Sunday is Coming!
Sunday is Coming
We are now a few weeks into a sermon series on the book of Esther, and we’re calling it: “The Hidden Hand of God.” You’ll see as we go throughout the series why it’s called that. We have three goals over the next several weeks:
- The first is where the book of Esther sits in the Story of God. 400 years before Christ, dark moment in Israel’s history. Not sure if God has abandoned them or not.
- As we go along, we’re going to see what the author wants us to know about who God is and how we should respond to him.
- How it points to Jesus. Jesus told his disciples that all of scripture points to him, and we are seeing little signposts along the way.
Our big idea is that God is not just in control of history, but that he is the leading role in this story.
We have three secondary characters in play so far.
- King Ahasuerus. He’s a bit of a loose cannon. Loves to party. Loves to show off his wealth. Makes quick decisions without a whole lot of thought, it seems.
- Mordecai. He’s a Jewish man who works for the Persian government, and he is a descendant of King Saul, Israel's first king. So he has royal blood. But upon further review of his story, it appears he might not be so great of a guy. He might be completely assimilated into Persian life, leaving his Jewishness behind. It’s hard to say. After the death of his aunt and uncle, he adopted his young cousin named Esther.
- She’s young, she’s beautiful, and was the winner of a nationwide beauty pageant. After one night with the King, she’s made the Queen, but we all know something even the king doesn’t know – she’s Jewish. Mordecai had instructed her to keep that a secret and as far as we know, she has.
So we are going to pick up the story in chapter 2:19 of Esther, and continue to watch this story unfold.
19 When the virgins were gathered a second time, Mordecai was sitting at the King’s Gate. 20 Esther still did not reveal her family background or her ethnicity, as Mordecai had directed. She obeyed Mordecai’s orders, as she always had while he raised her.
Here we get a little glimpse of what Mordecai’s job in the government was. He sat at the King’s Gate, which was a large building at the entrance to the palace. It acted as the courthouse, so any issues on property, taxes, disagreements, etc were brought to the King’s Gate. To be sitting at the King’s Gate means Mordecai is hearing these people’s situations and making decisions. In other words, Mordecai is a judge, speaking for the king on matters of the law.
Which might explain why he doesn’t seem to put up a fight when the officials come to take Esther.
21 During those days while Mordecai was sitting at the King’s Gate, Bigthan and Teresh, two of the king’s eunuchs who guarded the entrance, became infuriated and planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus. 22 When Mordecai learned of the plot, he reported it to Queen Esther, and she told the king on Mordecai’s behalf. 23 When the report was investigated and verified, both men were hanged on the gallows. This event was recorded in the Historical Record in the king’s presence. -- Esther 2:19-23 (CSB)
Pretty self explanatory. Three details:
- Mordecai uncovers a plot to assassinate the king,
- through Esther, saves the king’s life, and
- the king wrote it down
Details that will come into play later.
3:1 After all this took place, King Ahasuerus honored Haman, son of Hammedatha the Agagite. He promoted him in rank and gave him a higher position than all the other officials. 2 The entire royal staff at the King’s Gate bowed down and paid homage to Haman, because the king had commanded this to be done for him. But Mordecai would not bow down or pay homage.
Again we need to visit something the original Jewish audience would see that you and I don’t.
First of all, there is the obvious. Mordecai is the one who uncovers the assassination plot, but this new guy Haman gets the promotion. Which is bad enough.
But what the Jews would see that we don’t is his name. So stay with me, and let’s take a little trip.
When God rescued the nation of Israel from slavery in Egypt, on their way to the Promised Land another nation called the Amalekites attacked them from the rear, picking off the stragglers, the elderly, the injured, etc. Israel went to war against them, and defeated them with God’s help. When the dust settled, God said to Moses in Exodus chapter 17 - write this down: “I will forever blot out the name of the Amalekites, and I will be at war with them throughout the generations.”
