For Such a Time as This (Esther)

            Good morning to all of you and, of course, Happy Mother’s Day to all of our mothers!   This morning I’d like for you to be turning to the book of Esther.  And, in just a moment, I’ll be reading what may seem to be a rather odd text for a Mother’s Day message.

            It’s odd, first of all, because it’s not a passage we would typically look at on Mother’s Day and perhaps even more odd because we have no record of Esther having any children.  But while Esther may not have had any biological children, the Bible makes it clear that she was responsible for a lot of children — the children of Israel.  As we look at our text this morning, we’re going to see how Esther took care of those children, and in the process, showed a tremendous amount of courage.

            But I will tell you up front that this morning’s message is not one of those Mother’s Day sermons that gives advice on how to be a “good mother,” but rather I want it to be an encouragement to all the women who are with us this morning. Because whether you have biological children or not does not define who you are — as a mother, or as a woman for that matter.  

            So, this morning’s lesson is not about “how to be a good mother”.  Instead, we’re going to look at the courage, resolve, and efforts of one woman.  And I hope that all of us – men, women, even children, can learn something from her.

            Let’s begin, though, by watching this video from The Bible Project which will give us an overview of the entire book of Esther, and then I’ll be back to talk some more about this courageous woman.

            VIDEO – Esther (Bible Project)

            I’m sure you’ve all been there at some point in your life.  You get caught by surprise. You get a phone call. Or maybe someone comes over to your house unannounced.  And you can tell by the tone of their voice that this is something serious. They say, “Have you got a few moments?  Can I talk to you about something?”  Your heart skips a beat and you feel the butterflies in your stomach, because you can feel the intensity of this moment and you recognize that this conversation is going to shape the rest of your life.

            That must have been what it was like when Esther got a message from her cousin Mordecai.  It was about 100 years after Jerusalem had been overrun by the Babylonian King Nebuchadnezzar, and the Jews were taken into captivity. After Babylon was conquered by the Persians, the Jews were allowed to return home, as we saw last week, and they began to rebuild the city of Jerusalem, its wall, and the temple.  But some Jews chose to stay where they were in Persia.  Mordecai and Esther were among those Jews who stayed.

            But living as a Jew in the Persian Empire was a risky business. Right away, we meet King Xerxes, also known as Ahasuerus, and we find the most powerful man in the world to be a reckless, extravagant, and easily manipulated character. Not only do the Jews have to live under this unreliable monarch, but they also have sworn enemies.

            One of those enemies was Haman.  Haman and Mordecai despised each other, and when Haman rose to the position of prime minister, Mordecai riled him so much that he manipulated King Ahasuerus into issuing a decree that would wipe out all Jews throughout the Persian Empire.  Now, keep in mind that Israel was still part of the Persian Empire at this point. So, the king’s decree threatened to eliminate all the Jews from history altogether.

            There’s only one faint hope for the Jews — one tiny thread keeping them from annihilation.  Five years before the passing of this decree, Mordecai’s cousin, Esther, was made the queen.  Being queen did not give Esther the connection with the king you might expect.  Because if anyone, including the queen, approached the king without his permission, you would be put to death.

            So, this is the context for Mordecai’s conversation with Esther. Despite the fact that she is queen, Esther is so isolated from the real world that she doesn’t even realize that the Jews are due to be exterminated in a few months’ time.  Mordecai tells her what’s going to happen.  And he says, “Look, Esther, you need to do something about this.”

            You can feel Esther’s stomach muscles tightening and her breath getting short. She tries to get out of it by saying, basically, “Don’t you realize that if I approach the king without his permission, I’m dead meat?”  Mordecai says, “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.  For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish.  And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).

            In other words, “Esther, what makes you think you’re going to survive this massacre?  Being queen ain’t gonna help you.  If you keep silent and don’t do anything, I’m confident that God will eventually turn this whole thing around and his chosen people won’t be annihilated.  But, by then, it’ll be too late for you and me.  Who know?  Maybe this was exactly why you became queen.  Maybe God put you here for exactly this moment, for just such a time as this.”

            And when Esther is told that, she stops denying, stops ignoring, stops making excuses, stops running away. She realizes that this is going to require more than just her own strength, and so she calls on the Jews to fast with her.  She makes the decision that she will face up to her responsibility and go before the king.

