“God’s Kingdom and Providence”               Esther 1                      June 3, 2007


SI:  It’s been my practice to preach a short sermon series during the summer.

So we are going to take a break from Mark—middle of chapter 8 a good place.

   It’s the climax of the first half of the book.  Will pick up again in late August.


Going to spend these summer months looking at the fascinating book of Esther.

Esther is the story of a young Jewish woman, a believer in the true God,

   who completely sells out to the values of pagan, Persian culture.

She compromises her morality, her character, and her identity.

   She makes those compromises so that she will have a comfortable, easy life.


And she would have stayed there.

   And spent the rest of her days living an empty, materialistic life.

But for one thing—God was at work.


God was at work in huge ways that she could not even see at first.

   He did not let her stay in where she was.

He orchestrated events that shook her comfortable, empty life.

   Those events forced her to make a choice,

   to identify once more with God’s people.


But there is something even more amazing.

   God used Esther where she was to be the savior of the Jewish people.

   Even though she had gotten where she was through sinful compromise.


We will see in this story that because God is at work,

   there is not such thing as a Plan B for your life.

It is impossible to mess up so much that God cannot use you in the very place

   your sinful choices have taken you. 

He doesn’t do that by excusing your sin,

   or by making it good, or even by removing the consequences.


He does it by sovereignly working through the consequences

   to bring about his purposes in ways that you could never imagine.


So the real hero of the book of Esther is not Esther.

   It is Jesus Christ who rules over all for good of church.

   As Paul says in Colossians 1, he is sovereign over all things for the church.

Ultimately, book of Esther will help you believe

   that Jesus is ruling over your life

   in all the details,

   for his glory, and for your good.


But that’s very hard to believe, because we can’t see God.

   And there are powerful, appealing forces that we can see,

   that are in our faces every day, pushing us away from him.


That’s where we start, in chapter one of Esther.

   Brought face to face with a kingdom and values

   that are completely opposed to Christ.

INTRO:  My first boss after college was the headmaster of a Christian school

   in Ft. Lauderdale where I taught—Westminster Academy.

He was a man of deep conviction.

   Had poured his life first into pastoral ministry, then into Christian schooling.


He had a son.  I met his son and was impressed with him.

   He was an attorney.  Very sober-minded man, serious about faith in Christ.

One time I asked my boss how his son decided to go into law.

   Expected him to say something like:

   He sensed God calling him.

   Believed he could serve God in the courtroom.


But he laughed and said:  I never forget the day he said to me,

   Dad, I’m sick and tired of not having everything I want.

   Look at my friends.  They all have boats, new cars, big houses on water.

   I want to be rich.  I’m going to be a lawyer.


He said to his son:  Son, you can serve Christ in any vocation. 

   But getting rich is not a worthy life goal for a Christian.

   If you go into law for that reason, it will lead to a lot of unhappiness.

   The only worthy goal in life is to glorify God and enjoy Him forever.


Well, his son didn’t listen.  Went to law school to get rich.

   And got out and did well—but I have to tell you the end of the story.

At some point God got his attention. 

   Saw foolishness of chasing wealth.

   Stayed in law, but made it his goal to serve Christ instead of money.

   Lord took that rebellious, ungodly decision, used it for good in his life.


That’s an Esther story.  In our study of Esther, we are going to get

   to those exciting turning points, and see God work things out.

But first we have to start with our foolish decisions.

   And even before that, have to start with the worldly things

   that capture our imaginations, that seem more real than God himself.


It’s easy for us to see the foolishness of a young man—

   especially a Christian—saying that his goal in life is to be rich.

But haven’t we all been there? 

   Haven’t we all bought into the world’s values?

Whether it is the world’s view of money and possessions,

   or beauty, or security, or self-worth—whatever it is.

We all know what it is like to look at those things

   and for them to seem much more real than God himself.


That’s where the book of Esther starts.  Starts with a vivid description

   of the wealth of a king and his kingdom that is supposed to dazzle us.

After we are dazzled, we are expected to look beneath the surface,

   and see how empty this life is.

And then, in a very unusual way, this passage points us to

   a kingdom that we cannot see, the kingdom of God.

   And invites us to see the greatness of life in that kingdom.  


So let’s look at this chapter under two headings:

   1.  The dazzling kingdoms of this world.

   2.  The invisible kingdom of God.


MP#1  The dazzling kingdoms of this world

Xerxes is the great example.  Some Bible versions call him Ahasuerus.

