Text: Esther 4
Theme: Whenever God has a plan, God provides a way.
Doctrine: Providence of God
Image: working in the background
Message: Work in God's plan.
The Persian King Xerxes had ultimate control over his kingdom. He had the largest empire in known history, and controlled the land from India to northern Egypt. This man was the most politically and militarily powerful person ever to walk the earth. One night, after a seven day banquet which included much drinking and entertainment, Xerxes decided that it would be nice to show off his beautiful wife to his officials. So he sent for Vashti, his Queen, to come to the banquet that his officials might gaze on her. When she got the message she was enraged. There was no way she, the Queen of the most powerful empire in the world, the most respected and regal woman in history, was going to subject herself to the lusty stares of a large group of drunk men. When the king received her refusal, he was extremely angry, and after consulting with his legal advisers, had her banished. When Xerxes sobered up, he remembered what he had done, and he was filled with sorrow. To cheer him up, his attendants proposed an empire wide beauty pageant. The contestants were searched for, torn from their homes, and forced to participate in the hunt for a new Queen. Esther immediately gained favour with all who saw her, and Xerxes eventually chose her as Queen.
Page 1: Haman wanted to exterminate Jews.
Esther's step father, Mordecai, upset Haman, one of the palace officials, by refusing to bow to him as he passed. Haman was incensed and he hatched a plot to destroy, not only Mordecai, but also all of the Jews. He tricked Xerxes into making an edict commanding the people to attack the Jews, and to wipe them out.
As Mordecai was walking home from another long day of work in Susa, he noticed a large commotion at the gate of the town. As Mordecai got closer, he could make out pieces of the conversation. “What does the king have against the Jews?” someone asked. “Where did this animosity come from? The king has been rather friendly to all nations, what happened?” He ran over to the wall, where a fresh declaration was flapping in the breeze. At first he could not believe his eyes, all the Jews were to be executed! How could this happen? Then it hit him. He had upset Haman by refusing to bow to him, and had made him so angry that he wanted to kill all the Jews, not just Mordecai.
Realising his own part in this disastrous outcome, Mordecai turns slowly for home. When he reaches it, he takes off his richly embroidered robe, and puts on sackcloth, and goes about the city crying out in his grief. People are beginning to come out into the streets, curious as to what all the hubbub is about. Mordecai is joined by other Jews as he makes his way up the hill to the king's palace. They are stopped at the entrance to the gate by a large group of soldiers. “What is your business here?” they shout at the group. “You are not allowed to enter the king's palace while dressed as in mourning. Go back to your homes.” But the group does not dissipate. They merely spread ashes on the ground, and sit down, continuing to wail and cry out.
When Esther hears about Mordecai's state, she is in great distress, and sends some clothes to him. She wants him to stop mourning. She is worried that the king may come out of the gate, and see Mordecai there mourning. Xerxes would most likely have him killed. Mordecai, however, refuses the clothing and sends back to her a copy of the edict and begs her to go to the king on behalf of the people. When Esther learns about the edict, and hears the request of Mordecai to go to the king, she is terrified. “Tell Mordecai,” she says to her Eunuch. “Tell him that I cannot go to the king without risking my very life. I'm not sure if I can do what he asks. Explain to him the situation I am in. I cannot do as he asks. Something else will have to be done.” As the Eunuch is going out to Mordecai with the Queens message, Esther is left to dwell with her thoughts. She feels despondent and light headed, she is in shock. How could this happen! Esther goes to the mirror, gazing at her radiant reflection she asks, “What can I do about this?” It appears that the kingdom is against the Jews, against God's chosen people, and Esther feels helpless.
Page 2: Our Culture wants to exterminate Christianity.
Our culture is still pitted against God's chosen people, it is waging a full frontal attack on Christianity, and we feel helpless against it. The moral fibre which the current culture accepts stands in direct opposition to Christianity on many fronts. There are now more missionaries in the Western, so called Christian, nations from the developing world than the other way around. Though the percentage of Christians in the world has changed little over the past 100 years, there has been a shift in location. In 1900 less than 20% of Christians in the world were in non-Western nations, now over 60% of Christians live outside Western countries. There are now more Christians in Africa than there are people in North America. Some claim that the US is a Christian nation, but the filth that is produced in films and on the internet proves otherwise. There is increasing pressure against Christianity, while there is increasing acceptance of other religions.
