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Author:Rev. Ted Gray
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Congregation:First United Reformed Church
 Oak Lawn, Illinois
Title:Prayer or Pride?
Text:Esther 4:16-5:14 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Let the Earth Resound    

Nearer, Still Nearer

Sweet Hour of Prayer

Prayer Is the Heart’s Sincerest Desire

* 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
“Prayer or Pride?”
Esther 4:16-5:14
Esther chapter 5 is a chapter of tremendous contrasts. In this chapter we read of the great difference between prayer in the life of Esther, and pride in the life of Haman: We pick it up where we left off last week with Esther asking for three days of fasting. As we saw last week, that fasting certainly included prayer. Prayer and fasting, especially in the Biblical context, go together. And if you ever wondered if prayer changes things, look at the change brought about in Esther through the power of prayer.
First, we see that she gained new strength through the prayers offered up for her. Do you remember her reply to Mordecai when she first heard of Haman’s plot to kill the Jews? She expressed fear; she was intimidated. The king hadn’t summoned her for thirty days. She could lose her life. She was not eager to be the deliverer of her people.   
But now in as chapter 5 begins we read, On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the palace, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. What a difference in Esther! Instead of fear and timidity she exudes boldness and confidence.
And that should not surprise us. When we earnestly pray to the Lord, even though the problem we pray about may still be there, perhaps growing bigger by the day, we gain new strength to deal with that problem or circumstance as we prayerfully wait on the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 assures us that those who wait on the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary; they will walk and not grow faint.
Although God is able to cause the lame to get up and walk, even to run, if He so wills, it is most often spiritual strength that He gives to us as we wait on Him. It is often through suffering and trial that the Lord renews the spiritual strength of His people, and He does so as His people wait upon Him and pray to Him.
Never quit praying for others, just as Mordecai and the Jews fasted and undoubtedly prayed for Esther. Nothing will strengthen one for the trials of life more effectively or powerfully than prayer.
Prayer and Peace
A second result of the prayers of God’s people for Esther, is that it gave Esther a deep inner peace, even though she was still in the middle of a serious situation where her own life was in jeopardy.
In verse 2, we find Queen Esther calm as can be in the king’s presence, even though in the previous chapter, before the outpouring of prayer she was offering excuses not to go in to the king (Chapter 4:11).
I have often heard Christians say, as they look at the problems of their lives, whether due to sickness or other circumstances, “I don’t know how anyone could cope if they don’t know the Lord.”
And the skeptic would say, “That’s their crutch. Those Christians are too weak to stand on their own.”
But in actuality, inner peace in the hardest circumstances of life – even at the brink of death – is a promise that God Himself gives to all those who call on Him in prayer, waiting on Him to renew their strength like an eagle’s and to grant them perfect peace in the troubled waters of life.
This is what the Apostle Paul wrote to the Philippian church about when he was in prison in Rome, struggling with health problems of his own, with that “thorn in the flesh.” Nevertheless, he wrote in Philippians 4:6-7, Do not be anxious about anything, but in everything by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known to God. And the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Esther clearly had that peace which surpasses all understanding, even though her life was on the line. She didn’t know if the king would extend his gold scepter. But either way, no matter what happened, her life was in God’s hands. She knew God’s people were praying for her, and because of that, even in the toughest of situations she had a peace which surpassed all under-standing.
It’s no different today. Esther lived more than 450 years before the birth of Jesus. But still today, for you, for your loved ones, for people in our church who face terribly hard situations in their lives, there is a peace that surpasses understanding. And it comes when by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, we present our requests to God.
Prayer and Perspective
We also see where, because of the prayers of God’s people for her, Esther gained a better perspective of how to deal with the serious situation she and her people were in. In verse 4 she invited King Xerxes and Haman to a banquet. “If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”
And then when they come to the banquet, and the king asked for her request, she invited them to another banquet. In verse 7 and 8 we read:  Esther replied, “My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favor and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.”
As you might imagine, commentators give all sorts of different reasons why they think Esther didn’t tell King Xerxes at the first banquet what Haman was up to. Some say she was afraid. Others that she didn’t know what to do. I believe that in answer to prayer she had the calm collectedness to truly wait on the Lord to open the door, to show her the right time to expose Haman. 
At the first banquet she knew it wasn’t the right time, even though she had the king’s favor. She knew full well what King Xerxes had done with his previous queen. When Vashti had refused to pose at his drunken party, he kicked her out of the palace and had a kingdom wide beauty contest to get another queen. Esther had won the contest, but she knew he had a full harem of beautiful girls. He could get rid of her just as he did Queen Vashti.
Furthermore, she knew that Haman was the king’s close friend. Because of that she waited, trusting God “to open the door” to allow the right time to come up to expose Haman and his plot. Where does such wisdom come from? From prayer. James 1:5: If any of you lacks wisdom, he should ask God, who gives generously to all without finding fault, and it will be given to him.     
Esther knew she was in over her head. She didn’t have all the answers. But through the power of prayer she was given the wisdom to wait for God, in providence, to open the door, to give the opportune time to expose Haman’s plot and so save the Jews from annihilation.
In verse 9 the scene changes. The author focuses now on Haman who is filled with pride. Pride is an especially heinous sin in God’s sight. It is the sin that the devil committed. His desire as an angel was to receive the glory that belongs to God alone. Isaiah gives a graphic description of the devil’s pride in Isaiah 14:12-15:
“How you are fallen from heaven, O Day Star, son of Dawn!
How you are cut down to the ground, you who laid the nations low!

