King of the Darkest Night

I. Introduction

We are nearly finished with the Old Testament studies for this year. The Chronological Bible has brought us from the Garden of Eden to our study of Esther today. Through it all, God’s people have continually rebelled against the Lord, but the Lord remains faithful to His people.

But the Lord has continually warned Israel that disobedience leads to captivity, and the people of Jerusalem have been in captivity, primarily in Babylon, but Chris taught us last week about Daniel’s prophecy that the Persian empire is rising. Not to free Israel, but to defeat Babylon in accordance with Daniel’s prophecy. And now the people are in captivity under Persia. But through all this, God has not forgotten His people.

II. Background History

We going to need more than our thirty minutes together to recap the book of Esther. The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing. I encourage you to read this story in its entirety to see God’s faithfulness.

We have a movie today to review, full of twist and turns, love and betrayal, good versus evil. There’s a large cast of characters with many conflicting motives. Let’s talk about the book itself. The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim. The book is interesting for what it does not mention. It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem. It’s a story. A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

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Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC. Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces. Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

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That’s a huge swath of civilization. And somehow a simple Jewish girl in exile become the Queen of Persia and saved her people from genocide.

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.
The good:

Mordecai the Jew. He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin. He lives in Susa in the center of Persia. The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus. We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old. Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

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In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

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So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, he’s also her uncle.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah. She’s a Jewish orphan girl. Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name. Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther. She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

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The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name. Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word. Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes. Both are right, but since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

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Queen Vashti. Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon. She’s married to Xerxes.

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Attendant-guy. He doesn’t actually have a name, unless it’s Harbona from Esther 7:9. But we need him to be an extra in our movie, but he doesn’t get his name listed when the credits roll at the end.

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III. Scene 1, Esther 1. The Old Queen is Vanquished.

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As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration. And I mean massive. It is a celebration that last 6 months long. The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months. And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done. Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors. There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl. And it says in verse 8,

“By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk. He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot. You guys want to see her? Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti. Tell her to wear her crown.”

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Vashti is in the palace. She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time. The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men. PS. Wear your crown.” Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.” And the king is mad. He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown. He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king. If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband. On demand. Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions. It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends. After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left. End Scene I.

IV. Scene 2, Esther 2. The New Queen is Appointed.

Slide12.JPGAs we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering from his hangover. One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants. All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Enter Mordecai and Esther. Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her. She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily. He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan. After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees. Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is. Get this girl a crown.”

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Esther is made Queen of Persia. A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head. An incredible turn of events for her.
You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts. Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia. How did she arrive here? Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty. Her beauty was 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 Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside. But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen. Esther has both external and internal beauty.

And Mordecai? He’s exactly where God wants him, too. During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king. He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king. Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s diary in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero. We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God. But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention. Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

V. Scene 3, Esther 3. The Dark Side.

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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.

I’ve always wondered about this. Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored. Is it because Mordecai was a Jew? Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous. Haman’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 have constantly been harassing 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.”

 

Slide15.JPGThese are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord. This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related. 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.’ “

God commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but Saul gets this idea to spare King Agag of the Amalekites and keep the sheep and cattle and fat calves and lambs. The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

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Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live. This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman. Mordecai refuses to bow down. Now, it’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 wouldn’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 divine or semi-divine, 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.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai. No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews. A religious, ethnic cleansing.  Verse 8-9,

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. So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people. They’re… “different.” They don’t… “obey.” You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them. By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed, and King signs the death warrant.

Persia was a big empire, and this ethnic cleansing could not happen immediately. Haman decided the annihilation would occur in the twelfth month of Adar, about a year away. All the royal secretaries were summoned, and the decree was written in every language of Persia and then distributed to all the governors in all the provinces. The Jews have a year to live.

VI. Scene 4, Esther 4. If I Perish, I Perish.

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Mordecai is troubled. 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 –

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.

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Part of this was a public display against the orders of the king, but most of it was probably genuine grief. He’s going to die. All of his loved ones are going to die. All of the people of his faith are going to die. Verse 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. Verse 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.

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All of the Jewish people are scared, mourning, praying, crying. Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace. Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.
This is a terrifying request to Esther. As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today. Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned. The law was strict – if you crash the king’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 our will? 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?

Fear not. God’s got this. God’s 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.

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 God’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 – 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. Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’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 she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too. She’s a Jew – 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 verse 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?”

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The entire purpose of Esther’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.
And here’s how to be faithful, Esther’s response to Mordecai is equally as famous as his question in verses 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 attendants 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.”

