Story, Wk. 20 02/26/17—Highland—Meute
“The Queen of Beauty and Courage”
The Story, Chapter 20
Esther 4: 10-17; John 16: 31-33
Pearl: God’s faithful working out of his “Upper Story” behind the scenes at all times to overlay the “Lower Stories” of our lives.
Function: To move worshippers to respond to the opportunities that God brings into our lives because his purposes are being accomplished with or without us; don’t miss the opportunity to participate.
The Book of Esther almost did not make the cut to be a part of the Bible. It is the only book of the Bible where the word “God” does not appear. Nonetheless, while God is in a sense hidden, we will see that God’s influence is a very large force and presence through this dramatic story!
This week’s chapter of The Story is about a woman and her service for God on behalf of his people when they were in danger once again of a genocidal plot against them. It is certainly a timely story for us today as in the last few weeks threats against Jewish synagogues and Mosques are increasing. This heroic woman of the Bible was Esther (Hadassah).
1. Last week we heard about the contingent of 50,000 of God’s people who returned to Jerusalem to resettle in their homeland. Most of God’s people remained in exile. We will return to Jerusalem next week but today we learn about what happened to God’s people in the ancient Persian city of Susa.
2. The book of Esther contains this compelling story.
a. King Xerxes I was in power. He was known for his great wealth, splendor, and power. Yet when he summoned his beautiful Queen Vashti to come to be seen by his guests toward the end of a lengthy feast, she refused. We see that his power and influence did not extend to his own Queen. For her failure to respond to him as he wished she was deposed from her position and a search began for a new queen.
b. Beautiful young women were summoned from every corner of the kingdom to be considered for this Royal Position.
c. A Jew named Mordecai was raising a beautiful young woman who was his cousin. Her name was Esther (Hebrew name Hadassah). Mordecai brought young Esther to be among the candidates in this ancient beauty contest.
d. Each young lady, beautiful in their own right, became a part of a large group of young women (sort of like an ancient version of the TV show “The Bachelor”). They were immediately immersed in a year-long process of beauty treatments. Six months in “oil of myrrh” followed by six more months of perfumes and other cosmetics for women.
e. Young Esther won the contest! This young Jewish girl became the Queen of Persia! Yet her identity as a Jew was hidden.
f. Every day her faithful care-taker Mordecai kept a close eye on her as he spent time at the gate of the palace. One day he heard two eunuchs who worked for King Xerxes planning an attack upon his royal highness so Mordecai informed Esther so that she could warn the King. These two eunuchs were put to death for their crime. Mordecai’s good deed was recorded in the King’s logbook.
g. The next highest man in the kingdom was Haman. He was descended from the Agagites who were the first people that the Israelites encountered as they entered into their Promised Land. So there was a natural, long-standing enmity between Jews and Agagites. All in the kingdom were to bow in homage to Haman when he came around. Mordecai refused to bow to Haman. Because Mordecai refused to bow to Haman he hated Mordecai as a result. Rather than simply punish Mordecai Haman decided to wage genocide against all of the Jewish people.
h. Once Mordecai learned of Haman’s genocidal plans he put on sackcloth and ashes and set about weeping and wailing through the streets of Susa.
i. When Esther learned of Mordecai’s demonstration, she sought word of what the problem was. He told her of Haman’s diabolical plans to destroy God’s people which would include her (although Haman did not know of Esther’s ethnicity).
i. Mordecai counseled Esther that she had to go to the King to request mercy for her people. This would be dangerous because no one was permitted to go to the King unless summoned at possible penalty of death. Mordecai told her: Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this. Mordecai believed that God was at work behind the scenes of Esther’s rise to this strategic place in order to provide for His people.
j. Esther agreed to Mordecai’s mission by accepting the task but she insisted on something at the same time: Esther said…Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will also fast as you do. After that I will go to the King, though it is against the law; and if I perish, I perish (Esther 4: 14-16). Fasting would have included praying along with it.
