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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Not By Chance!
Text:Esther 2:21-3:15 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Providence

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

I Heard the Voice of Jesus Say

Blessed Assurance         

All the Way My Savior Leads Me

God Will Take Care of You

* 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
“Not By Chance!”
Esther: 2:21-3:15
Although the events that we read about in Esther took place more than 400 years before the birth of Jesus Christ, they have a contemporary ring. Perhaps as we read this passage you noticed how the events of Esther’s day re-occur in our time. As we close out chapter two, we see where Mordecai exposes the plot of a couple of would-be assassins, Bigthana and Teresh. They hatched a plot to take the life of King Xerxes. 
Consequently, you would expect that chapter 3 would begin: “After these events, King Xerxes honored Mordecai son of Jair.”  But that’s not what we read. Instead, who gets the promotion?  The villain, the undeserving, treacherous and deceitful Haman.
That the undeserving, even the treacherous, get promoted while those who deserve to be promoted are often overlooked, was not just true back in Esther’s day. It is true today. Maybe that has even happened to some of you at some point in your life. Or perhaps someone you know or love has been passed over while someone undeserving gets the credit, gets the promotion. Although we know from many other Scriptures that God is in control of all events, it doesn’t always seem that way, does it?
A second point in our text is that God’s people, whether in ages past or today, are often detested and persecuted. We read in the opening verses of chapter 3 where Mordecai refused to bow down before Haman. Mordecai, most believe, was a godly man. Most commentators believe he was more than willing to bow before his God, but not before this sinful ruler who demanded his honor.
We can be thankful that we don’t live in a society where we have to literally bow down to wicked rulers. Can you imagine what life would be like if people had to kneel before unscrupulous politicians? We would do a lot of bowing!
While we don’t need to physically bow down before evil rulers, there is a “political correctness” which demands that in our thinking and actions we bow down, that we pay homage to and obey rulers whose thinking is directly opposed to the teaching of the Bible.    
When Christians don’t support ideas that are “politically correct” they become the object of scorn, ridicule and persecution in society today. It doesn’t matter whether the political correctness revolves around the abortion issue, views on homosexuality, or any number of other issues. 
Rev. Franklin Graham has become one of the most detested people in America, at least by the liberal press, even though his father, Rev. Billy Graham had the respect, at least outwardly, even of unbelievers. 
Why is there such a change in attitude toward Billy Graham and Franklin Graham? Part of it is generational. In just one generation we have seen a tremendous social change in the United States, and it has not been for the spiritual betterment of our land. But Franklin Graham is also criticized simply because God’s people in almost every era of time are detested. And then, as the hostility against them grows, they are persecuted.
Although Christians in the United States are derided for their beliefs which are not “politically correct” we don’t yet have the widespread persecution that Haman planned out for the people of God in Esther’s day. Verse 5 describes his plot: When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Yet having learned who Mordecai's people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai's people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes. 
While we don’t see that type of persecution in our own nation, it certainly goes on in many areas of the world.  More Christians were martyred worldwide in the 1990’s than in the entire century before. And more Christians were martyred in the twentieth century than in all the centuries leading up to it, combined. We recognize that even today millions of Christians are facing plots as evil and cruel as Haman’s plot back in Esther’s day. 
Meanwhile, while Christians are detested and often persecuted, the wicked seem to prosper. In verse 10, after Haman has outlined his plot to exterminate the Jews, we read: So the king took his signet ring from his finger and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews.
I am sure that every Christian has wondered at times why God seems to allow the wicked to gain the upper hand and to prosper, getting away with their evil deeds. Asaph, one of the authors inspired by the Holy Spirit to write some of the Psalms, describes in Psalm 73 how he almost lost his faith in God as he saw the prosperity of the wicked. He wrote:
Surely God is good to Israel, to those who are pure in heart. But as for me, my feet had almost slipped; I had nearly lost my foothold. For I envied the arrogant when I saw the prosperity of the wicked. They have no struggles; their bodies are healthy and strong. They are free from the burdens common to man; they are not plagued by human ills.(Psalm 73:1-5).
And then, in verse 12 he adds, This is what the wicked are like –  always carefree, they increase in wealth.
It may often seem that way to us as well. It was only when Asaph went to the house of the Lord, as described in Psalm 73:16-19, that he understood the whole picture and saw the true condition of the wicked in their prosperity. He wrote:
When I tried to understand all this, it was oppressive to me till I entered the sanctuary of God; then I understood their final destiny.  Surely you place them on slippery ground; you cast them down to ruin. How suddenly are they destroyed, completely swept away by terrors.
