Esther 4 | Defining Moments
Esther 4 | Defining Moments
May 19, 2024 |
Sunday Morning
Esther 4 | Defining Moments
John C. Majors |
Esther 4
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Well, good morning, Valley View. Great to be with you today. I love seeing all these high school seniors graduating up on stage. And I just want to encourage you pick one of them and pray for them for this coming year. Pray for them at least once a week for the coming year. I’ll put their names. I’ll list them out in the midweek update. If you don’t get that, that’s an email we send out every Wednesday and you can fill out one of those connection cards. Just add your email address, you’ll get that. But choose one of those graduating seniors to pray for this year because I don’t know about you, but many have found that first year after high school to be a struggle, and it’s an important year. So much of the direction of life is not determined, but there are a lot of big decisions being made. So would you just pick one of those young folks who were up here and pray for them every day or every week for the coming year, maybe even write them a note occasionally and let them know you’re praying for them. I think it’ll mean a lot to them, and ultimately it’ll mean a lot to the health of our church. Because these these folks are the the new families in the church in the coming years. Who knows, maybe we can pair up a few of them today even. We can take care of that right now. Get them into pre-marriage counseling. They didn’t sign up for that. I know, but listen. Today we are continuing our series in the study of Esther, and last week Colby set us up with chapter three of Esther, and we’re moving into chapter four this week. So if you want to go ahead and turn in your Bibles on page 384, if you have a church Bible, one of the things we’re going to see in this chapter today is we’re going to see a defining moment for Esther. You know, a lot of people are remembered for their defining moments, this moment in time where they’re called to step up in the midst of great challenges. I think in our generation or era, someone that comes to mind is Winston Churchill. He was prime minister of World War Two, and he was known for really calling the whole nation to stand firm against the Germans, against the onslaught. And he probably is best known in his defining moment for a defining speech that was given in June of 1940. This was right after the French had fallen to the Germans. And so probably coming next, the British assume the Germans are coming for them. And what he said was in that speech, he spent about 20 minutes laying out all the ways that they had prepared for that. Here’s all the ways that we are ready as a nation to face this. But then he ends that speech with this iconic defining line. He says, let us therefore now brace ourselves for our duties, for if the British Empire and its Commonwealth are to last another thousand years, may it be that men will still say this was their finest hour. He recognized this was a defining moment for us as a people. Even in the midst of a great onslaught of evil and challenge, we’re going to stand firm. We’re we’re going to see in Esther today for her is this defining moment, but it’s a defining moment that comes in the midst of great grief in fact, I think sometimes the way you respond to griefs, grief or challenges shows a lot about where we put our hope. And we’re going to see some of that in Esther today, in fact, we’re going to see three responses to Grief or Three Displays of grief in this chapter in Esther chapter four, and how that leads to and builds towards Esther’s defining moment. So if you would turn to Esther chapter four, I’m going to read the first few verses there to set our context. Esther four, verse one. When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. And he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king’s gate, for no one was allowed to enter the gate, clothed in sackcloth, and in every province, wherever the king’s command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. So this section starts out with when Mordecai learned, which points back to what Colby unpacked for us last week. You remember that last week Haman was furious with Mordecai because Mordecai would not bow down to him, and because one man wouldn’t worship him. Haman decided that every person related to him needed to die. Quite a strong reaction. But this word goes out, and I love the way that the end of chapter three ends. The last verse it says, and the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. This didn’t just affect one small group of people. This affected everyone. What is going on here? There is confusion everywhere. How are we going to get through this? What is this going to mean for everyone? Confusion everywhere now. Mordecai, his response to this is very public grieving. In fact, sackcloth and ashes would have been known at this time as kind of the attire of those who are grieving. Ashes would have represented my connection to death. I am grieving so deeply that I might as well be dead from dust. We come to dust will return the symbolism. There is a deep connection to this. Such deep grieving sackcloth would have been a rough, plain fabric that would have represented a poverty of spirit. But also, if you saw someone wearing this, you would know what’s happening. Something difficult is going on in their lives. They are grieving deeply. And so Mordecai puts this on and becomes very public about his grieving. In fact, the phrase that’s used here is really interesting. It has a connection to another part of the Old Testament. It says that not only he, but all the Jews were fasting and weeping and lamenting. Now those three words are also used in connection in the book of Joel. And so I want to turn there real quick and show you this passage. Turn to Joel