Chuck Colson, the Founder of Prison Fellowship, one of the most wonderful and needed ministries in the world, is a brilliant and passionate man who exudes humility like few people who have achieved such widespread notoriety. Twenty-five years ago you would not have seen such humility even though Chuck started out in humble surroundings when he was a child. He grew up watching people wait in bread lines as they tried to manage the daily pressures of poverty. As a young man he told himself, “The most important thing is for me to go to college.”
Mr. Colson’s status in life began to change when he won a scholarship to Brown University and graduated with honors. During the Korean War, he was commissioned as a lieutenant in the Marines. The war ended, and Chuck went on to earn a doctorate in law before he started a successful law firm. Not too long after that he found himself in politics, as the youngest administrative assistant in the United States Senate.
Chuck’s next step was a huge step up as he accepted a position as “special counsel” to the White House with former President Richard Nixon. Chuck says, “Limousines waited for me. Admirals and generals saluted. I had everything a person could want. Curiously enough, that was the first time I felt empty inside.”
Chuck was just 39 years old when the President of the United States asked him to serve as his special counsel. Chuck Colson found himself in one of the most powerful offices in the world. Every morning, Chuck Colson was drilled on how important he was and how important the decisions to be made were for the future of our country and the world. In morning briefing sessions held every day, National Security Adviser Henry Kissinger would walk in and say, “The decisions we are going to make today will change the future course of human history.” Mr. Kissinger spoke those words every day throughout President Nixon’s time in office…and Mr. Colson listened with young, impressionable ears.
Chuck began to believe his press clippings. He felt the power that he possessed, and it felt good. The power he possessed wasn’t enough to satisfy so he was willing to compromise his standards, his morals, to gain even more power. Then the Watergate scandal began to unfold and the power of the Nixon administration began to unravel.
As the Watergate scandal unfolded there was one friend who was a source of great encouragement. When the two men talked Chuck’s friend acted different than when he had known him before. Finally Chuck asked him what had changed? Colson writes,
He looked me straight in the eye and said, ‘I accepted Jesus Christ and committed my life to him.’ I took a firm grip on the bottom of my chair. I thought just little old ladies standing on street corners talked like that. But here was a practical businessman, an engineer, talking about Jesus Christ as if he were here today. I nervously changed the subject. But I visited him again a few months later and asked him to tell me more. He told me how he, too, had started out with nothing and had risen to a position of power, but felt empty. He began a search for God that ended in a seat at Madison Square Garden, listening to Billy Graham speak on Jesus Christ. My friend wanted me to pray with him that night, but I didn’t. I was too proud. I was known as the toughest of Nixon’s tough guys, the White House hatchet man. (Chuck Colson, www.powertochange.com)
Watergate became the inescapable topic of conversation all over the country. Nixon resigned his presidency and several of his top aides were given prison sentences as a result of the cover-up – Chuck Colson was one of those aides. Mr. Colson says,
As the Watergate scandal unfolded and I went to prison, I learned-to my surprise-just where the true power in life really is. It was in a little prayer group where two dope pushers, a car thief, a stock swindler and a former special counsel for the President of the United States got down on our knees at night and prayed. We saw men give their lives to Christ, their hearts transformed by the power of the living God. Today, I thank God for Watergate. It taught me the greatest lesson of my life, the paradox of power: that he who seeks to save his life will lose it, but he who loses his life for Jesus’ sake shall find it. (Chuck Colson, www.powertochange.com)
It is interesting to watch documentaries on the Watergate scandal today and hear so many of those who were involved talk about this “dark night” in American history. For many of the 12 men who were imprisoned it was an experience that has marked them throughout their years, but Chuck Colson says that he is thankful for going to prison. How can a man say such a thing? It is quite easy when you consider the rest of Chuck Colson’s life and how the Lord used his time in prison to change his heart. It was in a prison, not in the seat of power, that Chuck Colson found the true source of power. God had a plan for Chuck’s life and a prison sentence was ordained to draw Chuck back to the heart of God. Chuck Colson discovered that the power of this world, and all it has to offer will never be enough to satisfy. John wrote in 1 John 2:16-17.
