The Pivot Point
The Pivot Point
Here at River City, our mission to be ambassadors for the glory of God, where everything we do is saturated with a desire to see God glorified and enjoyed. And we think that when everyone in this room is doing that, empowered by the Holy Spirit, that every man, woman, and child in Riverside and the surrounding communities would not be able to go a day without a gospel-centered interaction in our work, in our homes, in our schools, in our restaurants, and more.
And we believe that starts when we dig into God’s word, which is living and active, sharper than a surgeon’s scalpel – able to reach the deepest parts of us to expose and cut out the sin that keeps us from glorifying God.
Today we come to the halfway point in our series on the book of Esther, and not only the halfway point, but the pivot point in the story. We come to the moment that changes everything.
Today we will be reading two whole chapters of Esther, so I really need you to have scripture in your hand to follow along today. So please turn with me to the book of Esther, and we will begin in chapter 5.
As you turn there, where we left things last week at the end of chapter 4, there is a scheduled genocide on the Jewish people of Persia that was recently announced. The king’s second in command is named Haman, and he is angry that one Jewish man refuses to bow to him, so he wants all Jews in the whole kingdom to be killed. That man’s name is Mordecai, whose adopted daughter Esther is queen. Mordecai has commanded Esther to go to the king, expose her identity as a Jewish person, and plead with the king to change his mind and have mercy on them. The only problem is, it’s against the law to walk into the king’s throne room if you don’t have an invitation, which she doesn’t. In fact she hasn’t been invited for over a month. The penalty for breaking this law is death. In fact, ancient relief artwork from this time period shows that beside or just beyond the king’s throne is a guard with an ax. So either the king extends his golden scepter and you live, or the ax dude extends the ax and you die.
So this is a huge risk for her. But if she keeps silent, none of her fellow Jews will be saved, and she will die alone in the palace knowing she could have done something. Will she identify with the people of God and go to the king? OR will she stay silent and save her own skin? So we saw Esther call a 3-day fast for herself and all the Jews in the city that Mordecai could round up, and we now pick up on the third day.
Esther 5:1-14 CSB.  On the third day, Esther dressed in her royal clothing and stood in the inner courtyard of the palace facing it. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the royal courtroom, facing its entrance.  As soon as the king saw Queen Esther standing in the courtyard, she gained favor in his eyes. The king extended the gold scepter in his hand toward Esther, and she approached and touched the tip of the scepter.  "What is it, Queen Esther?" the king asked her. "Whatever you want, even to half the kingdom, will be given to you."
Obviously it’s not half the kingdom she is looking for – she wants grace and deliverance for her people. So you expect Esther will come clean here, right? She didn’t get killed, so she is certainly going to now say, “I want you to stop the law that says people should kill the Jews, because I’m a Jew and I would like to not die.” But after three days of fasting and probably prayer, she’s put a little more thought into it than that.
 "If it pleases the king," Esther replied, "may the king and Haman come today to the banquet I have prepared for them."  The king said, "Hurry, and get Haman so we can do as Esther has requested." So the king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared.  While drinking the wine, the king asked Esther, "Whatever you ask will be given to you. Whatever you want, even to half the kingdom, will be done."
We’ve already seen that this king likes to show off how rich he is; and he loves to party. Esther has a strategy, and the king is playing right into her hand.
 Esther answered, "This is my petition and my request:  If I have found favor in the eyes of the king, and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and perform my request, may the king and Haman come to the banquet I will prepare for them. Tomorrow I will do what the king has asked."  That day Haman left full of joy and in good spirits.
You can see him getting up from the table with a huge smile on his face. He’s patting himself on the back for having been invited to not just one personal meal with the king and queen – just him, no one else – but TWO personal meals – ON BACK TO BACK DAYS! Obviously, they consider me part of the family. They love my work. They love my charm. My wisdom. My advice. My way of thinking. My view of the world. What is there not to love about me!? Haman wonders.
If this were a scene from a movie, the camera ignores the king and queen, and follows Haman outside where his joy took an instant nosedive.
But when Haman saw Mordecai at the King's Gate, and Mordecai didn't rise or tremble in fear at his presence, Haman was filled with rage toward Mordecai.  Yet Haman controlled himself and went home. He sent for his friends and his wife Zeresh to join him.  Then Haman described for them his glorious wealth and his many sons. He told them all how the king had honored him and promoted him in rank over the other officials and the royal staff.
When the king, back in chapter 1, wanted to show how wealthy he was, did so with generosity. He threw a 180 day feast to DISPLAY his wealth. Haman, consumed by his desire for his own glory, is not sharing a cent. He sits his friends down and says, “let me TELL you guys about me. I’m super wealthy, and I’d like to DESCRIBE it for you. This much gold, this much silver, and I have tons of kids. That’s how wealthy I am.” Who is he bragging to? His wife. She would know how many kids he has. But pride is blinding.
Pride is also greedy. It’s never generous. It only takes, it never gives. Proud people don’t put money in the offering box because either the return isn’t good enough, or quite simply – no one will know. If they do end up giving, they feel the need to report it. Celebrities who donate large chunks of money go on a talk show, they’ll announce it to get some applause. We enjoy being noticed, and so does Haman.
