Greg Laurie — For Such a Time as This
Okay, so now we're starting a brand new series in the Book of Esther. So grab your Bible and turn to Esther. This is gonna be a fantastic series that I'm really looking forward to sharing with you. It's been an absolute blast to study for, and as you're turning to Esther, turn your attention to the screen for a little intro for this series. Alright, so the title of this series is "For Such a Time as This". Let's pray together.
Now, Father, as we open up your word, the living word of God, we pray that it will speak to our hearts and that we will realize that you have placed us where we are, just like you placed Esther for such a time as this. Speak to us from your word we would pray now. In Jesus' name. Amen.
One story, I left out from our trip, and the very last day, we were able to meet the prime minister, Benjamin Netanyahu, and that was a very fascinating time. So I was asked to bring the first question to the prime minister, which is a lot of pressure, I have to tell you. Because I'm thinking, "What do I ask this man who is the prime minister over Israel"? And, you know, I'm dealing with jet lag over there. The problem is when you go somewhere overseas for six days, you have jet lag the whole time. I adjusted the last day, I'm finally in their timezone, came back, and now I'm jet lagged here. But anyway, so I said, "Mr. Prime Minister, it's an eh," I dropped everything, hang on. Have to clean up. Such a mess.
Okay. I said, "Mr. Prime Minister, it's an honor to meet you, and I would like to ask you a question. In the Book of Ezekiel, chapter 37, we have the story of the nation Israel being regathered together in the land. It's a valley of dry bones, and the bones come back together, and God gives life to the bones, and that's speaking of the return of Israel again. And I think of the Book of Esther, where God placed her in the palace for such a time as this. So my question is what are your thoughts on this"? And Prime Minister Netanyahu says, "Are you asking me about Esther, or are you asking me about Ezekiel 37"? I'm like, "Uh, both"! "Who let this idiot in here? Why is he here? I do not know". No, what he was said was, well then he answered my question. Okay, so I sort of fumbled the question, but his answer was fascinating. He did believe that Israel was brought back into the land as a fulfillment of Bible prophecy. He did believe it was a modern miracle, and indeed it is, because what happened right before the regathering of the nation Israel?
The Holocaust, where six million Jewish people were slaughtered by the Nazis. And so after this, in fulfillment of prophecy they returned to their homeland again. But the Jewish people have always known about prosecution. And I bring that up because, well that's the story here in Esther. It's a story of a man who wanted to destroy the Jewish people, and his name was Haman. And it's also the story of a courageous young girl, who put it all on the line and saved the nation, and her name was Hadassah, better known as Esther. It's a powerful story, but as you read it, let me take a quick poll, how many of you have read the whole Book of Esther? Raise your hand up. Okay, that's quite a few of you. How many of you have never read it before? It's okay, I won't mock you. Really? No, I won't. Okay, read the book of Esther. You are gonna love the Book of Esther.
I told the story to my granddaughter, Ally, last night. She said, "Papa, tell me a story". And I sometimes make up stories, and sometimes I'll just tell her a Bible story. So I told her the Book of Esther, and then afterwards I said, "Tell the story back to me". I'm telling you, she got the whole story. And you know why? Because it unfolds almost a little bit like a fairy tale. There's no fairies, of course. There's no mermaids. There's no unicorns. But there's a story of a princess, who was living in basic poverty, who was chosen by God to change everything. It follows almost the fairy tale trajectory because so many of those stories, it's obscure girl is rescued by a prince, or a girl goes in the forest and lives with a bunch of small men. I never understood that.
Never mind. I'm talking about the seven dwarves. You get that. But fairy tales are not true, but this story is true. This story is actual history. A beautiful orphan girl, who wins a beauty contest and becomes a queen. Enter an evil man that plots her destruction along with her people, but because of her courage, she saves a nation and literally the people live happily ever after. Here's a unique feature of the Book of Esther. The name of God is not mentioned one time. Not only that, but there's not a single prayer offered to God. Well, that should not cause us to wonder if it's inspired by God. It indeed is, and it's here in the canon of Scripture. But I believe that the author, being led by the Holy Spirit, uses this as a literary device. And by that, I mean, he told a story of God's providence at work without mentioning God in it to simply make this point. There are times in life when God seems absent, but he never is. God is always at work in the life of the believer every hour of every day.
