Skip Heitzig - The Giant of Self (How One Person Can Make a Difference)
Would you turn in your Bibles to the Book of Esther, please? Esther, chapter 4. If you have a hard time finding it, and I don't think this crowd probably does, but go to the Old Testament Book of Job. It's a pretty big book. Go one block left, and you are in the book of Esther. Esther, chapter 4. We have been studying in this series the idea of being courageous in the times in which we live. And we're looking at different giants to conquer. And today, we want to talk about the giant of self.
Benjamin Franklin once humorously noted that a man wrapped up in himself makes a very small package. Self. Self can be a tyrant. Self can be a servant. Self can be a villain. Self can be a hero. I venture to say that through all of the struggles of life that we have, one of the biggest struggles we all have is our struggle with ourselves, and the struggle within ourselves. D.L. Moody, the evangelist from Chicago a century ago said, I have more trouble with D. L. moody than with any other man I have ever met.
Well, the Bible has a special word for unperfected human nature, or the self, self life. In the New Testament, it's the word flesh. The flesh. You see it often in contrast to the Spirit. The Spirit wars against the flesh. The flesh is a life lived for yourself. If you took the word flesh and drop the last letter, the H, so you have fles, if you spell that backwards you have self. That really is a good description of the flesh. It is the self life. It is you left up to your own devices. You will degenerate. I will degenerate to that level of living for myself.
Esther is the story of a woman who conquered the giant of self. She went from beauty queen to national hero because of the choices that she made. She closed the door on pampering herself, focusing on herself, and she opened the door to selflessness, self-sacrifice. She changed her world. And history is filled with such people, individuals who make a stand. One soldier, one artist, one explorer, one preacher, one inventor, one missionary who goes to a culture and a whole tribe is changed. Or one statesman who stands up and an entire country is changed. Or one citizen that steps forward and the community is different afterwards. Or one student that makes a stand at his or her school, and school policy is changed.
Then there's the power of one vote. Never underestimate that. One vote. John Salisbury reminds us of that power with these words. "In 1645, one vote gave Oliver Cromwell control of England. In 1776, one vote gave America the English language instead of German." Boy, I'm glad. "In 1845, one vote brought Texas into the Union. In 1876, one vote gave Rutherford B. Hayes the US presidency. And in 1923, one vote gave Adolf Hitler control of the Nazi party." One person, one life, one vote. So powerful. This one woman named Esther, prompted by her cousin by the name of Mordecai, saved the Jews. Now, I don't think it's a coincidence that we are reading the story of Esther on the weekend that is the commemorative weekend for September 11, 2001.
We sort of put these series together and just kind of map them out, but we didn't plan that it would fall in this day, but I think the Holy Spirit is behind it, because here is a weekend where we remember not just people who lost their lives. We are commemorating people who gave their lives, who stood in harm's way, who rushed into buildings, who saved other people. And that is the story of Esther. Esther was Jewish. She was a Jewess. She was part of the captivity that got taken to Babylon, and now that same group is in Persia. She is not only Jewish, she is part of a harem, a group of girls serving a king by the name of Ahasuerus, the King of Persia.
The first queen was Queen Vashti. We don't have time to read the whole story. Queen Vashti was the original wife of Ahasuerus. But he didn't like her, because he called for her, she didn't show up, so he conveniently had her dethroned. And he was lonely. And somebody said, you've got to get a new queen. So he picked, of all the people in the kingdom, this young Jewish girl by the name of Esther. Now, we're about to find out why she became queen. By the way, she's about to find out why she becomes queen in our story. So what I want to do is take you through the story chronologically by the stages that are presented, first with a tragedy, followed by anxiety, followed by an opportunity, followed by bravery. We begin in chapter 3. And again, I'm just going to be summing these things up and reading a few key verses.
But I'm going to show you a national tragedy that is going on. When we open up chapter 3, something has been signed, a legal document, something signed into law. It was an edict of extermination for the Jewish people. So look at chapter 3 verse 13. "And the letters were sent by couriers into all the king's provinces to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women in one day. On the 13th day of the 12th month, which is the month of Adar, to plunder their possessions. A copy of the document was to be issued as law in every province, being published for all people that they should be ready for that day. The couriers went out, hastened by the King's command, and the decree was proclaimed in Shushan the Citadel." Shushan is the capital city of Persia. The citadel is the palace. "So the King and Haman sat down to drink. But the city of Shushan was perplexed."
