle. 13 I will stretch out over Jerusalem the measuring line used against Samaria and the plumb line used against the house of Ahab. I will wipe out Jerusalem as one wipes a dish, wiping it and turning it upside down. 14 I will forsake the remnant of my inheritance and give them into the hands of enemies. They will be looted and plundered by all their enemies; 15 they have done evil in my eyes and have aroused my anger from the day their ancestors came out of Egypt until this day.”
16 Moreover, Manasseh also shed so much innocent blood that he filled Jerusalem from end to end—besides the sin that he had caused Judah to commit, so that they did evil in the eyes of the Lord.
17 As for the other events of Manasseh’s reign, and all he did, including the sin he committed, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Judah? 18 Manasseh rested with his ancestors and was buried in his palace garden, the garden of Uzza. And Amon his son succeeded him as king.
That's the first version of Manasseh--the low-down, dirty, rotten scoundrel version. And 2 Chronicles 33 agrees with it, up to a point. But when verse 17 (above) says "the other events of Manasseh's reign," it leaves out a huge chunk of story that we really need to hear. Chronicles fills in the rest:
10 The Lord spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention. 11 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. 12 In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his ancestors.13 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.
14 Afterward he rebuilt the outer wall of the City of David, west of the Gihon spring in the valley, as far as the entrance of the Fish Gate and encircling the hill of Ophel; he also made it much higher. He stationed military commanders in all the fortified cities in Judah.15 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. 16 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. 17 The people, however, continued to sacrifice at the high places, but only to the Lord their God.
18 The other events of Manasseh’s reign, including his prayer to his God and the words the seers spoke to him in the name of the Lord, the God of Israel, are written in the annals of the kings of Israel. 19 His prayer and how God was moved by his entreaty, as well as all his sins and unfaithfulness, and the sites where he built high places and set up Asherah poles and idols before he humbled himself—all these are written in the records of the seers.20 Manasseh rested with his ancestors and was buried in his palace. And Amon his son succeeded him as king.
It seems that Manasseh needed the utter degradation of defeat and destruction in order to bring him to his knees before God. Like Ronnie, he had to get to the bottom before he could see his need for the Lord. Once he sought the Lord and prayed and humbled himself before God, the Lord restored him.
2 Corinthians 3 talks about people who seemingly have veils over their hearts, that divine truth cannot penetrate.
16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.
Manasseh turned to the Lord. The veil was taken away. He experienced the freedom that comes from knowing God's Spirit. From that point on, he was transformed into who God wanted him to be, ever-increasing in the Lord's glory. Ronnie's story was the same. In sincerity, he turned to the Lord and allowed the Lord to change him.
Today, I want to ask you--are you in Manasseh's position? Have you found yourself at the bottom, like Ronnie did? Maybe you don't have a literal hook in your nose, but Satan has been leading you around nonetheless. Has the enemy of your soul led you where you don't want to go? Do you need release? The Bible says that where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. God wants to give you freedom today. Turn to Him and trust Him. Turn away from your sin, and pray that God will restore you.
Maybe you're not in a Manasseh or Ronnie place in your life. Maybe you're like the Chronicler or the author of 2 Kings...and you have to decide how you're going to remember someone. You've taken a good look at a person's life, and now you have to figure out not just what their story is, but what their story means. The writer of 2 Kings chose to remember only the negative things about Manasseh, while Chronicler saw the full scope of God's redemption within the wayward king's life. How will you see the Ronnies in your life? How will you remember them? I hope you'll give them as much grace as God does.
*Scriptures taken from the NIV.