You said in your heart, ‘I will ascend to heaven;
above the stars of God I will set my throne on high;
I will sit on the mount of assembly in the far reaches of the north;

I will ascend above the heights of the clouds; I will make myself like the Most High.’
But you are brought down to Sheol, to the far reaches of the pit."
Pride is an especially detestable sin, for it is the sin of the devil. Scripture repeatedly warns us against pride and describes how the Lord will humble the proud. We read of how instead of being filled with pride we are to esteem others better than ourselves, looking out for the interests of others instead of our own interests. (Philippians 2:3, 4).
We also see several tragic repercussions of sinful pride. We see repercussions that are played out over and over, not just in Haman’s life so long ago, but in the life of every person who is filled with pride, thinking themselves to be better than others.
One result of that type of pride is that people are filled with rage when “due respect” is not received. Look at verse 9: Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai.  Haman goes from being “happy and in high spirits” to rage. Why? All because Mordecai didn’t give him “due respect” – hehe neither rose nor showed fear in his presence…
Our world has not changed much. Look around and you will find proud people just like Haman who fly into a rage if others don’t give them the respect they feel they deserve. They are like the Pharisee Jesus spoke about in Luke 18; they consider themselves better than other people. The Pharisee looked down on the tax collector - the publican - and prayed, “God, I thank You that I am not like other men – robbers, evildoers, adulterers – or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get” (Luke 18:11). Those who are filled with pride will fly into a rage when other people don’t give them the “due respect” they think they deserve; and they are often filled with rage over the most minor, foolish things.
We also see where sinful pride gives no satisfaction. In verse 11 and 12 Haman boasted to them about his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honored him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. “And that’s not all,” Haman added. “I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow.” Then, verse 13: “But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”  
You see, his vain pride robbed him of satisfaction. That is always the case. Pride never satisfies, instead, it always diminishes. The only time that boasting gives satisfaction is when we boast in the Lord. As the Apostle pointed out to the Corinthians, in 1 Corinthians 1:30-31:  It is because of Him (God) that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God—that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord.”
Third, sinful human pride always leads to a fall, and unless repented of, pride leads to damnation, just as it did for the devil. The devil’s pride will cause him to be bound in everlasting chains and cast into the torment of hell forever. And everyone who follows in his footsteps, trying to gain glory for themselves, will find the same punishment awaits them, unless there is repentance.
Proverbs 16:5 says, The Lord detests all the proud of heart. Be sure of this: They will not go unpunished. Proverbs 16:18 adds, Pride goes before destruction, and a haughty spirit before a fall.
In the coming weeks we will see Haman receiving punishment. He will get his “just reward.”  But in the meantime, as we close out this chapter, remember: When you face a tough situation or a hostile person, wait on the Lord in prayer before taking action. Psalm 27:14 gives us the proper perspective, “Wait for the Lord; be strong and take heart and wait for the Lord”
Results of Prayerfully Waiting on the Lord
If you wait on the Lord in prayer, as Esther did, you will find He can soften hearts, just as He did with King Xerxes. Esther didn’t know what to expect when she went to see the king. But in verse 2 we read, When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter.
Why was he pleased with her? Was it her radiant beauty? The way she was dressed?  Something in her stance or demeanor? Ultimately it was not due to those things, but due to God softening his heart. In response to prayer, God softened the heart of King Xerxes toward Esther.