The Jews had been in Babylon. Babylon was taken over by Persia, so now they're in Persia. The Persians allowed the Jews to go back to Israel to rebuild their civilization, their temple. Only 50,000 of them went back. Most of them stayed, I don't know, they had good jobs, they met people. They had bases of friendship, wives, children. So while 50,000 went back to rebuild Jerusalem, it is estimated that there were 15 million Jews still living in Persia. So most of them did not. There are 127 provinces, or there were in Persia at that time. One of the members of the royal court was a man by the name of Haman. We just read his name. Haman had an idea, because he hated Jewish people, and the reason he hated Jewish people is he had a run in with a guy in the story named Mordecai. Mordecai is the cousin of Esther. Mordecai is Jewish. So is Esther.
He doesn't like Mordecai, because Mordecai doesn't bow down to him but stands up to him. And so he says, I really hate this guy. I want to kill him. But I better yet, I want to deal with the Jewish problem. That's what the Nazis called that in World War II. There were Jews in their country. How do we deal with the Jewish problem? So Haman comes up with an idea to exterminate every Jew in the empire. Had he been successful, he would have made the Holocaust of World War II look like a puppet show. Because Hitler killed 6 million Jews. If Haman would have had his way, 15 million Jews would have been slaughtered in the Persian Empire.
So now anti-Semitism is legalized. The edict is signed. Mordecai the Jew, also working in the king's palace, knows nothing about this. And that's because he wasn't there when Haman approached the king and had him sign on the dotted line. Esther the Jewess, she doesn't know anything about it. She's tucked away in the palace, her own little palace as queen. So both of them are completely unaware. But they will learn of it, and when they learn of it, they're shocked. They're shocked. As they should be. And as I read through this story this week, I couldn't help but think back 20 years to September 11, 2001, because on that day, when all the dust was settling, we came to a sudden but very new awareness, something that we never knew before, that we were hated, that there were people around the world who wanted to exterminate us, who would want to end our civilization.
Some of us knew some of that but, we didn't know the extent of it. We didn't know that there were swaths of people that referred to the US as the great Satan, and Israel as the little Satan. And so we came into a new awareness. And I looked at chapter 3, the very last verse, verse 15, and the very last sentence. So the king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Shushan was perplexed. They were confused. They were bewildered by this edict. Now, I just want to give you a contemporary note, before we move on to the next stage. The setting of this book of Esther is ancient, what, go ahead and shout it out. It's ancient Persia. So it's ancient Persia. Because I'm glad you're paying attention. Persia. This is the kingdom of Persia.
Ancient Persia, and again, you can shout this out if you know it, is modern day what? Iran. So you know how Solomon said there's nothing new under the sun, and history as a way of repeating itself? I think we see that today. Because today, Iran is the world's leading state sponsor of terrorism on Earth. They do more terrorist attacks than any country on Earth. So says the United States' State Department and many other countries. And that's not just Iran. That's just not their mentality, but they have fostered different groups, proxy groups around the region, and they supply money and arms to groups like Hezbollah in Lebanon to attack Israel, Hamas in the Palestinian territories to attack Israel, the Houthis in Yemen to attack that region as well. And Iran's newest leader, this just happened a few months back, was elected by the name of Ebrahim Raisi, a hard line cleric. His nickname is the Butcher of Tehran. And I didn't know this, but I thought the previous guy was hard line. He's considered a moderate compared to the new guy.
The new guy, Raisi, vows to liberate the Middle East from the scourge that is the nation of Israel. Repeatedly, we're just going to get rid of the Jews, we want to destroy Israel, they shouldn't exist. And if you think, well, that's just rhetoric. I mean, these people in the Mideast, they just talk smack all the time, but so what? Well, it's more than talk. Just this week, Iran announced it has quadrupled its nuclear stockpile of 60% enriched uranium. You know what 60% enriched uranium is for? Nuclear weapons. They have stated, we are building nuclear weapons. We mean business. And that is why this week as well, Israel's foreign minister Yair Lapid, of all places, in Moscow when he was visiting, made this announcement. "Iran's march toward a nuclear weapon is not only an Israeli problem. It is a problem for the rest of the world."