Why Do the Wicked Prosper?
Why do the wicked seem to prosper?  Why are God’s people are often detested and persecuted? Why is it that there are so many circumstances that seem like great inequities and injustices? Those situations and circumstances occur, whether in Esther’s day, Asaph’s time, or today in your life and mine, because of the life-long battle between good and evil, between the devil and the Lord.
We see that in the identity of Haman as an Agagite there in verse one of chapter 3. The Agagites were descendants of Agag. Agag was the king of the Amalekites back in the days when Saul was king of Israel. 1 Samuel 15 records how the Lord commanded King Saul to totally destroy the Amalekites. 1 Samuel 15:2-3: “This is what the LORD Almighty says: ‘I will punish the Amalekites for what they did to Israel when they waylaid them as they came up from Egypt. Now go, attack the Amalekites and totally destroy everything that belongs to them. Do not spare them; put to death men and women, children and infants, cattle and sheep, camels and donkeys.’”  
But Saul spared Agag, king of the Amalekites and kept the best sheep and cattle. Because of his disobedience Samuel was sent to Saul to tell him that the Lord would reject him as king and give the kingship to another (to David).  At that time Samuel did what King Saul refused to do. 1 Samuel 15:33, But Samuel said (to King Agag), “As your sword has made women childless, so will your mother be childless among women.” And Samuel put Agag to death before the LORD at Gilgal.
In Esther 2:5 we read that Mordecai was a Benjaminite, a descendant of King Saul. The Lord would use Mordecai to do what Saul failed to do, to continue to bring down the descendants of Agag who had opposed the people of God. But we should not view this as just  a feud between families – a feud between the descendants of Saul and the descendants of Agag. Rather, the conflict that we see in the pages of Esther, is the conflict recorded in all of Scripture, and in all of history.
It is conflict between the seed of the woman, Jesus Christ, and the seed of the devil, those who oppose Christ. The conflict unfolded in the garden of Eden. It reached its deciding moment at Mount Calvary. There Jesus, by His shed blood, redeemed His people from their sin and crushed the serpent, the devil. But until the Lord returns, the battle of the ages continues. The devil knows that he is already defeated. He knows his time is short, so he makes every effort to destroy God’s people.
The conflict that we see in Esther, and the conflict that we witness in our world against God’s people, goes back to the conflict between the Lord and the devil, the age-old conflict between good and evil.
Rage Reveals the Heart of a Fool
As we look at Haman, prosperous, basking in the king’s approval and the homage of people bowing before him, we can’t help but notice that his rage reveals the heart of a fool. In verse 5 we read, When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged. Proverbs 29:22 teaches that an angry man stirs up dissension, and a hot-tempered one commits many sins.
And here, again, this is not just something that happened back in Esther’s day. A hot temper and unguarded rage still leads to so many tragic sins. One of the many tragic stories on our local news this past week involved a 65 year old man who murdered his wife. Why? Because she left the coffee pot on. But it’s not just in the heathen world where unchecked rage leads to great sin. Jesus taught that hatred for another, without a just cause, is like committing murder in our heart.
We can so easily get angered about what someone does or what someone says about us, even when it wasn’t done or said with malice or ill intent. When we do so we are showing ourselves to be fools, and not the mature Christians we should be. 
Time and Circumstances in God’s Hands
As we look at Haman planning his diabolical plot, we also are reminded that time and circumstances are in God’s hands, not ours. Verse 7 describes how in the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast the "pur" (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.   
Haman was plotting the exact time to exterminate the Jews. But as he cast the lot he failed to realize the truth of Proverbs 16:33, The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is of the Lord. That is true not only for the lowly lot, but it is true for every circumstance in your life and mine.
Later on in Esther we read how the twelfth month, the month of Adar, was indeed a significant month for the people of God. But the tables will be turned. God is in control of time and circumstances. Not evil people like Haman, nor godly people like Esther or Mordecai, but God Himself.
We know from Scripture, here in the account of Esther’s life, and in so many other passages, that our lives are not governed by time and chance but by the sovereign control of our omniscient and loving God.
Lord’s Day 10 of the Heidelberg Catechism brings out the beauty of God’s providence in answer to the 27th question, “What do you understand by the providence of God?”
Providence is
  the almighty and ever present power of God
     by which He upholds, as with His hand,
          and earth
          and all creatures,
  and so rules them that
          leaf and blade,
          rain and drought,
          fruitful and lean years,
          food and drink,
          health and sickness,
          prosperity and poverty—
          all things, in fact, come to us
             not by chance
             but from His Fatherly hand.
Question 28: “How does the knowledge of God’s creation and providence help us?”
       We can be patient when things go against us,
       thankful when things go well,