   That is the Hebrew name for this king.

   But he is commonly known as Xerxes I.

He inherited the Persian Empire from his father, Cyrus the Great.

   Ruled for 20 years, from 485-465 BC

   an empire that stretched from India to Ethiopia—filled with incredible wealth.


We are introduced to him at a party he threw for all the military leaders

   and nobles of his empire that lasted for six months.

Party ended with a seven day blow out for every single citizen

   of the capital city of Susa.

No expense was spared for this party.

   The palace gardens were decorated with opulent furnishings.

   These linen hangings, marble pillars.

An ornate mosaic pavement inlayed with mother of pearl, precious stones.

   Gold goblets for each guest, every one a work of art in itself.

   As much wine as people wanted to drink.  No limits.


Why this six month party and seven day blow out?  What was Xerxes doing?

   He was showing off.  During those six months he was parading his wealth

   in front of all the important men of the empire.

The Bible doesn’t tell us why—

   but Greek historian Herodotus does.

Xerxes was planning a massive invasion of Greece.

   And he wanted to impress everyone with his wealth and power.


Look at me.  I’m the man.  I have it all together.

   Come with me to Greece and you will get the same wealth and glory that I have.

Oops!  I dropped a gold goblet.  You keep it.

   Look at me, I have it all.  I’m the measure of what is real and important.

   And the men were lapping it up. 


Looking at this party from over 2,000 years away, can see how silly it was.

   But if we had lived then, we would have found this very appealing.

If you doubt that, just ask yourself how important it is for you

   to have the right stuff.  Our culture tells us what we have to have

   in order to be secure, fulfilled, happy, beautiful, successful, and admired.

It’s not gold couches and inlayed pavements—but we have our own lists.

Going to see, as we look at Esther, even believing Jew bought into the values

   of Xerxes’ kingdom when they should have seen the emptiness.


Right at the climax of the party, seventh day of the big blow out—

   when Xerxes ego is just swollen to the bursting point.

Says to all these men—let me show you my greatest trophy.

   You will see what a great man I am.  Will see I really have it all.

   Sends his seven eunuchs to fetch Queen Vashti—his trophy wife.

And she refuses to come.  The Bible doesn’t say why.  Doesn’t really matter.

   Vashti would not come out to be seen by the king and his drunken followers.

   This was a major crisis.

   The dazzling kingdom was shaken.


Xerxes lost face right at the pinnacle of his pride.

   This was the man leading armies to conquer Greece.

   But he couldn’t control his own wife.

   All his wealth and power could not change the fact that he was just a man.

He called an emergency council meeting. 

   They said, depose Vashti, issue decree declaring every man ruler over household. 

After the appropriate chest thumping, he did that—and order was restored.


But the party was ruined.

We can see the emptiness underneath all of this wealth and power.

   Xerxes had no real pleasure in his gardens, wine and wife.

He just an insatiable desire to feed his ego.

   And even that was frustrated.

   All the wealth in the world could not control the details of his life.

This edict did not cover up that emptiness—just let everyone know,

   who could read between the lines, that Vashti had defied the king.


One of the things that prompted me to preach on Esther

   was an excellent commentary that I read about 8 months ago.

Recently published by Dr. Iain Duguid, professor at Westminster Seminary Calif.

   Makes the point several times, book of Esther is supposed to be funny.

Several times in this book we are invited to laugh at people

   who put all their hopes in dazzling emptiness of this world,

   then have the rug yanked out from under them. 

But then Dr. Duguid goes on to say—really ought to laugh at our own

   foolish attraction to the values of this world.  We ought to know better.

Look at Meditations section of bulletin, last quote:

“Esther chapter one reminds us not to take the power and glory of this world too seriously.  Sometimes we just have to laugh.  The empire of materialism in which we live takes stuff desperately seriously, and it wants us to take it seriously too.  It wants us to dream of six-month-long banquets in beautifully decorated gardens, and then to devote our lives to pursuing the dream.  It is easy for us to be dazzled by the empire’s ostentatious show, but it is empty of real power at the center.  To defend ourselves against the danger of being assimilated, we must learn to laugh at the empire.  We must learn to laugh at those around us whose lives are wasted in pursuit of so many worthless goals, and to laugh at ourselves when we see our own hearts getting weighed on the empire’s scale of values.  What shall it profit a man if he can throw six-month-long parties with gold couches on mother-of-pearl pavements?  How much more ridiculous are we, then, when we spend so much time and energy desiring a new sports car, or a great pair of shoes at the mall, or the latest home improvement in the mail-order catalog?  Ultimately, it is all empty.  True value lies in the values of an altogether different empire.”

