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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:God Behind the Scenes
Text:Esther 1:1-22 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

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
12/27/2015 - a.m.


“God Behind the Scenes”
Esther 1:1-22
The book of Esther is one of the more unusual and controversial books in the Bible. It is unusual in that God’s name is never mentioned, not even one time. And neither is prayer, though it does speak of fasting. Because of that, some have doubted whether Esther belongs in the Bible.
Not only does it omit any direct reference to God, but it also has some racy content. Some people have expressed surprise that Hollywood’s version of Esther was not R rated. After all, the book opens with one of the biggest drinking feasts imaginable. Verse 7 describes it this way: Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king's liberality. Neither Mardi Gras nor Germany’s “Oktoberfest” could match the amount of alcohol flowing at Xerxes’ (Ahasuerus’) banquet! (Ahasuerus was his Persian name; Xerxes the Greek equivalent).
As usual when excessive alcohol is involved things go down hill. Vashti, the queen, an exquisitely beautiful woman, was asked to come out and display her beauty for the men present.  When it says (v. 11) “wearing  her royal crown” many believe that she was asked to come and parade her beauty wearing nothing but the crown.
While we don’t know for sure if that was the case, as we progress in the study of Esther we will see the sordid side of a King and his harem, a side that Hollywood could have glamorized and tantalized with much nudity.
And then, to add to the nudity and drinking there is violence. After the dramatic turn of the tables where the villain, Haman, is hanged on his own gallows, great bloodshed breaks out as the Jews put to death over 75,000 of their enemies. Afterwards, they celebrate the feast of Purim, a feast still celebrated today by the Jewish people.
Again, the book of Esther doesn’t have any reference to God, not even one reference. No reference to prayer. All this drinking, carousing around, bloodshed. Why is the book of Esther in the Bible?  Should it be?
I believe that the key to that question is located in the New Testament book of Romans, chapter 15, verse 4: Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope. We can have great hope, encouragement, and strength from being reminded that even when God’s name isn’t mentioned – or is only mentioned in vain –  even when prayer is not evident and society wallows in drunkenness and drugs, flaunting sexual perversion and lust, even in such a society God is at work, working His sovereign will behind the scenes.
God’s Rule Over All Earthly Rulers
As God works behind the scenes, whether in Old Testament Persia or in your life and mine today, we are reminded God rules over all earthly rulers, and uses for His own purposes even the weakest and most  foolish of  political leaders.
As the chapter opens Xerxes is putting on an impressive show. In verse 3 we read about the great banquet he threw, and verse 4 describes his motive for doing so: For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. After the banquet for the nobles and officials he threw a seven day party for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa (v. 5). At that party the wine flowed freely, as verse 8 tells us, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
But by midway through the chapter we see that Xerxes is no great leader. He is a weak, indecisive king who gives a foolish request to his beautiful wife. He is rebuffed, humiliated, and, at wit’s end, relies on the advice of others to get himself out of the mess he has made.
Why is that sad slice of history inserted in the Bible? It is a reminder to us that even when corrupt, inept people come to power, God is in control. Political corruption and ineptitude is not unique to the reign of Xerxes back in the days of the Medes and Persians. We have more than our share today. We all have been painfully reminded at many times just how corrupt, weak and inept our own government can be.
But through all the political corruption and ineptitude we can be assured that God is at work  behind the scenes: As Proverbs 21:1 puts it, The king's heart is in the hand of the LORD; He directs it like a watercourse wherever He pleases.
Daniel 4:17 teaches the same truth: The Most High is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and gives them to anyone He wishes and sets over them the lowliest of men. In fact, the theme of God’s sovereign reign even in the turbulent times Daniel lived in, as a captive in Babylon, is recorded three times over in Daniel’s prophecy: Daniel 4:17, 25 and 5:21.
God’s sovereign rule was at work back in the days of Daniel and Xerxes. And His sovereign rule is at work today. Throughout all of history God has always been at work behind the scenes. And that’s one reason why God inspired this account of Esther’s life and placed it among the 66 books of the Bible. It reminds us Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope (Romans 15:4).
