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The Hidden Work of God

Sermon by Ed Hartman on Oct 1, 2017

Esther 5:9-6:1

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Would you take your Bible please and turn to Esther chapter 5? If you’re using the pew Bible in front of you, it’s on page 413. The plan is to read and study – no, not read, but to study the entire book of Esther in one sitting. While we can’t read all ten chapters, we’ll read one representative portion that I frankly believe may be the hinge of the entire book. And you may agree with me by the time we come to the end. But before we read the text, let me lead us in prayer.

Father, we come to You this evening desperately in need of Your grace. We don’t want to simply read this as a book, as an interesting, even exhilarating story, but we want to receive it as Your holy, inspired, inerrant and authoritative Word. Would You shape our lives by what we hear, by what we read, by what Your Holy Spirit enables us to understand? Would you do that for the glory of Jesus and for our eternal good? We pray in Jesus’ name, amen.

Esther chapter 5, verse 9. We’ll read through chapter 6, verse 1:

“And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king. Then Haman said, ‘Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.’ Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, ‘Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.’ This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.

On that night the king could not sleep.”

 

This is God’s Word.

The Super Power

We’ll come back to that passage, but let’s start at the beginning. It’s a great story; I wish I had several hours to unpack it. I just learned that the Twin Lakes Camp told the story of Esther all summer long. We’re going to try to do it in thirty minutes! Chapter 1. We’ll go through the chapters, I’ll give you a title, tell you what’s there, and go on to the next chapter. I’ll try to move quickly. Chapter 1, we’ll call “The Super Power.” Persia, the dominant world power of that time. Twenty-five hundred years ago, five hundred years before Christ was born. We're told that the Persian Empire of that day stretched from modern-day India across the Middle East, through Greece, North Africa, all the way down to Ethiopia. It was a massive empire. One hundred and twenty-seven provinces. God's people, Israel and Judah, well they were destroyed and dispersed already. 722 BC and 586 BC. This is now 500 BC. What this is saying is that no one living in that empire remembered what it was like to live in Jerusalem. All they knew was the stories told to them by their parents and grandparents.

The story is set in the capital city of Susa, and even here, dispersed Jews are living. King Xerxes, or Ahasuerus as he's known, has scheduled a six-month open house. You remember when the treasures of Dresden or the splendors of Versailles were here in Jackson on display? Think about that but a six-month display, an open house of all the treasures of Persia and the king, the emperor invites everyone in and says, "Look at all we've got! Look how great we are! Look at how wonderful it is to be me and it is to be us!" And he invites them in, shows them everything, and at the end of that open house he schedules a one-week long banquet, and it's a feast. The text specifically says there were no stipulations. Meaning, there were no limits. You could eat whatever you want, drink whatever you want; no limits! However much you wanted, and no one was going to say anything. And man, they had a party! As you might imagine, they got hammered!

And on the very last day of the feast, as everyone is feeling good from all they’ve drunk and have eaten, the king said, “Attention! Now I want to show you the crowning jewel of all the splendor of this empire!” And he says to one of his servants, the eunuch, he says, “Get Vashti. Bring the queen.” And when enough time had gone by for her to have been summoned he says, “Attention! I give you Queen Vashti!” And a curtain opens and no one is there. He looks around and says, “Queen Vashti!” and still no one’s there. And then one of the eunuch’s scurries up to him, cups his hand to his ear and says, “She ain’t coming!” Because you see, she also is having a week-long festival with all the ladies of the palace and they too are hammered! And you know, we never make our best decisions when we’ve had too much wine to drink. She heard this, “Get over here and be put on display” and she says, “Uh-uh! I’m not coming!”

Well, the king is furious. I mean, he's livid. But amazingly, he keeps his head. He calls together his advisors, the princes of Persia, and says, "What do we do?" And after a little consultation, they say, "This is a crisis of national proportions. We've got a problem!" Verse 17 and chapter 1, "For the king's behavior will be made known to all the women, causing them to look at their husbands with contempt. Since they will say, ‘King Ahasuerus commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him and she didn't come.' This very day, the noble women of Persia and Medea who have heard of the queen's behavior will say the same to all the king's officials and there will be contempt and wrath in plenty. So if it pleases the king, let a royal order go out from him. Let it be written among the laws of the Persians and the Medes so that it may not be repealed that Vashti is never again to come before King Ahasuerus. And let the king give her royal position to another who is better than she.”

