“Before Trouble Comes”               Esther 2:19-3:15                   June 17, 2007


SI:  In our reading today the plot thickens.

Esther is living in the palace, enjoying her position as queen.

   A position she achieved by compromising her morals and spiritual identity.

   And it seems that she would have continued that way forever.


But the story takes a very dark turn.

   Through a series of events, the Jews in the Persian empire

   get the evil attention of a very powerful man named Haman.

And he decides to exterminate them—a genocide.


So suddenly, Esther, Mordecai, and all the Jews are faced

   with a situation that seems absolutely hopeless.

And once again, even though God’s name is not mentioned—

   this chapter forces us to see the big picture, that the Lord is at work.

   And that even things that seem completely broken and hopeless are in his hands.


INTRO:  This past week was the General Assembly of our denomination.

It was held in Memphis.  I was not a commissioner, but drove over Wednesday.

   Bumped into a man who I had not seen in a year.

When I saw him a year ago he had told me some exciting news.

   He had been called as pastor of a large, well-known church.

   I remember thinking—He is a perfect fit for that church. 

That church is going to flourish under his ministry.


So when I bumped into him, I asked:  How are things going at First Church?

   And he said, Andrew, I resigned two months ago.

I was stunned.  I never would have imagined it. 

   I asked him what happened.

The first five months were great, the last five were terrible.

   Things came apart and there was no fixing it.

   He explained some of the dynamics of the situation—and they were huge.

   No amount of trying harder would have fixed things.


In our lives there are lots of little, everyday troubles.

   We plan and work and maneuver through those little troubles.

But then there is another category of troubles—the big troubles. 

   The times in your life when the wheels have come off, the plate has shattered.

   When no amount of trying harder will fix things.

   This morning I want us to think about the big troubles.


That’s the sort of situation where Mordecai, Esther and the Jews found themselves.

   It seemed they were being carried along by powerful forces beyond their control.

   Haman and his wicked plans, backed up by the law of the empire.

Now, none of us will ever face genocide like they faced—

   but still, there will be big troubles that seem just as unfixable, unstoppable.

   How do you, as a Christian, face those things?


It seems like Christians deal with big troubles in one of two ways—

   they either stand firm or they collapse. 

This man that I mentioned was standing firm.

   I asked him how he and his wife were doing.

He said:  My wife is amazing.  She’s not bitter.  She’s trusting the Lord.

   Both of us are already starting to see God’s hand in this.

   He told me some of the things that were happening in his life.

There was pain in his voice, but he was holding on to truth.

But sometimes Christians just fall to pieces.

   They are overwhelmed by bitterness or fear or guilt.

   They are unable and sometimes unwilling to see that God is at work.

Now, either way, whether you stand firm or fall to pieces,

   God is still on his throne,

   Jesus is still Lord,

   all His promises are true. 

But experientially, there is a huge difference.


And the key to standing firm and not falling to pieces is your theology.

   It’s what you believe about God and the world.

   Because your theology gives you a perspective on the big troubles.

   That perspective keeps you from being overwhelmed.


I want us to look at this chapter in Esther, and see the big picture.

   That means we aren’t going to be looking at Mordecai as an example.

   I’m not going to tell you, be like Mordecai.

Quite frankly, Mordecai, like Esther, is not a good example.


God is the hero of this story. 

   He has given it to us so that we can see the big picture,

   and believe it, and find help in it in times of trouble.

What is the big theological perspective?


Three things. 

You must see your big troubles in terms of

   1.  Satan’s hostility.

   2.  God’s sovereignty.

   3.  Christ’s sympathy.

MP#1  You must see your big troubles in terms of Satan’s hostility.

The big troubles you face do not happen in a vacuum.

   They are part of a great conflict between Satan and God.

   It is not an equal conflict, but it is a real conflict.

You have to understand this conflict and how it relates to your troubles.


Why did Haman want to kill all of the Jews?

   It says that when he found out who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea

   of just killing Mordecai.  Decided to wipe out all Jews in whole empire.

On one level we could psychoanalyze Haman and say the reason he wanted to kill

   all the Jews was his deep insecurity and his maniacal craving for respect.

That’s true, but there is something even deeper.


We’re told that Haman was an Agagite. 

If your Bible has notes, you follow those notes, will learn that Agag,

   Haman’s ancestor, was one of the kings of the Amalekites. 

   The Amalekites were ancient, bitter enemies of Israel.

They had tried to wipe out Israel over and over.

   This is in that part of the world where people remember things.


But it’s even deeper than that. 

   Back in the Garden of Eden, after Adam and Eve had eaten the forbidden fruit.

   And after God had pronounced a curse on them and on creation,

He turned to the Serpent, to Satan and he made a prophecy, Genesis 3:15

   “And I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and hers;

   he will crush your head, and you will strike his heel.”


God says to Satan.  You have ruined by good creation but you have not won.

   Will be a male child born to the woman, you will bruise him, he will crush you.

   First prophecy of Jesus Christ. 

All of the conflicts in the Bible are Satan’s attempts keep this prophecy

   from coming true by destroying the people of Israel.

   If he could destroy Abraham’s descendants, then there would be no Jesus.


