Esther 1

This morning we begin a brand new sermon series on an Old Testament book.  It’s one of only two books in the Bible named after a woman.  There’s Ruth, and then the book we begin today called Esther.

Esther is the story of how God saved the Jews from a genocidal maniac named Hamaan about 480 years before the birth of Christ.  And I am going to tell you the big idea of the book.  There is one overriding truth that this story hammers home to us.  And that is that God is always at work, in spite of appearances, he is always working.  God’s silence does not mean he is absent.  God is always working things together for the good of those who call him their God.

And as we read Esther we are going to find that the book is filled with human beings who make dubious decisions, questionable motives, unsure character…  it’s difficult to find a pure hero in his book in any particular character, including Esther.  And yet in spite of the flaws of it’s imperfect characters, God is able to work all things together for the good of those who love him.

One of the interesting and important aspects of the book of Esther to note is that God is never mentioned.  Not once.  Nowhere in the ten chapters is God mentioned.  No one prays.  No one talks about the temple or worship or sacrifices or Jerusalem.  There’s not even one tiny miracle!

Other than the fact that Esther is Jewish, there is nothing particularly Bible-y about it.  In fact, there are some places where it seems the writer has to work a little extra hard to avoid mentioning God.

Why?  Did the writer – and we don’t know exactly who wrote it, the author is not mentioned – but did the writer forget?  Oh my gosh!  I forgot God in the story?  Oh well, it’s going out that way.

No – instead we have to recognize that it’s a literary device.  See, throughout the Old Testament – whenever God shows up to rescue his people he shows up in spectacular fashion.  Here he is parting the red sea, and with pillars of fire.  Really obvious, no doubt.

Here in Esther we discover that even when God seems absent- he is in fact working in just as powerful a way as those times.  God is always at work, weaving things together for the good of those who call Him their God.

You ever feel like God is absent in your life?  Of course you do – we are dealing with a God who is invisible – we don’t get to see his face until after death and that can be tough at times.  We are only human.

And then to top it off we follow Jesus who tells us that in this world you will have trouble – but don’t lose heart – he has overcome the world.  You know the last words of Jesus to his followers in Matthew 28?  I will be with you always.

Isn’t that great.  Then you know what he did.  He left.  He went back to heaven.  I will be with you always but you will not be able to see that I am…

I mean, faith isn’t an easy thing.  Faith is thinking highly enough of God to trust him with your life.  And faith is the currency of the Kingdom of God.  It’s everything to God and always has been.  Trusting him to come through for us is everything to God.

Let me ask you this question?  Ever wonder if God is still there, even when we are not at our best?  Even when we forget he exists?  The story of Esther – you don’t find any of the characters even searching for God.  And yet, even then, we see the faithfulness of God.  He is working, always working.

No matter how badly you’ve screwed up you can’t write yourself out of God’s plan.  God is continually gracious to people who don’t ask for it and don’t deserve it.  He is working to bring all things together according to his purpose for those who love him, as imperfectly as that might be.

That’s the big idea of Esther and I’ll highlight this every time.   God is always at work, behind the seens.  (That’s why we called it behind the seens)

Now this morning, we are going to start by getting to know an important character in the book – he is named Xerxes.

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush:

Xerxes was the ruler of Persia – the dominant superpower in the world – he came to power in 481bc.  And it was quite a kingdom.  Stretching from India to Turkey, Persia ruled the Ancient Near East.

At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.

Xerxes was relatively new to power at this time in his reign – about 481bc.  And he is looking to make a name for himself.  He had inherited his kingdom from his father Darius.  And Xerxes was looking to make a name for himself by expanding the kingdom he had inherited – and he had some great plans for how – he was planning to go to war against the Greeks.  Those Greeks!  They were the nearest thing to another superpower and had been shown to be very difficult to conquer.

His father Darius failed to defeat them and Xerxes was looking to finish the job his dad couldn’t finish.  That’s what this banquet is all about.   He is going to wine and dine the governors and influencers and his military leaders – show off his might and his power to rally support for the upcoming war.  He’s rallying the troops, so to speak.

For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty.

This about sums up everything you need to know about Xerxes.  He’s about 30 years old here, he’s only been in power a couple of years, and so he feels the need to make sure everyone knows who’s the boss.

Xerxes is the King of the largest and richest and most powerful kingdom ever known. If you had all the power in the world, what would you do with it?  Xerxes plans a six month feast to display his glory and majesty.

Now verses 5-8 explain just how extravagant these bashes were…  including gold couches and hanging gardens and marble patios and wine – open bar – as much wine as you want, served in golden goblets.

Certainly, by the end of this 180 day feast to celebrate his own splendor and majesty. can Xerxes be anything other a god in the minds of those who lived in his Kingdom?

Alas!  Trouble is brewing!

Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes. 

So while the King is having his party, the queen is hosting her own.

