Topic Scripture: Esther 3
Thesis: We will pay a price for our Christian commitment, but God will redeem it.
Persuade: To stand for God when you are tested.
True character is what you do in private when no one is looking. But you will always pay a price for integrity. We’ll see that fact in Esther 3.
In many places in the world, enormous sacrifice is essential to Christian faith. There are half a million Christian martyrs every year.
There is such life and vitality in Cuban worship and faith, despite the difficulties and oppression many believers face. I spoke with a taxi driver who told me that he now believes in God, though he is not yet a Christian. He said that when he was growing up, anyone who went to church could not find a job or advancement in Cuban society. Atheism was taught in every school (as it still is in many places in Cuba). But the vitality and joy he sees in the Cuban churches intrigues and attracts him. As it does us.
Karl Heinz Walter is the Executive of the European Baptist Federation. At a recent meeting of the Baptist World Alliance he reported a growing form of persecution against Christians in Muslim countries. If these believers will not renounce their faith, the authorities cut off a finger. Then later, another and then another. They do this knowing that these men and women cannot work and may not survive with such disability. But the Christians are refusing to renounce their Lord, whatever the price they must pay.
When he gave this report, thousands of believers in the crowd raised their hands in worship. Fingerless hands.
Where does God call Christians in America today to pay a price for their obedience? Is there someplace he is calling you to such obedience?
It’s been said, “Character is fate.” We’ll see that statement proven by three facts in this study.
God’s work is always done (1)
“After these events” (1a)—four years have passed since Esther’s choice as queen. God’s timing is so seldom ours. Note other examples from the Scriptures:
Moses and the Israelites were in the desert for 40 years,
Lazarus was raised from the dead on the fourth day (“he stinketh”).
Jesus was in the tomb for three days.
Now the enemy in the story is named: “King Xerxes honored Haman son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, elevating him and giving him a seat of honor higher than that of all the other nobles” (v. 1). No explanation for his honor is given in the story.
Mordecai deserved honor (chapter 2) but did not receive it; Haman has done nothing worthy of honor, but receives it. The world’s justice is so seldom fair. But know that God’s justice will be done, in this world or in the next, or both.
The Jewish audience understood immediately some fascinating history here:
Agagite refers to Agag, the ancient king of the Amalekites (1 Samuel 15). The Amalekites had attacked Israel after her exodus from Egypt; for this fact God told Israel to “blot out the memory of Amalek from under heaven” (Deuteronomy 25.17-19).
The first king to wage war against them was Saul (1 Samuel 15). Saul was from the tribe of Benjamin.
Now, 500 years later, Mordecai from the tribe of Benjamin (2.5) will continue the war with the Amalekites.
God’s will and word are always accomplished, even five centuries after they are revealed to us.
In Genesis 49, the dying Jacob says to his sons Simeon and Levi, “I will scatter them in Jacob and disperse them in Israel” (v. 7). In Joshua 19 we read, five centuries later, that Simeon’s descendants were absorbed into the territory of Judah and Levi’s descendants were dispersed throughout the land, living in 48 towns.
Other biblical examples: Moses, Joshua and the promised land; God’s promise to Paul that he would testify to Caesar in Rome; Jesus’ promise that he would rise from the dead.
When God tells you to do something, do it. For his will is always done, finally. Is he calling you to something in his will today?
Faith requires courage (2)
Now the conflict is joined: “All the royal officials at the king’s gate knelt down and paid honor to Haman, for the king had commanded this concerning him. But Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor” (v. 2).
This was Mordecai’s consistent commitment: “Then the royal officials at the king’s gate asked Mordecai, ‘Why do you disobey the king’s command?’ Day after day they spoke to him but he refused to comply” (3-4a).
No Jew would worship another person or image, for this was idolatry, the violation of the first and second Commandments: “You shall have no other gods before me. You shall not make for yourself an idol in the form of anything in heaven above or on the earth beneath or in the waters below. You shall not bow down to them or worship them; for I, the Lord your God, am a jealous God” (Exodus 20.3-5).
Refusing to worship others was one of the cardinal principles of the Jewish faith. And it constantly got them into trouble.
Daniel 3.1: “King Nebuchadnezzar made an image of gold, ninety feet high and nine feet wide, and set it up on the plain of Dura in the province of Babylon.” With this threat: “Whoever does not fall down and worship will immediately be thrown into a blazing furnace” (v. 6). Remember the results for Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo.
We think of Martin Luther, before the emperor and his court, announcing his decision to continue his Reformation despite opposition and threats. Luther appeared before the Diet at Worms on April 17, 1521. According to a traditional but apocryphal account, he ended his statement before his accusers with the words, “Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me. Amen.”