       and for the future we can have
       good confidence in our faithful God and Father
       that nothing will separate us from his love.
        All creatures are so completely in His hand
             that without His will
              they can neither move nor be moved.
When the Wicked Rule
As this chapter closes, we find the people of Susa in great bewilderment. Verse 15 describes how spurred on by the king’s command, the couriers went out, and the edict was issued in the citadel of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, but the city of Susa was bewildered. The people were perplexed. They wondered what was going on. The passage fits in with Proverbs 29:2, When the righteous thrive the people (meaning God’s people) rejoice; when the wicked rule the people groan.
Ethnic cleansing is nothing new.  If the king of Persia allowed one nationality of people within his kingdom to be totally destroyed, what other nationalities would follow? The edict bewildered, and no doubt put fear, in the hearts of the citizens of Susa.
As we leave the citizens of Susa bewildered and perplexed this week, I just have one overriding application for your life and mine: Even when your circumstances are bleak and bewildering, take heart by remembering that God is on control.
As chapter 3 closes, Mordecai didn’t know what lay ahead in his future. Neither did Esther.  There was just this bleak turn of events. Mordecai had exposed the plot on the king’s life, but Haman got the promotion. Then when Mordecai tried to live by godly principals he was derided and a plan of persecution brought on for all the people of God, the Jews of the Old Testament.
Although it would be another five centuries or so before the apostle Paul would write, under the divine inspiration of the Holy Spirit, a letter to the church at Rome, Romans 8:28 speaks volumes about the situation that Esther, Mordecai and the people of God were in: 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.
Although they didn’t know the outcome, perhaps Esther and Mordecai realized that God’s providence is, in the words of the Puritan writer, John Flavel, “… like a Hebrew word; it is only understood when read backwards.” 
It’s no different today. Some of you face bleak and bewildering circumstances. Some of you face illnesses that are cruel and serious. We all face economic uncertainty along with a myriad of other challenges and problems. But whatever it may be, take comfort that God is in control. You may not understand it now. But Scripture doesn’t tell us we must understand God’s providential work. Rather, Scripture commands us, in the words of 1 Peter 5:7 to “Cast all your anxiety on Him, because He cares for you.”  
Did you notice how that is not an option, but a command, put in the imperative form? It is not an option to cast all your anxieties and cares on the Lord. It is a command. And when you do, you will find the comfort and the assurance of Philippians 4:19: My God will meet all your needs according to His glorious richness in Christ Jesus.
* * *
The year was 1905 and Civilla Martin lay very ill in bed. Her husband, a pastor, had an afternoon meeting, but was reluctant to leave his sick wife. She said, “Don’t worry, God will take care of me, and he will take care of you. Go to the meeting.”
While her husband was away at the meeting, with some of the last strength she could muster in her body, she wrote the words to the familiar hymn, God Will Take Care of You. She wrote:
Be not dismayed whate’er betide,
God will take care of you;
Beneath His wings of love abide,
God will take care of you.
Mordecai and Esther had all sorts of bewildering and tragic circumstances in their lives. But to the degree that they looked to the Lord in faith, they also had comfort. And for each one of you, no matter what circumstances, illnesses, or testing you face, may you know that God is in control.
Civilla Martin had written:
No matter what may be the test,
God will take care of you;
Lean, weary one, upon His breast,
God will take care of you.                   (God Will Take Care of You: 1,4)
That was true for Civilla Martin, terminally ill. It was true for Esther. It was true for Mordecai, and it is true for you and true for me.  For our God is always faithful and works for the good of those who come to Him through faith in Jesus Christ. He alone is the Way the Truth and the Life, the only Way to salvation and all the blessings that flow from it. Amen.
                                      - bulletin outline -
In the twelfth year of King Xerxes, in the first month, the month of Nisan, they cast
the pur (that is, the lot) in the presence of Haman to select a day and month. And the
lot fell on the twelfth month, the month of Adar.  –  Esther 3:7
The lot is cast into the lap, but its every decision is from the LORD.  –  Proverbs 16:33
                                         “Not by Chance!”
                                           Esther 2:21-3:15
I.  The events in Esther’s day reoccur in our time because they represent the
     life-long battle between good and evil, the devil and the Lord:
      1) Those who deserve to be promoted are often overlooked (2:22-3:1)
      2) God’s people are often detested (2-6) and persecuted (8-9)
      3) The wicked seem to prosper (10; Psalm 73:1-12)
II. Observations:
      1) Rage reveals the heart of a fool (5; Proverbs 29:22)
      2) Time and circumstances are in God’s hands, not ours (7; Proverbs 16:33;
           Heidelberg Catechism, Lord’s Day 10)
      3) When the wicked rule, people are burdened (15; Proverbs 29:2)
III. Application: Even when our circumstances are bleak and bewildering
     God is on control (Romans 8:28; 1 Peter 5:7; Philippians 4:19)

* 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 2016, Rev. Ted Gray

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