The Reality Series part 4
by Greg Hanson
Sunrise Wesleyan Church
March 26, 2006
Esther 2-9 (NLT)
She was an Israelite who
became Queen of Persia. She is one of only two women to have a book of
the Bible named after her. Her name appears in Scripture more than any
other woman including Sarah and Mary, and she courageously saved the
entire Israelite race from certain genocide. Who am I talking about?
Esther. Let me tell you her story.
Esther was a Jewish girl living while the Jews were in exile in the
land of Persia. He mother and father had died while she was young, and
so she had been raised by her cousin Mordecai. Mordecai was an official
working for the King of Persia, King Xerxes. Now, Xerxes had had a
wife, but she had angered him and he issued a decree forever banishing
her from his presence. And so he was left without a queen. So a plan
was devised for him to find a new queen. His officials would round up
women from across the empire, and he would choose a new queen from
among them. Sound familiar? ABC has been doing that for the past few
years on primetime, but King Xerxes was the original bachelor who chose
his queen from a group of bachelorettes. Watch this…
[Video - VeggieTales: Esther
– from the entrance of Haman to the end of the pageant]
So Esther was an Israelite who became queen of Persia. Except nobody
knew she was Jewish. Her cousin Mordecai had insisted that she keep
that a secret.
Now, in that video clip you were introduced to Haman. Haman was a
high-ranking official in the service of the King. But he was also a
very prideful man. And the fact that Mordecai refused to bow to him
really angered him. So Haman decided he would get his revenge. But he
wouldn’t just seek it on Mordecai; he would seek it on the entire
So he convinced the King to authorize a decree ordering that all Jews
would be killed on a certain day. And anyone who killed a Jew could
take their property as their own.
Well, Mordecai sent word to Esther about the decree. And he encouraged
her to do something about it. But what could be done? Even as a queen,
she could not appear before the King without being summoned. If she
did, there was a good chance he would have her killed.
But she chose to do it anyway. And when the King welcomed her, she
invited him and Haman to come to a banquet she was preparing for them.
So they went. And while they were there, King Xerxes asked Esther what
she really wanted. And so she told them, “Well, come to another banquet
I’ll prepare for you tomorrow, and I’ll tell you.” And they agree.
So at the second banquet, Xerxes again asks what she wants and promises
her up to half his kingdom. At which point Esther pleads for her life
and the lives of her people. The King is furious that someone would
dare threaten his queen, and when he finds out it was Haman who planned
the whole thing, he has Haman hanged on the very gallows that Haman was
building for Mordecai.
And then, even through the original decree could not be revoked, he
issued another decree stating that the Jews were allowed to band
together and defend themselves against their enemies. And so they did,
and the Jews were saved while 75,000 of their enemies were killed. And
to this day, Jews still commemorate that day with the Festival of Purim.
There’s actually a lot more to the story, and you can read all about it
in the book of Esther. It’s only ten chapters and you can read through
it fairly quickly. But for the rest of our time this morning, I want to
talk about Esther as being someone God could use. What was it that made
her someone He could use? And what can make us people God can use today?
What Does It Take to be Used by God?
to God’s plan regardless of personal costs or inconveniences.
Esther had it made. I
mean, think about it. She was the queen. Sure, there was an order that
all Jews were to be killed on a specified day, but no one in the palace
knew that she was a Jew. Why would she tell anyone? What were the
chances anyone would ever find out? And if they did, was it likely they
could find out before the order had expired? And even if they had, who
would have the gull to attempt to kill the queen? If any Jew could
survive this order of the king, surely she could.
I wonder if Esther asked herself those questions. I wonder if she
contemplated keeping her background a secret until after it was all
over. After all, her chances of survival would have seemed greater if
she just kept to herself and didn’t stick her neck out for the rest of
So let’s get this straight… she could keep her mouth shut and enjoy the
benefits of living as a queen, or she could reveal her true nationality
and face possible or even probable death. Hmmm, tough choice. Perhaps
keeping her mouth shut would have seemed the logical choice. But that
was not God’s plan for her. She was in the position she was in because
God had placed her there. He had orchestrated everything so that she
could be in a position to help. How could she possibly refuse?
