The Chameleon Dies Today
Today the Chameleon Dies
About 10 years ago or so, there was a TV show on Fox called the Moment of Truth, where contestants would sit in a chair on a stage in front of a live crowd and answer increasingly personal questions in order to win $500,000 dollars. Each contestant had answered all of the questions already on a lie detector test, never saw the results, and then in front of the live audience which included family, had to answer 21 of the questions again. They would say yes or no, and an ominous female voice would dramatically announce true or false, based on the lie detector test.
The show didn’t last very long, I’m guessing because of how many people’s lives it ruined.
It seemed like a great show – you got to watch people sweat to answer personal questions, you watched their family react to things they didn’t know, and in some cases, you got to see someone win $500k at the expense of their families and friendships. In the end it really was an experiment on how truthful people would be about the darkness of their own heart.
My spiritual moment of truth came as a senior in high school. I grew up in a Christian home, we did ministry together, and went to Christian schools. I was “in the system.” I knew the right answers, the words to say, etc. And yet I was who I needed to be around certain people. You know what I mean. I was a chameleon, changing my colors depending on my environment. In front of my church friends and youth group I was a leader and lived one way, and around my other friends at school it was a little more like, “Hey, don’t let anyone know you’re a Christian.” I led this double standard for most of high school, until one of the last weeks of high school. I had made plans to attend a Christian college and take a few classes, and there was a major change about to happen.
I was leaving school and graduating to the real world. And I remember sitting in a chapel service my senior year, and while I didn’t hear any voices, it felt like God was whispering to me – before you leave this room today you have to decide: Are you going to follow me? Or are you going to do your own thing? The chameleon dies today.
That’s actually the title of the sermon today: The chameleon dies today. So if you have a copy of scripture in your hands or on a device, turn with me to the book of Esther. For those of you online or those who might be new here this morning, let me catch you up to speed with where we’re at.
About 400 years before Jesus, the King of Persia, named Ahasuerus had banished his own queen because she wouldn’t entertain him and his drunk employees. One of those employees suggested he get a new queen who would listen, so the king entertained the idea of an empire-wide beauty pageant, in which all eligible women would spend one night with him, and whichever one he liked the most would become queen.
In his kingdom, there are a lot of Jewish people. A previous king had captured them from Jerusalem and brought them here to Persia. While under a more recent king, they have been permitted to return home, many have chosen to stay in Susa for various reasons, two of which we met last week. One is named Mordecai who works for the Persian government at the king’s gate, and the other is his adopted daughter who has two names. Her Persian name is Esther, and her Jewish name is Hadassah. Esther was the winner of the king’s beauty pageant, which means she (morally compromised as she might be) is the new queen, but under Mordecai’s instruction, has not told anyone that she is Jewish.
Last week, we saw Mordecai had uncovered a plot to assassinate Ahasuerus, but when the king’s life was saved, another guy in the palace named Haman got the promotion. When the king demanded that everyone bow to Haman, as the king’s new representative, Mordecai refused and things went downhill from there. Haman talked the king into killing not just Mordecai for his disobedience, but EVERY Jew in the empire.
Where we left things last week, Haman’s proclamation has gone out to the empire that all the officials in every province should kill every Jew they can find – men, women, young, old – on the 13th of Adar, which was eleven months away. We haven’t seen how Mordecai or Esther have responded to this news yet, but we’re about to find out.
When Mordecai learned all that had occurred, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, went into the middle of the city, and cried loudly and bitterly. 2 He went only as far as the King’s Gate, since the law prohibited anyone wearing sackcloth from entering the King’s Gate. 3 There was great mourning among the Jewish people in every province where the king’s command and edict reached. They fasted, wept, and lamented, and many lay in sackcloth and ashes.
So obviously Mordecai would have read the proclamation, but when this says he “learned all that had occurred”, he might be realizing this all comes back to him not bowing. He’s probably thinking to himself, “If you would have just bowed when you were told to bow, none of this would have happened.”
And isn’t it true that sometimes doing the right thing has more consequences, it seems, than doing the wrong thing?! Have you ever had that happen where you wanted to do what was right, and it seemingly backfired?
I remember when I was on staff at a previous church, and the guy who tuned the piano just wasn’t doing a great job. I really wanted to find someone new, but this guy had been doing it a while and I wanted to let him down easy. The easiest thing to do would have been to stop calling him when the piano needed tuned. Just call someone else instead. Or send an email or a text. Something impersonal.
But I wanted to do the right thing. So against my natural instincts, I picked up the phone, and called him. I thanked him for his many years of tuning our piano, and told him I have decided to go a different route. And instead of what I hoped would happen, my worst fears happened. He was very upset with me, basically told me I don’t know what I’m doing, and I’ll ruin the piano – then proceeded to send two letters to the church office to make sure they were aware of the mistake I was making.
I hung up the phone and thought – you should have sent the text.
