Category Archives: Esther

James 2:1-13: The Foolishness of Favouritism

Michael was homeless. He looked pretty rough. Unshaven. Smelly old shirt, trousers too short, no shoes. One day, he decided to visit the old, traditional church on the corner of the main street. It was full of well-dressed, successful, middle-class people. At THIS church, things were always predictable and controlled and respectable. They wanted to reach into the community. But they weren’t sure how to go about it. Michael arrived late for the service. And so he started walking down the aisle looking for a seat. But there was nowhere obvious to sit, so he kept walking.

By now people had noticed him, and they all looked a bit uncomfortable. Michael got closer and closer to the front until he was in line with the front pew. Then he realized there were no seats there either. What would you do? Ever eye in the place was on him.

Michael casually just squatted down and crossed his legs. And sat right on the carpet. In the middle of the aisle. Directly in front of the pulpit. People began to feel uncomfortable, they looked around at each other. “Somebody should DO something,” they thought.

Just then a welcomer started slowly making his way toward Michael. Bob was in his eighties, and wore a suit. The same one he wore every week.

As he started walking toward Michael, you could hear the buzz. All eyes were focused on him. People were saying under their breath, “Look here comes Bob. He’ll fix things. He’ll straighten this guy out.

You can’t blame him though. How can you expect a man of his age and upbringing to understand someone like that sitting on the floor in church?”

But when he got to the front, instead of telling Michael to get up, he stopped and with great difficulty, lowered himself to the ground and sat down next to Bill.

It was so unexpected. But at the same time it was EXACTLY THE RIGHT thing to do. Exactly what JESUS would have done.

You see, the people in the church that morning were presented with A CHOICE. Maintain respectability. Keep up earthly appearances. Get rid of the messy and the unlovely and the uncontrolled and the complicated.

OR… show unbiased, self-giving, acceptance and love. Irrespective of what the person looked like. Or where they came from. Or how much money they had. What choice would YOU have made?

Q: WHY not discriminate?

That’s what James presents us with. The opportunity to make a choice. A very practical situation. But one that says a lot about THEORY. About your THEOLOGY – what you think about GOD. Look at it with me. In v2.

Suppose a man comes into your meeting wearing a gold ring and fine clothes, and a poor man in shabby clothes also comes in.

That’s the choice. It’s one perhaps you’ve made before as you stand at the front door. Or as you drink your coffee at morning tea. Two different people. From completely different backgrounds. One’s wearing designer clothes, nice aftershave, new iphone, standing tall. Looks people in the eye. Confident, together, Attractive. Easy to talk to.

The other one You can SMELL before you SEE him. Bare feet. Unshaven. Beanie pulled down over his head. Looks around cautiously. Like he’s expecting someone to throw him out any minute. Perhaps he mumbles to himself. Can’t hold a conversation. That’s your choice.

And the WAY you respond/ says something about your VALUES. What is it that EXCITES you? Is it the glory, and glamour, and power, and influence, and potential that go with EARTHLY riches?  Or is it the opportunity to SERVE? To put others first. To seek the glory of GOD’S kingdom? Which glory excites you? Earthly glory, or heavenly glory?

And the NATURAL, INSTINCTIVE response is to gravitate towards the WEALTHY. The attractive. The earthly. Look at v3.

you show special attention to the man wearing fine clothes and say, “Here’s a good seat for you,” but say to the poor man, “You stand there” or “Sit on the floor by my feet,”

The theory is “The more MONEY you have, the more VALUABLE you are.” The more / it’s worth me spending TIME with you.

Look at how the two men are SPOKEN TO. The RICH man receives an OFFER – “Here’s a good seat!” But the POOR man gets treated like DIRT. COMMANDED. Like a pet. “You. Stand there!” or “Sit on the floor at my feet!” More money. More VALUE.

But James says that theory’s all wrong. V4. When you think like that, you DISCRIMINATE. Show favouritism. Judge. And judgments like that are EVIL. AGAINST the way God thinks.

And James gives us FOUR REASONS for not discriminating. Four answers to the question of “Why not discriminate?” One’s to do with Jesus. One’s to do with US. The third’s to do with GOD. And the last reason’s to do with THE LAW.

A1: Because Jesus… (v1)

Firstly, because Jesus… Look at v1.

My brothers, AS BELIEVERS IN OUR GLORIOUS LORD JESUS CHRIST, don’t show favoritism.

The REASON we’re not to show favouritism is because we’re believers in Jesus.

But it’s an unusual description for Jesus. This translation’s a bit awkward. But it’s literally. “as believers in Our Lord Jesus Christ – THE GLORY!”

It’s the GLORY of Jesus that’s being emphasised. The glory of his power and his exalted position at God’s right hand. The glory of God HIMSELF. Listen to 2 Corinthians 4. v4

The god of this age has blinded the minds of unbelievers, so that they cannot see THE LIGHT OF THE GOSPEL OF THE GLORY OF CHRIST, who is the image of God.

All God’s GLORIOUS goodness/ and power/ and holiness/ and wisdom/ and love/ are seen when we look in Jesus’ face. THAT’S the glorious Jesus we believe in.

And James’ point is this. Because JESUS is so glorious/ how can we POSSIBLY get distracted by the EARTHLY glory of riches? Of cars, or clothes, or physical aattractiveness? That glory’s NOTHING compared to the glory of Jesus.

And Jesus’ glory isn’t just GREATER, it’s completely DIFFERENT to the glory of the world. His is a glory of WEAKNESS AND LOVE AND SACRIFICE. The glory of the eternally powerful being born into helpless poverty. The glory of Jesus, the servant King, becoming weak and poor, that we might become ETERNALLY RICH.

If Jesus chose THAT sort of upside-down glory. And if we are those who FOLLOW him, it’s NONSENSE to choose, instead, to honour the pale, temporary, weak EARTHLY glory of money and clothes and influence. It’s the COMPLETE OPPOSITE of Jesus.

A2: Because We… (v5)

That’s the first reason we’re not to discriminate. (Because Jesus). And the second reason is in v5. And it’s to do with US.

You see, I’m not to get distracted by someone ELSE’S riches because I’m ALREADY RICH.

It’s probably news to Caron. But I’m a WEALTHY MAN. That’s why I’m not to be attracted by glory of dollars. Look at v5.

Listen, my dear brothers: Has not God chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world TO BE RICH (there you go – that’s me!) RICH IN FAITH and TO INHERIT THE KINGDOM he promised those who love him?

I ALREADY have riches better than anything Bill Gates has got. So why am I so ATTRACTED to ASSETS? TAKEN with TREASURE? INFATUATED by INCOME?  BESOTTED by BUCKS?

Compared to MY RICHES in Christ. BOTH these men – poor AND rich. Are BANKRUPT AND DESTITUTE. And they’ve got nothing to offer me. We’re inheriting A KINGDOM.

Listen to what WE’VE got that they haven’t. Ephesians 2:4-7

But because of his great love for us, God, who is RICH IN MERCY, {5} made us alive with Christ even when we were dead in transgressions–it is by grace you have been saved. {6} And God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus, {7} in order that in the coming ages he might show THE INCOMPARABLE RICHES OF HIS GRACE, expressed in his KINDNESS TO US IN CHRIST JESUS.

God’s grace and mercy. Knowing and being known by our Creator and Saviour and Lord. It’s gorgeous and lavish and eternal and pure. They’re the riches WE have. Much more valuable than anything EARTHLY. That’s the second reason we shouldn’t discriminate. We’re ALREADY rich.

A3. Because God… (v5)

And the third reason’s in v5 too. We should take notice of the poor because that’s the way GOD works. “Hasn’t GOD chosen those who are poor in the eyes of the world”.

God NEVER looks to those who APPEAR to be the best and brightest. He ALWAYS chooses the LEAST. (It’s the way he’s worked all through the Bible)

Like why he chose Israel. Look at what he says in Deuteronomy 7 v6. One of my favourite verses in the whole Bible.