Especially after Mordecai pointed out to her…
Esther 4:14 (NLT)
“…Who can say but that you have been
elevated to the palace for just such a time as this?”
So she had to decide… would she protect herself and enjoy the luxuries
of the palace, or would she risk it all in order to follow God’s plan
for her life?
You know, there’s something that I learned a long time ago, and every
once in a while, when I face a choice like Esther did between clinging
to a life of comfort and safety and making myself available to the plan
of God, I remind myself of this truth… It’s in your notes…
“Any sacrifice to be in the middle of God’s will is no sacrifice,
because there’s no better place to be.”
But here’s the thing… we all have expectations out of life, and we all
have our goals and ambitions and responsibilities. And so much of our
time and energy and focus is committed to those things. And we have
things that simply have to get done… the tyranny of the urgent. We have
expectations and pressures placed upon us, and it would be very easy to
put our blinders on and focus solely on those things, to the exclusion
of anything else that God may have planned for us.
But for a true disciple… for a radical follower of Jesus Christ… all of
those things take a backseat to God’s plan. Because for them, God’s
plan comes first. And if you are going to be a true disciple, God’s
plan has to come first. It’s the best plan anyway, so go for it.
2. Trust that
God knows what’s best and will see you through.
Let’s play a little
game. On the screen here, you can see one piece of a picture. Can you
guess what the whole picture is?
• Steamboat Willie
• Santa Claus
• Carved Pumpkin (Scooby Doo)
• Lego Enterprise
• Dinosaur from King Kong
• Chris and Derek having lunch
Those were pretty tough, and I meant for them to be. You would have
been lucky to have guessed one of them. When you see such a small part
of the picture, it’s hard to imagine what the entire picture is.
Your life is a beautiful tapestry. Problem is, you can only see a very
small part of it right now. Our point of view is limited to the moment.
We can’t see how God is working, what he’s preparing us for, and how He
might be orchestrating our lives. We don’t know how He might use us to
touch the lives of others, and we don’t know how He might bless us
Himself. Oh, we can guess, but most times that’s all it would be… a
guess. Only God sees the entire picture, and so only God can
orchestrate our lives with wisdom.
Or maybe you can think about it as if you’re driving down the highway.
You can only see as far as the next turn. But God has the aerial view.
He sees every turn, every side road, every hazard, every detour… and He
can safely guide you through it all.
Proverbs 20:24 (NLT)
How can we understand the road we travel? It
is the LORD who directs our steps.
There’s a word you should know about… it’s called “providence”. And
it’s more than just a city in Rhode Island. It refers to the process of
God using His foreknowledge to direct our lives and work everything out
for the best according to His plan.
Esther is an entire book about the providence of God. God knew in
advance the threat that would be made against the Jews. And so He
worked His plan. He arranged for Esther to become queen and to have a
position of influence where she could do something about the threat. It
was the providence of God to save a nation.
Who elevated her to the palace? Sure, Xerxes had a hand in it. But it
was God’s plan. It was God who orchestrated it. It was God who was
protecting His people.
And He protects His people today. That doesn’t mean that everything is
easy. That doesn’t mean that you will never have hardship or suffer
problems in your life. You will. But it does mean that any hardship
that you might experience is only a small part of the picture.
Romans 8:28 (NLT)
And we know that God causes everything to
work together for the good of those who love God and are called
according to his purpose for them.
But what if Esther had refused? What if she didn’t want to have
anything to do with God’s plan? You see, providence doesn’t rule out
free will. He still allows us to make our own choices. We still decide
if we will trust Him or if we will go our own way. In fact, Esther
herself almost chose to sit back and do nothing. She almost did what
seemed best to her instead of trusting God. But check out Mordecai’s
warning to her. He sent her a message saying…
Esther 4:13-14 (NLT)
“Don’t think for a moment that you will
escape there in the palace when all other Jews are killed. If you keep
quiet at a time like this, deliverance for the Jews will arise from
some other place, but you and your relatives will die.”
