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Esther: When God Feels Hidden—February 12, 2023
This is God’s Word
Last week, we started looking at this story, the story of Esther.
In Chapters 1 and 2:
- we saw the Jews living in dispersion in the Persian Empire.
- We also saw that the king of the Persian Empire, Xerxes, had deposed his queen because she was too bold, she stood up to his tyranny.
-He looked for another, and he found Esther.
-She was a beautiful, young Jewish girl, and she was pleasing to him.
-He slept with her, and she was pleasing to him.
-She hid her Jewish identity, and she was pleasing to him
She was far more compliant than Vashti, the former queen, and she was pleasing to him
-Xerxes made her his queen.
I briefly mentioned last week that almost all modern readers of this story are pretty offended by the early part of the book of Esther.
-Feminist, liberal interpreters are offended by her subservience. They’re very happy about the first queen who stood up to him, but not Esther.
-Traditional, religious people are offended by the fact that … unlike Daniel who stood up during exile, stood up in the pagan court and said, “I am a Jew,” and lived as Jew … she kept it quiet.
-She slept with a man who she was not married to yet.
-She broke all the Mosaic laws.
-through apparent compromises, she rose up into this elite space.
-She became queen of the Persian Empire.
-She attained the palace, which was the very center of power.
That’s a pretty fascinating story so far, is it not? We looked at it last week.
That means the book poses a fascinating question to us too.
That question is this:
In such morally, culturally, and spiritually ambiguous situations as this, does God still work with us? Can God still work with us? Will God still work with us?
The answer of the book is yes. And our question this morning is How?
That’s why we’re reading. This text we just read is the next chapter in the story.
We’ll learn from it if we notice three things:
the importance of being in the palace,
the high danger of being in the palace,
how to live, as Esther eventually lived, there with greatness.

1. The importance of being in the palace

Mordecai is in sackcloth and mourning in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate.
The gate was not the gate to the city but the gate to the palace.
Susa was the capital city of Persia, but inside Susa on the western part of the city, there was a hill. Up on that hill 120 feet above everything else was built the palace and the palace complex.
It was actually a city inside a city.
In Chapter 1, it’s actually called the acropolis, which literally means “the high polis,” the high city.
That was the palace, where the residence of the king, the Emporer, and all the government officials were. It was a complex.
Mordecai was at the gate to that, the citadel, the high city, the palace. To be in there was to be literally at the pinnacle of culture.
That was the center of power. It was from there that the laws and the ideas that shaped all of life flowed.
Esther had reached that place, and that’s why Mordecai is getting her attention by being in the sackcloth and being in mourning and saying in verse 8 and also down in verse 14, “You’re there. You’re in the center of power.”
Now what has happened by this point is powerful forces have been arrayed inside the Persian Empire to destroy the Jews. (we’ll come back to this next week)
The powerful forces had gotten the king to make a decree.
That decree was, first, the Jews were a danger to the empire and, second, therefore, on a set date (and that date had been set), neighbors of Jewish people could destroy them, kill them, and plunder, take all their wealth.
That date had been set. That decree had gone out to annihilate them.
Mordecai came to Esther and said, “Because of where you are, you have to use what you have. You have to use your place in the palace, your royal position. You have to use your cultural and social capital to bring about a more just social order. You have to do something.”
Here’s the first thing we learn.
The first thing we learn, not only in the book of Esther but also in the book of Daniel and also in Joseph’s story, which is the last part of the book of Genesis, is that God uses for his work in the world, not just people inside believing communities, not just preachers and missionaries, but also people out in the secular, public, cultural institutions, out in secular space.
He uses for his work both people inside and outside, both lay and clergy, both people doing ministry work and people doing so-called secular work. He uses them all.
If you get to the end of the book of Revelation and you really see what God’s goal is for the world, you’ll understand, because at the end of the book of Revelation, you don’t see just individuals leaving earth to go to heaven.
God’s goal is not simply individual salvation, that we’re all converted and we all go to heaven.
The goal of God you see at the end of Revelation is that his life comes down into this world and cleanses and perfects this material world, creates a material world of perfection so all of what’s wrong with the world today, all of it, is healed.
One of the things (maybe the most foundational thing) is that our relationship with God is broken.
How do you heal that?