chapter two. Joel is one of the minor prophecies prophets that are near the end of your Old Testament. It’s on page 713 in the Church Bible, and Joel is probably most well known because of the section that’s quoted in the book of Acts where the Holy Spirit will come upon you. It’s quoted in acts chapter two, and it shows up here in Joel chapter two. But this the connection between this passage in Joel two and what happens in Esther is really important. Look at Joel two verse 1213 and 14. Yet even now, declares the Lord, return to me with all your heart. And here’s that phrase with fasting, with weeping, with mourning, that word mourning, the same word as lamenting, and rend your hearts and not your garments. Return to the Lord your God, for he is gracious and merciful, slow to anger, abounding in steadfast love, and he relents over disaster. Who knows whether he will not turn and relent and leave a blessing behind him? Here’s the key idea here. And it’s summed up in fasting, weeping, mourning. Verse 13, rend your hearts, not just your garments. Meaning look, put on a great show of fasting and sorrow and grief. But I’m not as worried about how things appear as what’s going on in your heart. And what this passage does is it makes a strong connection between asking God to rescue and repentance. And so when we are crying out to God to rescue us, he’s also calling us to search our own hearts. Where are areas that I need to repent and pursue him and walk with him? And yes, please come rescue me. But maybe I’ve caused some of the situation as well that ever happened. I remember reading the story Emerson Edgar, who wrote Love and Respect, he wrote a book of Four Wheels of God, and he was also a counselor full time. Is this full time job? A couple came in to see him. They were engaged to be married, and they were going through premarital counseling. And they asked him one week in particular, listen, we really want to know God’s will for our life. What’s his plan for us? What will he have us do in life? Where will we work? What kind of jobs we have? Where will we live? How will we build our family? We were really desperate to know his will for our life. I mean, our sin pauses and he says, listen, it’s really hard to expect God to speak to you specifically about his will for life when you are ignored, his very clear will for your life, because he knew that they were ignoring some clear commands of Scripture around sexual intimacy before marriage, in particular. And he said this. It’s hard to say, but if God makes his commands and will clear and you ignore that, it’s going to be real hard to expect to hear from him real clearly in other areas of life. You see what I mean? You know what I’m saying? Lord rescue us, rescue us. Rend your hearts, repent when we’re crying for him to rescue. Repent. Search your own heart. And I’m not saying at the same time I say that. I’m not saying that if you’re going through something hard in your life, that’s because you sinned. Maybe, but maybe not. But the call is the same. Rend your hearts. Turn to me in the midst of crying for rescue. Now, I love hear what happened back in Esther, back to chapter four. I love what happened because when he weeps, so do Jews. Everywhere. They follow his example. They begin to fast. Their spontaneous reaction is to cry out to God. And I also love that he didn’t shy away from grieving publicly. I mean, it says he went to the King’s Gate. That’s his public. Because you can get let me go to the most public place in the city, the city where all the important people will be and want to grieve openly there. And let me just make a side note about grieving. I think in some churches and some Christian culture, there is this myth around grieving that says you have to pretend to have it all together all the time. Even when something’s hard, you have to. You still have to smile through it. You still have to act like everything’s great. And there are times to do that. I get that it’s okay to grieve. It’s okay to grieve publicly. It’s okay to admit that something’s hard. I went through a season where I faced a really challenging situation, and what made it harder is I didn’t want to admit that it was hard because then I would look weak, and what happened was not admitting that it was hard actually made me weak, stressed out, anxious body shutting down. The first step to healing was to admit now this really was very hard. And you know, at the same time you try to explain it away. Well, other people have it harder. We of course they do. Someone always has it worse. Pick any situation. That didn’t mean it’s not still hard for you. And it’s okay to go there and admit that and enter into the grief. It’s okay. In fact, that’s going to be the first step toward really beginning to heal. Now, we don’t want to stay stuck in our grief. In fact, the three dynamics of grief, the first one we see here is just grief observed. I mean, this is a public display of grief. Mordecai doesn’t shy away from it. I’m going to make sure others know I’m grieving. I’ve got a purpose with this. Now, how does Esther respond to that? And this is why he’s gone to the King’s Gate to get her attention. Probably. In particular, how does she respond to that? Look at verse four, when Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her about the grief, the Queen was deeply distressed. She sent garments to clothe Mordecai so that he might take off sackcloth, but he would not accept them. So her response to this is to be deeply distressed, because at this point she doesn’t know why he’s grieving. We’re going to see that in just a second. She doesn’t know what’s going on, and so she’s concerned. And her immediate response I love this. Her immediate response is to end his grief. Take off your sackcloth. This is uncomfortable. Put on these clothes. Now part of that was to so that you can come in and we