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Good morning! Welcome to worship on this Labor Day weekend! Welcome to all those joining us on the radio this morning as well, we are glad to have you as part of our family.
This morning we look at the final profile in our summer sermon series, “The Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful”. I don’t know about you, but I’ve learned a lot.
Over the next 3 weeks we’ll examine the story of a woman named Esther. Her name means ‘star’ and that’s what she was – God’s beautiful star shining brightly in a very dark place. She reminds me of what Paul wrote to the Philippians 500 years later.
“Do everything without grumbling or arguing so that you may become blameless and pure, children of God without fault in a warped and crooked generation. Then you will shine among them like stars in the sky as you hold firmly to the word of life.” Phil 2:14-16
Let’s open our Bibles to the little OT book of Esther. It’s just before Job and Psalms. Let me set the context. A 100 years before Esther was born, King Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon had by God’s command destroyed Jerusalem and taken the Jews 1000 miles east into the sands of Babylon. This is the story of Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego.
50 years later, Darius, king of Persia crushed the Babylonian empire. This is the story of Daniel and the lion’s den. Darius’ son set the exiles free to return home if they wished. This is the story of Nehemiah and Ezra. Esther’s family chose to remain in Persia, which is modern day Iran where they faithfully worshipped the God of Israel.
When Esther was very young both her parents died and she became an orphan. She was adopted and raised by her cousin, Mordecai who was a generation older but a good man who loved and served the LORD. He loved little Esther dearly and became like a father her.
The King of Persia at the time was named Xerxes. He was the grandson of King Darius who was tricked into putting his friend Daniel into the lion’s den because of a strange law of the Medes and Persians. This law will again come into effect in this story!
The law stipulated that once the king had signed an order into law, it could never be changed, not even by the king himself! Daniel’s political enemies used it to try and exterminate him, and we see it used again in Esther’s story.
Xerxes didn’t know the Lord, but he was a good king. If you can imagine it, he ruled an empire that stretched from the Himalayas in India to the Sahara desert in Africa. He was very tolerant of the Jews and very generous to all his people from the least to the greatest.
In fact, he threw a week long banquet for his whole kingdom. Everyone from the least to the greatest could eat and drink as much as they wanted. On the seventh day of the feast, when the King was a little too tipsy, he ordered his servants to bring in Queen Vashti so he could show off her beauty to all his drunken nobles. Now Vashti was a noble woman and she rightly refused to allow her drunken husband make a spectacle of her.
Now this caused a major political crisis in the kingdom! The king’s top advisor told him, “If the queen’s conduct becomes known to all the women, they will all rebel against their husbands! There will be no end to the disrespect and discord!” Esther 1:18
There was trouble in river city! So, like all politicians, these men wrote a new law which in Persia, as I said, could never be repealed, not even by the king himself! It had two parts:
1. “Queen Vashti is never again to enter the presence of the King and her position is to be given to someone more worthy than her!” (all in favor say AYE!)
2.“All women will respect and obey their husbands (in everything) from the least to the greatest!” (they may have still been drunk but they were on a roll! - all in favor say AYE!)
A little naïve, but you can’t blame these men for trying! King Xerxes was pleased with the new law and signed his name to it. But as time went on, he discovered it was easier to make a law than it was to live with it. He was lonely.
So his advisors said, “Let’s look for a new queen. We’ll have a beauty contest. We’ll search the kingdom and collect all the beautiful young girls we can find. We’ll bring them to the capital and put them into beauty school for a full year. Then the king can make his choice for a new queen!”
So the king’s men found and gathered up little Esther – probably 14 or 15 years old along with probably 200 other young women from around the Empire.
We should note - Esther didn’t apply for the job. In those days you didn’t say “no” to the king. Esther and Mordecai had no choice. But Mordecai told Esther before they took her away, “Whatever you do, don’t let anyone know you’re Jewish!”
If you remember the story of Daniel a hundred years earlier, there were those in Persia who hated the Jews and wanted to exterminate them. They were still there in Esther’s day. Satan was doing everything he could to wipe out the Jews in order to prevent Jesus’ birth.
So little Esther found herself quarantined in a special harem, special food, exercise, beauty treatments with maybe 200 other girls! Can you imagine the competition and in-fighting?
How Esther must have longed for the warm dependable love of her step-father cousin Mordecai! It was only because of him, that she hung in there. She was a beautiful little star of light and faith in the great darkness and evil of that dreadful place.
Everyone who met little Esther fell in love with her. Why? Because real beauty is more than skin deep! It didn’t take people long to see that the beauty of Esther’s heart far out shown the beauty of her face or figure. Her inner beauty was the real deal!
Now Esther was physically beautiful or she would never have been there. But all the girls in that place were physically beautiful. But somehow Esther’s humility and gentle nature set her apart from all the rest. I’d like to think people saw Jesus in her.
When the year of beauty treatments and beauty school was over, one by one, the girls who made the grade were presented to the king. What happened that night with the king? Only God and Esther and Xerxes know. But I believe it surprised them both and had nothing to do with a roll in the hay. Remember, Xerxes had a whole stable full of concubines for that. What the king needed was someone to share his heart with. I think Esther’s gentle spirit opened Xerxes heart to listen to her story in a way he’d never listened to anyone before.
And I think Esther’s ability to value and listen to him as a human being, not a king opened his heart to share with her things he’d never told anyone before.
When morning came, Xerxes was smitten. Something far deeper than Esther’s physical beauty had gripped his heart. He’d ever met anyone like her.
The last chapter of Proverbs is about a wife of noble character. It says, “Charm is deceptive and beauty is fleeting but a woman who loves the Lord is greatly to be praised.” Prov 31:30 I think what Xerxes saw in Esther was the Lord she loved and he wisely made Esther his queen.
In a moment, she went from penniless orphan to queen of the most powerful empire in the world. I can hear the other girls complaining, “How’d she get so lucky?” You know what? God doesn’t do luck! He’s as sovereign over the affairs of a pagan king as he is in a local church.
God always has a purpose, an amazing sovereign purpose. He’s there, active, and at work for those who have eyes to see. His purpose is always to rescue and save us from our own sinful nature and from the very real evil at work in the world around us.
We’re going to see that in the story of Mordecai and Haman next Sunday!
In the meantime, there are some very unusual things about this story of Esther that we need to note. Here’s the first. Nowhere in the book of Esther is God or his name ever mentioned. Unlike in the book of Daniel, prayer is not even mentioned.
Why? It’s obviously intentional! What is the author trying to teach us about God?
I think several things, but here are two. First, the LORD is sovereign, even in the palace of a pagan king 1000 miles from Israel. Jerusalem is no more, the temple has been destroyed, but God is still in charge. He chooses Esther, a little Jewish orphan girl, named star, as powerless as a person can bear his light as queen of the greatest nation on earth. Come back next Sunday and discover why!
Here’s the second. Esther and Mordecai, like Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego 100 years before them, stayed faithful to the Lord in every trial. And God used them to accomplish his purposes. They lived out what Jesus would later pray in the Garden of Gethsemane. “Thy kingdom come, thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Never say, “I’m too small for God to use, I’m too insignificant to make a difference.” Whatever your circumstances, follow the Lord and be obedient to him. Be like Esther, a beautiful little star in a very dark place and shine where the Lord has put you. Trust him and he’ll take care of the rest.