Monday, June 12, 2006

The book of Esther

The book of Esther
A long way from home
Introduction

  • This week we are going to turn to the book of Esther. We were looking together at the book of Daniel under the title of “A long way from home.” And I want to just take two more weeks on that title, but on different scriptures.

  • Next week I want to talk about one of the areas of application that comes out of this idea of living along way from home, and that is the area of parenting.

  • This week I want to look at the book of Esther. (The dedication of Esther, is it just chance? The book might have something to say about that!)

  • This book explains for us the origin of the Jewish feast of “Purim” celebrated in late February.

  • What I propose to do is tell you the story, and then make a few comments on it.

  • I need to use quite a bit of time to tell the story because the book of Esther is like a jigsaw. If you miss out some of the pieces you don’t see the picture.
Esther 1
  • Queen Vashti refuses to come to the Kings party and is banned from the king’s presence.

Esther 2
  • A search is made for a new Queen. We discover that in Susa there is a Jew called Mordecai, who in his kindness has adopted his orphan nice who is called Esther and she is very beautiful. Esther enters the king’s palace, but does not reveal her nationality because Mordecai tells her not to. In the end Esther is chosen as the new queen.

  • At the same time Mordecai uncovers an assassination plot against Xerxes, and through Esther reports it to the king thus saving the kings life.

Esther 3
  • Xerxes promotes a new prime minister “Haman” who is infuriated by Mordecai because uniquely he will not bow and show him honour. Haman decides to get revenge not only on Mordecai, but on all of the Jews throughout the whole kingdom. This will include Palestine – to India. We are talking about extinction here.

  • Read 3:7-15

Esther 4
  • Mordecai hearing the news dresses in sackcloth and ashes, and Esther hearing this sends the eunuch who looks after her to find out what the matter is. Mordecai tells the eunuch what has happened and asks Esther to go to the king and ask for mercy for her people.

  • Read 4:11-17

Esther 5
  • Esther goes to the king and is welcomed. She invites the king and Haman to a banquet, and when they come, the king offers to meet her petition up to half the kingdom. She invites them the next night and says that she will ask then.

  • Haman once again enraged by Mordecai’s refusal to bow goes home and boasts of his great influence and wealth and his wife suggests building a giant gallows and then asking for the king’s permission to hang Mordecai.
Esther 6
  • That night Xerxes is sleepless. He has the records of his reign brought and read to him. As they read, they discover the record of Mordecai’s uncovering of the assassination plot, and the king asks if anything has been done to reward Mordecai, only to find that nothing has been done.

  • Read 6:4-11 And then Haman goes home in despair.

Esther 7
  • Read
Esther 8-10
  • Xerxes gives the Jews the right to defend themselves, and then the Jews destroy their enemies throughout the Persian Empire on the allotted day. They establish a thanksgiving feast called Purim, and Mordecai becomes prime minister.


There are four significant persons in the unfolding plot of the story of Esther, and perhaps we can learn something by thinking briefly about each of them.

Haman
Who in his pride sets himself up as the opponent of God’s people and therefore of God also.
It is Haman’s acting on his hatred and opposition to God’s people that leads to his downfall, and the blessing of God’s people.
The “Haman” principle:
The hope that the anti God tyrants of our world might prosper for a time, but ultimately they will fall, and God’s people and cause will prosper.
In the history of the world, which individuals actions are responsible for the greatest number of people coming to Christ? The answer might be Chairman Mao. In 1949 when the communists came to power and attempted to suppress Christianity there were probably 700 000 protestant Christians in China. Now there may be as many as 70 Million.
Voltaire died in 1778 and said that one hundred years from his time Christianity would be swept from existence and passed into history. Within 50 years of his death, the Geneva Bible society used his priniting press and his house to print and store bibles (Evidence that demands a verdict p20)
Mordecai
What I want to draw our attention to in Mordecai’s part of the story is his conviction that God will do something.
Listen to what he says in 4:14. Mordecai has a conviction that God will work out his purposes anyway. Even if Esther does nothing, God will save his people and you won’t be part of it. Is Mordecai right in his theology?
Isn’t that an attitude to have. Mordecai presents us with a challenge. Will you be part of God’s purposes, or will you be left out of God’s purposes?
The “Mordecai” principle: God doesn’t need me to fulfill his purposes but he invites us to be part of fulfilling his purposes..

