Fear's Greatest Opponent (Esther 4)

Esther  •  Sermon  •  Submitted   •  Presented   •  38:46
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Catch Pastor Luke preach on what we have to learn from Esther 4 - that fear's greatest opponent is a courageous group of Jesus followers. // To find out more about Involve Church, visit involvechurch.com or email info@involvechurch.com

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Well good morning! I can’t tell you how excited I am to get into this week’s message from God’s Word in Esther. If you are joining us for the first time this morning, welcome! We are in a sermon series called Esther: Living with Courage, Backed by Providence. And that idea of living with courage, backed by God’s provision is prevalent throughout the story of Esther.
Add some sort of transition here.

Dark Times:  Fear Abounds (1-12)

We are about to see that the Jewish people, Mordecai, and Esther experience crippling fear. If you’ll remember from last week, the villain of this story - Haman - has figured out a way to pass a law requiring that the entirety of the Jewish people in all of the 127 provinces of Persia be murdered on a certain day. This caused confusion throughout the city of Susa, which was the capital city at the time of Esther, and most likely the rest of the empire. Meanwhile, we see that key people in the palace are sitting down for a drink - and I think this is the author’s way of saying that the king, Haman, and the rest of those in the royal palace were out of touch with what was going on. They gave little thought to the well-being of their people. And that’s where we find ourselves at the end of Esther, chapter 3.
With that said, let’s read together about what unfolds following these events in Esther, chapter 4. Let’s read in verse 1 of chapter 4 together:
Esther 4:1–2 CSB
When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly. He went only as far as the King’s Gate, since the law prohibited anyone wearing sackcloth from entering the King’s Gate.

Fearful mentors (1-2)

As we can see here, Mordecai himself is fearful. He is tears his clothes - and living in a time when a person is unlikely to have more than one or two sets of clothes that’s saying something - and puts on sackcloth and ashes. Now, if you saw this, you would immediately realize something is wrong. I don’t think I need to put you in the mindset of an Old Testament Jew to know that if you saw something like this, you would say to yourself - “Wow. Something is definitely wrong.” On top of this, he is crying loudly and bitterly. And he is doing this through the city as far as the King’s Gate, where he stops because the law prohibits him from going further. Mordecai, the mentor and surrogate father to Esther, is in distress, fear, and mourning.
Esther 4:3 CSB
There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict came. They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.

Fearful people (3)

We are told next that the Jewish people’s response to this edict is, understandably, a response of “great mourning in every province.” And notice, too, that the people are following the example of Mordecai and they are putting on sackcloth and ashes, weeping, and lamenting.

Fearful leaders (4-12)