For you are a people holy to the LORD your God. The LORD your God has CHOSEN you/ out of ALL the peoples on the face of the earth to be his people, his treasured possession. {7} The LORD did NOT set his affection on you and choose you because you were more NUMEROUS than other peoples, for you were the fewest of all peoples. (or because they were the richest, or had the best potential. Why did he do it then?){8} But it was because the LORD / LOVED YOU.

And nothing changes in the New Testament. Look at what Paul says to the Corinthians. And to us. 1 Corinthians 1 v26

Brothers, think of what you were when you were called. Not many of you were wise by human standards; not many were influential; not many were of noble birth. {27} But God chose the foolish things of the world to shame the wise; God chose the weak things of the world to shame the strong. {28} He chose the lowly things of this world and the despised things–and the things that are not–to nullify the things that are, {29} so that no one may boast before him. {30} It is because of him that you are in Christ Jesus, who has become for us wisdom from God–that is, our righteousness, holiness and redemption. {31} Therefore, as it is written: “Let him who boasts boast in the Lord.”

God chooses those who are WEAK. And POOR. And unintelligent. And unattractive. And without connections, or influence. (Don’t take it personally, but that’s you guys!)

And yet WE assume that those who’ll make the best Christians – the most useful and significant – will be those with the money. And the influence. And the experience. And the abilities. And so we gravitate towards them. And think God will build his kingdom THAT way.

And so we love to hear about the CELEBRITY Christian. Kate Bracks the winner of Masterchef a couple of years ago. Or Jarad Hayne, the Parramatta footy player. Or Andrew Scipione the NSW Police Commissioner. Or Mike Baird, the former NSW Premier. We think how INFLUENTIAL they’ll be.

And even though it’s fantastic that God’s saving people from ALL walks of life, we shouldn’t be more excited about THEIR Christian testimony than any other.

Because (But) it’s not the way God works. He doesn’t normally choose the powerful and influential and famous. God loves to choose the LEAST and the LAST and the LOST. And then he USES people like that to build his kingdom. He does it that way, so the honour and glory belongs to HIM. Otherwise, we’d take the credit OURSELVES. That’s the way it’s ALWAYS BEEN.

And so WE should love people like that TOO. In fact, we’re more likely to be choosing the people God chooses when we love the poor and insignificant. That’s the third reason.

A4. Because the law… (1:27; v8-11)

And the fourth reason is to do with THE LAW. We should look after the poor because the law says so. That’s the behaviour that pleases God. Remember back to Ch 1 v27?

Religion that God our Father accepts as pure and faultless is this: to look after orphans and widows in their distress

But it’s more than just some little sub-point of the law. To discriminate against the poor is to break one of THE GREATEST COMMANDS of all. Look at Ch 2 v8.

If you really keep the ROYAL law found in Scripture, “LOVE YOUR NEIGHBOR AS YOURSELF,” you are doing right. {9} But if you show favoritism, you sin and are convicted by the law as LAWBREAKERS.

Love your neighbor as yourself. It’s in Leviticus 19:8.

And when Jesus was asked what the most important laws were, he named THIS ONE as one of two. Because it’s a SUMMARY of a whole lot of other laws.

That’s why James calls it the ROYAL law. Or the Law OF THE KING. Because it’s the law of KING JESUS. The law which characterizes his KINGDOM.

And it’s Jesus’ KINGDOM we’re inheriting according to v5. Which is why it’s appropriate for CITIZENS of the kingdom to behave according to the LAWS of that kingdom. Which are SUMMARISED by the law to love your neighbour as you love yourself.

And that means NOT SHOWING FAVOURITISM. Because to show favouritism/ is NOT to LOVE. It’s as black and white as that. To show favouritism is NOT LOVE.

Love should be UNCONDITIONAL, without strings. But favouritism is conditional. Your treatment of someone depends on what they’re LIKE. And favouritism is, ultimately, SELFISHNESS. Because you want to benefit from what the rich person can do for YOU. Which is NOT LOVE.  YOU SHOW YOU’RE NOT PART OF THE KINGDOM/ WHEN DON’T LOVE. WHEN YOU PICK AND CHOOSE WHO YOU’LL HELP.

What does it mean to love your neighbour like you LOVE YOURSELF? I think it’s MOSTLY about who you put FIRST. Who your top priority is. It’s NATURAL to put YOURSELF first, and OTHERS second.

I’m pushing my trolley up to the checkout, and from the other direction there’s a little old lady with a HUGE trolley. Full of cat food, band aids, tea bags and toilet paper. And she’s brought her own bags, so it will take AGES. And so I just speed up a LITTLE bit. Not enough to be NOTICEABLE, but just enough to get to the checkout FIRST, and save myself three minutes. Do you ever do THAT?

But the law of the kingdom says consider others BEFORE you think about yourself. Love YOUR neighbour. Go to the BACK of the line, rather than push to the FRONT. Even if it’s not NATURAL, even if it’s TOUGH.

James continues. Be challenged. BUT DON’T LOSE HEART. Yes, Jesus commands us to LOVE. And it’s a high bar to clear. But it’s NOT IMPOSSIBLE. Look at v12.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by the law…

(That all sounds a bit depressing. Oppressive. Too hard to measure up to.)

The problem with LAW is/ only 100% will do. We all fail according to THAT law. But that’s not the law we’re to be judged under. James goes on.

Speak and act as those who are going to be judged by THE LAW THAT GIVES FREEDOM,

THAT’S the law for the Christian. Jesus has SATISFIED the perfect demands of God’s law. We have ALREADY been declared righteous. So, James says, speak and act in OBEDIENT RESPONSE to that freedom. We have been FREED FROM judgment. And FREED TO obedience. Speak and act that way. FREELY LOVE, rather than JUDGE, since you’ve been set FREE from judgment.

The Father has made you a new person – regenerated you -because of the Son’s work.

And he’s given you his Spirit. You’re now ABLE to obey. You have the FREEDOM to DO what God desires. To love your neighbour as yourself. To NOT show favouritism. To look after the poor. So DO IT!

Living God’s way sets you FREE to live the fullness of his DESIGN for you.

How will this affect your attitude to people? To people OUT THERE IN ASHFIELD? To visitors at church. Neighbours you wave at, but never speak to. People you meet down Liverpool Rd. Drinkers sitting on our park benches. Or homeless people who wander into morning tea.

God is saying that EVERYONE has value. He chooses the ones we wouldn’t give a second glance to. So GIVE them a second glance. See the VALUE that God places on them.

Perhaps even people here at church you don’t talk to because you ASSUME you’ve got nothing in common with them.

And the flip-side of this/ is your attitude to the ATTRACTIVE. The RICH.

I used to go over to Bellevue Hill occasionally to watch Daniel play cricket against Cranbrook. And the road opposite the park is Wolseley Rd, Point Piper. One of the most expensive streets of Real Estate IN THE WORLD. With $50 million properties!

The lives of people there are COMPLETELY DIFFERENT. Waterfront, servants, cars, boats, views, parties. They have NONE of the problems we face.

It’s easy to look at these people and ASSUME. Assume they’re HAPPY. That THESE people really have it together. That they have a glory that’s worth striving for. Worth being jealous of.

And it was tempting to wonder whether I really had anything to offer them. Whether the gospel would IMPROVE what they had.


And to lose sight of the GLORIOUS Lord Jesus we follow. And the riches we have in him. And that all THAT stuff just pales into insignificance compared to our inheritance.

Don’t ever think that people you know – impressive, in-control, capable attractive people – don’t NEED Christ. Because they DO. Without him, they’re headed for a life of emptiness and vanity. And then an eternity of darkness and loneliness and punishment. No matter HOW rich they are.

Let me share one final story. Warren went to Central Sydney Pressie church when I was there. He grew up on the North Shore. Went to a good school. And trained as a medical doctor. He’s married to Andrea who’s also a doctor. They live in a nice house on the northern beaches.