He doesn’t need you to fulfill his purposes. The idea that God needs me to run the universe or even a bit of it is blasphemy. Instead, we need to see that God invites us to be part of his purposes.

Act 17:24  The God who made the world and everything in it, being Lord of heaven and earth, does not live in temples made by man,
Act 17:25  nor is he served by human hands, as though he needed anything, since he himself gives to all mankind life and breath and everything.

God doesn’t need me, he want’s me. Let me give you an illustration. I’ve done this just because of how things fall. You ring someone up just to see how they are doing. But while you are on the phone you also ask them to do something. You run the risk of them thinking not “He just wanted to know how I’m doing” but rather “He is only interested because of what I can do for him.”

God doesn’t want relationship with you because of what you can do for him. He want’s relationship with you, and he invites you to share with him in fulfilling his purposes which he could fulfill without you. That is precious.

I’ve been making a bird table with Joel. This week one of things we did was countersink all of the holes for screwing. Why do you think I got him to countersink the holes. It wasn’t because I couldn’t do it myself. About our relationship and friendship and companionship.

Yes you should serve him. Serve in his power. You won’t grow if you won’t serve. And our next character speaks to us about our service.

Esther.
That said we need to turn to Esther. Esther who hears Mordecai’s challenge, the well known words of the book (v14)
The “Esther” principle: God can use us, even if we have nothing more than a willingness to be obedient in the place where God has put you.
Esther’s willingness to take a risk and go to the king is the hinge on which the book turns. It’s the hinge that turns disaster for God’s people, as we said total extinction into security and significance.
God can use you whoever you are, and whatever you are. Could it be that God has raised you up where he has put you for such a time as this?
There are some things we can learn about being raised up for such a time as this from the story:
  1. I’m not saying it will be easy. You may need to be bold, Esther was. You may need to be wise, Esther was. (5:1-2 cf 4:11)

  2. I’m not saying you don’t need to pray. You will need to pray and have other’s around you pray, Esther did. That anyway is the implication to the call for fasting. (4:15-17)

  3. I’m not saying it’s now. You may need to wait for that moment, Esther did.

  4. I’m not saying you don’t need anything. You may need to listen to wise counsel on the way to the place that God has called you to. Esther did (2:15)
But I am saying that God could give any one of us a “such a time as this”
And then there is the final personality in the drama:
God!
He is never mentioned! But he is nevertheless the hero of the book. The book of Esther before it is about Haman’s pride and evil intent, before  it is about Mordecai’s conviction that God’s purposes will be worked out, before it is about Esther’s seizing the for such a time as this moment, it is about God’s hand on the messy details of history.
You see the jigsaw pieces fit together. Some might look at it and call it chance, but others look with eyes of faith and see God’s hand on the circumstances and choices of life.
You know at one level the story isn’t even very edifying. Don’t look at Mordecai as an example of how to behave. He is difficult! Why all this refusing to bow, I mean showing respect to a government official didn’t fall into the same category as Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refusing to bow down to Nebuchadnezzar’s golden image.
And there have to be some questions about the appropriateness of his passing his niece into the harem of Xerxes. The process for becoming queen is certainly not one that would teach us anything about God’s values for sexual purity. If you think as you read the story “Does that mean what it sounds like it means” the answer is probably yes. The scripture doesn’t hold Mordecai or Esther up a moral examples. So what’s the point?
But there in the mess of life. In the confusing choices. Perhaps even in the bad choices. There in the reality of confusion and the reign of evil, and ordinary people trying to make sense of it, God is at work.
Here is the good news. Isn’t that the day to day world that we live in. The world we sometimes feel trapped by? The world we try to makes sense of. The world we experience trouble in. Where the choices sometimes aren’t right and wrong, black or white, but just messy.
Esther reminds us that life is not shaped by chance, chaos or Godless fate.
What was the feast called? It was called “Purim” Now where does that title come from? Notice 3:7 (cf 9:26) The “pur” was the lot. The instrument of chance. The very name of the feast is a reminder that there is a greater hand behind the hand that draws the lot.
Proverbs 16:33 The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.
That’s what God’s people were to remember when they celebrated purim.
The God principle: We can trust that God is working out his purposes in every circumstance.

Thursday, June 08, 2006

Sermon on Daniel 4

Sermon on Daniel 4

Introduction

This Sunday we are going to see that God is at work a long way from home in the conversion of a Pagan king.

As we have been going through the book of Daniel, and I have said a couple of times that Nebuchadnezzar has not become a believer in God.

