Friday, December 19, 2014

God provides deliverance

My Sunday School lesson for last weekend ...

Sunday we finished our study of Esther. Last week we introduced the Jewish orphan who became queen of Persia. Her cousin, Mordecai, guided her and then through his refusal to bow to King Xerxes' main man Haman, who in return tricked Xerxes into signing off on extermination of the Jewish people.

We also talked about the fact that in the book of Esther, the name of God is not mentioned. Not once. And yet we can see how God is on display throughout as He protects and saves the Jews from annihilation yet again.

Let's go back to the setting. It's about 480 B.C. in Persia, which was the greatest empire of the day. The Persians conquered the Babylonians in 539 B.C., and their rule lasted until Alexander the Great took it all over for the Greeks 200 years later, who in turn saw the Roman Empire take over.

So getting to today, King Ahasuerus, or Xerxes as he's know to historians, has signed off on the villain Haman's plot against the Jews. But we’re going to talk about how Esther was in the right place at the right time to best accomplish God’s purposes.

FIRST THOUGHTS

*** QUESTION - Do you remember a time when you felt you were in just the right place at just the right time?

MORDECAI’S REVEAL (Esth. 4:6-9)

6 So Hathach [HAY thak] went out to Mordecai in the city square in front of the King’s Gate. 7 Mordecai told him everything that had happened as well as the exact amount of money Haman had promised to pay the royal treasury for the slaughter of the Jews. 8 Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa ordering their destruction, so that Hathach might show it to Esther, explain it to her, and command her to approach the king, implore his favor, and plead with him personally for her people. 9 Hathach came and repeated Mordecai’s response to Esther.

*** Mordecai tries to get a sense of urgency from Esther.

--- Mordecai is going ballistic, essentially. Verse 4:1 says he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes and went into the city wailing loudly and bitterly. Jews all over the realm were doing the same. and yet when Esther was told about Mordecai's behavior she was distressed and tried to get him to wear normal clothes.

*** Esther is initially upset at Mordecai’s behavior.

--- 4 When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. 5 Then Esther summoned Hathak, one of the king’s eunuchs assigned to attend her, and ordered him to find out what was troubling Mordecai and why.

--- Bro. Joseph wrote about this earlier this week. "Mordecai ... becomes very grief stricken over the decree to where his grief is now a public spectacle. He is making a protest against the atrocities that are being exhibited. Interesting in light of recent events. Esther presents though a different reaction in that she has no knowledge of what is going on among the people. She got so caught up in being a queen that she is not understanding of the grief Mordecai is exhibiting. How easy it can be as Christians to get so internally focused that we miss what is happening in the world around us. We miss the opportunity to minister to those around us. We miss why God put us in a particular place for a particular reason. Don't be afraid to speak out today against the devaluation of life. We should be grief stricken at any innocent life that is lost. Also ask God to open your heart to see those around you that need ministering."

*** Hathach had a big job. As a royal servant he was the go-between with Esther and Mordecai.

--- QUESTION: What other times in the Bible did God use seemingly insignificant people to accomplish important tasks for His kingdom?

ESTHER’S HESITATION (Esth. 4:10-12)

10 Esther spoke to Hathach and commanded him to tell Mordecai, 11 “All the royal officials and the people of the royal provinces know that one law applies to every man or woman who approaches the king in the inner courtyard and who has not been summoned—the death penalty. Only if the king extends the gold scepter will that person live. I have not been summoned to appear before the king for the last 30 days.” 12 Esther’s response was reported to Mordecai.

*** Esther had a dilemma. She, like everyone else, knew that if you approached the king without being summoned you could be executed. This was to make the royal court look important, and protect the king from potential assassins.

--- QUESTION - Does Esther’s answer suggest she valued her life above that of her people?

*** Esther’s dilemma reminds us that obedience to God can involve taking risks. However, the risks of obedience are well worth taking. Like Esther, we as believers can encounter the possibility of serious consequences for following God’s commands. However, devoted believers are willing to set aside personal fears as they obey a faithful God.

*** Esther wasn’t trying to avoid Mordecai’s request, but she wanted him to understand the risks involved with his plan.

--- Question: Have you ever experienced a dilemma-of-faith situation in which the risks of action were high? Who or what helped you decide the way to proceed?

MORDECAI’S APPEAL (Esth. 4:13-14)

13 Mordecai told the messenger to reply to Esther, “Don’t think that you will escape the fate of all the Jews because you are in the king’s palace. 14 If you keep silent at this time, liberation and deliverance will come to the Jewish people from another place, but you and your father’s house will be destroyed. Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

*** Mordecai challengers Esther with a “stand up for your people” message.

--- QUESTION - What kind of emotion do you identify in Mordecai’s response to Esther?

--- Remaining neutral was not one of Esther’s choices. If she didn't do something about Haman's trickeration and the king's edict, she was in danger as well. Every Jew had a specific date with death.

*** Memory verse of the week, verse 14b: "Who knows, perhaps you have come to your royal position for such a time as this.”

--- You are where you are and ready to God’s work, just as you are.

