On a Christian forum website I regularly read, one of the Christians had posted some sad news. He had participated regularly with a Christian Missionary organization called Honduras Outreach. This week in a remote mountain village in Honduras, their vehicle was in an accident in rugged terrain. There were 28 adults from four church groups from Georgia. Ten people suffered various injuries from head injuries to a broken femur; three people died. They were in Mal Pais, Honduras to bring fresh water to villages, build chimneys in homes to reduce lung inflammations, lay concrete floors, and build latrines. I found the press release and made copies for everyone; it includes the names of these heroes and links to their individual churches. Pray for their families this week and this organization that is doing so much to help people and spread the love of Christ.
The Christians that participate in this forum I read were supportive and offered prayers and condolences; the original poster was concerned that people might be afraid to serve with Honduras Outreach that does so much good for some of the poorest people on the planet. That if people realized how dangerous this missionary work is, people would not sign up for it. There are a lot of non-Christians and even atheists that participate on that forum â€“ God bless them, Iâ€™m learning a lot about what the world teaches people and itâ€™s often not pretty. One post from an atheist begins, â€œDo you really believe any of this stuff yourself? Or is Christianity just one big social club?â€ The atheist asked, â€œ”God works in mysterious ways” is usually a good one for you — but it solves nothing. For example, why didn’t God just keep his eye on his good missionaries in South America and save them from being killed in the first place? Do you suppose he wasn’t pleased with their â€˜workâ€™? Do you suppose he just wanted to â€˜call them homeâ€™?â€
Yes, God works in mysterious ways, but the more one studies God and learns these mysterious ways, the clearer answers to questions like these becomes. Many Christians â€“ and non-Christians â€“ believe that Godâ€™s primary function is to protect us, preserve us, prosper us. An omnipotent Santa Clause where we line up, confess Jesus as our Lord, and then hold a big bag open for God to pour in His blessings. A belief in a God like this cannot understand why God would lead people someplace where they would be uncomfortable or be in some sort of danger. Why God would send missionaries to Honduras and then not use His big supernatural hand to keep their bus from tipping over. Scripture confirms and comforts us that God loves us and He cares for His children. We can take great comfort in knowing the almighty Lord is in control. But Godâ€™s primary purpose is not to pamper us. Godâ€™s will is not what we will it to be, and rather than trying to find out why God isnâ€™t doing our will, we can study our entire lives to find out what Godâ€™s will is. It took Moses 40 years of study before he was able to know the will of God. We only have about 30 minutes today, not nearly enough time to learn all about God. Weâ€™re going to see today that Godâ€™s primary purpose is accomplishing His will through His people. Those purposes are not always comfortable, not always safe. Sometimes it will require sacrifice; sometimes it will require great personal risk. The Lord expects His people to exercise faith in obedience to His will in whatever situation the Lord leads.
Weâ€™re continuing the book of Esther this week, chapter 3 and 4. Last week, Fred introduced us to Esther who was a poor Jewish orphan girl. Through a series of â€œcoincidences,â€ she was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive there? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, her inner and external beauty. This beauty is a gift from God, and like all gifts, we are entrusted by God to use it wisely, for His glory alone, in obedience to Him. The old Queen Anna Nicole Smith, er, I mean Queen Vashti, weâ€™re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further Godâ€™s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther also had external beauty, but also internal beauty.
In Chapter 3 of Esther, the plot thickens, mwahaha. Enter the villain of our lesson, Haman. In Esther 3:1-2,
After these events, King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles. All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor.
This is ominous. Hamanâ€™s father was Hammedatha the Agagite, which means he was a descendant of Agag the king of the Amalekites. The Amalekites were a tribe from Canaan who had constantly opposed the Israelites throughout history, from the Exodus out of Egypt throughout the reign of David. In Exodus 17:8-16, around 1440 B.C, just after Moses struck the rock and the water flowed, the Amalekites attacked the Israelites. Joshua led the battle against the Amalekites, and Moses stood on top of a hill with his arms raised in glory to the Lord while Aaron and Hur held his arms up. When the Amalekite army fled, Exodus 17:14-16 says,
Then the LORD said to Moses, “Write this on a scroll as something to be remembered and make sure that Joshua hears it, because I will completely blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven.” Moses built an altar and called it The LORD is my Banner. He said, “For hands were lifted up to the throne of the LORD. The LORD will be at war against the Amalekites from generation to generation.”
Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. 1 Samuel 15:1-3, it says,
Samuel said to Saul, “I am the one the LORD sent to anoint you king over his people Israel; so listen now to the message from the LORD. This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’ “
And of course the Israelites were obedient, right? But noooooâ€¦ Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The next morning, Saul tells Samuel, â€œI did it, I followed the Lordâ€™s instructions!â€ And Samuel is like, â€œDo I hear sheep?â€ And Saul says, â€œAh, the sheep. Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lordâ€™s instructions.â€ The Lord kept trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.
Now, another 500 years later, around 500 B.C., we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom or Persia where the Israelites live as subject to the king of Persia. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.
King Xerxes (or Ahasuerus) of Persia does orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. Itâ€™s not clear what Haman did to deserve this promotion, or exactly what his new position is. From some of the other verses in Esther, it seems that King Xerxes and Haman were drinking buddies. But Haman gets a new lofty title, likeâ€¦ Darth Vader, and everybody is supposed to bow down and give homage to him.
Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, itâ€™s not against Jewish law to bow down and give respect. The Jews bowed down before their own kings in other books of the bible, like 1st and 2nd Samuel and in 1st Kings. And Mordecai also almost certainly bowed down to King Xerxes or he wouldnâ€™t be alive.
Some scholars believe that one reason Mordecai would not bow may be that as a descendent of Agag, Haman would believe he was devine or semi-devine, a god. Mordecai would certainly not bow down before another god. Other scholars believe it was simply because Mordecai would not bow down before an enemy of God, an Amalekite who hated Jews.
Whichever one it was, Haman certainly noticed the one man standing while everybody else at the kingâ€™s gate bowed down to him. The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.
Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasnâ€™t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.
Then Haman said to King Xerxes, “There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”
Haman could not come right out and tell King Xerxes he wanted to kill all the Jews. Xerxes would know that the Jews were loyal subjects; Mordecai had himself saved King Xerxes life in the second book of Esther. So Haman mixes in half-truthsâ€¦ a â€œcertainâ€ people. Theyâ€™reâ€¦ â€œdifferent.â€ They donâ€™tâ€¦ â€œobey.â€ You shouldnâ€™t have to â€œtolerateâ€ them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these â€œcertain peopleâ€ should be killed.
As Christians, weâ€™re still at war with the Amalekites. Dagnabbit Saul, why didnâ€™t you do as you were told? The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the kingâ€™s gate, and weâ€™re still not bowing down. The Amalekites sit at the gate of information. They taint Christians with half-truths:
– Control freaks. Instead of focusing on attempts to save the lives of unborn children, they paint us as trying to control what women do with their own bodies.
– Hate-mongerers because we encourage people to turn from sinful ways.
– Uptight people that do not want to have fun, or let anybody else have fun.
The Amalekites sit at the gate of entertainment:
– Movies and television that portray Christians as uptight people, like Ned Flanders of the Simpsons
– The NBC show â€œThe Book of Danielâ€ that portrayed Christians as hallucinogenic, influenced by drugs and dysfunctional.
The Amalekites sit at the gate of Academia:
– No recognition of God in our schools. No Christmas, no Easter.
– We control our own destiny, evolution happens all by itself without any influence by our grand designer.
– That case in California, near Oakland, where schools used role-playing to teach seventh graders about Islamic history by making them wear nametags with Islamic imagery, memorize Islamic religious teachings as â€œfactâ€, wear Islamic clothing, recite phrases from the Koran and mimic the fasting of Ramadan. This was in 2002, after 9/11.
The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:
– The Oakland case on teaching Islam was upheld by the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals
– People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a â€œseparation of church and state.â€
– â€œUnder Godâ€ removed from Pledge of Allegiance (which is still being fought in the courts).