can talk about it, but don’t stay there in that grief. I think sometimes we try to rush past. We try to rush others past their grief because of how uncomfortable it makes us. Sometimes grief takes a while to process. It takes a while to get through. We got to be patient with that process. Yes, we can get stuck there. We need to be prodded, but sometimes we want to move past it too fast. She sends out clothes and he says no. And one of the themes in Esther really stands out here. It’s separation. There was a separation between the king and Vashti. Not only were they separated in the moment, but he said, I don’t want to have anything to do with you. There is a separation now between there’s been separation between Mordecai and Esther, and now there’s another distance. Grieve has created. Grief has created separation between them. Now what happens? How does Mordecai respond to this? How does this move forward? In the midst of this, there has been grief observed. What’s going to happen next? Let’s look at verse five. Since Mordecai won’t come in, Esther called for half one of the king’s eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was, what was his source of grief, and why. It was half went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king’s treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her, and command her to go to the king, to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. So Esther sends out an attendant to find from Mordecai, what is the problem? Why are you weeping? And again we see this hint, this theme of separation. How come Esther doesn’t know about this? This has gone out to all the provinces of the world. And yet she in the king’s palace, doesn’t know about it. There’s this insolation. She’s trapped in this world where she’s not even aware of all the madness. As it said, the whole city thrown into confusion, isolated from all that. Now Mordecai makes it clear to her. And I love what Mordecai does here, because even though Mordecai is in his obvious grief, his public display of grief, there’s something about grief here that’s really important, and that we see grief controlled. That’s a second aspect, the second display of grief we’re going to see in this passage grief control. Even though he’s grieving and overwhelmed with grief, he’s not out of control. I love for first Thessalonians 413 it says, we do not weep as those without hope. That context in first Thessalonians four is in particular referring to will I see my loved one again after I die? No. If I am in Christ, if they are in Christ, I don’t weep. As those without hope, I know I’ll see them again. Yes, it’s hard now, but I know I see them again. That’s not the same as someone who has no hope of seeing their loved one again. There is a control of grief here. Yes, I’m grieving, but I’m also engaged. He’s so engaged that when he comes to see him, he’s ready. He’s ready with the facts. He has the reports of what has happened, the exact amount he even has, the written degree has it all ready. He is ready to set Esther up to succeed. I think an important lesson here for us in seeing that is in the midst of your grief, especially if you need to engage in a hard conversation with a loved one. Maybe it’s a spouse and be ready with facts, ideas. Be ready with possible options. Be ready to engage on the issue instead of attacking the person. You know what I’m talking about right? You’ve probably seen this. Maybe you’ve done it, not you. Maybe people in other churches have done this where when someone offends you in order to get a reaction for them, you got to make it sound way worse than it even was, and let me attack the person and everything about him. So maybe they’ll respond to this little thing. Now, what often happens is you do the opposite, it pushes them away, and they don’t want to have anything to do with you. And I’ve told the story before of when, in anger backed out of the driveway, hastily not paying attention back into Julie’s car. And it was the car that her dad bought her for her 16th birthday. It was a had been prior to that, a nice car. And in that moment, she didn’t come out and go, why do you hate me and my dad and all cars in general and just lambast me? And you’ve got an anger problem. No one can trust you. You’re going to corrupt our family and bankrupt us. And no, no, no, she didn’t go to that extreme. Instead we said, and this is a real helpful phrase, attack the issue, not the person. This is the issue on the table here. Anger wrecked car. This is the issue. Now let’s talk about the issue. I’m not going to attack you as a person. Of course there’s parts of my character that need to be dealt with in that moment, but let’s talk about these issues. How am I going to wrestle with this issue of uncontrolled anger? Who am I going to go talk to for mentoring? What scriptures am I going to memorize and dwell on? How are we going to put a plan together now to deal with the car? Yes, it’s going to cost us money. Yes, but it’s just a car. Yes, it’s going to take time, but how are we going to approach it together? Now? Here’s the beauty of doing this. If you can take that approach in the heat of the moment. Something that could tear you apart can actually make you stronger. Instead of it separating and dividing us now focus together on an issue and solving it together and trusting Christ through it together ends up making you stronger. Of course, it doesn’t always go that way, but that’s our hope. Let’s attack the issue, not the person. Mordecai, in the midst of his grief, was controlled. He was ready. He was prepared. Let’s address this issue. How can we solve it together now? How does Esther respond to that? Look at verse nine here and see how she responds. Verse ten Esther spoke to have that king commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, all the king’s servants and the people of the