Note: The audio was cut off part way through recording, so there is only audio for the first 20 minutes of this 30 minute sermon.
Chapter 20 – Esther
Who are you? If some one were to ask you that question, how would you answer? Perhaps you would give your name. If not your name, then your occupation would fill the space on the other side of the equals sign. We so often define ourselves by what we do.
These thought processes don’t only apply to employment, but to simple activity. “He’s the guy who beat my high score on the pinball machine!” or “She’s the lady who always says hi to total strangers.” or “He’s the one who steals candy from the corner store.” or “That’s the woman who slept with my husband.” or “That guy is living with another man.” It doesn’t matter whether it is our job, morality, or community involvement, we are defined by what we do.
When it comes to identity, I think we need to have a counter-cultural perspective. As Christians we know that what we do does not define who we are… or do we? We say things like “My identity is in Christ,” but do we truly know what that means, or has it been repeated so much that it no longer holds any meaning to us. To many of us it means something like, “I don’t want to do bad things anymore” or “I try my hardest to live differently.” Essentially we take the beauty of a “new identity” and turn it into a lovely sounding motif that just means, “I will do better.”
You don’t have to be a Christian long to realize that this isn’t the case. We don’t become perfect when we receive salvation. Paul was well in tune with this idea. There are many verses we could turn to for his insights. In Galatians chapter five we see the everyday reality of our lives defined by a struggle.
I say, walk by the Spirit, and you will not carry out the desire of the flesh. 17 For the flesh sets its desire against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh; for these are in opposition to one another, so that you may not do the things that you please.
In the book of Esther we see this struggle played out in the form of a drama. It is a gospel message dressed up in actors clothing. It is the picture of a man lost in the world, seeking an identity, wanting to belong. Once he finds what he is looking for, then the struggle begins.
(There is a handout included in this week’s bulletin that will help you track with the story this morning. [spiritual identities] ).
We saw that many Israelites returned to Jerusalem last week. They started to build a new temple… but this wasn’t true for everyone. Many of the Jews stayed in Babylon (under Persian rule). This is where the story of Esther takes place. It is not the story of Esther, per se, but the story of the king: King Ahasuerus (Hebrew) or Xerxes (Greek).
The Lost Soul of King Xerxes
To set up the story, we see a man who is lost—filling the void in his heart with drunken parties and beautiful women. In fact, the king is so proud of his wife, he starts to boast about her to his friends. He wants to show her off like a prize and so he lets the booze do the talking. He calls for her to come into the middle of his party. He is flaunting his sin, saying to his whole kingdom… “this is what my life is about. Partying, drinking, and women.”
Queen Vashti does not come. She has had enough of her husband sporting her like a trophy and treating her like a piece of skin. As a result, he kicks her out. At the time it seemed like a good idea, but the morning after leaves him empty, alone, and the hangover doesn’t help. The king, not knowing what to do, calls for his advisers, the closest thing he has to a friend.
After these things when the anger of King Ahasuerus had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what had been decreed against her. 2 Then the king’s attendants, who served him, said, “Let beautiful young virgins be sought for the king. 3 Let the king appoint overseers in all the provinces of his kingdom that they may gather every beautiful young virgin to the citadel of Susa, to the harem, into the custody of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let their cosmetics be given them. 4 Then let the young lady who pleases the king be queen in place of Vashti.” And the matter pleased the king, and he did accordingly.
What do we do when our source of life has run dry? We search for life in so many different places: money, our job, our relationships. For King Xerxes it was fame. As the king, everyone had to look at him. Everyone had to be with him, but no one wanted to. When the party comes to a stop, everyone goes home. When the drink runs out his mouth is still dry. Not even his wife could put up with him anymore. Out of the brokenness, King Ahasuerus searches for something, someone, to make him feel alive again.
What we need in these times of brokenness is God. The king was searching for the gospel to wake him up; he just doesn’t know it. He is seeking out a spirit that is united to a perpetual lover, someone who will never leave him and always make him feel worth something. He is looking for Jesus.
The king represents the human soul, searching for life and love; God finds him in the moment of his weakness. He brings Esther into the presence of the king. She is thrown in with a bunch of other woman, but there is something different about her. As the king scans back and forth, searching for his new queen, he can’t get Esther out of his head. She is like a cup of fresh water to the dryness of his heart.
