For Such a Time as This  •  Sermon  •  Submitted
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You may not know much about the Book of Esther – I didn’t. It is easy to overlook. In fact, I read that for the first six or seven centuries after Christ, there was not one. One! Christian commentary on Esther.
The story of Esther gave rise to the Jewish celebration of Purim. It is a family festival and the celebration of this story, second only to the Passover celebration. We may not know much about this book, but among those who are Jewish, it is one of the most beloved parts of Scripture.
But there is a serious issue with the Book of Esther: God is never mentioned. Not once. Not in some secret decoded way that only those with special knowledge can crack. God is simply not named in this entire ten-chapter story. A ten-chapter story of salvation. Go figure. So, what do we make of that?
Of course, many of you live in a world where God is rarely mentioned, either. You can go through years of schooling and never hear God’s name mentioned seriously. You can work in a company until retirement and never hear God factored into any decision or conversation. How about politics? All the candidates say, “God bless America,” but I have never ever heard one say, “God, in his wisdom, teaches us to take such and such a stand.”
All of this does not mean God has not been working while you were in school, at work, or in the voting booth. After all, you were there, and if you have in Christ – what he did and continues to do – then God is with you, dwelling within you.
God is not absent from the story of Esther – nor is he absent from your story. He may simply be disguised. Working undercover. Hidden in plain sight. In fact, the very fact that he and his name are not mentioned prompts us to look for him more intentionally in Esther’s story – and find him.
We’re going to take the story of Esther into chunks – like a play with several acts. This is the first act which usually introduces us to the setting, circumstances, characters, and our first taste of trouble. So it is with Esther 1.
Travel back to 483 B.C.E. and meet Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus, and prepare to be impressed. If you have your Bibles open them to the Book of Esther. Esther is found about 3/8th of the way through the Bible and is sandwiched between the tale end of the historical books and the books of poetry/wisdom. Join me as we read Esther 1:1-11 together.
Esther 1:1-11
Esther 1:1–11 NIV
This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present. For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. 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. Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes. On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas—to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at.
This was kind of a one-man world’s fair. Xerxes was fresh off military conquests as far away as Egypt, and now for half a year he invites a continual parade of officials from every part of his vast kingdom – the biggest in the world – to see his riches, power, glory, and authority. All these people come in from the 127 provinces ranging from Pakistan to Ethiopia, wide-eyed and agape, to the very table of the most powerful man on earth.
Now we zero in on the grand finale – a final weeklong bash with a round-the-clock open bar. Try to picture what is described here. For all the extraordinary things we have seen in our time, we may have never seen anything quite like this. He lived large: I’ll show you my gardens, my solid gold and silver couches, my mosaics, my golden goblets (each one is unique), and all the wine you can drink!
One thing never changes: powerful people will often do anything to show off. God may lay low in this story, but Xerxes certainly does not. Powerful people rarely do. After all, what good is power if no one see it? What good is wealth if no one “oohs” and “aahs”? Whether it is your company or your community, your school or our government, we all have to live around people who throw their weight around, who want us gaping at their power.
At the end of all the praise and worship Xerxes received he wanted to show off his prized possession, Queen Vashti – a name meaning sweetheart. A Queen so beautiful that she was the priceless gem in his crown.
Then someone resists, like Queen Vashti does in verse twelve. She must know that powerful people do not like to take no for answer. Read with me:
Esther 1:12
Esther 1:12 NIV
But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
King Xerxes is humiliated. His six months of glory, power, authority, and riches all tarnished on the last day when Queen Vashti says, “no.” Vashti likely had good reason to say “no” – No, I will not appear naked before all your elites so that you can show me off. Regardless, a king like Xerxes sees that any reasoning is irrelevant and he begins to burn with resentment.
Xerxes reeked of it. St. Augustine wrote, “resentment is like drinking poison and waiting for the other person to die.” King’s like Xerxes do not take no for an answer and in all their pride, they do not let their anger and resentment cool-off. Unfortunately, this plays to Vashti’s disadvantage.
Two things must be done: get ride of Vashti and restore power. Read with me in verses 13-22:
Esther 1:13-22
Esther 1:13–22 NIV
Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times and were closest to the king—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom. “According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.” Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord. “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.” The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.
When powerful people are threatened, they can do some pretty radical things. You have probably seen that somewhere you’ve worked or in some other organization you know well. Some hotshot feels slighted, and the next thing you know, there are new policies in place, or someone gets fired. Whatever happened here, it was a colossal case of bureaucratic overkill.
Well, there is the scene for the story: Xerxes, 127 provinces, a 180-day combination of banquet and world’s fair displaying the wealth of his kingdom “and all the splendor and glory of his majesty.” We have a queen who has one line in the whole story: “no!” We have an entire empire with a useless law and a generation of oppressed women and girls, all for a man who has to have his way. And in all this, not one mention of God. I suppose it was like that this week at CMU or the Morning Sun or the Delfield. I guess in the real world, God does not have much to say. God is just for church, right?
But God works behind the scenes, like a an adult removing the roof on a doll house – moving one doll or accessory to another room to make room for the plans they have. And sometimes, this work comes with trouble, trial, or desolation. It is God who is maneuvering his people through life’s troubles – troubles that repositions us geographically, emotionally, or spiritually. It is unsettling ands sometimes tragic, but God relocates us for a purpose.
Sometimes it is the troubles of others that open opportunities for God getting us where we need to be. Vashti suffered at the hands of an all-powerful tyrant bent on pride and resentment which opens the door for next week as we will see how God placed Esther in a position before the King. But this leaves the question, should we benefit from someone else’s loss?
The truth of a fall out like Vashti’s, and a story many of you have experienced is that God will use the good, bad, and the ugly to get us where we need to be. Xerxes in all his power and resentment sent his Queen away which allowed Esther to enter the story. God working and producing behind the scenes to carry out his will and purposes in our lives.
Some of you have experienced understaffing at your place of work and are now placed in positions you do not feel qualified for or you are now in roles that place you outside your comfort zone. God uses the good, the bad, and the ugly to get you where he needs you to be. Even in a difficult relationship with a spouse that is not cool as a cucumber, God can use a man or woman for his purposes because through it all God uses your experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly – to get you where you need to be.
In the New Testament, Paul writes in the book of Romans
Romans 8:28–29 NIV
And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose. For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters.
This text is best understood in the context that Paul is explaining the ministry of the Spirit of God in our lives. As God leads us, testifies with our spirit, and prays for us in our weakness using all of our experiences – the good, the bad, and the ugly (all things!) – so that we may be conformed into the image of his son, Jesus.
God can use the good, the bad, and the ugly to get us where we need to be. Even when God feels distant, non-existent, or hands-off we must remember that in reality God is present with us using the good, bad, and ugly so that his will may come to be in our lives as it is in heaven.
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