So with half-truths and innuendos, Haman convinced Xerxes to sign the death warrant for the Jews.
Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman cast lots (v7) and decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned (v12), and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the satraps, governors, in all the provinces. This took a lot of time since they didnâ€™t have email or FoxNews. In Esther 3:13-14,
Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews â€” young and old, women and little childrenâ€”on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. A copy of the text of the edict was to be issued as law in every province and made known to the people of every nationality so they would be ready for that day.
The Jews would have an entire year to fear their fate. Apparently this was met with a lot of confusion in the city of Susa. In verse 15, King Xerxes and Haman sit down to drink a toast to the destruction of the Jews, but the city itself was bewildered. The Jews had been loyal subjects. Why had the king ordered them destroyed?
Mordecai is a little troubled by all of this, if you can understand this. By refusing to bow down before Haman, he had set in motion the destruction of all of his people within the year. Esther 4:1 â€“
When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly.
Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. Heâ€™s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Esther 4:2,
But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it.
Apparently they had some sort of dress code and Mordecai was not allowed inside. Esther 4:3,
In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Esther apparently is oblivious, though, because she sends the kingâ€™s eunuch that was assigned to attend her to go find out whatâ€™s up with the sackcloth.
The eunuch, Hathach, went out to Mordecai to get the scoop, and Mordecai is very prepared. Mordecai tell Hattach everything that has happened, how Haman has ordered the destruction of the Jews, and also gives him proof â€“ look, hereâ€™s a copy of the edict. Mordecai tells Hathach to explain all this to Esther and tell Esther to beg the king for mercy for the Jews.
In verse 9, Hathach reports back to Esther and tells her everything Mordecai has said, including Mordecaiâ€™s request for Esther to go before the king. Estherâ€™s like, uh, no, thatâ€™s a bad idea. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was still a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict â€“ if you crash the kingâ€™s party, you die. There was a possibility that the king could hold out his golden scepter and your life would be spared. But whatever relationship Esther and the king had, it was not currently in the best of conditions. Esther had not been summoned by the king for 30 days. She was certain that to appear before the king would mean her death.
How do we understand God, who created us and everything we see? Do we decide who He is, and then assume God will do what we want? Or do we decide to be obedient and try to understand what God wants? Do we stay safe, keep silent, avoid taking risks? Or do we try to be obedient?
God’s will will be done, whether we obey or not. We can choose to participate, be a spectator, or deny Him altogether, but we cannot thwart God’s will. God sees history all at once, past, present and future. God creates us for a purpose and plants us right where we are. Your job, your family, your pretty face, your intelligent brain, your feelings, your money, your talents have all come together for this one instant, this one instant that will never occur again. In another minute, in another hour, this moment will have passed.
In 1 Corinthians 7:17-24, Paul explains this concept to new Christians. It says,
Nevertheless, each of you should live as a believer in whatever situation the Lord has assigned to you, just as God has called you. This is the rule I lay down in all the churches. Was a man already circumcised when he was called? He should not become uncircumcised. Was a man uncircumcised when he was called? He should not be circumcised. Circumcision is nothing and uncircumcision is nothing. Keeping God’s commands is what counts. Each of you should remain in the situation you were in when God called you. Were you a slave when you were called? Don’t let it trouble youâ€”although if you can gain your freedom, do so. For those who were slaves when called to faith in the Lord are the Lord’s freed people; similarly, those who were free when called are Christ’s slaves. You were bought at a price; do not become slaves of human beings. Brothers and sisters, all of you, as responsible to God, should remain in the situation in which God called you.
In other words, Paul tells us as Christians we are to bloom where we are planted. How? It says, right in the middle of those verses, â€œkeeping Godâ€™s commands is what counts.â€ Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.
Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and canâ€™t bloom. I read a story about a woman who was complaining about working with heathens. The boss was mean, her coworkers poked fun at her faith, and out of a hundred employees, she was the only Christian. Her pastor complimented her and told her God must think a lot of her to trust her with 100 people. If she quit, the only light these people have would be gone. Maybe she wasnâ€™t stuck. Maybe she was just planted.