Get this – he could have had her executed, he could have had her head lopped off and said, “I summoned her to show her beauty! I don’t care if it’s attached to your body or not; you’re going to be on display!” Could have done it, but didn’t. Instead, he dethroned her, took off her crown, relegated to the haram, and she was never seen again. Most beautiful woman in the empire, never seen or admired again. Can you imagine? The motive, verse 20 – “So when the decree made by the king is proclaimed throughout all his kingdom, for it is vast, all women will give honor to their husbands high and low alike.”

Star Search

That brings us to chapter 2 – “Star Search.” Who will become the new queen? It took four years to find her. The time stamps, chapter 1 verse 3 and chapter 2 verse 16 tell us it wasn’t a quick search. They brought hundreds, maybe even thousands, of the most beautiful girls and women from all over the empire, all 127 provinces. It was like an ancient Miss America pageant. And in the end, this orphan girl by the name of Hadassah, also known as Esther, was selected. An exile from the tribe of Benjamin. She was a Jew, though she had been told strictly, “Keep your ethnicity a secret. Don’t let anyone know that you’re a Jew.” Chapter 2 verse 16, “When Esther was taken to King Ahasuerus, into his royal palace in the tenth month, which is the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign, the king loved Esther more than all the women and she won grace and favor in his sight more than all the virgins so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. And then the king gave a feast for all his officials and servants. It was Esther’s feast. He also granted a remission of taxes to the provinces and gave gifts with royal generosity.” There’s a new queen. She’s the most beautiful woman in the empire and she’s not just beautiful for the king to look at, but he actually loves her.

There’s a little footnote that follows that you need to register. The footnotes tell us in verse 19 Mordecai, who is Esther’s cousin, first cousin, he’s older than Esther, he raised Esther as his own daughter because Esther’s parents died, now spends his days at the king’s gate; the front gate of the palace. This is a place where proclamations are announced, news is told, politics are argued, and secrets are whispered. But this is the closest place for Mordecai to be near his cousin, Esther, who is now the queen, whom he raised, and he’s clearly still concerned for her. So he’s there every day, listening and watching. And he’s at the right place at the right time when he becomes aware of two men whispering and they’re plotting something. He finds out that they’re two of the king’s bodyguard, chamberlains, meaning they guard the king’s bedroom while he sleeps. And they’re angry about something; we’re not sure what it was. It may have had something to do with Vashti, but they’re angry and they say, “Enough is enough. The king has got to go!”

Mordecai hears the plot, he sends a message to Esther, Esther sends that message to the king in Mordecai’s name, investigators are brought in, they find out Mordecai’s report is accurate, and the two chamberlains are executed and a note is made in the official diary of the king. The record of the memorable deeds and heroics. A note is added, “Mordecai saves the king’s life from certain death.”

The Death Warrant

Chapter 3 – “The Death Warrant.” We’re introduced to a self-absorbed politician whose name is Haman. King Xerxes, for whatever reason, likes Haman and he elevates him to a position of highest honor in the entire country. Only the king has more honor. He becomes, as it were, the prime minister of the entire empire. The king orders everyone to honor Haman by bowing down and kneeling before him whenever he walks by. And everyone does, except, of course, Mordecai. And because Haman's the prime minister, he's in the palace a lot and Mordecai is there at the front gate, and so day after day, Haman sees that there's one guy who doesn't bow down when everyone else does. And so he investigates. “Just who is this guy?” He finds out he’s a Jew and Haman is angry. And it would be within his power just to have him executed, but that’s not the kind of man Haman is. No, when he discovers that Mordecai is a Jew, he says, “That’s it! It’s time for all the Jews to go!” And he makes up a story about the Jewish people and an impending rebellion and he tells the king, “These people have got to go. You’ve got to kill them all. You’ve got to find a way to get rid of them before they incite a massive rebellion throughout your entire empire.” And so the king agrees. After all, it’s his prime minister advising him. And the king signs a law that says on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month all the Jews are to be rounded up and killed. And Haman offers to finance the entire endeavor. The king signs it into law, and by the way, this is the law of the Medes and the Persians. This is an irrevocable law. It cannot be amended. There were not first, second, third, fourth amendments to the laws of the Medes and the Persians.