Listen to this. "His silence is not his absence, his hiddenness is not his abandonment". So says Timothy Keller. Remember when the two disciples were discouraged after the crucifixion of Christ, and they thought the plans had gone south and there was no hope for them, and who joins them on their journey but Jesus himself, the risen Lord. He actually says to them, "Guys, why the long faces? What's the problem"? "Haven't you heard"? they said to Jesus. "About Jesus of Nazareth? A prophet mighty indeed? We were hoping he was the one to deliver Israel". But it's been three days since these things happened. They didn't realize it, but Christ himself was walking with them. And at the end of their journey he revealed himself to them. And life can be that way too. We're going through life and there're times we sense the presence of the Lord, there're times when we see the hand of God, and then there're other times when we don't feel God's presence and we don't see his hand and we wonder, "Has God abandoned us"? And the answer is never. He never has and he never will. Jesus said, "I will never leave you or forsake you".
I want to introduce you to a word you're probably familiar with but I don't know if you understand the meaning. It's the word providence. We use that a lot. That was providential. It's providence. What does that mean? The word providence comes from the Latin word "providentia". The word "pro" means before or ahead of time, "videntia" means to see. We get our word "video" from it. So when we use the word providence we're simply saying this: God sees things before they happen. God sees things before they happen. So there's nothing haphazard about the Book of Esther. There's nothing accidental or a result of dumb luck. No, it's all guided by the providence of God. And so is our life. Our life is described in the Bible as the story that's already been told. Or, if it's easier to understand, your life is like a movie. It has the beginning, it has the middle, and it has the end.
Now some lives are like The Sound of Music with Raindrops on Roses and Whiskers on Kittens, and other lives are like, I don't know, Brave Heart, lots of conflict, lots of battle. But everyone has a life that has been lived and sometimes it doesn't make sense, but if you've put your faith in Christ, be confident of this: God is at work in your life. As Christians, we do not believe in coincidence, we believe in providence. Because Scripture says "The steps of the godly are directed by the Lord. He delights in every detail of their lives". I'm sometimes asked what my favorite scripture in the Bible is. Kind of a hard question to answer, isn't it? I have a lot of favorite scriptures, don't you? A lot of it depends on what I'm going through in the moment. For instance, if I'm in a difficult and worrisome situation, I suppose my favorite scripture is Philippians 3 where it says, "Don't worry about anything. Pray about everything, and the peace of God that passes all human understanding will keep your heart and mind in Christ Jesus".
Then again, if things aren't making sense or are seeming a bit chaotic, maybe my favorite scripture at that moment is John 14 where Jesus says, "Let not you hearts be troubled, neither let them be afraid. You believe in God, believe also in me". When things are not making sense, absolutely Romans 8:28 is a go-to verse, right? "For we know that all things are working together to those that love God and are the called according to his purpose". And it continues on, "For whom he did foreknow he also did predestine to be conformed into the image of his own dear son". But overall, if I had to just pick one verse, I would have to say Jeremiah 29:11 is the favorite. And that's where the Lord says, "I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope". You know, if God had simply said, "I know this single thought that I had about you for a nanosecond," says the Lord, I would be happy with that, wouldn't you?
To think that the Almighty God, the creator of the universe, even had a passing thought about little old me or you. But that's not what God says. He says, "I know the thoughts". Not singular, plural. "I know the thoughts," God says, "that I think towards you". So they're not past tense. They're present tense and future tense. "I know the thoughts that I'm thinking towards you," says the Lord. Well, they can be good or bad and what kind of thoughts they are. If they're bad thoughts, well I don't think I like that. Well they're good thoughts. "I know the thoughts that I think towards you, says the Lord, thoughts of peace, and not of evil, to give you a future and a hope". Or, as another translation puts it, "to give an expected end". You see? So God is at work in your life and he has a plan and he has a purpose.