And he urged the governments of the world to stop them from this stockpile. And then he said this, "If the world doesn't do it, Israel reserves the right to act." And if you know Israel, they will. So what you have going on in the Middle East, and now with a destabilized Afghanistan on top of Iran and its proxies, and what's happening this week is a very volatile situation. And the target, there's two targets Israel, the little Satan. But the big Satan is us. So history is repeating itself. It may be another Esther moment that the nation of Israel finds itself in.
But let's go to the rest of this story. So it begins with a tragedy, a national tragedy. Annihilate every Jew in the Empire. Followed by what is an expected anxiety, chapter 4 verse 1. When Mordecai learned all that had happened, hey, there's been an edict signed to exterminate us, when he learned all that had happened, he tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the midst of the city. He cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went as far as the front of the king's gate, for no one might enter the king's gate clothed with sackcloth. You can't show up for work in the palace dressed like that. And in every province where the king's command and decree arrived, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping, wailing, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes. In other words, there was a very public, a very vocal, a very visible display of grief.
Now, we in the West, we don't really get that. We have sort of been taught culturally that when we grieve, you know, we should have it all together, and that public displays of wailing and grief are uncalled for. Listen to the language at funerals. You hear it. There's the widow in the front row, and somebody goes, oh, she's so strong. Why do you say that? She's not weeping. Really? That's strength to you? Understand that in the Middle East, that thinking doesn't exist. It's exactly the opposite. If you love somebody, the more you love them, the louder you wail. And if you've ever seen Middle Eastern funerals, where you have a casket being taken to the streets, you have people throwing dirt in the air and wailing, and mobs of crowds and people clawing after the casket. That's sort of the idea for public grief.
So that's Mordecai. Notice he puts on sackcloth. Sackcloth is like loose fitting very coarse goat's hair garment. Think of a gunny sack, a potato sack. It's meant to feel uncomfortable. It's meant to look disheveled. And then there are ashes that he put on that added to the look. You'd appear ghastly, unclean, grimy, purposely distressed. Because that's how Jews typically would grieve. The tearing of the clothes, the throwing of dust or the putting of ashes on the head, et cetera. And this deep sorrow spread, verse 3, to all the land, all the provinces were the news was making its way. Jews everywhere were in grief. By the way, ever notice how tragedy brings people together. We are 20 years after 9/11. Some of us who were a little bit older remember that day very well, and what we remember is how it brought people together, because all of us collectively have been put on the same level suddenly. We're all attacked as a country.
So we remember the news reporters and the shaky voices and the tears in their eyes as they were saying, oh my goodness, we're being attacked. They just couldn't hold in the emotion. And we remember people out in the streets hugging each other, and Democrats and Republicans and Independents standing on the steps of the Capitol singing God Bless America, holding hands. Like we don't care about partisan politics. We're Americans today. We remember churches packed full of people for weeks, because tragedy does that.
I can't read verse 1 of chapter 4 without thinking of New York City, where it says, "Mordecai went out into the midst of the city." I had the privilege of going to ground zero for three weeks following the towers' falls and doing work there. Every day I walked out into the midst of the city. Every day in the midst of the city I encountered New Yorkers who were desperate. I encountered in the midst of the city professionals who are at their wits end, didn't know what to make of this. They were struggling. They were weeping. And I heard in the midst of the city the vow of every New Yorker, and then every American to never forget what has just happened. Never forget. It's like my parents vowed never to forget Pearl Harbor. And we say we'll never forget 9/11.
