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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
 www.oaklawnurc.org/
 
Title:All History as His Story
Text:Esther 9:16-10:3 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's faithfulness
 
Preached:03/13/2016
Added:2016-07-08
Updated:2016-07-08
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


 

Pastor Ted Gray
03/13/2016 - a.m.
“All History as ‘His Story’”
Esther 9:16-10:3
 
In the year 1852 an archeologist named William Loftus discovered the ruins of Susa, the capitol of the Persian kingdom back in Esther’s day. Unfortunately, Loftus died at the young age of 38, while on a sea voyage from India back to his native country, England. Later on, from 1884-1886, a Frenchman by the name of Marcel Dieulafoy continued excavations in Susa. He located the king’s gate where Mordecai had sat (4:2). He located the inner and outer courts where Haman, Xerxes and Esther had many of their meetings (5:1, 6:4). He excavated  the palace garden (7:7) which was one of the great wonders of the world.
 
Marcel Dieulafoy even found one of the pur, a small stone used for casting lots. The pur was used to cast the lot to determine the historic day when Haman decreed the annihilation of the Jews. But Haman’s edict was counteracted, in God’s providence, and the designated day, Adar the thirteenth, became the day that the Jews defended themselves against all their armed enemies.
 
Those archeological finds are just one more reminder that what we have read in this book of Esther is a slice of history. It’s not just a fable or legend as liberal scholars try to label it. It’s not just an interesting story of how a villain gets hanged on his own gallows; it is real history, one more tangible reminder that our God is the Lord of history; that all of history, is “His story.”
 
And when all of history has been written, when the Lord returns and we look back in retrospect, we will see that the things we have learned from Esther apply to every part of history. For instance, throughout all history God is at work, even when we don’t see Him. In many ways, that is the main teaching from the book of Esther. God’s name is not mentioned one time, making Esther unique as a book of Scripture. Yet the hand of God’s providence, as He works “behind the scenes”,  is evident on every page of the book of Esther.
 
Another principle from Esther, which applies to every era of time, is that even the most corrupt kings are controlled by the Lord. King Xerxes was hardly your model king. From the opening chapter we see that he was a poor judge of character and was quick to consume the bottle. Yet the Lord, working behind the scenes through Esther, opened his eyes to see the true intent and character of his one time friend, Haman.
 
Another teaching that comes through so clearly in Esther, and is a truth that runs throughout all history, is that in the end, God wins. Just when it looked like God’s people were doomed, the Lord turned the tables and saved His people from annihilation. As the Psalter puts it, “Christ shall have dominion, over land and sea, earth’s remotest region shall His empire be.” (135:1)
 
Esther is also a comforting book as it reinforces biblical truths about God’s sovereignty. Because Christ has dominion, and since our Sovereign God is the Lord of history, He can take the worst type of evil and turn it to good. And we certainly see that principal at work here, as the Lord turned a plan to destroy His people into a cause for celebration. The very item used to denote the date of their destruction – the pur – led to the name of a celebration that Jews still keep today, the feast of Purim, which is plural for pur.
 
That principal runs throughout Scripture. When Joseph’s brothers feared for their lives, after their father died and they were under the rule of the brother they had betrayed, Joseph comforted his brothers with these words in Genesis 50:20, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives.”
   
The truth that God can turn all events for the good of His people is ultimately summed up in the well known words Romans 8:28, And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love Him, who have been called according to His purpose.
 
Because our sovereign God is the Lord of all history He often uses unexpected, little-known people to accomplish His purposes. In this book, who should accomplish the purpose of God in saving His people? Esther was an orphan girl. Her parents had died and her cousin, Mordecai, had taken her in and provided for her. Mordecai and Esther were both from Jerusalem, but had been taken captive by Nebuchadnezzar before the Medes and Persians overthrew the Babylonians.  
 
But that should not surprise us. God used an 80 year old wanted for murder to lead His people out of Egypt. He used a shepherd boy with a sling to kill a giant who constantly opposed His people.  And a disobedient prophet who ran away from his duty was used by God to start a great  revival in Nineveh.
 
Rahab, a prostitute, was used to protect the spies in Jericho. God graciously saved Rahab, not only a prostitute, but a Canaanite, and by God’s grace she became an ancestor in the human genealogy of Jesus. None of these events should surprise us, because God uses little people like ourselves, even today, to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth. We see that clearly in 1 Corinthians 1:26-31:  
 
For consider your calling, brothers (and sisters): not many of you were wise according to worldly standards, not many were powerful, not many were of noble birth. But God chose what is foolish in the world to shame the wise; God chose what is weak in the world to shame the strong; God chose what is low and despised in the world, even things that are not, to bring to nothing things that are so that no human being might boast in the presence of God. And because of Him you are in Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption, so that, as it is written, “Let the one who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
 
A third principle that we see in the book of Esther is that since the Lord is the Lord of history, He causes His blessings on His chosen people to be a blessing on all the earth. When the Jews got the upper hand against their enemies, all the Gentiles were blessed along with the Jews. As chapter 10 closes and the final page of Esther is read, we find that Xerxes’ empire is vast and prosperous, a direct result of God’s blessing on His people flowing over to the society of the Medes and Persians.
 