Another reason why this little book of Esther is tucked way in the Old Testament is to show us that God’s plans prevail, even when human advisers give questionable advice and people take the wrong direction. From verse 13 on Xerxes tries to get himself out of the embarrassing situation of being rejected publicly by the Queen.
He calls his advisers and they give their advice. Some commentators see it as wise advice, others as questionable. I believe it was the wrong advice. What Xerxes should have done is sobered up, made up to his wife, and sent all of his drinking buddies home!
But I also realize that to do what is right would be too embarrassing for Xerxes in his drunken state. Instead he listened to his advisers and took a questionable path. But this, too, was from the Lord, who was working “behind the scenes” even at this drunken banquet. Even in that sordid, drunken event God was working His sovereign will  to bring Esther into power as the next Queen. Through her the Lord would work to save the Jewish people from extermination by an extremely crafty and wicked foe, Haman, who was also a close friend of King Xerxes.
God is behind the scenes, even when the scenes themselves seem to have little at all to do with God. And that is always the case. Not just in Persia so long ago, but in your life and mine, and in the lives of God’s people in every age.
Do you remember when Rehoboam came to power, after the death of his father Solomon? Jeroboam and the people of Israel said to King Rehoboam, “Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but now lighten the harsh labor and the heavy yoke he put on us, and we will serve you.”
Rehoboam asked the people to come back in three days. He wanted some time to seek advice on what to do. 2 Chronicles 10:6-17 (and also 1 Kings 12:1-19) records those events:
Then King Rehoboam consulted the elders who had served his father Solomon during his lifetime. "How would you advise me to answer these people?" he asked.
They replied, "If you will be kind to these people and please them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants."
But Rehoboam rejected the advice the elders gave him and consulted the young men who had grown up with him and were serving him.  He asked them, "What is your advice? How should we answer these people who say to me, 'Lighten the yoke your father put on us'?"
The young men who had grown up with him replied, "Tell the people who have said to you, 'Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter'--tell them, 'My little finger is thicker than my father's waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions.' "
Three days later Jeroboam and all the people returned to Rehoboam, as the king had said, "Come back to me in three days."  The king answered them harshly. Rejecting the advice of the elders, he followed the advice of the young men and said, "My father made your yoke heavy; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions."
So the king did not listen to the people, for this turn of events was from God, to fulfill the word the LORD had spoken to Jeroboam son of Nebat through Ahijah the Shilonite.
That action led to the split between Israel and Judah. The 10 northern tribes of Israel broke away from Judah. It didn’t seem as though God was at work when Israel and Judah split. Undoubtedly there were many who called on the Lord and wondered why He didn’t seem to answer their call. Yet God was working, “behind the scenes,” just as He did in the days of Xerxes. Just as He does today, in your life and mine and the life of our nation and the nations of the world.
Nothing Can Thwart God’s Sovereign Reign
When we see that God is truly “behind the scenes” then we are also enabled to see why nothing can thwart God’s plan. God’s plan centers on the redemption, protection, and glorification of His people, for His own glory.
In the cast of characters that we will come across in the book of Esther there is a villain, the infamous Haman son Hammedatha, who is dead set on putting all the Jews to death. And yet behind the scenes, God is already at work, raising up Esther, an orphaned Jewish girl, to be the next Persian Queen, to be in that place of prominence to deliver God’s people from Haman’s plot.
We read about this drunken banquet, the spurned King, the proud queen, the distinguished advisers. We don’t see God. We don’t read His name. We don’t hear of people praying to him for wisdom.
But He is there, behind the scenes, doing exactly what He said He would do. Psalm 33:10-11: The Lord foils the plans of nations; He thwarts the purposes of the peoples. But the plans of the Lord stand firm forever, the purposes of His heart through all generations.
And what is that grand plan of God’s? What is the plan that keeps Him busy working behind the scenes? Romans 8:28-35:
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. For those God foreknew He also predestined to be conformed to the likeness of His Son, that He might be the firstborn among many brothers.  And those He predestined, He also called; those He called, He also justified; those He justified, He also glorified.
