David Jeremiah - Esther: Overcoming the Things That Come To Pass
On August the 21st, 2015, two American service members, Spencer Stone and Alek Skarlatos, and their friend, Anthony Sadler, boarded a train in Amsterdam headed to Brussels. Having time off from their military duties, they wanted to do some sightseeing and, unknown to them, a 25-year-old Moroccan terrorist had boarded the train and was situated in car number 12, armed with an AK-47 assault rifle, a 9 mm pistol, a boxcutter, and 270 rounds of ammunition. He was planning a spectacular terrorist attack, during which he wanted to massacre all the passengers on the train and grab the attention of the world. When the Americans heard gunshots and the breaking of glass, the three of them sprang into action.
Skarlatos, who had been napping, came to life and instinctively shouted, "Go," and the three young men attacked the terrorist, tackling him, disarming him, and rendering him unconscious with the butt of his own rifle. Stone was stabbed with the boxcutter but his injuries were not life-threatening and, using emergency first aid skills, the three tended to the wounded. Now, that story flashed around the world. I remember when that happened. I remember seeing it on the news, and the young Americans were hailed as heroes for stopping what could have been one of the worst massacres since 9/11. As you probably remember, Clint Eastwood made a movie about that event and asked the three young men to portray themselves in the film.
Here's what you may not know. The three young men first met as students at a Christian school in Sacramento and their faith played a role in their lives. They felt the Lord had prepared them and placed them on that train for such a time as that. Skarlatos later told a journalist, If you look at the odds of everything that happened and how close we came to dying on so many different occasions, it's too coincidental, it was too astronomical for it just to be chance. It had to be God, looking out for us. Since then, several other details have come to light. Though the three young men had known each other in high school, their lives had gone in three different directions. They found themselves together again on that trip to Paris for the first time. The three decided to leave Amsterdam a day earlier than they had originally planned. At the last minute they decided to switch from coach to first class which is where the attack took place. Stone had training in two skills that proved critical that day: jiu-jitsu and advanced first aid.
Also, remarkably, the terrorist's AK-47 misfired which allowed the three to subdue him and the problem wasn't with the rifle, but with a faulty bullet which almost never, ever happens. Stone later said that he had never felt calmer in his life than at the moment the terrorist aimed his rifle at him and pulled the trigger. Nothing happened due to that faulty bullet and the terrorist was tackled. Another unexpected fact was that the terrorist dropped his handgun magazine just before reaching the three young men. "We know this series of events weren't coincidences," said Sadler, whose father is a Baptist preacher. "It's like our lives were leading up to that moment. You don't always know what plan God has for you. What we've come to realize with hindsight is that this was all part of his plan, a bigger picture. That's where we were supposed to be that day. In hindsight, looking back on our lives, it looks like we were all preparing our whole lifetime for that moment. There's no denying it".
I don't know if he realized it or not, but that young man perfectly summarized the story of the book of Esther. As you look at the Old Testament heroes who overcame great difficulties and prevailed in the name of the Lord, you're struck by the theme of the life of Esther. Portrayed in this story and in the hindsight we can see that it was all part of a plan, a bigger picture. Her entire life had been in preparation for the events that transpired. There's no denying it. And there's no denying that the sovereign providential oversight of God is still at work. Not only in our world and in the unfolding history of our planet, but also in our own lives and in the unfolding of our days. You may think you came here tonight for one reason or another but let me tell you what I know. You're here tonight because God wants you to be here. You're here in the plan of God. The Lord wants you and I to overcome the circumstances that come to pass in our lives and he brings us together in events like this to encourage us to do just that.
That's the way the book of Esther opens, with five words. Have you ever noticed it? Here's what it says: "Now it came to pass". Someone once told me those are the five most encouraging words in the Bible. When something happens to you that's really bad, don't be upset. Just say, "It came to pass". It didn't come to stay; it came to pass. First of all, we learn from the book of Esther that God ordains his purpose. This is the writer's subtle way of introducing a story in which a remarkable set of events came to pass under the sovereignty of Almighty God. The story of the Old Testament is a story of the nation of Judah and the city of Jerusalem. God had chosen the Jewish people, the descendants of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, to be the channel through which the Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ, would be born.
