Sermon 08-18-19: “Esther and Mordecai”

September 4, 2019

Sermon Text: Esther 4:10-17

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A pastor friend and I were talking about today’s scripture. He said, “You might not want to say this in your sermon, but…” Now whenever someone says, “You might not want to say this in your sermon, but,” I take that as a cue that I ought to say it. So here goes: He said that I could compare the story of Esther to that “reality show” The Bachelor. Because, after all, in chapter 2 of this book, the hero of the story, Esther, is chosen to be the wife of the recently divorced Persian king—Ahasuerus—by a process that’s a little bit like the one by which the bachelor chooses his future wife on the hit TV show.

So, in a competition with many other beautiful young women, Esther keeps getting handed the proverbial “rose” until finally she becomes wife and queen. To do so, however, she keeps her Jewish identity a secret from her new husband.

Meanwhile, the king’s prime minister—a man named Haman—belongs to a people who have an ancient hatred of Jews. He manipulates the king into signing a decree to have all Jews living in Persia annihilated several months in the future. Esther’s adoptive father, Mordecai, finds out about the plan and warns Esther to use her power as queen to change the king’s mind and overrule the decree that Haman put into effect.

Mordecai and Esther can’t speak to one another directly. They’re speaking through one of the king’s eunuchs, whose name is Hathach. And that’s where we pick up in today’s scripture. If you have your Bible—and you should—turn with me to Esther 4:9-17, which I’ll read now.

[Read Esther 4:9-17.]

So, this past week, Anderson Cooper interviewed Stephen Colbert, who brought Cooper very close to tears. Cooper’s voice cracked when he asked Colbert about something he said in an interview four years ago, just before he took over the Late Show on CBS. Colbert was talking about his own tragic backstory: When he was 10 years old, he lost his dad and two of his brothers in a plane crash—the two brothers who were nearest to him in age—literally his best friends. 

He said, however, that his mother was a great example of Christian faith for him. Colbert wasn’t bitter or angry about the tragedy, he said, because she wasn’t bitter. “Broken, yes. Bitter, no.”

Colbert is a huge Lord of the Rings fan, and he described the time that J.R.R. Tolkien received a letter from a Catholic priest complaining that his novels weren’t theologically correct because they treated death as a gift, rather than a punishment for sin after the Fall.

Colbert then quoted what Tolkien said in reply: “What punishments of God are not gifts?” What punishments of God are not gifts? Colbert went on to say that he had learned to be grateful for “the thing that he most wished had never happened.” “I can hold these two ideas in my head.”

My question is, can we hold those two ideas in our heads? In other words, can we wrap our heads around the idea that things we don’t want to happen to us—bad things, even evil things—are nevertheless things that God will transform into something that will bless us and will be for our own good? 

I hope today’s sermon helps with that!

Most of you know that classic song by the Rolling Stones, “You can’t always get what you want/ But if you try sometimes, you just might find…” What? You get what you need. I actually think that’s mostly true… It’s true with an asterisk. It’s at least more true than songwriters Mick Jagger and Keith Richards probably realized. After all, if they really believed that they always get what they need—even when it’s not what they want—then they ought to fall on their faces and thank God for his grace—because it’s only possible to always get what you need if God himself is making sure through all circumstances that you’re getting what you need!  This can’t happen without God’s providential hand.

Right?

Regardless, this is precisely what the Bible promises: “And we know that God causes everything to work together for the good of those who love God and are called according to his purpose for them.”[1] So God causes what to work together for good? Everythingall things. Not just some things. Everything… And he does so for the good of whom? Not every single person in the world, but only for those who love God. And who are they? Paul says, those who are called “according to his purpose for them.” Namely, those who are united with Christ through faith—which includes most of you and me.

So the Rolling Stones song is mostly true—at least for those of us who are born again through faith in Christ. 

The only part with which I take issue is the first line: “You can’t always get what you want.” I can’t always get what I want! Are you kidding? I can’t usually get what I want? Not exactly what I want or when I want it! How about you? For most of life we’re dealing with not getting what we want. If not getting what we want makes us bitter and angry and unhappy, to say the least it’s going to be hard to “rejoice in the Lord always,” the way the Bible commands. To say the least we’re going to have a hard time trusting that God is really looking out for us, that he’s really in control of our lives, that he really has our best interests at heart. So how do we interpret the fact that we believers in Jesus don’t often get what we want?

Think about marriage. Do you think my wife, Lisa, got what she wanted when she married me? Of course not! I trust by God’s grace, over the course of decades, she’ll have gotten what she needed—but she didn’t get the man she wanted me to be when she married me. Heck, I’m not the man I wanted me to be when we got married!

And you say, “Oh, don’t be so hard on yourself, Brent! You’re not the worst.” But, no, you don’t get it! I’m not being hard on myself. See, I’m not the man I wanted to be when I was 23 years old. Because… by God’s grace alone, I’m better than the man I wanted to be! In spite of myself—in spite of my failures, my mistakes, my misjudgments, my sins—I’m better than I wanted to be 26 years ago when we got married! I couldn’t have guessed or predicted or imagined what it would take to become the person I am today. But here I am. I can only thank God I didn’t get what I wanted 26 years ago! If I had gotten the recognition I craved, the financial success, the security, the adoration of others that my ego demanded, it would have ruined me. And worst of all, I would love Jesus less than I do today. I would depend on him less, trust in him less, than I do today. So if things had turned out any differently, especially if I had gotten what I wanted, I would be a different person today. But God wants me to be this person that I am. And I mostly like the person that I am—minus the sin—even more, I like the person I’m becoming.