In each chapter so far, we have seen Nebuchadnezzar have an experience of God’s people and the living God.

In chapter 1: We find the most tentative. When he interviews the young men who are being trained and prepared for service in his regime, He is impressed by the people of God.

In chapter 2,:He has a legitimate, God given spiritual experience, when Daniel and his friends are able to tell him prophetically what he dreamt and what it meant, and it becomes apparent that Nebuchadnezzar has had a dream that foretold the coming of Christ 600 years before it happened.

In chapter 3: Nebuchadnezzar erects a gigantic golden image and commands the whole nation to worship, and when Shadrach Meshach and Abednego refuse, he has them thrown into the fiery furnace and is astonished to see them survive this. He also sees a fourth figure in the furnace and he commands that nothing is to be spoken against the God of S, M and A and anyone who does will be torn limb from limb. He has had another Spiritual experience, but it is still incomplete.

But something has happened between the end of chapter 3 and the beginning of chapter 4. Chapter 4 is actually a letter from Nebuchadnezzar himself, and he is a changed man. Here he writes to tell what has happened to bring about this change.

You know it is so important or us to distinguish between having a spiritual experience and conversion. Nebuchadnezzar has two significant spiritual experiences but he has not yet changed direction.

It’s important because there could be some here who have experienced something of God but have not yet experienced his life transforming grace.

This morning we are going to see two things really clearly. We are going to see human pride, and the danger that it keeps us from God, and we will also see God’s amazing grace in confronting human pride and bringing Nebuchadnezzar to repentance

Now at the beginning of chapter 4 we read:

Daniel 4:1-3

Nebuchadnezzar is content but God is sovereign.

Verse 4

As far as Nebuchadnezzar was concerned and despite everything that he has seen of the living God he was at home in his palace “contented and prosperous”.

What a tragic text! How tragic it is that there are millions of Nebuchadnezzars For them life is just fine and they look at themselves and they are contented and prosperous and they have no sense that they need anything, and there is something about the way in which it is just written here that almost takes your breath away, and makes you think how foolish!

What Daniel has already shown us is that God reigns. It doesn’t matter how far you are from home he still reigns.

He reigns over the diet you eat, he reigns over the dreams of kings and he gives the interpretation and he reigns over seven times hotter fiery furnaces.

He reigns over nations and kings and over every life, whether he is acknowledged or unacknowledged.

And Nebuchadnezzar’s godless contentment is proud and arrogant and foolish.

You know this morning God is in heaven and reigning whether you respect that or not. He reigns over the nations whether you want him to or not, he reigns over kingdoms whether you want him to or not, and he reigns over you whether you want him to or not.

Nebuchadnezzar was “contented” and yet the reality is that he is hanging by a thread over eternity.

I am so glad this morning that there are two other points!

The breath taking grace of God

Verses 4-9 19-33

Now we need to put the grace of God to Nebuchadnezzar here into context. He was not a good man. Indeed you might read the first three chapters and wonder if smiting might be in order. He is an evil and cruel tyrant with a particularly cruel and tyrannical way of getting what he wants,. He is the inventor of a bogus state sponsored religion. He is a persecutor of God’s people, and he has had an experience of God’s power but has not bowed before God.

And God is gracious to this man. He deserved no kindness from God, and yet as we shall see, God was kind to him. That is what we mean by grace! We are so fortunate that God does not treat us as we deserve to be treated.

God is indeed breathtakingly gracious to him. Let me just show you some of God’s grace to this man:

God’s grace in a disturbing dream v5

One night Nebuchadnezzar has another dream, and he is terrified. And this terror is not a momentary thing. He goes through all the astrologers and wise men of Babylon and none of them can or will tell him them meaning of the dream.

You know sometimes God will disturb us in order that he might ultimately comfort us. Perhaps to stir us out of complacency or apathy, he will allow something disturbing to come into our lives. Perhaps to undermine our pride, he will allow inadequacy to come into our lives.


God’s grace in the provision of Daniel v8

Eventually Daniel comes to Nebuchadnezzar and he is able to tell him what the dream means, and we will come to that in a minute, but here is my point.

Nebuchadnezzar would probably have told you that Daniel was in Babylon and in a position to help, because his armies had brought him to Babylon. But we know that Daniel was there because God’s hand was on him, and he is part of God’s grace to Nebuchadnezzar.

