“Fitting In”               Esther 2                   June 10, 2007


SI:  Last Sunday began a study of the book of Esther.

In chapter two we are introduced to Esther for the first time.

   And she doesn’t make a very good first impression.


But as I said last week, the hero of Esther is not Esther—it’s the Lord.

   Message of Esther is that because of God’s grace,

   there is no such thing as 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.


We’re going to get to that.  It’s exciting.

   But first we have to look at Esther’s sinful compromise.

See what it teaches us about the world, our own hearts, and the Gospel.

INTRO:  A few weeks ago I invited someone to go with me

   to a dinner and lecture being held by a Christian ministry. 

The man I invited said:  What should I wear to this thing?

   I said:  Why don’t you wear khaki pants, oxford shirt, and navy blazer.

We laughed and agreed that in the South, a man can go to almost any function

   with that wardrobe.  Add a tie if you think it’s going to be a little more dressy.

   Take off your tie, stick it in your pocket if you get there and it’s more informal.

You will fit in perfectly.  


This chapter is about fitting in.

We are introduced to Esther for the first time

   and learn something interesting right away—Esther is not her real name.

   Her real name—Hebrew name her parents gave her is Hadassah.

But she goes by Esther, which is a Persian name

   probably derived from the goddess Ishtar.


And that says a lot about Esther and her cousin Mordecai who raised her—

   they were Jews, but they wanted to fit in as Persians.

   They knew who they were.  But they didn’t want anybody else to know.

They wanted to keep their Jewish identity hidden,

   so that they wouldn’t stand out in a crowd. 

This was more than just hiding their nationality—

   they were hiding their faith in the God of Israel, hiding their spiritual identity.


Do you remember last week, chapter one.

   I said that chapter one shows us two kingdoms—

   The dazzling kingdoms of this world and the invisible kingdom of God.

The kingdom of God was not on the radar screen of the Persians.

   The only thing that was real to them was Xerxes and the values of his kingdom.

   His party represented all that was important to them—

   Wealth, pride, power—gold goblets, trophy wives.


But the Jews living in Persia knew about the Kingdom of God. 

   They knew the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

They knew the Lord was at work in history, carrying out his saving purposes.

   They knew that God had saved them out of Egypt to be a light to the world.

   They knew the values and laws of the kingdom of God. 

But they wanted to fit in to the kingdom of this world.

   In their case, values and world view of Persian empire. 

And that has always been the challenge for believers.


In John 17 Jesus is praying for his disciples and for us and he says

   that we are in the world but not of the world.

We live here, surrounded by values of this world.

   We participate in it in many ways.

   We work with unbelievers, exposed to their thinking.

   We enjoy much of the same entertainment, watch same TV.

   Breath the same air of the culture around us.


But we are not of this world.

   Our citizenship is in God’s kingdom.

   We are his adopted sons and daughters.

   We are followers of Jesus Christ.

And so our value system and identity and destiny is totally different.


That’s a huge challenge for Christians.

   Because, very simply, we want to fit into the world.

   We want to wear the khaki pants and blue blazer like every other man.

We don’t want our lives to be so out of step with everybody else

   that we stand out too much. 


So we conceal our identity,

   we adopt the world’s values and ways.

And sometimes it is so subtle, goes on so long,

   we don’t even think that what we are doing is wrong.

   We might not even recognize that we are doing it.


That’s what this chapter is about.  It’s about Esther, but it’s about us.

   It’s about our need for us to hear the Gospel every day,

   so that we can resist the urge to deny Christ and fit in—

   and so that we can find a way back when we do.


Three headings for note-takers:

1.  The world’s values

2.  Your own weakness

3.  The Gospel’s power

MP#1  The world’s values

Let’s start with the world’s values—perfectly illustrated in opening chapters.

Chapter one, last Sunday was all about a party.

   It was a 6 month long party Xerxes threw for all the important people

   of the empire that ended with a week-long blow out for every citizen

   of the capital city of Susa.


Why did Xerxes throw this party? 

   To display the vast wealth of his kingdom

   and the splendor and glory of his majesty. 

This was all about appearances. 

   He wanted every one to see his great wealth and power

   and then to judge him according to that.

Remember, the historian Herodotus says Xerxes was planning to invade Greece,

   so he was saying to everyone important—look at me, look at my wealth.

If you follow me to Greece then you too can have a taste of true greatness.


And you remember what happened at the end of the party?