That reminds me of a Proverb… read this with me…
Proverbs 14:12 (NLT)
There is a path before each person that
seems right, but it ends in death.
You know, there are a lot of people in this world who have rejected the
plan of God in favour or their own plans. And there’s a word to
describe that… “stupid”. How stupid is it to think you know better than
God does? How blinded by pride is that? God knows best, and you can
trust Him. So why would you want to deviate from that, even if you
don’t understand everything right now? He sees the big picture, He
loves you, and you can trust Him.
3. Faith that
God can and will do what He says He will do.
And really, this is tied
to trust. You’ve got to trust that God wants the best for you, and
you’ve got to have faith that He can actually pull it off. The New
Testament book of Hebrews describes this kind of faith…
Hebrews 11:1 (NLT)
What is faith? It is the confident assurance
that what we hope for is going to happen. It is the evidence of things
we cannot yet see.
In fact, Hebrews 11 is an incredible chapter to read. You know how
Hollywood has its Walk of Fame? Well, Hebrews 11 is the Walk of Faith.
It’s the who’s who of faith.
It recaps the stories of the heroes of the Old Testament… men and women
who trusted God enough to follow His leading, and who had the faith
that God would fulfill His promises to them.
People like Abraham, who left his family and everything he knew because
God promised to lead him to another land that would be given to him.
Abraham didn’t even know where He was going, but He had faith in God
and so stepped into the unknown.
It was by faith that Moses took on Pharaoh and the entire Egyptian army
because He believed in God’s promise to lead His people out of slavery
and to the Promised Land. And he was not afraid of Pharaoh. The
Egyptian army couldn’t deter him. The Red Sea couldn’t stop him. Check
out what it says about Moses…
Hebrews 11:27 (NLT)
Moses kept right on going because he kept
his eyes on the one who is invisible.
And it was by faith that Daniel continued to pray to God even when
ordered not to and so was thrown into a den of hungry lions… and it was
by faith that Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow and worship
the statue of the king and were thrown into a blazing furnace because
of it. Daniel, Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednego… they all trusted God
and they all had faith that God could protect them… and He did. But
they also had faith that if God didn’t protect them and save them from
the lions or from the flames, that it was because He had something
better in mind.
And there are others named in Hebrews 11… Abel, Noah, Isaac, Jacob,
Enoch, David, Sarah, Rahab, Joseph, Gideon, and more. Men and women who
were willing to risk it all and step into the unknown because they
believed God could and would fulfill His promises to them.
Now consider Esther. Esther’s family had been taken from their homeland
during the Babylonian occupation. So she was being raised in a foreign
land. And then her parents died... she had been orphaned. So she was
raised by her older cousin Mordecai. She never aspired to be the
queen... she was merely selected by the search committee to be one of
the contestants. And she hadn’t planned to become a defender of the
entire Jewish population, but there she was. And she trusted God, so
she stepped out in faith at great personal risk, and God used her.
4. Courage to
obey despite the possibility of danger or embarrassment.
Esther literally risked
her life. She risked her life by exposing that she herself was a Jew,
and she risked her life by appearing before the king in the first
place. When they whole thing started and Mordecai told her about the
edict to kill all the Jews, she was afraid to do anything about it.
Listen to what she told Mordecai...
Esther 4:11 (NLT)
“The whole world knows that anyone who
appears before the king in his inner court without being invited is
doomed to die unless the king holds out his gold scepter. And the king
has not called for me to come to him in more than a month.”
And that’s when Mordecai told her that she had to act. He told her this
could be the very reason she had become queen. So what did Esther say?
She told him...
Esther 4:16 (NLT)
“Go and gather together all the Jews of Susa
and fast for me. Do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. My
maids and I will do the same. And then, though it is against the law, I
will go in to see the king. If I must die, I am willing to die.”
Was Esther afraid? You betcha. But she acted anyway. And that is the
very essence of courage.
“Courage... is making a decision to do what is right, and many times
those decisions must be made while we face our fears. It takes courage
to stand up to someone who has the ability to hurt you. It takes
courage to live the Christian faith and love people enough to share
your hope with them. It takes courage to express your convictions when
no one else shares them. It takes courage to give your life away when
you want to keep it for yourself. It takes courage for God to use you
to the fullest extent possible.”