Life could have been very comfortable for Warren. But every week for the last 10 years or so before I was there, he’d run the Ezekiel ministry in the Surry Hills area. For the homeless, the poor, those in welfare housing, those with psychiatric illnesses – schizophrenia or depression. They’re often anti-social, and smelly. Terrible personal hygiene and health. He’s seen a number of them die over the years. Folk most people want nothing to do with.

And every week they’d meet to talk, study the Bible, and have a meal together. Warren would help with medical matters. And some of them have become his brothers and sisters in Christ.

Warren could see the passing glory of this world’s riches. And the eternal, glorious riches of Christ, and our inheritance in him. And so he doesn’t show favouritism.

That might even be something we could do AROUND HERE.

For YOU, it might look like something different.

But it’s got to LOOK LIKE something. You can’t just SAY it.

How are YOU not going to show favouritism, and instead show how much you VALUE THE RICHES OF YOUR ETERNAL INHERITANCE?

Esther Introduction

The events of Esther take place in Persia (present day Iran) during the reign of King Xerxes from 486 to 465 B.C. It has been over one hundred years since the beginning of the exile, and Babylon has been conquered by Persia. The story is set in the city of Susa, which is where the king has his winter palace.

The remnant Jews have been scattered throughout Mesopotamia by the Persian government. The Jews cling to their religious identity and even their flickering hope of a Messiah who will rescue them. King Cyrus of Persia fulfilled a divine prophecy that allowed the Jews to return to Judah in 536 BC. While thousands made the journey (retold in the books of Ezra and Nehemiah), most, including Mordecai and Esther, simply remained where they were in Persia, rather than risk starting over.

Esther’s story presents the last major threat to, and deliverance of, the Jewish people in the Old Testament period. The Jewish festival of Purim, which is still celebrated today, is established in Esther, which accounts for the book’s great popularity among the Jewish people.

Esther is known for being the only book in which God is not mentioned. This doesn’t mean the book has nothing to teach us. It is a wonderful story of God’s providence and the character of his people told with humour, irony, repetition and contrast. The major theme is that God is working in the circumstances and events of people’s lives to bring about his plans. God is the director, the conductor, the weaver. When we respond in obedience and godliness, God can use us to bring about his purposes.

Esther 1-3: A Persecuted People

India. Jan 23, 1999: Graham Staines, an Australian missionary was working among leprosy sufferers in Orissa, one of India’s poorest states.

When he visited outlying regions, he’d often sleep overnight in his car. But on this night, his car was surrounded by a mob of 100 Hindu fanatics. They torched his car, and he was killed – burned alive, together with his two infant sons.

All for being a Christian.

Sept 9, 2005, Lahore, Pakistan: Younis Masih, a Christian, visited his Muslim neighbour, and asked him to turn down his Islamic music. It turned out the neighbour was holding an Islamic service or Qawali, which involved mystical singing.

The following day, some of the guests found Masih, and beat him unconscious with sticks. When his wife, Meena, tried to stop them, she was beaten as well.

Things just got worse. Before long, announcements were made at local mosques, and about 400 Muslims attacked and looted Christian homes, and a church.

The angry crowd demanded police charge Masih with blasphemy. Masih, who was already at the police station registering a complaint against the group, was arrested. The All Pakistan Minorities Alliance/ reports that he was d.

Younis Masih is still being held in jail awaiting trial for blasphemy. All for being a Christian.

Southern Sri Lanka, Good Friday, 1999. The Assemblies of God church building of Pastor Lalani Jayasinghe is destroyed by two powerful , set by militant Buddhist priests. 11 years earlier, her husband Lionel, who’d planted the church had been brutally ed – stabbed and shot in front of Lalani.

All because they were Christians.

In fact, here’s a map showing the countries around the world where Christians are experiencing persecution RIGHT NOW. It’s sobering to realize HOW MUCH of the world is opposed to the of the good news about Jesus.

How can weak and insignificant Christians survive against opposition LIKE THAT? Before the might of rioting violent mobs? Of militant other-religions? Of unjust persecution? Of corrupt governments?

Where is God in all of that? Where do we see his power and love and wisdom and victory?

And what about us? In Australia? We may not experience opposition as blatant as THAT. But in many ways things aren’t looking good for Christianity here either.

With a government that looks more HUMANISTIC and AMORAL as every year goes by. As Biblical morals lose more and more ground to post-modern, politically-correct legislation. As society becomes more and more tolerant of absolutely every form of deviant behaviour, but less and less tolerant of Christians standing up for the truth.

Where is God in all of THAT? What does it mean to live as a Christian in THAT SORT of society?

It’s questions like THIS the Book of Esther answers…

Although it’s not the most OBVIOUS place you’d turn to with these sorts of questions. Because Esther’s perhaps BEST known for being the only book in the Bible NOT to mention God at all. Which seems really STRANGE on the surface. But I think even THAT’S deliberate, And teaches us something about who God is. And how he works.

Apart from anything though, Esther is A GREAT STORY. Finely-crafted literature. There’s humour and irony, there’s tension, and suspense, and drama.

I hope there’ll be points at which you’ll LAUGH OUT LOUD. And REJOICE AND CELEBRATE the goodness and power and wisdom of God.

And I hope, along the way, we might learn what it means to live as God’s woman or man. In the midst of people who want nothing to do with him, and who want to harm us.

And we might learn about the God who, despite not being seen or heard. Is still in control of history.

1. The Party to End all Parties (Ch 1)

So with all of that said, let’s turn to the book of Esther. (p354)

And it begins the way it ends. With a PARTY. In fact, parties pop up over and over in this story. So keep an eye out for them.

But this FIRST party. Is a party to end all parties.

The host is King Xerxes. He’s the ruler of the Medes and the Persians. The great super-power of the time. So that makes him THE MOST POWERFUL MAN IN THE WORLD.

It’s about 460 BC. Persia’s conquered Babylon, and now Xerxes is enjoying the limelight. He throws a party for all the VIP’s. The movers and shakers of the kingdom. But it’s the party to end all parties. It goes on for 6 months! Showing off his vast wealth.

And then, to top THAT off, he has ANOTHER party. This one only goes for SEVEN days. But this time, he invites THE WHOLE CITY!

And even HIS palace can’t fit that many people, so he moves it to the backyard. And the wine flows, and the party goes on and on. No expense spared. Food and drink in abundance.

The picture that’s painted is one of over-the-top power and wealth and opulence and extravagance. This guy has EVERYTHING!

And we pick up the story in v10. Because after 7 days, the author tells us, with remarkable understatement, the King was IN HIGH SPIRITS with wine! Drunk as a skunk in other words.

And it’s here he makes the first of his FOOLISH decisions. The first of MANY. Because that’s what this king is. Nothing more than a FOOL. He might be the richest and most powerful man in the world. But he’s nothing more than a PROUD, generous, hedonistic FOOL.

He summons his queen. The beautiful Vashti. Not to talk to her. But to SHOW HER OFF. Just like he’s been doing with the rest of his POSSESSIONS for the last six months.

But, even though, she’s risking , the queen REFUSES. And the king’s FURIOUS.

It’s ironic that the most powerful man in the world/ can’t even control his own wife!

But because he’s such a fool. He’s not sure what he should do. So he asks his wise men. And they tell him what to do. The fate of families all over the kingdom is at stake. If he doesn’t act decisively/ wives everywhere will get ideas. And start disobeying their husbands. And who knows where THAT would lead.

And so they suggest the king issues A ROYAL DECREE. That Vashti will never enter the King’s presence again. Banished. In the dog-house PERMANENTLY. And they’ll find a NEW QUEEN to take her place. THAT’LL show wives everywhere!

It’s a law that can’t be changed, or cancelled. Once it’s sealed, it’s set in stone. Immovable.

Or so everyone thinks.

It’s the first of a few of these so-called “unchangeable” laws. And each time, God manages to WORK AROUND and THROUGH them to bring about his purposes. Just like he always does.