   Xerxes was in such high spirits, he said to his guests,

   now, let me show you one of my great possessions—Queen Vashti.

When you see how beautiful she is, you will really know that I have it all

   and that I am a truly great man.

But Vashti refused to come out before the king and his drunken followers.

   And so, as chapter one ends, Xerxes deposes Vashti for disobeying him.


So chapter two begins, and Xerxes decides he needs a new queen.

   He sends out his men to find the most beautiful virgins, bring to palace.

   There is going to be a contest—Persian Idol!

The winner will become the next queen of Persia.


This is not exactly like our beauty pageants.

The beautiful girls were taken from their homes—they had no option.

   They were brought to the harem and received one year of beauty treatments

   in preparation for their big audition—a night with the king.


The girl that wowed the king most with her beauty and sexual moves

   got to be queen, the rest went back to the harem to be his

   concubines and occasional playthings.


Sometimes the story of Esther is presented as a love story.

   But it’s not a love story at all.  This is all about appearances. 

It’s about a man who judges his own worth by his possessions,

   and he wants another possession—another woman to add to his collection.

And what makes that woman collectable? 

   Her mind?  Her spirit?

   Just her looks.


So then, in these two chapters we see the basic values of the Persian empire.

   The measure of a man was his wealth and power—chapter 1.

   The measure of a woman was her physical beauty and sexiness—chapter 2.

On preacher put it this way.

   A man’s worth was measured by the size of his wallet.

   A woman’s worth was measured by the size of her dress.


Aren’t you glad you didn’t live back then?

   Wouldn’t it be terrible to live in a place where people

   based their worth on appearances?

Wouldn’t it be terrible to live in a place where what you have

   and what you look like matters more than who you are?


Aren’t you glad you don’t live in ancient Persia.

   Aren’t you glad you live in modern America . . .

Hey, wait a minute, this sounds a lot like America!

   Some of the details are different but the values are the same.

   And that’s because this is not just a Persian thing,

   or an American thing—it’s a human thing.


As a believer you see how completely bankrupt this value system is.

   It’s all based on external, passing things that do not in any way

   determine a person’s true worth.

These things cannot give a person security, or happiness,

   or anything else important for life.

But even though we see the emptiness—we still get sucked in.


That brings us to the second heading . . .

MP#2  Your own weakness

How did Esther do?  She blew it.

   She won the contest.  She was picked to be queen.

   But she got there by completely selling out to the culture. 

It started with her concealing her identity as a believer.

   And it ended with her sleeping with a man who was not her husband,

   and marrying an unbeliever—all to get what she wanted. 


Now, you might say wait a minute. 

   Mordecai had forbidden her to reveal her true identity.

   She was just obeying the father figure in her life.

Let’s talk about Mordecai.  He was wrong.  Shame on him.

   Mordecai was motivated by fear.

   He was afraid for Esther.  Didn’t want her to get hurt.


He knew that if she lived as a Jew,

   that would bring her into immediate conflict with officials in Xerxes’ harem. 

They would bring her the palace food and what would Esther say?

   I’m sorry, this is unclean food.  God’s law forbids me from eating this. 


That would just be the first of many stands she would have to take.

   And Xerxes was not the sort of man who took kindly to people

   standing on their convictions if it went against his own values. 

But Mordecai told Esther the exact opposite of what he should have told her.


He should have said:  Remember who you are. 

   You are a child of Abraham, servant of the Most High God.

   Do not compromise.  Do not hide your identity or your faith.

Be ready to suffer but know that the Lord is with you.  Daniel and friends.

   The only thing Mordecai have feared was Esther turning away from God.

So, yes, Mordecai bore a huge responsibility for Esther’s failure.

   He pushed her to adopt the values of the world.


But she bought into them.  And you don’t see a bit of resistance on her part.

   She was absolutely compliant to the head eunuch.

   She basically said, You tell me what to do. 

   You tell me what is beautiful and I will become that.

And he tells her and she plays the perfect Barbie Doll.

   She adopts world’s standard of beauty and sexuality. 

But it’s hard to be too critical of Mordecai and Esther,

   because we are just as weak, give in just as easily to the values of the world.

Even in Christian homes, we can push our children toward the world.

   It often starts just like it did with Mordecai—with our fears.


As Christian parents we so often afraid of the wrong things.

   We are afraid our children will be left out,

      not have enough friends, not be popular.

   We are afraid their psyches will be damaged if they are denied things—

      if they don’t make the team, if they don’t have the latest thing or clothing.