~ Kevin Higgins, Woodlawn Baptist Church
You know, many of our most defining moments are those moments when we
act with courage. When we’re afraid of what people might think of us or
we’re afraid of what people might do to us or we’re afraid of what
people might say about us, but we act anyway, and we do what is right.
And I’ll admit, I fail at this more than I’d like. More times than I
can count, I’ve had to apologize to God for letting Him down, and I’ve
had to ask Him to give me courage for the next time. And at other
times, I have done the hard thing and I have acted in spite of my fears
and I have displayed the courage of my convictions. And I’ve learned
the truth of what Paul told Timothy...
2 Timothy 1:7 (NLT)
For God has not given us a spirit of fear
and timidity, but of power, love, and self-discipline. So you must
never be ashamed to tell others about our Lord.
Now, I’m sure we’d all like to be people of courage. So where does this
courage come from? How do you develop it in your life? Well, let me
show you a couple of verses.
Acts 4:13 (NIV)
When they saw the courage of Peter and John
and realized that they were unschooled, ordinary men, they were
astonished and they took note that these men had been with Jesus.
Joshua 1:9 (NLT)
“Be strong and courageous! Do not be afraid
or discouraged. For the LORD your God is with you wherever you go.”
You notice what it is? It’s the presence of God. It’s the presence of
Jesus. That’s the source of the courage you need. And He promised He
would never leave you. As the puppets sang earlier, He promises,
“Wherever you go, I’ll be there.” So start praying for Him to fill you
and infuse you with courage, and then start acting on it in faith.
to God’s leading in your life.
Obviously if you’re
going to do what God wants you to do you need to know what God wants
you to do. So how do you figure that out? Well, you get as close to Him
as possible. You get to know Him so well that His goals and His values
and His desires become your goals and your values and your desires. You
get so close that some of His character rubs off on you.
Let me give you some practical ways that this sensitivity is nurtured
in your life.
As nurtured through...
Often we approach prayer with the question, “What do I have to say to
God?” But that’s only a part of what prayer should be... and a small
part at that. The better question is, “What does God have to say to
me?” What if you started your prayers with, “God, what do you have to
say to me today? What area of my life do you want to work on? What
mission do You have for me to accomplish? How can I bring you glory?
I’m Yours... talk to me.” What if you did that?
Psalm 46:10 (NLT)
“Be silent, and know that I am God!”
Consistent time with
You know, it’s amazing what regular Bible reading or listening can do
in your life. It’s the Word of God. God speaks to you through His Word.
So allow it to permeate your life. Ask yourself, “What does it say?
What does it mean? How does it apply to me?” Ask God to speak His truth
into your life.
2 Timothy 3:16-17 (NIV)
All Scripture is God-breathed and is
useful for teaching, rebuking, correcting and training in
righteousness, so that the man of God may be thoroughly equipped for
every good work.
We’re three months into 2006, and several of you are taking part in our
Year of the Bible emphasis. You’ve aimed to read through the Bible this
year. You’re about 25% of the way through now. Others of you may have
started and then slacked off. I’d encourage you to pick it up where you
left off. Don’t be defeated. You might be able to catch up, or maybe
it’ll take you into 2007. That’s okay. But I just urge you to do it,
and be amazed at what God does in and through your life, and in and
through our church.
In fact, I’d like to hear what God is doing. What has God been teaching
you and showing you through His Word? Talk to me...
We’re talking about nurturing a greater sensitivity to God’s leading in
your life, and fasting is part of that process. I can’t completely
explain why it works like that, but it does. Frequently throughout the
Bible, God called His people to fast… sometimes as individuals, and
sometimes as an entire nation. And when did they fast? Sometimes they
fasted as an expression of repentance and sorrow for their sinfulness.
Sometimes they fasted when they were in trouble and needed God’s
intervention. Sometimes they fasted when a major decision needed to be
made. And sometimes they fasted to simply prepare themselves for the
work of God in their lives.
