Sermon #39 in 66 in 52: A One Year Journey Through the Bible
October 1, 2023, Glynwood Baptist Church, Prattville, Alabama. James Jackson, Pastor
Good morning! Please open your Bibles to Esther Chapter 4
Last week we began talking about the Book of Esther. It’s the only book in the Bible that never mentions God, or talks about faith, or prayer, or miracles—all the things we see in other books of the Bible. But we’ve been talking about how even though God isn’t mentioned by name, you can see his hand at work all through the book. We call this God’s Providence, which we defined as the supernatural God working through the natural world, or through natural processes.
But as we talked last week about how God is working through the events of history to achieve his purposes, you might be wondering, well, what do we do? If God is going to achieve his purposes with or without us, do we have to do anything at all?
- Does it matter whether Christians vote if God is the one who, according to Daniel 2:21) removes kings and sets up kings?
- Does it matter what school I go to, or who I marry, or any other decision I make, if God is sovereign and it’s all going to work the way He wants it to anyway?
- Does it really matter whether I ever share my faith, if it’s up to the Holy Spirit whether someone gets saved or not.
Now, the answer to all of these questions is yes! Part of the supernatural God working through the natural world is that He works through not just world events but also the choices we make.
And so we are going to finish the book of Esther this morning, and we are going to start by reading the most famous passage in the whole story. Let’s read together beginning in verse 10. Please stand if you are physically able:
[READ ESTHER 4:10-16
May God bless the reading of His Word. Let’s pray.
Now, it’s been a while since we last got our bearings into where Esther fits into the whole story of the Bible. So let’s talk about where we’ve been. Remember that all of the prophets had basically the same message to Israel—God had seen their sin and their rebellion and their idolatry, and they needed to return to God or else they would experience God’s judgment. And God’s judgment came through two enemy nations—Assyria, which invaded Israel in 722 BC, and Babylonia, which invaded Judah and exiled most of the people to Babylon. Then in 586 they destroyed the temple.
Judah is in exile in Babylon for seventy years. And in that time, the Babylonian Empire was brought down and the Persian empire rose to take its place. Cyrus the Great, King of Persia, issued a decree that the exiles could return to Jerusalem. This begins to happen in 516 when Zerubbabel led the first wave back to rebuild the Temple, and that part of the story is told in Ezra 1-4.
This is where people get confused, because we tend to think, “Ok—exile is over, all the Jews went back to Jerusalem.” But the truth is that only about 5% of the Jews who were living throughout the Persian Empire actually resettled Israel. A million stayed in Persia.
So Esther is Queen of Persia at the same time as the events of Ezra.
After Zerubbabel builds the Temple, Ezra and a group of priests are sent to teach the people in Jerusalem God’s law. Then, Nehemiah returns to build the walls of Jerusalem.
And that is the last historical event we get in the Old Testament. Nothing more is recorded, and no more prophets speak. Biblical scholars refer to this as the 400 years of silence before the time of Christ. We will talk next week about why that’s a terrible label for this part of history.
But for now, that’s the 30,000 foot view of the our last couple of weeks in the Old Testament. Now let’s zoom in on Esther.
When we last left our story, Haman (the bad guy), had just been dissed by Esther’s cousin Mordecai, who refused to bow to him. And Haman decides its not enough to just kill Mordecai, he wants to kill every last Jew in the Persian Empire.
Clearly, Haman has anger issues. Esther 3:7 says he cast the Pur that is, he cast lots. Pur were these little clay cubes, about 1 x 1 x 1 inches, that had little dots on each side, 1-6. And if that sounds like dice to you, you’re exactly right. Here are some of the gaming dice that have been found around the Temple Mount in Jerusalem, some of them dating all the way back to this time period. You can see they haven’t really changed that much in 2500 years!
So I guess Haman rolled double sixes, because based on the Purim, he decided that the 12th month—eleven months from that point—would be the day this genocide was to take place.
Then he gets Xerxes to issue the decree, which according to Persian Law, is irrevocable, and off Haman goes. Twelve days later, a copy of the decree is read in every Jewish community throughout Persia.
By the way, twelve days later—the 13th of Nisan, was the Passover Eve. On Passover, the Jews remembered their deliverance from Egyptian slavery.
Isn’t it amazing that about 500 years after this, another death sentence would be handed down at Passover, this time for Jesus, the King of the Jews. And isn’t it interesting that soldiers would cast lots then as well- gambling for the only piece of property Jesus owned—His seamless coat.