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“If I perish, I perish.” Jesus says that his follower should not store up for ourselves treasure on earth, and that includes our very lives. And Jesus also says not to fear the ones who can kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Jesus holds our soul in the very palm of His hand, and nobody can snatch us away. As Christians, we are free of death so that we may live, and Esther’s response to the fear of losing her life is perfect. If I perish, I perish.

VII. Scene 5, Esther 5. Rise of the Queen

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Despite the decrees of the land and the fear of death, Esther dresses in her finest royal robes and enters the inner court of the palace in front of the king’s hall. And much to Esther’s surprise, the king is glad to see her. King Xerxes holds out his golden scepter, and Queen Esther approaches. And the king says, “Are you wearing a crown? That is so cool.”

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No seriously, he is so pleased to see her, the King tells Esther to ask for anything, and the king will give it to her.

Queen Esther bats her long lashes at Xerxes – actually, that part isn’t in scripture, but it’s easy to imagine it being true. She bats her eyes at Xerxes and says, “Would you like to come over to dinner tonight? I’d like to ask my favor of you over a nice candlelight dinner. Just you and me…. And Haman?”

And the king I’m sure is like, what? Haman? Sure. Why not. Let’s have dinner tonight. Somebody fetch Haman.

Haman’s should be having a good day. Scripture says in the latter half of Esther 5 that as soon as Haman sees Mordecai at the King’s gate, still sitting in sackcloth and ashes because of that dress code, Mordecai doesn’t rise for Haman, doesn’t bow to Haman, isn’t afraid of Haman. And Haman is filled with rage. And he is still filled with rage when he gets home.

Haman’s family and friends are there and Haman gets the invitation to the queen’s banquet. And Haman starts bragging. Look at all my wealth. Look at all my power. And I am the only person invited to have dinner with the King and Queen. But while Mordecai defies me, I will never be happy.

Haman’s wife says, just ask the king to hang him. You’re buddies, he’ll do that for you, right? And Haman smiles a wicked smile.

Haman erects a huge pole outside his house. Verse 14 days it’s 75 feet tall, and that’s like twice the size of a Texas pine tree and even bigger than the egos of most politicians! I mean, it’s huuuge. And when the king tells Haman it’s ok to hang Mordecai, he’s going to hang Mordecai high on this pole outside of his own house.

VIII. Scene 6, Esther 6. A Sleepless Night.

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Scene 6 opens with the King unable to sleep. I like to think the King is excited about his upcoming dinner date with his queen, Esther. And Haman. Apparently attendant-guy or somebody like him writes down everything that happens in the king’s life. Kind of like keeping a diary, but somebody else fills in the pages for you.

Do you remember all the way back to Scene 2 where Mordecai overheard about the plot to assassinate the king? The king is reading his own diary like it’s some sort of murder mystery novel and reads about this guy who saved his life. And the king says, did we give this guy a gold medal or something for saving my life? And attendant-guy says, nope. We didn’t do diddly squat for him. Diddly squat is the ancient Hebrew.

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So the king says, I need some ideas on how to honor this guy Mordecai. Who’s hanging around in the lobby? Haman, bring him in. Hey Haman, if I wanted to give somebody some special recognition, what do you think I should do?

And Haman thinks, “Wow, the king is thinking about me.” And Haman says, “A parade! A parade with horses and a special robe and trumpets and stuff!” And the king says, “Great idea! Haman, go get a fancy robe and throw a parade for Mordecai!”

And Haman does what the king says, but you know it just rotted his socks to put a fancy robe on Mordecai and parade him around the city. And after the parade, Haman rushes home and cries, I think. But he doesn’t get to cry long, the king’s eunuchs arrive to take Haman to that fancy schmancy dinner with the King and Esther.

End Scene 6.

IX. Scene 7, Esther 7. The Dark Side Destroyed.

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Scene 7, the banquet. The king is there. The queen is there, batting her eyes. Haman is there, grumpy from the parade he had to throw for Mordecai.

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The king and queen gaze longingly into each other’s eyes. And the king says, have you thought about what sort of present you would like?
Esther says, “There is a decree that all my people will be killed. Every one of us! Please spare me!”

Then verses 5&6, I think the King had no idea that there was a decree that would kill all the Jews,

King Xerxes asked Queen Esther, “Who is he? Where is he—the man who has dared to do such a thing?”
Esther said, “An adversary and enemy! This vile Haman!”

