In his autobiography ‘Out of the Black Shadows’, the Zimbabwean Bible teacher, Stephen Lungu, recounts the story of how he came from being a gang member to being a Christian. He also tells the amazing account of how he met his wife.
One day when Stephen was praying he had what he describes as a sort of waking vision. In this vision he saw a young woman seated before him, dressed in a loose blue outfit and holding a Bible. The Bible happened to be upside down yet in the vision he could see what page it was opened at—Acts 26. This was hugely significant for Stephen as the Lord had used Acts 26 previously in his life. This vision came to him two more times over the following two years and he occasionally thought about it and wondered what it meant.
When he was visiting another part of the country, a friend mischievously suggested that he must meet a girl called Rachel.
A few days later he was speaking at a youth meeting. After he had preached, he was talking to a man who was asking him questions about faith. Stephen’s eye was caught by the person seated just behind the man—a girl in a loose blue outfit, holding a Bible, which happened to be upside-down and open at Acts 26.
The next day he decided to visit the man he had been talking with. When he arrived the houseboy told him that he was out. Seeing Stephen’s disappointment the houseboy invited him in and told him to wait a moment. Then a young woman appeared. Stephen could not believe his eyes. It was the young woman from the vision again, the man’s sister, who happened to be the girl, Rachel, his friend had said he should meet. They would end up getting married.
Do you think that Stephen Lungu thinks those events were simply a strange set of coincidences? That Rachel ‘just happened’ to be in that dress, that she ‘just happened’ to holding the Bible upside down at Acts 26, and that she ‘just happened’ to be the woman his friend suggested he meet and the sister of the man he was visiting?
In this morning’s reading we see that things don’t just happen. You are not at the mercy of chance or fate, and you are not the master of your destiny and the captain of your soul. Your life is in the hands of the God who is in the control of all things, and he works all things for the good of those who love him.
When it comes to recuing God’s people things don’t ‘just happen’ (1-5)
So Haman has men building gallows which were seventy-five feet tall for Mordecai. In the morning he is going to ask the Xerxes to execute Mordecai. However, it ‘just happens’ that King Xerxes can’t sleep. So what does King Xerxes do to kill the long hours of the night? He asks to be read chronicles of his reign. His night time reading, ‘just happens’, to be at that point where Mordecai foiled the plot to overthrow him. Xerxes asks what was done to honour Mordecai. It ‘just happens’ that nothing was done to honour Mordecai. So, on the night before Haman will come to request Mordecai’s execution, Xerxes ‘just happens’ to be pondering how to honour Mordecai. It ‘just happens’ that Haman turns up at just this time with his request to have Mordecai executed. The timing is perfect!
God is not mentioned by name in this book, but is clearly at work behind the scenes. Remember what he is up to. He is working to save his people from certain annihilation. When God works to rescue, things have a way of just happening!
We see this in his ultimate rescue mission—the life, death and resurrection of Jesus. Some scholars point out that multiple specific prophecies of the Old Testament ‘just happen’ to be fulfilled in the gospels. For example, it ‘just happened’ that there was a census called at the time of Jesus’ birth so that he would be born in Bethlehem (Micah 5:2). It ‘just happened’ that his parents settled in Nazareth and he would be called a Nazarene (Isaiah 11:1). It just happened that soldiers would gamble for his garments (Psalm 22:18). It just happened that his hands and feet would be pierced (Psalm 22:16), his side would be pierced (Zech. 12:10) but that the soldiers didn’t need to break his bones (Exodus 12:46, Psalm 34:20). It just happened that Jesus was buried with the rich (Isaiah 53:9). When it comes to rescuing God’s people things don’t ‘just happen’!
Things ‘just happen’ so that God can take pleasure in his people (6-11)
When the king hears that Haman is in the outer court, he thinks, ‘Oh good! Haman will be able to tell me how to solve the problem of Mordecai not been honoured.’ So before Haman gets the opportunity to present his request, he is faced with Xerxes question. ‘What should be done to the man whom the king delights in?’
‘Who could he be referring to? It must be me!,’ Haman thinks to himself. So Haman goes for the full bells and whistles. Imagine Haman’s face when Xerxes says, ‘hurry, take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate.’ Haman leads Mordecai through the square of the city proclaiming “thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honour!”’
A greater king than Xerxes takes delight in you. We can understand why the Father would take delight in Jesus. It is not surprising to hear that voice from heaven saying ‘this is my beloved Son in whom I am well pleased’ (Matthew 3:17). But God rejoices in all his people. He delights in Mordecai, who had been a compromiser earlier in the story. ‘The Lord takes delight in his people’ (Psalm 149:4). You are in Christ and Christ is in you. You have been washed of your sins and God is making you like Jesus. He dresses you in robes of righteousness and calls you his child. For all eternity we will delight in God, but also God will delight in us.
The reason things don’t ‘just happen’ is because God is in control (12-14)
Haman was so consumed with hatred for Mordecai that he could not wait until the edict would come into power, and Mordecai would die with all the rest of his people. But his wife and friends can see that things are not ‘just happening’. They see what we see in these events. They warn Haman, ‘if Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him’ (13). The God of the Bible, who had a special relationship with the Jews in the Old Testament, from whom he brought the Christ to bless the nations, is an unstoppable force.
Conclusion: The comfort (and challenge) of the fact that things don’t ‘just happen’
The fact that things don’t ‘just happen’ is one of the most comforting things that a Christian can be told. Sometimes we can look back and we are thankful for the way that the invisible God has worked things out in our lives. I am so relieved that even my weaknesses, compromises and sin don’t plunge my life into a sea of chaos. You are in the care of the God who delights in his people.
But how can we hold on to God when the things that ‘just happen’ result in pain? This week I went to see friends whose son died by suicide. How do we speak of a God who is in control in a situation like that? What possible good could God have in mind through that young man's death? It all seems too much!
I think of what Simon Peter said when he was confronted with difficult teaching that had lead many people to stop following Jesus. He said to his Saviour, ‘Where else can we go? You have the words of life’ (John 6:66). The idea that the things that ‘just happen’ are in God’s control may present us with difficult questions, but where else can we go? Would it really be better to believe that our suffering was pointless? Would it really be a comfort to think that we had a weak God who looks on helplessly as our circumstances are tossed about on the waves of chaos? Of course not! There is mystery. There may be immense pain. I don’t expect those of you who are suffering to be able to easily embrace the sovereign control of God. But I know that the thought of a God who would let things ‘just happen’ without purpose or control is a terrifying thought.
ast week, I mentioned John Bunyan, who spent twelve years in prison for his faith. He said that, ‘I was made to see that if ever I would suffer rightly, I must … live upon the God that is invisible.’ May God help us to trust the God who ‘just happened’ to give his Son so that we would be secure in his love.