God is in the Rescue You Receive
July 15th, 2018 sermon
By John Ulrich, Senior Pastor
Have you ever felt discouraged and hopeless in the midst of life’s problems, with God seemingly nowhere in sight? As we have been studying, the book of Esther in the Old Testament speaks directly to this issue in the historical story of Esther, Mordecai, King Xerxes, and Haman. In chapters 1-6, we learned that just as God placed Esther in the court of the King of Persia, God also places us wherever we find ourselves. We also saw that God’s place for us might be dark and even dangerous, just as when Haman created the plot to kill all the Jews.
Today, in Esther chapters 7-10, we see God’s rescue of Esther, Mordecai, and all the Jews as King Xerxes amazingly discovers the true character of Haman through written records and Haman’s own behavior with Esther. The enemies of Israel are removed and the story of the rescue is passed down through the generations of Jews through the celebration of Purim. God was certainly present and active in the rescue of His people, just as He is actively working on our behalf through our own story.
Three words to understand God’s rescue in Esther:
1. Resolution (word of encouragement).
More than simply rescue and joy, there is real resolution in this story because this conflict, this struggle, actually makes things better: the future of Esther and Mordecai in the Kingdom of God is secure; God’s people, the Jews, trust Him more. The day of death becomes the day of life. The story of Esther could easily be a metaphor of the Gospel itself with Haman as the ruthless, powerful, arrogant enemy (like Satan) constructing an impaling pole, an instrument of death & public humiliation (similar to the cross for God’s son). Yet with Haman’s own impaling, the instrument of death becomes the enemy’s own undoing, as Christ’s death on the cross becomes the very tool of our rescue from judgment as we gain salvation by trusting Him.
2. Reversal (word of warning).
There are so many reversals in the story of Esther. Nothing at the end of the story is the way it is in the middle. May we remember that what we see in the middle may be the opposite of what is truth in the resolution of difficult life situations.
3. Remembrance (word for the ages).
The book of Esther ends beyond the rescue to the feast of Purim, a remembrance of God’s rescue of the Jews to be celebrated for centuries. This feast helps Jews see God, not only in the past but in the present. As Christians, we are also reminded by this story of Esther that God is around us in all of life’s circumstances, even if it is hard to see him in the places that we look.
Can we remember that our lives are not random, that God is present and active in the good and the bad, the huge and the tiny issues? Are we willing to have faith that God will bring resolution when we are in the middle of difficult circumstances? Are we ready for the resolution of God when all the difficulties, puzzles, frustrations, even tragedies in our own story suddenly make sense? The story of Esther reminds us as believers that our relational God is with us and acting through us in all of life’s circumstances.
- What would help you to have more faith in the middle of messy circumstances when there seems to be no help or God in sight?
- Do you look for God’s gracious, merciful, triumphant presence in your life, or are you constantly blocked by doubt, fear, and worry? What could help you?
- Has God ever rescued you in a time of trial in your life in a way that you would want to tell or celebrate with your friends, children and grandchildren?
- God used Esther & Mordecai to bring about His will. Has God ever worked through you for His purposes, or is that just reserved for historical heroes/heroines of faith?
- We have now completed the book of Esther. What would you like to remember about it?
So the king and Haman went to Queen Esther’s banquet, and as they were drinking wine on the second day, the king again asked, “Queen Esther, what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.”
Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor with you, Your Majesty, and if it pleases you, grant me my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold to be destroyed, killed and annihilated. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.[a]”
King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”
Then Haman was terrified before the king and queen. The king got up in a rage, left his wine and went out into the palace garden. But Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life.
Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining.
The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”
As soon as the word left the king’s mouth, they covered Haman’s face. Then Harbona, one of the eunuchs attending the king, said, “A pole reaching to a height of fifty cubits[b] stands by Haman’s house. He had it set up for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.”
The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.
The King’s Edict in Behalf of the Jews
That same day King Xerxes gave Queen Esther the estate of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came into the presence of the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. The king took off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and presented it to Mordecai. And Esther appointed him over Haman’s estate.
