We are getting back into our sermon series, Esther: God Remembers You. The Book of Esther resembles an action-adventure story, and we have been treating each week like an episode of a TV miniseries. Naturally, we need a little recap to get ready for this week’s episode.
The Book of Esther takes place in the rich and powerful Persian Empire. It is an empire so huge that it reaches from Afghanistan to Egypt. The action is taking place in one of the four capitals, Susa, which was located in modern-day Iran about 100 miles north of the Persian Gulf.
It is the time of King Xerxes, known by his Hebrew name as Ahasuerus. He had his first queen, Vashti, banished and the court held an Ultimate Bachelor Contest to choose the new queen. The most beautiful ladies of the empire were chosen to compete one of these was a Jewish young lady known as Esther. While she was beautiful, she won over all those around her both men and women. Against what seems like insurmountable odds, Esther won the Ultimate Bachelor Contest when Ahasuerus fell in love with her. He crowned her queen. All the while her adopted father, Mordecai, told Esther to keep her Jewish heritage a secret.
A new man rose to high position in Ahasuerus’ Court, Haman the Agagite. As it happened, the Agagite people were a long time enemy of the Jewish people. When Haman found out that Mordecai didn’t bow to him as the king ordered, Haman planned revenge not only against Mordecai, but to wipe out all of the Jewish people in the empire. Without specifically naming Mordecai or the Jewish people, Haman persuaded the king that a “certain people” were not following the laws of the king and should be destroyed. The king agreed, and word was sent out the day of Passover.
The people of Susa were shocked by the news. While inside the palace, the king and Haman had drinks.
And this is where this week’s episode begins.
Esther 4 NIV
1 When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. 2 But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. 3 In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.
6 So Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king’s gate. 7Mordecai told him everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. 8 He also gave him a copy of the text of the edict for their annihilation, which had been published in Susa, to show to Esther and explain it to her, and he told him to instruct her to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people.
9 Hathak went back and reported to Esther what Mordecai had said. 10 Then she instructed him to say to Mordecai, 11 “All the king’s officials and the people of the royal provinces know that for any man or woman who approaches the king in the inner court without being summoned the king has but one law: that they be put to death unless the king extends the gold scepter to them and spares their lives. But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king.”
12 When Esther’s words were reported to Mordecai, 13he sent back this answer: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?”
15 Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
17 So Mordecai went away and carried out all of Esther’s instructions.
Big changes happen over the course of this chapter. We begin with Mordecai going to the king’s gate wailing and wearing sackcloth having covered himself with ashes, unable or unwilling to be consoled. We end with Esther sending him to gather the Jews to fast with her as she prepares for a dangerous mission.
What is the significance of the sackcloth and ashes? Several weeks ago we talked about Job sitting in sackcloth and ashes after he had lost so much. He was in mourning, but really it says more than that. It says, “I feel like I’m dead.” If you can imagine what it would be like if someone took the cold ashes from a fire and threw them on him or herself. They could look like someone dead. In this case it was not Mordecai alone, but many of the Jews who heard about the annihilation order.
There was something more to it, too. These people, who have assimilated so much into Persian culture and society that someone like Esther could become queen without anyone realizing she was Jewish, these people came to grips with how much they needed God in their predicament. The sackcloth and ashes symbolize their complete deadness without God. “Their actions cried out, ‘We are dead without you, Lord! Stripped of everything! You alone can resurrect this lifeless people. Have mercy on us, Lord. We desire to return to you!’” (Moore, 86).
Mordecai dressed this way cannot get past the gate, cannot reach Esther directly. Esther has been queen for five years at this point. Actually, it seems that direct contact between the two has been infrequent at best. Back when Esther was in the Ultimate Bachelor Contest and getting her 12 months of beauty treatments, Mordecai hung out near the courtyard to find out how she was doing. There was no mention of his talking with her directly. (Esther 2: 11) However, he did exert his influence over her. He told her to keep her Jewish heritage of secret, both before and after her marriage (c.f. 2:10; 2:20).
Naturally, Mordecai expects her to obey when he makes what seems like a reasonable request. Just go into the king and requests mercy for your people. But now, is five years later, and she does not blindly obey Mordecai (4:8-11).
Then, we find out that Mordecai’s request was not quite as reasonable as it sounded. In the message Esther sends back, she says, “All the king’s officials… know…” Mordecai is one of the king’s officials. He knows that anyone who approaches the king without a summons will be put to death. According to some historians, including Josephus, this was no ordinary death. Men with axes surrounded the throne that could immediately carry out the execution. That certainly encouraged restraint.
And, in case Mordecai thought it would not be an issue because the king surely would summon his wife on a regular basis, Esther has some news for him. “But thirty days have passed since I was called to go to the king” (Esther 4: 11). The message between the lines is, Mordecai, this is not the time because I have issues! (Moore, Video 3)
Esther knows that Vashti has been banished. She knows that her position is far from secure, and it has been 30 days since her husband has wanted to see her.
Mordecai knows that this is no time to take off the pressure. If you knew anything about the Book of Esther prior to the series, it was probably this verse. Mordechai says, “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will come from another place… And who knows that you have come to your Royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:14.)