See, here’s the deal.  Everyone has a kingdom.  You do.  I do.  We all have a place where what we say goes.  Where we influence people.  We all have our own little kingdoms.   Let me ask – do you have your own chair in the living room?  The kids sit on it and you say – that’s my throne!  I mean, Chair!    We’ll come back to it, but let’s see what happens when Kingdoms clash.

10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona,Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.

Drunk Xerxes sends these seven off to fetch his wife – presumably it took seven guys to carry the royal chair – off to get his queen – and it’s clear why – he wants to add her to the parade of his great things.  He wants to parade her around to his guests as if she is some kind of trophy.

Degrading – demeaning.  And Vashti is having none of it.  12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.

You gotta love the writer of Esther.  He just spent all this time elaborately building Xerxes up – the most powerful man in the world!  His kingdom knows no bounds.  He is seen as nothing less than a God – behold his splendor and majesty.  Bring me my wife.  And her response.  Blllllch.  Total rasberry.  The eunuchs come back empty handed.  “She ain’t coming.”  It’s humorous really, except of course Xerxes isn’t laughing.

Xerxes is of course humiliated.  He’s putting on this show because he needs his commanders to obey him in wartime, and here he is – can’t get his own wife to obey his drunken commands.

So what is he going to do?  Well, he’s going to hold a cabinet meeting, of course.  Ask advice on what to do with Vashti…  And I can’t help but think his advisors were like the three stooges.  They all run in bumping into each other.  And I’ll explain why in a second.

13 He immediately consulted with his wise advisers, who knew all the Persian laws and customs, for he always asked their advice.

16 Memucan answered the king and his nobles, “Queen Vashti has wronged not only the king but also every noble and citizen throughout your empire. 17 Women everywhere will begin to despise their husbands when they learn that Queen Vashti has refused to appear before the king.

19 “So if it please the king, we suggest that you issue a written decree, a law of the Persians and Medes that cannot be revoked. It should order that Queen Vashti be forever banished from the presence of King Xerxes, and that the king should choose another queen more worthy than she.

What do these ‘wise men’ suggest?  Instead of saying – why don’t you go talk to your wife and work it out alone.  No – they say, she has embarrassed you – what if this gets out to the empire?  So they assure it does by suggesting Xerxes sign this decree.

Secondly, the decree says Vashti may not appear before the King again. That’ll show her!   Which, if I’m not mistaking, is exactly what she wanted all along.  Fine with me.  I’m good.

Now let me try to bring this 2500 year old story up to date into our lives.  Esther chapter 1 illustrates two important New Testament truths.  And I have two things that stand out to me from this story. The first is an encouragement and the second is an exhortation.

First – the encouragement.  Romans 8:31  What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us?

The mighty Kingdom of Xerxes will – in just a few chapters – align all of it’s might against the Jewish people.  There will be a decree passed from none other than Xerxes – in all his splendor and glory and majesty – that will make it legal to kill Jewish people across his entire kingdom from India to Greece.

State sponsored genocide.  And – the mighty kingdom of Xerxes has no chance.  The Persians don’t have a chance of succeeding.  Because if God is for you then nothing can stand against you.

I mean, look at what God is already doing in this story.  Long before that edict is uttered to destroy the Jews, God is already at work to thwart it.  I mean, if not for a drunken king issuing a degrading command that his wife come and put on a show for the boys – then Vashti doesn’t need to refuse and embarrass the king.  And if the King isn’t embarrassed than there is no search for a new queen.  And if no search, then Esther never becomes queen.  And if Esther doesn’t become the queen, then all the jews die.

God is already working to thwart what is yet to happen on our timeline.  He sees our days before one of them has come to be.  That’s how powerful our God is.  Xerxes, tell me again about your splendor?

God’s using you and your doofus wisemen to put the pieces into place that God will use to save the nation.

If God is for us, then who can be against us?

Listen – I don’t know what’s going on in your life today.  I don’t know who, if anyone is against you right now.  I don’t know what, if anything, is against you right now.  But Esther is a story about God working all things together for the good of those who love him.

Truly – if the Lord is my shepherd – I fear nothing.  I fear no one.  Whatever the kingdoms, small k, conspire against me will fail because My king?  He truly is glorious.  He truly is majestic.  The splendor of my King makes all other kings and kingdoms look feeble and wheezy in comparison.

Did you know that the book of Esther is read each year in Jewish synagogues?  That at the beginning of the feast of Purim, they read this book to remind themselves that If God is for them, and he is, then nothing can stand that aligns itself against them.

Maybe in our faith tradition we need to start including the feast of Purim.  Celebrating the reality that if God is for us then nothing will be able to stand against us.  If I started a feast I think I’d read Esther and then maybe also Romans 8.  Can I read this portion to you this morning?