Queen Esther called on the Israelites to fast before she went to see
the King. Moses fasted for 40 days on Mount Sinai to seek God’s agenda
for the Israelites. In the New Testament, the believers were fasting
and worshipping together when God instructed them to commission
Barnabas and Paul for special ministry. God uses fasting to show us His
(Deuteronomy 9:9; Acts 13:2)
A pattern of
You know, we live in a world that likes to remove anything that casts
blame or makes anyone feel uncomfortable. We’re not held responsible
for our actions anymore. If we do something wrong or have a problem in
our lives, it’s because of our parents or some traumatic event that
happened when we were young. Even our view of sin has softened… we now
call it a mistake, a lifestyle choice, an option.
But the truth is that while we’ve softened our view of what sin is,
God’s view of sin has remained the same. He’s still aware of it, He’s
repulsed by it, and He knows just how devastating sin can be in our
relationship with Him. It’s a roadblock to our communication with Him.
Isaiah 59:1-2 (CEV)
The LORD hasn’t lost his powerful
strength; he can still hear and answer prayers. Your sins are the
roadblock between you and your God. That’s why he doesn’t answer your
prayers or let you see his face.
So the alternative is to live a life of obedience before Him. It’s to
live a life of moral purity. Now, I’m not talking about some
unattainable standard. You may mess up from time to time, and when you
do, you apologize, ask forgiveness, and move on and do better the next
time. But what I’m talking about is the pattern of your life. Is it
your pattern to obey or to disobey? Do you live a life of purity or do
you live a life of defiance?
“You don’t have to be perfect for God to hear your prayers, but if you
are living in deliberate defiance – if there is a closed closet in your
life that you will not allow Christ to enter – that acts as a barrier
~ Bob Russell
If you want to be sensitive to the leading of God in your life, you
need to establish a pattern of obedience.
Counsel from other
followers of Jesus
Esther accepted the counsel of Mordecai. Do you accept the counsel of
Colossians 3:16 (NLT)
Let the words of Christ, in all their
richness, live in your hearts and make you wise. Use his words to teach
and counsel each other.
Psalm 37:30 (NLT)
The godly offer good counsel; they know
what is right from wrong.
Sometimes when we’re trying to figure out what God wants, it helps to
talk it over with other followers of Jesus. That is a very valuable
asset we have as Christian brothers and sisters, and that shouldn’t be
taken lightly. At the same time, counsel can be wrong. So consider it
carefully, but don’t follow it blindly. If God gives you clear
direction in keeping with His Word and you have no doubt of His
leading, then obedience is the correct course of action.
Like it was for Paul. When Paul was called to take the message of Jesus
beyond the Jewish community, he didn’t talk it over with Peter or the
other apostles first. Or perhaps he would have been dissuaded. Listen
to what he said…
Galatians 1:15-16 (NLT)
For it pleased God in his kindness to
choose me and call me, even before I was born! What undeserved mercy!
Then he revealed his Son to me so that I could proclaim the Good News
about Jesus to the Gentiles. When all this happened to me, I did not
rush out to consult with anyone else; nor did I go up to Jerusalem to
consult with those who were apostles before I was. No, I went away into
You know, God’s name is
never used in the book of Esther. Nobody sends up a prayer, no one
offers any worship… God is like an invisible participant in this book.
But that doesn’t mean that God wasn’t at work. When you look at the
book as a whole, you can see God’s fingerprints all over it. He was at
work orchestrating everything in Esther’s life in order to save His
In our lives we sometimes can’t understand what is happening. But that
doesn’t mean God isn’t doing wondrous things. If you are available to
God’s plan, if you have placed your faith and your trust in Him, if you
have sought after Him and doing His will, and if you will be bold
enough to do it, there’s no limit to what He can do through you.
God, we want to be people that can be used
by you. And so we make ourselves available for you to say whatever you
want to us, work whatever you want in us, and do whatever you want
through us. We place our trust and faith in you, because we know that
you see the big picture and work all things out for the good, and we
know that nothing is impossible for you. So we pray that you will give
us courage. Give us the courage and the wisdom to do what is right in
every situation. And make us sensitive to your leading we pray. Amen.