Good morning and welcome to Christ Lutheran Church. And welcome if you’re listening on the radio. We’re glad you’re with us. We’re continuing our sermon series on “The Good, the Bad and the Beautiful” a look at our Biblical family album. Today we look at Esther.
Last week Pastor John gave you some of the historical and cultural background of how Esther and her uncle Mordecai came to be in the middle of the Persian empire---and how Esther came to be queen.
So today we come to part two in these events. Let’s review who we’re dealing with here?
There’s King Xerxes---He’s vain and easily manipulated. You’ve got Haman---Power-hungry and evil.
There’s Mordecai---Guardian and uncle of Esther, a man of faith and courage.
And there’s Esther---Who as an orphaned Jewish girl rose to the unlikely place of queen of the Persian empire---127 provinces from Egypt to India.
Esther chapter 2 concluded with Mordecai hearing about a plot to assassinate Xerxes and saving the king’s life. (Later on we find out that the king forgot about his life being saved. I guess a king’s life is too busy to remember trivia like that!)
And so today, at the beginning of chapter 3, we hear about Haman’s rise to power.Esther 3:1 “After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles.”
Haman won’t let all that honor go to his head will he? Oh yes he will!
In fact when Haman learned that Mordecai didn’t kneel and bow down to him, he was enraged and channeled his anger not only at Mordecai but at all the Jewish people. Haman, of course, was not acting alone but at the instigation of the evil one, another of Satan’s plans to destroy God’s covenant plans with the Jewish people to send his Messiah.
Haman manipulated Xerxes into believing that the Jews were a danger to his empire. And the king issued a decree that all the Jews should be put to death.
Esther 4:1,3 “When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly…..In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.”
It was a desperate situation for the people of Israel. Esther heard about her uncle and his anguish. But she was isolated in the palace and didn’t know all that was going on. So she worked through a messenger, Hathach, to communicate with Mordecai. And Hathach became the go-between. Like a human text-message.
And there’s some pretty important messages going back and forth. Esther4:8 “Mordecai also gave Hathach a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to urge her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.”
Esther knows there are all kinds of reasons to object to this plan. For one thing, the king was sheltered from contact with most people---Esther 4:11 “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.”
But Moredcai was persistent---Esther 4:13 “He sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape.”
Mordecai bluntly reminds Esther that she is in danger as well as her people---whether she talks to the king or not. This is one of those defining moments in her life and in the history of her people of Israel.
Esther has a choice. God can work through anyone he chooses. But Mordecai lays out her challenge in these well-known words---Esther 4:14 “And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
In a VERY short time, A VERY young Esther grows into the VERY courageous woman God created her to be. She sends word to Mordecai---Esther 4:16 ““Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
She faces the challenge head-on. She asked for her people to fast—and fasting always included prayer. Fasting has always been a way to set aside distractions to focus on a critical need, as a way to connect with the Lord and ask for his guiding. Sometimes people even thought that if they fasted, that they would deserve the attention of God. Thankfully for you and me, through Jesus’ death and rising, we have unobstructed access to our heavenly Father.
So Esther was arming herself for the battle. Esther realized that she needed the support of her people and the support of the God they all worshipped, if anything good was going to come from this. And her declaration of---“if I perish, I perish”, might be seen as resignation to defeat, but it was actually the heroic words of a woman whose faith had convinced her that there was only one faith-full course of action.Esther 5:1-2 “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand.”
Whew! She got that far. Xerxes was in a good mood---or maybe it was a God mood. Esther 5:4 ““If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”
The king offered to hear Esther’s request---and he’s in a generous mood---“up to half my kingdom”. That would be 63.5 provinces!
But Esther doesn’t make the big request then—in fact she invites Xerxes and Haman to a second banquet. At this point Haman’s pride is going wild. He brags that other than the king he is the only person invited to this banquet. But he is still fuming about Mordecai’s lack of honor for him and he thinks he now has enough political clout to get rid of Mordecai.
