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Author:Rev. Sjirk Bajema
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Congregation:The Reformed Church of Oamaru
 Oamaru, New Zealand
Preached At:Reformed Church of Mangere
 South Auckland, New Zealand
Title:The World Esther Was In, We Are, Too!
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. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

ESTHER 1:1-22
(Reading: Ephesians 1:3-23; Psalm 2)
The World Esther Was In, and We Are, Too!
Congregation in our Lord Jesus Christ...
        The book of Esther is a story.
                  An incredible and delightful story.
                          A great read.
        You see, it has all the elements that make up any good story.
                  It makes you feel like you're right there, in the thick of things.
                           It has a good hero and heroine and a very bad character, who you know has just got to get his just desserts!
        There is a king, a queen, and a huge, magnificent palace.
                  There is the romance!
                          There is the excitement of a last minute rescue.
        And in the end it all turns out...well...that would be telling, wouldn't it?
                  You have to read the book for yourself!
        But there are also a number of things which the book of Esther doesn't have.

                  It's these missing things which the Church in the past has sometimes taken to mean that this is a story which shouldn't be part of God's Story - so reasons why Esther shouldn't be in the Scriptures at all.

        One of these is that there is no independent corroboration for this book.
                  You won't find it referred to in any other part of the Bible, or in other historical literature of that time.
                          Some early Christian canons of scriptures omitted it, as did at least one Jewish canon.
        Another factor, and a particular one in some Christians' disapproval of the book, is that God is not mentioned anywhere.

                  The closest we get is an illusion in chapter 4 verse 14 about help arising from somewhere else if Esther wouldn't act to save her people.

                          Because of this it is said Martin Luther wished the book of Esther had never been written!
        So how do we know this story is true?
                  Which ways can we know this tale rings true?
        Well, one factor in its support would be how close it is to what we know is true of that time.

                  Because there are lots of other pieces of literature associated with the Jewish people written just before the New Testament time - the so-called apocrypha - but they don't ring true.

                          They are clearly legends.
                                    Or at least definitely distorted views of history.
                      And there's another factor, too.
                  In fact, it is the opposite to one of the reasons mentioned against acceptance of this book.
                          And that is how this book, and particularly the events recorded within this book, has been seen by the Jewish people since.

        For what they celebrate upon two days in every one of their calendar years is the Festival of Purim, which celebrates the great rescue God did through Esther.

                  A Festival they have been celebrating since at least   161 B.C., which gives it much added historical support.
                      So, congregation, let's turn to this great story.
                  Let's see how true it is in itself.
                          And because of that truth in it, let's also see how true it is for each one of us today.
                                    In the words of the title to the sermon... THE WORLD ESTHER WAS IN, AND WE ARE, TOO!
        To help open up this remarkable scene that unfolds before us in chapter one let's consider it in three parts.
                  The first of these is THE NATURAL ORDER.
                          This consists of the first nine verses.
        It might seem a strange thing to call the first nine verses - THE NATURAL ORDER.
                  This is a scene like we would see on one of those Hollywood programmes on the lives of the very rich and powerful.
                          The beautiful people, they call them!
        Because this situation is certainly far removed from the lives of most of the people living then.
                  None of us would ever end up invited to a do like this, let alone have the resources to do it!
        I mean, look at who Xerxes is!
                  Xerxes I who's known as Ahasuerus in the Hebrew.
                          He succeeded his father Darius in the year 485 B.C.
                                    He is mentioned in Ezra 4 verse 6.
        Xerxes was that powerful he was able to regain Egypt, something which his father had not been able to do.

                  He is recorded as being a brave but ruthless leader, and not averse to cutting down whoever opposed his personal wishes, even close family.

        As a part of showing his great power, Xerxes did what the powerful leaders had done before him, and ever since him.
                  He celebrated it in style.

                          The style which we would see as a complete waste of money but which this world sees as being absolutely vital to being rich and powerful.

        You notice I said, "this world. "
                  Our Calvinistic frugality would keep us from anything like this kind of lifestyle.
                          And, indeed, Christian folk should not go to excesses like this.
        For what an excess it was.
                  A six month celebration!
                          A feast for 180 days!
        And what you could see during that time at that place!
                  The huge wealth of a mighty empire was shown.
                          All the hardware was on display.
        This beats any million dollar fireworks display.
                  Forget any Communist May Day Parade!
        If you got it - flaunt it!
                  And if you've got more of that wealth - flaunt it even more!