The US is proud of its freedoms, and rightly so. Freedom of religion is one of the hallmarks of US politics, and this includes religions other than Christianity. We, as Christians can accept this. The Christian faith has room for the sinner. We are not to expect that everyone will be Christian until the end of time. Thus, we are supposed to allow people to have differing opinions and religions. We are not given a mandate to force people to convert. We have made that mistake in the past, forcing people to convert to Christianity at the tip of a sword, but this is not what the Bible condones.
Though we have a place for the sinner, and we can allow them to live with differing opinions than us, we have the truth. We know what their ultimate destiny will be. We know that the Buddhist down the street will not be saved unless he believes in Christ. We know that the Atheist up the road will not share in the glory of God if she does not trust in the cross. This is not something the culture likes to hear. The current popular philosophy is one of relativism. People do not think that there is any truth in religion, or if there is there is no way of knowing it. Thus, no one can claim to know anything about the spiritual realm. What works for one person, is right for them, and how dare anyone criticise them for it.
When I was studying for my Master's in Philosophy in England I got into some interesting discussions with people. One evening, when I was at a friends house it got rather heated. I had recently announced that I was going into the ministry, and people were very interested. They wanted to know how my faith worked into my other ideas in philosophy. Throughout the discussion I made some strong claims regarding the truths of the Christian faith. That God created and upholds the universe, that God came down to earth, became human, and died on the cross, bearing the punishment for our sins, and other claims like this. These are things which we as Christians know to be true through the witness of the Holy Spirit in our lives. My friends did not take the fact that they were sinful very well. They did not want to see themselves as people who were deserving of eternal punishment. Only truly bad people deserve something like 'hell', and they were not really bad people. They tried to say, “Oh, well as long as it works for you.” But I would not let them off that easy. I said, “Hold on, if I am right, then can you just put me off? If I am right, and you are destined for hell because you have not accepted Christ as your Saviour, and are not living with him as your Lord and master, then what are you going to do about it?” At this point, they almost tossed me out of the building, so I let it drop.
This attitude of relativism has been seeping into the Christian faith for centuries. One of the prides of the Christian Reformed Church used to be the theological education of its members. Most of the members in the 40's and 50's had read, and discussed at length the Systematic Theology of Louis Berkhof, now I bet, most of us have no idea who Berkhof is. If there are any adult education classes they usually take the form of inductive Bible study where everyone asks each other, “So, what did that passage say to you?” How many kids are taught the five canons of Dort? How many parents, or grandparents engage their neighbours in a theological debate? How many teenagers discuss their faith with their friends? Is the church losing the war against the culture? Make no mistake, the Devil will use any means necessary to lead us astray. If he can get us to believe that what we believe doesn't really matter, he's already won. If we say we believe in God, but what we put our trust in is not God, what we put our hopes on is not God, what we spend all our time thinking about, planning for, and enjoying is not God, then can we truly call ourselves Christian? Our culture is at war with Christianity, and we are at risk of being wiped out.
Page 3: God placed Esther to do something about the danger.
The Jews were at risk of being wiped out, but God had put people in key places to do something about the danger. Haman was committed to wipe out the Jews, by any means necessary. He was insulted that someone should refuse the decree of the king and not bow to him. He was enraged that someone would be so committed to their God that they would risk their lives. “If that's the way he wants it,” thought Haman, “then that's what he'll get. But if he is willing to give up his own life, what about the lives of all the other Jews? He would be willing to die for this, so killing him would not be much of a punishment, but I will punish him. I will wipe out his entire race.” After Haman had sealed the fate of the Jews by flattening the wax seal on the royal edict with Xerxes ring, he went in to eat and drink with the king.
Esther was now pacing back and forth in her chamber. She had not realised the danger her people were in, but what could she do? She was only one person, and a woman at that. If she tried to go before the king without being invited she could be killed. Queen Vashti had been banished for refusing to come when summoned, surely she would not be spared when she arrived unbidden. She knew there were guards stationed around the king's throne brandishing axes, ready to carry out this threat. She was sure there was nothing she could do.
Just then, Hathach entered her chamber and bowed low to the ground. “What is it,” cried Esther. “What news do you have from Mordecai.” Hathach stood up straight, but could not look the Queen in the eye. Mordecai had sent a message which could get Hathach killed. No one could charge the Queen to do something except the King himself. Stumbling over the words Hathach reported the message to the Queen. “This is what Mordecai said, my Lady. '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. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?'” The Queen was shocked, but she could hear the pleading tone in the message from Mordecai. The Jews had no where else to turn. So she sent a message back to Mordecai, telling him that she would go to the King. First, though she wanted everyone to fast for her.
