March 10th, 2019 – – This is the gist of a sermon I gave today on the first three chapters of Esther.
INTRODUCTION – One of the great challenges we face in the church in America is the lack of true intimacy with our God. He has called us to that. He wired us for that. But for a variety of reasons, we find it illusive at best. One of the reasons I believe we find it illusive is we have not understood the cumulative effect sin has on we believers.
The apostle Paul in Galatians 6, writing to believers, explains it like this, “Do not be deceived, God is not mocked; for whatever a man sows, this he will also reap. For the one who sows to his own flesh will from the flesh reap corruption, but the one who sows to the Spirit will from the Spirit reap eternal life.” Galatians 6:7,8
While I am very thankful for the encouragement and healing that has come from all of the emphasis on our position in Christ in the church in America over the last however many years, I fear that we have misconstrued some things that have set us back, and actually prevented our healing. One of those things is the belief that once a man or woman or young person is born again, all of that corruption of our former life is forever gone. I wish that were true.
When the Bible says in II Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creature; the old things passed away; behold, new things have come.” – wonderful, supernatural, instantaneous things happen when you or I finally admit we are a sinner – much in need of a Savior, and Jesus Christ is that one and only Savior, and we ask Him to be our personal Savior and Lord.
Immediately upon that faith response to Him, He with resurrection power breaks the power of sin over our lives and gives us a new capacity to know and love Him and hear His voice and serve Him. New creatures indeed! Praise God!!
But the corruption we have sown still lingers until it is incrementally cleansed by the blood of Jesus. That’s why Paul instructed the believers in Corinth in the first verse of chapter 7 – just a little more than a chapter after He proclaimed our newness in Christ – “Therefore, having these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from all defilement of flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” This is an ongoing work – largely dealing with the fleshly or carnal thought patterns, attitudes and motives that we have often unconsciously developed – that we believers are to aggressively pursue by the power of the Spirit and by the precious blood of Christ until all of that corruption or defilement is cleaned up, and we are increasingly holy as He is holy.
One of the aspects of corruption or defilement that I believe is very prevalent in the church – especially among those of us who have known the Lord for a long time, and yet have failed Him many times and not “perfected holiness in the fear of God” like we should have is that of performance mentality. We know we have not walked with God as we should have. Deep down, though intellectually we know He loves us, we are convinced He is angry at us. And thus we just have to work harder or sacrifice more to get Him to ease up on His anger and overlook our many failures. In this vicious cycle shame and regret get a stranglehold on us; and the thought that the living God of the universe who never knew sin, and who is holy and pure through and through – could love us unconditionally and long for intimacy with us and enjoy our fellowship– well it’s just beyond our comprehension.
So what in the world does that have to do with the book of Esther? Ahhh, Esther.
Though Esther never mentions the words – God, prayer, lovingkindness, mercy or grace; though the book of Esther never gives us a prophetic portrait of the coming Messiah like the Psalms and so many of the prophets do – – some of them like Isaiah – multiple times;………. Esther – through the power of story – if we have eyes to see – gives us a wonderful example of the mystery of God’s sovereign choosing of someone (in this case a people – namely the Jews), and thus (because He chose them) we see His undying, unbreakable, covenant love toward that people, even when they foolishly rebel against Him, and worship idols, and make friends with the world that has so brazenly rejected Him.
Does He discipline and chasten them for their sin? Absolutely. Does He sometimes severely judge them for their rebellion and idolatry? Absolutely. But never once did He stop loving and pursuing them, as evidenced by many passages throughout the Old Testament and by Romans chps 9-11 in the New Testament. Listen to His words to His people in Isaiah, “Can a woman forget her nursing child And have no compassion on the son of her womb? Even these may forget, but I will not forget you.” Isaiah 49:15 And then His words through the prophet Jeremiah, “…I have loved you with an everlasting love; Therefore I have drawn you with lovingkindness.” Jeremiah 31:3
While the book of Esther does not have one occurrence of the wonderful word, “lovingkindness”, that shows up 176 times elsewhere in the Old Testament and is translated from that rich Hebrew word, Hesed, which has the idea of covenant, unbreakable, undying, everlasting love, that can only be found in God,…. While Hesed doesn’t’ once appear in Esther, it is God’s lovingkindness that is operative behind the scenes in this great book. It is God’s covenant love for a people that He chose and formed and destined to be a demonstration of His love to the world around Him, that is lurking behind the many turns of events in the book of Esther.