Esther again pleaded with the king, falling at his feet and weeping. She begged him to put an end to the evil plan of Haman the Agagite, which he had devised against the Jews. Then the king extended the gold scepter to Esther and she arose and stood before him.
“If it pleases the king,” she said, “and if he regards me with favor and thinks it the right thing to do, and if he is pleased with me, let an order be written overruling the dispatches that Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, devised and wrote to destroy the Jews in all the king’s provinces. For how can I bear to see disaster fall on my people? How can I bear to see the destruction of my family?”
King Xerxes replied to Queen Esther and to Mordecai the Jew, “Because Haman attacked the Jews, I have given his estate to Esther, and they have impaled him on the pole he set up. Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring—for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.”
At once the royal secretaries were summoned—on the twenty-third day of the third month, the month of Sivan. They wrote out all Mordecai’s orders to the Jews, and to the satraps, governors and nobles of the 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush.[c] These orders were written in the script of each province and the language of each people and also to the Jews in their own script and language. Mordecai wrote in the name of King Xerxes, sealed the dispatches with the king’s signet ring, and sent them by mounted couriers, who rode fast horses especially bred for the king.
The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate the armed men of any nationality or province who might attack them and their women and children,[d] and to plunder the property of their enemies. The day appointed for the Jews to do this in all the provinces of King Xerxes was the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so that the Jews would be ready on that day to avenge themselves on their enemies.
The couriers, riding the royal horses, went out, spurred on by the king’s command, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa.
The Triumph of the Jews
When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen. And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.
On the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, the edict commanded by the king was to be carried out. On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now the tables were turned and the Jews got the upper hand over those who hated them. The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those determined to destroy them. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them. And all the nobles of the provinces, the satraps, the governors and the king’s administrators helped the Jews, because fear of Mordecai had seized them. Mordecai was prominent in the palace; his reputation spread throughout the provinces, and he became more and more powerful.
The Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, killing and destroying them, and they did what they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred men. They also killed Parshandatha, Dalphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai and Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammedatha, the enemy of the Jews. But they did not lay their hands on the plunder.
The number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king that same day. The king said to Queen Esther, “The Jews have killed and destroyed five hundred men and the ten sons of Haman in the citadel of Susa. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It will be given you. What is your request? It will also be granted.”
“If it pleases the king,” Esther answered, “give the Jews in Susa permission to carry out this day’s edict tomorrow also, and let Haman’s ten sons be impaled on poles.”
So the king commanded that this be done. An edict was issued in Susa, and they impaled the ten sons of Haman. The Jews in Susa came together on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar, and they put to death in Susa three hundred men, but they did not lay their hands on the plunder.
Meanwhile, the remainder of the Jews who were in the king’s provinces also assembled to protect themselves and get relief from their enemies. They killed seventy-five thousand of them but did not lay their hands on the plunder. This happened on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
The Jews in Susa, however, had assembled on the thirteenth and fourteenth, and then on the fifteenth they rested and made it a day of feasting and joy.
That is why rural Jews—those living in villages—observe the fourteenth of the month of Adar as a day of joy and feasting, a day for giving presents to each other.
Mordecai recorded these events, and he sent letters to all the Jews throughout the provinces of King Xerxes, near and far, to have them celebrate annually the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into joy and their mourning into a day of celebration. He wrote them to observe the days as days of feasting and joy and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.
So the Jews agreed to continue the celebration they had begun, doing what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them and had cast the pur (that is, the lot) for their ruin and destruction. But when the plot came to the king’s attention,[e] he issued written orders that the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews should come back onto his own head, and that he and his sons should be impaled on poles. (Therefore these days were called Purim, from the word pur.) Because of everything written in this letter and because of what they had seen and what had happened to them, the Jews took it on themselves to establish the custom that they and their descendants and all who join them should without fail observe these two days every year, in the way prescribed and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and observed in every generation by every family, and in every province and in every city. And these days of Purim should never fail to be celebrated by the Jews—nor should the memory of these days die out among their descendants.
So Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, along with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter concerning Purim. And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews in the 127 provinces of Xerxes’ kingdom—words of goodwill and assurance— to establish these days of Purim at their designated times, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had decreed for them, and as they had established for themselves and their descendants in regard to their times of fasting and lamentation. Esther’s decree confirmed these regulations about Purim, and it was written down in the records.
The Greatness of Mordecai
King Xerxes imposed tribute throughout the empire, to its distant shores. And all his acts of power and might, together with a full account of the greatness of Mordecai, whom the king had promoted, are they not written in the book of the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews, and held in high esteem by his many fellow Jews, because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.
– Esther 7-10
The other day our friend, Jessica Mailand, told me about a time when she had a problem. She couldn’t find her phone. She needed to leave for an appointment. She was on the verge of being late. She checked her purse, and then she realized it wasn’t there. So she started looking. She made a diligent and rapid search through the house. She looked in the bedroom on the nightstand. She looked on the kitchen counter. She looked at the charging station. She looked in every horizontal surface in her house. Then she started looking in other places, the kid’s bedrooms and the bathroom. She even searched between the sofa cushions. She couldn’t find it, even though she was looking in all the obvious places, all the places you would clearly expect her phone to be. She couldn’t find it.
God is kind of like that in the book of Esther. Like we said three weeks ago, Esther is in the Bible, a book about God, written by God. There are numerous places in Esther where we clearly expect to see God’s name. We expect to see it when people like Esther and Mordecai are put in place. We expect to see God’s name when events turn for or against people. We certainly expect to see it when God’s people face danger and are trying to decide what to do about it. We’re saying “Talk to God! Pray to God! At least mention God!”
There are lots of places where we clearly expect to see God mentioned. But just like Jessica’s phone, in Esther He doesn’t seem to be in any of those places. That’s why we entitled this series “Hidden,” because we have to look for God if we want to see him in Esther. Because if we can learn to see God in Esther, we can see him in our lives.
In the first two chapters of Esther, we saw crazy events take place. King Xerxes of Persia made a ridiculous drunken request of his wife Vashti, and she refused. So the King got rid of her, created two giant harems and held a beauty contest to find his next queen. Esther, the Jew and the heroine of our story, was not only included in the contest but she was chosen to become queen of the Persian empire! Meanwhile, Mordecai, the Jew Esther’s older cousin and adopted Father and the co-hero of our story, just happened to hear a plot to assassinate Xerxes. Mordecai made the King aware of it, saving Xerxes’ life.
These were crazy events! We learned that God is in the place you find yourself. He was setting the pieces on the board, just like he does in our lives. The place we find ourselves is not random. God is in the place we find ourselves.
In chapters 3-6 things in Esther took a very dark turn. It all started when the King forgot to reward Mordecai for saving his life. Somehow in all the hulabaloo, Mordecai’s deed had been forgotten, and the King instead promoted Haman, who came from an evil tribe of robbers that were the sworn enemies of God’s people, Israel. He made Haman prime minister.
From there, things pretty much went downhill. When Mordecai refused to bow to Haman, the Agagite, Haman, decided to respond not by taking revenge on Mordecai but by wiping out God’s people entirely. Without the King’s full knowledge, Haman got permission and wrote an evil decree a decree that left no stone unturned in his quest for vengeance. He specifically said that all Jews, young and old, children and women, were to be killed, annihilated, destroyed and plundered. There was absolutely no wiggle room in Haman’s decree. He cast purim, also called “lots,” little clay dic, to divine the best time for his decree to take effect. Then just because he was evil, he announced the decree on the eve of Passover, the Jewish Holy Day that celebrated God’s salvation of his people from Egypt. Haman wanted to turn the day of life into a day of death.
The hits just kept on coming. Esther risked her life to ask for the King, and Haman to come to a banquet. When they were both there and the King had promised to give Esther anything she desired, when the moment had come, Esther seemed to lose her nerve. She just asked them to come back for another meal the next night.