Remember earlier when I mentioned that the palace and the king seem to be disconnected from what is happening, even in their own city? The crazy thing about what is unfolding here is that Esther is disconnected from it, as well, and these were her own people. In fact, a lot of scholars believe that it didn’t matter that she was the queen - but that this edict would have applied to her as well because of her Jewish lineage. Meaning - if she were discovered to be Jewish, Queen Esther would be executive alongside everyone of the other Jews. And yet, as we see in this passage, she is completely unaware of what is going on. Let’s look into it in verse 4:
Esther 4:4 CSB
Esther’s female servants and her eunuchs came and reported the news to her, and the queen was overcome with fear. She sent clothes for Mordecai to wear so that he would take off his sackcloth, but he did not accept them.
So, you can see that she is “overcome” with fear. If you look into the original word in Hebrew for “overcome” here, you realize that Esther’s fear was debilitating. It was almost paralyzing. She was trembling, panicking, writhing in fear. And here’s the crazy thing - she doesn’t even know what’s wrong yet! All she knows is that Mordecai is in mourning outside of the King’s Gate. And she probably wants to know what is wrong, so she sends a change of clothes, probably so that he can be granted entrance to come share with her what is wrong, but he refuses the change of clothes. So, we have Mordecai’s response to the situation - fear. We have the people’s response to the situation - fear. And we have Esther’s default response, even though she doesn’t even know the whole situation - its fear.
Let’s see what happens next:
Esther 4:5–9 CSB
Esther summoned Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who attended her, and dispatched him to Mordecai to learn what he was doing and why. So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the King’s Gate. Mordecai told him everything that had happened as well as the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay the royal treasury for the slaughter of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and command her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people. Hathach came and repeated Mordecai’s response to Esther.
So Mordecai had refused the change of clothes, but Esther still needed to find out what was going on. I still think this shows that she and everyone around her are out of touch with everyday people because the entire city of Susa had been in confusion after this edict! Why did no one in the palace and no one serving the queen know of what could be wrong with Mordecai? So Mordecai relays to Esther through her servant all that had happened so far, including giving her a copy of the edict ordering the execution of the Jews.
Now - let me ask you - if you were Esther, how would you respond to this situation? Some of you might be thinking, “Hey - I’m in a great position. Of course I’ll approach the king and intercede on behalf of my people.” That’s exactly what Mordecai was asking of Esther. A couple interesting things to point out about this dialogue that I don’t think are immediately obvious:
Mordecai had a written copy of the edict. Having a written copy of anything in this time was highly unusual, much less a commoner. So, it is likely that Mordecai was not your everyday Jew. He probably served somewhere in the king’s court and had access to the law.
Knowing this, it is likely that Mordecai knew what Esther is about to share with him - that the law prescribes death for anyone who approaches the king unsummoned - unless the king chooses to make an exception. I’ll repeat that Mordecai knew he was asking Esther to possibly give her life in service of her people.
Lastly, there is a great likelihood that the king would not make an exception for Esther. He has proven to cave to pressure in the past, he has grown distant and disinterested in the queen, and, as we shall see later, his power is limited because he will not step forward and attempt to override an edict that is clearly wrong.
All of this is to say that the gravity of what Mordecai is asking of Esther comes out in her response. Here it is:
Esther 4:10–12 CSB
Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—the death penalty—unless the king extends the gold scepter, allowing that person to live. I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last thirty days.” Esther’s response was reported to Mordecai.
But it is highly likely she is telling things to Mordecai he already knows - and she knows that he knows. Esther is gripped by fear and her response in the face of great fear is similar to how many of us respond - its by looking at my immediate situation, thinking about me, and trying to figure out a way that I can escape this feeling of fear, this feeling of being out of control of my situation. In this moment, Esther’s view of God is limited and blinded by crippling fear.
Listen - let me ask you - Are you fearful today? Do you still believe that God is on your side? You are in one of two states today.:
To those who haven’t taken the step to trust your life to Christ, here’s what Scripture has to say: God loves you. God is good. In His goodness, He looked at our sinfulness and our brokenness and He sent Jesus to live a perfect life, to die, and in His power and might He rose Jesus from the grave. If you trust in the life, death, and resurrection of Christ today, you turn from your old life and begin following Him - there is life, and hope, and peace. And you don’t have to be afraid. So I want to invite you to take that step this morning - trust in Jesus.
To those that have trusted in Christ - you’ve handed yourself, your life and your future into the hands of Christ - here is what Scripture has to say: God loves you. God is good. Did you know that God was at work long before you were born to orchestrate the events that would bring you to faith in Christ when He did? God reached into your life, when you alone, fearful, without hope, and in Christ He gave you confidence, hope, and a church family that walks alongside you through the good times and the bad times of this life. God has brought you to this position that you are in today.
To both groups, I want to ask these questions: God has brought you to where you are right now - are you anxious and fearful? Here's a truth for you - "God works all things together for the good of those who love Him..." Do we believe that? Here's something else God says - "He who began a good work in you will be faithful to complete it." God did not save you and that was the end of things, but instead that was the beginning of things for you. You are redeemed from fear and sin and death into a life of serving God and making a difference with His truth. God did not just save you from something - God saved you for something. God saved us from sin and death to be an amazing part of His good purposes.
And in addition to that, He gave us a church family that walks with us through everything. I want to pause for just a minute on a passage of Scripture that I believe sums up why we can look in the face of fear and be courageous, looking to Romans, chapter 8...
Romans 8:28–39 CSB
We know that all things work together for the good of those who love God, who are called according to his purpose. For those he foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, so that he would be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. And those he predestined, he also called; and those he called, he also justified; and those he justified, he also glorified. What then are we to say about these things? If God is for us, who is against us? He did not even spare his own Son but offered him up for us all. How will he not also with him grant us everything? Who can bring an accusation against God’s elect? God is the one who justifies. Who is the one who condemns? Christ Jesus is the one who died, but even more, has been raised; he also is at the right hand of God and intercedes for us. Who can separate us from the love of Christ? Can affliction or distress or persecution or famine or nakedness or danger or sword? As it is written: Because of you we are being put to death all day long; we are counted as sheep to be slaughtered. No, in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us. For I am persuaded that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor any other created thing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.
I think that many times we look at that passage of Scripture and over-personalize it. What I mean by that is we miss that this was written to a church - to a group of believers in Christ - and that Paul included himself in this realization that we, collectively, are brothers and sisters in Christ. And that in all these things we are more than conquerors in Him who loved us. And that nothing will be able to separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord. I don’t believe that the way any portion of Scripture is worded is an accident and this portion of Paul’s letter is no different - he is emphasizing the community that we are to be a part of, to lean on, and come to realize that we need each other as we live this Christian life together.
That brings us to the truth that we find in this passage of Scripture and the great turning point in Esther’s heart and mind…

Jesus Followers Combat Fear (13-17)

BIG IDEA. Fear’s greatest opponent is a courageous group of Jesus followers. And while the Jews didn’t have Jesus in Esther’s time, we do see them indicate signs that God stirs and works in the hearts of people here and that they combat fear, and they do it together, with God’s help. So, we were left with Esther clearly expressing fear for her life in correspondence to Mordecai. Let’s see what Mordecai says...