Here are two stories from the organization called Voice of the Martyrs, which tells stories of the persecuted church around the world:
Sohail is from Uganda. He became a believer several years ago, but his family refuses to accept his new faith. So they kicked him out of the house, and now, even though he has his own wife and children, his family still torments him every single day, sometimes even kidnapping him and intensely interrogating him about his faith.
Gate is Laos. Shortly after he and his wife became Christians, his parents and the leader of their village forced the couple and their young child out of their village because of their faith. With no place to stay, Gate started to build a home for his family on farmland he owned in another village about a mile away. Learning of the family’s faith, the leader of that village threatened to arrest Gate if he did not stop the construction. Now, they are homeless and struggle to find food.
And do you think it ever crosses their minds – “Man, our lives would be so much easier if we just had kept our mouths shut”? Do you think the enemy ever whispers into their ears, “it's your fault your kids will grow up homeless. It’s your fault your wife lives in fear. It’s your fault you don’t have anything to eat.”
Mordecai tears his clothes and dumps ashes on his head, a traditional sign of mourning and lament. His middle eastern skin now white with ashes – he intentionally makes himself look like a corpse, symbolizing the death and loss that waits for him 11 months in the future. He can’t even enter the king’s gate anymore. By tearing his clothes, he has outed himself as a Jew, and unless he goes back to pretending and puts his work clothes back on, even his job is done.
4 Esther’s female servants and her eunuchs came and reported the news to her, and the queen was overcome with fear. She sent clothes for Mordecai to wear so that he would take off his sackcloth, but he did not accept them. 5 Esther summoned Hathach, one of the king’s eunuchs who attended her, and dispatched him to Mordecai to learn what he was doing and why. 6 So Hathach went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the King’s Gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened as well as the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay the royal treasury for the slaughter of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and command her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people.
Now we learned last week that Esther always did what Mordecai asked ever since she was little, and now Mordecai is playing that card. “I’m telling you, commanding you even, to go to the king personally and plead with him for grace,” and look at those last three words: FOR HER PEOPLE. In other words, the gig is up. I told you to hide your ethnicity before; now I’m commanding you not to hide it anymore.
9 Hathach came and repeated Mordecai’s response to Esther. 10 Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, 11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned — the death penalty — unless the king extends the gold scepter, allowing that person to live. I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last thirty days.” 12 Esther’s response was reported to Mordecai.
Chapter 2:16 says Esther first met the king in the seventh year of his reign.
Chapter 3:7 says Haman’s plot for genocide came into law in the 12th year of the king.
So Esther has been queen for 5 years now, and it appears that the king may be losing interest in her. It’s been a month since she was called in, and it also appears like a second round of young ladies were brought to the king back in 2:19. She is married to a loose cannon, and can’t even rely on what attracted him to her in the first place anymore.
His first Queen was deposed simply for not coming into the room when the king asked for her. There wasn’t even a law against that. Imagine what will happen to Esther when she comes into the room uninvited which IS against the law. Then, even if he is merciful and doesn’t kill her on the spot, if she outs herself as a Jew, the king will realize she lied to him! You can understand her hesitation here.
Mordecai makes one more attempt.
13 Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14 If you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s family will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”
Mordecai is offering her the moment of truth. Are you Esther or are you Hadassah?
It’s the moment of truth that all of us will have to face at some point.
Mordecai knows that silence is a very tempting option for Esther. She could save herself a lot of trouble by just keeping quiet, and saying “I’m Esther.” He tells her essentially, if you don’t step up and say something God will deliver us a different way. But understand, you’re still going to die.”
The same temptation for Esther is present for you and me. You might face a moment of truth at your workplace or at your school, where being a follower of Jesus is going to cost you. And the temptation is to take the easy route of passivity and safety. But at some point in your life, you’re going to face the music. You’re going to have to kill the chameleon. You can say “I’m a Christian” in church, at community groups, on Facebook, or whatever, and then live like hell when you’re not around your Christian friends. But the time is going to come in your story where you will have to kill the chameleon.
It might be in one major life-altering moment like Esther’s or like Gate and Sohail, where nothing is ever the same for them and their families. Or it might be several small moments – the temptation to cheat on a test or on your taxes; the temptation to cheat on your spouse; the temptation to pull up pornography when you’re home alone; the temptation to write a different time or round up on your time card; the temptation to say someone else made the mistake or made the mess; the temptation to send the text instead of have the conversation face to face; choosing to hold onto bitterness instead of extending forgiveness.
And in those kinds of moments, our decision as well as Esther’s decision here is: “Do I choose to avoid pain for myself and let someone else take the hit? Or do I risk the pain because it’s the right thing to do?”
Esther’s choice really is about which way she wants to die, isn’t it? Eventually someone will trace her back to Mordecai, realize she’s a Jew, and Mordecia even said to her, living in the palace doesn’t give her a “get out of genocide free” card.