You heal it by saying, “Anyone who will listen, God Loves You and made a way for you … Jesus came as a perfect sacrifice, admit your need, believe in His salvation and confess it with your mouth” and so on. That’s my job. Tell anyone who will listen! Your job, all of us who have found the bread, need to tell all of the other beggars looking for bread.
Also, the world needs to be healed because our relationships with each other are broken. That’s why there’s racism. That’s why there’s war. That’s why there’s violence. That’s why there’s oppression.
Also, our relationship with nature is broken. That’s why there’s disease. That’s why there’s hunger. That’s why there’s death.
When you look at the end of the book of Revelation when you look at the end of history, you’ll see God’s goal for us is not just that our relationship with him is healed individually but that the world is healed. The whole world!
That takes not just preachers and missionaries but everybody.
It takes gardeners. It takes farmers. It takes bankers. It takes artists. It takes everyone.
If you were to go to a book table and see a biography with the title “The Man God Uses” or “The Woman God Uses,” you would immediately think it was a story of a missionary, a minister, a specialist in some sort of spiritual work, a pastor, an evangelist, or someone who leads Bible studies at least, would you not?
In fact, the Bible has lots of stories - Joseph, Daniel & Esther for example highly successful secular leaders.
Not preachers, missionaries, bible study leaders
So it is often hard to get Christians to see God is willing not just to greatly use men and women in ministry but in law, in medicine, in business, and the arts.
This is the great shortfall today. At this spot in the Bible, we have a perfect example of that. This is the spot in biblical history where the Jews had gone into exile. Jerusalem had been destroyed by Nebuchadnezzar, and they were taken into exile.
At this point in biblical history, they’re on their way back. They’ve been given permission to go back. They’re trying to go back, and they’re trying to recreate their lives. They’re trying to rebuild their lives, rebuild their nation, rebuild the city of Jerusalem.
How did he restore the nation? How did he restore Jerusalem? How did he do it?
Ezra - preacher, teacher declaring, reminding of God’s Word
Nehemiah - Urban planner, logistics, acquisitions, management - rebuilds a literal wall protection, economic, physical safety
Esther - socialite, harem, queen - she is royal, working for social justice, religious freedom
You have male and female. You have lay and clergy. You have people working for spiritual maturity and economic flourishing and a just social order. Everybody! God is using them all.
Do you see how important it is for believers to be everywhere?
Friends … wherever you find yourself, whatever job, position … royal-wealth positions of influence … middle-management office guy/gal … blue-collar laborer, teacher, post office worker, CPA
… we have to see that what we have, what we can achieve and accomplish … it can’t just be for ourselves
We have to take our positions - For Such A Time As This!
There are people who need your connections. You should be helping.
We want to get stuff on our résumé. We want to build up our careers.
you shouldn’t be here just to use the city but to serve the city. You’ve come to your position for such a time as this.
I know some of you feel like Esther, and that is, a lot of you feel like, “I’m just here by the skin of my teeth. I could be thrown out at any time.”
So what? You still get the call. I know some of you say, “I’ve gotten into the position I’ve gotten, and I’ve compromised. I haven’t spoken out where I should’ve spoken out.
I’ve done some shady things. Yeah, I have some clout now, but I don’t know.
I don’t feel like my conscience is perfectly clear.” Do you think hers was? It’s never too late.
God comes and says, “Realize where you are. Realize the importance of being exactly where you are. If you haven’t done it before now, I’ll start using you now if you’re willing to hear the call.” Then, in the next paragraph down, we see …
2. The high danger of being in the palace
What is that high danger?
Well, here it is.
Notice Esther’s first response. “Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, ‘All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that he be put to death. The only exception to this is for the king to extend the gold scepter to him and spare his life. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.’ ”
Here’s what she is saying.
First of all, she says, “You know it is a punishable offense … a capital punishable offense, possibly … to go to the king unbidden.”
Read between the lines. “I got here because the last queen was too bold. You’re asking me to throw away everything! You’re asking me to throw away everything! How can you do that?”
When she says, “I haven’t gone to the king for 30 days …” He doesn’t sleep alone at night.
If he hasn’t called for the queen in 30 days, then she says, “Possibly that might be a sign that I am out of favor. If I go unbidden, I’m not going to get the scepter.”
She says to Mordecai, “You don’t know what you’re asking of me. I could lose everything.”
Mordecai sends back and says, “Of course I know what I’m asking of you.” If you look at what Mordecai says, it’s the high point, in a way, of the book, rhetorically, narratively, and theologically.