...with God’s Truth (13-14)

Esther 4:13–14 CSB
Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”
What does Mordecai do? He reminds Esther of the truth that God has promise to be faithful to watch over His people, to guard and protect them, and to deliver them from destruction at the hands of the people that would take them captive. This was something that was prophesied long ago and Mordecai put his faith in God to do what he said he was going to do. He reminds Esther of this truth and tells her that it is very possible that she has a huge part to play in God’s plan of deliverance for her people. Remember, if there was any doubt about whether she could die in Mordecai’s mind before, there is none now. She clearly made the law known to him and he now exhorts her with God’s truth, telling her to move forward, maybe even at the cost of her life.
Let me ask you something: how do you respond to people approaching you with truth? How do you respond to a challenge from someone - particularly when they are brother or sister in Christ - who really does care for you and is trying to get you to see the bigger picture? Do you look for the wisdom and truth of what the person is saying and see them as sent by God to remind us of what is true? I think many times we dismiss what others have to say as their mere opinion, when in fact God could be using them in our lives to grow us or to remind us of a God that is much bigger than just us. God uses brothers and sisters in Christ to help us combat fear and to remind us of what is true. Let’s take a look at how Esther responds to Mordecai bringing truth to her.

...with Prayerful Community (15-16a)

Esther 4:15–16a CSB
Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.”
Remove the last two sentences and move to next point.
This is a profound change in Esther. At this point, she could have cordoned herself off and ignored Mordecai’s appeal to the truth and given into fear. Instead, she says - “If I’m going to move forward with this, I’m going to need everyone’s support, especially God’s!” So she instructs Mordecai to round up all of God’s people in Susa and have a hard fast for three days. As you research fasting in the Old Testament, it is almost always accompanied by prayer and seeking God, especially times when God’s people need deliverance. What’s even more amazing about this situation is that Esther not only has the Jews do this, but she leads all of her female servants in the palace do the same things - some which are almost assuredly not Jews. So Mordecai reminded her of the truth and pointed out that God had very likely placed her in this position for such a time as this. The reminder of the truth transformed her from a coward, someone who was paralyzed by fear, to someone who is a leader, leading her people and others to fast and seek God’s help for what she is about to do. And here is her plan in the last part of verse 16 and verse 17...

...with Courageous, Bold Action (16b-17)

Esther 4:16b–17 CSB
“Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had commanded him.
So you have Esther ready to give her life now - this is the power of truth in our lives. When we are confronted with the truth that God has placed us right where he wants us and that He is a BIG GOD, capable of working miracles in our lives and the lives of those around us, he transforms our perspective and it leads to courageous, bold action. He did it for Esther when she went from a woman looking to save her own skin, to a courageous leader willing to risk her life that many others might live. Why? She believed Mordecai’s words when he reminded her that God had a plan, that God could accomplish that plan, and that she was a part of that plan. She then inspired her own mentor and thousands of others to seek God’s help and strength.
So let me ask you again - are you crippled by fear? Tell a brother or sister in Christ and seek God’s truth together - the truth that you are a child of God and He cares for you! Are you crippled by fear? Tell a brother or sister in Christ and pray together! And once you have sought God’s truth together, move forward, together, in courageous, bold action in the name of Jesus. God used many people in the story of Esther to completely change her outlook and it changed the course of history for the Jewish people. Now, how much more would us leaning on one another to reach a city with the message of Gospel would change the course of history for the city of Nampa and surrounding areas? Do you believe that God has a plan for you in sharing your faith and living for Him? Do you believe that God is not done with Involve Church, but plans to continue using each one of us to reach the people God has placed in our lives? Who knows - maybe God brought you to the place you are today and relationships with the people in your life today for such a time as this?
Remember - you are doing it together. We have each other - we remind each other of the truth - God loves you…he died for you - we pray together - there is power in prayer - and then we move forward together in courageous, bold action. We do it because God is for us and not against. The power of God which raised Jesus from the dead lives in each one of us, so we don’t have to be afraid and we don’t have to go it alone.
So that said, here are two things to do:
Think one friend in the church that you can talk to - TODAY, right now, right after the service - and go to them. Tell them of something that weighs heavy on you that is keeping you from moving forward for Christ in courageous, bold action. Pray about it together. I’m serious - there should be prayer going on in this place in the halls, outside, by the coffee stand, in the seats. And if you can’t think of anyone, come talk to someone on our prayer team - they would very much like to pray with you.
What is one friend you could contact this week and remind them of the truth that God loves them, God is good, and you are there walking through life with them? Pray for them now and write down a time you will contact them and get together.
Pastor Ryan challenged you to read 1 Corinthians 15 twice last week. This week, I want to challenge you to read Romans 8 twice. Remember as you do - this was written to a courageous group of Jesus followers. But a group of people is only made courageous because of what we find in Romans 8.
Take a few moments to think through those things and pray. Just a reminder that we have our prayer team over here during the last song and following the service if you need someone to pray with you this morning.
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