The king immediately has Haman arrested, and then attendant-guy says, you know, there’s this huge pole, taller than two Texas pine trees, just outside of Haman’s house. Verse 9b-10,

The king said, “Impale him on it!” So they impaled Haman on the pole he had set up for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

X. Scene 8, Esther 8-10. They All Lived Happily Ever After. The End.

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Scene 8, they all lived happily ever after. The king gave Esther everything that Haman owned, Mordecai was given a place in the palace, and Haman’s order to destroy the Jews was revoked. The feast of Purim was established to memorialize the Jews rescued from certain death and destruction.

Even though God was not mentioned in the book of Esther, God’s hand was evident in the saving of His people. Even in captivity in a foreign land, God protected His people.

We, too, are protected, though we live in a foreign land. 1 Peter 2:11 calls Christians “foreigners and exiles” as we live in our pagan society. But God has not abandoned us here. His protection surrounds us, and God asks us to trust in Him for that protection.

And there’s still a huge pole that’s been erected, taller than two Texas pine trees, that saves us and destroys the enemy. Christ hangs upon that tree, defeating death and taking on our sins so that one day we too, live in eternity, happily ever after.

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The End. Or should I say, It is Finished.

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To God be the glory.

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Esther 1-3, Deliverance is Needed

              I.      Introduction

Chris wrapped up the book of Hebrews last week admirably with his statement that the husband always makes the coffee.  That’s why it is called, “He brews.”

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No, seriously, he wrapped up with, “How shall we live.”  Hebrews taught us that Jesus is sufficient for everything we need, and that He equips us today for today.  We have everything we need in Him to love, to worship, to serve, to study, to do everything and anything God asks us to do.

Now we’re going to spend two weeks on the book of Esther and see God’s people under a time of difficulty, and see how God calls His people to do His will at the time He calls them.

            II.      Background History

Two weeks is really too short to do the book of Esther justice.  The history, the life lessons, the imagery, the symbology in Esther is amazing.

We have a soap opera to review here, there are a lot of people involved right up front.  Let’s talk about the book itself.  The book of Esther is a historical novella, intended to teach the Jewish people of the history and significance of the feast of Purim.  The book is interesting for what it does not mention.  It doesn’t mention God, or the Law, or the Torah, or Jerusalem.  It’s a story.  A story of a simple Jewish girl and her uncle and how they live by faith in a hostile land.

          III.      Esther 1

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Both lived in the ancient kingdom of Persia under the king Ahasuerus, probably from 486-465 BC.  Persia at this time was huge; the book of Esther, chapter 1:1, says it included 127 provinces.  Modern countries which were once part of the Persian Empire include northern Greece, Macedonia, Bulgaria, Turkey, Syria, Lebanon, Israel and Palestine, Jordan, Turkey, Armenia, Georgia, Abkhazia, Chechnya, Ossetia regions, Azerbaijan, Iran, Iraq, Kuwait, Egypt, parts of Libya and Sudan, Turkmenistan, Uzbekistan, parts of Kazakhstan, Tajikistan, Afghanistan, Pakistan and parts of Kyrgyzstan.

That’s a huge swath of civilization.  So how did a simple Jewish girl in exile become Queen of Persia?

Well, you can’t have a soap opera without a cast of characters.

The good:

Mordecai the Jew.  He’s the son of Jair, tribe of Benjamin.  He lives in Susa in the center of Persia.  The Talmud records his name as Mordechai Bilshan, and he’s also mentioned in Ezra 2:2 and Nehemiah 7:7 as one of the exiles who returned to Jerusalem to rebuild the temple under the Persian king Cyrus.  We know that was in approximately 537 BC, which means Mordecai is about 64 years old.  Interestingly, the Talmud also lists Mordecai as a prophet who prophesied in the second year of King Darius, and also lists Mordecai as a direct descendant of Kish who is the father of the 1st king of Israel, Saul.

In Esther 2:7,

“And he brought up Hadassah, that is, Esther, his uncle’s daughter: for she had neither father nor mother, and the maid was fair and beautiful; whom Mordecai, when her father and mother were dead, took for his own daughter.”

So, Esther is actually Mordecai’s cousin, though Mordecai is the much older of the two, and since he adopted Esther as his own daughter, sometimes he’s Uncle Mordecai.

We also have Esther who is called Hadassah.  She’s a Jewish orphan girl.  Esther is her Persian name, Hadassah is her Hebrew name.  Mordecai forbids Esther to reveal her nationality and family background, so when she’s around Persians, she’s Esther.  She’s described as beautiful and having a lovely figure.