The Crisis

So, chapter 4 – “The Crisis.” Mordecai, of course, since he’s in the king’s gate, the front door of the palace, he hears the proclamation and he discovers how bad this is for his people. He informs Esther through one of the servants and he pleads with her, even commands her to go to the king and plead for his people’s deliverance. Esther refuses and sends a message back and says, “Don’t you know? No one is allowed to come to the king unless they’re first summoned and I haven’t been summoned in thirty days! If I go into the king’s presence, he could have me executed on the spot. I ain’t going!” And then the famous words that you’re familiar with in the book of Esther come back through a messenger from Mordecai. He sends a message that says to Esther, “And who knows, but that you have come to this royal position for such a time as this.” And then Esther’s response, also the familiar words, “I’ll go. And if I perish, I perish.” And so she goes.

Life or Death

Chapter 5, call it “Life or Death.” Esther goes to see the king. Remember, he still does not know that she is one of those people whose death warrant he has just signed. He doesn’t know that he is married, or that rather the queen is a Jew because Mordecai has told her, “Don’t you ever tell.” And so there she is. She walks in and a smile spreads across the king’s face. He raises his scepter and he says, “Esther! Baby! Come on in! What can I do for you? Anything! Up to half my kingdom! Tell me, what is it that you want?” And Esther comes forward and she says to him, “Just one thing. Would you join me for dinner? Join me for dinner, just you, and bring your prime minister, Haman, along. Just the three of us.” And the king says, “Don’t you love this woman? We’re coming! Cancel our plans! Haman and I, we’re coming to dinner!”

They show up – let me make sure I don’t get this out of order – she asks for them to come for dinner tomorrow, the next day, and Haman is pleased. Not only has he won the king’s favor, but he’s won the attention of the most beautiful woman in the empire; no, the most beautiful human in the empire because no one is more beautiful than Esther. And so he leaves the palace delighted, but then he ends up feeling a lot like Mick Jagger who “can’t get no satisfaction.” Verse 9 of chapter 5, he says, “Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart, but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king’s gate and he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home. He sent and brought his friends and his wife, Zeresh” – and that’s the passage we read. And he talks about how wonderful it is to be Haman and then he says, “Yet all this means nothing to me as long as Mordecai, the Jew, stares at me with no fear and no honor displayed.”

Well, his wife has a brainstorm, and she says, “Make it easy. Go have a gallows built. I mean, make it a huge gallows! Fifty cubits high; seventy-five feet tall. Do it now! Do it tonight! And then in the morning, go to the king and say, ‘Hey king, I want to have Mordecai hung on this gallows and put on display for the entire citadel just to show, ‘Here’s what happens when you don’t show proper respect to your leaders.’’” Verse 14, “This idea pleased Haman and he had the gallows made.” That night. That night, chapter 6 verse 1, “The king could not sleep.”

A Cure for Insomnia

Now, that takes us to chapter 6, "A Cure for Insomnia." What do you do when you can't sleep? Well, in the ancient near east if you were the emperor, the king of the entire empire, you had your own "get you back to sleep" tactics. And for the king, he would call his chamberlain and say, "Get me the book." They knew what book he was talking about. It was the king's book of memorable deeds, the chronicles of heroism; the official royal diary of the king. And they would read to him. And the idea was, they would read these great stories, these wonderful things that happened, these great accomplishments, and eventually, the king's heart would be at ease, he would think, "It feels good to be me," and he'd fall back asleep. The stories and records were read, but one stood out. The story about this man named Mordecai who discovered a plot, an assassination plot, and he told what he had discovered and the king's life was spared. A guy by the name of Mordecai.

The chamberlain started reading the next story and the king said, “Wait, wait, wait, wait! That can’t be the end! What did we do for Mordecai to show our gratitude, to honor him for his loyalty?” And the chamberlain looks, “Well, it appears we didn’t do anything! We didn’t do anything!” And the king says, “That cannot stand! We’ve got to do something to reward and honor Mordecai.” We can’t let something like that go unthanked. So he said, "What do we do?" Well, they didn't know what to do so the king says, "Who's in my court? What royal official is there that can make a plan, a good plan, no, a great plan to honor this Mordecai?” One of the guys looked out of the door and says, “Oh, Haman, the prime minister is out there waiting to see you.” The king said, “Bring him in.” He’s still in bed; sitting up now. And so he asks a question. Haman is there to ask for Mordecai to be hung on these gallows which have been constructed all the previous night.

