Good morning and welcome to Journey Church. My name is Phil Human. I’m a pastor here and it’s a joy to welcome you and worship with you this morning.
Before we get into our message today I do want to mention that this evening at 5:30 we are holding a “newcomers” meal at our offices. And it’s a chance to meet our staff, and meet some other folks relatively newer to Journey. And we will share a little about our church and give you a chance to ask questions. And it’s not too late – if you are thinking about sticking around Journey, I’d love for you to come. This will be the last one we do until after summer. Just write it on your communication card.
This morning we are continuing our study on the book of Esther, which is in the Old Testament – meaning it was written before the birth of Jesus. The events described in this book occur around 475BC to a group of Jewish people living in Persia – present day Iran.
One of the joys of being human is the promise of change. We don’t have to stay the same. We don’t have to be the same person a year from now as we are today. And this morning we are going to read about Esther’s transformation. Specifically, we’ll see how crisis and a challenge from a loved one acted as catalysts that shook Esther up and forced her to change.
See, change doesn’t always happen. And sometimes when it does happen its incremental. Slow. We can barely notice that we are changing, for better or worse. But sometimes an event occurs that forces the issue. You can’t stay the same. You’ve got to change. But even then how you change – the trajectory of your transformation, where you are going to lane -is up to you. And this is the case with Esther as we will read today.
In case you haven’t been here – I’ll catch you up to speed.
In chapter one – we read about a huge party that the King of Persia – a man named Xerxes – throws in order to bolster support for his planned invasion of Greece. And towards the end of the party, Xerxes issues a drunken command: “Bring my wife brought in here to display her beauty before the boys.” Vashti refuses to be degraded and so Xerxes banishes her from his presence to save face. Which I think she was probably okay with.
In between chapters 1 and 2, we learn from history that Xerxes does in fact invade Greece and the Greeks hand it to him. SO he returns to his land with a depleted treasury, demoralized troops, and a degraded reputation.
In chapter 2 Xerxes decides to medicate himself by indulging in sensuality – by rounding up the most beautiful virgins in the land to add to his harem, sleeping with them in some kind of grotesque “search” for his next queen. Esther is a Jewish girl (although she keeps that info to herself) who gets wrapped up in this contest and lo and behold ‘wins’
Last week we read about Mordecai, Esther’s Uncle who raised her after her parents died, getting into this beef with Xerxes second in command, a man named Haman. Mordecai, prompted by contempt, refuses to bow in Haman’s presence. He doesn’t respect Haman and is enjoying sticking it to him whenever he goes by.
What Mordecai doesn’t understand, however, is that Haman is a straight up homicidal lunatic. And Haman – prompted by hatred for his ancient enemy – jewish people- sees this as an opportunity to manipulate the King into signing the death warrants for all Jews living in the Persian Empire by promising the King that it would result in 10,000 sacks of silver to replenish the treasury. And the King, prompted by greed, gives it the okay.
Now – although we didn’t read this last week – within the book is an interesting look inside the ancient practice of casting lots. Basically, Haman rolled dice to allow the god’s input into when this law would be enacted. And it’s an interesting concept – and in fact you still find it in play even among Jesus’ disciples. When Judas hangs himself, the other 11 disciples decide they should replace him and they cast lots to ask God’s help in choosing the right person.
Interesting idea. But no thanks. I don’t want to be rolling to dice when it comes to deciding what car to buy. Can you imagine rolling the dice whenever you make an important decision? I’m glad we don’t do that nowadays – although if I remember, some people suggested to Jody that she was rolling the dice when she married me.
Anyway – Haman casts lots for the date, and it turns out that there will be 11 months between the signing of the law and when it gets carried out. So there’s time. Haman sees it as time to prepare people for what’s ahead. It also turns out that it gives time for Mordecai and Esther to do some soul searching – and search for an answer.