31 What shall we say about such wonderful things as these? If God is for us, who can ever be against us? 

32 Since he did not spare even his own Son but gave him up for us all, won’t he also give us everything else? 33 Who dares accuse us whom God has chosen for his own? No one—for God himself has given us right standing with himself. 34 Who then will condemn us? No one—for Christ Jesus died for us and was raised to life for us, and he is sitting in the place of honor at God’s right hand, pleading for us.

35 Can anything ever separate us from Christ’s love? Does it mean he no longer loves us if we have trouble or calamity, (Listen – does that describe you today?  Are you having trouble?  Does it mean that God doesn’t love you?  Of course not.  Be encouraged that God is already at work behind the seens on your behalf.)

or are persecuted, or hungry, or destitute, or in danger, or threatened with death? 

 37 No, despite all these things, overwhelming victory is ours through Christ, who loved us.

38 And I am convinced that nothing can ever separate us from God’s love. Neither death nor life, neither angels nor demons, neither our fears for today nor our worries about tomorrow—not even the powers of hell can separate us from God’s love. 39 No power in the sky above or in the earth below—indeed, nothing in all creation will ever be able to separate us from the love of God that is revealed in Christ Jesus our Lord.

I don’t know what forces you feel are coming against you.  I just want to encourage you to let Esther be a source of encouragement to you.  Go read it today.  Have your own feast of Purim.  You feast because you’re happy.  It’s a celebration that God has your back.

So there’s the encouragement.  Now let me exhort you.  And the Exhortation comes from Jesus, when he taught his disciples to pray.  And he said pray this.  Thy Kingdom come. Thy will be done.  Which will it be?  Thy Kingdom, or My Kingdom?

And by teaching this, Jesus teaches that ultimately, there are only two options when it comes to Kingdoms.  My Kingdom or Thy kingdom.

The Kingdom of Heaven – where God reigns and governs, or the kingdom of self.

We live in a world that teaches us that the only kingdom that matters is “”my kingdom.”  Right?  We hear that only the strong survive.  Look out for number one.  Who’s number one in that statement?  It’s never the poor.  It’s never God.  It’s me!  My kingdom.  Where if it’s to be it’s up to me!

Jesus shows up and teaches that there is good news –  there’s an alternative.  There is a Kingdom ruled by the Prince of Peace.  And it is now accepting whosoever wishes to be governed by a loving King.

It requires we lay down our crown at his feet.  That we humbly accept his governance of our life.  But it’s worth it!  Because He is a king like no other.

Wow!  What a difference in Kings.  Xerxes was a king who took life –  signing death warrants for entire groups of people.  As opposed to Jesus who laid down his life for his people.  Have you ever heard of a King like this?

Xerxes conquered countries through violence and fear, Jesus invites us to be part of a journey with him.  And not at the tip of a spear – the only spear involved was the one that pierced his own side.

Xerxes conquered and enslaved people- Jesus came to set us free – to bring Good News to the poor, to set the captives free.

Want to know why it’s safe to pray for Thy Kingdom to come?  Because that’s the kind of king we serve.

What fear is there of surrendering my kingdom to the One True King who loves me enough to take a cross for me?

Do you want to be part of the one true Kingdom?  The Kingdom of Jesus?  Good news – the place is filled with former despots and petty tyrants.  People who once ruled their tiny kingdom with an iron fist!

He welcomes us and assures us that we will be treated with dignity and respect and that we will love it in His kingdom.

And so simply pray, Lord Jesus – I trust you with my kingdom.  Incorporate my kingdom into yours.  Annex me, Lord.  Fold me into the greater one.  And I can do so with utmost confidence that He loves me enough to fend for me and tend to me.

Xerxes was an example of “My Kingdom” – the kingdom of self.  And notice what happens here in this first chapter?

This chapter begins with elaborate description of the greatest “my kingdom” on earth throwing the greatest party on earth to celebrate the supposed splendor, glory and majesty of their King.

How does it end?  And it ends in humiliation and embarrassment. The emperor has no clothes.  His 180 day parade about himself ends not with a coronation but a realization that he isn’t even the kind of person who garners the respect of his wife.

Now listen I’ll close with as close as I come to an in your face kind of statement.  Some of you are living as if you are Xerxes – you are working to expand your kingdom and you are doing it just slightly more subtle ways – you are trying your best to conquer and control those you feel are subjects to your greatness.

You are putting on quite a show to try to impress those in your kingdom puffing yourself up in an effort to maintain control, manipulating other to strengthen your kingdom – conniving to, lying scheming, posturing – call it what you will – in an effort to get others to do what you desire.

And I’m telling you what I think deep down you already know.  You parade is not going to end with a coronation – but in humiliation.

It doesn’t have to be this way.   And really that’s your choice.  In the end it’s humility or be humiliation.

The final exhortation here as I pray – be the kind of person who prays Thy Kingdom come.  Thy will be done.

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