And this is where it begins; chapter 6 verse 4. “Before Haman can open his mouth, the king said, ‘Who’s in the court?’ Haman had just entered the outer court of the king’s palace to speak to the king about having Mordecai hanged on the gallows that he had prepared for him. And the king’s young men told him, ‘Haman is there standing in the court.’ And the king said, ‘Let him come in.’ So Haman came in and the king said to him, ‘What should be done to the man whom the king delights to honor?'" Now, remember, Haman has just been the guest of the king and queen the night before at the banquet where Esther has said, "Come back tomorrow night to another banquet, just the two of you, and I will tell you what I wish and what I really desire." And so Haman’s thinking, “Who more than me would the king love to honor?” And that’s exactly what the text says. “Who would the king delight to honor more than me?” Verse 7, “And Haman said to the king, ‘For the man whom the king delights to honor, let royal robes be brought. No, no, no, no. Let it be robes that the king himself has worn and the horse that the king has ridden and on whose head a royal crown is set. And let the robes and the horse be handed over to one of the king’s most noble officials and let them dress the man whom the king delights to honor and let them lead him on the horse through the square of the city proclaiming before him, ‘Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor!’’”

All the while Haman thinks, “This is me! This is what I want! Do it for me!” And the king’s listening and he’s nodding and he’s thinking, “That’s it! That’s it! That’s it! Haman, do it! You do exactly what you said and you do that for Mordecai and hurry, do it now! Don’t leave out one detail of what you’ve just described!” Can you imagine Haman’s face going from puffed out chest, “It’s going to be me! It’s going to be great!” and the king says, “Do exactly that, and hurry; you be the one who leads the horse and makes the proclamation!” And Haman knew what was on the line so he did exactly that. He gathered up the king’s clothes, the king’s horse, went to get Mordecai, maybe got Mordecai out of bed – we don’t know – but he dressed Mordecai himself, put him on the king’s horse, and then he led Mordecai on the king’s royal steed all through the city proclaiming, “Thus shall it be done for the man whom the king delights to honor, like Mordecai!” And it’s Haman, the prime minister, who hates Mordecai. And everybody knew, everybody knew that Mordecai wouldn’t stand, rather kneel, in honor of Haman.

Now understand, it took Haman all day to do this because the king said, “Leave out no detail of what you’ve described. No street is to be unridden by my horse with Mordecai on it. Not one detail left out.” It took all day. We learn that by the fact that Mordecai, after he finishes this, drops of the horse and everything and he goes home, his head covered with shame and disgrace, and he gathers his family together and he tells them what happens. He’s humiliated. And his wife utters these prophetic words in chapter 6 verse 13. “His wife, Zeresh said, ‘If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him, but you will surely fall before him.’”

Unexpected Deliverance

That leads to chapter 7 – “Unexpected Deliverance.” Well Haman doesn’t even have time to change clothes, because verse 14 of chapter 6 says, “While they were still talking to him,” this is Haman, disgraced, and his advisors, friends talking to him, “While they were yet talking with him, the king’s eunuchs arrived and hurried to bring Haman to the feast that Esther had prepared.” They rush him to the palace, which obviously is not far, and there they are, they sit down, and the second time the king says, “Esther” – it’s after the meal, after they’ve drunk, everyone’s feeling a little bit loose. He says, “Esther, tell me your wish. I mean, it’s our second banquet. This is the third time I’m asking you. What do you want? Anything! You name it! Up to half my kingdom; it’s yours! Just say the word. It’s yours!” And Esther says, “It’s my turn. I’m about to be assassinated.” Verse 3 of chapter 7, “Then Queen Esther answered, ‘If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it pleases the king, let my life be granted me for my wish and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.'" The king is listening, and you can imagine his jaw-dropping and he's thinking, "You? Someone is out to get you? Who dares? Who is he who threatens my queen?"