He speaks two things to us. Let’s go right down into the situation. Do you know what he says?
He says, “If you don’t risk losing the palace, you will lose everything.” Do you see what he says here? He says, “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish.” Here’s what he is saying.
He says, “If you risk losing the palace, you might lose everything. If you don’t risk losing the palace, you will lose everything.”
That’s quite an argument, isn’t it? He says, “Because you’ll be sniffed out.” What he is really saying is, “If all the Jews are killed, you’ll be sniffed out, and you’ll be killed too. If the Jews aren’t killed, then you’ll be sniffed out, and you’ll be a traitor.” It’s really quite an argument. brutal, but then he goes positive,
and he says, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
If we stand back and just generalize a little … You know, we’re not in the identical situation at all (most of us), I don’t think, but if you stand back and generalize a little bit, there are two remarkable principles that have broad application. They’re very powerful.

3. How to live there with greatness

The first thing Mordecai says is unless you use:

- the clout you have,
- the credentials you have,
- the connections you have,
- the money you have …
You don’t think it’s much, because you’re in denial, but you have a lot.
Instead of seeing that as just a way for you to further your career and feather your own nest but as a way of service to the people outside the palace, service to the rest of the world, working on healing the ills of the rest of the world, unless you see it that way, then the palace is already a prison.
It’s already devoured you, and you’re dead already. You’d better be ready to risk it, because if you’re not willing to risk it, it’s destroyed you. It’s devoured you already. What does that mean?
Well, here’s what it means. In Luke 16, there’s the famous parable of Lazarus and the rich man. You know, the rich man goes to hell and Lazarus goes to heaven.
You may know something about the story, but the main thing we’ve mentioned is this. Commentators have all noticed that in Jesus’ parables, you never see anyone with a proper name, except here.
Lazarus gets a proper name, but the rich man doesn’t. Why not? The answer is it’s a literary device to get something across. The rich man is his name. He is a rich man, or he is nothing.
It’s so possible to root your identity in your position in the palace, to root your significance and security in the fact that you have money …
“I can wear these kinds of clothes.
I can go to these kinds of places.
I get this kind of deference.
I have this kind of clout.
That’s who I am.”
Your net worth is your self-worth.
When that happens, it’s eaten you. There is no you left if you would lose your riches. The riches have taken you over. You’ve been co-opted. Your power has taken you over. Your résumé has taken you over. Your career has taken you over, because that’s how you know you’re okay.
We live, and we are told to get our identity from our performance.
We believe, “If I have this kind of résumé, if I have this kind of money, if I have this kind of clout, if I have these things, then I know I’m somebody.” It’s eaten you. There’s no you left to use it.
That’s the reason why there is ethical shading, because you don’t want to do anything … “You know, I really shouldn’t do that. I should probably say something about that. I probably shouldn’t do that, but I don’t want to harm my getting up the ladder.”
When it comes to giving, you may give a little here, a little bit there, but 10 to 20 percent of your income every year? Radical giving? Really helping the people outside the palace? You don’t want to do that, because that jeopardizes your place.
The reason why you’re unwilling … This is what Mordecai is saying. If you’re unwilling to risk your place in the palace, it’s taking you over. It’s eating you.
If the palace doesn’t devour you. You can use the palace.
Our stuff … position, power, fame, resources, connections …
Tools - not who we are
We have an identity, an us separate from our stuff
So our stuff doesn’t devour us, drive us, define us … we have value from an outside source
Can you do that? Do you have that?
You see, the first point Mordecai makes is, “If you can’t throw away the palace or at least risk throwing away the palace or at least risk your place in the palace to do good for other people, it has devoured you. It has eaten you.”
Well, then how do you get an identity rooted in something besides the palace? The answer is hinted at, even back here with Mordecai: grace.

Secondly - The last thing he says is, “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” That word come is in Hebrew, of course. It’s a hiphil verb form which means it’s passive.

Therefore, it would be a little better translated, “Who knows if you were not brought to the royal position because of this?”
Here’s what he is saying. “You didn’t get here except by grace. Your beauty wasn’t something you earned. It was given to you. This door of opportunity wasn’t something you produced.
See, Esther could have said (just like we would say) … If somebody says, “Your position is strictly a matter of grace,” you say, “Wait a minute. You don’t know how hard I worked to get into that school and how hard I worked in that school and how hard I worked.”