Although every effort was made to induce Luther to recant his theology, in the end the discussions failed over his refusal to repudiate a single sentence from the 41 cited in the papal bull.
Luther was taken secretly to Wartburg Castle, near the town of Eisenach, where he remained in hiding for the better part of a year. During his there, he began work on what proved to be one of his foremost achievements—the translation of the New Testament into the German vernacular. Luther’s translation profoundly affected the development of the written German language. The precedent he set was followed by other scholars, whose work made the Bible widely available in the vernacular and contributed significantly to the emergence of national languages.
What areas of life today call us to take a stand for Jesus at sacrifice? What about ethics, popular jokes and movies, sexual pressure, drugs, etc.?
Obedience affects others
It doesn’t take long for Haman to learn of Mordecai’s disobedience: “Therefore [the royal officials] told Haman about it to see whether Mordecai’s behavior would be tolerated, for he had told them he was a Jew” (4b).
And Mordecai’s obedience to the Scriptures would affect the entire Jewish population in Persia: “When Haman saw that Mordecai would not kneel down or pay him honor, he was enraged” (5). Note: The will to power is the basic drive in human nature.
“Yet having learned who Mordecai’s people were, he scorned the idea of killing only Mordecai. Instead Haman looked for a way to destroy all Mordecai’s people, the Jews, throughout the whole kingdom of Xerxes” (v. 6).
So Haman and his associated begin their plot to destroy the Jews: They choose the day for the massacre to begin by using the Pur. This was a kind of lot, probably a kind of dice. The festival of Purim takes its name from their use of the Pur. They begin their plot in the month of Nisan, which is the same month of the Jewish Passover. See the irony here.
The Pur lead them to choose a date which is eleven months away, in the month of Adar.
Now Haman lies to Xerxes about the Jews, to secure his permission for their massacre. He claims that the entire people “do not obey the king’s laws” (v. 8). This is technically true only for Mordecai, and only for one law.
Haman arranges for 10,000 talents of silver to be used in carrying out the massacre. This was 2/3 of the annual Persian national income, according to Herodotus. He sends the decree for Jewish massacre to every province of Persia, in every language spoken there.
All are ordered to “destroy, kill, and annihilate all the Jews—young and old, women and little children—on a single day, the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, the month of Adar, and to plunder their goods” (v. 13). This would be March 7, 473 B.C.
What if this edict were declared against all Christians in America, or all Baptists? To be carried out next February, with nothing we could do in our defense?
All this because of one man’s obedience. Our obedience will cost others.
Nearly always, obedience leads to blessing. Biblical examples: Moses and the Promised Land; Shadrach, Meshach, and Abednigo; Daniel in the lions’ den; following Christ, to salvation.
Often our obedience affects only us: John on Patmos, Peter’s crucifixion upside down. There is often a personal price to pay for obedience to Jesus—sins we will not commit, things we will not do or buy or say.
But sometimes our obedience will cost others as well. Abraham “went out not knowing,” and his entire family was forced to join him. The disciples’ obedience in following Jesus affected their families, as they left them to the care of others and lived with Jesus across three years. Paul’s conversion probably cost him his marriage.
What are examples today where our obedience will cost others? Vocational decisions; conversion to Christ; financial obedience.
When such obedience is required, we must trust others to the care of God as well. We must believe that he loves them as much as he loves us, and that he will care for them when he cares for us.
Dr. Baker James Cauthen resigned from the faculty of Southwestern Seminary and the pastorate of Travis Avenue Baptist Church in Ft. Worth to take his family to China in 1939, in the midst of war. His explanation was simple: “The safest place in all the world to be is the center of the will of God.”
Before he left for China, Dr. Cauthen said to his friend Bill Howse: “Bill, many people are making a lot out of what we are trying to do, but for us it’s simply the will of God. It’s such a good feeling that I can say that if our ship is bombed in Hong Kong harbor and we never set foot on Chinese soil, I will have a sense of completeness because I will have been doing the will of God for me.”
The fact of Esther 3 is that we must pay a price for our faith commitment to Jesus. He promised us, “In the world you will have tribulation” (John 16.33). The word means the weight used to crush grain into flour. Expect to pay a price for anything of value.
William Barclay: “A man progresses in life in proportion to the fare he is willing to pay.” And in faith as well.
But God paid the ultimate price for us. Nothing we pay here can compare to what he paid for us. Or to the reward he offers his faithful: “I do not consider the present sufferings worth comparing to the glory that will be revealed in us” (Romans 8.18).
You cannot outgive God. He will reward your sacrificial faithfulness, every time. Whether you know it this side of glory or not.