Good morning and welcome to Journey. My name is Phil and I’m a pastor here at the church and it’s my pleasure to worship with you today. I’d especially like to welcome anyone here visiting for the first time. We are very glad you are here. And I admire you for coming to church. It takes courage to come into a place for the first time. You never know what you are getting yourself into, right?
Well the deal is that here at Journey we try our best to make it easy to discover what God is really like. There are plenty ideas out there about what God is like, but we like to say that Jesus knows better than any of us and so we should let him tell us what God is like. And what we find is a God who is loving and kind – a God who likes us and cares about us greatly.
I grew up mostly thinking God was perpetually annoyed with me. That I was never measuring up to whatever standards he had for me. And so – I’ll tell you – if that’s your view of God – why would you come to church. Who wants that God. Come with me – you too can feel that you’re a real disappointment to God.
So half the battle to discovering what God is really like is a willingness to say to yourself – perhaps I’ve gotten Him wrong. And a willingness to be open to allowing our image of God to be reshaped by Jesus.
This morning we are going to discover something about God but you’ve got to hang in there until the end. We have a little traveling this morning before we reach our destination but it’s worth it.
This morning we are in week three of a study on the book of Esther. Esther is a book found in the Old Testament – meaning that the events it describes happened before the birth of Jesus. Everything from the time Jesus was born and afterward will be found in the New Testament.
This book of Esther is close to being one of the last books written in the Old Testament. It describes events in the lives of certain Jewish people who at the time where living in the Persian kingdom (What today we’d call Iran) in about 475bc.
The first chapter of Esther opens with a huge party thrown by King Xerxes – to rally the troops to go to war against Greece. He throws a party that is 180 days long at at the end of it he summons his queen to parade her beauty before the troops – and she is having nothing to do with it. So it ends with Xerxes being embarrassed – he is trying to flex his mighty power before is army, and in front of all of them he is shown to not even be able to impress his own wife. He banishes her from his presence.
Chapter 2 is the first version of the bachelorette. Xerxes takes it upon himself to herd the most beautiful women of his kingdom into his harem and sleeps with woman after woman until he finds one he feels is worthy of becoming his queen.
Esther is one of these woman. She is a Jewish girl, though she keeps that part of her identity a secret. She ‘wins’ this disgusting abuse of power and her prize is that she gets to marry this disgusting brutal murderous human being.
We pick it up here at the last paragraph of chapter 2. And this is what we are going to do today. This morning we are going to look at various characters in the story and watch them as they make decisions.
I heard it once said that your decisions determine your destiny. And I think that’s a pretty powerful axiom and worth thinking about. Your decisions determine your destiny. And I want to look at the decisions these characters make -and try to discern what motivated their decisions. And then we will see how their decisions turn out for them.
The first characters are a couple of eunuchs. 21 One day as Mordecai (We learned in the previous chapters that Mordecai is Queen Esther’s Uncle – but he raised her as a daughter because her parents died when she was young)- was on duty at the king’s gate, two of the king’s eunuchs, Bigthana and Teresh—who were guards at the door of the king’s private quarters—became angry at King Xerxes and plotted to assassinate him.
Decisions determine destiny. These two men plotted – decided – to assassinate the King. What motivated them? May I point out to you the word – “Eunuchs”. King Xerxes – history records for us – was not only cruel to the women he stole for his harem, he was cruel to hundreds of boys who were forcibly castrated to assure himself that none of these attendants would be able to engage in sexual activity with the Kings concubines.
I think it’s not difficult to wonder why two men, castrated by force of the king, might decide to exact their revenge. These two men were motivated by revenge to plot a murder.
22 But Mordecai heard about the plot and gave the information to Queen Esther. She then told the king about it and gave Mordecai credit for the report. 23 When an investigation was made and Mordecai’s story was found to be true, the two men were impaled on a sharpened pole.
Now there is some debate here about whether these men were impaled or in fact crucified. The Persians invented crucifixion – later perfected by the Romans. The Persians killed people in every way imaginable – but without question they were hung up on a pole.
So the first decision we see today is the decision of these eunuchs to assassinate the King – Motivated by revenge – determined their fate – which was a gruesome death.