Man’s decisions might seem so solid and certain and unchangeable. But they’re just DUST – WIND – compared to the purposes of God.

And so the decree goes out. And the chapter ends as the party ends. With the king sleeping off the hangover to end all hangovers.

2. Miss Persia Pageant. (Ch 2)

And Ch 2 begins with THE MORNING AFTER. The hangover’s worn off, and Xerxes has calmed down a bit. He remembers what he’d done. It’s all a bit blurry, but he eventually puts the pieces together.

And he realizes he’s without a queen. And so his servants come up with a plan. (It doesn’t seem like Xerxes does MUCH on his own!) The plan is for a MISS PERSIA PAGAENT. Persian idol. The search for the new queen.

And it’s here that we meet our e – Esther – or Hadassah, which is her Hebrew name. V7 tells us she’s LOVELY IN FORM AND FEATURES. That’s bible-speak for “A good sort”! And immediately we know who’s going to win the pageant.

She lives with her uncle Mordecai. Morty for short. And he’ll play his OWN important part in the story.

Not surprisingly, Esther’s discovered, and she’s taken off to beauty school. Where she instantly becomes the favourite. v 9 of Ch 2

And as we read through this section we’re reminded of Joseph. Or perhaps Daniel. Two Jews who ALSO had a dream-run in a foreign court. Who ALSO showed wisdom and godliness in the face of difficult circumstances.

And Esther’s doing the same. She finds favour with everyone. She LISTENS to everyone. Keeps her head down, and does as she’s told. Living WISELY in a foreign land.

And we see another part of her wisdom in v10. because Uncle Morty has told her not to let on that she was Jewish. To keep that card up her sleeve. It doesn’t seem like much, but it’s another crucial part of the story.

And so, after 12 months of beauty routines, Esther’s summoned to the King. And of course, he falls head over heels for her. V17 says.

17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.

And there’s ANOTHER banquet. This time for Esther. The LAST one was when Vashti LOST the crown. THIS one celebrates Esther GAINING hers.

3. Two Plots, two men (2:19-3:15)

It’s all good news so far. But now the story takes its first twist. The first of MANY. We’re introduced to TWO PLOTS, and TWO MEN.

The FIRST man is Uncle Morty. Some time later, he’s sitting outside the palace gate, where he always sat. Waiting for any news from Esther.

When he hears some news of a DIFFERENT kind. Plot number 1. Two court officers scheming to kill Xerxes. And Mordecai knows what to do. He’s wise and upright and righteous and loyal. (He could have kept quiet. Figured it was none of his business. After all, he’s not Persian – what’s it got to do with him.)

But he doesn’t. He does what’s RIGHT. He reports the plot to Esther, and the two men are hanged. And the events were recorded in the official records. Which is ANOTHER significant minor detail.

And so we come to Ch 3, and our SECOND man. And the second PLOT. His name’s Haman. And he’s our BADDY. He’s everything Mordecai ISN’T. He’s the one everyone loves to BOO. Which is pretty obvious if we know our Jewish history. Because he’s a descendant of AGAG the Amalekite. The Amalekites were long-time enemies of the Jews. And Haman’s no exception, as we’re soon to find out.

Haman’s an official on the fast-track to success. He’s given a position higher than all the other nobles. And Haman LOVES it. Because everyone bows and scrapes whenever he passes by. Because the king’s commanded it. Everyone that is except Mordecai.

Which makes Haman FURIOUS. But once he learns that Mordecai’s a JEW, he comes up with a plan to destroy not just MORDECAI, but Jews EVERYWHERE.

And for the first part of his plan, he has to CAST LOTS. To find out his lucky date. The best time for his plan.

How ironic that Haman looks to the DICE to give him guidance. But WE know that God’s even in control of the DICE. He’s the one who decides how they fall, who sets the date for Haman’s plan.

The word for the lot is PUR, or PURIM as a plural. And it becomes the name for Jewish festival that celebrates this event. It’s celebrated even to this day. Dice Day. And Jews will smile as they remember Purim, because they think about the lot that’s cast. How man thinks it’s all about CHANCE. Yet God is behind it all!

That’s seeing life with the eyes of faith. Choosing to see God’s hand in the things that happen. Events that other people just dismiss as good luck.

Where can you see God’s hand in YOUR life?

But back to Haman. With his date set. Eleven months time. He heads off to King Xerxes. It’s not much of a story. But it doesn’t TAKE much to fool THIS king. Look at his pitch. Ch 3 v8.

There is a certain people dispersed and scattered among the peoples in all the provinces of your kingdom whose customs are different from those of all other people and who do not obey the king’s laws; it is not in the king’s best interest to tolerate them. 9 If it pleases the king, let a decree be issued to destroy them, and I will put ten thousand talents of silver into the royal treasury for the men who carry out this business.”

There’s a whole nation I don’t like. Take my word for it – it would be best for you if we just wiped them out. I’ll even pay for the .

And Xerxes agrees. And he makes ANOTHER of those irreversible royal decrees. Sent to every corner of the kingdom. V13.

to destroy, kill and annihilate all the Jews-young and old, women and little children-on a single day, the thir th day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods.

And the chapter finishes. Xerxes and Haman sit down to celebrate with a drink. But the city of Susa is bewildered. There’s CONFUSION. They can’t work out WHAT’S going on. Which is no wonder – when you’ve got a FOOL for a king!

It’s the classic cliff-hanger ending. What will happen to God’s people? What will happen to Esther and Mordecai? How will God’s salvation be seen?

Stay tuned ‘til next week.


But before we find out what DOES happen, it’s worth thinking about what this part of the story says to US.

Because, most of the time, WE’RE forced to make decisions standing on the edge of cliffs JUST LIKE THIS. Where we CAN’T see what’s around the corner. Where we CAN’T see God’s hand.  Where every step takes FAITH and TRUST in an invisible God. Who’s PROMISED to work all things for good. But who doesn’t seem to be showing too MUCH of it at the moment.

And just like Esther, I think the lesson for us is that it’s all about LIVING WISELY IN A FOREIGN LAND.

That’s just what God had to say to his people in Jeremiah 29 (p558). They’d been carried off to Babylon. It felt like their world was caving in around them. That God had abandoned them. But here’s what God says. Here’s how they were to live. Jeremiah 29 starting at v4.

4 This is what the LORD Almighty, the God of Israel, says to all those I carried into exile from Jerusalem to Babylon: 5 “Build houses and settle down; plant gardens and eat what they produce. 6 Marry and have sons and daughters; …Increase in number there; do not decrease. 7 Also, seek the peace and prosperity of the city to which I have carried you into exile. Pray to the LORD for it, because if it prospers, you too will prosper.

Then down to v10.

10 This is what the LORD says: “When seventy years are completed for Babylon, I will come to you and fulfill my gracious promise to bring you back to this place. 11 FOR I KNOW THE PLANS I HAVE FOR YOU,” DECLARES THE LORD, “PLANS TO PROSPER YOU AND NOT TO HARM YOU, PLANS TO GIVE YOU HOPE AND A FUTURE.

In other words, live each day with CONFIDENCE that God’s plans and timing are perfect. Honour him in your decisions. Be content in your attitudes. Work for the good of those around you.

That’s living wisely in a foreign land.

You may not think you’re living in a foreign land. Australia’s your HOME. OR IS IT!? Because, if we turn to the New Testament, Peter says that if you’re a Christian, WHEREVER you live, you’re just PASSING THROUGH. You’re on a tourist visa. Your TRUE home is somewhere else. Flip over to 1 Peter 2:11-12 (p858)

11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

Our true home is in heaven. Our inheritance is being kept there. This world is only temporary – the tent, the caravan. Treat it that way. Live and act as citizens of heaven, as children of you heavenly father. Live wisely in this foreign land.

That’s easier to do for some than others. It must be an incredibly difficult thing for Christians to do in places like Indonesia and Vietnam and Pakistan and Sri Lanka.

And for some of YOU, I KNOW that you’re struggling to live with that kind of TRUST that God knows what he’s doing, or is in control.