Why did Pharaoh order all Hebrew baby boys to be killed?

   He had is political reasons, but there was a deeper demonic plot.

   Satan wanted to destroy Hebrew people so promised child would not be born.

Why did the Philistines, and the Amalekites, and the Syrians and all the others

   attack Israel over and over?  Why so many wars in OT? 

Not just politics—It’s Geneis 3:15.

   It’s the enmity between Satan and the seed of the woman.

Why did King Herod kill all the baby boys in Jerusalem?

   He was insanely jealous of any rivals.  But there was something deeper.

   This was Satan’s plot to murder the baby Jesus. 


Of course Satan didn’t succeed.  Even the cross did not destroy Christ.

And what does Revelation 12 tell us?

   All of history is the dragon trying to snuff out Jesus Christ.

   And when that failed, it is war against the rest of God’s people.


He tried to keep Jesus from being born.

   When that didn’t work, tried to destroy Jesus himself.

   Since that didn’t work either, he tries to destroy Jesus’ work in us.


How does this help you when you are facing the big troubles in life?

   It gives you perspective.

You may think your trouble is just your marriage or your children or business

   or whatever—but it’s much bigger than that.

   You are a soldier in the cosmic war between Christ and Satan.


What are the stakes?  What’s the devil trying to do to you in these troubles?

He can’t destroy you.  He can’t rob you of your salvation.

   He’s trying to make you ineffective and unproductive.


Puritan Thomas Brooks put it this way in his book “Pecious remedies” 1652

   “Though he can never rob a believer of his crown, yet such is his malice and envy, that he will leave no stone unturned, no means unattempted, to rob them of their comfort and peace, to make their life a burden and a hell unto them, to cause them to spend their days in sorrow and mourning, in sighing and complaining, in doubting and questioning.”


That’s what he wants to accomplish. 

Knowing that, knowing what is really at stake,

   where the battle lines really are, is one important step in facing the big troubles.

It’s not really your money trouble, or health or family troubles—

   it’s a spiritual battle against an old and hostile enemy.


You have to look at your troubles in terms of Satan’s hostility—but can’t stop there. 

MP#2  Also have to see them in terms of God’s sovereignty.

The big troubles you face do not happen by chance.

   They might catch you by surprise, but they don’t catch God by surprise.

   He is the master of your destiny, and your destiny is good.


When Haman decides to destroy the Jews, he goes to a fortune teller

   to find out the best time to carry out his plans.

This fortune teller casts the pur, the lot, in Haman’s presence.

   The pur was a kind of dice used for fortune telling.

   So the lot is cast and the date is set for the Jew’s destruction.


But what really happens on that date?  Are the Jews destroyed?

   One of the advantages that we have in reading Esther is that we know the end.

   We know that Haman will be humiliated and killed when he least expects it.

   We know that this date for the Jews’ destruction will be a date of victory instead.

The thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar

   will be such a great date for the Jews that they will make it into

   an annual celebration of God’s salvation.


But Mordecai doesn’t know how the story is going to end.

   He’s living in the middle of it.

All he can see is this terrible thing that has happened,

   this date that has been set by the Persian Empire for the destruction of all Jews.

   It is absolutely impossible for him to see what God is going to do.


If you could go back in time and talk to Mordecai while in sackcloth and ashes.

   You would say to him, Mordecai.  Your story is not over.

   I know something you don’t know. 

   The Lord is writing a final chapter that will amaze you.

You will look back and see how things are actually better for God’s people

   because this terrible thing has happened.


And isn’t that the story of the cross? 

   The death of Jesus was the end of the disciples’ dreams.

Remember disciples on road to Emmaus—

   We had hoped he was the one who would deliver Israel.

   They saw him die on the cross and said—that’s it—that’s the end of the story.

   They could not conceive of what would happen three days later.


You don’t know how your story is going to end either.

   You don’t know how your children’s story is going to end.

And it may be, that like Mordecai, you are looking at big, bad things,

   that are happening to you right now and projecting those into the future

   and saying to yourself—

I don’t know what is going to happen but I know it’s going to be bad.


No, you don’t.  The Lord is writing your story.

   It may have some very hard chapters—

   Chapters of suffering, losses, and painful sanctification.

But the last chapter will always be a good one for God’s people.


When lived in Florida knew former Assembly of God minister.

   He had lots of big troubles.  He had lost his church, marriage,

   and lots of other things—worked in a convenience store. 

He had a sermon, preached often to himself.  I heard several times.


Moses was in the backside of the wilderness for 40 years tending sheep

   before God used him to bring the children of Israel out of Egypt.

   But it was in the wilderness Moses met the Lord in the burning bush.

I’m in the backside of the wilderness now.  This is where the Lord has me.

   I know He has plans for my future, even though I don’t know what they are. 

   But that’s ok, because I’ve met the Lord here, hallelujah!


He didn’t use the term God’s sovereignty but that’s what he believed.

   He knew that the big troubles of his life, even the ones he had brought on himself,

   were not outside of God’s hand, and that the Lord was at work.

That gave him hope and joy.


Do you feel like you are in the backside of the wilderness

   when it comes to some big trouble in your life?