Now onto chapter 3.
3 Some time later King Xerxes promoted Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite over all the other nobles, making him the most powerful official in the empire. 2 All the king’s officials would bow down before Haman to show him respect whenever he passed by, for so the king had commanded.
Enter the villain of the book of Esther – Haman. King Xerxes had ‘wise counselors’ around him – and these seven men were allowed to enter the Kings presence without being summoned. They were the highest officials in the land. And Haman is promoted to the highest of the seven.
He’s perhaps the second most powerful man in the kingdom? Powerful, but note that it’s easy to tell that he’s not widely respected.
Why do I say that? Notice that the only reason that people pay him respect? IS because the King ordered it. He has not earned the respect of the people. It’s commanded. But it’s not a big deal. Culturally they would have been completely used to this kind of thing. Like a curtsy in England if the Royal family shows up – or a salute in the military for someone with a higher rank. It’s just something you do. You respect the rank even if you don’t respect the person.
Well, Mordecai is, for some reason, completely obstinate about this.
But Mordecai refused to bow down or show him respect.
3 Then the palace officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command?” 4 They spoke to him day after day, but still he refused to comply with the order. So they spoke to Haman about this to see if he would tolerate Mordecai’s conduct, since Mordecai had told them he was a Jew.
So here’s Mordecai and for some reason – he refuses to show any respect to Haman whatsoever. It’s weird that all of a sudden he gets all worked up about this little thing.
Because he wasn’t drawing a line about the king taking his daughter into his bedroom. He isn’t drawing the line with Esther about eating non-Jewish foods – or sleeping with Gentile murderers outside of wedlock, no less! But a simple gesture of respect? Never! What gives?
I think we find a hint in the way the author introduces us to Haman. Haman the Agagite. Well, what is an Agagite? Strictly speaking, Agag was a King of the Amalekites during Saul’s reign. Haman was an Amalekite. Ahhh. So what?
Well, the Amalekites are officially, the oldest enemies of the nation of Israel. The Amalekites were the first people ever to try to wipe out the nation of Israel – all the way back in Exodus 17.
If you’ve read through the first few books of the Bible you might remember a story about the Israelites fighting and there’s Moses holding up his arms – and when he had his arms up the Israelites were winning, and when he dropped his arms the Amalekites were winning.
Fast forward – here in Persia – not only was Mordecai never rewarded for saving King Xerxes life – but Xerxes promotes his archenemy?
Your decisions determine your destiny. Mordecai – filled with contempt for Haman – makes a decision to make a public display of disrespect toward this Amalekite. A Jew – bowing before an Amalekite? Never! The Result – we will soon read – will be more devastating than Mordecai could have ever imagined. A death sentence to all the Jews in the Kingdom
Contempt is a dangerous thing. It leads one to rob another of dignity and worth. Contempt skewers our perception of another and makes them less than human.
Contempt, anger, rage, they easily intermingle and cause untold harm. Contempt causes Mordecai to put his own life at risk rather than cede the point to his bitter foe.
What Mordecai doesn’t realize is that contempt always breeds more contempt. His small action of contempt will lead Haman to a ridiculous level of contempt. Once he learns that Mordecai is Jewish.
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai would not bow down or show him respect, he was filled with rage. 6 He had learned of Mordecai’s nationality, so he decided it was not enough to lay hands on Mordecai alone. Instead, he looked for a way to destroy all the Jews throughout the entire empire of Xerxes.
Haman thinks to himself – you picked a fight with the wrong Amalekite, Mordecai. Don’t you realize who I am?
It’s amazing really – that here’s a guy who is the second most powerful man in the land -he has everything. And yet – it’s not enough. One guy – on the side of the road – insults my greatness. And totally sets him off – makes him crazy with rage.
He has the power to kill. But he isn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. He thinks – I will finish the job my ancestors started! I will completely wipe these Jews off the face of the earth.
And you know, there may have been a point in the world when one might have read that and thought, yea, right. Who would be delusional enough and wicked enough to hatch a plan to wipe an entire people group off the face of the earth? But we don’t think that, do we?