The king of Persia is Ahasuerus, which is a weird name.  Ahasuerus is a Latin word which is derived from a Hebrew word.  Other translations begin with a Greek word and is translated Xerxes.  Since Ahasuerus is so hard to spell and pronounce, I’m going to call him Xerxes.

Queen Vashti.  Traditional Jewish teachings about Vashti describe her as wicked and vain, the great-granddaughter of Nebuchadnezzar II of Babylon.  She’s married to Xerxes.
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As our story of Esther opens in Esther 1:1, Ahasuerus, I mean Xerxes, is holding a massive celebration.  And I mean massive.  It is a celebration that last 6 months long.  The sole purpose of the celebration was to demonstrate that Xerxes had a lot of money and could party for 6 months.  And at the end of the 6 months of partying, Xerxes isn’t done.  Xerxes then throws a banquet in an enclosed garden of his palace for his closest friends and advisors.  There are wall hangings of the finest linen, couches made of gold and silver, on floors made with marble and mother-of-pearl.  And it says in verse 8, “By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.”

So at the end of this week long binge, Xerxes is completely drunk.  He nudges his friends, “Man, my wife is hot.  You guys want to see her?  Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is, fetch my wife Vashti.  Tell her to wear her crown.”
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Vashti is in the palace.  She’s been holding her own banquet next door at the same time.  The attendant-guy shows up and says to Vashti, “The Great and Powerful Xerxes summons you to the enclosed garden of drunk men.  PS.  Wear your crown.”  Vashti says, “I don’t think so.”

So attendant-guy goes back to Xerxes and says, “Vashti says no.”  And the king is mad.  He’s furious that Queen Vashti won’t come parade before his drunk buddies wearing her crown.  He asks his drunk friends what they think he should do, and they say, She can’t tell you ‘no,’ you’re the king.  If this gets out, no wife will ever appear before their husband.  Wearing a crown.”

I’m thinking that week-long drinking binge isn’t the best environment for making serious decisions.  It’s clear from the context that Xerxes wasn’t trying to complement his wife, but to show her off as a trophy to his drunken friends.  After she refuses, king Xerxes doesn’t lash out at her but instead looks for a way to manipulate the law of the land to punish her and redeem his pride.

Pretending he’s helping all husbands in the kingdom, Xerxes banished Vashti from ever seeing Xerxes again, and her position as Queen will be given to somebody else.

Exit Vashti, stage left.  End Act I.

            IV.      Esther 2

As we move into chapter 2, Xerxes recovering with his hangover.  One his advisors suggests that Xerxes should hold the world’s first Ms. Persia contest and then Xerxes can select whoever he wants.  All of the beautiful young virgins throughout the kingdom are to be brought to the palace and given spa treatments until they’re ready to see the king.
Slide9
Enter Mordecai and Esther.  Esther’s taken to the palace and she placed in the trust of the king’s eunuch who takes special care of her.  She’s provided with beauty treatments and special food and 7 girlfriends to take care of her, while Mordecai checks on her daily.  He cautions her not to reveal that she’s a Jewish orphan.  After a full year of beauty treatments, she’s taken to King Xerxes, who likes what he sees.  Xerxes says, “Hey, attendant-guy, whatever your name is.  Get a crown.”

Esther is made Queen of Persia.  A simple Jewish orphan, now in the palace with a crown on her head.  An incredible turn of events for her.

You know, we’ve been talking about how God equips us today for today, and the story of the faithful Jewish orphan girl demonstrates God’s gifts.  Through a series of “coincidences,” Esther was elevated to a very high status, the Queen of Persia.  How did she arrive here?  Through submission to her faith, submission to her cousin who was her acting father, and because of her inner and external beauty.  Her beauty was 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 Kardashian, er, I mean Queen Vashti, we’re told, was very beautiful on the outside.  But she was not going to use her God-given beauty to further God’s purposes, so she was removed, and Esther became queen.  Esther also has both external and internal beauty which we will be seeing soon.

And Mordecai?  He’s exactly where God wants him, too.  During his daily visits to see Esther, he overhears a plot to assassinate the king.  He passes the news to Esther who in turn reports it to the king.  Mordecai’s courageous actions are recorded in the king’s annals in the presence of the king, Mordecai is given credit for thwarting an assassination, and he’s a hero.  We’re supposed to be good citizens, for all governments serve at Gods command, and Mordecai is faithful to God.  But by doing the right thing, Mordecai gains some unwanted attention.  Up to now he’s been happy as just a simple Jew living in exile.

