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Esther, Part 2

Over the years of ministry I have been fascinated by the many times that I have been tempted to take matters into my own hands, only to watch as the LORD turned the circumstance totally in the other direction. Most of the time this involved people who said or did something that was unethical, manipulative, or downright sinful, and responding in kind was my first impulse. When I resisted, (to my embarrassment I must confess that I did not resist in every case) I watched as the words of a mentor of mine came true, “Give people enough rope and eventually they will hang themselves.” I wonder if he was reading Esther when he learned that principle.

At my last post we left Esther at the entrance of the King’s chambers where she was about to request an audience with Xerxes in order to intercede on behalf of her people. You will remember that Haman, a high-ranking court official, convinced the King to issue an edict authorizing the annihilation of all Jews on the 13th day of Adar. In the providence of God, the King willingly welcomed Esther into his presence and inquired about her intentions. But instead of immediately explaining her request, she invited the king and Haman to dinner. Evidently the timing for making her request did not suit the queen during this occasion so she invited both the king and Haman to a second banquet the next day. It was during the 24 hours between these two banquets that the twist in the story occurs.

On his way home from the first dinner, Haman convinced himself that Esther invited him to a second dinner in order to bestow royal honors on him. But his joy and adulation were spoiled when he encountered Mordecai, who, consistent with his convictions, refused to bow down to him, an insult that ruined Haman’s fanciful expectation. When he complained to his wife and a few friends, he was advised to execute Mordecai. Gallows were immediately constructed to carry out the deed.

That same night, it just happened that Xerxes could not sleep. So, in order to make himself drowsy, he had the official court ledger read to him. It just happened that the court reporter read the entry where Mordecai discovered the plot to assassinate the king. When Xerxes inquired what had been done to honor Mordecai, he discovered that Mordecai had never been rewarded. At that moment, Haman arrived at the palace to request permission to have Mordecai hanged, only to be pre-empted with the king’s request for advice.

When Haman entered, the king asked him, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor! ‘” (Est 6:6-9 NIV)

Haman must have been delighted, only to be decisively crushed when the king subsequently said these words:

Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. “Get the robe and the horse and do just as you have suggested for Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate. Do not neglect anything you have recommended. (Est 6:10 NIV)

Haman was humiliated and hurried home sulking and mourning. But he wasn’t home long when the king’s eunuchs arrived to escort Haman to Esther’s banquet, during which she revealed her national descent to the king and pleaded for her life and for the lives of her people. Furious at the circumstance, Xerxes stormed out of the room, which gave Haman the opportunity to plead for mercy before the queen by throwing himself prostrate on the couch where she was seated. Just then the king returned, and seeing Haman next to the queen, he assumed the worst and immediately ordered Haman’s execution for inappropriate advances toward Esther. Immediately, Haman was hung on the gallows he had built for Mordecai. The rope intended for Mordecai snapped the life out of Haman.

In a total change of heart, Xerxes issued a decree, reversing the command to slay the Jews, and further stated that if any Jew was attacked, he could defend himself and even retaliate. In the fighting that broke out, thousands of non-Jews were slain. Peace was quickly restored and from then to the present, that day has been observed as a day of Jewish celebration, a feast known as Purim, which means “lot”, the way Haman designated the 13th of Adar for his treachery.

So, the next time you are tempted to take matters in your own hands, remember Mordecai and Haman. God is the advocate of the righteous and the judge of the unrighteous. In the end, the wrong will fail and the right will prevail.

The Prophecy of Jeremiah, Part 1

starsRecently I was studying Isaiah 40-41 and was reminded of the majesty and power of God who spoke the heavens into existence. He strategically positioned the billions and billions of stars and by his divine knowledge he knows every one of them by name. God also effortlessly governs the nations, calling them into existence and then wiping them out with a wisp of his breath. They are nothing in the presence of God. In fact, compared with God, everything else is small. It’s like observing an arborvitae tree after walking among the redwoods. What a letdown!! Now, let’s apply that idea to people. Once we understand God, we are not all that impressed with people. (To further unpack this idea see Ed Welch, When People Are Big and God Is Small, (Presbyterian and Reformed Publishing Co, 1997). Of all the prophets who spoke for God, none understood this idea better than Jeremiah.

Jeremiah lived and preached during the final era of the Southern Kingdom. He was a contemporary of Zephaniah and Habakkuk, who lived before the fall of Jerusalem, as well as Daniel and Ezekiel who lived after the fall of Jerusalem. The content of his preaching had a familiar tone of warning of the coming judgment of God’s people because of their sinfulness.

Why should I forgive you? Your children have forsaken me and sworn by gods that are not gods. I supplied all their needs, yet they committed adultery and thronged to the houses of prostitutes. They are well-fed, lusty stallions, each neighing for another man’s wife. Should I not punish them for this?” declares the LORD. “Should I not avenge myself on such a nation as this?  (Jer 5:7-9 NIV)

This message was uncompromisingly spoken to the last kings who reigned in Judah, warning them of the threat from Assyria, Egypt and finally Babylon, who would take Judah captive for 70 years (25:11-14; 29:10). Jeremiah dramatically illustrated God’s message. One such illustration that demonstrated God’s forgiveness and judgment was given at a potter’s house, where Jeremiah taught that a vessel can be changed while the clay is still wet, but once it dries, it cannot (18:1-19:11). Jeremiah gave many other illustrations that demonstrated his message. But unique to his ministry was that he lived to see his predictions come true. After the Babylonians destroyed Jerusalem, Jeremiah was taken to Egypt where he completed his ministry.