        Our family has seen this with the two times we were in the same city hosting the America's Cup yachting races.

                  The first time was in the 1980's in Fremantle, and the next time was early this decade in Auckland.
        Talk about such an open and opulent display of wealth!
                  Because weren't there some huge luxury yachts those visiting billionaires had?

                          And not only was there the millions which were poured into the racing syndicates but also the food and entertainment bills they ran up!

                                    No wonder those local governments spent so much time and effort and money into trying to keep 'The Old Mug! "
        I know it's a strange thing to say of these opening verses to Esther, but this is THE NATURAL ORDER.
                  Every age and every race will show us exactly the same.

                          And you may quote me that expression about "power corrupting and absolute power corrupting absolutely " but this is the norm for the history of mankind.

        I mean, when you read what they had there in the verses 6 and 7, you say it's ridiculous.
                  But anyone who was anything then would have strongly disagreed.
                          These were the trappings of a great and glorious king.
                                    It showed how great "we " were!
        Then you can see how such an event was an inspirational thing.
                  It impressed the people that mattered.
                          But it also motivated them to realise how much they were a part of what was going on.
        This great celebration came to a height in the last week.
                  A special banquet which went on continuously for seven days.

                          You can almost imagine a scene like that out of one of those Roman orgies, with the people lying over those elegant couches, being served continuously with food and wine.

        It was at such a height in celebration like this that the King would announce his future plans.
                  And maybe it was then Xerxes told them that he who had taken Egypt was going to take Greece also.
        Meanwhile, the ladies had their own banquet.

                  That was showing either how huge this whole celebration was, because they usually celebrated together, or how part of that celebration wasn't really for the girls.

        It is in verse 9 we meet Queen Vashti.
                  Vashti - a beautiful name.
                          It means 'best' or 'the beloved', 'the desired one'.
        A name some commentators think may have been an epithet - a nickname, like 'sweetheart' or 'darling'.
                  This would indicate that she was a favourite of the king.
        And it is most likely she was one amongst a number of wives the king had.
                  So let's not think of marriage as we know it.
                          This is part of THE NATURAL ORDER.
                                    And there the rich and powerful do their own thing.
        Which brings us now to quite a different point.
                  For the second part of the text is about THE UNNATURAL DISORDER.
        In amongst this great display of the king's wealth and might, something goes terribly wrong.
                  The verses 10 till 18 tell us of something which really throws the king, and, in fact, the importance of all those around him.
                          For this woman stands him up!
        Now a lot has been written here in defence of Vashti.
                  What she did has given her almost goddess-like status amongst the feminists!
        And I'm sure she has a point.
                  There's no doubt that in some way this was using her like yet another of the king's 'objects'.
                          She would have been another treasure to be stared at and desired.
        Some early Jewish commentaries on this suggest she had to appear naked, or she had some disfigurement.
                  Both reasons for us to side with her.
                          And the way the writer describes it here we naturally do that.
        But we do that at the risk of forgetting THE NATURAL ORDER.
                  She knew very well that this was bucking the system.

                          And despite however obnoxious Xerxes may have been in his drunkenness, and whatever humiliations she may have had from the others there, this was how it was.

        We have to be careful not to judge what they did then by the way we live today.
                  We see that done in what are otherwise very interesting television series on world history, but it is not good history.
        You see, this was the highlight of the party.
                  The king was bringing out his very best.
                          And what else - who else - could that be than his woman?
        So what resulted was a huge loss of face!
                  Here is Xerxes, surrounded by the most influential in his empire, and she does this!
                          He was furious!
                                    This was the worst possible thing!
        Xerxes was quick to respond.
                  Indeed, he had what he needed to do that right there with him.
                          The Council of Advisors, or the Cabinet in Government which we could compare them with today, were all there.

        And while what they said and decided may have seemed to be obvious to the standards of that time, we need to note the way it was done.

                  Because the Medes and the Persians were known for their law.
                          And they deliberated together on how to respond to this blatant disregard for the rules.
                                    This was definitely UNNATURAL DISORDER which had occurred.
        You see, it was bad enough having enemies on the outside!
                  To have them on the inside, in the form of your own women-folk, would allow the most utter chaos!
                          It had to be stopped!
        The end of verse 18 shows us where this ties in with a biblical truth.
                  Memucan ends his advice by saying there, "There will be no end of disrespect and discord. "

                          And where else do we find the command for someone to respect someone else but in the very words Paul gives to wives regarding their husbands in Ephesians 5 verse 33?

