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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:God's Sovereignity and Our Responsibility
Text:Esther 4:1-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:God's Amazing Purpose

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)


Selections from the Psalter Hymnal, 1976:

397 - Dwell in Me, O Blessed Spirit

424 - Just As I Am, Without One Plea 

169:1-5, 8-9 - My Song Forever Shall

446 - My Faith Looks Up to Thee  

* 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
God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility”
Esther 4:1-17
The book of Esther reveals a cruel and diabolical plot to wipe out God's people. In Chapter 3:6 we read that when Haman 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.
In verse 13 we read how dispatches were sent by couriers to all the king’s provinces with the order to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.
We should not consider that to be a one-time event. Throughout all of history the evil one and those who are in his grip have sought to annihilate the people who bear God's name. We see the same truth even today in the rise of ISIS. Although there are some in a very prominent position in the United States who refuse to acknowledge that ISIS represents a religious war, to most people it is clearly evident that the radical elements of Islam, seeking to be true to passages in the Koran, consider it a blessing to kill Christians and all others who are not in conformity with their religion.
Because we have had so many years of religious freedom in the United States, we seem surprised at the hostility of other religions against Christianity, as well as the hostility of our own culture against Christianity. But we should not be surprised by that hostility. Many of you, I'm sure, remember these words of Jesus in Matthew 24:9, “..You will be handed over to be persecuted and put to death, and you will be hated by all nations because of Me.”
And you remember His words in John 16:1-3, “I have said all these things to you to keep you from falling away. They will put you out of the synagogues. Indeed, the hour is coming when whoever kills you will think he is offering service to God. And they will do these things because they have not known the Father, nor Me.” By the very fact that Jesus warned us of the intent of the wicked one against His people we see God’s sovereign hand, even as He allows wickedness to seemingly prevail against his chosen race.
Because God is sovereign, and almighty, He certainly could have wiped out Haman with one sovereign act – with a heart attack, thunderbolt or fatal accident. The Lord did not need Mordecai and Esther to spare His people. As the apostle Paul told the philosophers in Athens at the Areopagus, (Acts 17:24-25), “The God who made the world and everything in it is the Lord of heaven and earth and … is not served by human hands, as if He needed anything, because He Himself gives all men life and breath and everything else.”
Yet although the Lord is sovereign and can do as He wishes with His power, He chooses to use frail people like ourselves for His specific purposes. Although He does not need human hands, He does indeed use them to enact His plans and purposes. We certainly see that in this fourth chapter of Esther.
Not Needing Human Hands, Yet Using Them
One of the people whom he used for His purposes was the Persian eunuch, Hathack. Did you notice how faithful Hathack was as he served as the intermediary between Mordecai and Esther?
So often when a message is relayed between people, that message changes. Perhaps the person who was to pass on the news misunderstands what they have heard or embellishes some of the facts to make the event more interesting, or they have an interest of their own that they want advanced, so the story line changes.
That was not the case with Hathack. He faithfully followed Esther's orders, in verse 5, to find out what was bothering Mordecai. And he was faithful in reporting everything back to Esther, and then, in turn, bringing the messages from Esther to Mordecai.
We have no indication that he had accepted the faith of the Jews. In other words, we have no indication that, by God's grace, he believed in Him. Yet he was extremely instrumental in the preservation of God's people because he was faithful to his duty of being a messenger. It is a reminder that God may use the unregenerate for the good of those who believe in Him. It is a reminder that the Lord called Cyrus, a Persian king of great power, “my shepherd (who) will accomplish all that I please” (Isaiah 44:28).
It is also a reminder, written out in Romans 13, and very applicable to us today, that God uses the civil authorities for His own purposes, and that obedience to them is necessary so long as it does not make us disobey the Word of God. Why? Because God will use a Hathack, or Cyrus, or even a modern day president who is not Christian, for His own purposes, whether His purpose is to protect His people or to bring judgment upon a sinful land.
God, in His sovereign wisdom, not only used a servant like Hathack, but also a transplanted Jew, Mordecai. Mordecai was the one who incited Haman’s hatred of the Jews. You recall that Haman’s hatred was incited back in chapter 3:5 when he saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor. It caused him to be enraged. Yet God used Mordecai to expose Haman’s plot to Esther and then to persuasively convince her to intercede on behalf of God's people.
Meanwhile, Esther was living in a totally different world than Mordecai. Her life in the palace was a world apart from the life of Mordecai and the Jews in the streets of Susa who were weeping and mourning because of this horrific edict to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews – young and old, women and little children – on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods. (Esther 3:13).
Esther was isolated from the mourners. She was in the peace and security of the palace, so she thought. But God used Mordecai to clearly explain the horrific nature of Haman's edict. Did you notice how specifically he explained that edict to Hathack?