            She recognizes that she is going to have to disclose her true identity as a Jew, something she has managed to keep secret from the king for years.  She takes stock of her situation and then she says in verse 17, “If I perish, I perish.” (Esther 4:17).  Esther is willing to sacrifice her life in order to try to save the lives of her people.  And, of course, when the story is over, it has a happy ending because the Jews are saved and their enemies are destroyed.

            But the heart of this story lies in these words, words that I hope will make your stomach tighten and your heart skip a beat just as much as if Mordecai were saying them to you today. “Perhaps you have come to this place, to this moment in time, to these people, to this challenge, for just such a time as this.”

            Throughout the years, there have been many people who recognized that they had been placed on this earth for just such a time as this. They caught a glimpse of what the kingdom of God could be like on this earth, and what role they could play in advancing that kingdom.  They realized that perhaps they had been given this money, this talent, this vision, for just such a time as this.

            I want you to think about Esther for a moment. She didn’t have everything, but there were some things that she did have.  She had beauty.  She had a certain kind of training.  She had a very ambitious cousin.  She had a very powerful husband.  But she didn’t have a lot of control.  She didn’t have any security in the face of those who planned to kill her and her people. She didn’t have any real personal intimacy with her husband.

            We’re all a lot like Esther in that none of us have everything, but there are some things that we do have. You may lack some things, but you have other things. Maybe you have the gift of great intelligence that you can use for the glory of God.  Or maybe you don’t have a high IQ, but you have good common sense that you can make use of.

            Maybe you had a calm and stable family life growing up, and you understand what trust and promise-keeping and security mean.  Or maybe you didn’t have such a great homelife, but you have an experience of hardship and anxiety and fear that may be of value to others who feel something of the panic that Esther felt.

            Maybe you have a prominent public role, as a teacher or a commander or some job that puts you behind a big desk.  Or maybe you have the freedom of being out of the limelight, where your actions and your words not constantly being evaluated.

            Think about yourself, what you have that no one else has.  And then think about the situation where God has placed you.  Think about the number of times you have said to yourself or to others, “What Spring Lake needs” or “what the church needs”, or “What my family needs”, or “What the world needs”.  Think about the number of times when you have thought that there was nothing or no one that could do anything about it.

            And then imagine Mordecai tapping you on your shoulder, saying , “Perhaps you have been given these skills and experiences, these privileges and challenges, so that just at this very moment you can do what no one else can do, you can be what no one else can be.  God made you just as you are because he wanted someone just like you.  And maybe, just maybe, everything that has happened in your life has brought you here for just such a time as this.”

            Think again about Esther. Early in her life, she set out on a long period of training and preparation, without really understanding what God was preparing her for.  And it may be that some of you feel the same way, too.  And, eventually, Esther found herself at a crucial moment — a moment when she realized that the rest of her life needed to be given for one cause that went way beyond her own safety, her own privilege, her own status.

            Maybe you’re a young person thinking “I’m too young to be worrying about all this stuff.” Or maybe you’re someone older thinking “Let me just get my kids through college before I can think about what God has in mind for me.”  Maybe you’re a soldier thinking “Let me just put in my time and get out of here.  Then I’ll deal with it.”  Or maybe you feel you’re getting on in years and you’re thinking “I made all those big decisions a long time ago.  Now it’s just time to take it easy.”

            But along comes Mordecai, and he says, “Look back at all those parts of your story that make you unique, especially those events that felt like setbacks at the time but are now vital to who you are.  Look at the position you’re in right now, look at the unique opportunity you have.

            And look at some of the challenges facing us. Global challenges like interracial understanding, poverty, disease and homelessness.  Church challenges like standing for doctrine and justice, unity and truth.  There is so much that needs to be done.  Maybe, just maybe God has put you right here, right now, for just such a time as this.”

            I’m so thankful that Esther listened to Mordecai. Because, without Esther, there would have been no Jesus, because there would have been no Jews.  And, throughout the centuries, there have been so many men and women in the kingdom of God like Esther.  Without them, none of us would be where we are today or who are.

            Let me close by making three brief points.

1.         You are right where God wants you to be

            As the Bible Project video stated, one of the interesting facts about the book of Esther is that it never mentions God.  But, even though God’s name does not appear in the book of Esther, it’s so very clear that God shows up on every page.  More than anything else, we see his sovereignty.