Meanwhile, Haman was growing in power and confidence. He decided that rather than waiting until the day his decree took effect he would just deal with Mordecai now. He was going to hang Mordecai, which in Persian meant to impale him on a pole, so he had a huge gallows 75 feet tall constructed in his front yard. The next morning Haman planned to go to the King, and get permission to end Mordecai.
And you thought you had a bad day! It really doesn’t get much worse than that. But just as we finished our story last week, we saw a tiny ray of light. In one of the greatest moments in the history of irony, the King had a sleepless night. Since he didn’t have a white noise machine, he asked someone to read the court records from the exact day five years earlier that Mordecai had saved his life. When the King found out that Mordecai had not been rewarded, he asked Haman what he thought should be done for the man the king wants to honor. Haman just knew that Xerxes was talking about him. So he insisted that the man the King wants to honor should wear the King’s robe and mount the King’s horse and wear the King’s crown. That a very important royal official should lead the horse about proclaiming the greatness of the man the king wanted to honor.
As Kelley says, “The King liked that idea” so he told Haman to clothe Mordecai, the Jew, and crown him and lead him on a horsey ride through the streets of the capital, proclaiming Mordecai’s greatness for everyone to hear. The gallows remained unused.
Now that little moment of relief didn’t solve the Jews’ problem, but it was a signal, a little wink that reminded Mordecai and Esther, and reminded us, that God was there. We learned that God is there even in the problems we face.
Now as we come to the conclusion of the book, things take a decisive turn for the better. We’ve seen that God is in the place you find yourself. We’ve seen that God is in the problem you face. Now today we’re going to see that God is in the rescue you receive.
Our story starts just as Haman was summoned to Queen Esther’s second banquet. I have no doubt that at this point Haman was footsore, weary and humiliated from leading Mordecai on his horsey ride through the streets of Susa and shouting “This is what the King does for the man he truly wants to honor.” It was rough! Haman’s only solace for this horrible day was that it would end with an exclusive banquet, that only he and the King had been invited to. He probably saw this coming meal as an Island of Dignity on a day that had been an Ocean of Humiliation. Little did Haman know what awaited him at the banquet!
As the meal and the small talk concluded, the King asked what Esther really wanted. In her best royal verbiage, she said “What I really want is for me and my people to not be murdered! Because someone has sold us for destruction!” Notice that she used the word “sold,” because this was being done for the plunder. Notice also that she didn’t name her oppressor. This builds suspense.
The suspense was shattered by Xerxes’ outrage. Who would dare to do such a thing to his queen! In Hebrew, his question is a series of one syllable words that fire off like a machine gun “Who is he and where is he that would dare to do such a thing!” Of course, the King himself had agreed to this edict. But there was a lot that the King didn’t know when he signed the edict. He didn’t know that the edict was against the Jews. He didn’t know at that time that the Jews were the people of Mordecai, the man who had saved his life. And he didn’t know Esther, the most beautiful woman in the Kingdom, his favorite woman in the whole world, his wife, was a Jew. That’s why the king bellowed out this question about who the offender was.
It was at this point that Haman’s terrible, awful, no good very bad day got worse. Esther pointed across the table and said “The man who would dare to do such a thing is sitting right here. The enemy and oppressor of my people this vile Haman!” I love the way she says “This vile Haman,” not this vile man Haman, but “this Haman, ” like he’s a thing like a fungus, or a cockroach or kale. This vile Haman
So Esther accuses Haman! If we’re really thinking about the story, this is the moment where so much becomes clear. This is the moment where we see why things had to happen just the way they did. They all fit together! Esther really has been put in place as queen for “such a time as this.” The injustice of the King, forgetting to reward Mordecai for saving his life, the King’s sleepless night, the King’s random choice to read the records during the exact time of Mordecai’s good deed, all of that meant that the goodness of the Jews was fresh on Xerxes’ mind at this crucial moment. Esther’s inability to ask for the deliverance of her people on the first night, now works out perfectly. God needed some time to prepare the King’s heart! Even the ruthlessness of Haman’s decree singling out the children and women, meant that Haman couldn’t claim he wasn’t going to harm Esther. All those odd-shaped pieces suddenly fit together perfectly.