king’s provinces? No, that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come into the king these 30 days. Great idea! Mordecai, you want me to go into the King? Here are the challenges with that plan, and I appreciate. Here I’m reading between the lines. We can’t always know tone. I don’t see a rebelliousness in this. Like, no way. I’m never doing that. But it’s more of just. Hey, look, great idea. But there are some challenges. There’s no guarantees that he’ll let me in. I’ll probably be killed. And by the way, he hadn’t called on me in 30 days. There’s already some separation. Here’s that theme of separation again. Maybe he’s mad at me already. Should I enter in in that kind of situation? I appreciate her presenting the facts of the situation and responding in a way that says we’ve got a few challenges. Now what Mordecai is going to do here, though, and we all need this at times. He’s going to call her to take a step of faith with some hard truth in a challenging moment. There are times where we get stuck in our way of thinking. We can’t see outside of that. We’ve all had that happen. I can only see this narrow view. I need someone else to step in and say, here’s a bigger picture. I remember we were doing beach evangelism once in college. We would go at spring break down to the beach in Florida, and we would spend that week during college spring break evangelizing college students who were there. Not they didn’t come there to hear that, by the way. They weren’t there for a nice gospel conversation. They were there to party hard all week long. But what was interesting, I was shocked by how open people were to talking about the gospel, especially later in the week. We thought this would be the greatest party week ever, but we see the emptiness. We’re kind of getting bored now. Maybe some relationships have been strained and broken. Sure, I’ll talk to you. And I was talking to this guy one time. He was standing right outside his hotel, and I could tell he had some faith backgrounds just based on our conversation. Yeah, I know that. Yeah, yeah, yeah, but he’s engaged in conversation. He said, look, man, we’re just here. You’re having fun. The Bible doesn’t say you can’t drink. And I said, you’re right, it doesn’t. But however, it does say not to be drunk. No, it doesn’t say that. Oh yes it does. No it doesn’t. Oh yes it does. Show me. Okay. I had a New Testament in my back pocket. Pulled it out. Ephesians 518. Do not be drunk with wine. And he said, no big deal. I’ve been drinking whiskey. I’m good to go. All right. no, he didn’t say that. Actually, no. He didn’t. Here’s what he did. He had that Bible in his hand. He had his finger on Ephesians 518, and all he could say was, it says that it really says that. It says that. He was confronted with the truth of God’s word. And it changed everything for him in an instant. Now I’ve got to deal with that truth. I thought I was living one way and it was good to go. And now I’m seeing truth. How do we adjust to truth in the midst of whatever challenge lays before us? Mordecai is going to respond to Esther and her proclamations. Her challenges. Hey, here’s some things to consider. Here’s what Mordecai says, and he’s going to give her three important things to consider three push facts three challenges. Look at this next set of verses. Look at verse 12. And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place. But you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Mordecai is going to do three things here. First, he’s going to give Esther a hard truth. He’s going to start by giving her a hard truth. Okay, Esther, the reality is, you think you may escape through this, but you won’t. And we need to pause here and just recognize the reality of that for us. Who are Christians, who know Christ, who follow him, who proclaim him. And we already talked in chapter one about how there are times to be quiet about your faith, and there are times to be speak up, but don’t be deceived if you know him, that will be found out. If you’re somewhere where you’re worried that if someone finds out that I’m a Christian, it’s all going to fall apart. But if you know Christ, there will be times where you are called to stand firm. That’s just one truth, one reality of our faith. It may look like what Esther faced. It may be in your workplace. It may be with a family member. It may be with a fellow student. I don’t know, but we’ve got to be ready for that. There’s a famous quote from a German pastor who faced this. His last name was near Mueller. You may have encountered it. I’m going to read from it here. It’s going to be on screen. It says in Germany they came first for the communists. And I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a communist. Then they came for the Jews and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a Jew. Then they came for the trade unionist, and I didn’t speak up because I wasn’t a trade unionist. Then they came for the Catholics, and I didn’t speak up because I was Protestant. Then they came for me, and by that time no one was left to speak up. For such a time as this we are called at times to stand up. We don’t know exactly when that will be. We don’t know exactly what that will look like. And honestly, there’s a lot of times I pray, Lord, I hope I am able to stand up under persecution. I hope you give me the strength to do that because I know my character at times I can be weak and I’m praying for me and the church that whatever you face, you’d be able to stand up, bear up in a Christ centered, God honoring, loving way. So that’s the first thing he sister. He gives her the hard truth, gives her a real hard truth. But then notice what else he said to her. He said, don’t think you will escape. But also he affirms God’s sovereignty. Deliverance will rise. He shows steadfast faith in God’s providence. Look, even if you don’t step