16 For everything in the world-the cravings of sinful man, the lust of his eyes and the boasting of what he has and does-comes not from the Father but from the world. 17 The world and its desires pass away, but the man who does the will of God lives forever. (1 John 2:16-17 NIV)
We can read this passage of Scripture and hear stories of how failure to heed John’s warning has resulted in distress and despair in the lives of people like Chuck Colson, but it won’t happen to us. We believe that just a little more power, a little more money, a little more revenge, a little more of whatever we are craving will finally bring satisfaction to our weary, discontented souls. We hear God’s warnings, but we don’t heed them. We convince ourselves that just a little more won’t hurt. All the while God waits, patiently waits. All the while God calls us back to Himself. All the while we close our ears to His Word calling us back so that we can continue on our mad dash pursuit of something more to make us happy, to make us more appealing in the eyes of people, and to assure our security and prosperity in this life.
As we read the Old Testament, we read time after time how God called His people to serve Him alone, to seek His will above all else, and to refuse to give in to the desires of their heart for more and more. Throughout the Old Testament we see how the people would commit their lives to serving the Lord and renouncing their allegiance to all others, but time after time they would be enticed to turn away from God. This is the story of my life, and I can only assume, your life as well.
If you read further you will see that time after time, when the people went astray, God would raise up a hardship to show His people the error of their ways and seek to draw them back. Sometimes the hardship would be received with bitterness and anger towards God. The people would cry out, “God, why us? Have you forgotten us?” They couldn’t understand why such hard times would come to them. They couldn’t understand why their neighbors who didn’t go to church and say their prayers at the dinner table rocked along seemingly without problem or pain. They couldn’t, they wouldn’t understand, so their hearts became hard towards God.
At other times, the people would recognize the hardness of their hearts and the error of their ways and they would repent and turn back to God. The pain that came opened their eyes to the fact that they had forgotten God and that God had sent a “wake up” call to draw them back. Like Chuck Colson going to prison, they recognized their hardships as a gift of love from the hand of God.
This really is one of the most fundamental lessons of faith. A lesson that is widely neglected in our day. A lesson that is even denied and refuted by many Bible teachers today. Some say, “God is love. He wouldn’t dare intentionally send a hardship to visit your house and mine. He only wants good things for us. He only wants us to smile and be happy.” My friend, God wants more for you and me than a transitory smile or an emotional giddiness. He wants to mold us and shape us into the image of His Son, our Savior, Jesus Christ. He wants our character to reflect His character. He wants us to serve Him with joy all of the days of our life so that others might be attracted to Him instead of us.
In our Scripture for today, found in 2 Chronicles 33, we run into another man who believed his press clippings and refused to listen to the Lord’s counsel. Manasseh was a King who took the kingdom into his own hands and showed God the door. Manasseh was the son of a great and godly king, King Hezekiah, but Manasseh had other plans for his reign as king. Manasseh had the opportunity to have the greatest impact of any King on the nation of Judah because he ruled Judah for 55 years – the longest reign of any King.
Manasseh’s father, Hezekiah, had been a King who loved the Lord and worked to lead the nation back to serving God. As soon as Manasseh became King he turned his back on everything his father had done to lead the people to the Lord. Manasseh spent most of his 55 years doing evil in the eyes of the Lord. He worshiped idols, tried talking to dead people through witches and sorcerers, he sacrificed his sons as human offerings to idols, and he had innocent people who challenged what he was doing put to death. In 2 Kings 21, after the description of Manasseh’s life and the evil he did, we read,
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. (2 Kings 21:16 NIV)
In our Scripture for today found in 2 Chronicles, we read about an event that took place in Manasseh’s life that is not recorded in 2 Kings. We have learned about some of the horrible paths he led the people of Judah down while he was their leader, but it would appear, from reading 2 Kings that Manasseh lived a long life with his back turned to the Lord and then died. I am so grateful for all of God’s Word. If you read 2 Chronicles then you will find an incident in the life of Manasseh that is not recorded in 2 Kings. Take a look at 2 Chronicles 33 and let’s begin reading.