Look at the story of Esther—even at this darkest point—

   God was at work, planning great things for his people.

   He is also at work in your life.

If you believe that, you will have hope and reason to rejoice,

   even though you cannot see how things will work out in the end. 


So you have to look at your troubles in terms of God’s sovereignty—

   but there is one more important part of the big picture.

MP#3  You must see your big troubles in terms of Christ’s sympathy.

We live in a fallen world.  Things are broken.  There is sorrow and grief.

   The big troubles you face are reason to grieve.


Mordecai was far from a perfect believer, he did many things wrong.

   Remember his advice to Esther—hide your faith and identity.

   Compromise your morals if you have to.  Not his finest hour. 

Many Bible scholars have argued Mordecai was wrong in not bowing to Haman.

   Believers are supposed to give proper honor and respect to civil authorities.  

   Plenty of examples of godly people in Bible bowing to kings and giving honor.


The fact that Haman was a descendant of Agag should have taken second place

   to the fact that King Xerxes had commanded that he be honored.

   You’ll notice in chap 6 that Mordecai had no problem with people bowing to him. 

At best Mordecai chose to take a stand on a gray issue, and not black and white. 


It would be easy to criticize Mordecai for his response to the kings edict.

   He tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes,

   and went out wailing loudly and bitterly.

We’re tempted to say—Where’s your faith, Mordecai.

   Don’t you know God is in control?  Get a grip.

   All things work together for good, so cheer up.


But that’s wrong. 

Over and over in the Bible we see that the big troubles of life are reason to weep.

In the Bible we see godly people weeping over the death of loved ones,

   and over wandering children, and lost health, lost wealth,

   over crushed dreams and ruined plans.


There is a book of the Bible called Lamentations—

   written by the godly prophet Jeremiah in which he just grieves

   over the destruction of Jerusalem, and complains to God about it.


There is a whole category of Psalms called laments—

   in which the Psalmist cries out to God in his trouble.

Why are you doing this to me?  How long are you going to put me through this? 

   Why am I suffering this illness?  This conflict with friends and family?

   Why am I suffering financially?  Lord, have you forgotten me? 

Don’t you know my tears are my food every night?

Sometimes Christians who preach God’s sovereignty a lot—like Presbyterians—

   get off balance.  Almost seems like it’s a lack of faith if you grieve and weep

   and say, “Why, God?  Why?” 

But it’s not wrong.  In fact, Jesus himself, at his moment of greatest pain

   cried out the words of Psalm 22, a lament—

   “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?”


And it is Jesus’ suffering that assures us that he can indeed sympathize

   with all of the suffering that we go through in this life.

When you are going through the big troubles of life,

   there is no greater source of comfort than the sympathy of Christ.


In one of Tim Keller’s sermons he makes a fascinating observation about Jesus.  When Jesus goes to home of Mary and Martha after Lazarus had died—

Martha came out and said,

   “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

   Jesus gave her a theological lesson.  You brother will rise again.

   I know he will rise again on the last day.  I am the resurrection and life.


Mary comes out and says the very same thing.

   “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”

   And Jesus doesn’t give her a theological lesson, he sees her weeping, he weeps.

Keller says, shows how Jesus knows us perfectly, knows what each of us need.

   Martha needed teaching,

   Mary needed sympathetic tears.


There is nothing wrong with weeping, and grieving.

   It’s a proper response to the brokenness of this world.

It’s wrong for us to treat grief and sorrow of fellow Christians as failures of faith.

   I was recently with someone, not in this church, talking about

   woman who had lost a husband—person very bothered that she was

   still grieving after a year—thought she should be moving on with her life.

You don’t find that thinking in the Bible. 


Yes, we need to realize we are soldiers in a battle, big things at stake.

   Yes, we need to believe that God is sovereign, all things work for good.

But also need to know, that in this broken world, Jesus wept, cried out Why?

   Right for you to weep, cry out Why?  and know that you have the sympathetic

   ear of a Savior who loved you.

INTRO:  I’ve spoken to those of you who are in the middle of big troubles.

But if you aren’t.  If you are in a time of peace in your life,

   and everything is going well.  Now is the time to take these truths

   and press them deep into your mind and heart.

Use times of peace to prepare for the hard times.


Remember how Paul puts it in Ephesians 6:

   “Put on the full armor of God, so that when the day of evil comes,

   you will be able to stand your ground, and after you have done everything, to stand.”

When do you put on the armor of God?  Before the evil day comes.

   If you get up one morning, and it is an evil day, big trouble crashes on you,

   and you are not prepared, you will find it hard to stand. 


Finally, if you are not a Christian.

   If you have never repented of your sins, professed your faith in Jesus,

   and given your life to him, let me urge you to do so.

Because if you don’t, the big troubles of your life will not work out for good.

   They will work out for evil.  They will just be a taste of hell.


An eternity without God’s grace,

   without the sympathy of Christ, and his wrath instead

   is a terrible trouble that you do not want to face.

Jesus has suffered that trouble for you on the cross.

   Turn to him in faith before it is too late,

   and you can be assured that He will surely work all things for your good.