Wednesday, 7 March 2018

A victory worth celebrating (Esther 8)

What causes you to celebrate?  I celebrate in Thomond Park when the Munster Rugby team win a big European Cup match.  After the final whistle the crowd erupts into our anthem of ‘Stand Up and Fight’.  The team comes out and applauds the crowd, and we applaud them.  I am tempted to hug people I have never met before.  Then I go home and look up the match reports and players ratings.  I then can’t wait to dissect the victory with some of my fellow rugby fans in the next day or two.
However, I suspect it does my faith more good when the Munster team lose a big game.  You see then I am reminded that it is only sport.  Despite all the talk of legendary players and historic matches, it will be all soon forgotten.  It is after all about thirty men running around an overly manicured pitch chasing an imitation leather ball.  I have been known to get into my car and pray, ‘thank you for reminding me that this doesn’t really matter, it’s not life and death, and it is of zero eternal significance.  Thank you that I have something so much more significant to live for.’  What makes us most happy says a lot about us. 
This morning we are going to look at an ancient story in the book of all books.  We are going to see God’s people celebrate a magnificent victory.  We are also going to see that the victory recorded in this chapter points ahead to the greatest victory that has ever being seen.

1.     Celebrate the fact that your life is not in the hand of blind faith 

In the Old Testament period, God had a special relationship with the Jews.  Many of these Jews were in exile in a city called Susa, which was in Persia (now modern Iran).  The king of Persia was Xerxes and he had a wicked official called Haman.  Haman hated the Jews and deceived the king into issuing an edict to have them annihilated.  In a delicious irony, Haman ended up being put to death on the very gallows he had prepared for the godly Mordecai.
The book of Esther is characterised by a number of reversals of fortune.  We see one at the beginning of our reading.  King Xerxes gives the property of Haman to Queen Esther (the property of criminals was forfeited to the crown).  Then Esther tells King Xerxes that she is related to Mordecai, and King Xerxes of Persia takes off his signet ring, which he had reclaimed from Haman, and gives it to Mordecai, signifying delegated authority.  Esther appoints Mordecai to be in charge of Haman’s property.
Do you know that God is never mentioned in this book?  But can there be any doubt that he stands behind these surprising events.  The book of Proverbs tells us, that in ‘the Lord’s hand the king’s heart is like a stream of water that he channels towards all that please him’ and that ‘we can make our plans, but the Lord determines our steps.’  So don’t give up hope!  Your heavenly Father may seem absent, but your life is not in the hand of blind fate. 

2.    Celebrate the fact that God is greater than your enemy.

However, there is a still a major problem.  What are we to do about the edict which orchestrated to annihilate the Jews? 
For the second time in this book, Esther takes her life in her hands and approaches King Xerxes.  You see to approach the king without a summons could be punishable by death.  Xerxes informs Esther that under the Persian legal system a royal edict could not be revoked.  Yet, Xerxes comes up with a plan.  Send a message to the Jews in the king’s name, telling them whatever you want, and seal it with the king’s signet ring.  So Mordecai dictates a decree granting the Jews in every city throughout the Persian Empire giving them the right to destroy and kill and armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children, and to plunder the property of their enemies.  The day appointed by Haman’s edict and Mordecai’s defence was the thirteenth day of the month of Adar (or March 7th according to the New Living Translation).
Have you ever wondered how the Jews were going supposed to be able to defend themselves against the might of those who opposed them.  They were after all a small and insignificant people.  Look at the last verse of this chapter.  The people feared what the Jews might do to them.  This is one of the themes of the whole of the Old Testament.  The battle belongs to the Lord.  The Jews weren’t a great military power, but when they trusted their God he defeated their enemies.  Our God is the one who has dealt with our guilt and defeated our accuser.  We simply act in light of his victory. 
I love the words in the book of Revelation where God’s people are immune to the accusations of our enemy, Satan, ‘for they have defeated him by the blood of the Lamb and their testimony’ (Revelation 12:11).  Or what about the many Christians who are killed even today for their faith.  Has God let them down?  Listen to Jesus warning his disciples, ‘they will kill some of you.  And everyone will hate you because you are my followers.  But not a hair of you head will perish’ (Luke 21:17-19).  How can you square martyrdom with an untouched head?  We can do so by remembering that Jesus told us not to fear those who can kill the body but not touch our soul (Matthew 10:28).     

3.     Celebrate that there is a gospel wroth proclaiming.

I find the closing verses of our chapter fascinating.  When Mordecai left the king’s presence, he was wearing royal garments of blue and white, a large crown of gold and a purple robe of fine linen.  Our Saviour has been clothed in honour and sits at the Father’s side, and like the messengers Mordecai sent throughout the empire, we have been good news that should cause God’s chosen people to rejoice.  ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who bring good news! (Romans 10:15 and Isaiah 52:7).
And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration.  In every province and in every city to which the edict of the king came, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebration.  And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews seized them.
The people of that city clearly didn’t share Haman’s hatred of the Jews.  The city had been bewildered when the edict to annihilate the Jews (3:15).  Perhaps the people of Susa had also suffered under the tyranny of Haman.  What a blessing to have him replaced by the godly Mordecai.  While we can’t deny that many awful things have been done by people claiming to represent Jesus, the world does not realise how much it is blessed by those who love the Lord.  How many hospitals and schools have been set up because people love Jesus?  When the evangelical missionaries arrived in Tahiti in the 1800s the murder rate was in the thirties, but after a few years of their influence the murder rate was down to single figures.  Let’s pray that our influence changes our homes, families, schools and workplaces for good!
So what causes you to celebrate?  God has been good to all people!  The apostle Paul told the people of Lystra and Derbe, that God sends you rain and good crops and gives you food and joy in your hearts’ (Acts 14:17).  We may celebrate momentous events like the birth of a child.  We may be gladdened by a good exam result or getting a job.  We might get approved for a mortgage.  What about getting an all-clear on a cancer scare?  Of course you gladness might be petty, like when Manchester United get beaten, or unrealistic as you hope for the Limerick hurlers to win the All-Ireland.
ut what caused the rejoicing in this chapter in the book of books?  They rejoiced because the invisible God had come to our rescue.  That’s why Christians sing, and atheists don’t have any hymns.  That’s why Christians are prepared to suffer for their faith, and do so with hope.  That’s why we can know comfort even when our world is falling apart (although I know that many faithful Christians can find that hope almost impossible to feel).  You see there is a victory that will be celebrated for eternity.  

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