            The events of the book of Esther are not random or without plan or purpose.  Someone has said that “God’s presence hovers over the book like the Spirit of God hovered over the waters of creation”.  And that’s the way it is with God.  There are no coincidences and no accidents in God’s scheme of things.

            Don’t misunderstand me.  To speak of God’s sovereignty does not mean we believe in fatalism.  Fatalism is the idea that God maps out every choice and event and we have nothing to do but march through life like Eveready bunnies.

            That’s not it at all.  Trusting in the sovereignty of God means that we walk in the confidence of knowing that God hovers over our lives at all times.  No choice we make takes God by surprise.  Every choice we make — and they are truly our choices — are factored into God’s plan.  God doesn’t determine our every action, but his will for our lives takes every one of our actions into consideration.

            Which is a good thing for us to remember when life gets boring, or we feel trapped in our circumstances.             Esther may have spent long days in the palace wondering why she ever followed Mordecai’s advice and entered that dumb beauty pageant.  But God had a plan.

            And it may be that look back and think you made a wrong decision — you married the wrong person, or you took the wrong job, or you bought the wrong house.  And maybe you did, but now it’s the right one, because God knew of your choice before the foundation of the world and he factored it into his plan for you.

            So, we need to stop second guessing God.  You are not a mistake. You may have made some bad choices, but God has factored them all in — he still loves you and he wants to make the best of your life.  You are right where God wants you to be

2.         Routine faithfulness to our responsibilities honors God

            Esther spent four years preparing to be queen.  And then, she spent another five years as queen until the wicked Haman hatched his plot against the Jews.  Altogether, nine long years filled with endless days of routine activity in the palace.  Nine years waiting for the “such a time as this” for which God had placed her in the palace.  And that’s the way it often goes.

            Even Jesus was 30 years old before he began his public ministry. His life prior to that was so routine and mundane that subsequent generations had to make up stories about what he did during those years, because we mere humans couldn’t imagine that his life would have been normal.  But it was.

            The point here is to say that God is pleased with routine faithfulness and obedience to the tasks of life that lie within our areas of responsibilities.

            Moms, before your baby grows up to find the cure for cancer, or to be the President of the United States, there are a lot of diapers that need to be changed and snotty noses that need to be wiped — and God is pleased when you do those things with faithfulness.

            Likewise, you may serve God in your marriage or workplace or family for years before you see the real reason God has placed you there.  It may be a long time — if ever — before you’re given any credit for the way you shaped the life of your children, or brought stability to your company, or influenced the life of a friend.

            Whatever God has called you to do right now, do it faithfully.

3.         Honor God in those once-in-a-lifetime moments

            Esther is known for one thing, and one thing only. Granted, her one act was huge—it stopped a potential genocide and saved all the Jews.  But after that, she faded into the obscurity of history. And that’s OK.

            Some of us are born for a lifetime of public recognition; but most of us are not.  Most of us will live out our lives and never do anything that places us in the limelight of our community.  And yet, I believe, for all of us, there are moments in life that are critical moments — situations in which our response will make a difference for the long haul, maybe even for eternity.

            Those moments may not be of the scale that Esther faced, where her response saved a whole generation of people.  But these moments are still important — maybe in the life of one of your children, or with a coworker or friend, or for someone in the community.

            Moments like these don’t happen every day.  In fact, they may actually be spaced far apart over the course of our lifetime.  But we all have them. And when, we do have those decisions to make, the life we live up to that point prepares us for that moment, and our faithfulness to God in that moment determines its outcome.

            Moms, today we honor you. We recognize that you are a woman who has made a difference in this world, and continues to make a difference.  As we look to Esther, may we all remember to:

  • Trust in God’s sovereignty
  • Serve faithfully during the routine times
  • Honor God in those once-in-a-lifetime moments

            Keep your eyes open for where God might be placing you for a purpose.  Because, let’s face it – in the state our world is in right now, God has some work for all of us to do.  Middle school and high school students, twenty- and thirty-somethings, middle-aged folks, and senior citizens alike. 

            Keep your eyes peeled and listen carefully for your place to lend a hand, your opportunity to live out your identity as a faithful follower of Jesus and to make a real difference in the world.

            Because who knows?  God may have spent your entire life preparing you for just such a time as this.

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