                                    There he concludes his words to husbands and wives, by saying, "However, each one of you also must love his wife as he loves himself, and the wife must respect her husband. "

        Congregation, the way of life we see in this royal court is far from godly.

                  E.M. Blaiklock very aptly points out that "in all history there seems no example of a virtuous court where monarchy is absolute.

                          "Power always plays its ancient and corrupting part.
                                    "Evil cannot be confined, and tyrants corrupt their environment. "
        Yet, there is a civil rule of law here.
                  Vashti has openly defied it.
                          And it seems that she has stirred up the women around her, who were delighting in that rebellion.
                                    That has to stop!

        Joyce Baldwin describes what happened this way: "Vashti forfeited her influence by breaking the unspoken rule that it should be wielded in private.

                  "There is an appropriateness about her punishment.
                          "If she will not come when summoned, let her not come again. "
        Congregation, this is how we come to the third part to the text this afternoon.
                  For here we see THE SUPERNATURAL PRE-ORDER.
        It's in this verse 19 where Vashti's punishment is so dark that a light shines!

                  The judgment which meant the equivalent of life imprisonment for her would be used to bring about the freedom of hundreds of thousands of people.

        Because here the Lord acted in a way in which He alone can act.
                  To use an old expression, "God uses a crooked stick to keep us on the straight way! "
        It is a passage which helps explain a number of other seemingly baffling passages in Scripture.
                  Like, for example, the time in Judge 14 when Samson married a woman of the Philistines.
                          His parents had warned him against marriage outside of God's people, as any parents among us have to do.

                                    But then it says in verse 4 of Judges 14, "His parents did not know that this was from the LORD, who was seeking an occasion to confront the Philistines; for at that time they were ruling over Israel. "


        At first glance we cannot see how this openly pagan situation, that the Persian court was, could be part of the LORD's saving plan for His people.

                  But then don't we easily forget that it was a Roman Governor who condemned Christ Jesus to that cursed cross.
                          For they are equally as much under God's control as anyone else - aren't they?

        When verse 19 ends with the advice, subsequently taken, of giving Vashti's "royal position to someone who is better than she " we see such a working of the LORD.

                  This is THE SUPERNATURAL PRE-ORDER, for while all of history happens according to God's plan, when it comes to His people His grace will be clearly shown!

        But how is this different then than so many other edicts this king made?
                  Well, consider what kind of edict was issued.

                          As J. Stafford Wright comments, "There follows the farce of a royal decree to announce solemnly what no oriental ever doubted, that every man should be master in his own house, and should expect foreign wives and servants to understand the master's own native language. "

                                    In other words, they couldn't plead lack of understanding if they failed to obey him!
        This is so ridiculous it has to be true!
                  That for the Jews was a clear enough indication that God's hand is behind all this.
                          He can even use the stupidity of pagan men to bring about His way.
        In fact, the way this is written especially shows this is so.
                  Because here is an author who could write this way about the highest ruler in his contemporary world.
                          He exposed the court and its intrigues in a way a modern journalist would envy.
        And yet he does it in an age where that just wasn't done.
                  Not when the future of your physical life was at stake!
        But he has a higher master still.
                  A Lord who laughs at this world.
                          The God who completely rules everything in this world, as He is so clearly doing now.
        Congregation, He is the LORD God whom we will see working through His people in this book.

                  Because while they may be the Jews who did not return under Ezra to the promised land, and so were disobedient to Him in that, they would yet witness to Him right there where they still continue to be!

                          In the words of Ephesians 1 verses 22 and 23, Christ has been appointed as head over everything for the Church, which is His Body, the fullness of Him who fills everything in every way.
        And so the LORD is with His people today.
                  While there is no physical Israel where we ought to be, we are found all over the known world as His people then were.
                          And we are placed here exactly for that purpose of being a witness for His name's sake.
        So let's see, through the book of Esther, how that is something the Lord will definitely make us to be!
                  And it will be in such a way, as we have seen in this text today, that it can only be Him!
        Let's pray...
                  LORD God, again we have had the blessing of hearing Your Word.
                          This is the true story, because it's from You.
                                    And through it we come to You.
        Because by faith we know it is His-Story, the story about how You have saved us in Your Son, Jesus Christ.
                  Through this first chapter of Esther we see Your hand unfolding yet another picture in the many scenes that lead to Your Son.
                          May we have been blessed through meeting Him in these words today.
                                    In His name we pray, Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Sjirk Bajema, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. Sjirk Bajema

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