By the way, a side note. Actually fits right in. Do you know that the Jews to this day have never gotten over what Haman plotted with King Ahasuerus? Every year, every Jewish person celebrates to some degree the festival of Purim. It happens in the fall, March of every year. And they read the book of Esther. And for 24 hours, it's standard protocol in Jewish communities, every time the word Haman is mentioned for people to boo and hiss. Every time it's mentioned. Every time the word comes up. Boo. Ahh! All sorts of bad noises. Want to give it a shot? Yeah, let's do that. So look at chapter 3 verse 15. So the king and Haman. Come on, you can do better than that. Haman. Yeah, yeah, yeah, yeah. You got the idea. That's what they do. You do good. Sat down to drink. The city of Shushan was perplexed. Also, in the synagogues every year, the book of Esther is read, and the name of Haman... appears 51 times. 51 times in the synagogues as the story is read, and they mention Haman... That's what you hear. Pretty fun service, huh? And in the synagogue, they will often shout out at the name of Haman...
The Hebrew words yimakh shemo, which are translated may his name be blotted out forever. The same exact Hebrew phrase when mentioning the name Adolf Hitler. So they never forget. They haven't gotten over this. They resurrect this story every single year. So Mordecai wasn't there, but he hears of it, he gets wind of it. He's an officer in the court, but he has no direct contact with Queen Esther, even though she is his cousin. You couldn't just pop in go, hey cuz, let's hang out together. So he had to use a liaison, somebody to speak to her. And he chooses a guy by the name of Hathak. I can't vouch for these names. That's just his name. So he gets Hathak, and puts in Hathak's hands a little copy of the edict that was signed, so she has proof positive, and says, you go to Queen Esther, and you tell her what has been done by Haman....
You tell her what that guy did, and what they're up to, and tell her she has to approach the king and do something. So she hears about it. Let me show you the opportunity now, the strategic opportunity. Verse 10, Esther spoke to Hathak, gave him a command for Mordecai... No, Mordecai is a good guy. You don't boo Mordecai. You you clap Mordecai. You'll make that mistake once. That's OK, though, but he's a good guy. The bad guy is Haman. Very good. The good guy is Mordecai. All right, there you go. OK, good, good, good, good. You got it. So Esther spoke to Hathak, neutral guy, gave him a command for Mordecai. You don't have to clap. All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces, this is what she said.
All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king who has not been called, he has but one law, put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds up the golden scepter, that he may live. Yet I myself have not been called to go into the king these 30 days.
So they told Mordecai Esther's words. Mordecai told them to answer Esther. Now, listen to this little speech. Says, you go tell Esther this. Do not think in your heart that you will escape the king's palace, escape in the king's palace 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. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this. You've heard this before, right? You've heard that phrase for such a time as this. Say that out loud, for such a time as this. That is what this book is built on. This is your time. Who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this.
This is a speech for the history books. This is a watershed moment. This is the turning point. This is like Patrick Henry's 1775, "Give me liberty or give me death" moment. This is sort of like Winston Churchill in 1940 to the House of Commons during a very bleak time during that war, Churchill said, "Let us brace ourselves to our duties, and so bear ourselves, that if the British Empire and its Commonwealth last for 1,000 years, men will say this was their finest hour." This was their finest hour. Immortalized words. This is Mordecai saying, girl, this could be your finest hour. This could be why you are here. Now, Esther has a little bit of a problem that she mentions. You just don't go saunter into the king, go king, what's up? Because this is Persia, and nobody sees the king unless the king summons you.
And he hasn't summoned me for 30 days. Now, if I'm the wife and I haven't seen my husband for 30 days, I'm a little nervous. It's like, OK, he has a harem, he can have a girl night after night, anything he wants. He hasn't called for me for 30 days. And I'm thinking, am I ugly? Do I have bad breath? Did I say something bad? And if I just show up like that and he sees me, it's like heads off. So I could die. This is risky business. He had his previous wife dethroned for not showing up. And if she just shows up unannounced, it could be equally as bad. By the way, I haven't told you this yet. The name of God is not mentioned once in this book. It's one of the unique things about the Book of Esther. The name of God isn't mentioned once. And this has bothered some people. It bothered Martin Luther. Martin Luther said, I wish the book of Esther would never have been written.
But I want to say, Marty, you're way off base. I disagree with you. Though God isn't mentioned, I could make a case that God is the main character of this book. He shows up all over the place with his fingerprints on everything. It's called His Providence. God's Providence is God takes normal circumstances of life and weaves them together for His ultimate purpose. And that is so apparent in this book. Really, this is the beauty of Esther. God isn't always overt. God isn't always apparent. He's not always miraculous or audible.