Verse 7 describes how Mordecai told Hathack everything that had happened to him, including the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay into the royal treasury for the destruction of the Jews. He did not embellish the facts, nor did he take away from them. In verse 8 he gave Hathack a copy of the text of the edict for the annihilation of the Jews. He instructed him to show the edict to Esther so that she would be urged to go into the king’s presence to beg for mercy and plead with him for her people. As we will see later, Mordecai was also persuasive when Esther was reluctant to go before the King.
Esther was initially reluctant to intercede on behalf of her people, and she had two very good reasons for being reluctant. First, just because she was the queen did not mean that she was entitled to the king’s presence, as she explained in verse 11. It is hard for us to picture a political ruler so powerful and cruel that he would put to death anyone who sought an audience with him whom he did not want to see. But that is what many kings of that era did, and that was an understandable area of great concern for Esther.
A second reason she was reluctant to go before King Xerxes is in the last part of verse 11. There she explained that it had been 30 days since she was called to go to see the king, meaning to sleep with him. She was not his only lover; he had many concubines. And, from chapter 2:19 many believe that he was still assembling virgins to be brought to him for his pleasure, as he had done with Esther when she became queen. She was understandably reluctant. To intercede on behalf of her people may well have caused her own life to be taken, and then theirs as well.
Yet in the closing verses we find her responding in faith. She called for all the Jews to fast for her for three days and three nights. She then said, “When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”
Her statement, “If I perish, I perish”, was not a fatalistic laying her life on the line, but a statement of faith, similar to what Martin Luther would utter much later in history, when, with his life on the line, he declared: “Here I stand, so help me, God. I cannot do otherwise.”
Believers Are Not Immune from Tears and Doubts
How do we apply this interesting passage of Scripture? One application is that as believers we may have many tears and doubts, even though we have faith that God will deliver us. As Paul said in Acts 14:22, “Through many tribulations we must enter the kingdom of God.”
Admittedly, there are some commentators who believe that neither Esther nor Mordecai had faith in God. After all, they point out, the book of Esther is unique in that God's name is never mentioned, not even one time. However, one reason why that is, is to impress upon us that even in a culture where God's name is not mentioned, God yet rules with His sovereign, omnipotent power.
Most commentators do believe that Mordecai and Esther did indeed believe in the God of their ancestry, the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob, even though they were living in a land that did not honor Him. And as they lived in a culture that allowed an edict to call for their destruction, they understandably had doubts and tears, even though they had faith that God would deliver them.
The same scenario often plays out in our lives. There are many things that shake our faith, whether it is sin in our own lives, the hostility of our culture, or the persecution and torture of so many Christian brothers and sisters around the world. There are many things that shake our faith and cause our tears. Yet because God has given us the gift of faith, our faith in Him will always be stronger than the doubts that come into our minds and hearts, for He who is in (us) is greater than he who is in the world. (1 John 4:4).
Moving From Fear to Faith
What process is involved as God, by His Holy Spirit through His Word, brings us past our tears and doubts to have a strong faith in Him? One way to move from a place of doubt and fear to the solid foundation of trust and faith, is through an understanding of God’s sovereignty. Knowing God’s sovereignty enabled Mordecai to overcome his doubts and fears and also to persuade Esther to move from fear to faith. In verse 13 and 14 he used three lines of persuasion, all three rooted in the sovereignty of God.
First, he warned Esther that she would not escape the sword of Haman’s edict just because she was in the palace. Second, he knew God would raise up relief and deliverance from another place, as he points out in verse 14. And then he points out that she may well have come to royal position “for such a time as this” – to deliver God’s people. His persuasive argument springs from the knowledge of the sovereignty of God.
But more than mere head knowledge is needed. True knowledge in our mind will lead to a heart of prayer. We see that in first part of vs 16, where Esther says, “Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my attendants will fast as you do.”
Along with that fasting most commentators believe there was much prayer. Prayer and fasting go hand in hand. And there is great power in prayer. Prayer gives us God’s power to transform our fears into an ever greater faith as we trust in God to give us strength for each challenge, for each day.
Part of our prayer life involves thanking God for our salvation. When we truly believe in the Lord Jesus Christ as our Savior and Lord – when we know that He suffered and died so that your sins and mine can be forgiven – then we become bold in every area of life. Consider the disciples. Every one of them, even stout-hearted Peter, fled when Jesus was betrayed and arrested. But afterward, as the realization hit them that Jesus died for them and rose again for their justification, they were the bravest men you could find.
The same is true for your life and mine. Whatever our need, it is found in Christ. Do you need salvation? By His grace, put your faith in Him alone and you will be saved from your sin; you will inherit everlasting life by faith in His merits.
Do you need comfort? Are there many tears behind a stoical face, or behind a feigned smile? Jesus says, “Come to Me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest.  Take My yoke upon you, and learn from Me, for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls.  For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light.” (Matthew 11:28-30).