Forty years later, in Deuteronomy 25, God revisited this situation, and said to the Israelites: “Remember Amalek. They do not fear God. When I bring you into the Promised Land, you are to blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven. Do not forget.” God explicitly told Israel to not forget what happened. The day is coming when we will deal with them.
Fast forward several generations and the first King of Israel, King Saul runs into the Amalekites again. When King Saul ran into the Amalekites, the Lord said to him, it’s time to end the Amalekites. They are wicked, and they stand against everything my purposes and my plan, it’s time to end them. Completely destroy everything. Men, women, babies, animals… don’t leave a single thing alive.
King Saul follows through on the Lord’s plan completely – well, almost. He captured the king, and the best of all the animals. Goats, sheep, rams, and while he was at it, he also took the best of everything else as well. He only destroyed things he didn’t want or need.
God was furious with King Saul for not carrying out his instructions, and stripped the kingdom from Saul and gave it to King David. The prophet who gave King Saul this news grabbed a sword and finished the job on the Amalekite king, whose name was? Agag. And his descendants would be the Agagites.
Fast forward to Esther 3: Haman the Agagite (a descendant of King Agag the Amalekite) gets promoted to power, while Mordecai the Jew (a descendant of King Saul) is forgotten. Are you connecting the dots with me?
So the king orders people to bow to Haman, and Morcedai is like, “uh, no.”
3 The members of the royal staff at the King’s Gate asked Mordecai, “Why are you disobeying the king’s command? ” (remember Queen Vashti? If you disobey the king, you are done! What are you doing?) 4 When they had warned him day after day and he still would not listen to them, they told Haman in order to see if Mordecai’s actions would be tolerated, since he had told them he was a Jew.
His co-workers at the gate ask him day after day after day, until Mr “don’t-tell-anyone-you’re-Jewish” finally breaks down and tells his coworkers that he’s a Jew. They don’t understand. They don’t know the back story. So they proceed to tell Haman what the deal is, to see if he’s going to make a religious exemption or not.
5 When Haman saw that Mordecai was not bowing down or paying him homage, he was filled with rage. 6 And when he learned of Mordecai’s ethnic identity, it seemed repugnant to Haman to do away with Mordecai alone. He planned to destroy all of Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout Ahasuerus’s kingdom.
Don’t we still live in this kind of world? We live in a world that is actively asking us to “bow” to the accepted cultural norms whether we like it or not. We’re being told we have to pay our respects and fall in line, even if it goes against what we believe.
What is represented here with Haman the Agagite and Mordecai the Jew is that there is and has always been a satanic opposition to the things of God.
The apostle Paul writes in Ephesians 6:12 (CSB): For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against the rulers, against the authorities, against the cosmic powers of this darkness, against evil, spiritual forces in the heavens.
There is a satanic rage that has been present since the Garden of Eden against the design and purposes of God for the good world that he made, and this takes discernment and wisdom.
Sometimes it is found in the very things paraded in front us every day, demanding that your religious beliefs don’t get in the way of progress. And sometimes this satanic opposition to the things of God is found in our own hearts. The kind of opposition to the plan and purposes of God that we don’t like to talk about is Pride. Greed. Lust. Jealousy. Revenge.
In our pride, and greed, and jealousy, we’re the ones demanding others bow… to us! That’s why the apostle Paul says in Philippians 2:3 (CSB) “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or conceit, but in humility consider others as more important than yourselves.”
And what we’re about to see here in Esther is that sometimes it looks like evil wins the day.
7 In the first month, the month of Nisan, in King Ahasuerus’s twelfth year, the pur — that is, the lot — was cast before Haman for each day in each month, and it fell on the twelfth month, the month Adar.
Think of the pur like a lottery where you see the machine with every number on a different ball, bouncing all around a person reaches in and chooses one. Haman would have had every day of the calendar in an urn of some kind, shook it up, reached in and pulled out a date to massacre the Jews. It landed on the thirteenth day of Adar which was 11 months away, and it “just so happened” the Jews already had something on their calendar. We don’t have time to be massacred that day – we have a Passover meal to get ready for.