Notice on the handout what Esther represents. The human spirit: more specifically, the new regenerate spirit we receive from God after conversion. In Esther the king sees everything he has been looking for, just as we find everything we need in Christ. When we finally come to the end of ourselves and surrender our lives to God, nothing else can compare to the release we receive, the joy he brings us, and the love he lavishes on us. In that moment of humble praise we choose Esther. We choose to become a Christian. We choose for Christ to enter into our lives and wake us up, save us from our life of sin.
The Flesh at Odds with our Spirit
However, this is not where the journey ends. Once we are a Christian, a new adventure begins, an adventure that comes with hills and valleys—but this time we have someone to travel the trek with us. No sooner do we give up on our former life, then the enemy shows up. No, Satan is not as overt as he is in the cartoons. We don’t have a horned harasser on one shoulder and an angelic ally on the other. The wolf comes in sheep’s clothing, looking like our friend. He disguises himself with the familiar advice and friendly pursuit. The enemy takes an active interest in us.
Haman is such enemy. He is the flesh, that lingering reminder of our former life. He is the devil on the king’s shoulder advising him in how to run the kingdom of his life.
After these events King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, and advanced him and established his authority over all the princes who were with him. 2 All the king’s servants who were at the king’s gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman; for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai neither bowed down nor paid homage.
We can make everything in our lives bow at the feet of our flesh, but there is one voice inside that will not compromise. It is that still small voice that we so often forget to listen to in the bustle of our busy lives—the whispering wind behind the cloud of worldly witnesses: the Holy Spirit.
In the story, Mordecai represents the Holy Spirit. He is the one who brought Esther into the midst of the king (the Holy Spirit communed with our spirit when we were a lost king of our lives and found us). Now another influence seeks to sneak in and steal the peace, joy, and hope from us: Haman (the flesh).
Haman appears like a trusting friend, but is only in it for his own gain. The flesh craves its own status having a singular purpose to his ways: to pull us away from God, to cut us off from Spirit Mordecai, to draw us away from turning to the counsel of Angel Esther on our shoulder. The constant struggle we face and continuous choice we make is who to listen to, the Spirit or the Flesh. Will we allow Haman to tear us down through tricks and schemes or listen for the voice of truth as Mordecai speaks through Esther to us?
First it is time for the Flesh to show his hand. Now comes the first choice. He is enraged by the fact that Mordecai will not bow down to him, and so devises a plan to destroy him.
8 Then Haman said to King Ahasuerus, “There is a certain people scattered and dispersed among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom; their laws are different from those of all other people and they do not observe the king’s laws, so it is not in the king’s interest to let them remain. 9 If it is pleasing to the king, let it be decreed that they be destroyed, and I will pay ten thousand talents of silver into the hands of those who carry on the king’s business, to put into the king’s treasuries.”
The Flesh wants to wipe out any remnant of the Spirit of God within us. He does it through craftiness, making it look like a good idea, bribing us with money, until we are convinced that the way of the Flesh is better than that of the Spirit. Haman says about the Jews, “they do not observe the king’s laws.” What specifically is he referring to? Mordecai and his unwillingness to bend the knee to Haman. He says, “look the Holy Spirit is at odds with your old way of living. Wouldn’t it be better for you, easier, if you just ignored Him or (better yet) got rid of him altogether.”
Now, the king is left with a choice. Should he listen to Haman’s trickery or seek further counsel. Unfortunately, the king chose poorly, listening to the devil on his shoulder.
We all have this same choice, and sometimes we make the wrong choice. We get so enthralled by the Flesh that we forget about our new spirit (God working in us). We forget about our queen. In these moments of choice, instead of turned to our other shoulder and asking God his opinion, we walk the easier road, following blindly the master of our former life that is now dead and gone. Why? Because it is comfortable. It is easier. Our Flesh is familiar to us. It is harder to work on our struggles and follow the leading of the Spirit than it is to live the way we always have. It takes more effort to observe the ways of righteousness, harder to rise above our situation and recognize the spiritual director working behind the scenes.