All that is made possible in part by everything that’s happened to me in my past. So I can be grateful even for things that I wish had never happened to me.

And so it is with Esther. Listen, I compared Esther becoming queen to The Bachelor earlier. It was much worse than that! Because… if what happened to Esther back then happened today, we would call her a victim of trafficking. She was little more than a slave—with very few choices in the matter—at least until she became queen. And after she became queen, unlike Daniel and his friends Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego, she wasn’t exactly bold to stand up for her faith. There were no fiery furnaces for her—not if she could help it! In fact, unlike your typical Bible heroes, she must have denied her faith at times—she certainly compromised her faith—in order to be queen.

And yet… in spite of Esther’s tragic backstory, in spite of the evil that was done to her, in spite of the sin for which she herself was responsible—what does Mordecai tell her in verse 14? “And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” 

Who knows?

God knows. Which is precisely Mordecai’s point! 

Esther’s past did not disqualify her from being used powerfully by God in present! Do you think your past does?

All that stuff in Esther’s past—becoming an orphan, being adopted by Mordecai, being sold into slavery, being treated like an object rather than a human being in God’s image, compromising her faith—God wasn’t causing all of that; he wasn’t making all that bad and sinful stuff happen—sinful human beings in league with the devil himself were doing all that just fine without God—but God, foreseeing and foreknowing all that would happen to Esther, had the power to transform these circumstances into something that was good for Esther—something that would shape her character, something that would strengthen her trust in God, something that would enable her to love God more, something that ultimately would enable her to save her people from nothing less than genocide! 

Esther’s story reminds me of what God did with Joseph—and all the bad stuff that happened to him. [Summarize Joseph’s story from Genesis.] Genesis 50:20: “As for you, you meant evil against me, but God meant it for good, to bring it about that many people should be kept alive, as they are today.”[2]

What’s true for Joseph, and what’s true for Esther, is true for you and me. Listen, all of you have a tragic backstory! All of you have got a past. All of you have got baggage. All of you have have been victims of evil events and circumstances that are beyond your control. And of course all of you have sinned in countless ways—and contributed to the mess that you’ve often made of your life. And even now—even now for many of you—you’re suffering. You’re hurting. You’re scared. You’re worried. That’s only natural. The apostle Peter says, “Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour.”[3] And maybe that “lion” hasn’t devoured you yet, but, man, you can hear his roar, and you can hear him breathing down your neck, and you can hear him hissing and growling at you—and you’re afraid!

If this describes you right now, I want you to say something like what Joseph said to his brothers: “As for you, Satan, you meant evil against me… But what you meant for evil, God meant for my good. And God is using this—even this bad thing—for my good. God is transforming this, even this bad thing, for my good. Satan, there’s nothing that you’ve done to me in my past that is going to prevent God from fulfilling his purpose for me in the present. And, Satan, there’s nothing happening to me right now in the present that will prevent God from fulfilling his purpose for me in the future.” You say something like that to the devil! Because it’s true!

And, brothers and sisters, I’m not making light of the bad stuff that you might be going through right now. I promise… Please don’t misunderstand. 

But I am saying, with the full confidence of the Word of God, that if you’re suffering right now, if you’re hurting right now, if you’re struggling right now, and you are a child of the Father, it’s only preparation. It’s only preparation… for something better that God has in store for you. As Australian evangelist Christine Caine puts it, “God is preparing you for what he’s prepared for you.” God is preparing you for what he’s prepared for you.

And when you find out what it is that God has prepared for you—as Esther does when she finally answers God’s call for herself in today’s scripture—you’ll be able to say, “It all makes sense now. This is what all that was for!” But in the meantime God is preparing you for what he’s prepared for you.

Say that to your neighbor: God is preparing you for what he’s prepared for you!

If you read the rest of the Book of Esther, which isn’t long, you’ll see that Esther is successful in saving her people—that God is successful through her, using her. How does this happen? Well, for the first time in the story, Esther identifies with her people. She had kept her Jewishness hidden before, but no longer: She sets aside all the great privileges, all the power, all the wealth, all the safety, all the beauty, all the glory that comes from being royalty—from living in the palace—in order to become one with her people, to become one of her people—a people who, apart from her intervention, are headed for destruction. She does so at the risk of her life. And because she is royalty, only she is in a position to put herself in between the king and her people in order to save them.[4]

Does this sound familiar?

Jesus Christ, the Son of God, lived in the ultimate palace; he had the ultimate privilege, power, wealth, safety, beauty, and glory. Yet he set aside his place in the ultimate palace with his heavenly Father to become one with us—to become fully human—in order to save us from the destruction that we deserved because of our sin. But because he was also God, only he could save us. And he didn’t merely risk his life to save us, he sacrificed it: He lived the life of perfect, sinless obedience to the Father that we were unable to live; and he died the God-forsaken death that we deserved to die on account of our sins. Indeed, on the cross he suffered hell itself in our place—so that through faith in him we wouldn’t have to.

[Invitation]

1. Romans 8:28 NLT

2. Genesis 50:20 ESV

3. 1 Peter 5:8 ESV

4. This analogy comes from Timothy Keller and his sermon, “If I Perish, I Perish.” gospelinlife.com. Accessed 18 August 2019.

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