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Jack Graham - The Woman Who Saved a Nation

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    Jack Graham - The Woman Who Saved a Nation
TOPICS: Epic Adventures, Esther, Purim

The story of Esther is one of the most dramatic in the Bible in the sense that it's a story courage in the face of uncertain fears and a future that did not seemingly include God. It is the story of grace and beauty in the midst of depravity and ugliness and sinfulness. It is the story of God, even when God seems absent! Interesting fact: the name of God, His name, not even a pronoun for His name, is mentioned in the book of Esther. In fact there's been quite a controversy through the centuries among some as to whether Esther should even be in the Bible because it didn't mention God, never quoted in the New Testament.

And some even as like Martin Luther said don't pay any attention to Esther. But Esther's story is vital, not only to the Old Testament, but to our faith as New Testament believers. And it's vital in understanding this specific truth, that God is sovereign over all the affairs of men and women, of governments and of nations, that God is in control, and that God achieves His purposes every time. Here's how it happened. Let me give you a slice of life in Jewish history. The setting for this story is in ancient Persia which is the land that we know today as Iran.

Now previous to Israel's time in Persia or Iran, they were in captivity in Babylonia. In 576 B.C. based on God's desire to discipline His own people, once again there was rebellion and, therefore, came retribution and God used the Babylonians to take captive His own people, and they were chained in Babylon for seventy years in slavery. At the end of this seventy years God said, "Let My people go". And the people were released and about 50,000 of the Israelites who were living then in Persia, the Persians overtook the Babylonians and so first Babylon, then Persia. And about 50,000 obeyed God and went home to Jerusalem to rebuild the great city of the king, to rebuild the walls. And these stories are told in the Old Testament books, for example, of Ezra and Nehemiah and the prophet Malachi.

But what happened to all the other Jews that didn't go back? Because approximately 15 million stayed in Persia and other regions beyond Persia. They remained conformed to the ways of the Babylonians and the Persians. They decided it was easier just to go along and get along and to stay put. And so now you have all of these displaced Israelites still living under the tyranny of pagan empires. And it is at this point that Esther and her older cousin step to center stage and she makes this courageous choice that changed the world. Here's how it happened. We're going to read it like acts in a dramatic adventure play. But it happened.

Let's start in chapter one, beginning in verses 3 through 5: "In the third year of his reign", That is, Xerxes, the Greek name for the king, "he gave a feast for all his officials and servants. The army of Persia and Media and the nobles and governors of the provinces were before him, and while he showed the riches of his royal glory and the splendor and pomp of his greatness for many days, 180 days. And when the days were completed, the king gave for all the people present in Susa the citadel, both great and small", there are hundreds if not thousands of people now at this feast, "lasting for seven days in the court of the garden of the king's palace". So they're having a great time just celebrating, and no doubt, it was an open bar.

So verse 10 says: "On the seventh day", of this feast, "when the heart of the king was merry", that means he was totally hammered with wine. He talked to some of his men and he's puffed up with pride and he says, "You want to see the most beautiful woman in the world? You ought to see my wife; you ought to see the queen". They say, "Oh yeah, let us see her". I mean, this is a vile, depraved, debauched situation by now. He's going to parade his beautiful wife in front of these lustful men. So he sends for Vashti, the Queen. Vashti says, "No way am I doing this". And she says no to the king. She refuses to parade herself as an object of this man or any other man's desire. And so the word gets back to king. "She says she's not coming". "What"! And the other guys are saying, "If you don't take care of this, if you don't take care of your wife, our wives are not going to do what we say. So you better tell her to get in her now". And she says, "No way I'm going".

And the king is infuriated. The king is so angry, he's so indignant, he's boiling over. In fact, verse 12 tells us that he is enraged. "But Queen Vashti refused to come into the king's command delivered by the eunuch, At this king became enraged and his anger burned within him". He is drunk, he's angry and they make a decree as he puts away Vashti as the queen, takes away her crown. He deposes his queen because she dared to disobey him. And that brings us to act 2, which is the second chapter of the book of Esther. I hope you'll take time to read Esther. It's ten chapters. But in chapter 2 we see the hand of God beginning to move, even in this sorted scene in chapter 1, even then is God moving. I mentioned that God's name is never mentioned in the book of Esther. I like what Matthew Henry, the Bible commentator, said, "But though the name of God be not in the book of Esther, the finger of God is directing many minute events for the bringing about of His people's delivery".