The same is still true today. Society as a whole is blessed because of God’s blessings on His church. The same principal is in effect as was in effect when Abraham interceded for Sodom. You remember how he said to the Lord, “Will You indeed sweep away the righteous with the wicked? Suppose there are fifty righteous within the city. Will You then sweep away the place and not spare it for the fifty righteous who are in it?” (Genesis 18:23).
 
In that passage from Genesis 18 we read how the Lord would spare the wicked cities of Sodom and Gomorrah for the sake of just fifty people, or forty, or twenty, even for the sake of just ten righteous people. When Abraham realized that there were not even twenty righteous people in Sodom and Gomorrah, he said to the Lord, “Oh let the Lord not be angry, and I will speak again but this once. Suppose ten are found there.” He (God) answered, “For the sake of ten I will not destroy it.” (Genesis 18:32). When not even ten could be found, God destroyed Sodom Gomorrah, but it shows us, not only the patience of God, but also that for the sake of God’s elect, the wicked are often spared, and even granted temporal blessings.   
 
In His patience God allows unbelievers to be spared destruction for the sake of His people, for a time. But the time also comes, as Romans 1 and many other Scriptures so clearly teach, when God allows people to bring judgment on themselves. When the truth of God is exchanged for the lies of this world, God gives whole nations over to their sin and to the repercussions of that sin. 
 
* * *
 
What does all this reveal to us, by way of application? First, God’s work “behind the scenes” in preserving His people reveals that He cares for us and loves us far more than we know. Esther and Mordecai were in a culture that excluded the God of Scripture. But increasingly, those of us in the United States see a similar pattern. Yet even when God’s people are surrounded by ungodly people, God continues to exercise His providential care. 
 
And the motive for His providential care is His eternal love for His people. He was not about to let the Israelites be wiped out by their enemies, for from them would come the human birth of the eternal Messiah; from them would come the Lord Jesus Christ. And it is in the redeeming grace of Jesus that we witness the enormity of God’s love. It is through the giving of His only begotten Son that God reveals to us that He cares for us and loves us far more than we realize in this life. 
 
And in the life to come, for those of us who believe in Him with saving faith, God will reveal the magnitude of His great love. That is expressed in many passages of Scripture, sometimes written in between the lines as it is here in Esther. And other times it is written in plain, bold language that should motivate all of us to live obedient lives of praise, doing good deeds to show our gratitude and love for the God who loves us far more than we realize.
 
That is what Paul writes about, in the magnificent second chapter of Ephesians:
 
But because of His great love for us, God, who is rich in mercy,  made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions—it is by grace you have been saved.  And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with Him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus,  in order that in the coming ages He might show the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. For it is by grace you have been saved, through faith—and this is not from yourselves, it is the gift of God—not by works, so that no one can boast. For we are God’s workmanship, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do. (Ephesians 2:4-10).
 
There is an old illustration which is quite simplistic, yet it conveys a great truth. In the illustration someone supposedly asked Jesus Christ how much He loved them. In the illustration Jesus stretched out both arms, as they were on the cross, and said, “I love you this much.”
 
God’s love for us is far greater than we can comprehend in this life. But what a delight it will be throughout all eternity to experience the love of God, as He reveals to us the incomparable riches of His grace, expressed in His kindness to us in Christ Jesus. No wonder the Apostle wrote in Ephesians 3:17-19,  And I pray that you, being rooted and established in love, may have power, together with all the saints, to grasp how wide and long and high and deep is the love of Christ,  and to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God.
 
* * *
 
As we close our study of Esther, not only do we see the great love and providential care of God for His people, but we can’t help but notice a couple of things about the Jewish people of Esther’s day. For instance, as we reflect on the Jews of Esther’s day we see that they set a good example as they focused on blessings rather than dwelling on how Haman had tried to annihilate them.
 
They did well to remember the past in a positive light. Instead of dwelling on hurts they focused on blessings. Consider what the Jews of Esther’s day could have remembered. They could have said, “The Gentiles, especially the Amalekites hated us. The king went along with them. We were on the brink of extermination. We could have been wiped off the face of the earth.”
 
Those types of thoughts would have consumed them, filling them with bitterness and anger. But instead of looking at the negatives, they looked at what was positive. They focused on their deliverance instead of their hurts. In some ways it was like looking at their cup as being half full rather than half empty. Yes, they had been in captivity. Yes, a cruel plot had been formed to do away with them, but God, in His providence, had turned the circumstances around and brought deliverance.
 