Now you are officially caught up. We are in Chapter 4 – the transformation of a queen. In chapter 1,2,3 we see Esther being this timid, unsure girl. Mordecai tells her what to do and she does it. The palace insider tells her what to do and she does it. Xerxes tells her what to do and she does it.
In fact – it’s interesting to note that throughout history commentators and scholars find little about Esther they find admirable.
People who are feminists prefer Vashti. She’s the one who stands up to the king and refuses to be demeaned, right? So feminists don’t like Esther – she seems too submissive. Where’s her backbone to stand up to these controlling men?
Religious conservatives throughout history look down on her because she is wishy washy about her faith. They want her to say to Xerxes – “How could I sin against God by sleeping with you, a Gentile barbarian out of wedlock!” I will not and if I perish I perish!
None of that. So up to this point Esther doesn’t seem to be any kind of hero.
But let’s remember. If you read the bible – it’s filled not with super humans, just regular humans. People like you and me. And Esther was caught up in affairs and she was doing the best with what she had. So – and we talked about this a few weeks ago – we neither elevate her nor judge her – we will just let Esther be Esther.
And now we will come to the place in the story where regular human being Esther, will be forced to make a decision. And we get to see Esther mature, and grow in courage and yes, godliness. We get to see her grow up, so to speak, and make a remarkable decision.
In fact – Esther is called Queen Esther 15 times by the author of this book – 14 of them occur after the events described here in Chapter 4.
So let’s look at this chapter to discover Esther’s keys to transformation. And hopefully we can pick up some pointers for ourselves along the way.
When Mordecai learned about all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on burlap and ashes, and went out into the city, crying with a loud and bitter wail.2 He went as far as the gate of the palace, for no one was allowed to enter the palace gate while wearing clothes of mourning. 3 And as news of the king’s decree reached all the provinces, there was great mourning among the Jews. They fasted, wept, and wailed, and many people lay in burlap and ashes.
Transformation always begins somewhere. It’s a process. And it has to start somewhere. For Esther – and even more-so for Mordecai – it begins with a crisis.
If Esther were teaching a class on transformation, she would remind us that Sometimes God uses crisis to kick-start transformation.
Can you imagine how sick to his stomach Mordecai became when he learns about Haman’s plan? Do you think Mordecai wished he could go back in time and do things differently? Don’t you think he would have bowed down and just let Haman have his moment rather than risk the lives of millions of people?
Has life ever slapped you in the face? One day things seem fine but then you get a phone call, or a test result, or a text, or a pink slip, – I mean – one day things are fine and then something happens and you know your life will never be the same?
What are we to make of these situations? I’d like to encourage us this morning to allow crisis to crowd us to the cross.
See Crisis have a way of making us assess our relationship with and to God. And crises will normally either crowd us closer to Jesus or, they have a way of eroding faith.
For sure they cause us to re-examine questions we thought we had already settled. Is God really there? Is he really good? Does he really care about me? Is he able? If he is good and able, then why this? Why now?
Crises move us. They rarely allow us to stay still. And I’d like to encourage you to make the call now – that when crisis comes you will be crowded to the cross.
For Mordecai – if we’re honest – it appears that Mordecai has virtually little faith. God had dropped off his radar. And for Mordecai – this crisis woke him up.
Maybe you are here today because of that crisis in your life. It woke you up and made you think – I forgot that I have a soul. I forgot about God.
Well I think we have to be honest and say that sometimes God has to get our attention. To snap us out of it? To remind us he even exists?
Now let me say this – you might be wondering, so then, did God plan this pain I’m going through? Is he the cause of it?
And I’d say – no God isn’t necessarily doing it, but he is using it. What man meant for evil, God can use for good. Even here – God didn’t cause Haman to be evil, Haman has that covered already. But God is able to work all things together for good.
So all that to say – You might be here today because of a health crisis in your life. You might be going through a marriage crisis. And the pain you are enduring is such that you aren’t ready to look at the bright side of your pain. You aren’t ready to see that God might use crisis to make us spiritually alive to Him. And so all I will say to you is that God is there with you, and He is faithful – he will not leave you, and that he is working behind what can be seen.