But I think this is true. The greater the difficulties, (the harder it is to keep living like that), the GREATER the glory that Jesus receives when you MANAGE it. And the greater your reward when you MAKE it to the end.

Let me finish with these words. Also from 1 Peter. Ch 1 v4.

You have an inheritance that can never perish, spoil or fade-kept in heaven for you, …6 In this you greatly rejoice, though now for a little while you may have had to suffer grief in all kinds of trials. 7 These have come so that your faith may be proved genuine and may result in praise, glory and honor when Jesus Christ is revealed.

Esther 4-6: … For Such A Time As This!

Corrie Ten Boom lived behind a small jewelry store in the heart of the Jewish section of Amsterdam. The year was 1940. She and all her family were devoted members of the Dutch Reformed Church. Many of their friends and neighbours were Jewish.

Then Holland surrendered to the s. And before long, these same Jewish families were being arrested and driven out of their homes. And Corrie had a DECISION to make. And it was a decision that would REFLECT HER TRUST THAT GOD WAS IN CONTROL.

For Corrie, the decision was an easy one. Before long, the ten Boom family were risking their lives to help their Jewish neighbours. She gave them temporary shelter. She found places for them to stay in the Dutch countryside. Soon the word , and more and more people came to her home for shelter. As quickly as she could find places for them, more would arrive. She even had a false wall built in her bedroom, so people could hide behind it.

After a year and a half, her home had developed into the center of an underground ring that reached throughout Holland. Every day, dozens of reports, requests, and people came in and out of their watch shop. Corrie found herself dealing with hundreds of stolen ration cards each month to feed the Jews that were hiding in underground homes all over Holland.

On February 28, 1944, they were betrayed by a informant. Her home was raided, and Corrie and her family were arrested. Corrie and her older sister Betsie remained in a series of prisons and concentration camps, first in Holland and later in Germany.

Once again, Corrie had a tough decision to make. And once again, her DECISION WOULD REFLECT HER TRUST IN GOD’S CONTROL.

The concentration camp was a place of misery and . Of suffering and depression. For many people, it would have been the end of their work –But not for Corrie and Betsie. They refer to the months they spent in Ravensbruck as “their finest hour.” Corrie describes a typical evening church service.

“At first Betsie and I called these meetings with great timidity. But as night after night went by and no guard ever came near us, we grew bolder. Before long, so many wanted to join us that we held a second service after evening roll call…

(These) were services like no others, these times in Barracks 28. A single meeting night might include a recital of the Magnificat in Latin by a group of Roman Catholics, a whispered hymn by some Lutherans, and a chant by Easter Orthodox women.

With each moment, the crowd around us would swell, packing the nearby platforms, hanging over the edges, until the high structures groaned and swayed.”

“At last either Betsie or I would open the Bible. Since only the Hollanders could understand the Dutch text we would translate aloud into German. And then we would hear the life-giving words passed back along the aisles in French, Polish, Russian, Czech, and back into Dutch. They were little previews of heaven, these evenings beneath the light bulb” (Ten Boom 1971, p. 201)

Betsie, who’d never been terribly healthy, grew steadily weaker and died on December 16, 1944. Some of her last words to Corrie were, “…(we) must tell them what we’ve learned here. We must tell them that THERE IS NO PIT SO DEEP THAT HE IS NOT DEEPER STILL.

That’s a declaration of TRUST. A statement which says a lot about the sort of faith that Betsie and Corrie had to make the decisions they did.

(Some time later, Corrie was released from Ravensbruck. She made her way back to Haarlem, and eventually began traveling around the world, telling her story).

(pause) What sort of faith does it take to make decisions like that? What sort of a God do you need to believe in/ to show courage and grace like that?

It’s the same faith Esther and Mordecai showed. And it’s the same GOD who works through that courage. To bring about his purposes. Purposes of saving his people.

And it’s the same faith YOU can show in the decisions YOU make.. It’s pretty unlikely they’ll ever be as tough as the ones Corrie ten Boom had to make. But it’s the same GOD. And he STILL works out his purposes to SAVE people/ through ordinary faithful people like YOU and me, and Esther and Mordecai, and Corrie ten Boom.

For such a time as this

You can see the heart of that lesson on the lips of Mordecai. Ch 4 v13. Follow it with me. The decree to exterminate the Jews has gone out. And the whole Jewish nation’s in mourning. Mordecai does his homework, and finds out that Haman’s the one behind it.

And Mordecai tells Esther to PLEAD with the King, – to beg for her life, and the life of her people.

But Esther’s overwhelmed by the danger. And doubting whether she could see it through. She’s not sure God’s got a plan worked out. She’s at the cross-roads, and doesn’t know which path to take.

And look at what Mordecai says to her. Ch 4 v13.

“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape. 14 for if you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the JEWS WILL ARISE FROM ANOTHER PLACE, but YOU AND YOUR FATHER’S FAMILY WILL PERISH. And WHO KNOWS BUT THAT YOU HAVE COME TO ROYAL POSITION FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS?”

In other words, God WILL SAVE his PEOPLE. Mordecai’s SURE of THAT.

And you’ve arrived at this point in time. And the choice is laid out before you, he says. You can CHOOSE to TRUST – make the hard decision. Speak up. And be USED by God to bring about his purposes, and save his people.

Or/ you can keep silent. Miss the chance to be part of God’s salvation plan. And the opportunity will pass you by. And YOU’LL be the one who misses out! The choice is yours.

(pause) My parents spent two years in Vanuatu – at the Bible college Andy and Rosemary Williamson are returning to. And while DAD really wanted to go, Mum DIDN’T. Her health wasn’t great, and she D the heat and humidity.

But she KNEW Vanuatu was where God wanted her. And she said, whenever someone asked her why she was going, “BECAUSE GOD NEVER BLESSES DISOBEDIENCE.” God never blesses disobedience.

She could have decided NOT to go. And held onto an easier life. She could quite possibly have had a more healthy and relaxing of years. I don’t think anyone would have thought any less of her. She was into her 60’s.

But, even though she didn’t know the future, Mum trusted God. And she knew that MORE GOOD would come TO her, and THROUGH her, by being OBEDIENT/ than DISobedient. Not necessarily more health or wealth or comfort or success. Just GOOD.

God never blesses disobedience. That’s a position of FAITH.

Jesus put it like this (John 12:25-26)

25 The man who loves his life will lose it, while the man who s his life in this world will keep it for eternal life. 26 Whoever serves me must follow me; and where I am, my servant also will be. My Father will HONOR the one who serves me.

Will you TRUST that promise? How will that trust affect the decisions you make?

Back to Mordecai. Look again at his view on God’s plans. That last sentence in v14. “Who knows? Perhaps YOU’ve COME TO ROYAL POSITION FOR SUCH A TIME AS THIS?”

In other words, perhaps God’s guided YOUR WHOLE LIFE up to this point for you to make this decision.

Notice what he’s saying about GOD BEING IN CONTROL on ONE HAND. And us having CHOICES THAT MATTER/ on the OTHER hand.

God has his plans which involve us. He’s in control. And everything he plans, happens. Yet, we’re truly free to choose to not be involved.

On the one hand, he’s NOT saying that it’s all about FATE. That God’s a giant watchmaker, who’s wound up the world, and is just watching it unwind. That everything works out a certain way WHATEVER choices you make.

And he’s NOT saying that it’s all about CHANCE or LUCK. That everything’s up to us. That there IS no plan or order.

You see, God HAS planned history, and he’s in control. But he USES the choices we make. to bring about his purposes. Our free will, somehow, operates WITHIN THE SPHERE of God’s sovereignty.

And so/ the upshot of all that/ is that OUR CHOICES MATTER. You’re not a worthless pawn in some cosmic game of chess. Your choices are part of God’s PERFECT and GOOD PLANS.

And the choices you make, reflect the trust you have that God is working out his purposes THROUGH you, and FOR you.