Chuck Swindoll, in his excellent commentary on the Book of Esther, wrote these words and I quote. "God's presence is not as intriguing as His absence. His voice is not as eloquent as His silence. Who of us has not longed for a word from God, or searched for a glimpse of His power, or yearned for the reassurance of His presence, only to feel that He sometimes is absent from the moment? He seems distant, preoccupied. Yet later, we realize how very present He was all along". All said. Well, the story of Esther begins with the King of Persia Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus, but better known as Xerxes. Now, why are we looking at Esther on the heels of Nehemiah? Because there's an overlap between these two books. As you recall, the people of Israel were taken in the exile by the Babylonians under Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar turned his kingdom over to Belshazzar, who openly mocked God, and that is when the judgment of the Lord came upon Babylon and they were conquered by the middle Persia, so enter Cyrus the Great, who comes in and now is in control and he changes Babylon to Persia, and he releases the Jews.
He says, "You can go home if you want. Go back and build your temple if you want to". Some did, many did not. And that first wave was led by Ezra and they rebuilt the temple and then later along comes Nehemiah and he rebuilds the walls and we looked at that together. But now this is a story of the people, the Jewish people, that stayed in Persia, modern Iran, by the way. So Xerxes is a powerful kind ruling over this massive empire that ranges from India to Ethiopia. Again, he is the son of Darius the Great and the grandson of Cyrus the Great. History depicts Xerxes as physically towering over his contemporaries. Archaeologists, doing some excavation at Susa where his palace was, have unearthed inscriptions in which King Xerxes is described as the Great King or the King of Kings. So this is a guy that had a big ego and he was very powerful. And so he decided to have a party one day. Not just any party, he decided to have a party that would last for six months. Food and drink provided by the king. Eat all you want, drink all you want, and it was in the beautiful palace on this incredible series of plates, and all the things and the ornaments, and it was just awe-inspiring.
So then the king, after he'd shown all of his stuff to his people and all of his possessions, decided to bring out his crown jewel, and that would be Queen Vashti. So let's read about that. Esther, chapter 1, verse 10. "On the seventh day of the feast, when King Xerxes was in high spirits because of the wine," in other words, when he was drunk, "he told the seven eunuchs who attended him," their names are listed, "bring Queen Vashti with the royal crown on her head. He wanted the nobles and the other men to gaze on her beauty, for she was a very beautiful woman. But when they conveyed the king's order to Queen Vashti, she refused to come. This made the king furious, and he burned with anger". We'll stop there. So Vashti is like the ultimate trophy wife, a woman of incredible beauty. The king gives a decree, "Tell Queen Vashti to come out wearing her crown".
Some commentators believe this implies he wanted her to come out only wearing her crown, in other words no clothes, just the crown. But even if that's not the case, the sense here in this verse is that he wanted to sort of put her on display. He objectified his wife, treated her as a servant and didn't value and love her as he should have, he wanted to sort of parade her around his subjects. And she wanted nothing to do with that. See the Persians were really big on appearances. The king had his fling and the women had their beauty. It was all about what she had and what she looked like. Man, I'm glad things haven't changed since then. I mean, you follow people on Instagram. It's the same kind of thing. Oh, look at my cool stuff. Look at my beautiful face. Look at my body. Whatever it is they want to display out there. A culture that judges a man by the size of his wallet and a woman by the size of her dress. Things were that way back in Persia and they're that way today.
Now, to her quedit, credit, or quedit. I have jet lag remember. Queen Vashti flat out refuses because she thought it would be humiliating. Now the king's in a quandary. If he lets her get away with this, his aids say, "None of our wives will do what we want them to do anymore. And what they'll do is they'll say, Well, Queen Vashti didn't show up when the king called her, why should we show up when you call us? This isn't gonna work. You need to get rid of her". So now the king in his drunken rage makes a decision. He decides to reject Queen Vashti and remove her crown and replace her. Now we're saying yeah, but what does this have to do with God? A lot. God was at work behind the scenes. What's so amazing about this story is how such huge events were set in motion by such seemingly insignificant circumstances and decisions. God was quietly, but directly, working behind the scenes here, moving and rearranging events and changing minds in the most secular of settings. Reminding us that big doors swing on small hinges.
And sometimes in our lives we say I don't get why my life is going this way. I don't understand this interruption. I don't know why this thing has happened to me. I don't know why I am where I am right now. Did it ever occur to you that you are exactly where God wants you to be? And he has a plan and a purpose in the place where you are. That was certainly the case with Esther as you'll see in a few moments. God is in control of your life and he will accomplish his purposes in his time. The Bible says he makes all things beautiful in his time. Not before and never after. Exit Vashti, enter Esther.