   We are afraid they are not going to make good grades, not get into college,

      not get the right job, and on and on.


We have these fears because the world’s values have a grip on us.

Just like Mordecai, we push our children to adopt these worldly values.

   We might not be as blunt as Mordecai but through our fears we say to children:

   This is what is really important to me—

I hope you fit in.  I hope you are successful as the world defines success.


Our children pick up on that. 

   Success narrowly defined (good grades, good job).

   Popularity based on most superficial things.

   Immediate happiness rather trusting God in suffering.

And like Esther, they often buy into these values.

   And then they find themselves ineffective and unproductive as young Christians.

They might be very successful in work, appearance, popularity,

   but they are not glorifying God in it.


When you look closely at Mordecai and Esther in Chapter 2, it is deeply convicting.

We want to be beautiful by the world’s standards. 

   The values of the world captivate us,

   We essentially become concubines to the world and are too weak to resist.


We need something strong—

   and that brings us to our third heading.

MP#3  The Gospel’s power

The way back from a life of compromise comes through the Gospel.

A pattern for living before your children, not repeating Mordecai’s mistakes

   comes from knowing and applying the Gospel.

   Two things: 


1.  The Gospel shows you real beauty.

The beauty pageant in this chapter is a symbol of the world’s values.

   It’s all about how you look, what you have, how you can get more.

   How you can be successful, how you can fit in.

We are drawn to that value system.  It appeals to us.


The only way its hold over you can be broken is when you see real beauty.

The Gospel teaches that we see real beauty in a man who allowed himself to be

   rejected, and made hideous because of his love for God and for you.


Listen to the way the prophet Isaiah describes Jesus crucified:

   “Many were appalled at him, his appearance was so disfigured beyond that of any

   man and his form marred beyond human likeness . . . He had no beauty or majesty

   to attract us to him, nothing in his appearance that we should desire him.  He was

   despised and rejected by men.”

Appalled, disfigured, marred, no beauty, noting to attract, despised, rejected.


Did Jesus try to fit in? 

No.  As we’ve seen in our study of Mark, he deliberately refused

   to fit into the Messianic mold that the people and leaders wanted.

And in refusing to fit into that political mold, and the acclaim of the crowds

   he chose rejection and the cross.


Who did Jesus die to save? 

   Esthers, Mordecais, Peters, Andrew Siegenthalers—

People who know his grace but who still want to fit into the world.

   People who at times conceal their identity as believers.

   He knew our character when he died for us.

That’s true beauty—the self-sacrifice of Jesus Christ.


Will only be by looking at the beauty of Christ crucified,

   and holding Jesus before our children, that the beauty of the world

   will loose its attraction and seem shallow and passing.


2.  The Gospel shows you how to become truly beautiful.

Esther had 12 months of beauty treatments in Xerxes harem.

   But the prettier she got on the outside, the uglier she got on the inside.

The wonderful thing we will see about the story of Esther is that the Lord

   doesn’t give up on her.  He loves her, works in her life,

   and turns her into a woman who is brave and lovely on the inside.


How do you become truly beautiful?

   Well, it’s not your work, it’s God’s work.

And there are two parts to his beauty treatment.


First, He takes the beauty of Jesus Christ and he clothes you with it.

   The Bible calls that justification.

The perfect life of Jesus Christ that we just talked about—

   his perfect love and obedience. 

All of his goodness, his life and his death, are applied to you

   the moment you put your trust in him. 

So from that moment, no matter what you do—

   even if you turn your back on God and embrace the world,

   as Esther did for a time—he looks at you and sees the perfection of Christ.


Second, for every person who has truly been justified, the Holy Spirit

   begins a life-long series of beauty treatments called sanctification.

   He slowly makes you a holy person.  You become who you are.

You start to take on the characteristics of Jesus Christ.


That’s what we will see in Esther, as her character changes,

   and she starts to realize that fitting in, hiding her identity is not really living.

She comes to a point—hope I’m not spoiling the story—

   where she puts her life on the line to save God’s people.

   The Holy Spirit changes her from a compliant concubine to a Christ-like savior.


It is as you realize the power of the Gospel to change you,

   that you will start to see all your temptations to fit in as really challenges

   to become more like Christ. 

You can say to your children—you know this challenge you are facing,

   with friends, popularity, grades, college, making the team—whatever.

The really important thing is that you listen to the Holy Spirit,

   cooperate with Him.  Yes, this is tough, but it’s making you beautiful.