And I can just imagine the pause – tick-tock, tick-tock, tick-tock, as a clock. Did they have clocks? I don’t know! But the pause. The pause. As the three of them are sitting and Esther slowly turns and said, “It’s him.” Listen to how she answers. Verse 6, chapter 7, “Esther said, ‘A foe and an enemy, this wicked Haman!’ Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen and the king rose in his wrath from the wine drinking and went into the palace garden.” This is amazing to me. This is the emperor; the king of the entire Persian empire, and for the second time in the book, he’s furious but he keeps his cool and he walks away. The second time. When Queen Vashti doesn’t show up, he’s inebriated, and yet when she doesn’t show he’s angry but he walks away and says, “Let me get a little counsel, a little perspective here.” Now, for the second time, what emotional intelligence! He’s furious! The man who’s threatening to kill his wife, the queen, he’s so angry. He says, “I can’t even speak.” He walks out to figure out what he’s going to do.

Well, it goes on. “Haman stayed to beg for his life from Queen Esther, for he saw that harm was determined against him by the king.” He knew the king was right now deciding – does he live or does he die? “And the king returned from the palace garden to the place where they were drinking wine, as Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was. The king said, ‘Will he even assault the queen in my presence? In my own house?’ And as the word left the mouth of the king, they covered Haman’s face.” Meaning, they put a hood over his head. You know, when they were about to hang someone, they put a hood over their head so you couldn’t see the look of horror and terror on his face. That’s what they did to Haman.

And then Harbona, one of the eunuchs in attendance of the king, said, "Moreover, by the way, the gallows that Haman has prepared for Mordecai, whose word saved the king, is standing at Haman's house, fifty cubits high. It was built overnight." And the king said – and I'm not sure the tone, but I suspect it might have been something like this – "Hang him on it. Hang that man on the gallows he built for the man who saved my life." "So they hanged Haman on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai and the wrath of the king abated.”

Triumph and Celebration

Chapters 8 through 10, we’ll just summarize that as “Triumph and Celebration.” King Xerxes sided with the Jews against their attackers. After all, his wife is a Jew. And they’re rescued from annihilation. He creates a new law that allows the Jews to defend themselves, and even ban together, and go on the offensive against their attackers. Mordecai becomes second in command over all the Persian empire and there’s great celebration throughout all 127 provinces. Esther chapter 10 verse 3, “Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Xerxes, preeminent among the Jews and held in high esteem by as many fellow Jews because he worked for the good of his people and spoke up for the welfare of all the Jews.” Esther 8 verse 17, “In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews with feasting and celebration. And many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them.”

Now, that’s the story. And if we walked away from it just looking at it that way, we’d have what we call a synagogue sermon; a sermon that you could just as easily preach at a Jewish synagogue today and they’d be just as happy with what we’ve said to this point. But let’s unpack it a little bit further. Because what lessons do we take away from this that will change how you view tomorrow when the alarm clock rings and your feet hit the floor? Will change how you view the places that right now are keeping you awake at night? Think about the lessons we learned. There’s really two. The first one is this. God’s work is almost always hidden. You don’t see Him at work. And the assumption is, “If I don’t see Him at work, He must not be at work. If I don’t see Him answering my prayers, He must not be hearing my prayers. If I don’t know how this is going to work out, there must not be a plan at work.” We end up responding like Job who, in chapter 23 verse 8 says this. I love this verse. “Behold, I go forward but He is not there. I go backward but I do not perceive Him. On the left hand when He is working I do not behold Him. He turns to the right hand but I do not see Him.” I can’t find God. He must have left the building. He must not care. There must be no plan in place. My situation must be too small for the King of the universe who, after all, is paying attention to 7 billion people on the planet.

God’s Hidden Work

God’s work is usually hidden from our eyes. Even the children’s catechism, question eleven says, “Can you see God?” Answer, “No, but He always sees me.” Do you know how that verse, Job 23, ends? “Behold, I go forward but He is not there. I go backward but I do not perceive Him. On the left hand when He is working, I do not behold Him. He turns to the right hand but I do not see Him. But He knows, He knows the way that I take, and when He has tested me, I will come forth as gold.” True, God’s work usually is hidden from our eyes. That’s why the Christian life takes faith, right? If everything was visible, we wouldn’t need any faith. But while God’s work is usually hidden from our eyes, He is at work in ways that we cannot even now imagine; in ways that are described by God through the voice of the prophet Habakkuk when He says, “I am about to do something in your days that you would not believe even if you were told. You will be amazed at what I do.”