Jesus said the kingdom of God does not come by outward observation. So rather than noticing what isn't there, like the name of God, notice what is there, God working. Like John Nelson Darby used to say, "God's ways are behind the scenes, but He moves all the scenes that He is behind." God is behind these scenes and He is working. Now, in this little speech of verse 13 and 14 that we just read of Mordecai to Esther, he reminds her of three important truths. And I want to review them with you. Number one, he's saying that your position won't guarantee your protection. Your position as queen won't guarantee your protection.
You're the queen, but you're still a Jew. And sometime the king is going to find that out. When he finds that out, since the edict says all the Jews you're part of that number. It'll be your life. And I got to think that there were probably some leftovers from the previous administration. Vashti, Queen Vashti. I'm sure that there are some people that kind sided with her, were loyal to her, and they would love to see Esther kicked out. It would be for that. So your position won't guarantee your protection.
Second thing he reminds her of is your silence won't prevent our deliverance. Look at what he said. "For if you remain," verse 14, "if you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place." Why does he say that? Because he's a Jew, that's why. Because this guy remembers, even though the name of God isn't mentioned, he knows the Abrahamic covenant. He knows that God made a promise to Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob for the Jews to be in that land, that God would preserve and protect His people for his eternal purpose. So it might not be you, but God has got something up His sleeve somewhere. And you might die, Esther, and your family might die, but God will deliver the Jews somehow. So if you don't step in and do it, God will do something with somebody else.
By the way, I hope you realize God doesn't need any one of us. God has a plan, and God's plan is in motion for His eternal purposes. And you and I have one of two choices, either get on board or don't get on board. Either you're all in or you're not. And if you're not, it's your loss. God didn't go, oh man, now what? He's like next. I'll use somebody, but I'm going to get this done. We get the privilege of being a part of it. So he reminds her of that. Your position won't guarantee your protection. Your silence won't prevent our deliverance.
And third, your prominence is God's providence. You're queen because God puts you here. He didn't mention God. He didn't say that. But he implies that. Who knows, but you were brought to the kingdom for such a time as this. Queen Esther, if you are looking for a purpose for why you are queen, this is it. I got to think that Queen Esther sat on that throne from time to time, this young Jewish girl, and she scratched her head and she thought, how did I get here? What am I doing here? What is my purpose for being the queen of Persia? If she ever thought that, Mordecai is here to say, this is why. This is why. This is it. Listen, there are two significant days in your life. The day you were born, and the day you discovered what you were born for. And so if you wonder why am I in this position? Why do I have this job? Why am I in sales? Oh, I find myself in the legal profession. Well, why? What am I doing? What's God's purpose?
I don't know, but figure that out. Figure that out. Discern what that might be. Because you could be at a very important moment where God is going to call on you soon to make some very important decisions that will benefit a lot of people. God never wastes a life. And so often, big doors swing on very small hinges. It's one of these moments for her. So we have a tragedy, anxiety, opportunity, and finally bravery. She has to do something with the information. What will she do? Verse 15, Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, OK, go gather all the Jews who are present in Shushan. Why all the Jews? Because that's who it affects. Who are present in Shushan in the capital city. And fast, fast for me. Neither eat nor drink for three days.
She doesn't mention prayer, but she does mention fasting. And I'm guessing that she's very cautious about letting out the idea that she is Jewish especially in light of this edict. But any Jew to another Jew, when you say fast for three days, note that includes prayer and fasting. Because in the Old Testament, prayer and fasting are like salt and pepper. Like peanut butter and jelly. They go together. And so I want you to fast for three days, implying pray for three days, and fast with your fellow Jews night or day. My maids and I will fast likewise. She probably had some Jewish maids at work on her staff.
Now, watch this. And so I will go to the king, which is against the law. I'm going to break the law. The law says I can only go in that throne room if I'm summoned. I'm going. Look at this. And if I perish, I perish. I need to do what's right. It could cost me my life. Bring it. If I perish, I perish. What a great answer. What a great woman. She decides to risk it all. Keep in mind, Esther has been in an environment that pampered her, an environment that told her to focus all of her attention on her skin and her looks and her beauty and herself, right? It was all about herself. Now, in this decision, she conquers the giant of self, and she suddenly becomes selfless, self-sacrificing, self-denying. In effect, she is saying, enough of the easy life, enough of the beauty queen stuff. I've been on Persian Vogue, on the cover. I've been in Elle Magazine.