And that brings us to the second heading:


MP#2  The invisible kingdom of God

Did you notice someone important missing from chapter one?

   I’ll give you a clue—His name is not mentioned once in the entire book of Esther.

I’m talking about God himself.

   The book of Esther is unique in that there is not a single mention of God.

   There is not a single religious reference either that might refer to God—

   no mention of prayer, or worship, or the Scriptures.


In fact, the writer goes out of his way to avoid mentioning God.

   There is a time in the story when the Jews fast.

   The never just fasted—they fasted and prayed.

But prayer is not mentioned.


This absence of the mention of God has led some through the ages

   to question whether or not this book should be in the Bible.

But the writer of Esther knew what he was doing.

   His deliberate decision not to mention God is a literary device

   intended to make a powerful point.


We will see, as the story unfolds, that the Jews are threatened

   with total destruction by a determined enemy.

Now, in other parts of the Bible, when the God saw his people Israel threatened,

   He responded with miraculous acts of deliverance.

Think about the Exodus.  How did the Lord deliver his people?

   With the 10 Plagues.  By parting the Red Sea.


But in this deliverance there are no miracles, no visions or dreams—

   there is no mention of God—he seems absent.

What we have instead of miracles, is a whole string of coincidences.

   And because all of those things happened, one after another, the Jews saved.

   And, of course, these are not coincidences—this is the hand of God.


Because if King Xerxes had not gotten drunk,

   he would not have demanded Queen Vashti to appear.

And if he had not demanded that she appear,

   she would have not had any reason to oppose the king,

   and she would have remained queen.

And, as we will see, if she had remained queen, the door would not have opened

   for a beautiful Jewish woman, named Esther to become queen.

And if Esther had not become queen,

   there would have been no one in the corridors of power

   to save the people of God when threatened with annihilation.

And if you know the story of Esther,

   you know that it’s even more complicated than that.


So this drunken king, with his drunken advisors who had no thought of God

   at all, who cared only about material wealth, and puffing up his ego,

   who made laws, ruined lives without a care for anyone else—

   set in motion the salvation of God’s people.

That’s the invisible kingdom of God. 

   Xerxes is not the great King, Lord is.


So by not mentioning God, keeping him totally invisible, behind the scenes—

   the reader of Esther is forced to see, with eyes of faith,

   God’s providential hand behind every single event.

When you see the Red Sea part—it’s easy to say—God is there!

   But when you see King Xerxes get drunk,

   and lash out when his pride is wounded, it’s hard to see God in that.

But he is. 


And that’s important because we do not live in an age of miracles.

   The Lord does not appear in pillars of fire and part the Red Sea.

We cannot see him. 

   What we can see are the powerful forces of this world,

   forces of materialism,

   forces of nature, economic forces, social forces.

Those things seem so powerful and uncontrollable. 

   There are times when it seems that your life is caught in the grip

   of impersonal forces, bad luck, bad timing.


The book of Esther shows us that there is no such thing as impersonal forces,

   or bad luck, or bad timing—everything, even drunken kings

   making drunken decision are in the providential hand of God.

The Lord is working behind the scenes for his glory and your good.

   He has a much bigger plan than anything you can imagine.

   Only by looking back through the years, probably only in heaven,

   will you look back and say—Oh, now I see.  The Lord was there all along.


But the book of Esther will at least assure you right now that the Lord is with you,

   and he is at work, even though you cannot see him.


And what are the values of God’s kingdom? 

   Is it ego and pride?  Well, you say, God wants his glory.

   But his glory is different from Xerxes.

Let’s look at God’s providence again.


Why did he orchestrate events so that Esther could become queen?

   To save the Jews from annihilation.

Why did he save the Jews? 

   So that 400 years later, Jesus would be born.

Why was Jesus born? 

   To parade his wealth and power, and crush people who oppose him?


No, to lay aside his wealth and power, to allow himself to be crushed on cross,

   so that you can be forgiven, receive sonship, enter God’s Kingdom,

   and come under the gracious providence of a loving Father.


To the degree you know that, believe it, you will be able to laugh

   at the dazzling kingdoms of this world, and laugh at your own heart

   when you crave its values—and say to yourself—

I don’t need that, all of my life, every detail, is in the Lord’s hands!