In our own age we’ve seen Hitler attempt the same thing. We’ve seen this exact thing play out in Rwanda in the 90’s. Bosnia. Sudan, Somalia, Last year – The government of MyanMar was charged with massacres muslims.
It is really sad to see this story played out virtually non-stop. One group of people filled with contempt for another group – willing to kill without even feeling like they are killing human beings.
If one were to try to measure the depth of wickedness that lies within the human heart, how deep would it go? Would we ever hit bottom?
But that said, who would you kill if you had the power to get away with it?
Decisions determine destiny. Here Haman, motivated by pride? hatred? decides to take it upon himself to slaughter an entire race of people. We will see in later chapters that this decision will come back on him and will lead to his own death.
Haman of course, needs to get the king to sign off on this plan. How will Haman convince the king? By appealing to his greed.
8 Then Haman approached King Xerxes and said, “There is a certain race of people scattered through all the provinces of your empire who keep themselves separate from everyone else. Their laws are different from those of any other people, and they refuse to obey the laws of the king. So it is not in the king’s interest to let them live.9 If it please the king, issue a decree that they be destroyed, and I will give 10,000 large sacks of silver to the government administrators to be deposited in the royal treasury.”
Haman is rather selective in his information isn’t he? He says there is a ‘race of people’ he neglected to tell Xerxes that the race was one person. And he neglected to tell the king that the law they are neglecting was one in particular – that they should bow and pay Haman respect.
But Haman knows how to manipulate the king. He knows what will get the Kings attention. 10,000 sacks of Silver?
10 The king agreed…“The money and the people are both yours to do with as you see fit.”
So long as that money ends up in the Royal Treasury! At this point, Xerxes treasury has been depleted because of his disastrous war with Greece. And so, motivated by greed, and being lazy and uninterested, he shrugs his shoulder and okays the extermination of the Jews.
What started as one guy showing contempt for another, has now escalated. Mordecai thought he might be putting himself at risk by showing such disdain toward the Amalekite- he never imagined that his scorn would lead to the most powerful nation in the world going to war against his people.
15 At the king’s command, the decree went out by swift messengers, and it was also proclaimed in the fortress of Susa. Then the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa fell into confusion.
The King and Haman – like two business men after closing a deal – can I buy you a drink? Well, for ten thousand sacks of silver – you buy! HARDY HAR HAR! Back Slap! How does the kings decision play out in the land?
People are confused. These Jews are our neighbors. Our kids play together. What in the world is going on? And the result of the kings sinful greedy decision is that his own power over the people is further degraded. It is not playing well in Peoria.
How far Xerxes has fallen since his introduction in chapter 1 – when the one who called himself King of Kings and Lord and Lords put on a 180 day celebration of his majesty and splendor and glory.
Since then his wife embarrasses him. He loses a war. His eunuchs plot his death. He decrees the death of innocent people in his kingdom. And people are beginning to grumble.
Sin has a disintegrating effect on all of us really. The real you will eventually make it’s way front and center. And when the real you is as evil, and as easily manipulated like Xerxes, you can be sure it will not end well.
And in fact in 465bc – the commander of the royal bodyguards – one of the most trusted advisors Xerxes had – who saw Xerxes for who he really was, assassinates him with the help of a eunuch. The eunuchs get their revenge.
Decisions determine destiny. Xerxes decision to approve Haman’s plan – motivated by greed, will eventually contribute to his own death.
Quite a list. virtually sums up humanity, doesn’t it. People motivated by revenge, pride, rage, greed, contempt – plotting destruction, death, pain.
Pride, rage, contempt, scorn, anger, greed, corruption. How many articles in the headlines of the news this week will be about people in power – motivated by revenge, pride, anger, rage – how much destruction will be unleashed in our own city this week by greed, anger, rage, contempt…
Who will free us from this life that is dominated by sin and death?
Ahh! There is yet another character hidden in the pages of this story. There is a hero – hidden in plain sight.
See, we’ve been talking these past three weeks about how Esther is the only book in the bible where God is not mentioned anywhere in the book.
And yet, the hero of the book is God himself, who is behind the scenes – or as we’ve put it – behind what can be seen. He is working all the time. Hidden in plain sight.