It is easier to listen to emotional reasoning than seek out spiritual counsel… and so we don’t even commune with our Queen. Esther is not even called upon. When Vashti is sent away and replaced with Esther, it is an incredible time of celebration for the King (just as it is for us when we first leave our old dead spirit behind and are first united with a spirit made alive in Christ), but soon enough she is a trophy to hang on a shelf instead of a partner to help him wade through the waters of the world.
Don’t we do the same thing with our Christianity. We hang crosses around our necks, display the Bible on our mantle, but after the fire of our first conversion has gone out, we don’t bother to stoke that once hot flame. We tell people that we are Christians (whatever that means) yet continue to live as if our lives haven’t been changed. We turn back to our old ways even though we now have access to a whole new set of resources to run with us in the rain and ruin. We have abandoned our first love.
The Response of Abandoned Love
What does abandoned love do? How does God respond? When we fail in our flesh, when we hang on to Haman’s mirage Mordecai mourns.
When Mordecai learned all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city and wailed loudly and bitterly. 2 He went as far as the king’s gate, for no one was to enter the king’s gate clothed in sackcloth. 3 In each and every province where the command and decree of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing; and many lay on sackcloth and ashes.
The Holy Spirit weeps for us, is grieved by the poor choices we have made. Mordecai should have been scared, perhaps enraged. He and his people are now destined for destruction because of the king’s choice to listen to Haman, but what does Mordecai do? He openly weeps and comes right up the gates. He wants to plead with the king.
The Holy Spirit pleads for us to return to his ways when we get lost, and we will get lost. None of us are perfect. We all have that voice of Haman inside of us, but we also have access to the Holy Spirit. He speaks to us through our Queen Esther. He communes with our Spirit, comes right up to the gates of our hearts, weeping for our return.
Mordecai sends a message to Esther. He explains the situation, that all of the Jews are going to be put to death because of the trickery of Haman. He even sends a copy of the king’s edict with the messenger to confirm what he says… but he primarily reaches out to her with one request—reach out to the king and remind him that he chose you. Remind him of his new queen.
He (Mordecai) also gave him a copy of the text of the edict which had been issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show Esther and inform her, and to order her to go in to the king to implore his favour and to plead with him for her people.
Esther feels the full weight of these words. Now she knows all of her people are in danger because the king has forgotten her. Esther says that the king hasn’t called on her for thirty days. He didn’t think about the angel on his shoulder and allowed Haman to bring him to a place he never would have gone otherwise. Despite such failure, God doesn’t give up in seeking out our soul, the king. He sends a message to Esther and concludes it with these words:
And who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this?”
This is why I put you there, Esther… because without you, I can’t show the king how much I am grieving for him and the results of his choices in his kingdom. The Holy Spirit cannot force us to listen. We have to choose to listen, to invite him into our presence. That is the job of our Spirit. She is the advocate between the Holy Spirit and our soul.
Mordeccai appeals to Esther saying, “you have been put here for such a time as this! You are my woman on the inside of the king’s life. Show the wandering soul that he doesn’t have to return to the former ways in which he once lived. Show him that he is a Christian now, and has entirely new resources at his disposal.”
This is a dangerous thing to do. The king could have shut her out, killed her for entering into his presence unbidden… but this is how desperate the Holy Spirit is when grieving for us. Even if a sacrifice must be made, it is worth the chance to be reconnected with us. Talk about extraordinary love! Such love that not even death can stop it.
Exposing the Flesh
Esther, despite the danger, takes the lead into the thrown room and asks that the king listen to her. He says, “yes, my queen. Make your request. Even up to half of the kingdom I will give you, if only you ask.” The king is reminded of the beauty in his life, and his words are powerful, but his heart is not ready.
Only the Spirit knows what to saw to the soul, and when to say it. Esther has a very important request to make, but must wait until the flesh is exposes for the self-serving vile creature that he is. Until we recognize the failures of the Flesh and cast him out, there is no room for the Holy Spirit to commune with our Spirit and guide us.
Meanwhile, Haman thinks he has won. In fact, he is so confident that he sets up a stake in preparation for Mordecai to be impaled on it, finally doing away with his influence and direct defiance. Then, Haman heads to the palace to join the king and queen at a feast which is prepared in preparation for the queen’s petition. Haman doesn’t have a chance to whisper in the king’s ear again. He has had his say. After everyone is seated at the meal, it is time for Angel Esther to speak.