Esther, chapter 2, verse 5. We read these words. "Now, in the fortress of Susa there was a certain Jew named Mordecai, son of Jair. He was from the tribe of Benjamin and was a descendant of Kish and Shimei. His family had been exiled from Jerusalem to Babylon by King Nebuchadnezzar, along with King Jehoiachin, King of Judah, and many others. This man had a very beautiful and lovely young cousin named Hadassah, who was also called Esther. When her father and mother had died, Mordecai adopted her into his family and raised her as his own daughter. As a result of the king's decree, Esther, along with many other young women, was brought into the king's harem at the fortress of Susa and placed in Hegai's care". Hegai was an assistant to the king that would help to select who this candidate would be to bring before the king. "Hegai was very impressed with Esther and treated her kindly. He quickly ordered a special menu for her and provided her with beauty treatments". And Nutrisystem. No, I put that in. "And he also arranged or assigned her seven maids specially chosen from the king's palace, and he moved her and her maids into the best place in the palace". So we'll stop there.
So the search is on for the next great beauty of Persia. Whoever won it would be the next queen. Man, I bet a lot of young girls were hoping they'd win. I wanna be queen. I wanna wear that crown. What is it with girls wanting to be princesses, right? You know that they want to have the scepter. They want to rule us even when they're little, you know? Before they can even talk, they want the crown and they want the scepter, right? So, I'm sure many girls were pining for this, hoping for this, and many girls today, and young men for that matter, long for something very similar. I read an article about the desire of young people searching for fame today. This article is not written from a Christian perspective, just as an observation of culture, and I quote from it now. "Blame it on reality TV, blame it on the entrenched loneliness of post-modern America, blame it on an educational curriculum that's designed to promote self-esteem but ended up overshooting the mark, pick your cultural poison, the result remains the same, American teenagers are fixated on fame. More than a third of them would prefer fame over beauty, intelligence, or strength. Even more problematic," the article continues, "these teens aren't just dreaming of being famous, they are planning on it. 31% of American teenagers expect that they'll be famous one day".
So, whoever won this contest would be the most famous person in the kingdom. And here is Esther. I don't think she ever aspired to be a queen though she was stunningly beautiful. I don't think she had any videos posted on YouTube, no head shots over on her Facebook page or Instagram. She probably just figured she would live a quiet life in obscurity, marry a nice Jewish boy, and follow the Lord God and have a family. But God had a plan for her life. And even Hegai was impressed with her. He served the king. He saw something special in Esther. What did he see? Was it just her drop-dead gorgeous looks? Well, you couldn't ignore that. But there was more. Because Esther was beautiful on the outside and the inside, you see. She was what the Bible calls "a woman of virtue". The Bible says, "Who can find a virtuous woman? Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she smiles at her future". Though she was very young. There was something special about her because God had put his hand on her, and so the Lord put her in this special place.
As her uncle Mordecai or her cousin Mordecai noted later, after she ascended to the thrown and became the queen, and the edict went out that all the Jewish people would be put to death, orchestrated by the wicked Haman, Mordecai came to Esther and he said to her, in Esther 4:14, "If you keep quiet at a time like this, deliverance and relief for the Jews will come from some other place, but you and your relatives will die. Who knows if you were not made queen for such a time as this"? Did it ever occur to you that you are where you are for such a time as this? She could have blown this off, she could have said, "No, this isn't my problem. Hey, I'm living in the lap of luxury, here in the palace, why should I worry myself about the plate of my fellow Jews"? No, she understood God put her where she was for a reason. Enter the villain of the story, Haman, and his desire to kill all the Jews including Esther, and she plays a role in their redemption.
Listen, antisemitism, the hatred of Jewish people, is devilish, and it goes back a long way. Maybe to the Garden of Eden. After Adam and Eve fell, after they ate of the forbidden fruit, God said to Satan, "There's coming one, he's going to crush your head, but you will bruise his heel". Game on. The battle lines were being drawn and the Devil knew that a deliverer, a messiah was going to arrive on the scene and he knew he would come for the Jewish people. So he'd go from Genesis to Exodus and you see the Pharaoh giving the decree that all the Jewish baby boys should be put to death. But a lot of very courageous young Hebrew midwives refused to follow his decree and they saved those Jewish baby boys, and one of those boys that was saved, who happened to be very good-looking, was placed in a little basket with some pitch around it to keep it afloat, and it was sent cruising down the Nile River, and that little baby came to be known as Moses, and he delivered the Jewish people from the bondage of Pharaoh. But then you come to the Book of Esther and the Devil's at it again with a plot to destroy the Jewish people. But God intervened and we'll learn a lot more about that in the weeks to come.