With that introduction, let’s dive into the book of Esther together. My assignment is the first three chapters, which I would at least like to read with you.
Vs. 1 – 4 – – King Ahasuerus’s Reign and Grand Celebration – – Some translations like the NIV call this King Xerxes. They are one and the same. He ruled over a vast territory as described here – from the years 486-465 B.C.
Some scholars believe that King Xerxes was using this banquet as a means of preparing his military leaders for an eventual invasion of Greece, which we know happened about four years later, though it was a failed invasion.
Vs. 5 – 8 – The banquet for the common folk – – . This 7 day banquet is a separate banquet for the common folk in which wine flowed in abundance and the King’s glory and splendor were again on display.
Vs. 9 – Queen Vashti’s banquet – – . Separate banquets for the women were not unusual for that culture.
Vs. 10-12 – – Vashti’s response to King Ahasuerus’s Command – – “merry with wine” is another way of saying King Ahasuerus was sloshed, and not operating in good judgment. Perhaps it was his example and perhaps the example of other foolish Kings with their lack of restraint because of their alcohol that caused King Lemuel’s mother to exhort him with these words as recorded in Proverbs 31:1-5 “The words of King Lemuel. The oracle which his mother taught him: What, O my son? And what, O son of my womb? And what, O son of my vows? Do not give you strength to women, Or your ways to that which destroys kings. It is not for kings, O Lemuel, It is not for kings to drink wine, Or for rulers to desire strong drink, For they will drink and forget what is decreed, And pervert the rights of all the afflicted.”
Vs. 11 – God wired husbands to rave over their wives’ beauty. But it was never meant for anyone else to gaze upon or enjoy. It was never meant to be used as a trophy to parade in front of others.
Vs. 12 – Vashti’s refusal sent the King into a fit of rage, I’m sure helped by his drunkenness.
Vs. 13 – 15 – King Ahasuerus turns to his counselors for advice.
Vs. 16 – 20 – His counselors advice
Vs. 21,22 – The King’s response to their advice (read it) He ok’d this plan, and evidently added to this announcement was that all men/husbands should be the master in their homes.
Vs. 1- 4 The Search Begins; Some time later when the King had calmed down and was reflecting on what had happened with Vashti, his attendants and counselors encouraged him to get on with the search for her replacement, which he then authorized.
Vs. 5-7 – Introduction of Mordecai and Esther
Vs. 8-10 – Esther’s placement into Ahasurus’s harem
Vs. 11 – Mordecai’s monitoring of her welfare
Vs. 12-14 – the process of coming before the King for these virgins
Vs. 15-16 – Esther’s turn to be with the King Can you imagine what that trek into the King’s bedroom must have been like for Esther?
Vs. 17-18 – The King’s response to Esther
Vs. 19-20 – Re-entry of Mordecai’s influence on Esther to the story
Vs. 21-23 – Mordecai’s exposing of the plot on the King’s life
Vs. 1-2 – Haman’s promotion and Mordecai’s refusal to bow before him
Vs. 3-4 – The King’s servants’ response to his refusal
Vs. 5-6 – Haman’s response to his refusal
Vs. 7-11 – Haman’s appeal to the King to wipe out the Jews
Vs. 12-15 – The decree is declared in all the provinces
CONCLUSION – God promised His people through the prophet Jeremiah that their Babylonian captivity would only need to last 70 years, and then they would/should return to their homeland. Listen to His words, “For thus says the Lord, ‘When seventy years have been completed for Babylon, I will visit you and fulfill My good word to you, to bring you back to this place. “ Jeremiah 29:10
Both Isaiah and Jeremiah exhorted the people of Israel and Judah to return to their homeland as can be seen in passages like Isaiah 48:20 and Jeremiah 50:8 and 51:6. Some obviously did which you can read about in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah. But many didn’t -like Mordecai and Esther.
Perhaps they got comfortable in the greater Persian empire; raised their families there; made some friends; established themselves in the marketplace. Some scholars believe the reason the author of Esther never mentioned God or prayer or some of the other missing words I spoke of earlier in my sermon, is because the spiritual life of the Jews in this empire that Ahasuerus ruled over was at an all time low.
But regardless of all of this, as you will see as we continue the study of Esther, God never lost sight of His people.
Nor has He lost sight of you. (Spontaneous bringing the message home).
May the Lord use the reading of this book in these next weeks to bring that home to you in a fresh way.
Prayer and ministry time.