What, then, shall we say in response to this? If God is for us, who can be against us? He who did not spare His own Son, but gave Him up for us all – how will He not also, along with Him, graciously give us all things? Who will bring any charge against those whom God has chosen? It is God who justifies. Who is he that condemns? Christ Jesus, who died – more than that, who was raised to life – is at the right hand of God and is also interceding for us. Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?
We see from those well known verses that God’s eternal plan is centered on the redemption, protection, and glorification of His people. And He redeems and protects His people for His own glory. Romans 11 concludes with this doxology to the glory of our sovereign God:
Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of God! How unsearchable His judgments, and His paths beyond tracing out!
“Who has known the mind of the Lord? Or who has been His counselor?”
“Who has ever given to God, that God should repay Him?” For from Him and through Him and to Him are all things. To Him be the glory forever! Amen.  (Romans 11:33-36).
Esther's Relevance for Us
How do we apply this unusual book of Esther to our lives?
One application is that knowing God’s faithfulness to His people in the past encourages us in the present. We have all seen the instability of our nation and the nations of the world. Yet God is behind the scenes. We see the uncertainty in every election year. We don’t know who will prevail in the electoral process, yet God will work through the electoral process according to His will. It doesn’t take us from our responsibilities as dual citizens – citizens in the country in which we live and citizens of heaven. But it is of great comfort.
Not only is God sovereign in the events of a nation, but God is behind the scenes in the events of our church. He is behind the scenes, behind the circumstances and events of your life and mine.
Sometimes, admittedly, it doesn’t seem that way. Some of you face crucial health problems, either yourself or loved ones within your family. We all face an uncertain economic climate. We all face a variety of problems, which when they unravel give us no indication that God is at work. In fact, often we wonder why God seems silent when our problems seem so great.
Mordecai, who we will meet later in our study of Esther, undoubtedly wondered that. He may have wondered, “Why is God silent while a vain king throws a drunken party? Why is God silent when a treacherous villain plots to kill the people of God? Why is God silent when those gallows, 70 feet high are being built to hang one of God’s people on?” Why is God silent? Because He is working behind the scenes, working His grand plan of salvation, protection, and glorification for His children.
And when God seems silent in your life and in mine, then we need to do as the Lord told the sons of Korah in Psalm 46:10: “Be still, and know that I am God.” The Lord is assuring us in a book like Esther that He is at work even through complex and tragic situations to bring about our ultimate good –  the salvation of our souls and a life of eternal glory with Him in paradise. He says, “Be still and know that I am God.” He is working behind the scenes in all things for the good of those who love Him and are called according to His purpose.
There are those who question whether the book of Esther belongs in the canon of Holy Scripture.  I have no doubt that it does. It reminds us that God is working behind the scenes today, just as He did so long ago in Persia. As we study this book together, may we be encouraged together, and filled with  praise for our faithful God, who even now is at work behind the scenes in your life and mine.  Amen.
- bulletin outline -
This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush... – Esther 1:1
…Everything that was written in the past was written to teach us, so that through endurance and the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.
                                                                                                                                                                                                                –  Romans 15:4
“God Behind the Scenes”
Esther 1:1-22
I.  Some have doubted whether the book of Esther belongs in the Bible because God’s name is never mentioned. Yet God is “behind the scenes” showing us:
      1) He rules over even the weakest and most  foolish of rulers, using them for His own purposes (1-22; Proverbs 21:1; Daniel 4:17)
      2) God’s will prevails, even when human advisors give questionable advice and people take the wrong direction (13-21; 2 Chronicles 10:1-19)
      3) Nothing can thwart God’s plan, which centers on the redemption, protection, and glorification of His people, for His glory (Psalm 33:10-11; 
          Romans 8:28-31; 11:33-36)
II. Applications:
      1) Knowing God’s faithfulness to His people in the past encourages us in the present (Romans 15:4)
     2) When God seems invisible we need to be still and know that He is God, being assured that even though we may not see Him, He is at work “behind the
         scenes” in our lives, too (Psalm 46:10)


* 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 12/2, Rev. Ted Gray

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