Crisis have a way of forcing the issue – of making us move. We can either move toward God or sometimes crisis cause us to question God and move away from him, but rarely do crisis leave us neutral.
And I think that whether it drives us to Him or from him is in large part, our call. For sure it drives Mordecai back toward God. Fasting, weeping, sackcloth and ashes – all of them spiritual exercises, even though the author is careful to not mention prayer.
And again – the author is using this as a literary device. He is purposely keeping God out of it, so to speak. But the reality is that God – even when he appears to be absent from this story, is all over the pages being written. He is working behind the scenes to bring all things together for good for those who love him. And you can trust him.
Thus far in the story we see Mordecai using this crisis as a catalyst of transformation.
Esther however – is at this point in the story unaware of the crisis. It’s not a crisis to her, at least not yet. And so for Esther, the impetus for transformation will be more than the crisis – Esther needs to be challenged.
Verses 4-12 explain how Esther learns of Haman’s plan. Mordecai tries to convince Esther to approach the King on behalf of the Jews and seek his help. But Esther tells him it isn’t that easy. For one thing, after five years of marriage, things seems to be cooling off between Esther and the king… She says that she hasn’t seen her husband in 30 days.
Furthermore – one doesn’t just walk into the presence of the King uninvited. Not this one at least. The penalty for anyone barging into the Kings presence uninvited is a swift death – unless the King shows mercy.
If Esther were sharing her story of how she was transformed, I think that she would say, sometimes God uses someone – often someone you love and respect – to challenge you about how you’re living. Sometimes we need to be challenged to change.
Mordecai is sensing that Esther is reluctant to act- she is fearful that it might cost her her life. One wonders if perhaps Esther isn’t also imagining that she would escape such persecution, after all, she’s kept her Jewish roots a secret from the King for five years now.
It’s hard to imagine that Esther might sit on her hands and watch innocent people die, but either way Mordecai wants Esther to wake up and smell the flowers. So he flat out challenges her to do something about the impending suffering of her people.
13 Mordecai sent this reply to Esther: “Don’t think for a moment that because you’re in the palace you will escape when all other Jews are killed. 14 If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will arise from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if perhaps you were made queen for just such a time as this?”
Have you ever had a friend willing to stick their finger in your chest a little bit? A friend willing to challenge you to reconsider the manner in which you are conducting yourself?
It’s unfortunate that we live in an age where it’s commonly believed that a friend would never challenge the way I am living my life. A friend has my back and would never question me. But – let’s be real – that’s not a friend. That’s called a lackey.
You don’t need lackey’s in your life. You need friends, not minions. And a friend is willing to say the hard thing.
A friend who is willing to talk about a difficult thing is an agent of transformation. Allow me to share one small way that I was challenged by my friend Art Warner.
Pastor Warner was my mentor in the first church I worked in after college. And one time Jody and I were sitting with the Warners for lunch and I was telling them a story and I was doing this, “So we go out to dinner and I order the chicken and she orders the shrimp… and she’s telling me about the kids. And she’s just really upset about something and she’s not eating the food.” It was something dumb like that, when Pastor Warner puts up his hand and says to me…
“Jody is sitting right next to you. Don’t ever call your wife ‘she’ when you are sitting with her. Her name is Jody. It’s dishonoring to speak as though Jody isn’t in the room.
And I remember laughing and going, “She doesn’t mind” – and I turned to Jody and Jody has tears in her eyes and I realized, dang! I just got sent to husband school by Pastor Warner. And that one word helped transform me into a better husband.
That’s a small thing, but it’s often small challenges, said in love, that are powerful agents of transformation. I my opinion is you deserve to have a friend who isn’t afraid to challenge you from time to time when you’re thinking is off.
Mordecai is sensing that Esther’s thinking is askew. He senses that perhaps she thinks she will escape this unharmed. So Mordecai challenges Esther on a big thing.