Now that moment pretty much spoiled the rest of dinner. The King was so enraged that he left the banquet hall and went out into the gardens to cool down and think about how he could deal with Haman. It was at that point that Haman made his very last mistake. Everyone knew that proper Persian etiquette required that no man in the Kingdom could ever be alone with a member of the King’s harem. In fact, any man was forbidden under threat of death from approaching a member of the Harem closer than seven paces even if someone else was there. It was forbidden! And this wasn’t just a member of the harem. It was the Queen! Haman should have followed Xerxes out of the room. He knew that.
But Haman didn’t exit. He knew the King was furious. He knew that he should have been more forthcoming with the King. He knew he shouldn’t have put that line about women and children into the edict, but he thought, maybe just maybe, that if he stayed behind and turned on that old Haman charm and chatted Esther up she would spare his life.
Big mistake! Not only did he stay in the room but he did something worse. We don’t know how it happened, but Haman approached Esther and fell on the couch where she was reclining, touching the Queen! It was such a crazy move that the Old Aramaic translation of Esther claims that the Angel Gabriel actually pushed Haman to get him there! However it happened, that’s where he was when the King returned.
Xerxes fury, which had started to cool down, was now set fully ablaze! He probably remembered that Haman wanted to try out his robe, and his horse, and his crown, and now it looked like Haman was wanting to try out his wife. He shouted at Haman “Is it not enough, that you want to kill my queen and the man who saved my life? Now you want to molest the queen in my own house!” At that point, they said goodnight to Haman. The royal guard covered his face.
While the King stood there gritting his teeth, Harbona, one of the King’s eunuchs who had been there through all of Esther’s story and seen Haman’s shenanigans, had an idea. He helpfully chimed in “I know where we can find an empty gallows!” The King liked this idea. So they impaled Haman, the Agagite, the enemy of God’s people, on the 75 foot gallows that he had built that morning for Mordecai. Because Haman was guilty of treason, his estate automatically went to King Xerxes, who gave it to Esther who, in turn, gave it to Mordecai.
The enemies of Israel are removed. Now that brings justice to our villain, but what about justice for God’s people? How would they escape the edict? Esther went to the King and begged him to take back Haman’s edict of death that allowed people to kill and plunder the Jews. Xerxes wanted to help Esther, but he reminded her that according to the custom of the Medes and Persians no law signed with the King’s authority could be changed. Xerxes couldn’t undo the edict! So he did the next best thing. He took Esther and Mordecai, who was growing in Xerxes’ esteem, gave them the royal signet ring and told them to put their heads together and write any law they desired to help the Jews.
Mordecai and Esther wrote an edict, sealed it with the King’s ring and sent it out with the royal couriers. The edict gave the Jews the right to assemble and protect themselves on the 13th of Adar, the Day Haman had set when he cast the Purim. It gave them the right to do to their enemies exactly what their enemies were going to do to them, to kill all (men, women, and children) and to plunder their property. When Mordecai left the palace that day, he was wearing royal robes and a crown. Mordecai was now Prime Minister of Persia.
When the 13th of Adar came, the Jews completely bested their enemies. After that second edict came out, most people had the good sense to give up their plans to attack the Jews. Some even became Jews. But those who insisted on attacking the Jews that day ran into a mass of armed and angry and capable Jews who were helped by a good number of Persian government employees, employees that now worked for their new Prime Minister Mordecai and who had decided that Mordecai not someone you wanted to work against!
In the end, across the Persian empire an empire which stretched from Africa all the way to India the Jews killed 75,000 attackers on the 13th of Adar. They did not lay their hands on any plunder except the estate of Haman, the Agagite, the enemy of God’s people. There is no record that they destroyed any women and children, except for the ten sons of Haman who were also impaled as a warning to others.