That night the king can’t sleep and he has the royal records brought in for bed-time reading. And he heard and remembered that this man Mordecai had foiled a plot to kill the king. And the king asks “Did we ever do anything for this guy?”
So at the same time that Haman is planning to get rid of Mordecai, the king is planning to honor Mordecai. And the king tells Haman in such a way that Haman assumes this is more honor for him.
The king asks Haman how he should honor this important man. And Haman’s pride adds to his demoralizing defeat. It’s been said that “pride is the only disease that makes everybody sick except the person who has it.” So Haman, thinking of how the king should honor him, says---Esther 6:7-9 “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’ ”
I would love to have been there for this next scene! Esther 6:10 ““Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.”
And so a humiliated Haman gets to lead the parade for Mordecai!! Esther 6:12 “Afterward Mordecai returned to the king’s gate. But Haman rushed home, with his head covered in grief,”
Then comes the second banquet with the king and Esther.
The king and Haman were enjoying themselves and the king asked again about Esther’s request. “Anything is yours—up to half my kingdom.”Esther 7:3 “Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation.”
The King asked Esther, “Who is the man who has dared to do such a thing?”Esther 7:6 “Esther said, “The adversary and enemy is this vile Haman.”
The king was enraged and left the room only to come back and find Haman in a drunken haze, harassing Esther.
And in the ultimate irony, the king ordered Haman to die on the gallows that Haman had prepared for Mordecai.
You’ll hear more next week about what Xerxes does about the Jewish people. But let’s look at just a few of the many lessons we can learn from this chapter in “the Good, the Bad, and the Beautiful”.
Think of this situation. The Jewish people on the verge of destruction and it all came down to one person---or did it?
Edward Hale wrote---“I am only one. But still I am one. I cannot do everything; But still I can something; And because I cannot do everything, I will not refuse to do the something that I can do.”
Esther’s courage as one person in the whole court of King Xerxes who honored God, is heroic. And yet she knew she was not alone. She asked for fasting and prayer to receive the support of her community and the power of God.
What can you or I as one person do when we remember that we act with the power of the Lord and his people?
And Esther had a huge role in all this. But what about Hathach? He was only a messenger and yet without him, Mordecai and Esther couldn’t have communicated. And what about the accuracy of the messages? This was not a time for even minor mistakes in what either Mordecai or Esther said AND how they said it. Hathach was a minor character who enabled major events to happen.
No act of service we may do is too small when it is part of what the Lord is making happen.
And think about the fact that Esther served the Lord right in the place she already was. That’s not to say that tomorrow the Lord couldn’t call you or I to go to Indonesia. Jesus called his 12 disciples and then sent them out and some of them ended up in far off places. But Esther was called to stay put.
Are you being called to serve in new ways right where you’re at?
And lastly, it seems strange that God is not directly named in the book of Esther---(as Pastor John mentioned last week). But still God is active in it all.
God is working behind the scenes to bring this all together for good.----The downfall of the previous queen opens the door for Esther.----Mordecai overhears the plot to kill Xerxes.----The king can’t sleep and he is reminded that Mordecai saved him.----The courage of Esther who decides to use her royal position to do God’s work.
God isn’t named, but he was at work in all of the book of Esther. Just like often, the Lord is not named, but he is at work in our world and in our lives.
Think of how it must have looked to Jesus’ followers as he hung on the cross---where was God? You could easily think he was missing. But God is always at work even when we don’t see the evidence. God is at work in history, even when chaos seems to be in charge. God is at work in our world today.
The author of Esther, with the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, is pushing us to consider that in the mess and ambiguity of human life that God is always at work to complete his plans for us---even when we don’t see him---maybe especially when we don’t see his presence.
God is totally committed to saving his world and defeating evil---and that means right here and right now!
And who knows but that YOU have come to YOUR position for such a time as this?---A place where the Lord can work through YOU!