That is a precious thought folks. If you think about the people you know who are just like Nebuchadnezzar and they are contented and they don’t know God, and God’s grace could already be at work in their lives, and you don’t know it yet, but you could be part of God’s grace to that person.

Do you wonder if Daniel ever thought: “what am I doing here?”

It could be that there are some of you who have thought “Why am I in this office?” You could be there to point someone to Jesus, because you are part of God’s grace to someone who doesn’t yet know Jesus.

(You only have to be faithful – Daniel was unsuccessful)

Or maybe someone is Daniel to you. Listen to the Daniel

God’s grace in a prophetic warning to repent 19-27

And then there is God’s astonishing grace to Nebuchadnezzar in the dream and its interpretation as a call to repent.

God speaks specifically and directly to this man and tells him: You are like a great tree that will be cut down, and you will become a stump of what you were until you acknowledge that heaven rules. (v26)

And Daniel warns him to repent. (v27)

God’s grace despite a prophetic warning to repent v28

This man effectively takes no lasting notice. For a whole year, life just carries on! Now I wouldn’t want anyone here to think that if Nebuchadnezzar got away with that then they might.

It is in the nature of grace that it is undeserved. Nebuchadnezzar didn’t deserve a disturbing dream that might lead to knowing God, he didn’t deserve a Godly interpreter like Daniel, he didn’t deserve a warning to repent and he didn’t deserve God’s forbearance with him when he didn’t

God’s grace in the humbling of Nebuchadnezzar 30-33

You know, here is a humbling part of the account of God’s dealing with Nebuchadnezzar and it serves as a warning too.

If this man had not been humbled, his pride would have kept him from ever knowing God. He really thought he was something, and he was completely blind to the reality. Listen to his pride:

"Is not this the great Babylon I have built as the royal residence, by my mighty power and for the glory of my majesty?" (v30)

Nebuchadnezzar simply has no sense of the reality that he is where he is because God reigns, and he sees everything that he is as a product of his own hands for his own glory.

The sin of pride has astonishing power to keep us from God simply because when we think we are doing well we have no sense of any need of God and are totally blind to the reality that God is our greatest need.

1 Peter 5:5-7
All of you, clothe yourselves with humility toward one another, because,  "God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble." 1PE 5:6 Humble yourselves, therefore, under God's mighty hand, that he may lift you up in due time. 7 Cast all your anxiety on him because he cares for you.

God doesn’t respond to offers for contracts, or offers to make deals. He responds to cries for help.

Isn’t that last line wonderful? If you are like Nebuchadnezzar was, you would never do it!

Would God break a man like Nebuchadnezzar to humble him? Notice what happens! (vs33) Could God visit him with such an affliction?

Yes and it’s grace, and Nebuchadnezzar knows it’s grace

Here is the astonishing thing about Nebuchadnezzar. One of the things that convinces me that this is real, and in case you were wondering underline that all these events are God’s hand. Look at V2 as he introduces his letter and tells about what God has done for him.

Dan 4:2 It is my pleasure to tell you about the miraculous signs and wonders that the Most High God has performed for me.

Notice that incredible statement “for me.” Nebuchadnezzar does not accuse God of wrong doing, He is grateful for these wonderful signs of Grace

There is a kind of bitter sweet warning here for us. God will break our pride if we do not repent

The wonderful mercy of God

This proud and wicked man lifts his eyes to heaven, and he is restored. v34

My sanity – I was mad to think as I did

This man has a complete change of perspective. He goes from being the self appointed God of his own little world (see ch. 3) to being someone who sees and exalts in the goodness of the glory of the Sovereign God.

Conclusion - to the cross

God in his grace will confront human pride, and not just Nebuchadnezzar’s. You could see the story as a mini version of Israel’s situation.
There could be some here and you feel “I am doing just fine. I am contented and prosperous. A little spirituality helps (That’s what Nebuchadnezzar thought)

And yet the cross behind me reminds us that God is still in the business of challenging human pride.

To the idea “I’m doing just fine, I am contented and prosperous” Jesus Christ crucified says it’s not true, it is an illusion.

The cross insists that there is a need for:

Us to change our minds about ourselves and God. There is a need for confession of pride and other sin that we might receive the forgiveness of God. There is a need for trusting Christ for a new heart that will be centred in glorifying God.

Nebuchadnezzar has come so far, and the grace of God is so rich to him. Listen as we finish to one who has responded to the grace of God:

Verses 34-37