up, God will provide. And I love that he highlights that dynamic. By the way, God is sovereign. He is in control. He’s providence. And yet we are called to act. He calls us to respond to a great challenge, and yet he’s in control. And yet we’re called to act, and yet he can still work it all out. And yet he calls us to be a part of that. Both are true. And I love how Mordecai, in the midst of challenging her, affirms that God can still work this out, but. Here’s what he says last hour to her. Lastly to her. Who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for this time. This is your hour, Esther. This is the very reason you are here. And so he gives her three challenges. In fact, one commentator I read said it this way. He calls her to an unavoidable duty. This is unavoidable, Esther. You need to be ready to step into this. This is the moment God has prepared you for. In fact, that phrase. Who knows? Also, we read it in Ephesians and Joel two, who knows? Who knows? Be ready to stand firm in the moment he calls her in this moment. Now, how is Esther going to respond to that? He’s given her the challenge. How is she going to respond? Is she going to step up to it? Let’s read. Look at verse 15. Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, go gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold fast on my behalf. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish. Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. Okay, one thing I’ve not pointed out about the Book of Esther yet, that we’re going to dive into quickly here, and you’ve seen it on the screen every week, is the theme of Esther is a great reversal. The whole story is about one great reversal. You think everything’s going one direction and then it gets up ended, which for us ties into the gospel. This is this is where the disciples encountered. It’s all over when Jesus dies. It’s all done. We thought he was going to be Messiah and set up a new kingdom, but in an instant, it’s all reversed and he does rise again. And there is victory. When we thought it was all over. There actually are four many reversals in this story. You see the theme of reversal over and over again in the book of Esther, and there are four hints of that we already saw one where earlier in verse eight, Mordecai had commanded her to go in up to this point he said, hide your faith. Now he is saying, go in. That’s the first reversal you get. If you’re Esther, you got to be thinking, what is going on here? This is going against everything you’ve said. But secondly, notice the second one here. She prepares differently. In fact, the comparison to Vashti is very interesting. Vashti is called by the king to go in and she says, no, Esther is not called by the king, and she’s going to go in as a complete contrast. Vashti, who she was, Esther is the opposite of that. But then the third reversal we see here is in verse 16, where she calls others to hold fast on her behalf. She is preparing. And the third reversal is how she prepares to go into the King. She’s preparing to go into the King in the exact opposite manner that she did before. How did she prepare to go into the king? The first time? She spent a year of beauty treatments, a year preparing to be at the pinnacle of beauty, a year of oils and treatments and conditioning. And now fast lament, weep before she prepared her skin. Now she prepares her soul before she came to be at the pinnacle of beauty. Now she’s coming in at the pinnacle of weakness. Have you ever gone three days without drinking anything? I mean, what’s the longest you’ve gone without drinking something? I remember I was sick once, couldn’t take anything in, and it was about a day and a half before I drank any water. And when I took that first sip of water, I mean, it tasted like a sugar cube. And it was so good. It was so sweet. It like, sent electricity shooting through my body. I was so weak. You would think you’d want to go into the king in your strength. That’s how she went before. Now she goes in weakness. But then the fourth reversal. Look at verse 17. Mordecai went away and did everything Esther had commanded him. Mordecai had been commanding Esther and now she commands him another reversal. The story is upended over and over again. Grief observed, grief controlled. How does all of this lead to Esther’s defining moment? What we see here is grief steps up. In this moment. Grief steps up. I’m overwhelmed by grief. But I know this is the moment God has called me to step up. And when I think about this story of Esther stepping up and the challenges she faced in her defining moment, in fact, her defining line if I perish, not perish, I’m laying it all on the line. I no longer care what happens. I don’t care who knows if I’m Jewish or not. I don’t care who knows about my faith. I’m willing to do what it takes. Her response is almost immediate. Okay, here we go. When I think about what that means for us, when you think about the story of Esther, Mordecai needed to appeal to the king and he couldn’t go into the king on his own. He needed someone else to go to the king, and Esther is willing to lay down her life on behalf of her people. Now for us, we too are in the situation where we need to appeal to the King, to the Heavenly Father, and we can’t go there on our own. There is separation. We need someone to go for us. And Jesus did that. Jesus did that. The big contrast, though, is that Esther didn’t know. Will I perish or not? Jesus knew. I am laying down my life. I am going to sacrifice. I’m going to my death on their behalf, on our behalf, on your behalf. And the beautiful part of that story is that he didn’t stay dead, man. He rose again, and he opened the way for us to have direct access to the father because of him laying down his life. I think when we read the book of Esther, we see that pattern of sacrifice on our behalf. Let’s pray.