‘Regrets, I have a few’ (now there is an understatement). Why do I have those regrets? I have those regrets because ‘I did it my way’ (not God’s way).
So, you’ve messed up. You’ve got a past. You live in the shadow of shame. You wonder what people would think of you if they saw behind the smiling face. You’re frustrated because there is a habitual sin that always seems to get the better of you. You feel guilty and weak. You have made some very bad decisions.
Why would God bother with someone like you? What could God ever achieve through your compromised life? Surely you have forfeited the opportunity to be of any value to him! Maybe your foolish decisions have ruined God’s plan for your life!
This morning I want to encourage you as we look at Esther 2. This chapter tells us that God can and does use compromising and failed people to achieve his wonderful purposes.
1. We compromise by having a foot in both camps
Last week we saw the ridiculous King Xerxes of Persia get his ego wounded by a wife who would not humiliate herself for him. So she was banned from his presence. But he has grown to regret not having a beautiful queen around the place. So his personal advisors come up with a plan. ‘Let a search be made of the empire to find beautiful young virgins for the king. The one who pleases him most will be made the new queen.’ It’s hardly a hard sell! It’s not surprising that Xerxes is pleased with the idea.
We are now introduced to the two main characters of this book—Mordecai and Esther. The first thing that we are told about Mordecai is that he is a Jew. His family were taken into exile from Judah to Babylon over seventy years earlier. However, when the Persians had taken over from the Babylonians as the area’s super-power the then king of Persia had written a decree saying that the Jews could go back to Jerusalem. So why is Mordecai in Susa? It may be that Mordecai just happened to think that life in pagan Susa might be easier than joining God’s people in Jerusalem.
Mordecai had a beautiful young cousin. She had been orphaned and he had become a father to her. She was called Hadassah, but she was also called Esther. Why both a Jewish name and a pagan name? Could it be—that like most of us—she had a foot in each camp? Maybe she wanted to be one of God’s people, but she also wanted to fit in with the Persians. That is certainly true of most of us—we want to please God but we find ourselves addicted to the approval of everyone.
2. We compromise by keeping our Christian identity secret
So we may have reasons to believe that Mordecai and Esther are compromising followers of God. That impression continues when Esther is selected for the king’s wife-hunting beauty contest.
Beautiful Esther is brought to the Xerxes harem, where she is placed under the care of one of his attendants with whom she finds favour. Yet she does not reveal that she is a Jew, because Mordecai told her not to. Yes, she is obedient to her father-like cousin, but was Mordecai’s command right and was she right to follow it?
It all seems very different from Daniel, who, years earlier, was very open about his faith in God and who prayed with his windows open when there was a decree to pray to nobody but the Babylonian king. Aren’t we all guilty of following Mordecai’s advice at times? We keep our mouths shut and our heads down. We keep our faith to ourselves. We don’t want to stir up trouble for ourselves. We are scared to reveal that we follow the one true and living God.
Now, I have painted a pretty poor picture of Mordecai so far, but I do find verse eleven very touching. ‘Every day Mordecai would walk near the courtyard of the harem to find out about Esther and what was happening to her’. There are no excuses for his compromises, but his wrong advice to Esther is certainly borne out of his great concern for her. Sometimes we are more concerned that our children fit in than that they grow in godliness.
The picture of Mordecai reminds me of a story from John Newton, the slave-trader turned Church of England clergyman. Though Newton and his wife were unable to have children of their own, they took two nieces from different families, both who had been orphaned, into their home as their own daughters. One died, breaking Newton’s heart. The other went through a time of terrible mental illness. She was admitted to Bethlehem Hospital in London (known as Bedlam). The now elderly Newton was not allowed to visit her. But every day, at a set time, he would walk the grounds of the hospital with a servant. She would then go to a window and wave her handkerchief to him and he would wave his back to her. Family love is a beautiful thing, and family love is what we are to experience in church.
3. Our compromises don’t result in God giving up on usWhile there have been hints of compromise in the story so far, what happens next seems to be clearly wrong. Esther is in the harem in a beauty context to find a queen for the godless Xerxes. It would seem that she will either end up as one of the king’s concubines (a sexual servant of the king) if she loses or queen if she wins. But what about simply refusing to go along with whole thing? What about saying, ‘I follow a God who says I must only marry people who love my God’? What about saying, ‘my God says that I should not have sex with someone I am not married to’? ‘But’, you protest, ‘that would surely lead to imprisonment or death.’ Yeah, and aren’t we praying about many people in that part of the world, now Iran, who are in prison at this moment because they would not compromise their faith?
We read that after a lengthy beauty process Esther is taken to the king’s private rooms, not to emerge until the next morning. They didn’t spend the night talking about their favourite hobbies, and, yes, Esther sought to please the king. She pleased him so much that Xerxes made her queen.
But how can God use all of this? One preacher entitles his sermon on this chapter ‘For such a slime as this’. However, God is behind the scenes ensuring that Esther becomes queen. Mordecai and Esther may be compromised but God is actually using their actions to orchestrate the rescue of his people. He is going to use these two compromised people in heroic ways.
How can God use sinful things to achieve his perfect purposes? This is one of the wonders of our faith. Their sin is their sin, but it serves God’s plan without compromising his holiness. It is the principle that we see behind the cross. Ignorant and evil people are responsible for putting the Son of God to death, and through their evil actions they achieve the salvation of God’s people. Indeed, even though almost his entire inner circle of friends compromised their faith and deserted him, he still had plans to use them in the building of his church.
A pastor went to visit a famous gangster in an English prison. After they had spoken for some time, the gangster asked, ‘what does God make of me, a murderer?’ So the pastor took him to the Bible and showed him people like Abraham, who twice lied to people about his wife to save his skin; Moses, who murdered a man; and David who both committed adultery and had the woman’s husband killed. God loves, forgives and uses flawed people. The gangster responded, ‘no-one ever told me that God was like that.’
Mordecai and Esther seem to be compromised people, yet they belong to God and he loves them. In fact, God has great plans for both of them. But I need to make a few things clear before we finish!
Please don’t think that I am saying that sin does not matter. The Bible teaches us that we can grieve the God we love. Sin may bring with it some very painful consequences. It also says that our sin can bring dishonour to his reputation. If your compromises don’t make you feel uncomfortable then it might be that you don’t love Jesus.
Please don’t get stuck in regret over your sin. Bring it to God. Acknowledge what you have done is wrong. Grieve over it. But then you must stop grieving and start praising. Your sorrow must turn to joy, as you honour God by delighting in the promise that has forgiven you.
lease do not think that God has given up on you. I don’t fully understand how it works, but God uses all things—including our compromises—for his purposes which include our ultimate good (which is to make us more like Jesus). And he never gives up on those who are his—so while you might not end up in a historical role like Esther, he has prepared works for each of his children to do.