1 Manasseh was twelve years old when he became king, and he reigned in Jerusalem fifty-five years. 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 demolished; he also erected altars to the Baals and made Asherah poles. He bowed down to all the starry hosts and worshiped them. 4 He built altars in the temple of the LORD, of which the LORD had said, “My Name will remain in Jerusalem forever.” 5 In both courts of the temple of the LORD, he built altars to all the starry hosts. 6 He sacrificed his sons in the fire in the Valley of Ben Hinnom, practiced sorcery, divination and witchcraft, and consulted mediums and spiritists. He did much evil in the eyes of the LORD, provoking him to anger. 7 He took the carved image he had made and put it in God’s temple, of which God 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 leave the land I assigned to your forefathers, if only they will be careful to do everything I commanded them concerning all the laws, decrees and ordinances given through Moses.” 9 But Manasseh led Judah and the people of Jerusalem astray, so that they did more evil than the nations the LORD had destroyed before the Israelites. 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 fathers. 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. (2 Chronicles 33:1-17 NIV)
You can easily see how Manasseh thumbed his nose at the foundation of faith his father had stood upon for the nation. Manasseh invited every foreign deity and godless practice into the streets of Judah and even put one of his idols in the Temple of God. Manasseh may have thought that he was aligning himself with other nations and creating allies that would protect him and secure his reign, but he forgot about the One who could tear the kingdom from his grasp or truly secure his throne. God was watching as all of this took place and he raised up an enemy to attack Manasseh…to try and get his attention. We read in verse 11,
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.
The King of Assyria, during this time, was most likely Ashurbanipal who ruled Assyria from 669-630 B.C. In the middle of Ashurbanipal’s reign, about 652-648 B.C., there was a revolt against the Assyrians by Babylon and her allies. History shows that Edom, Moab, and Ammon revolted alongside of Babylon, but Ashurbanipal and his army defeated them. The King of Assyria probably felt that Judah was involved in some way and Ashurbanipal retaliated by taking Judah’s king, King Manasseh. That is the story history will tell us, but 2 Chronicles tells us another story.
In 2 Chronicles 33:10 we read, 10 “The LORD spoke to Manasseh and his people, but they paid no attention.” I am certain that the Lord spoke to Manasseh long before this conversation took place, but each time the Lord called Manasseh back…Manasseh turned his back.
As I have been studying this section of Scripture throughout the past several weeks the Lord has really convicted my own heart. It is easy for me to read about Manasseh, wonder how he could have done what he did, and totally miss the lesson the Lord has for me. How many times has the Lord spoke to me, how many times has He called me back from the path of destruction, how many times have I shut my ears to His tender voice? Too many to count for sure. How about you? Have there been times in your life when you were pursuing your own agenda, an agenda of destruction, an agenda of revenge, an agenda of your own choosing? How many times has the Lord called you to come home, to come back, and to leave the things that would destroy you?
When the Lord is gracious enough to speak to us through His Word, through a friend or foe, or through any other means necessary to call us back to Himself – we need to listen. If we fail to listen then the Lord will respond to our hardened hearts with more severe means of turning us back.
Manasseh learned the hard way. He turned away time and time again until finally, when the time was right, God did more than speak, He raised up an army to get Manasseh’s attention. Read with me once again from 2 Chronicles 33:11-13.
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 fathers. 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.