Let me show you where the author cleverly alludes to God without mentioning him. He shows up in chapter 3:12 We skipped over the part where the details of Haman’s plot are written – but check out verse 12. 12 So on April 17[d] the king’s secretaries were summoned, and a decree was written exactly as Haman dictated.
What a weirdly specific detail. Why so specific? Well see that footnote? Here’s the deal -the translators of Esther decided to do everyone a favor by translating the Hebrew calendar into our calendar. They went back in time and looked up the date and said, oh, that would be equivalent to April 17. The Hebrews didn’t use April, right? In fact they used a lunar calendar – and so – why such a specific detail?
Here’s why. It doesn’t say April 17, 474bc. In Hebrew it says, On the thirteenth day of the first month. What does that mean to you? Unless you are Jewish it means nothing. But – if you are Jewish – you would know that it’s the eve of Passover.
Check out Leviticus 23:5 5 “The Lord’s Passover begins at sundown on the fourteenth day of the first month.
What is passover? It’s the celebration of God rescuing the Israelites from slavery in Egypt. In exodus, we read that after nine increasingly severe plagues, Pharoah still refused to allow the Israelites, whom had been enslaved, to leave his country. So God plays one final judgment – where he unleashes the angel of death on the land and the firstborn son of every family would be taken from them.
However, the Israelites were instructed to take a lamb, spotless to signify innocence, and to slay the lamb for the sins of the people. The blood of the lamb placed over the doors would signal the angel to passover this home.
And so the idea of a lamb, dying so that others might live, becomes part of Israel’s religious system. And year after year, a lamb was slain in memory of God’s protection over his people as the Jews celebrate Passover.
And year after year, for century after century, lambs were slain, at passover and in the temple – until one day everything changed – when John the Baptist looks across the Jordan river and says – behold the lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world.
Decisions determine destiny. And the decision I want to highlight now is Jesus’ decision to lay down his life as the Lamb of God, motivated by his love for us, in order to provide forgiveness for us and make it possible for us to enter into the Kingdom of heaven right now. The result? Life!
The eunuchs, Mordecai, Haman and Xerxes – all of them were plotting death, destruction, hatred, scorn, strife. Motivated by what? Pride, jealousy, hatred, greed, corruption.
The story of Esther so far is the story of humanity. How much of humanity has been scarred by greed, corruption, anger, rage, contempt, hatred, bitterness, revenge.
This is the story is humanity. No wonder the Bible calls this world a kingdom of darkness. How much of your world has been scarred by people’s decisions motivated by selfishness, greed, jealousy, pride, scorn, contempt.
How much of your world has been shaped by these things. How much have you contributed to those things in this sorry sad world?
Into all of this mess, steps the Hero. Jesus. The lamb of the God. Who willingly lays down his life in order to give whosoever desires, forgiveness and a fresh start in life.
What was He motivated by? Jesus is motivated by Love. For God so loved the world that he sent his only son, that whosoever believes in him will not perish. But have instead an eternal life, an eternal kind of life.
Xerxes is the kind of king who routinely hung people on crosses to demonstrate his power. Jesus is the kind of King who puts himself on a cross to demonstrate his love.
Decisions determine destiny. Jesus’ decision, motivated by love, was to be our substitute, so that we might be able to become new kinds of human beings.
But here’s where the last decision comes in. Decisions determine destiny. And the last decision is yours. God treats you with dignity and respect and offers – not decrees but an invitation. He invites us to humble ourselves – to admit we need forgiveness and a fresh start.
Some are sitting on the fence – and you are welcome to stay there – especially if you are in the phase of your spiritual journey where you aren’t sure you are buying this stuff yet. No rush. You have legitimate obstacles to faith. We get that and we respect you for investigating.
But when you are ready to get off the fence – the greatest decision you will ever make is to plant both feet in the Kingdom of God. the right now, today kingdom, the place where God become a partner with us in life. And together we begin to look at others differently and love others differently and become transformed from the inside out.
And you can make that decision right now, as I close in prayer – if you’re ready. Your decision will determine your destiny. And when you think highly enough of Jesus to trust him with your life, then you are destined for an abundant and confident life in a kingdom where God himself promises to protect and provide for you all the days of your life.