Israel remembers God’s rescue in the feast of Purim
So in the end, the Eve of Passover, the day the edict was announced, the day that looked for all the world like a day of death, became a day of life for the Jews, a day of rescue and relief from their enemies. For this reason, Jews gather every year to this day in the early part of Spring to celebrate the fact that God cares for his people and that God rescues his people. They celebrate by dressing up as characters from the book of Esther, by sharing gifts with one another, and by reading the book of Esther aloud, cheering for Mordecai and Esther and booing for Haman the Agagite, the enemy of the people of God. They call this feast Purim.
Now you know the whole story of the book of Esther. It’s an incredible story, isn’t it? It sounds like a fairy tale! But it’s not. We know Xerxes and the time and place of this story and Mordecai is mentioned in historical documents. This really happened!
Now what are we supposed to learn from this part of the story? What’s our take-away? Just as has been the case each week, our main take-away is in the title of this sermon: “God is in the Rescue you Receive.” The over-arching message of the book of Esther is really quite simple. God cares for his people always, even when they don’t care for him. He’s active, even when we don’t see his name in capital letters on every page of our story. He’s at work in the place that we find ourselves. He’s at work in the problems we face. As we learn in this last part of our story, He’s at work in the rescue we receive. God is active working on our behalf through our whole story.
So the main point of this part of Esther is that God is in the rescue we receive. Let me just give you three words from this part of the story to think about this week and to meditate on and to discuss in your small groups. The first word we see in this part of the story is a word of encouragement, and that word is:
Notice that this is the moment, this last part of the story, is the moment where it all snaps into focus. This is the moment of resolution, the moment where all the difficulties, all the puzzles, all the frustration, even all the tragedies in our story, suddenly make sense. There is rescue. There’s joy.
Actually, there’s more than just rescue and joy. There’s real resolution, because this story, this conflict, this struggle, actually makes things better. Do you realize that? At the end of the story, God’s people aren’t just where they were on the day before this all happened. They are better. Their enemies haven’t just been held at bay. They’ve been removed. Esther and Mordecai aren’t just where they were before chapter 1, verse 1 their future in the Kingdom is secure. God’s people aren’t just where they were before the difficult circumstances caused them to doubt God’s presence. They’re better. They trust him more. There’s more than rescue here there’s real resolution. The Day of Death doesn’t just become a normal day. It becomes the Day of Life.
In that sense, the book of Esther is a metaphor. It’s a tiny portrait of the gospel. Just like in Esther, there is a ruthless, powerful, arrogant enemy that wants to undo the people of God. Just like in Esther, he seems to have all the power. Just like in Esther, he constructed an instrument of death and public humiliation for our hero, God’s Son. He put up a cross on a hill, 2,000 years ago. But just like in Esther, that instrument of death became our enemy’s own undoing. In the single greatest moment of the history of the world, that cross became the very tool of our enemy’s destruction and the very tool of our rescue. God has promised that all who trust in him and put their hope in what Jesus did on that cross can have salvation can be rescued from judgment.
Just like in Esther, there’s more than just rescue on offer. With that cross, our enemy actually made things better for God’s people. Now we have resurrection life. Now we have a new and better heaven, a new and better earth coming. Now God isn’t just our Creator. He’s our Redeemer. Now we know how much God cares for his people even before we care for him.
We get all that! If you’ve received God’s offer of life in Jesus, there is more. There is a moment coming a moment where all the difficulties, all the puzzles, all the frustration, even all the tragedies in our story, suddenly make sense. There is a moment of resolution coming. Are you ready for it?
So the first word is resolution, a word of encouragement. The second word from this part of Esther is a word of warning, and that word is:
You know one of the most notable things about the book of Esther is all the reversals that take place in the book. There are so many ironic U turns in this book! Nothing at the end of the story is the way it is in the middle.
Think about it. In the middle of Esther, Haman gets Mordecai’s promotion. In the end, Mordecai gets Haman’s promotion. In the middle of Esther, Haman builds a gallows for someone else. In the end, Haman is the one on that gallows. In the middle, Mordecai is outside the palace wearing sackcloth. In the end, he’s inside the palace, wearing royal robes and a crown. In the middle, Esther is this timid girl, who seems afraid to ask for what she needs. In the end, she has come into her own, disposing of estates, writing laws and, if you read the details of the story, she is greatly to be feared. In the middle, Passover is a day of death. In the end, Passover is a day of life. In the middle, God seems nowhere to be found. In the end of the story, we can see that he was on every page.