When Hathach had left with her answer to Mordecai, Esther was again alone with her thoughts. “Come to royal position for such a time as this?” she wondered. “Why me? Why now? What had I done to deserve this? Was this a privilege, or a curse? What else had Mordecai said? Oh yeah, if I remain silent, help will arise from the Jews from another place. I suppose that would have to be true, for God to remain true to his promises to Abraham, the Jews could not be exterminated completely. Well, I do not know if I will be able to do anything, but I suppose I do not have a choice. I can not hide in the palace, now thanks to Mordecai, people know I am a Jew.”
We know the rest of the story, right? Esther goes to the King, and he spares her life. She asks him to attend a banquet, and to bring Haman along. She does this twice. Finally, she gains enough courage to confront Haman. When the King heard about the plot Haman had manipulated him to perform, he was furious. He had Haman hanged on the very gallows he had constructed to hang Mordecai on. Esther and the King wrote another edict allowing the Jews to arm themselves and protect themselves against any attack from any people in the empire. Haman's plot had been foiled.
See, Haman hadn't planned on the intervention of God in his plans. He thought he was the master weaver, he thought he had it all worked out. But God was at work through all that had happened. He had directed the course of events that led up to this time. He had been there guiding the banishment of Vashti. He had been there guiding the search for beautiful women in the land. He had been there when Esther had been taken from her home to the palace. He had been there guiding the heart of Xerxes when he fell in love with Esther and chose her for a Queen. All of these things had been done with God's guidance. God was in control of everything.
Page 4: God places us so we can do something about the danger.
God is still in control of everything. He guides us in our daily lives. He sends us rain when it is needed, he sends sunshine when it is needed. He provides for our daily needs. Sometimes what he provides is not what we think we need, but God knows better. He knows what we need, and he provides for us. Even though the world is at war with him, the world will not win. It may seem as though God is missing from the world, like things happen that could not be under the control of God. Yet, when the story is over, when we look back on our lives, we can see the fingerprints of God. Throughout the book of Esther, God is not mentioned once. He is never referred to, he is not really even alluded to. In fact, the writer seems to go to great lengths to not use God's name. Yet, even though God appears to be missing, it is obvious his hand is at work in the book. Though it is not mentioned, it is obvious that God is the one who brought Esther “to royal position for such a time as this.”
God appears to be missing in the world, but he is not. The movement toward relativism in the world seems like one of the biggest threats to Christianity, because it excludes the possibility of absolute knowledge. But there is a positive spin to this movement as well. Before post-modern relativism, we had modern absolutism. Everyone thought that man would be able to prove all things. We thought that our reason was all that was needed to understand and prove, beyond a shadow of a doubt, what things were true, and what were false. If there was no way to prove something rationally, then it was not knowable, and not worth talking about. In fact, if it could not be proven true or false, then it was not really a statement. If someone made the claim that God exists, there is no way to prove or disprove that statement in our lifetimes. Every attempt to prove he does not exist can be explained away by the believer, and every attempt to prove he does exist can be explained away by the sceptic. Therefore, the claim that God exists is neither true nor false, it does not have a truth value.
This left no room for faith. Everything had to be proven, and nothing taken on faith. The post-modern movement, however, has tossed out this notion that everything can be proven. It allows for some things to be taken on faith. It lends respectability to faith and the study of faith. 100 years ago there was no good Christian philosophy being done. Now, some of the most famous philosophers in the world work on Christian assumptions. People like Alvin Plantinga have been heard and honoured in academia for their work on Christian problems. Even being able to have a discussion like I did with my friends in England would have been unheard of fifty years ago. Back then it was not seen as acceptable to talk about religion. Now, God has changed the culture so that there is much more openness to talking about religion. Kids are growing up in an age which allows, no invites, discussions of religion. It is now acceptable to engage your neighbour, and speak to him about God. It is now acceptable to approach your friend, and tell her about Christ. God has opened up opportunities for us which were unavailable to our parents. We have been brought to this position for such a time as this. We have been given God's gracious gift of salvation so that we can share it with others. God has planned everything is the universe so that we have the opportunity to share the message of salvation with others, and we can join in their joy as they come to know the Lord. God in his providence has provided us with what we need to reach the lost. He gives us the Holy Spirit to help us spread the amazing story of God's grace with others.
Just as God moved in the affairs of the Persian empire to bring Esther to power, so he has worked in our everyday lives, in our families, in all our experiences, to provide us with the incredible opportunity to share the message of God's saving love with others.
Let us Pray
Lord, we thank you for the providence you have shown in each of our lives. We thank you for all of our experiences, be they pleasant or painful, because all of them have led us here. All of them have led us to you. We thank you for the gift of your grace, and the opportunity to share it with others. Amen.