And he does so in two specific ways. He is going to remind her of what God has given her and he is going to ask if God hadn’t given her those things for a reason.
First he asks her to consider how she got to where she was in life and if it wasn’t in order to help in such a time as this. Whether or not she desired to be the queen – God has placed her in a position where she has clout.
Mordecai wants to know – how are you going to use your clout? Your connections? Your network? Your resources. How are you going to use them?
Are you going to use your clout to feather your own nest? Will you use your clout to serve yourself or to serve others? Which kind of human being are you going to be? And the deal is true for her as it is for us today.
IN some ways what Mordecai is asking her is this: You’ve been given the palace. Are you going to use the palace? Or are you going to be a prisoner of it?
Could not the same be said of us? If we are not willing to use the
resources/networks/connections – for the good of others: If we are unwilling to part with them, then aren’t we held prisoner by them?
Crisis’ and challenges are often agents of change in a life. Esther has both. And now comes the moment of truth. It’s Esther’s defining moment. It’s Esther’s defining choice.
Esther has to decide if she is going to run at the problem or away from it. She can either do something, or she can bury her head in the sand and hope she will still have a head to bury in the sand.
Transformation never occurs accidentally. No one accidentally became more godly. You have to make a choice. It requires intention.
Notice the way that Mordecai frames this. Without naming God, he certainly seems to be bringing him into the picture. Who knows that you haven’t achieved your position for such a time as this? That God has brought you into your station in life in order to use it as a way of serving Him and serving others.
But, Mordecai tells Esther, if you refuse to be part of this, then you can be sure that God will make another way. He will find someone else.
Mordecai brings up an interesting point. God invites us to work alongside him to accomplish his purposes in the world. He offers us the privilege to be part of what he is doing.
For instance – we talk about building health centers in Mali and feeding orphans in Haiti – and he invites us to be part of it. To experience the joy of being part of the solution to care for others.
Don’t think for a moment that if you were to stop giving to those orphans that they would go hungry. God will raise someone else up. Well fine then, I won’t give. Okay, and you will not receive the joy of being salt and light in the world.
God placed you where you work because he is working in the hearts and lives of everyone you work with – and he invites you to be part of it. You can refuse – But God will find another way to speak love and light into those people’s lives. The choice is yours.
But who will be missing out? You. You can make your job into a job or an adventure. A mission or misery. In many ways the choice is yours. God treats us with respect and dignity and allows us to make the call.
God invites us to choose to be part of what he is doing. He loves to include us. He loves to share the joy with us.
Esther chooses to be part of what God is up to. She’s in. And the result?
Almost immediately Esther begins to change. She is growing most obviously in her confidence. Listen to her – the one who used to take the order – listen to her now…
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I will go in to see the king. If I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.
So we see in the book of Esther the transformation of Esther from a doormat to a leader. From taking commands to issuing them. Her transformation is kickstarted by crisis combines with a challenge to do something about what you see. She chooses to be part of what God is doing and the result is confidence. After all, if God is with us – then what can stand against us?
Now we come to communion – and what are we celebrating? We celebrate a God who went through this process himself.
First – He saw the crisis we were is. We were like sheep without a shepherd. Sin had created a rift between us and God that needed to be dealt with.
He made a choice. He decided to pay the debt we could never pay on our own.
And the result is confidence. God becomes our father. Mordecai couldn’t come to the King – he needed a mediator. He needed Esther to mediate on behalf of a doomed people.
Jesus becomes our mediator between us and God. 1 Timothy 2:5 NLT
There is one God and one Mediator who can reconcile God and humanity—the man Christ Jesus. 6 He gave his life to purchase freedom for everyone.
When we celebrate communion, we are remembering that we serve a God who saw our distress and did something so that now, through faith in Jesus, we never walk alone.
The bread represents the body of Jesus, broken for us. The juice represents the blood of Jesus, poured out so that ours wouldn’t.
And if you want someone to pray for you – at any point during the last songs you can go and pray with our prayer partners in the back.