But we’re getting ahead of ourselves.
Back to Esther. The decree goes out on Passover Eve, and every Jew in the city of Susa is wailing and mourning, wearing sackcloth and putting ashes on their heads. Including Esther’s cousin Mordecai. So she gets word to Cuz and says, “What’s going on? Why is everyone crying? And through messengers, Mordecai tells Esther about the decree. He even gives her a copy of it. Mordecai also sends her a message saying, “You are our only hope. You’ve got to talk to your husband.”
And at first, Esther’s like, “Well, what can I do?” In 4:11, she says, “Everyone knows the law. You don’t go in to see the king without an invitation. And if I just barge in, the only way I don’t lose my head is if the king holds out his scepter to me. Otherwise, the penalty is death. And I haven’t seen the king in a month.” So she’s feeling helpless. And that’s when you get to verse 13. Mordecai says,
13 …“Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. 14 For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
That’s a significant statement. How does Mordecai know this? Well, remember when they are having this conversation. It’s Passover. The whole point of Passover is to remember the time when relief and deliverance came for the Jews living in captivity.
The plan of God is not going to be stopped. Mordecai believed that. Maybe the Jews throughout Persia would be destroyed, Esther included. But I think Mordecai remembered God’s promise to the Jews. Maybe he’s remembering that there are 50,000 Jews that at that very moment are working to rebuild the walls of Jerusalem.
And the key verse of the entire book is right here. It’s Mordecai’s Question: “Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” Esther, maybe you are the deliverance. Maybe the whole reason you’re the queen of this kingdom is to be an instrument to save the Jews.
Let me ask Mordecai’s question to you: Who knows if you are where you are for such a time as this?
- Who knows—maybe you’re the only Christian in your college philosophy class for such a time as this.
- Maybe you’re on dialysis three days a week for such a time as this.
- Maybe you have TDY at Maxwell such a time as this, and when the Air Force moves you to wherever they move you next, it will be for such a time as that.
Nothing ever happens by accident. Esther’s appointment as queen was providential, not accidental.
So Esther tells Mordecai to gather together the entire Jewish community living in Susa, and to fast for the next three days. And on the third day, she would go to the king.
On the third day, relief and deliverance might come for God’s people.
That rings a bell, doesn’t it?
Esther has nothing to lose. She’s Jewish, so if she says nothing, she’s going to die. If the king doesn’t show her favor, then she’s going to die. But if he does show her favor, then she has a chance to save her people. And so she gives her answer to Mordecai: Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.”
Do you see now why our decisions matter? Yes, God is sovereign. God is absolutely in charge of everything that happens in the Universe. But God works through the choices we make.
What will your answer be when God asks you to do hard things? Will you say, God is sovereign. If He wants that person to hear the gospel, He’ll send someone to hear the gospel. If He wants to plant a church somewhere, I’m sure some megachurch somewhere will step up.
Or, will you say, “Maybe someone is me. Maybe some church somewhere is my church right here. So if God has me here for such a time as this, then I’m going to do my best to be obedient. And if they laugh at me, they laugh at me. If I have to scale down my vacation plans, I scale back on my vacation plans.
If I perish, I perish.
Well, we talked last week about Esther entering the throne room and finding favor with the King, and how that is a picture of the Gospel. Xerxes extends the scepter toward herHe asks her why she came into the throne room. In 5:4: Esther says, I want you and Haman to come to dinner, and I’ll tell you then.
So Xerx is like, cool. He texts Haman and says,
Dinner with the Missus, She’s invited you. See you at seven.
Haman gets the text, and he’s stoked. He’s been invited to a banquet with the queen! He’s getting ready, and he’s looking at himself in the mirror going Haman—you’re an all star! Get your game on go play!
So Haman gets to the palace, and after dinner they’re all sitting around drinking wine, maybe playing Catan or something, and Xerxes looks at Esther and says, “Ok, so what’s the secret? Why did you want to have a banquet?” And Esther’s like, “You know what? Let’s do this again tomorrow, and I’ll tell you then.”
So Mordecai heads home, and he’s like, strutting. But as he’s leaving, he sees Mordecai, And he still won’t bow! What a buzzkill! He gets home, and his wife says, “So, how was it?” She wants to know all the details—what was Esther wearing, what’s her China pattern, all the things. And so Haman tells her how great everything was, and how they’re even going to get together again tomorrow, but then he says,
“But all this is worth nothing, as long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the kings gate.”
