Sunday, 14 January 2018

A man dying a criminal's death on the cross reveals more of God's splendour than the Grand Canyon (Esther 1)

Are you aware of the concept of the bucket list?  It comes from a film involving Morgan Freedman and Jack Nicholson, who are playing the parts of two terminally-ill men who visit all the places and do all the things they want to do before they die.  They want to do these things before they kick the bucket.
So, what would be on your bucket list?  Would you like a trip to Yellowstone Park?  Someone might like to visit Sorrento or go skiing in the Alps.  Your bucket lists might involve slices of nature that reveal something of the splendour of God, buildings that reflect the splendour of the God who has given humankind such creativity, or pleasures that reflect the splendour of the God who gives joy to the heart.
However, I am going to claim that there is no splendour that you can see or experience that is greater than that which flows from a certain naked man dying a criminal’s death on a cross!
We all want to be splendid (1-8)
This morning we are beginning a seven-part series on the book of Esther.  The super-power was Persia (now Iran).  The king was Xerxes.  The kingdom included one hundred and twenty-seven provinces, stretching from India to Cush (which is the area of Ethiopia and Sudan).  It is a bit under five hundred years before Jesus is born in Bethlehem (483 B.C.).   
Xerxes ruled from a citadel called Susa.  In the third year of his reign he held a splendid banquet for all the political a-list.  This party lasted a whopping six months.  It was designed to show off his splendour.  The six-month party was followed by a week-long one for all of Susa from the greatest to the least.
What was wrong with Xerxes showing off his splendour?  His concept of splendour is all about him and nothing to do with God..  Here is a man whose world centres on himself, and how great he is, rather than God.  Here is the man who wants to take credit for all he has without any acknowledgement of power or hand of God.  Here who thinks he is in control of his own destiny.  Aren’t we all like Xerxes at times?    We all try to present a certain image of ourselves.  We want to take credit for our achievements, rather than thanking God that we are what we are by the grace of God.  And people like me love to be the centre of attention.
One reason we are like this is that we care more about what people think about us than what God thinks about us.  But while people can be impossible to please (maybe you grew up with a parent who was never content with your efforts to please them), God is gracious, kind and merciful.  He delights over his people.  And although I have never done anything with a perfectly pure motive, in grace he takes our imperfect efforts to please him, purifies them, and is a Father who is pleased. 
God’s splendour can be reflected in us (9-22)
There was a third banquet.  It was given for the women by the Queen, Vashti.   Xerxes commands that Esther to leave that banquet and come to his male-dominated party.  Why?  He wants to show her off, ‘for she was lovely to look at!’
Here is a man with no respect for women.  His wife is simply one of his conquests.  She is a trophy-piece.  He sees her job as simply to make him look good.  That’s not love!
But she bursts his self-splendour-bubble!  She says, ‘no!’  Here is a king who rules one hundred and twenty-seven provinces and yet he can’t get away with telling his wife what to do.  We all know how fragile the male ego is!  Xerxes is humiliated!
So he gathers his wise men together.  ‘What if word gets out that the queen disobeyed Xerxes?  There will be no end to the discord and disrespect shown in homes across that empire.’  So Vashti was banned from the king’s presence, a better queen must be chosen, and when people hear about that surely women will respect their husbands.  In fact an edict sent around the kingdom said that each man should be in control of his household. 
There is talk here of love and respect in marriage.  Well, marriage can display the splendour of God, because the love of a man for his wife reflects the love of Christ for his people.  Similarly the church as the bride of Christ can reveal his splendour.  Not because he chose us for our beauty, but he takes sinful people, cleanses us and makes our hearts more like Christ.
There is a good splendour to should be seen in God’s people.  It is not a splendour that focuses on ourselves but points to God as its source.  It is not a splendour that is vain, but one that models the life of our humble king Jesus.  It is not a splendour that we can take credit for, but the Holy Spirit wants to make us more like Jesus.  This splendour may be slow in growth, it may face many setbacks, but the Holy Spirit is doing something splendid in you as he forms Christ-like fruit in you.
What’s on your bucket list?  What does it matter?  We are going to spend an eternity in a New Heaven and a New Earth where the splendour will be infinitely greater than anything this old order can offer.  You won’t spend eternity regretting that you never visited Alaska—its splendour is but a dim reflection of what is to come!
And while vain-self-splendour leaves us feeling empty, God-focused splendour leaves us saying wow!  John Piper illustrates this by picturing a visit to the Grand Canyon.  You go to one of the viewing points and you see the magnificence.  It’s a great feeling.  But it’s not about you.  You don’t go, ‘look at that view, aren’t I great.’  No, your breath is taken away, and if you love Jesus you say, ‘wow, isn’t my creator wonderful!’
But even before we encounter the New Heaven and New Earth there is a splendour that puts the Cliffs of Moher in the shade.   The prophet Isaiah speaks of the coming Christ and says, ‘this is the one in whom I will display my splendour’ (Isaiah 49:3).  Visit the Empire State building, swim in the Great Barrier Reef and you will not see anything more splendid than the Son of God dying a criminal’s death to pay the price of the guilt of his people.  And he has been exalted to the highest place, where one day every knee will bow and acknowledge his splendour.  He did it for the glory of his Father.
In one sense, if you have seen Jesus, then  your bucket list is complete because there is nothing left in this life that will show you a greater glory!
Let’s pray:
For all eternity we will look at each other and ourselves and say, ‘wow! Wasn’t God so good forgive them and me?’  When he comes he will make us perfect—we will display the perfect splendour of godliness.  Indeed, we will be for ever saying ‘wow! Thank you!  I never realised how good you were!  I was so blind to how much you loved me!  You are amazing!’

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