That’s true for you and me today. God is at work in ways that you and I cannot now imagine. I said at the beginning that I think that the hinge of this whole passage, the whole book, is the end of chapter 5 and the beginning of chapter 6 where Haman’s wife says, “It’s no big deal. Just have a big gallows built and do it now and in the morning, ask the king to have Mordecai hanged on this gallows that you’ll have done by the morning! Just do it!” And Haman says, “Great! Let’s go!” That night the king can’t sleep.

Let’s slow down and think. Everything that happens here is happening in the citadel. That’s the center of the capital where the palace is, where all the chief officials live. It’s a very tightly compact area. The “Who’s Who” of the Persian empire live there. It’s the most protected place in the entire empire. We’re not sure exactly what this gallows is. The scholars debate this. Most of us would immediately think it’s like a gallows that you would see in the old westerns. You know, it’s this big structure, made out of wood, heavy beams. There’s a platform and a big post and a crossbeam and a rope with a noose and they put it around the guy’s neck and he stands on a trap door, they pull the trap door, he falls through, and he’s hung till he’s dead. Right? But the preferred ancient Persian method of execution was not that kind of gallows. I’m going to bypass PG-13 here; sorry. But it was impalement on a stake. And they would get a large pole, four inches, six inches in diameter, sharpen it with an ax, and the person who was convicted to death would be impaled on that stick, put in the ground, and held up writhing in unbelievable agony until he died.

Now, to build either kind of gallows would be a fifteen, twenty-foot project. Right? But a seventy-five-foot gallows of either kind? What would that take? Perspective. I came here this past week with my little laser measuring device. I set it on the floor and I measured from here to the ceiling – a little red dot. I pressed the button, looked at it, and it said, "37 ft. 6 1/8 inch." You know what that is? That's exactly one half of seventy-five feet. So take a long look. Floor to ceiling, twice. Seventy-five feet. What would it take to build a gallows? Whether it’s the kind with a noose or a pole big enough to stand up straight that high and be able to hoist up a hundred-fifty, two-hundred-pound human, writhing, squirming, body that high until he dies? What kind of structure would that take? And understand, there’s no electricity. There’s no Home Depot. So you’ve got to cut the trees down, you’ve got to shape the trees into the timber you want. You’ve got no radios to communicate. You’ve got to shout instructions from bottom to top and measure and all of this in the space of one night. Huge fires must have been necessary to illumine the night, because you couldn’t otherwise see. And this is all done in the citadel, because Haman is a kind of guy who wants everybody to see what’s going on.

Don't you know that it wasn't just the king who couldn't sleep? But no one slept! "What is that noise?" "Oh, that's Haman!" "What is he doing?" "Well look at the monstrosity he's building!" "What's it for?" "Well, it's for someone special!" And everybody knew. Everybody knew what he was building and for whom it was. "Better tell Mordecai." Can you imagine what it must have felt to be Mordecai that night? Instrument of death being constructed. "Tomorrow it's me on it." The king can't sleep. Mordecai is terrified. And God is at work, working it out so on a specific night, let's make sure the king can't sleep, so he calls for the book. And the right passage is read where an incident where a man rescued the king from certain death and he was unrewarded. You think God wasn’t at work that night? You think it was visible to the people there that He was?

You realize, the entire book of Esther doesn’t mention God once. It’s the only book in the Bible where God doesn’t show up.

The Instrument of Death becomes Instrument of Deliverance

Here’s the principle I take from this. And I’ll demonstrate it in a couple of ways and we’ll be done. The principle is this. The thing that you most fear, the instrument of your impending death, the thing that feels like it’s going to kill you – “If this happens, my life won’t be worth living anymore. If this happens, it will be the death of my health; it will be the death of my career. It will be the death of my family.” The instrument of my death, the thing that I most fear, because of our God, will become the instrument of your greatest deliverance imaginable. And you don’t see it happening, but He is at work. Let me say it again. The thing that you most fear, the instrument of your death, will become God’s own instrument of His far greater deliverance, greater than anything you can imagine.