My point is this: Everything in the middle of the story looks 180 degrees different from the way it does in the end. In the middle of the story, if I would have asked which people you should align yourselves with, if you wanted things to go well for you, you would have one clear answer: NOT THE JEWS! Right? In fact, you might have said “If you really want to get ahead, be an Agagite, an Amalekite right? In the middle, if I would have asked you which leader you should follow, you would say “Haman NOT MORDECAI!” right? In the middle, if I would have asked who you should depend on you would say “NOT GOD.” He’s nowhere to be found. Depend on yourself like Haman. Plot and scheme! Think about how to climb on the backs of others and destroy anyone who disrespects you.”
In the middle you, would have said “That’s what pays off.” In the middle, it would have looked like you were 100% correct. But when you get to the end, you find out that all those things that seemed to make perfect sense in the middle are 100% wrong! There is a complete reversal.
That is going to be the case for each one of us here today. A reversal in our circumstances is coming. As in the story, there will be the reversal of resolution for God’s people For those who have truly chosen his way and entrusted their lives and their future to him. As in the story, there will be the reversal of retribution for those who have rejected God’s way and not entrusted their lives to him. When that day of reckoning comes, all our little explanations and excuses for rejecting God that seemed so valid in the middle of the story are going to melt away, and we will deal with the reality of reversal.
So my word of warning is just this: Please, don’t be fooled. We are in the middle of the story, but there’s a big reversal just around the corner. Are you ready? So (1) resolution and (2) reversal. Now the last word from Esther is a word of instruction, and the word is this:
The book of Esther isn’t over when Haman meets his end and Mordecai is saved. It’s not even over when Israel’s enemies are removed and God’s people are rescued. The book actually goes on for about a chapter after that. The book actually ends with the establishment of a feast, a Feast called Purim. Purim is a time when Israel was commanded to remember what God had done to rescue them. It was a feast of remembrance, so Jews have done this every year for centuries.
The reason for Purim isn’t just remembrance. It’s not just about God’s people seeing what God did at one time 2,600 years ago. The purpose of Purim and the purpose of the book of Esther is to help God’s people see him now in the present, to see him every day in the places we find ourselves in, the big and little problems that we face, and in the rescues we receive. We want to remember the past so we can learn to look for God in the present, because he’s all around us, even if it’s hard to see him in the places we look.
It’s like Jessica’s cell phone. She looked and looked in all the places she expected to see it, but in the end has anyone figured out where it actually was? She was talking on it to her husband Marc! He said “Why are you breathing so hard?” Jessica said “Because I’m running all over looking for my phone. Oh, just kidding.” Let me say before you give Jessica a hard time, Angel Pagan was standing next to me when she told me that, and he said “That’s nothing. I have actually used the flashlight on my phone to look for my phone!” Who hasn’t done something like that right? We look for our glasses when they are on our face.
I thought what a perfect example of God in Esther. Some people look and look for some mention of his name. They look for his name in all the most expected places and don’t see it. But in the end, where was he? He was everywhere. He was in the good things like Esther’s position as Queen. He was in the confusing things like Vashti’s removal or Mordecai’s forgotten promotion. He was at work in the bad things, like the ruthless detail of Haman’s decree. He was at work in the teeny, tiny random things, like a King’s sleepless night and a toss of some little clay dice called Purim.
He was there in all of it. Jessica’s cell phone is a perfect example of God in the book of Esther, and it’s a perfect example of God in our lives. He’s there whether this is the best time of your life or the hardest. Even if it looks like you’re at the end of your rope and there’s no hope, He’s there and He’s working. He’s in the place you find yourself. He’s in the problems you face. He’ll be in the rescue you receive. He’s on every page of your story, even if he sometimes seems to be hidden.