And so, that’s the challenge Mordecai leaves with Esther;


Perhaps you need to be making a tough decision just like that.

  • There’s a new opportunity. But it seems RISKY. You’ll have to give something up to do it. It’s scary, and you’re not sure you can do it. Is it worth it?
  • You’ve got a friend, or a parent, who you need to tell about Jesus. It could cost you your friendship. Is it worth it?
  • There’s a decision about giving money to a ministry. You can do it, but it will be at a cost. Is it worth it?
  • There’s a sin you can’t seem to shake. Radical surgery is called for. But it’s going to mean people will find out. Is it worth it.

And for Esther, the question’s the same. The stakes are HUGE. She could lose her life. Is it worth it?

It’s a decision Esther can’t make lightly. So she asks Mordecai to organize everyone to FAST with her. To plead with God for his favour on the plan. His GUIDANCE and HELP and COURAGE.

And she finishes the chapter with a steely resolve. V16.

“When this is done, I will go to the king, even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.”

Is it worth it? Yes, it’s worth it! Even if I DIE.

2. The plan (5:1-8)

And so, after three days of fasting (and prayer) Esther summons up her courage and visits the King. God’s at work, and the king’s pleased to see her.

But rather than come right out with her request, she has A PLAN instead. A plan that’s not just about DELIVERANCE, but about JUSTICE. About bringing HAMAN down. And you can see it there in v4.

4 “If it pleases the king,” replied Esther, “let the king, together with Haman, come today to A BANQUET I have prepared for him.”

Another banquet. A private party, hosted by Esther, with just Haman and Xerxes. Well, it’s no surprise – Xerxes being the party-animal that he is – that he LOVES the idea. So he summons Haman AT ONCE.

But once the party’s going, and Xerxes pushes the point. STILL Esther won’t come out with it.. Instead they’re to come to ANOTHER party TOMORROW. And THAT’S when she’ll answer the king’s question.

3. Twists and turns.

But between the first and second parties we’ve got a few TWISTS AND TURNS in the plot.

Everything’s been fairly straightforward until now. But now things start to get interesting. On the surface they might all look like COINCIDENCE, but for US, who can see with the eyes of FAITH, it’s God’s hand behind it all.

Where God’s concerned, there’s no such thing as coincidence or luck!

The first twist is to do with Haman. He’s feeling pretty pleased with himself as he makes his way home after the party. After all, he’s the ONLY ONE Queen Esther invited along to her special banquet with the king.

Little does he know it’s because she’s out to get him. He’s got the target painted on his back – and he DOESN’T EVEN KNOW IT!

There he is, walking along with a contented smirk on his face. Until he passes the king’s gate. And sees Mordecai there. Who STILL won’t bow down to him.

And it drives Haman WILD. “Doesn’t he know WHO I AM? Who ELSE gets to have a feast with the king and queen?” And he decides that he can’t WAIT to destroy Mordecai – he’s got to do it FIRST THING TOMORROW.

So he spends his night organizing Mordecai’s destruction. A 25m tall gallows is built. Just waiting for Mordecai. And then Haman will lob up to the King before breakfast, and make sure it happens straight away.

But THE TWIST/ is that at just the same time/ King Xerxes is ALSO making some plans for Mordecai. (Look at it there from the start of Ch 6).

It JUST SO HAPPENED that the King couldn’t get to sleep that night. And so he got his servant to read out the palace minutes.

(Not sure whether he wanted to catch up on some paperwork, or just wanted to get put to sleep). But whatever his intentions, he discovers Mordecai was never rewarded for his loyalty. His part in the arrest and of the traitors.

And so the king decides something should be done.

One man plotting Mordecai’s DOWNFALL. The OTHER plotting his EXALTATION.

And because this king can’t make up his own mind about ANYTHING, who looks for an advisor. V4.

“Who is in the court?” Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him.

5 His attendants answered, “Haman is standing in the court.”

“Bring him in,” the king ordered.

What a coincidence! Haman’s arrived nice and early to get Haman’s ORDER. But Xerxes has something ELSE in mind.

But that’s not the end of the twists and turns. Because the king’s going to ask HIS ADVICE. V6

“Haman. What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?”

Now WE know he’s talking about Mordecai. But Haman assumes he’s talking about HIMSELF. AFTER ALL – he’s the one invited to the Queen’s private party!

Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would rather honor than me?” 7 So he answered the king, “For the man the king delights to honor, 8 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. 9 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!'”

The king reckons that sound GREAT! So he says

10 “Go at once, 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.”

And after Haman picks his jaw up off the ground. He goes and DOES it. Imagine the HUMILIATION. Haman HIMSELF leading Mordecai through the streets proclaiming “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour.”

It’s THE ULTIMATE REVERSAL. Haman’s arrived at the palace hoping to lead Mordecai through the streets IN CHAINS. To his . But instead he leads him thorough the streets wearing the king’s robe, seating on the king’s horse.

And Haman can hardly BEAR it. While Mordecai happily goes back to his place at the king’s gate, Haman covers his head in shame, and collapses before his wife and friends.

And when THEY hear what’s happened, they recognize what WE’VE know all along. That the God of Israel’s behind it all. These events aren’t just coincidence. They bear the unmistakable fingerprint of Israel’s God – the one who’s powerful, and who controls history, and saves his people. Who rescues them from their enemies. Look at what they say. V13.

“Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of JEWISH ORIGIN, you cannot stand against him-you will SURELY COME TO RUIN!”

You haven’t got a hope! And it’s with THAT cheery message ringing in his ears that Haman heads off to his banquet. At least he’s got THAT to look forward to. Or so he thinks.

But that’s where we finish it until next week.

Some delightful twists and turns. For those who choose to see it/ God’s hand is OBVIOUS. Everything has worked out just as God planned it. There ARE no coincidences.

And God WILL save his people. But that’s next week.

BUT OUR LIVES ARE NO DIFFERENT. Despite the twists and turns in OUR LIVES. There are no coincidences there EITHER.

Do you believe that? Do your decisions REFLECT that trust? God has a purpose in EVERY DECISION YOU MAKE.


Your decision might make a BIG DIFFERENCE. Or it might only make a SMALL difference. But God will bless your obedience anyway.

Your obedience may not affect anyone else other than YOU. Perhaps it’s just about trusting God in ONE DECISION. About ONE PERSON. Or ONE ATTITUDE.

But God will never bless disobedience. And he WILL bless OBEDIENCE AND TRUST IN HIM.

Let me share one last story about Corrie ten Boom that shows what I mean. It was a few years after the end of the war. Corrie had ANOTHER of her tough decisions to make. Perhaps not one that was about PERSONAL DANGER. Or about saving lives. But was probably even HARDER to MAKE. She tells the story in one of her books;

“It was in a church in Munich that I saw him, a balding heavy-set man in a gray overcoat, walking towards me. People were filing out of the room where I’d just spoken. It was 1947 and I’d come from Holland to defeated Germany WITH THE MESSAGE THAT GOD FORGIVES. …

One moment I saw the overcoat and the brown hat; the next, a blue guard’s uniform and a visored cap with its skull and crossbones.

It came back with a rush: the huge prison room with its harsh overhead lights, the pathetic pile of dresses and shoes in the center of the floor, the shame of walking past this man.

He said “You mentioned Ravensbruck in your talk, I was a guard in there.” “But since that time, I’ve become a Christian. I know that God’s forgiven me for the cruel things I did there, but I would like to hear it from your lips as well.

Fraulein, …” his hand came out, … “will you forgive me?”

And I stood there — I, whose sins had every day to be forgiven — and COULD NOT. Betsie had died in that place — could he erase her slow terrible simply for the asking?

It couldn’t have been MANY seconds that he stood there, hand held out, but to me it seemed HOURS as I wrestled with the most difficult thing I’d ever had to do.