Here’s how awesome I am, Haman continues:
... "Queen Esther invited no one but me to join the king at the banquet she had prepared. I am invited again tomorrow to join her with the king.  Still, none of this satisfies me since I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the King's Gate all the time."
Have you ever tried to be thankful for what you have, only to drive by a nicer house? Have you ever tried to be thankful, only to see someone more beautiful, someone with more money, someone with a nicer car, someone with a bigger camper (or just a camper), someone who always seems to be on vacation, or someone who doesn’t acknowledge you? Have you tried to be thankful for what you have, but scrolling Instagram you find yourself looking at other people’s lives and wishing you had something you don’t?
And as much as you want to be thankful for your modest house, your modest car, your 10 days of vacation every year, your salary, you could agree with Haman that none of what I have satisfies me when I can still see their house, their car, their camper.
In our western culture, we kind of have an unspoken rule: If something leaves you unhappy, go get what does. Haman’s wife and friends have similar advice for him:
 His wife Zeresh and all his friends told him, "Have them build a gallows seventy-five feet tall. Ask the king in the morning to hang Mordecai on it. Then go to the banquet with the king and enjoy yourself." The advice pleased Haman, so he had the gallows constructed.
Now what you need to know is that what we interpret as “gallows” in the English is not what the author had in mind. It’s not a rope with a noose at the end. What they did was impale a person on a stake. So these workers are sharpening one end of a tree trunk into a point sharp enough that they can drop Mordecai on it and he’ll stay. Pretty gruesome, I know.
When Zeresh says “75 ft tall” because that’s another way of saying, “build the highest impaling pole anyone has ever seen.” According to historical records, the highest point of the palace was only 45 feet tall. So they are going to make an example of Mordecai long before the actual Jewish genocide happens. So Haman agrees with his wife, and calls up some contractors to get it built.
Again things look pretty bleak for Mordecai. The spike is built, tomorrow he’s gone.
Esther 6:1-14 CSB
 That night sleep escaped the king, so he ordered the book recording daily events to be brought and read to the king.  They found the written report of how Mordecai had informed on Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king's eunuchs who guarded the entrance, when they planned to assassinate King Ahasuerus. [We talked about this a couple weeks ago from the end of chapter 2]  The king inquired, "What honor and special recognition have been given to Mordecai for this act?" The king's personal attendants replied, "Nothing has been done for him."  The king asked, "Who is in the court?" Now Haman was just entering the outer court of the palace to ask the king to hang Mordecai on the gallows he had prepared for him.
This is still probably in the middle of the night! Haman apparently couldn’t sleep either. He was so enraged, so eager to get Mordecai impaled as high as possible, that he couldn’t wait until morning. Here he is in the middle of the night, coming into the king’s court uninvited, in his pride apparently not remembering it is against the law to do that. He is risking his own death the same way Esther did, to ask permission to murder one of the king’s employees from the gate.
 The king's attendants answered him, "Haman is there, standing in the court." "Have him enter," the king ordered.  Haman entered, and the king asked him, "What should be done for the man the king wants to honor?" Haman thought to himself, "Who is it the king would want to honor more than me?"
What should be done for the man the king wants to honor? Instantly his beef with Mordecai takes a back seat to the exaltation of self. “Who do I know that the king would want to honor? Well, there’s me. Well…. I … guess I’m drawing a blank on who else it could be.” So… what would I want?
 Haman told the king, "For the man the king wants to honor:  Have them bring a royal garment that the king himself has worn and a horse the king himself has ridden, which has a royal crown on its head.  Put the garment and the horse under the charge of one of the king's most noble officials. Have them clothe the man the king wants to honor, parade him on the horse through the city square, and proclaim before him, 'This is what is done for the man the king wants to honor.'"
Basically Haman is saying: “I want to be king. Parade me around in your clothes, on your horse, and make the king’s highest officials tell everyone how amazing I am.”
Or in our language: “I want to take AirForce1 anywhere in the world for a week, and I want every news outlet in America to cover the story. I want the President to do a press conference and tell everyone what a great person I am, and how excited he is to honor me in this way.”
 The king told Haman, "Hurry, and do just as you proposed. Take a garment and a horse for Mordecai the Jew, who is sitting at the King's Gate. Do not leave out anything you have suggested."  So Haman took the garment and the horse. He clothed Mordecai and paraded him through the city square, crying out before him, "This is what is done for the man the king wants to honor."  Then Mordecai returned to the King's Gate, but Haman hurried off for home, mournful and with his head covered.  Haman told his wife Zeresh and all his friends everything that had happened. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, "Since Mordecai is Jewish, and you have begun to fall before him, you won't overcome him, because your downfall is certain."  While they were still speaking with him, the king's eunuchs arrived and rushed Haman to the banquet Esther had prepared.
There is one event listed in this story that is the pivotal moment. It’s the moment where before it happened, things were one way, and after it happened things were another way. Like a see-saw or teeter-totter whatever you call it, what was high is made low and what was low was lifted up. Did you see what that moment was?