But as you know, as you study the Old Testament, the nation of Judah fell into sin and debauchery so awful and so rebellious against God that the Lord had to allow them to be captured by the Babylonians and carried away captive. The city was destroyed. The land was invaded. Many of the people died. The temple was razed to the ground and many survivors went into exile. Seventy years go by, long years, and then, in the keeping of the predictions of the prophet Jeremiah, this empire, the Babylonians, were overthrown by the Persians, and the king of Persia, a man by the name of Cyrus, became friendly toward the Jewish people. He kept the prediction of Isaiah who said this very thing would happen. He issued a decree and allowed some of the Jews to go back to Jerusalem to rebuild their city and rebuild their temple.
One of the big surprises when you study history is you would think after being in captivity for 70 years they would all rush out the door to get back home. But only a very small percentage of them went back to Jerusalem. Some of them stayed in Persia, some of them dispersed to the other places. Some of the Jews returned but most of them remained in the part of the world we know as Persia. The reigning king of that part of the country was a guy whose name was Ahasuerus and in chapter 1 we're told that he threw a party for all of his royal officials and military leaders, and the alcohol flowed freely and the food came in gluttonous abundance. And at one point, the king called for his beautiful wife, a woman named Vashti, to entertain the men with her beauty. She had the good sense to refuse him because the event was becoming a drunken orgy and when she refused her husband in front of all of his friends, he felt humiliated and he was furious and in one moment he deposed his queen and declared the seat of the queen unoccupied. Vashti was history. He didn't realize at the time that Almighty God was allowing this to happen. God had this young Jewish woman he wanted on the throne for a crucial period of time and he was ordaining his purposes through the unfolding of the palace intrigue. God ordains his purposes.
Here's the second lesson we learn from Esther. God orchestrates his people. After King Ahasuerus deposed his beautiful wife, Queen Vashti, for her insubordination, he had to replace her. So they had a summons that went throughout the kingdom for beautiful women to apply for the job, so to speak. And there was this girl, a Jewish girl, an orphan, named Esther, whom God had providentially placed in the capital city at that very time. She had been raised by her cousin, Mordecai. As unlikely as it seems in the story, this Jewish young woman was selected by Ahasuerus to become the new queen of the land. And verse 17 says: "The king loved Esther more than all the other women, and she obtained grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins; so he set the royal crown upon her head and made her queen instead of Vashti". And the plot thickens.
Now there's this interesting little detail at the end of chapter 2. And for all of you here tonight who think the intrigue in our current government is hard to explain, let me tell you something. Nothing's really changed very much. While all this pomp and circumstance was going on with the installation of the new queen, some deadly palace intrigue was happening behind the scenes. A plot was afoot to assassinate the king but who should happen to hear about it but Mordecai and now he had somebody in the capital so he passed the information along to his new queen and she told the king's bodyguards and the plot was thwarted.
Now that doesn't seem like an important part of the story but hold that for a bit later. Hold it over here in this compartment of your mind. All of this was God's providence shaking itself out through the circumstances because, as we come to chapter 3, we encounter one of the most evil men in the Bible, a man by the name of Haman. "After these things King Ahasuerus promoted Haman, and advanced him and set his seat above all the princes who were with him. And all the king's servants who were within the king's gate bowed and paid homage to Haman, for so the king had commanded concerning him. But Mordecai would not bow or pay homage".
Uh-oh. Mordecai, who was a sterling judge of character, knew Haman was nothing but trouble and he refused to honor him. And when Haman discovered Mordecai was a Jew, he determined not only to destroy Mordecai but to annihilate all the Jews from the face of the earth, wherever they were dispersed. Esther 4:13 and 14, listen to these words: "And Mordecai told them to answer Esther," when she didn't want to get involved, "Do not think in your heart that you will escape in the king's palace any more than all the other Jews. For if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish". Listen to these words: "Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this"?
What a moment. And Esther's reply never fails to move me. Look at verses 15 and 16 in the 4th chapter: "Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai: 'Go, gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan, and fast for me; neither eat nor drink for three days, night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law; and if I perish, I perish!'" Sometimes, men and women, it comes to that, doesn't it? Sometimes it comes to the place where if we're gonna follow God, we have to unfollow everybody else. As we shall see in the book of Esther, when we give it all to God and we take our hands off the situation and say, "Lord, I don't know how this is gonna turn out. I don't know what you're up to but I know what it is I'm supposed to do and I'm gonna do it and if I perish, I perish," there's something powerful about that. Somehow, your life never is the same when you come to that place. God ordains his purposes and orchestrates his people.