You worked with talents you did not earn. They were just given to you. You went through doors of opportunity you did not produce. They just opened for you.
Therefore, everything you have is a matter of grace. That’s pretty general, and yet Esther began to respond to it. It’s awfully general, and we’ll get more specific in one second.
Esther began to respond to it, because the Esther we know from chapters 1 and 2 begins to go away.
Sweet little Esther, pretty little, seductive, suddenly aware of the effect she has Esther,
who never rocks the boat and who never ruffles any feathers starts to give orders.
Isn’t that interesting? She starts to say, “Okay. You do this and this and this. I’m going to do this and this and this and this. If I perish, I perish.” We can’t end the sermon here, and I’ll tell you why.
There’s a danger some of you might actually be inspired by Esther’s example to start to try to do what she has done. Some of you are saying, “I’m not going to look at my position and my intellectual and my social and my skill and my financial capital the same way. I’m not going to look at it as just a means for me to move myself ahead in life. I’m going to see it as a way of serving people. I’m going to become more risky. I’m going to become more interested in justice. I’m going to get more involved.” Another way to get inspired by Esther is you may say, “I’ve really been too quiet about my beliefs. I’m afraid to let anybody know that I believe. So I’m going to start speaking up. I’m going to let people know I believe.”
Here’s the danger with this.
First, it won’t last. If you get inspired by an example (“Esther. I want to be like Esther”) … If all I’ve done is preach a great and very convicting sermon. “Be like Esther!”
If our basic motivation is guilt, guilt over selfishness, guilt over elitism, guilt. I want you to know it will wear off. It won’t take long because the alternative to living the way you live is pretty hard.
Might happen, you get inspired. You get all in a lather about this. Then it wears off because the guilt doesn’t last. It doesn’t really change you. It’s just negative.
The other thing is you can overreact. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen people who have sort of been secret about their faith out in the marketplace. They begin to realize, “I need to get more overt. I need to tell people.” They overreact, and they start to get obnoxious. They start to tell people about their faith in Jesus everywhere. Do you know what that is? They haven’t really left the palace because they’re still getting their identity from their performance, because they’re going to say, “I’m going to be an outspoken, principled person. I’m not going to be like all these other closeted Christians. I’m going to tell people about it.” Do you know what? You’re still in the palace. What I mean to say is you still have an identity rooted in the palace, in your performance. Now you’re this outspoken, principled person. You haven’t really changed. You’re just a Pharisee. You’re very self-righteously being more overt.
You know, maybe you put a big Bible on your office desk. I mean, that would help too. See, either it’s going to work off, or it’s going to become pharisaical if you just look at Esther as an example.
An example, even a great example, can only crush you. It’s crushing because it’s an inaccessible standard. Especially as you see what she is willing to do the rest of the book, it will crush you, but there’s another way.
Let me tell you how you can change. What if you didn’t just see Esther as an example but as a signpost, as a pointer? Keep this in mind.
We were all created by God. God gave us everything we have, and he sustains our lives every second. He keeps our heart pumping every second.
Therefore, we owe him everything. We don’t live that way. We don’t live as if we owe him everything.
We live as if everything we have is ours to use as we see fit and to further our own interests and our own happiness. So we are violating our relationship to God.
By everybody’s standards, we’re violating our relationship to God. This is the reason why all the religions of the world disagree on the details, but they all agree with something.
That is, there’s a gap or a chasm between us and the Divine. There’s a gap or a chasm between us and the Divine.
Some religions say we need mediation, you see.
Some say, “Well, we have to get across that bridge through sacrifices or rituals or transformations of consciousness or ethical practice.” We have to mediate this gap. We need a mediation between us and God somehow. Everybody is different about what it is, but here’s what the Bible says about that.
Esther saved her people by two things: identification and mediation. She identified with her people. She didn’t take the safe way. Her people were condemned so she identified with them and came under that condemnation and risked her life and said, “If I perish, I’ll perish.” Because she identified, she could mediate.
She could go before the throne of power in a way no one else could. She went before the throne of power, and because she received favor there, that favor was imputed to her people. She saved her people through identification and mediation. Does that remind you of anybody?
Jesus Christ lived in the ultimate palace. He was the Son of God, and he had the ultimate beauty. He had the ultimate glory. He left it, and no one had to wheedle and cajole him to do it. Nobody had to make arguments. Nobody had to put a little pressure on him.