              V.      Esther 3

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. 

I’ve always wondered about this.  Chapter 2 ends with Mordecai foiling the assassination, and Chapter 3 begins with “After these events,” and Haman is honored.  Is it because Mordecai was a Jew?  Was it because Haman took credit?

This is ominous.  Haman’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 have constantly been harassing 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.”

These are the Amalekites from whom Haman is descended. Then, 400 years later around 1040 B.C, the book of 1 Samuel chapter 15, Saul is commanded by the Lord.  This is the same Saul from whom Mordecai is related.  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 nooooo… You may remember this story, God has commanded Saul to put all of the Amalekites to death, but 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, “I did it, I followed the Lord’s instructions!”  And Samuel is like, “Do I hear sheep?”  And Saul says, “Ah, the sheep.  Well, um, well we saved Agag and the sheep and cattle, but, um, other than that we followed the Lord’s instructions.”  The Lord was trying to protect Israel by ordering Israel to destroy the Amalekites, and the Amalekites kept coming back and attacking Israel.

Now, another 500 years pass, and now we find Haman, an Amalekite and descendent of Agag, has been elevated to a position of power in the kingdom of Persia where the Israelites live.  This is really bad news for the Jews like Mordecai and Esther living there.

King Xerxes orders all the royal officials to bow down and pay honor to Haman.  Mordecai refuses to bow down.  Now, it’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 wouldn’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 king’s gate bowed down to him.  The other royal officials tried to pressure Mordecai to comply, but Mordecai refused, obeying his faith.  The others in the kingdom must have been distressed, verse 3 says the other spoke to him every day, asking Mordecai why he’s disobeying the king’s command.

Haman was enraged that this one man would not pay homage to him, and when Haman found out Mordecai was a Jew, he wasn’t satisfied with just killing Mordecai.  No, Haman decided this would be his chance to destroy all the Jews.  A religious, ethnic cleansing.

Before we leave this passage, let’s look at Esther 3:7.   As Pagans, it was common at the time to consult astrologers for serious decision, and Haman consults the “stars” to pick the right time to approach the king. Lots would be cast, most likely a colored or dark pebble would be drawn from others to determine the right month, day and time for the extermination of the Jewish people. This process is known as “Pur” or to “cast pur,” from the Persian language and practice.  Hence, the Feas of Purim that the Jewish people celebrate, a feast of deliverance.

Verse 8-9,

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.  So Haman mixes in half-truths… a “certain” people.  They’re… “different.”  They don’t… “obey.”  You shouldn’t have to “tolerate” them.  By laying out an incomplete picture with half-truths, Haman was able to convince the King that these “certain people” should be killed.

As Christians, we’re still at war with the Amalekites.  Dagnabbit Saul, why didn’t you do as you were told?  The Amalekites in positions of power today still sit at the king’s gate, and we’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 “The Book of Daniel” 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.

The Amalekites sit at the gate of the political establishment:

  • People believe the U.S. Constitution mandates a “separation of church and state.”
  • “Under God” 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 didn’t have email or FoxNews.  In verse 13,

Dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews — young and old, women and little children—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 –

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.  He’s going to die.  All of his loved ones are going to die.  All of the people of his faith are going to die.  Verse 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.  Verse 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.  Mordecai sends a message to Esther, who’s protected inside the palace.  Mordecai tells Esther to go to the king and beg for mercy for the Jews.

This is a terrifying request to Esther.  As queen, Esther did not have a husband/wife relationship like we understand it today.  Esther was a servant of the king, and she could only appear to him when summoned.  The law was strict – if you crash the king’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 our will?  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?

Fear not.  God’s got this.  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 you—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, “keeping God’s commands is what counts.”  Not the legalistic old testament stuff, but the attitude and love of Christ Jesus, with all your words and all your actions.
Slide18
Sometimes we feel stuck in a rut and can’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 wasn’t stuck.  Maybe she was just planted.

And don’t fall for that “grass is always greener on the other side of the fence” philosophy.  The only reason grass is green is because it’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 God’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 – 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.  Esther’s choice is whether she is going to participate in God’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 she’s trying to save her own skin, she’s probably going to lose that, too.  She’s a Jew – 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 verse 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 Esther’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.

            VI.      Conclusion

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 God’s purposes, every minute of the day.  Take a risk at being uncomfortable for God.  Bloom where you are planted.

What did Esther do?  Come back next week, and Libby will tell you.