3 Then Queen Esther replied, “If I have found favour in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be given me as my petition, and my people as my request; 4 for we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed and to be annihilated. Now if we had only been sold as slaves, men and women, I would have remained silent, for the trouble would not be commensurate with the annoyance to the king.” 5 Then King Ahasuerus asked Queen Esther, “Who is he, and where is he, who would presume to do thus?” 6 Esther said, “A foe and an enemy is this wicked Haman!” Then Haman became terrified before the king and queen.
The game is up. Now the king has heard both sides of the story and again he has a choice to make: listen to the Flesh which brings death, or the Spirit of life. This time he makes the right choice. As soon as Haman’s true nature is revealed, the Flesh becomes disgusting to the king. Sin has been exposed as just a lingering ligament of Lucifer that has no place with and is no ally to the new spirit of grace and truth.
The king, enraged, commands that Haman be put to death. He is taken out and hung on the very same pole he set up for Mordecai. The Flesh is put to death. The king realizes that that isn’t who he is any more. He is not just a Haman listener, not just a pawn of the chains of his former life. He has been made new and fully accepts his new spiritual identity that is found with Esther in his presence.
Oh the glory of the gospel. We sit here today because of the grace of God. He found us when we were lost. He sat with us when we were alone. He showed us the light in the darkness. He saved us from sin and death for one reason alone. His love. His love for us is so great that not even death could hold him back.
Isn’t it amazing that despite our awe of such redemption, we lose our focus. We start listening to the wrong voices. God serving becomes self serving. Freedom looks too foreign to a life that has known only chains. Like the prisoner we once we, we identify ourselves by our chains. We may know in our heads that our identity is in Christ, but in our hearts we don’t feel it. There is still the tendency to be nasty to people, still those carnal passions which once dictated our behaviour, the power of pride still entices, the substance abuse still sits on the shelf waiting in pregnant silence. Those secret sins still speak.
I preached a nine week series on the book of Esther last year, and when pouring over my notes, I found this incredible story that I thought we should close with today.
A man stops going to church because he feels like a hypocrite. He goes to church on Sunday, but lives like the devil the rest of the week. He always feels dirty walking through the doors Sunday morning, so stops. Some time later, the pastor comes over to see him, and shares these words:
“Being a hypocrite is acting like something that you are not. When you act out of your own Flesh during the week, leaving God on the side lines and mess up your life, this is acting as something that you are not.
“You are a new creation! The old has passed away and behold the new has come! A regenerate spirit lives in you and you have the resources of God at your disposal to be able to listen to his direction and live your life full of the fruits of the spirit. The fact that you are not doing this is simply a sign that you are acting as a hypocrite six days of the week, and are only being yourself on Sunday. So, is the solution really to give up that one day of the week when you are actually living the new life you have been given?”
The Flesh says, “this is you! You are _________. You are alcoholic. You are porn addict. You are hate. You are thief. You are failure. You are gay. You are cheat. You are lost.” But there is another voice inside of us. The voice of the Spirit of life. The voice of Truth. The voice of our true identity. That voice says, “You are love. You struggle with alcohol, but you are not alcoholic. You lust, but are not an adulterer. You have a short fuse, but I quench it with my streams of living water. You are attracted to people of the same sex, but you my child. You may look at other people’s things are your mouth waters, but you are not a thief. You are a Christian. You are mine and I am yours, forever and always. No matter what you do, because what you do is not who you are. Your identity is in your Spirit, not your Soul.
Yes, we have a continual struggle, but it is simply a ghost of our former self haunting us because it doesn’t have a home in our heart any more. We have a desire to walk in the Flesh because it is familiar, comfortable, seems safe… but our greater desire is to walk in the Spirit. That is the voice of truth inside of us. That is our Queen Esther who comes at the moments when we fail and says, “You are not Haman! Cast him out! You don’t have to do what the Flesh is telling you! Be free!” Choose the Spirit and the Flesh will flee. Let us walk in the fire and the freedom. March in might, not cower in fear. Live the life we have been given because of the blood of Jesus.