Imagine the scene with me. The great and might King Manasseh is being led away with a hook in his nose and bronze shackles on his wrist and feet. They lead him to Babylon, to Ashurbanipal’s headquarters, and put him in a dark prison cell. He existed not on the palace buffet, but on bread and water. He is alone, he is hungry, he is anything but powerful. In the quiet desperation of his prison cell Manasseh comes to his senses and he remembers the lessons of his father Hezekiah.
I love verse 12. “In his distress he sought the favor of the Lord his God and humbled himself greatly before the God of his fathers.” In his distress Manasseh came to his senses, he was humbled, and he cried out to God. Where do you turn in your distress? When the waves of stress wash over you, when the weight of despair bears down upon your soul, when your mind is a battlefield and you are losing the battle – where do you turn then? Do you shake your fist at the heavens or do you humble yourself and cry out to God?
Let me ask you something if I can. Who put the hook in Manasseh’s nose? Who bound him with shackles? Was it Ashurbanipal and the Assyrians or was it God? That leads me to the next question: why did God raise up an enemy to come and get Manasseh and put him in prison? Was it to imprison him or to set him free? Last question: Was the hook, shackles, and prison cell a blessing or a curse to Manasseh and the people of Judah? The answer to each of these questions is quite simple if you just take the time to look at the big picture. Manasseh was headed on a course of absolute destruction. He thought he was free, but he was a prisoner to his own pursuits. Manasseh’s ears were deaf when it came to the voice and will of God, but the quiet of the prison cell allowed him to hear for the first time in a long time. God put a hook in Manasseh’s nose and shackles on his hands and feet because He wanted to draw him back.
God is so good. He loves you and me so much. He will stop at nothing to turn us around and open our eyes to our greatest need. I love Pastor Spurgeon’s take on the mercy of God that is so evident in this passage.
Oh! I do not wonder at Manasseh’s sin one half so much as I wonder at God’s mercy. There was the man in the prison. He had never thought of his God except to despise his prerogative, and offend against his laws, till he was immured in that dungeon. Then his pride began to break; his haughty spirit had to yield at last. “Who is Jehovah, that I should serve him?” he had often said. But now he is in Jehovah’s hand. Lying there half-starved in the prison, a crushed man, he begins to cry, “Jehovah, what a fool I have been! I have stood out against thee until at length thy sovereign power has arrested me, and thy infinite justice has begun to avenge my crimes. What shall I do? Where shall I hide from thy wrath? How can I escape? Is it possible to obtain thy pardon?” Then it suddenly flashed across his mind that perhaps God might have mercy on him, so he began to pray. Oh! what a trembling prayer that first prayer was. Methinks Satan said to him, “It is no use your praying, Manasseh. Why, you have defied the living God to his face. He will tell you to go to the idol gods you have served, repair to the images you have set up, and bow before the hosts of heaven you have been wont to worship, and see what they can for you.” Nay; but in this awful despair he felt he must pray; and surely the first prayer he breathed must have been, “God be merciful to me a sinner.” And in his deep abasement, he continued still to pray and plead with God. And that dear Father of ours who is in heaven heard him. If ever you can bring him a praying heart, he will bring you a forgiving message. (Charles Haddon Spurgeon, A Miracle of Grace, March 30th, 1916.)
Oh the mercy and grace of God. He does not give us what we deserve my friends, His mercy wars against our passion to destroy ourselves and He will use any means necessary to open our eyes and melt our hearts so that we might cry out His gracious name. Isaiah wrote,
7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the LORD, and he will have mercy on him, and to our God, for he will freely pardon. (Isaiah 55:7 NIV)
We are all sinners my friend. Our hearts are wayward from birth and it is only the grace of God that makes us aware of our dire need for His grace and salvation. When we stray God does not desire our destruction – He desires our restoration. What will it take for the Lord to open your eyes and melt your heart? I have no idea, but He does. When hardships come, when your heart breaks, I beg you, do not shake your fist at the heavens, bow before His throne and cry out in humility. Won’t you call upon His name this morning as we close in prayer? Thank Him for your trials, for drawing you back into His arms of grace.