What impresses me about Jeremiah is that he was more impressed with God than he was with men, even kings! When Nebuchadnezzar surrounded Jerusalem, Jeremiah spoke to the king and to the people. “Whoever stays in this city will die by the sword, famine or plague. But whoever goes out and surrenders to the Babylonians who are besieging you will live; they will escape with their lives (Jer 21:9). Other prophets were attempting to rally the people in their resistance. Jeremiah spoke from God – surrender! In Chapter 26:8-15, we read of a time when he was threatened with arrest and even death because he prophesied about God’s judgment against Jerusalem. Notice his response:

Then Jeremiah said to all the officials and all the people: “The LORD sent me to prophesy against this house and this city all the things you have heard. Now reform your ways and your actions and obey the LORD your God. Then the LORD will relent and not bring the disaster he has pronounced against you. As for me, I am in your hands; do with me whatever you think is good and right. Be assured, however, that if you put me to death, you will bring the guilt of innocent blood on yourselves and on this city and on those who live in it, for in truth the LORD has sent me to you to speak all these words in your hearing.”  (Jer 26:12-15 NIV)

Another time he was arrested, beaten and imprisoned because the king and the people were angry with his message of exile to Babylon. Jeremiah was put into a vaulted cell in a dungeon, where he remained a long time. Then King Zedekiah sent for him and had him brought to the palace, where he asked him privately, “Is there any word from the LORD?” “Yes,” Jeremiah replied, “you will be delivered into the hands of the king of Babylon.”  (Jer 37:15-17 NIV)

Jeremiah was a man of the Word of the LORD, with whom he was so impressed that he did not hesitate to deliver his message, even if it cost him great suffering. I wonder how our lives would be different if we had that kind of courage. Are you more impressed with people than with God? How often do we lament to God when someone speaks an unkind word because we are followers of Jesus? How often do we stay silent when an opportunity arises to share the Gospel because we are afraid of what people might think? If our God is really big (which of course he is), let’s turn to him when people present themselves as being bigger, whether it is in their eyes or, worse yet, in our own.

Judgment was not the only element of his message. Jeremiah was also a prophet of hope. We will turn to that message next time.

  1. Read Matt 5:10-12. What is the assumption for those who follow Jesus? What is the reward?
  2. Read 1 Cor 1:18-26. What are the three responses when someone hears the Gospel?
  3. Read 1 Peter 3:13-17. What is the promise to those who are bold in their witness? How is boldness to be tempered? What is the goal of our witness?

The Cross: Expressing The Holy Love of God

Read Exodus 34:6-7

God and man are fundamentally different.  How’s that for a profound statement.  Here is what I mean.  Humanity is infected by sin in every aspect of our being.  The major expression of that sin is self centeredness, the human attribute that largely contributed to the fall.  However, the person who is a Christ follower, whose heart of stone has been replaced by a heart of flesh, who has partaken of the divine nature, who has been born again and filled with the Holy Spirit, also has the nature of Jesus living within (Gal 2:20).  Consequently, as a behavior of discipleship, a Christian can, and should on a daily basis, deny himself. (Luke 9:23).  Instead of being self centered we are to be Christ centered.  We can deny self.  Not so with God.  God cannot deny himself (2 Tim 2:13) So what does this have to do with the cross?

The LORD, the LORD, the compassionate and gracious God, slow to anger, abounding in love and faithfulness,  7 maintaining love to thousands, and forgiving wickedness, rebellion and sin. Yet he does not leave the guilty unpunished; (Exodus 34:6-7 NIV)

Here we have a dual expression of God’s attributes.  God is compassionate, gracious, loving, and forgiving, yet he punishes the guilty.   Doesn’t it seem proper that if the nature of God is rightly expressed in those “loving” attributes that he would just overlook sin and let the guilty off the hook.  Not for a moment.  For God is at the same time holy, and he cannot deny himself.  Sin offends God, it provokes God, and in response he burns with righteous anger and is obligated to pour out his wrath against sin.

In the cross of Christ there is a collision of the holiness and love of God.  And after the smoke clears, the holy love of God is satisfied.  Listen to several statements that have been suggested over the years:

“In the cross of Christ, God’s justice and love are simultaneously revealed” – G.C. Berkouwer

God, “in a marvelous and divine way loved us even when he hated us.” – John Calvin

“The wrath of God is the love of God.” – Emil Brunner

God is both the “Judge who must punish evil-doers and the Lover who must find a way to forgive them.” – John Stott

If you read my most recent post that outlined the nature of Jesus being both God and man, you will remember that I suggested that it was God in Christ who died on the cross.  As such, the cross is the perfect expression of God’s holiness and his love in that God poured out his wrath on himself in order to satisfy himself, and he did it in order to express his love for us.

On Good Friday, when you have occasion to reflect on the cross, marvel at the wonderful truth that in the cross of Jesus, God expresses his holy love.

Beneath the cross of Jesus
I fain would take my stand-
The shadow of a mighty rock
Within a weary land…
O safe and happy shelter!
O refuge tried and sweet!
O trysting-place where heaven’s love
And heaven’s justice meet!

Much of the material in this post is a summary from The Cross of Christ by John R.W. Stott

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