k. Esther appeared before the King, uninvited ( King Xerxes had a Queen that would not come when he requested and now a new one who appeared when he didn’t request), and he gladly accepted her into his presence. (There is something to be said for a year’s worth of spa treatments, eh?)
l. King Xerxes invited her to make a request of him and that he would give her up to half of his kingdom, he loved her so much.
m. She asked that he and Haman come to a feast that she would prepare and then she would make her request.
n. In the meantime Haman constructed a tall pole on his own property on which he hoped to have Mordecai impaled. He also planned a date by the roll of the dice to determine the day to kill the Jews—March 13 would be the day.
o. King Xerxes had a sleepless night and so he had his logbook brought to him so that it could be read. In the reading he came upon the saving act of Mordecai on his behalf and he asked if anything was done to honor Mordecai. Nothing had been done.
p. The next day the King asked Haman what he thought should be done to honor a man for distinguished service to the King. Thinking that the King was speaking of him he suggested that royal robes already worn by the King be put on him and that he be put on a horse already ridden by the King and paraded through the streets shouting constantly, “Thus shall be done for those who King Xerxes delights to honor!”
i. The King liked Haman’s idea and so, get this; he ordered Haman to go and personally carry out this plan…for…MORDECAI!
ii. Haman carried out his King’s orders and then returned home in despair and fear at the horrible turning tide of events.
q. As he lamented to his wife and family royal eunuchs came to whisk him away to the banquet that Queen Esther had prepared.
r. At the banquet the King asked again for Esther to make her request “up to half his kingdom.” She then told him of someone’s evil plan to kill Mordecai and to exterminate the Jewish people, her people, on a date already determined. The King demanded to know who this evil mastermind was and she proclaimed: Haman, the Agagite.
s. Haman was impaled upon the very pole he had constructed for Mordecai’s execution. King Xerxes then put Mordecai in the very office formerly occupied by Haman. Queen Esther then appealed for a new edict to be written to preserve her Jewish people from destruction. And it was done.
So goes the tale of Esther and her providential rise to power in order to save God’s people from extinction. Perhaps the most memorable part of Esther’s mission of mercy for the Israelites was in the words of Mordecai: Who knows? Perhaps you have come to royal dignity for just such a time as this.
1. In response to this great challenge of Mordecai, Esther stepped up to the plate and acted when an opportunity was presented to her.
2. “For such a time as this” Esther asked for concerted fasting and prayer.
3. And then she allowed her “lower story” to align with what she and cousin Mordecai believed to be God’s “upper story.”
While God was not actually named in the entire book of Esther, his presence is very much a reality. The unseen God, and sometimes the unnamed God, is present, alive, and well even so.
1. The biblical story of Esther vividly illustrates the advancing and working out of God’s “Upper Story” in our “Lower Story.”
2. How else could God’s people survive with all of the adversity through history if not for God’s working out an “Upper Story?”
3. How else can God’s people, even all people survive today if not for the continuing advance of God’s kingdom through his “Upper Story?”
a. Esther-like people are needed more than ever!
b. Since we do not know the hour of Jesus’ return, the times are always ripe to partner with God in advancing his reign of love and justice, peace and harmony.
This Wednesday, we begin the season of Lent. Lent is a time for God’s people to “return home” to our first love and to our identity as God’s people partnering with God in his gospel mission.
1. Christ Jesus has come and will come again. The gospel of Jesus Christ continues to lay claim to the world.
2. We are all being called upon with an “Esther call” to recognize the difference each one of us can make. Mordecai advised Esther that if she did not act someone else would. God’s purpose would be advanced. But who knows if God has not brought you to “just such a time as this?” For God, now is always the time to act according to his Way. The eternal God makes the very most of every moment. Now is the time to act!
a. People live all around us who do not know that they are accepted and loved by the Lord of all.
b. God’s people can do something about that. We can take up our charge to be God’s front line ambassadors sharing the loving, gracious, embrace of God for all people.
c. We can answer the “Esther call” to advance Christ’s mission of mercy, welcome, acceptance, and love.
God is yet doing great and wondrous things…through you and through me.