--- Bro. Joseph wrote this week that "Mordecai was showing that God was in control but also that Esther had a responsibility to use her influence for God as well. I have often wondered about why Christians get so caught up with celebrities being Christians. We cling to these people and hope in some small way that they will make a difference. Why? Because we want them to use their influence. We attach ourselves to them because we want to share in their message. Now it is sad to see how many celebrities have started on a path of being outspoken only to see their path take a different road from what they believe i.e. Miley Cyrus initial craze for being such a good girl. The message becomes blurred of what is acceptable in the Christian life when there is no complete follow through. The same though is true for the non-celebrity i.e. most all of us. We have places of influence that God has placed us and we can either take the path of being hesitant or we can take the path to fast and pray for God's direction to be used by Him where He has placed us."

*** Question - When have you sensed that God positioned you (or another believer) at just the right place and time to do something for His glory?

ESTHER’S RESOLVE (Esth. 4:15-17)

15 Esther sent this reply to Mordecai: 16 “Go and assemble all the Jews who can be found in Susa and fast for me. Don’t eat or drink for three days, day or night. I and my female servants will also fast in the same way. After that, I will go to the king even if it is against the law. If I perish, I perish.” 17 So Mordecai went and did everything Esther had ordered him.

*** Esther takes the challenge to step out in her faith, but with careful thought.

--- Esther didn't go barging into the king's circle. She knew she needed to handle it carefully.

*** Esther organized a mass fast among her inner circle and all the Jews in the area. This would also mean that they were praying for her, interceding for God’s help.

*** Fasting is a Biblical discipline of self-control. It's a way of showing that we can depend on God alone and draw our strength from Him.

--- QUESTION - When have you engaged in spiritual disciplines such as prayer and fasting for courage to do something that God wants you to do? What role can spiritual disciplines play in understanding God’s plans?

--- In this case as with most we tend to think of fasting as going without food. But we can fast from anything. If we love music and decide to miss a concert in order to spend time with God, that is fasting. It is helpful to think of the parallel of human friendship. When friends need to be together, they will cancel all other activities in order to make that possible. There's nothing magical about fasting. It's just one way of telling God that your priority at that moment is to be alone with him, sorting out whatever is necessary, and you have cancelled the meal, party, concert, or whatever else you had planned to do in order to fulfill that priority. (James Packer, Your Father Loves You)

--- Luke 2:36-40 - 36 There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. 38 At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem. 39 When they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. 40 The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on Him.

--- Luke 4:1-2 - Jesus, full of the Holy Spirit, left the Jordan and was led by the Spirit into the wilderness, 2 where for forty days he was tempted by the devil. He ate nothing during those days, and at the end of them he was hungry.

--- Acts 9:4-9 - 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice say to him, “Saul, Saul, why do you persecute me?” 5 “Who are you, Lord?” Saul asked. “I am Jesus, whom you are persecuting,” he replied. 6 “Now get up and go into the city, and you will be told what you must do.” 7 The men traveling with Saul stood there speechless; they heard the sound but did not see anyone. 8 Saul got up from the ground, but when he opened his eyes he could see nothing. So they led him by the hand into Damascus. 9 For three days he was blind, and did not eat or drink anything.

--- Acts 13:1-3 - In the church that was at Antioch there were prophets and teachers: Barnabas, Simeon who was called Niger, Lucius the Cyrenian, Manaen, a close friend of Herod the tetrarch, and Saul.2 As they were ministering to the Lord and fasting, the Holy Spirit said, “Set apart for Me Barnabas and Saul for the work I have called them to.” 3 Then after they had fasted, prayed, and laid hands on them, they sent them off.

--- Esther needed the prayerful partnership of her people to equip her for a life-or-death task. We, too, can and should reach out for spiritual support and intercession from fellow believers as we serve the Lord in our contexts. We can take action within God’s providence, leaving the results to Him. We cannot control all of our external circumstances. However, we can obey and trust our Sovereign Lord with whatever He deems best, knowing that He loves us and wants the best for His children.

FOLLOW-UP

*** Haman’s plan costs him his life, and in one of the greatest turnarounds in the Bible. Before Esther tells the king about the plot, Xerxes has the royal record read to him when he can't sleep (I guess counting sheep wasn't invented yet) and realizes Mordecai was the hero who foiled the assassination plot in chapter 2. Xerxes then has Haman put on fine robes on Mordecai and parade him through Susa proclaiming him to be a hero. And then Esther reveals the plot and Xerxes has Haman impaled on a pole that Haman had prepared for Mordecai's death. Xerxes then issues another decree that allows the Jewish people to defend themselves against anyone who would attack. Jews still celebrate this salvation in the Feast of Purim.

TAKE-AWAY POINTS

*** Esther was in the right place at the right time by divine providence, saving her people, even as she was married to a pagan king in a pagan kingdom during exile from her homeland.

--- We may not be called upon to challenge a king in order to save our people, but God uses us in unique ways to accomplish His plans.

*** Think of any ways God may be calling you to take action.

*** Think of situations where want to be involved but need to let God have control.

*** Ask God for bold obedience and confidence to follow where He is leading you.

*** Who needs you to be a “Mordecai,” encouraging her or him to step out in faith to serve God? How can you encourage this individual?

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