To God be the glory.

Amazing Deliverance

I. Introduction

Who in this class has a collection? Dolls, thimbles, something else?

I used to collect pennies when I was a young teen. I’d go through my grandfather’s big jar of coins looking for specific pennies I didn’t have. The oldest penny I had was from 1916, if I recall correctly. Once, based on something I read, I took a magnet to my grandfather’s old coins and discovered two 1943 pennies made of steel. These coins bring back memories, as I’m sure the thimbles and dolls collected by some of you also bring back memories.

We try to protect precious memories. One of the most important memories I have is the day I married Diane for the second time. God had delivered me from my own bad mistakes and healed a broken marriage in a way no person could have done, and He did it on a specific and perfect timetable that I can look back on and remark upon His miracle. We celebrate this anniversary annually; it marks a new beginning of our family. It’s important to do something to commemorate our anniversary because it renews our memories of this important day. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten.

Today we’re going to study how God asked His people to remember when God moved His hand to deliver His people from bondage. Have you ever found yourself trapped by something? A struggle that you cannot free yourself from? Traps can be physical, like those 50 ships, including 2 passenger ferries, stuck in the Baltic Sea when it froze over a couple weeks ago. One of the cruise ships had 1000 people on it; ice breakers sent to rescue them also got stuck as the ice froze over as fast as it was broken. Traps can be emotional, they can be financial, the can be spiritual.

So, with so many traps keeping us in bondage, it’s no wonder we need deliverance just like the Israelites. Who needs deliverance? Why do we need deliverance? How can you experience the Lord’s amazing deliverance?

God delivers us from life’s traps. It’s a theme repeated throughout history, God delivers His people, and He still delivers you and me.

Last week Theresa taught us about 9 plagues the Lord sent against Pharaoh to free His people, and how each time Pharaoh promised to free the Israelites but then hardened his heart. Those plagues were frogs, gnats, darkness, really bad acne, um, halitosis, I forget the whole list. Still, the Israelites were trapped, in slavery, unable to free themselves from their bondage, and in need of a savior.

Now, God sends the 10th and final plague. Let’s see how He prepares His people.

II. Exodus 12:1-5, New Beginning

Exodus 12:1-5 –

The LORD said to Moses and Aaron in Egypt, “This month is to be for you the first month, the first month of your year. Tell the whole community of Israel that on the tenth day of this month each man is to take a lamb for his family, one for each household. If any household is too small for a whole lamb, they must share one with their nearest neighbor, having taken into account the number of people there are. You are to determine the amount of lamb needed in accordance with what each person will eat. The animals you choose must be year-old males without defect, and you may take them from the sheep or the goats.

God is creating a new beginning for His people to commemorate His deliverance. This new beginning is the first month of the first year of a brand new calendar. To remember this occasion, the head of each household will select an unblemished and perfect lamb to sacrifice.

Besides teaching us to commemorate the hand of the Lord, and how the Lord will deliver us, we also the beginning of the concept of atonement, or substitutionary death. Why was it important for the lamb to be unblemished, free of any defect?

How did Jesus meet this criteria? 1 Peter 1:18-19 says that we were not saved by perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect. John the Baptist proclaimed in John 1:29 the beginning of Jesus’ ministry with these words, “Behold, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!”

The sacrifice of the innocent to pay for the sins of the guilty. The lamb was innocent of any wrong doing. Just as Jesus was innocent of any wrongdoing. Romans 3:23 says that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. All of us, you and me. And Romans 6:23 says that the punishment for our sins is death, but God’s gift to us is eternal life in Christ Jesus our Lord. This concept of atonement begins here in Exodus 12, continues through Isaiah 53:5 that says that our redeemer was pierced for our transgressions, crushed for our iniquities, the punishment that brought us peace was upon him, and by his wounds we are healed. And all the way through the New Testament, 1 Peter 2:24, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, so that we might die to sins and live for righteousness, by his wounds we have been healed.”

Any other method of trying to provide for our own deliverance will fail. We do not have the ability to save ourselves any more than the Israelites could save themselves from Pharaoh. If we try, we will find we are sinners and must pay for our sins with eternal death. Jesus, the son of God, paid that price on our behalf that we may live in Him.

And when we accept this sacrifice, we become new creations. God delivers us from our eternal punishment, and we become adopted children of God. 2 Corinthians 5:17, “Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creations; the old has gone, the new has come!” God delivers us.