Passover was the feast the Jews celebrated every year to remember God delivering them from slavery in Egypt! So the very day the Jews would all be celebrating their deliverance from their enemies, would be the very day their new enemies would massacre and plunder them. And again the question becomes, “is God still with us? Or has he left the building? Is he able to deliver us from evil again?”
Haman’s hatred is so intense that you would think he would pick again until he chose a date not so far away, so he could get on with it. But anticipation is half the fun, and making the Jews sweat for 11 months kind of adds to the cruelty. So the plan is in place. The date is picked. It’s time to put the plan into action.
8 Then, Haman informed King Ahasuerus, “There is one ethnic group, scattered throughout the peoples in every province of your kingdom (which was true), keeping themselves separate. (Eh, half true maybe.) Their laws are different from everyone else’s and they do not obey the king’s laws (Well, at least not the one that says they should bow to me). It is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If the king approves, let an order be drawn up authorizing their destruction, and I will pay 375 tons of silver to the officials for deposit in the royal treasury.” 10 The king removed his signet ring (his power, his authority, his name) from his hand and gave it to Haman son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews. 11 Then the king told Haman, “The money and people are given to you to do with as you see fit.” 12 The royal scribes were summoned on the thirteenth day of the first month, and the order was written exactly as Haman commanded. It was intended for the royal satraps, the governors of each of the provinces, and the officials of each ethnic group and written for each province in its own script and to each ethnic group in its own language. It was written in the name of King Ahasuerus and sealed with the royal signet ring. 13 Letters were sent by couriers to each of the royal provinces telling the officials to destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jewish people — young and old, women and children — and plunder their possessions on a single day, the thirteenth day of Adar, the twelfth month. 14 A copy of the text, issued as law throughout every province, was distributed to all the peoples so that they might get ready for that day. 15 The couriers left, spurred on by royal command, and the law was issued in the fortress of Susa. The king and Haman sat down to drink, while the city of Susa was in confusion. -- Esther 3:1-15 (CSB)
The news is bad, obviously. But the way it’s carried out is so cold; so heartless. They sit down. Have a chat. Finances are discussed. The king doesn’t even ask questions about who the group is, what exactly they are doing that is so bad we need to exterminate – no details are given. Simply a roll of the dice to pick the day, papers signed, and then drinks to celebrate. Even the rest of the city is confused. They are wondering what in the world could have happened that led to this.
And for the Jews and even for you and me, we might wonder why it seems like evil often wins. “How could God allow something like this?” Where is his goodness? Where is the God of King David, who is a rock of refuge who hides us under the shelter of his wings? Where is the God who breaks the teeth of our enemies and raises us up on wings like eagles? Where is the God who once did supernatural things? And why does it feel like evil continues to be paraded through the streets, while those who are trying to do right get trampled?”
I’d love for you to turn to Psalm 73 with me. If you’re in Esther, head two books to the right. Psalm 73.
Here’s how the author begins: God is indeed good to Israel, to the pure in heart. 2 But as for me, my feet almost slipped; my steps nearly went astray. 3 For I envied the arrogant; I saw the prosperity of the wicked. 4 They have an easy time until they die, and their bodies are well fed. 5 They are not in trouble like others; they are not afflicted like most people.
He goes on: They mock, they threaten, they are arrogant and proud, and they don’t give God a second thought. They have things easy and seem to just get things handed to them. Not only that, it seems like the powers that be are on their side.
And I love how the Psalmist starts this, right? God is good to Israel, I know that. But as for me, I’m looking around and I’m not seeing it. What am I missing here? He even goes so far as to say in verse 13:
13 Did I purify my heart and wash my hands in innocence for nothing? 14 For I am afflicted all day long
and punished every morning.
He’s wondering if it’s even worth the effort to be a Christian. There will be times that you and I have to wrestle with that as well. Right? As culture continues to demand that we bow to the latest progressive agenda, the day will come when we could face consequences as a church for who we won’t marry; and messages that speak out against cultural norms will be considered hate speech. It’s already here.