For I HAD to do it — I knew that. The message that God forgives has A PRIOR CONDITION/: that we forgive those who have injured us. “If you do not forgive men their trespasses,” Jesus says, “neither will your Father in heaven forgive your trespasses.” …

And still I stood there with the coldness clutching my heart. But forgiveness is not an emotion — I knew that too. Forgiveness is an act of the will, and the will can function regardless of the temperature of the heart. “Jesus, help me!” I prayed silently. “I can lift my hand, I can do that much. You supply the feeling.”

And so woodenly, mechanically, I thrust my hand into the one stretched out to me. And as I did, an incredible thing took place. The current started in my shoulder, raced down my arm, sprang into our joined hands. And then this healing warmth seemed to flood my whole being, bringing tears to my eyes.

“I forgive you, brother!” I cried. “With all my heart!”

For a long moment we grasped each other’s hands, the former GUARD and the former PRISONER. I’d never known God’s love so intensely as I did then.

God blessed Corrie’s obedience. And he’s waiting to bless YOURS. Will you TRUST him?

Esther 7-10: Party Time!

November 1989. And East Germany was beginning to self-destruct. News like wildfire around Europe that THE BERLIN WALL was about to fall.

It had been the GREAT SYMBOL OF DIVISION. The barrier between East and West, Between Democracy and Communism. A wall that had separated friends, and families, and fellow Germans for 50 years was coming down.

FIVE MILLION PEOPLE descended on Berlin to witness history. To celebrate the end of the Wall, the end of the Cold War, the end of Communism, and the reunification of Germany.


Here are some recollections from Andreas Ramos, who drove from Denmark to be there.

“At the East German border, people milled around. It was nearly 3 a.m. by now. It had taken us three hours to get through the traffic jam of cheering and applause. Everyone had their radios on, and everywhere was music. People had climbed up into trees, signs, buildings, everything, to wave and shout. Television teams stood around filming everything. People set up folding tables and were handing out cups of coffee.

We walked through the border. On both sides the guard towers were empty and the barbed wire was shoved aside in great piles. Large signs told us that we needed sets of car documents. The East German guard asked if we had documents. I handed him my cat’s vaccination documents, in Danish. He waved us through.

We were finally inside East Germany, and arrived in Berlin at 4:30 a.m.

At seven a.m. or so, we headed to the Potsdammer Platz. Everything was out of control. People were everywhere. Police on horses watched. There was nothing they could do. People were blowing long alpine horns which made a huge noise. There were fireworks, kites, flags, dogs, and children.

The wall was finally breaking. Cranes lifted slabs aside. East and West German police had traded caps.

At the Berlin Wall itself, which is 3 meters high, people had climbed up and were sitting astride. In one section, the final slab was moved away. A stream of East Germans began to pour through. People applauded and slapped their backs. A woman handed me a giant bottle of wine, which I opened, and she and I began to pour cups of wine and hand them to the East Germans.

Packed in with thousands, I stood at the break in the wall. Above me, a German stood atop the wall, waving his arms and shouting reports to the crowd.

Looking around, I saw an indescribable joy in people’s faces. It was the end of the government telling people what not to do, it was the end of the Wall, the war, the East, the West.

If East Germans were going west, then we should go east, so we poured into East Berlin. Around me, people spoke German, French, Polish, Russian, every language.

Near me, a knot of people cheered as the mayors of East Berlin and West Berlin met and shook hands. I stood with several East German guards, their rifles slung over their shoulders. I asked them if they had bullets in those things. They grinned and said no.

From a nearby house, someone had set up loudspeakers and played Beethoven’s ninth symphony: “Ode to Joy”. The words begin

“Joy, bright spark of divinity, Daughter of Paradise, we tread your sanctuary. Your power re-unites all that custom has divided,  ALL MEN BECOME BROTHERS under the sway of your gentle wings.”

(pause) It must have been an incredible experience. That’s a SERIOUS party. A party to end all parties!

When you’ve got something WORTHWHILE to celebrate – like UNITY AND DELIVERANCE – a party can be a FANTASTIC experience. There’s a richness and significance to the JOY/

It’s so much deeper and more real than a party simply for the sake of having a good time.

It’s the difference between parties with PURPOSE and parties for PLEASURE. Like the sort of thing you see on TV on New Year’s Eve. Or Mardi Gras. People just getting drunk and having a good time for the sake of it. It just seems pointless to me.

And, personally, I’m all for more of the FIRST TYPE – parties with PURPOSE.

1. The trap is sprung (7)

And here in Esther Ch 7, it’s time for ANOTHER party. There’s already been plenty of parties. But here’s the most important one yet. It really IS a PARTY WITH PURPOSE.

Because it’s time for Esther to reveal her plan. It’s time the trap is sprung. Unfortunately, the heading in the NIV gives the game away a bit, so we’ll pretend we don’t see that.

But Esther and Haman and Xerxes are just settling down with a glass of wine, when the king pops the question AGAIN. For the THIRD TIME. “What’s your request?”

And this time Esther answers. Because she’s got Haman just where she wants him. And her words are perfectly chosen. She’s probably rehearsed this moment dozens of times in her head. Ch 7 v3.

If I have found favor with you, O king, and if it pleases your majesty, grant me my life-this is my petition. And spare my people-this is my request. 4 For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation. If we had merely been sold as male and female slaves, I would have kept quiet, because no such distress would justify disturbing the king.”

And the trap is sprung. Who could deny a request like that?

And when the King asks the next question “Who is he? Who would dare to do such a thing?”, the answer comes back,

The adversary and enemy… is this vile Haman.”

And she points to Haman. The only other person within earshot.

And Haman, who perhaps’s been leaning forward, listening with interest to the Queen’s request, collapses to the floor. Esther’s a JEW! And he knows HE’S a man!

The king’s furious.– must have been – he even left his wine behind! He goes out in the garden. Perhaps to cool off, perhaps to work out what to do – or to look for an advisor to tell him what to do.

But it’s here we get another of these delightful misunderstandings. It makes us laugh, but I’m sure Haman wasn’t laughing. V7

Haman, realizing that the king had already decided his fate, stayed behind to beg Queen Esther for his life. 8 Just as the king returned from the palace garden to the banquet hall, Haman was falling on the couch where Esther was reclining. The king exclaimed, “Will he even molest the queen while she is with me in the house?”

The king thinks Haman’s trying to attack his wife. As if making plans to wipe her out aren’t enough. Now he’s even trying to molest her in her own home! And the king REALLY loses it.

And his fate IS sealed. The servants cover his face. He’s a man walking.

And then, it JUST SO HAPPENED the king finds out about Haman’s gallows. Prepared for Mordecai. (The one who spoke up to help the king). Just in case we’d forgotten.

So the king says PERFECT. And Haman swings from his own gallows. That’s what you call POETIC JUSTICE.

2. The great reversal (8-9:17).

And so justice is served. Haman gets what he deserves. And, instead, Mordecai gets what HE deserves. He gets the king’s signet ring – that he’s taken back from Haman. As well as Haman’s estate. It’s THE GREAT REVERSAL!

(pause) The first crisis is over, And we breathe a sign of relief. But we’ve forgotten – this is only a sideshow, the major crisis is still to come.

It’s the problem of the unchangeable decree. The day of the Jew’s massacre. As much as Xerxes would LIKE to, he can’t cancel Haman’s law. Any rule sealed with the King’s ring CAN’T BE CHANGED. The day of slaughter stands.

As usual, the king has NO IDEA what to do, so he lets ESTHER AND MORDECAI come up with the plan. Ch 8 v8.

8 Now write another decree in the king’s name in behalf of the Jews as seems best to you, and seal it with the king’s signet ring-for no document written in the king’s name and sealed with his ring can be revoked.”

Just in case we’d forgotten. And eventually we find out the plan. Down to v11. ANOTHER decree – that lets the JEWS FIGHT BACK.

11 The king’s edict granted the Jews in every city the right to assemble and protect themselves; to destroy, kill and annihilate any armed force of any nationality or province that might attack them and their women and children; and to plunder the property of their enemies.