The finger of God was taking care of this minutia, this detail and setting it all up. And therefore, enter a man by the name of Mordecai and his younger cousin Esther. Esther's parents died while she was young so she was orphaned. And this man Mordecai raised her and treated her as his daughter and he was her father in that sense. And she was among those who was in the harem or the palace that were called in. These ancient kings had all these harems and these young virgins and the women that were at their disposal. And so Esther ends up in the harem of the king. And so the king and his buddies decide that the king needs a new queen, and somebody said, "I know, I know, let's put on a show and let's call it 'The Bachelor'". And we'll bring in all these women and the man, great King Xerxes, he can pick his wife and give her the rose. So that's what happened. And of all the women who were brought before Xerxes, Esther was the most beautiful and the most favored of God and man, and in verse 17 of chapter 2 here's what it says about Esther and this moment: "The king loved Esther more than all the women, and she won grace".

There's that word again. Not only grace in the eyes of this man, but she won grace and favor by the hand of God and in the eyes of all who saw her. So here is this young woman, probably a late teenager, early twenties. She's Jewish though the people in the king's court, the king himself didn't know it. And she actually covered and hid her Jewishness from the king, according to Mordecai's counsel to her. But here she is, an orphan Jewish girl, raised by her cousin Mordecai, and she is now ascended to the throne of the king. No coincidence here. In fact, there are no coincidences with God. This is only the action and the intervention of God. And so that sets us up for scene three. And then enter a villain, and his name is horrible, hateful Haman.

Okay, now we're going to do something: every time I say the word Haman from now on in this sermon, I want you to boo. Go "booooo". Alright, let's try it. Haman. Okay. So Haman is this, you know, little proud man, swagging around the kingdom. He's one of the high officials of the king. He wants everybody bowing down to him especially these hated Jews. And so this vile, wicked man, Haman, he decides he wants to get rid of the Jews: mass extermination! Now remember, this is real people, real time. These are real boys and girls, little Jewish boys and girls. These are moms and dads and grandparents. Nearly 15 million of them: Genocide! Take them all out! Holocaust! And so Haman goes to the king and says, "For we could put money in the coffers, King, if we just get rid of all of these Jews". And the king said, "Whatever".

And so it was signed and sealed; it was the laws of the Medes and the Persians-that means it was done! The signet was set that on a certain date the Jews would be exterminated, every single one of them. And that's when Mordecai, the Jew, uncovers the plot. He hears about the plot. And he decides that maybe God wants to use him to save the nation, and the way that God would use him would be to use Esther who is now in God's place, near to the heart of the king. And so he sends word actually to Esther, and, in fact, it's recorded in chapter 4, the first three verses. "When Mordecai learned all that had been done", this plot, "Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city, and he cried out with a loud and bitter cry". He's devastated and shattered by the idea that his entire race, his family, his friends, everyone would die!

And so he puts on sackcloth and ashes, a sign of great mourning and despair, and he gets in the middle of the city and he cries out and everyone sees him. "He went to the entrance to the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate clothed in sackcloth". You don't want to get around a king if you're not looking happy. Don't go in the presence of the king looking sad or mad; that will get your throat cut. So he can't go in sackcloth and ashes even if he wanted to but it says that: "In every province, where the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning", by now the word of the decree is spreading. People know they're on death row, "and so they're fasting and their weeping and they're lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes".

Skip down to verse 7: "and Mordecai told him", meaning a man at the gate nearby, "told this man all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay him into the king's treasury for the destruction of the Jews. And Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and to explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people".

Okay, self explanatory. Esther gets the message. "Esther, your people are going to die. Go to the king. It's the only shot we've got. Go to the king and beg and plead for your people". Well, in verse 9: "And Hathach went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathach", and here's what she said; you go tell Mordecai, "'All the king's servants and the people of the king's province know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law and that is to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live. But as for me, I have not been called to come in to the king these thirty days.'"