So make sure you read ahead the wonderful Book of Esther. But let me close with this. Maybe you're at a point in life where you're saying, "I don't feel like God is with me at all. I feel as though I'm all alone". Well let me just say this. If you are not a Christian, God is with you in a broad sense. Because God is omnipresent. God is everywhere. You can call on God wherever you are, but there's a difference between God being with you and God being in you. That's really what being a Christian is, it's having Christ live inside of you. And God wants to be a part of your life. So maybe it seems like God isn't paying attention to you, but actually he is.
I read about a hardened atheist who had a young daughter. He didn't want her to believe in God. So one day he told her to read these words. He wrote these words down on a piece of paper. "God is nowhere". And this little girl who was just learning how to read, looked at it and he says, "I want you to read that out loud: God is nowhere". So she sounded out the words, she said, "Okay, I see it, Daddy, God is N-O-W-H-E-R-E. I get it, Daddy, God is now here"! "No, that's not what I was saying". But he was so touched by that that he himself believed. You might say God is nowhere. No, the opposite is the case. God is now here. God is here with us right now. God was involved in the life of Esther and her people and God is here with us involved in your life. In fact, does not Scripture say when two or more are gathered together in his name, he's there in the midst of them. And so he is not only here but he wants to come and live inside of us.
You know, we mourn the passing of Billy Graham, a singular figure, but I don't think Billy would really want all this adulation and congratulation. Billy's message was Christ and him crucified. And Billy would want us to know that Jesus died on the cross and rose again from the dead and if we turn from our sin we can be forgiven. That was his message. That was the same message he preached privately and publicly in great stadiums, and that is the message we need to remember, and that is the message for you today. Do you have a relationship with God? Maybe your life isn't making sense to you right now, but I'm telling you God can step in and change everything and you'll never be alone again. Jesus Christ, who died on the cross for your sin and absorbed God's wrath in your place and rose again from the dead, is here with you standing at the door of your life and he's knocking, and he is saying, if you hear his voice and open the door, he'll come in. Have you asked him to come in yet? He will right now. He is just a prayer away. If you need Christ in your life, if you need your sin forgiven, you want to know that you'll go to heaven when you die respond to this invitation. I'm going to extend right now. Let's all bow our heads for a prayer please.
Father, thank you so much for loving us, loving us so much that you sent Jesus to die in our place, and now Lord Jesus, we thank you that you're here, ready to come into any life that will open up to you.
Now while our heads are bowed and our eyes are closed and we're praying, how many of you today would say I need Jesus Christ in my life. I want my sin forgiven. I want to know that I will go to heaven when I die. I'm ready to say yes to Jesus. Pray for me. If that's your desire, if you want Jesus Christ to come into your life, if you want your sin forgiven, if you want this relationship with God we've been talking about today, wherever you're sitting, would you just lift your hand up and let me pray for you? You want Christ to come into your life? Let me pray for you. God bless you. Raise your hand up high where I can see it. God bless you. Anybody else? God bless you and you. Raise it up high where I can see it. God bless you. Anybody else? You need your sin forgiven. Let me pray for you. Raise your hand up. You want this relationship with God. God bless you. God bless you.
Some of you are watching on the screen. Would you raise your hand up as well? We're on Harvest Orange County, Harvest Woodcrest, Harvest Eastvale, Harvest Dos Lagos, wherever you're watching, say yeah, I need Jesus too. Raise your hand up, I'll lead you in the same prayer. Some of you are watching online, will you take this little step of faith too? It can change your life. Alright, now all of you that have raised your hand, I'm gonna lead you in a prayer. You pray this prayer right where you sit, in fact you might even pray it out loud after me. Just pray this prayer.
Lord Jesus, I know that I am a sinner, but I know that you are the savior, who died on the cross for me and rose again from the dead. I turn from my sin now and I choose to follow you from this moment forward as Savior and Lord, as God and friend. In Jesus' name I pray. Amen.