And finally, God orders his plans. King Ahasuerus could not sleep. He had a fit of insomnia. Have you ever had that? "That night the king could not sleep. So one was commanded to bring the book of the records of the chronicles; and they were read before the king. And it was found written that Mordecai had told of Bigthana and Teresh," remember the two guys who tried to take out the king? "Two of the king's eunuchs, the doorkeepers who had sought to lay hands on King Ahasuerus. And the king said, 'What honor or dignity has been bestowed on Mordecai for this?' And the king's servants who attended him said, 'Nothing has been done.'" And he realized that Mordecai had never been rightfully thanked.
By now, the sun's coming up and who should enter the palace at that very moment but Haman. And the king said, in effect, "There you are, Haman. Let me ask you a question. Son, what should be done for someone I want to honor in a great way"? And in his pride and arrogance, Haman thought the king was talking about him. If you're proud and arrogant you think they're always talking about you. So he said, "Let's have us a great parade and clad the man in royal garb and put him on a royal horse and let's give the man a ticker tape parade through the middle of the city," and the king said, "Very good. Go immediately, Haman, and find Mordecai and let's honor him". Ching! Yeah, all right. Don't you just love that? I've told this story, like, four times in the last month and all of us know the story. When we get to this part, everybody claps. And we think, "Finally, this guy's gonna get what he deserves".
Instead of hanging Mordecai, Haman sat him on a horse, clad him in royal robes, led him through the streets as a hero, and the celebrations took most of the day and that evening Haman was a wreck. And the next chapter, Esther 7, is very dramatic. At a pivotal moment at the banquet, Queen Esther turned on Haman and accused him of seeking to destroy her and all her people and when King Ahasuerus realized his right-hand man had been plotting to destroy his wife and her people, he seethed in rage and, getting up, he stormed into the palace garden to try to get control of his anger. But as he walked back into the room, he saw Haman who had fallen over Esther in pitiful pleas, just clawing all over her and begging her and he goes up to him and he says, "Will he also assault the queen while I am in", and if he wasn't mad enough already, that was it. The bodyguards covered Haman's head with a bag, marched him out to the gallows and hung him on the gallows he had built for Mordecai, the Jew.
And there isn't a clearer picture in history of poetic justice. Chapter 8 begins by saying: "On that day King Ahasuerus gave Queen Esther the house of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And Mordecai came before the king, for Esther had told how he was related to her. So the king took off his signet ring, which he had taken from Haman, and gave it to Mordecai; and Esther appointed Mordecai over the house of Haman". In other words, Mordecai became, in effect, the prime minister of Persia. And the rest of the book of Esther tells how the Jews defended themselves against their enemy. We have a God who ordains his purposes, orchestrates his people, and orders his plans according to his good and perfect will. He has a plan for your life and for mine and it is no accident that we are alive in this time and this place today.
I remember years ago sometimes saying, "Lord, I wish I could have been born when it was the good old days, whenever they were. Or back in Bible times". And I remember almost as if the Lord spoke to me audibly, "David, you're where you're supposed to be. I put you right down in the spot where I want you to be. You're exactly where you should be. Don't be looking back, don't be looking forward. Just grow where you're planted and do what God has called you to do". Think of it this way. The book of Esther is really all about the Lord Jesus Christ. God was working behind the scenes, ordering events and controlling circumstances, even when they seemed to be out of control. He was protecting his chosen people because they were the line and lineage of the Redeemer of the world, the Messiah, the Christ, the Lord Jesus. God has a plan for your life. You may not understand what God is doing right now but just hang on. He may show you before you get to heaven, but if he doesn't he'll clear it all up for you when you get up there. But God doesn't make any mistakes. Like he didn't make any mistakes with Esther. And the only real way in my estimation for you to find significance in life is through the truth that lies behind Esther's story.
God loves you. He has a plan for you to advance the glory of Jesus Christ by receiving him, first of all, as your Savior, accepting him as your Lord. He can't lead you 'til he's the Lord of your life. There's no real meaning in life apart from the plan of God for you. Listen to me. God has a plan for your life but he's not gonna push it on you. He's not gonna make you live that plan. You have to be willing to accept his plan. You have to be willing to say, "Lord God, I've tried it my way and I'm not happy with the results. I wanna do it your way". Romans 14:8 says: "If we live, we live to the Lord; if we die, we die to the Lord. Therefore, whether we live or die, we are the Lord's".