It wasn’t when Esther walked into the throne room. It wasn’t her moment of courage and strength. It wasn’t when Mordecai refused to bow or even stand to recognize Haman. It wasn’t when Haman built the gallows or when Esther fasted and prayed – it was one sleepless night. The hinge of the whole story is the king being unable to sleep. Before that night, Haman was highly exalted as the second in command. After that night, he was humbled. Before that night, Mordecai was sitting in dust and ashes, and the next morning he was being paraded around in the king’s clothes on the king’s horse with a person yelling “This is what happens to someone the king delights honor.”
And what were the events of that night? A whole mountain of “just so happened”.
- It just so happens that the king couldn’t sleep – don’t know why
- JSH that instead of having a woman brought in, or putting white noise on his phone, or having a fan in the corner, he had the journal of daily events read to him
- JSH that the story of Mordecai uncovering the assassination was read.
- JSH he hadn't done anything to celebrate M
- JSH Haman was coming in the courtyard at just that time
I think the whole book of Esther could be called “It just so happened.” And wouldn’t you say that your life is the same? I started this entire Esther series a few weeks ago by saying I’m a pastor today because my grandma liked to sing. And while we all laughed, what if it’s not as far fetched as we think?
It just so happens she taught my mom to like music. It just so happens my dad was a feed truck driver delivering feed to the farm my mom grew up on. Just so happens they fell in love and got married. Just so happens God blessed them with 3 children, the oldest of which was me. Just so happens I fell in love with music at a young age, and learned to play multiple instruments.
Just so happens they raised me to love the church. Just so happens a guy at our church went to Bible school in Ohio and convinced me to go. Just so happens I met Jodi there. Just so happens we fell in love over ping pong and volleyball. Just so happens she lived in Iowa. Just so happens we chose to live here instead of Pennsylvania near my family. Just so happens I got a job doing music at Grace in north liberty and just so happens that while we were there, the right people came around us to help us envision and plant a church.
Now as you listen to the story like that, you lose track of what just so happens, don’t you? You start to see, yeah, maybe something bigger is happening here. Maybe there is more happening in the background of our lives than we think. And that should give us great hope today!
Because our lives contain a lot more “just so happens” than one night with the king, or courageous moments in the courtyard, or uncovering assassination plots.
Maybe you’re sitting here going, “I’m just a mom. Diapers. Dishes. Work. Laundry. Repeat.” I’m not sure God would be able to use me. I’m not sure I’m doing anything that contributes to society.
Or maybe you’re thinking I’m just a farmer; a truck driver, an electrician, a mechanic, a nurse, an office worker: “I’m not in ministry. I’m filling out spreadsheets, not doing anything of eternal significance.”
Maybe you’re thinking “I’m just a student. I don’t know enough to contribute to anything, or talk to people about spiritual things. No one would listen to me because I’m so young.”
And yet the pivotal moment in the story isn’t when the hero steps forward in a giant leap of faith. The pivotal moment is a sleepless night full of ordinary moments, each with profound significance. For those who want to continue to feed your own pride, those tiny moments of life are just annoying. They hold you back. They keep you from greatness and significance. You aren’t worth anything if you aren’t contributing. If you aren’t winning. If you aren’t influential. If you aren’t noticed or thanked.
But the story of Esther and the good news of Jesus says every diaper, every spreadsheet, every product installation, every mile driven, every blood pressure taken, every evening meal, bedtime prayer, every oil filter changed, even sleepless nights have eternal significance for one reason: God is the leading role in human history, not you.
The pivotal moment in this story is one sleepless night, but the pivotal moment in human history is the death and resurrection of Jesus. Before the cross, righteousness comes by the letter of the law – after the cross righteousness comes by the blood of Jesus, applied by the Holy Spirit. Before the cross, the poor and needy were the outcasts and those with power and knowledge were the higher ups. After the cross, sinners and outcasts are lifted up, given a seat at the banquet, and those with power and influence are brought low.
Listen to Romans chapter 5:6-11 and listen for what we were, and what we now are:
This is what we were: helpless, ungodly, sinners, enemies
The cross and resurrection happens, and
Here is what we are: loved, declared righteous, saved from wrath, reconciled to God, rejoicing
When you have been born again by the Spirit of God, like the king pronounced over mordecai, “This is what is done for the person the king wants to honor”, for those who are in Christ, God says about ordinary people doing ordinary things what he said about Jesus: “This is my mechanic with whom I am well pleased! This is my nurse, my wife, my mom, my farmer, my teacher, my electrician, my student, my son or daughter, with whom I am well pleased!” And if that’s true, then all of the small “just so happens” moments in your story and in mind are being overseen and directed by the God of heaven and earth for his glory.
So with that in mind, there are two ways to enter the throne room of God – You can enter like Haman, full of pride demanding that God grant your requests, Or you can enter like Esther, in humility saying “if it pleases the king.” Or better yet, like Jesus saying, “not my will but yours be done” not only in the major moments of life, but in the ordinary happenings of your day.
- Bryan Gregory, Inconspicuous Providence: The Gospel According to Esther (New Jersey: P & R Publishing, 2014), 99