Secondly, when you face a tough situation, or a hostile person, remember that God can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine. In the previous chapter, in Esther 4:11, Esther was afraid to go into the king’s presence, to put her life on the line. But now, emboldened by the prayers of God’s people she goes to see him – and what does he tell her? Verse 3: Then the king asked, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”
We so often underestimate the Lord. We look at our problems and they seem so over whelming.  But God is much greater than our problems. Ephesians 3:20-21: Now unto Him who is able to do immeasurably more than all we ask or imagine, according to His power that is at work within us, to Him be glory in the church and in Christ Jesus throughout all generations, for ever and ever!
Nowhere do we see that more clearly than in the birth, the life, the death and glorious resurrection of Jesus Christ. He has done far more for His people than what Esther did. She, in God’s providence, spared God’s people from Haman’s edict. Jesus Christ, by His sacrifice, has spared us from the curse of our sin.
As Esther was used to spare God’s people, her life was spared as the golden scepter was extended to her. But when Jesus came to Gethsemane and poured out His heart in prayer, there was no golden scepter extended. Instead there was only the cross. But because He went to the cross, we have far above what any of us could ever ask or imagine. Instead of the damnation we deserve we receive salvation, forgiveness, everlasting life in the glory of heaven, through saving faith in Christ alone.
A third application: When we look at anyone’s life – whether the life of Esther or Mordecai, or the life of Jesus, or your life and mine – we see that our sovereign God is always at work. The theme of this book is “God behind the scenes.” Even though the name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther, His hand of providence runs throughout every chapter. And His providence never “sleeps.”
In the next chapter we will see where King Xerxes couldn’t sleep, and how through that sleepless night the tables will be turned completely.  Why?  Because in the words of Psalm 121:4 “He who watches over Israel (God’s people) neither slumbers nor sleeps.” And the same is true in all the complexities and challenges of your life and mine. 
I hope that your problems, your circumstance in life, are not as severe as Esther’s. Whatever your burden may be, take it to the Lord in prayer. Wait on Him and seek His wisdom, His peace, as Esther did so long ago. Look with saving faith to Jesus Christ, who spared His people in a far greater way than did Esther, who is only one of the many Old Testament shadows of the Great Deliverer and Redeemer, Jesus Christ. Amen.
                                               - bulletin outline -
“Go, gather together all the Jews who are in Susa, and fast for me...” – Esther 4:16
                                             “Prayer or Pride?”
                                                Esther 4:16-5:14
I.  In this passage we see the great difference between prayer in the life of Esther and
     pride in the life of Haman:
      1) Esther asked for three days of fasting, which undoubtedly included prayer (4:15-5:1).
          By waiting on the Lord in prayer:
            a) Esther gained new strength (4:16; 5:1; Isaiah 40:31)
            b) Despite personal danger, she acquired an inner peace (2; Philippians 4:6-7)
            c) She gained a better perspective of how to deal with a serious problem (4, 7; James 1:5)
      2) Haman was filled with pride, which:
            a) Fills one with rage when “due respect” is not received (9)
            b) Gives no satisfaction (11-13)
            c) Always leads to a fall (14) and, unless repented of, ends in damnation (Prov. 16:5, 18)
 II.  Application: When you face a tough situation or a hostile person, wait on the Lord in prayer
       before taking action (Psalm 27:14), for:
       1) He can soften hearts (2)
       2) He can do immeasurably more than we can ask or imagine (3; Ephesians 3:20-21)
            and has, through the giving of His Son
       3) His providential work never “sleeps” (Esther 6:1-2, Psalm 121:3-4)

* 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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