I remember vividly when I gave my life to Christ. I was old for a Christian, having spent my life claiming to be a Christian but living for myself, and gave myself to the Lord in the fall of 1998 at the age of 37. Got baptized in a swimming pool in Singapore. Do you have a new life in Christ? When did it begin? How has god provided a full life since then?

III. Exodus 12:6-11, Urgent Attitude

Once we have accepted Jesus, our lives take on a certain urgency. Exodus 12:6-11 –

Take care of them until the fourteenth day of the month, when all the people of the community of Israel must slaughter them at twilight. Then they are to take some of the blood and put it on the sides and tops of the doorframes of the houses where they eat the lambs. That same night they are to eat the meat roasted over the fire, along with bitter herbs, and bread made without yeast. Do not eat the meat raw or cooked in water, but roast it over the fire—head, legs and inner parts. Do not leave any of it till morning; if some is left till morning, you must burn it. This is how you are to eat it: with your cloak tucked into your belt, your sandals on your feet and your staff in your hand. Eat it in haste; it is the LORD’s Passover.

Remember the traps we talked about? Being stuck in the ice, financial traps, emotional traps? God tells the Israelites to eat in haste. Why is there urgency is being delivered from those traps? God is forever, but our earthly lives are not. Eventually, the sand runs out of our hourglass. We are now on a mission, the Great Commission, and we have a deadline. And we don’t even know when the deadline is, but it surely is coming. Matthew 24:42 says, “Therefore be on the alert, for you do not know which day your Lord is coming.”

What does God expect from us? God expects us to be obedient to Him, to trust in Him because He know all. God expects us to become more and more Christ-like, to become sanctified through the Word. God expects us to be a light to all, to be submissive to each other and strengthen each other. God expects us to spread the word, make new disciples that will continue to spread the gospel long after we’re gone.

God wants us to remember all these things. If we are going to experience the deliverance from God and expect others to also experience God’s deliverance, it’s urgent we practice obedience now. God expects us to take our mission seriously and urgently. And whatever traps us now, there is an urgency to surrender that to God and just let Him deliver us. We cannot move forward as long as we let something hold us back.

We cannot underestimate the significance of sin in our lives and how offensive sin is to a most Holy God. When Julie taught us that the smallest amount of sin in our lives would cause us to fry in the presence of Jehovah, it was a vivid picture of how far we are from trying to earn our way into heaven. God tells his people to make bread without yeast, unleavened bread, and later in Exodus 12:19 God says that whoever eats anything with yeast in it during this Passover will be cut off from Israel. These are not baking instructions. Jesus says in Matthew 16:11-12, “How is it you don’t understand that I was not talking to you about bread? But be on your guard against the yeast of the Pharisees and Sadducees.” And 1 Corinthians 5:6-8, “Your boasting is not good. Don’t you know that a little yeast leavens the whole batch of dough? Get rid of the old yeast, so that you may be a new unleavened batch—as you really are. For Christ, our Passover lamb, has been sacrificed. Therefore let us keep the Festival, not with the old bread leavened with malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth.” So it’s definitely not a baking recipe, it’s a warning that a little sin will spread throughout the whole body.

Let’s not overlook the significance of the blood covering. Leviticus 17:11 says, “For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life.” Blood is life. I don’t think it’s any coincidence that our advanced society still requires blood donations and haven’t developed artificial blood. They’ve developed some stuff that can help refill the circulatory system in case of blood loss, but they haven’t developed red blood cells to carry oxygen, white blood cells for fighting diseases, plasma with proteins, platelets to stop blood loss, and so on. Blood is life.

And 1 John 1 :7 says, “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another, and the blood of Jesus, his Son, purifies us from all sin.” It is the blood of Jesus that saves us and gives us eternal life.

For the Israelites, it was only the covering of blood over the door that would save them and deliver them from their bondage. For us, it is only the covering of the blood of Jesus that saves us from our sins and delivers us from our eternal punishment.

So is it any wonder that God told the Israelites to make their preparations with haste?

IV. Exodus 12:12-13, Divine Mercy

If God’s people did as they were instructed and made their sacrifice in haste, the they were saved from the wrath of God. Verse 12-13 –

“On that same night I will pass through Egypt and strike down every firstborn — both men and animals — and I will bring judgment on all the gods of Egypt. I am the LORD. The blood will be a sign for you on the houses where you are; and when I see the blood, I will pass over you. No destructive plague will touch you when I strike Egypt.”