Everybody knows who I am. I'm a beauty queen. Enough of that. I'm going to go see the king and put a stop to this. And if a spear gets thrust through my body or a guard tackles me, so be it. Let this be my finest hour. Now, this is the commemoration for 9/11 as well. And the decision that Esther made is a decision that so many people made on that day, to sacrifice their lives, to rush into the towers, to work in the Pentagon, to bring people to safety, to commandeer airplanes that could become missiles. Whether they were firefighters, or Port Authority officials, or police members, or ambulance drivers, or clergymen, first responders, all, they ran to it. People like Moira Smith, a female New York City police officer who ran in and ran out with people to rescue them and rescue them, and finally she died in the tragedy.
Or a chef. A chef who was a former Marine by the name of Benjamin Clark, who made sure that everybody on his floor, the 96th floor of one of the towers, was evacuated. Got them out. Lost his life. Or Father Michael Judge, the first victim of the 9/11 attacks. He heard of the explosions. He ran into the building. He was killed. Most of you know the name Todd Beamer. He was aboard United Flight 93. And he knew that the pilots had been killed. They were forced from the cockpit. They were knifed. They knew the plane was being hijacked. He got a report on the phone that other planes have been flown into the World Trade Center, another one into the Pentagon. They were probably going to commandeer this plane for the Capitol or the White House or some other target.
So Todd Beamer in a moment knew this was an Esther moment. If I perish, I perish. And he told the other passengers what was going on. They concocted a very quick plan. And his last recorded words were, are you ready? OK, let's roll. And that plane went down in Shanksville. When the Civil War was at its height, and Abraham Lincoln, the President of the United States at the time, was feeling very discouraged and despairing, he went to church one Sunday, and he listened to the sermon. And afterwards, one of his aides that was with him said, Mr. President, did you enjoy the sermon? And Lincoln said, well, the preacher was clear. His points were logical. I'm sure he was very sincere. And the aide said, so you thought it was a good sermon? Lincoln said, no, I think he failed.
He did not ask of us something great. He gave information, but he didn't ask us to do something with it. He didn't ask of us to apply something to our lives that would be considered great. What Mordecai asks of Esther is to do something great. This could be your finest hour. You could be alive and in this position for this moment. Do something good. Do something great. Let your life be raised to a higher level. I'm asking us to do something great. Here it is in a nutshell. Stop spending your life. Start investing your life. If you are planning your life for your comfort and my joy in my latter years, it's all about that, OK, you can do that. It's a free country. It's a free world, I suppose. But that's just spending your life.
Invest your life into something that will outlive you. That's something great. Jesus didn't stay in heaven. He said, I'm going to come to this Earth. I'm coming to ground zero. I'm coming to where sin exploded and hit the human race. And I didn't come to be served. I came to serve, and to give my life a ransom for many. So that's the answer to self. One person wrote, "Dear Heavenly Father, I'm working on a puzzle. Pure and simple, it is I". God answered back, "Dear Searching Child, here's the answer to your puzzle. Pure and simple, it is I". That's always the solution to self, is you replace yourself with Himself. Your will with His will. Your plans with His plans. Your cause with His cause. This is the flesh. That's the Spirit.
Father, you have called us to something great. You have called us to the kingdom of God. You have called us to rescue people out of darkness and deliver them into the kingdom of your son. This could be our finest hour. We need to be courageous. We need to be bold. We need to also mix that with grace, seasoned with salt. And I pray that you, by your Spirit, would help us to be those change agents in our culture. How thankful we are, Lord, as we remember back 20 years to those who willingly gave their lives by rescuing others. But I am so thankful for those who continue to do so in so many different areas, including our military and police officers and first responders, who daily put themselves in harm's way, and how we honor them today. And I pray that every person who hears this message would be elevated to something much greater than living for self. But that we would live to please yourself, our Lord, in Jesus's name. Amen.