And donâ€™t fall for that â€œgrass is always greener on the other side of the fenceâ€ philosophy. The only reason grass is green is because itâ€™s watered and cared for. If you want your grass to be green, bloom where you are planted.
Mordecai knows all this. Esther is exactly where God put her. God removed Vashti and placed Esther as queen. She had every resource she needed to do Godâ€™s will. But will she do it? Will she risk everything given to her to do what God wants her to do? God had given Esther so much. God gave her external beauty, and it was her beauty that gave her and her alone access to the king. Would she put her beauty on the line and risk death? God gave her position â€“ she was queen and had access like nobody else. Would she put her position as queen on the line and risk death? Esther also had her inner beauty and love for her people. Most important, Esther had the entire kingdom of heaven behind her. She had everything she needed, but would she risk it, or would fear hold her back?
Mordecai delivers at this point one of the most memorable lines of the bible. He tells Esther that God will accomplish His purpose, nothing she does or does not do will change that fact. If Esther will not do it, the God will save His chosen people another way. Estherâ€™s choice is whether she is going to participate in Godâ€™s plan and realize that her entire being, her beauty and position, was orchestrated by God, and God will accomplish His will through His obedient people. Mordecai also tells her that if sheâ€™s trying to save her own skin, sheâ€™s probably going to lose that, too. Sheâ€™s a Jew â€“ if the Jews are eliminated, that includes her. She cannot save her own life. All she can do is choose to be obedient, or not.
Mordecai says in Esther 4:13-14,
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?”
The entire purpose of Estherâ€™s life had come to a point of decision. Her entire existence had a purpose. What was more important, being queen, or being the liberator of the Jews? God will not fail to keep His promises or fall short of His purposes, therefore, the deliverance of the Jews was certain. God had made Esther queen so that she could deliver His people. God places people exactly where they can serve Him.
Our beautiful Esther, spurred by her cousin of faith, chose to do Godâ€™s will, and fully aware of the consequences. Esther 4:15-16,
Then Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my maids will fast as you do. When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
And if I perish, I perish. Godâ€™s will be done. Esther did the right thing, obeying God, even though it was against the law and at risk to her life. This is a key to understanding all you are. You are Godâ€™s child and entrusted with your life to serve him. If I perish, I perish.
While Christians in other nations like Sudan are risking their lives, in America the risk to life is pretty small. In fact, we mostly just risk our own comfort. Afraid to defend the words of Jesus because we donâ€™t want to look silly. Afraid to tithe because if we just had a few more dollars we could afford that Lexus. Afraid to serve because we might miss out on an episode of American Idol.
What are you doing with the resources God has given you? Are you using your talents, your money, your looks, your heart, in a way that is pleasing to God? Are you taking risks in service to Him who created you? Or are you afraid?
Dr. Young and Wallace Henley of the West Campus sent the following that I thought wrapped up todayâ€™s lesson well. It says,
79 years ago God brought us together as the family that would be known as Second Baptist Church. On that founding Sunday, the first pastor preached the first sermon in the life of this church. His text was Esther 4, the very passage we study today.
That pastor said to the congregation assembled in 1927â€”â€œWho knows but what God has brought us as a body of Christ to the kingdom for such a time as this?â€
History has proven him right. The generations who followed caught the vision, and because of that tens of thousands of people have been transformed by Jesus Christ. Theyâ€™ve impacted families, educational institutions, politics and government, businesses and the marketplace with the vision, values and worldview of Godâ€™s Kingdom.
They sacrificed, many giving sacrificially so the great ministry of this church could be carried out. They did so because they understood Godâ€™s providence and that He had a plan for them individually, and their resources.
Now the question is before usâ€”Will there be a generation a century from now who will still be standing like Mordecai, still be using the best of the themselves and their resources, like Esther, for Godâ€™s Kingdom?
That answer is in our willingness to say of our personal lives and resources, â€œIf I perish, I perishâ€¦â€
Examine yourself and where you are in this world. God placed you right here for a reason. Our talents, our money, our selves should be used for Godâ€™s purposes, every minute of the day. Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God. Bloom where you are planted.