We may wonder if it’s even worth the effort to be a Christian.
15 If I had decided to say these things aloud, I would have betrayed your people. 16 When I tried to understand all this, it seemed hopeless 17 until I entered God’s sanctuary.
Then I understood their destiny. 18 Indeed, you put them in slippery places; you make them fall into ruin. 19 How suddenly they become a desolation! They come to an end, swept away by terrors.
23 Yet I am always with you; you hold my right hand. 24 You guide me with your counsel, and afterward you will take me up in glory. 25 Who do I have in heaven but you? And I desire nothing on earth but you. 26 My flesh and my heart may fail, but God is the strength of my heart, my portion forever. 27 Those far from you will certainly perish; you destroy all who are unfaithful to you. 28 But as for me, God’s presence is my good. I have made the Lord God my refuge, so I can tell about all you do.
Look again in those last verses. It’s not all future tense. “I am with you. You hold my hand. You guide me. God is the strength of my heart. Those who are far from you will perish - their end is coming, but as for me, GOD’S PRESENCE IS MY GOOD.
Mordecai the Jew with royal blood would have probably known that Psalm.
So did another Jewish king.
400 years after Haman’s villainous plan went into effect, another king of the Jews would refuse to bow to the powers of this world, and found himself also sold for pieces of silver into the hands of evil.
I imagine that on Saturday, the day after Jesus was crucified, you would have found a situation similar to what the Jews in Persia experienced as the proclamation came down. People going into hiding. Confusion. Fear. Sadness. Grief. Thinking the same thing as Psalm 73, that we are powerless to do anything about this.
And yet God, seated on his eternal throne, could see Sunday coming! God on his eternal throne, turned his face away from his Son because of our sin and shame that Jesus carried on him. But underneath God’s wrath toward sinners being poured out on Jesus, there was a smile knowing Sunday is coming! And on Sunday morning God raised Jesus from death to say, even death isn’t the end of your story. That it may look like evil wins the day, but the resurrection says, “No, evil doesn’t win in the end. In fact, evil is already finished.”
Oh the sorrow of Saturday is real.
The grief of Haman’s plan is real.
The pain of persecution is real.
The hurt of divorce and being abandoned or abused is real.
We need to be ready to count the cost of not bowing to things culture proclaims as truth.
The cross, like Psalm 73:23, says God doesn’t watch us suffer from a long way off, like a distant landlord or heartless king, but that he has entered into our suffering, and that he is close enough to hold our hand and give us counsel, and HIS PRESENCE IS OUR GOOD.
You might think you’re going through the middle of the worst thing you can imagine. But the cross says your story is not over yet.
Praise: God you see the end of my story already. You already know how this all plays out. You are eternally wise and infinitely good. See God always works for our good and for his glory. He never champions one at the expense of the other, meaning God never will give you something good that doesn’t also point to his glory. And he’ll never point to his glory in a way that isn’t for your good. So praise him for that.
Confess – we’ve let our circumstances tell us what to believe about God. We’ve doubted. We’ve thrown up our hands to the sky and said “How could you do this to me?” We’ve compared our story to other people’s story and concluded that God is with them and not with me.
Third, let’s thank God that our story isn’t over. Thank him that because of Jesus, for those who are IN Christ, there is a lot more story to come. There is more than what we see. Thank him for defeating sin and Satan once for all time on the cross, and that no one is out of his reach. Thank him for the promise, the unshakeable truth that Sunday is coming.
Last, every one of you knows of someone who needs to hear this. Every one of us knows someone who is living in despair, or sorrow, or hopelessness. In the silence of this moment, pray for them. Pray that God would open their eyes to see the glorious truth of Jesus that Sunday came – the grave is empty, and Sunday is coming for those who believe – pray for them by name.
- Mike Cosper, Faith Among the Faithless: Learning from Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2018), 96
- Ibid, 100