So his wife says, ok. If it bothers you that much, then just kill Mordecai. Order a gallows to be built, and hang Mordecai on it. And then you go party.
So the plan is in place. Mordecai builds the gallows, and then he goes back to the palace to get Xerk’s permission to kill Mordecai.
But beginning in chapter 6, we get the third section of the book.
Remember last week we talked about how big doors swing on small hinges? Well, let’s look at all the small hinges in the next part of the story. Anything that we would call a coincidence—when we use the phrase “as luck would have it“ or “It just so happened,” don’t think of that as a coincidence. Think of it as a small hinge that God could be using to swing open a big door. Look at the events of Esther 6 and see what I mean.
While Haman is having his gallows built, it “just so happens” Xerxes has insomnia. He orders his servants to bring him the chronicles of memorable deeds—the court records, and to read them to him. Figures this will put him right to sleep. It’s like C-SPAN.
The servant “just so happens” to read the account of how Mordecai warned the king about the plot to assassinate him (this was covered back in Chapter 2). Xerxes realizes they never did anything to honor Mordecai for that.
And it “just so happens” that at that exact moment, Haman comes in to seek Xerxes permission to hang Mordecai. Before he can speak, Xerxes says, “Hey man, if I wanted to honor someone, what would I do?”
Well, Haman thinks to himself, “Who would the king want to honor more than me? So he goes over the top. Check out his suggestions:
“For the man whom the king delights to honor, 8 let royal robes be brought, which the king has worn, and the horse that the king has ridden, and on whose head a royal crown[c] is set. 9 And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials. Let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor, and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city, proclaiming before him: ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.’”
Xerxes goes, “Wow—I was thinking more like a Chick Fil A gift card, but, ok. Go for it. And do all that for Mordecai the Jew.
Haman gets back from Mordecai’s parade, and he is just distraught. He tells his wife Zeresh about it, and she’s like, “Honey, this is bad.” She says something pretty remarkable in verse 13:
“If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”
I think it’s amazing that Haman’s wife is the one who gives the clearest statement of faith in God’s protection of the Jewish people of anyone in the entire Bible! She’s like, Mordecai’s a Jew? Don’t you know the Jews are God’s chosen people? Babe, this is NOT going to end well.” So I think she’s probably thinking that its time to load up the minivan and skip town. But at that moment, the king’s servants come to escort Haman to the banquet.
Only this time, they aren’t going to play Catan. This time, they’re going to play Hangman.
After dinner, Xerxes says, “Ok, you’ve kept us in suspense long enough. What’s your request?” Keep in mind he doesn’t know Esther is Jewish. Haman doesn’t know she’s Jewish yet.
So now she drops the bomb.
Chapter 7, verse 3:
Then Queen Esther answered, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. 4 For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.
5 Then King Ahasuerus said to Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who has dared[a] to do this?” 6 And Esther said, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” “So Haman was terrified before the king and queen.”
So Haman is arrested, and they hang him on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai.
Here’s how the book of Esther ends. Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews was still out there. Remember, Persian law said that a decree given by the king could not be revoked. But in Chapter 8, Xerxes signs another decree, that on the day that had been marked for the Jews’ destruction, they could defend themselves against their enemies. Check out Esther 9:1
9 Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day of the same, when the king’s command and edict were about to be carried out, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.
on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain the mastery over them, the reverse occurred: the Jews gained mastery over those who hated them.
So that’s the end of the Book of Esther, and basically the end of the Old Testament.
But ever since we started this journey back in January, we’ve seen time and time again how every story points to the gospel. But once again, you see the gospel in Esther. Look again at Esther 7:4.
This is a description of us. Just like the Jews in Persia, we’ve all been sold to be destroyed. Our sins have separated us from God, and there is an irrevocable death sentence that’s been pronounced on us. Romans 6:23 says that the penalty for sin is death. That’s the law. And it is irrevocable.
But when Jesus died on the cross for our sins, God poured out the just punishment for sin on Jesus. So the law was kept.
It was the day Satan—the enemy of God’s people – believed he would gain mastery over us.
But on the third day, the reverse occurred. On the third day, Jesus rose from the grave. Deliverance for the Jews arose from another place, just like Mordecai said it would.
God poured out His favor on us. His grace. His redemption. Because of the cross, we gained mastery over the one who hates us.
Now, as Hebrews 4 says, we can approach the throne of grace with confidence! The king has extended His scepter toward us,