The Apostle Paul wrote about that concept to the Philippian church. In Philippians 4:8 he challenged them – and challenges us – to focus on the positive things in life: Whatever is true, whatever is noble, whatever is right, whatever is pure, whatever is lovely, whatever is admirable–if anything is excellent or praiseworthy–think about such things.
 
Instead of remembering those who have hurt you the most, remember those who have helped you the most. Instead of focusing on the worst circumstances in your life, focus on the best. If we don’t focus on the blessings – the positives  – we will get bitter and mean instead of peaceful and grateful over the course of time. One person has rightly said, in considering injustices to them in hard circumstances beyond their control, “I can get bitter, or I can get better. And the difference is in the ‘I’”.  It is up to you and up to me to think on the positive things of life, to think on the wonderful blessings of God, rather than to focus on the hard and cruel circumstances that every person faces at times.
 
To their credit, the Jews of Esther’s day did not get bitter. But unfortunately, in their celebration of Purim, they missed the point as to who should receive the praise. We read twice where it was a day of giving presents to one another. Verse 23 specifies presents of food and gifts to the poor,  a laudable activity. Verse 19 speaks of giving gifts, but doesn’t specify what type of gifts or to whom they should be given.
 
By the Jews own admission, the feast of Purim, still celebrated today, goes well beyond giving presents to one another. Part of the celebration includes the public reading of the book of Esther, and those listening hiss when Haman’s name is read and cheer when Mordecai’s name is read. There is no reverence for God in the reading of this part of His Word by the Jewish people today. The Talmud, the authoritative book on Jewish tradition, states in its instruction on observing Purim, “a man should drink until he knows not the difference between ‘Cursed be Haman’ and ‘Blest be Mordecai.’” Matthew Henry, in his commentary, points out, “What is best becomes worst, when corrupted.”
        
In the book of Esther we have a wonderful account of the Lord of history protecting and preserving his people, and yet instead of glorifying God the Protector, people are glorified in what amounts to a drunken party at the feast of Purim.
 
But before we condemn the generations of Jews who celebrate Purim with drunkenness and gluttony, we need to remember  that we also have to be careful how we celebrate events, lest we, too, miss the mark.  One event that comes to mind, an event that like the Feast of Purim centers on our Lord, but in it’s observance centers on ourselves, is Christmas.
  
I’m not one to forbid the giving of gifts or having a Christmas tree, but even the most casual glance at the way our society celebrates Christmas, and many professing Christians as well, shows a God-centered event that should honor the Lord turned into a selfish event honoring people. And for many people it becomes a time of drunken revelry just as the feast of Purim became that for the Jews who left God out of the picture.
 
Romans 15:4 tells us that everything that happened in the past was written to teach us, and 1 Corinthians 10:11-12 reminds us: These things happened to them as examples and were written down as warnings for us, on whom the fulfillment of the ages has come. So if you think you are standing firm, be careful that you do not fall!­  We are to learn from both the positive examples of those who have gone before us, and also from their negative examples.
 
* * *
 
If I had been with the archeologist Marcel Dieulafoy back in 1884 I would have thought it really great to see the ruins of Susa: The king’s gate where Mordecai sat, the inner and outer courts where Haman, Xerxes and Esther had many of their meetings, and the palace garden which was one of the great wonders of the world.
 
But the most interesting thing to find would be the pur, the small stone that was used to select Adar the 13th. For in that one little pur we are reminded that our God is the Lord of history. We are reminded and assured that our Almighty God can take one little dice and use it to turn the tables for the good of His people, for the lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the Lord (Proverbs 16:33). We are reminded that He is the One who truly shall have dominion over all nations and all peoples, forever and ever! Amen.
 
 
- sermon outline -
 
For Haman... had plotted against the Jews to destroy them... but the evil scheme Haman had devised against the Jews came back on his own head...
- Esther 9:24-25
 
“All History as ‘His Story’”
Esther 9:16-10:3
 
I.  The book of Esther teaches that since our Sovereign God is the Lord of all history He can:
     1) Take the worst type of evil and turn it to good (18-32; Genesis 50:20; Romans 8:28)
 
 
 
 
      2) Use little known people for His purposes (Esther 2:5-7; 10:3; 1 Corinthians 1:26)
 
 
 
 
      3) Cause the blessing on His chosen people to be a blessing on all the earth (10:1-3)
 
 
 
 
II. Applications:
      1) God’s work “behind the scenes” in preserving His people reveals that He cares for us loves us more than we know (Ephesians 2:4-5; 3:17-18)   
 
 
 
 
      2) The Jews set a good example as they focused on blessings rather than dwelling on Haman had tried to annihilate them (27-28; Philippians 4:8)
            
 
 
 
 
      2) The Jews set a poor example in giving praise. They focused on giving gifts to instead of praising God (19). Their example is a warning to us
          (Romans 15:4; 1 Corinthians 10:11-12)
 
 
 
 
 
03/13/2016 - p.m.



* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Ted Gray, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 03/1, Rev. Ted Gray

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