And it’d be on the same day HAMAN’S edict happened.

And as the edict goes out throughout the kingdom, we see how the great reversal continues. V15. Mordecai leaves the king’s presence wearing the king’s fine clothes, and a large crown of gold.

And while HAMAN’S edict had MYSTIFIED AND CONFUSED PEOPLE. When they found out about MORDECAI’S one, there’s GREAT JOY. V16.

And the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. 16 For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honor. 17 In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating.

And as we move into Ch 9, the months have flown past. And the dreaded day arrives. But the Jews have used the time well, and they’re well-prepared. And the great reversal is COMPLETE. V1 of Ch 9.

On this day the enemies of the Jews had hoped to overpower them, but now THE TABLES WERE TURNED and the Jews got the upper hand over those who d them. 2 The Jews assembled in their cities in all the provinces of King Xerxes to attack those seeking their destruction. No one could stand against them, because the people of all the other nationalities were afraid of them.

And look at the details – v6. They killed and destroyed their enemies. 500 men in Susa alone! Including the ten sons of Haman.

And when the king finds out the numbers, he’s a bit shocked. V12. If this is what they’ve done in SUSA, how many thousands have been killed in THE REST OF THE KINGDOM? Perhaps he’s starting to have second thoughts.

And so he asks Esther what she wants to do.

But if he thinks she’s going to back off, he’s got her wrong. She’s going for the throat. “Give us ANOTHER day. We didn’t kill ENOUGH. We need MORE time.”

And then she comes out with the thirsty statement. V13. “And let Haman’s sons be hanged on gallows!” Remember they’re already – so this is just to send a message – here’s what happens to those who mess with the Jews.!

And Xerxes agrees!

Meanwhile, Jews everywhere ELSE/ get relief from their enemies. And they kill 75,000. Which seems a HUGE number.

And so the Jews are SAVED.

3. What’s the message of Esther?

Which is GREAT NEWS. And WORTH CELEBRATING. But it’s all a bit unsettling. We can’t help feeling that Esther and Mordecai go a bit overboard. You’ve got Esther wanting another day to kill people. And then stringing up the bodies of Haman’s ten sons.

You’ve got Mordecai issuing the decree that the Jews can plunder the property of the enemies they kill.

And it seems like the JEWS THEMSELVES think this is taking it a bit far. Because THREE TIMES it mentions that even though they were ALLOWED to plunder the property, they DIDN’T.

The end of v10 – they didn’t lay their hands on the plunder.

The end of v15 – they didn’t lay their hands on the plunder.

And the end of v16 – they didn’t lay their hands on the plunder.

They seem to have scruples Mordecai and Esther don’t have.

Which leads us to an obvious question – what do you MAKE of Esther and Mordecai? Are they A GOOD EXAMPLE TO FOLLOW, or not? “What IS the message of Esther?”

Because at FIRST sight, it seems like the message IS about following their example. Living wisely in a foreign land.

And I don’t want to say there’s NOTHING of that lesson for us.

But as we look a little closer at these two, we start to see THEIR FLAWS. Just like we do with ALL the OT characters. After all, Esther’s married a foreigner. She’s feasted on food against the law of Moses. How does THAT fit into being a good Jew?

And then there’s the more obvious vengeance in Chapters 8 and 9. Barry Webb says they show “A VINDICTIVENESS AND CRUELTY NOT FAR REMOVED FROM HAMAN HIMSELF”

a) It’s NOT a morality tale

So I think, in the first instance, it’s NOT a morality tale. It’s message ISN’T primarily “Esther and Mordecai were good – be good!

b) The Conflict Between Jew and Gentile

And while God was pleased to use them as his saviours, he had A MUCH GREATER PLAN in mind.

Esther and Mordecai are used to deliver God’s people from their enemies. The other nations. To save the Jews from the Gentiles.

But they were still ENEMIES. It had always BEEN that way. In fact, God had set out, from the time of Moses, to keep them SEPARATE. For the Jews to be HOLY AND DISTINCT from the nations around them.

And the story of Esther shows how that separation has developed/ into two peoples bent on each other’s destruction.

But that was only a TEMPORARY RESCUE. God’s plan was that ONE DAY, he’d send ANOTHER RESCUER. Who’d deal with the conflict between Jew and Gentile. ONCE AND FOR ALL.

In Eph 2, it describes how Jesus has made Jew and Gentile into ONE NEW PEOPLE.

14 For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility, 15 by abolishing in his flesh the law with its commandments and regulations. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace, 16 and in this one body to reconcile both of them to God through the cross, by which he put to their hostility.

And so, as Christians, we can read Esther, and rejoice at God’s deliverance of Esther. But also rejoice at the MUCH GREATER PEACE God has brought between people through Jesus. Because we’ve ALL been reconciled to God.

c) Live as godly lives as aliens and strangers

But even though we have this real peace, it’s never going to be COMPLETE. Churches all over the world are little waterholes of God’s grace. Little previews of the peace between nations that God is growing through his gospel.

But there’s still plenty of hostile desert between those waterholes. Christians ARE different, and persecution will continue.

In this world we’ll ALWAYS be on a tourist visa. Just passing through. We’ll stand out as foreigners. Who don’t fit in.

And so, in that sense, we ARE to follow the example of Esther and Mordecai. Continue to live as strangers here, trusting that God is in control, living obedient and godly lives – even when God seems hidden.

Peter puts it this way in 1 Peter 2.

11 Dear friends, I urge you, AS ALIENS AND STRANGERS IN THE WORLD, to abstain from sinful desires, which war against your soul. 12 Live such good lives among the pagans that, though they accuse you of doing wrong, they may see your good deeds and glorify God on the day he visits us.

d) Celebrate God’s unexpected rescue

And the fourth message of Esther/ is to CELEBRATE God’s UNEXPECTED RESCUE. And that’s what the last part of the book of Esther goes on to describe.

It’s a book that’s full of parties. And full of laughter.

4. Party Time! (9:18-10:3)

From v18 of Ch 9, we see the record of how the Feast of Purim was established. On the same day every year. To remember and celebrate God’s salvation. Haman rolled the dice – the PUR, but God decided the outcome.

And the people were to DELIGHT IN HIS UNEXPECTED PROVISION. v22 of Ch 9. It was to be remembered

22 as the time when the Jews got relief from their enemies, and as the month when their sorrow was turned into JOY and their mourning into a day of CELEBRATION. He wrote them to observe the days as days of FEASTING and JOY and giving presents of food to one another and gifts to the poor.

And, while WE GENTILES don’t celebrate Purim, we can celebrate WITH the Jews. We can celebrate the goodness of God in OUR salvation. We can have PARTIES WITH PURPOSE, rather than PARTIES FOR PLEASURE.

We can celebrate and remember his salvation in the BIG THINGS. At Christmas. On Good Friday, On Easter Sunday.

The Lord’s Supper is a great chance to celebrate and remember.

And we can celebrate in the SMALL things. The everyday things. The small things. Where God works in hidden, unexpected ways to rescue us, and deliver us.

And I think the message of Esther is to put a bit more JOY into our celebration. Sometimes we think it’s IRREVERENT to ENJOY church. But that’s not the message of Esther.

Christians have more to get excited and rejoice about than ANYONE! Do you BELIEVE that? To be honest, lots of Christians don’t LOOK LIKE THAT! They look more like they’ve been sucking on lemons!

Laughter, in Esther, is a product of VICTORY. Laughter is AN ANTICIPATION OF HEAVEN – the wicked and cruel will not have the last laugh – that’s reserved for God and his people. (Rev 18:20)

We’ve got every REASON to laugh and celebrate. Let’s do MORE of it.

And, just like that the party at the Berlin Wall – the party with purpose – let’s make OUR celebrations purposeful. Rich. Deep. Let’s make it FELLOWSHIP WITH SIGNIFICANCE.

Where God is right there next to us. We’ve included him as the guest of honour. And he’s celebrating with his people.

That’s partying with purpose.