Mordecai said if she does nothing she would still perish. She might save her life by hiding her Jewishness, but she’d be lost in the numbness of the palace, with the knowledge that she failed to act, in a life cut off from the blessing that comes from being known as one of God’s people.1
Esther’s reply to Mordecai shows she has made her choice:
15 Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had commanded him.
400 years after Esther’s anxious dilemma, another person of royalty faced something similar. A moment of decision. Just hours before his crucifixion, the moment of truth was so intense for Jesus that he started sweating blood. The temptation in front of Jesus that night in the Garden of Gethsemane was this:
- Avoid the pain. Take the easy way out. Bypass the cross. If he does that, though, he would perish in sin along with the entirety of humanity. Not a single soul could ever be saved. But at least he didn’t feel nails being driven into his hands.
- Or, he could get to the fullness of his joy and His Father’s joy, not by going around the cross, but by going through it. On the other side was the promise of eternal and abundant life, not just for him but for everyone who believes. THIS WAS HIS FATHER’S WILL! In fact, He had come to earth for a time such as this!
Esther responded in her defining moment with the knowledge that she might perish, but Jesus responded with the knowledge that he would perish.2
One of the most incredible verses to me in all of scripture is John 18, which speaks of the night Jesus prayed in that garden. He asked his Father multiple times if there was another way to do this; a way around the cross. The Father’s silence indicates the answer was no. And with the flickering torches of Roman soldiers visible in the distance, along comes 18:4, then Jesus, knowing everything that was about to happen to him, went out and said to them, “Who is it that you’re seeking?”
“Jesus of Nazareth” they said. Instead of making a run for it in the darkness or pointing to someone else, he stepped forward and said: “I am he.” Because the way out of suffering is often through it.
In Luke 9:23-26, Jesus put it like this for you and me: ...“If anyone wants to follow after me, let him deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow me. 24 For whoever wants to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life because of me will save it. 25 For what does it benefit someone if he gains the whole world, and yet loses or forfeits himself? 26 For whoever is ashamed of me and my words, the Son of Man will be ashamed of him when he comes in his glory and that of the Father and the holy angels.”
Do you see what Jesus is saying?
Deny yourself. Here in Western culture, those are the two dumbest words we’ve never heard. Every product you buy, every movie you watch, every story of fame and fortune is about exalting yourself, expressing yourself, being yourself, loving yourself, spoiling yourself, protecting yourself. We talk about self-care, self-serve, self-help, self-service, self-discovery and on and on it goes.
There is a kind of saving yourself that results in losing everything. There is a kind of reaching for safety, reaching for approval or admiration from others, reaching for meaning and value and purpose in life that will leave you empty-handed. You may get your arms around some approval, admiration, safety and avoid some pain, but you will have lost your soul.
That’s not where you’ll find the joy you’re looking for. You want to find joy? You want to find peace? You want to find hope? Take up your cross daily, and follow Jesus. There is a kind of losing yourself that results in gaining everything! There is a kind of dying that actually brings life!
For some of you that means you might need to go back to your coworkers or classmates or boss tomorrow morning and say, hey I’ve been acting like a fool and I’m sorry. I’m actually a Christian, and I haven’t been acting like it; my language does not reflect that; the way I’ve treated you is wrong – I’m sorry.
For someone else that might mean confessing something to your spouse, or to your kids – saying I’ve got to come clean on this. I’ve been chasing something else in life at your expense – I’m trading you for money; trading you for influence, and I’m sorry.
Maybe it’s just coming clean to a friend, a parent, a mentor, someone you respect, saying I’ve had this secret sin hidden away for a long time and I am done with the hiding. I just need you to know so that this can start to come into the light.
And underneath all of our moments of truth, big or small, lies one foundational reality:
Do I trust God? Do I really believe that he has my best interest at heart? Does his heart only beat for his own glory or does his passion for his glory include what’s good and best for me, even when I can’t see it? Do I really believe that the hands that took the nails for me will be there to surround and uphold me if I lose reputation, if I lose my job, if I lose my family, if I lose what is familiar? Do I really believe that to be truly alive does not happen when I successfully avoid pain, but when I follow Jesus through it?
The good news of the cross of Jesus is that God’s approval of you and me isn’t based on how well we respond to the moments of truth in our lives. It’s not based on you always getting it right.
We are saved by grace, through faith. The same Holy Spirit that brought Jesus back from the dead lives in anyone who believes, to fill us with boldness and empower us to follow Jesus even into loss. And all the glory will go to the one who took the nails for our rebellion; and trusted God to be who he said he would be.
Let’s pray. God, please grant us the courage to pick up our cross and follow your Son, trusting the same everlasting arms that created the world to uphold us in our weakness and walk with us through even the deepest, darkest valleys. Not for our glory, Lord, but until your glory covers the earth like water covers the sea.
- Mike Cosper, Faith Among the Faithless: Learning from Esther How to Live in a World Gone Mad (Nashville: Nelson Books, 2018), 128
- Bryan Gregory, Inconspicuous Providence: The Gospel According to Esther (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2014), 85
- Ibid, 89