And so begins the 10th plague, the death of every firstborn. Who was judged this night? Egyptians were pantheists, believing that everything in the world was part of a god or goddess. And they were polytheists, worshiping many gods that were all around them. Each god or goddess was involved in a different part of their lives.

God is very deliberate in His wrath, demonstrating his power over all of nature. God says, “I am the Lord.” He stands apart, holy. All other gods are demons. Each of the first 9 plagues demonstrated God’s sovereignty over a popular Egyptian god to demonstrate that He alone is God. And now the 10th plague over all male firstborns including animals demonstrate that no one is god but God alone.

Death is a powerful and painful lesson. It gets our attention like nothing else in this world. And it’s unavoidable. It is God’s final recourse in showing His power to liberate His people and God’s supremacy over Pharaoh’s little gods. When Pharaoh refused, thousands perished. When Israel believed, thousands lived. And today, every person’s fate hinges on either believing or not believing the one true and living God in heaven. And God used the ultimate death, His son Jesus, to save us.

Who needed mercy that night? Everyone, was it not? Who received mercy that night? What was the sole distinguishing mark that granted the Israelites divine mercy?

Romans 2:5 is addressed to those who have not accepted the blood covering of Jesus. “But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed.” Who needs mercy now? And who receives mercy? This is God’s plan to the end of time; in Revelation 7:9, there is a great multitude that no one could count from every nation, tribe, people and language, standing before the throne and in front of the Lamb. In Revelation 7:14, we are told who these people are and the distinguishing mark of the believer. “These are they who have come out of the great tribulation; they have washed their robes and made them white in the blood of the Lamb.”

God has had a plan from the beginning to deliver us from our sins that deserve His wrath. His judgment is perfect; that’s why we should fear Him. But His mercy is perfect; that’s why we should love Him. He first loved us and provided a way to deliver us from our sins that trap us in bondage. We are free in Christ.

God is our deliverer. Psalm 68:20, “God is unto us a God of deliverances; And unto Jehovah the Lord belongeth escape from death.” Psalm 40:17, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me. You are my help and my deliverer; you are my God, do not delay.” Psalm 144:2, “He is my loving God and my fortress, my stronghold and my deliverer.” God’s divine mercy has freed us from our traps through Jesus Christ. There is no reason to remain in bondage, halleluiah.

V. Exodus 12:14, Precious Memory

These lessons must be continually learned from one generation to the next. Anything not carefully remembered is easily forgotten, so we must carefully prepare our lives and celebrations in a way that the next generation will also come to know the saving blood of Jesus. Exodus 12:14 –

This is a day you are to commemorate; for the generations to come you shall celebrate it as a festival to the LORD – a lasting ordinance.

Why did the people of Israel need a permanent statue? What would this memory do for them when they faced hard times later?

Do rituals save us? What rituals do churches observe today?

1 Corinthians 11:23-28 describes why we eat of the Lord’s Supper:

For I received from the Lord what I also passed on to you: The Lord Jesus, on the night he was betrayed, took bread, and when he had given thanks, he broke it and said, “This is my body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of me.” In the same way, after supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood; do this, whenever you drink it, in remembrance of me.” For whenever you eat this bread and drink this cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

So then, whoever eats the bread or drinks the cup of the Lord in an unworthy manner will be guilty of sinning against the body and blood of the Lord. Everyone ought to examine themselves before they eat of the bread and drink of the cup.

Rituals can enslave us if we make the ritual the point instead of a remembrance. The whole purpose of the Lord’s Supper is to remember the divine sacrifice Jesus made for us and to remember to examine ourselves to see if we are living lives pleasing to the Lord. That is the reason we commemorate God’s amazing deliverance and pass those memories down to future generations. So that they, too, may be delivered from their bondage.

VI. Conclusion

Trying to commemorate a deliverance that hasn’t occurred is meaningless. How can we be certain we have experienced God’s love in salvation?

Our goal today was twofold: We want to be certain each of us has experienced God’s amazing deliverance, and we want to be sure to commemorate our deliverance so that we never forget and that others know of God’s plan for salvation. And if you are in a trap or bondage that you have not surrendered to the Lord, it’s about time we give it to the Lord and surrender to Him. We are free in Christ.

We can experience a new beginning when we trust in the Lord for our deliverance and obey His instructions. The Lord gives us a sense of urgency, for we do not know the day when the Lord returns. God’s deliverance is an amazing display of his divine mercy for which we should be eternally thankful. We can show our thanks for our deliverance by continually remembering and celebrating the Lord and all He has done for us. Give thanks today and remember.