Do you need strength? Do you feel too weak and overwhelmed by the events in the world and the circumstances in your life? Look to Jesus, as did the Apostle Paul, who rejoiced, writing in Philippians 4:13, I can do all things through Christ who strengthens me. And he wrote in 2 Corinthians 12:9, Therefore, I will boast all the more gladly about my weaknesses, so that Christ’s power may rest on me.
God’s Sovereign Purpose in Individual Lives
As our sovereign God brings us out of our fears into stronger faith, He also uses us to make a difference in the world. That was true for Esther who had a place of power. It was also true for Mordecai who was on a lower rung of society. And although we don't often realize it, it is also true for each one of us. Even as one individual in the sea of humanity God can use you to make a difference.
That every person counts was brought home forcibly in the 2000 Presidential election. Some of you may recall how the United States waited while single votes were tabulated in Florida. It made us realize and remember that each vote really does count after all.
While at times we can make a difference in society with just one vote, where we really make a difference is in the way we live our lives as Christians. We so often fail to realize the impact of what an everyday Christian life of faith can have on others. You may think, “My life really doesn't make a difference. My life doesn't impact anyone else...”
If so, you are like the pastor of a small church who was sure his ministry was a failure. But after that minister had passed from this life to the next, a young man from his congregation went on to a be a missionary who God used to save thousands of people. Why were thousands saved?  Ultimately, by God's sovereign grace, but the means He used began with the faithful day to day living and preaching of one pastor who thought he was a failure.
The same was true for a certain shoe salesman. Selling shoes isn't the most exciting job, but this man was a Christian who simply did his best in whatever calling God gave him, and, when the opportunity was there to witness, he wouldn't hesitate to tell a customer who his Savior and Lord was.
One day the Lord opened the door for that salesman to tell a young man who began working there about Christ. He encouraged the young man, who was his nephew, to attend church. At church he came under the instruction of a Sunday School teacher who opened his heart to his need for salvation. The young man, who was 17 at the time, was Dwight Moody. You know the rest of the story, of how Dwight Moody was used by the Lord to be one of the most instrumental evangelists in the history of the United States.
Another person who probably thought his life would never make much difference in the world was a humble deacon in a little church in England long ago. The pastor was unable to preach, and no pulpit supply could be found. A deacon had to fill the pulpit. There weren’t many people in the church that Sunday, but the deacon noticed a young man sitting by himself up in the balcony. He shook his finger at the young man and said, “You need to repent of your sins.”
The young man not only repented of his sins but committed his life to the Lord and prepared for the ministry. He had one of the most successful ministries on record, preached to thousands of people in his day, and even today, more than 150 years later, Charles Haddon Spurgeon is called the “prince of preachers” and is still widely read and quoted.
You are just one person in the sea of humanity, and so am I. But God can use just one person to make a profound difference in the world and in His kingdom as He enables us to overcome our fear and live by faith in whatever calling we have: Student, housewife, shoe salesman, truck driver, pastor, a retired person, a queen in the palace at Susa, a man taken captive to Persia –  no matter who or where we are – our sovereign God, who is not served by human hands as though He needed anything (Acts 17:25), yet calls us to be fellow workers with Him in His kingdom.
Have you ever noticed in Matthew 5:13-14 that Jesus doesn’t tell us to be the light of the world and the salt of the earth?  Instead, He says that we are the light of the world and the salt of the earth. But we are only that light and that preserving element of salt - and we only make a difference in the world - when we trust in God, even through our tears and doubts, like Esther and Mordecai of old. Then we are able to move from fear to faith, being fellow workers with our Lord. As we recognize His sovereignty, we also recognize our responsibility to be His image bearers in every area of our lives.
May you and I, following the good examples put before us in Scripture, move from whatever doubts and fears are in our lives, to ever greater and stronger trust in our Sovereign Lord, through saving faith in His dear Son, the Lord Jesus Christ. Amen.
                                                   - bulletin outline -
“For if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from
another place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who knows
but that you have come to your royal position for such a time as this?” – Esther 4:14
                            “God’s Sovereignty and Our Responsibility”
                                                          Esther 4:1-17
I.  God is sovereign even when He allows the wicked to plot against His people (Esther 3:6, 13).
    Although God could have wiped out Haman with one sovereign act – heart attack, thunderbolt,
    fatal accident – He used people for His purposes:
      1) Hathack, Esther’s eunuch, was a faithful messenger (5-6, 9)
      2) Mordecai was concise in exposing Haman’s plot to Esther (7-8) and persuasive in convincing
          her to act (12-14)
      3) Esther, initially reluctant (11), responded in faith (15-16)
II. Applications:
     1) As believers we may have tears (1-3) and doubts (11), even though we have faith
          that God will deliver us (14, 16)
     2) Understanding God’s sovereignty (13-14), and praying to Him (16), takes us from fear to faith
      3) Our sovereign God uses His people to make a difference in the world (14; Mathew 5:13-14)

* 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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