Now she's the king's queen, the king's wife. She hasn't even seen the guy in thirty days! This is not good for a marriage, by the way. "But you can't go to the king just any time you want. Under penalty of death, not even me! I can't go; too risky; I could die". And so they told Mordecai in verse 12 what Esther had said, and then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther. Here he is as a father figure, "You tell Esther this: 'Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews'". You will be found out. They'll figure it out that you're a Jew as well and you will perish with the Jews. "For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place"! Say, did you know if you don't go, God will send somebody else? God wants to use you; God wants to use our church to make an impact on our generation, but God is not limited by any one of us or all of us! God will just raise somebody else up!

Mordecai said, the message is, "There will be deliverance whether you do it or not, but you had your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this"? Esther, you have no choice, if we are to be saved! Think about what was at risk here. Jesus was a Jew. His entire lineage could have been destroyed had the children of Israel died in this holocaust. They would all perish, including the plan of God. But we know, of course, the plan of God cannot fail, and God had a plan and He had a purpose, and He wanted Esther to be a part of it because, "This is your time, Esther. You're not the queen of Persia by accident or even personal choice. God has given you this favor. God has given you this grace. You are here in His time by His appointment, for His purpose! And you must seize this moment, this day, to plead with the king and spare your people! Esther, you were born for this"!

Can I say that your life is a gift from God, and your purpose in life is to understand why you were born, and to unwrap the potential, the plan of God for your life. You were born for this; you were made for this. Look, God's not surprised by evil. He's fully aware of the Hamans and the Hitlers and all of the other people, evil in the world. "But where sin abounds", Romans 5:20, "grace much more abounds"! It flourishes. So Esther, whose name means a rising star and our light in the world in this darkness. And in verse 16 she says: "Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast in my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day".

A fast is when you give up food or something of value in order to seek God, so though prayer is not mentioned, there is prayer offered and fasting. And she said, "I'll get my friends, my young women will fast as you do. And then I will go to the king". She did what we all ought to do when we have a choice to make, especially difficult, hard choices, really, effectively any choice, and that is to ask people to pray for you who are believers, whether it's your Bible fellowship class or a friend on the pew with you, "Pray for me. Seek God in my behalf. Fast and pray. Our nation is in the balance and I'll get my closest friends and we will pray also".

And that's exactly what they did, because she then said, "If I perish, I perish". It's do or die now. And she accepts God's calling and God's choice for her, and she's willing to die for and with her people to accomplish the purposes of God. Say, what are you willing to die for? Because what you're willing to die for, is what you'll live for. "If I perish, I perish! Because now I know that I've come to the kingdom for such a time as this"! God works in adventurous and amazing ways! You say, "Can I make a difference? Can I do something"? Of course you can if God calls you, He will use you for your glory. Esther could have never known the plan of God for her life, but she did do one thing; she said one word that we all should say to God. "Yes. Yes, Lord. Whatever the cost, whatever the circumstances, whatever the situation".

Major Ian Thomas, a spiritual hero of mine, he wrote a book on the story of Esther called If I Perish, I Perish, and he makes a fantastic statement, here it is: "I believe at such a moment, this moment of decision, that such a moment comes in the life of every child of God; the moment when God's purpose for your life hangs delicately in the balance. And it may be that at this very moment these words find you also poised upon the threshold for that which Christ redeemed you, for which His presence is waiting to empower you. And at one and the same time you are both frightened and excited by the prospect". God wants to do something in your life so bold, so great, so daring that it's such an exciting prospect and yet it scares the daylights out of you at the same time, right? "For such a time as this".

Again, there are no chance places or predicaments or problems because we know we are under the sovereignty and the security of our God. The providence and the protection of our God. That's why we are immortal in the will of God. John tells us, 1 John 2:17, "He who does the will of God abides forever". Romans 8:28 says "We know that all things work together", not just all things but, "all things work together for the good to them who love the Lord", and what? "Who are called according to His purpose". It's also given with these words, "Who are fitting into His purpose for their lives". When you know God has called you to do something and you do it, you're fitting into His plan, His purpose for your life. You will never be ruled by your circumstances. because God is always in control and you can move forward with the confidence that in your obedience you will find significance!
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