Do you know where that's illustrated throughout the Bible? Several places. I've quoted Job several times. Job 36:15 he says this, "God delivers the afflicted by their affliction and he opens their ears by adversity." The old translations, the NIV says, "He delivers the afflicted out of their affliction," but the Hebrew is more accurately translated the way the ESV translates it. "He delivers the afflicted by their affliction." The thing that you most fear, the instrument of your impending death will become God's instrument of a far greater deliverance than you can ever imagine. New Testament proof? Well, it's Romans 8:28, isn't it? "We know that God is at work in all things." Or, "God causes all things to work together for the good of those who love him and are called according to his purpose." All things – including those things that feel like your death is on the doorstep. You trust Him with that? Do you really?

Mordecai was a despised Jew for whom an instrument of death was constructed, and yet by that instrument of death, the great enemy of his people was destroyed, and he, Mordecai, was exalted to the throne. That’s the summary of the book, right? Five hundred years later, another instrument of death was constructed for another despised Jew. You know where this is going, right? And the followers of that despised Jew, stood in shock and horror as no one came to the rescue. They watched Him die from a distance. And yet three days later, they stood in stunned wonder when that despised Jew rose from the grave and everything changed, everything changed. By His instrument of death, the great enemy of His people was destroyed, and He, Jesus, was exalted to the throne and we find our greatest deliverance in His instrument of death.

You’ve been hearing Gabe preach over and over on union with Christ and he says our Redeemer’s pattern becomes our pattern because of our union with Christ. Right? Why should it surprise us that the instruments of death, that feel like death, the things about which we, like the great despised Jew, falling on His face, our faces before the Father saying, “If there’s any way that this cup can pass from me, please!” And God says, “I’m going to use this instrument of death as your greatest deliverance imaginable.” You trust Him for that. This is the Gospel in which is our only hope. If you were to stop and think about the places that feel like death to you today, I suspect there’d be more than one. If you can’t find them; don’t hold your breath. They’re coming. God loves you too much to make sure you don’t have them. But they are the means by which He teaches us to cry out to Him, to plead with Him for mercy, to look for Him in places where we’re convinced He cannot be part of this story.

One of the ways that we see that, is that though God is not mentioned in this book at all, three times you find the mention of fasting. First, when Mordecai and the people hear of the king's edict that the Jews are to be wiped out on the twelfth month, the thirteenth day, they begin fasting. And when Mordecai sends a message to Esther and says, "You need to go to the king," and she says, "I can't go to the king," and they agreed she has to go to the king, she says, “I will start fasting and you and all your people start fasting for me. Three days, let’s fast.” Fasting was commanded at the day of atonement, at the beginning, and it’s all throughout the Old Testament, and each time it was a way of saying, “God, this is too big for us. Please, we seek You. We plead with You to have mercy on us.”

John Piper puts it this way. “Fasting is a way of saying, ‘God, like my body hungers for food, this much and so much more I hunger for you. I need you. Have mercy on me.’” So no, God is not mentioned. God is hidden. He’s invisible to the people in this story. And yet they’re still looking for Him. They're still crying out to Him. They say, "Though we don't see You anywhere, we choose to trust that You're there. By our fasting, we're crying out to You for mercy."

This is how we begin tomorrow. It’s how we finish today. Maybe not with a specific fast, though I encourage you to do that with some regularity, but what the fast points to, John Piper writes about this way. He says, “Do you have a deep hunger for Christ? If we don’t feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God, it’s not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied, it’s because we have nibbled so long at the table of the world. Our soul is stuffed with small things so that there is no room for the great.”

God’s at work in this story. You may not see Him, but He’s there. And the thing that you most fear, that instrument of death that you see looming ahead of you, will become the instrument of His far greater deliverance, a deliverance more beautiful, more glorious than you can possibly now imagine. That’s the promise of the Gospel. Let’s pray together.

Father, we lift up our voices with the apostle Paul declaring we will not lose heart. Though outwardly we are wasting away, yet inwardly we are being renewed day by day. For our light and momentary troubles are achieving for us an eternal glory that far outweighs them all. So we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary; what is unseen is eternal. We look to You, in Jesus’ name, amen.

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