The implication is whether Esther cooperates or not, God will produce a solution, but look back at all of the things that have happened. Vashti was banished, and you Esther were able to win the favor of everyone. You were given special advice, the best apartments, you won the love of the king, and you were made queen, an orphaned Jewish girl. That could only have been the influence of God, and God put you there for a reason. Don’t miss out on your purpose in life. It is your time.
Have you ever had something go *click* in your mind? You get that final piece of information, and suddenly everything makes sense? You look at the world in a whole new way, a complete paradigm shift. This is what happened to Esther at this point. Going along, oblivious, but suddenly you see what you didn’t before. It is like when you are working on a jigsaw puzzle, and you put in that piece where you can actually tell what is supposed to be when it’s finished. When you were a teenager or in your twenties, and you realize that your parents are regular humans with flaws and challenges, and they were loving you the best way they knew how. When you realize that God has been a part of and influencing your life all along, even if you were never aware of it before.
Often this happens in the midst of crisis. God moves, aligns us. Beth Moore describes it like her husband’s dog, a pointer. Sometimes she goes into a perfect point, ridged … at the wrong thing, like a tree. Beth’s husband has to physically turn the dog a new direction, and the perspective is completely different.
This is the turning point in the whole book. Esther goes from a passive actor who accepts what happens to her to an active participant. She accepts her responsibility and authority as a queen and what is best for her people. This is what is best not only for the Jews but also for all the other Persian subjects that have been placed in this awful position.
Now, she is giving the orders, “Go and gather all the Jews and who are in Susa, and fast for me … I will go to the king.. And if I die, I die” (Esther 4: 16).
Esther accepted the call on her life, one that she didn’t even realize was there until this moment. We can see how God did this in her life because she held such an important position, but what can that do with us as individuals? We may not believe that God put us where we are “for such a time as this,” or that we could have much of an impact.
Listen to these scripture passages. Think about whether you apply them figuratively, spiritually, literally, or not at all. Consider each individual verse, and how you think how it applies to you if at all. I’m going to personalize them a little bit, but consider, Do I apply these figuratively, spiritually, literally, or not at all.
Matthew 11:11, “I am greater than John the Baptist.”
Figuratively, spiritually, literally, or not at all?”
- Matthew 13: 11-12, “The secrets of the Kingdom of Heaven have been given to me, and I will grow in knowledge.”
Figuratively, spiritually, literally, or not at all?
- Luke 17 : 22-21, “The kingdom of God is within me.” In other words I am to interact with the world as if I’m living in the kingdom. It is here, but not everyone sees it.
Figuratively, spiritually, literally, or not at all?
- 1st Corinthians 4:20, “I have the power of the kingdom of God.”
How do you apply that?
- 1st Peter 2:9, “I am the chosen of God.”
- Revelation 1:16, “I am a part of God’s kingdom and priesthood.”
- And Revelation 5: 9-10, “Jesus sacrificed himself for me to be a part of the kingdom and priesthood.”
Do you apply this figuratively, spiritually, literally, or not at all?
As a person in Christ, you are part of a royal priesthood with power and influence. You are a child of God. If you remember nothing else, remember that. You are a beloved child of God, King of kings, and you have been put in a position for such a time as this.
We can choose to accept our calling, and those things that God prepared for us to do, as it says in Ephesians 2:10, or we can let the opportunity pass us by, our purpose, are calling. Callings are not just for pastors. We each have a calling. God will accomplish his purpose whether we accept it or not, but we will miss our life’s purpose.
A person’s call can involve so many different things, be as unique as each one of us are. It can be raising and bringing up children or being active in the lives of grandchildren. Maybe ones that are not your own. It could be in your workplace or different organizations in which you participate like in Humane Society, Soroptimist, the Food Bank, the Wallowa County Museum, Rotary, Fishtrap, and many more. It can be the community, or your neighborhood. It can even be in ministry.
I remember a long time ago when I was in my late twenties and a baby Christian. The way I was reading my Bible and what I was learning was telling me that if I was giving my life to God, I needed to dedicate my whole life to formal ministry, not necessarily a pastor or clergy person, but something in formal ministry of some type.
One day, I went to a study group at an Episcopal church and received an alternative perspective. You can give your life to God regardless of your vocation or profession. In February, we will actually be hosting a “Work is Worship” live stream video conference. Your calling could be a variety of things and possibly involving one’s associations and affiliations. It means being true to God and living the Christian life faithfully wherever that may be. I realized that the man was right. It all depends what God has prepared for you. Like we talked about last week, it is a question of whether your walk will match your talk.
It came down to full-time formal Ministry for me ultimately, but that is not what most people are called to do. Their called lies elsewhere.
I have a challenge for you. Spend time this week recognizing the potential of your position. Identify your unique sphere of influence where God has placed you. Spend time committing this opportunity to prayer, and then decide to take one small step this week to prepare yourself to be used by God in this area.
I will never forget something I heard from Reverend Sue Nilson Kibby. “We are all in the place we need to be… You are the right person at the right time with the right gifts fueled with the right passion.”
God has put you there. The question is whether you are going to step up to the Challenge.
In the past, Esther succeeded by pleasing those around her, both male and female. She is still doing this with the loyalty that her servants show her. Will this continue with the King? You don’t want to miss next Week’s episode of Esther: God Remembers You.