Philippians 2 said he had equality with the Father, but he didn’t hold onto it. He emptied himself, and he came down. He identified with us, and he took on our condemnation. He didn’t do this at the risk of his life. He did this at the cost of his life. He didn’t say, “If I perish, I’ll perish.” He said, “When I perish, I’ll perish.” He went to the cross, and there he died. He was crushed.
He made atonement for our sins so now the Bible says he stands before the throne of the universe, and the favor he has procured is ours. If we believe in him, it’s ours. It’s the same thing.
Here’s what amazes me. If you see Esther as an example and say, “Be like Esther,” it will crush you. You’ll never live up to it. If you see Jesus as your Savior, not as an example doing something for others but as a Savior doing it for you and you know you’re that valuable to him and you know your future is that secure, that changes your identity.
There’s your security. There’s your value. There’s your real worth. Suddenly all the other things in your life become just stuff. It’s not you anymore. You’re free! You can use it. You can risk it. You can spend it. You can lose it.
Here’s what’s amazing. Esther was able to do what Esther did just on the basis of the much-more vague right revelation that God is a God of grace. She did what she did just knowing what she knows, but boy, we know so much more. She didn’t know God was actually going to come to earth himself and do exactly what she was doing, only on an infinitely greater scale, infinitely greater cost to him, infinitely greater benefits to us. What’s our excuse? If she did what she did knowing what she knows and we know so much more and we know so much more about our value to him and so much more about his grace and so much more about our future, what is our excuse?
We don’t have one. If you now, seeing what Jesus Christ has done for you, see him losing the ultimate palace for you, then and only then will you be able to, from your place in the palace, really start to heal the world. Only then will you have the freedom. If you see and read these words through Jesus, “If I perish, I perish,” you’ll see four things.
First, “If I perish, I perish,” is the language calling you to identify with the poor and the oppressed of the world. This is a call for us as believers seeing what Jesus has done to identify with the people outside the palace, the poor and the oppressed of the world. That’s what Jesus did. “If I perish, I perish” is the language of identifying with the poor.
Secondly, “If I perish, I perish,” is the language of exciting mission. Wherever you are right now, some of you actually have been brought into a high position. all of you are in a position right now. You have certain gifts, and you have certain abilities. Even you have certain experiences of hardness and suffering that make you uniquely ready to help certain people in the world who no one else can help. Ephesians 2:10 says we are God’s workmanship, created for good works that God has prepared beforehand for us to walk in. The word workmanship is the word poiema, from which we get our word poem.
What that means is you are his artwork. You have been crafted with your gifts and talents and your positions and your strengths and even your weaknesses and your blessings and even your sufferings. There are certain people only you can help. “There are certain things I have called you to do.” You have a mission, whoever you are, if you understand you are a child of his. You have been brought into the position you’re in right now for such a time as this. Ask God what it is.
Thirdly, it’s the language of unconditional obedience. “If I perish, I perish” means I’m going to follow God. I don’t care. Not, “Well, I’m going to try God out, and if it really kind of helps me …” No. Unconditional. My life was changed years ago when I was just a kid, and I was a new Christian. I was at a college conference, and a woman Bible teacher got up and said if the distance between the earth and the sun (92 million miles) was the thickness of a sheet of paper, the distance then between the earth and the nearest star would be a stack of papers 70 feet high. Just the nearest star! The distance across just our little galaxy would be a stack of papers 120 miles high. Just our little galaxy! The universe is so filled with galaxies, that our galaxy is like a dust speck amongst dust specks. The Bible says Jesus Christ holds all that together (Hebrews 1:2) with a word of his power, with his pinky. She said, “Is this the kind of person you ask into your life just to be your personal assistant? Is this the kind of person you say, ‘Well, I’ll try you out for a while to see whether or not obedience to you kind of makes me a happier person’?” Take your hands off your life. Put your life in his hands.
One last thing. Karen Jobes, who wrote a commentary on the book of Esther, says there are 14 times in the book of Esther that Esther is not just called Esther but Queen Esther, and 13 of those 14 times happen after she says, “If I perish, I perish.”
She becomes a person of greatness not by trying to become a person of greatness. You will become a person of greatness, not by trying to become a person of greatness (that’s how people will live in the palace), but by serving the One who said, “For your sake, Father, thy will be done.” Let’s pray.
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