Scripture Reference: Esther 1:1-4:17
For Such A Time As ThisDr. Erwin W. Lutzer | September 18, 1994
Selected highlights from this sermon
As Haman plans to have all of the Jews killed, Mordecai tells Esther that she must go to the king and intercede for her people. At first, she refuses, but then Mordecai gives her three lessons that we all would do well to learn.
Twenty-five hundred years ago in Susa, the palace in Persia, here’s what happened. There was a king who was reigning at that time whose name was Artaxerxes the First, or Ahasuerus, as he is called in the Bible. And one day he decided to throw a feast, and because he did things in a grand way, he had a feast that lasted for six months. Because he was the ruler of 127 provinces, he invited all of the leaders of the provinces to come together, and the heads of his army. And they began to drink and they reveled and this went on month after month – 180 days to be exact.
After that period of time Ahasuerus said to himself, “I’d like to throw a feast now for all those who are here in the palace,” and that feast went on for seven days. And pretty soon everybody was drunk. The Bible says that wine flowed freely, and everyone was in a drunken stupor, and in that context the king said, “I want my wife (whose name was Vashti) to come and I want her to parade in front of us.”
Vashti, who was a modest woman, said what every good woman should say. She said, “No.”
It reminds me of the Sunday school boy who came home from class and his parents said to him, “What did you learn in Sunday school?” And he said, “We studied creation.” “What did you learn?” they asked. The boy said, “We learned that God took Adam and put him to sleep and then took out his brain, and made a woman.” (laughter)
So Vashti said, “No,” and even though the king was drunk, it didn’t mean that he was stupid. He called a council and he called his advisors together and said, “What shall we do?” And the advisors came up with three ideas. Number one, they said, “Vashti needs to be deposed.” Secondly, they said, “We fear that news is going to leak across the 127 provinces that she has disobeyed her husband, and therefore let us make a decree that all women must obey their husbands, and let us publish it in all the languages of the realm, and let us use horses to get it to everybody that needs to know it. Women, obey your husbands.” That was number two.
Number three, they said, “What you really need is a replacement.” The king loved all three ideas and so he decided to hold a beauty contest. In order to hold a beauty contest he said that he wanted to take the most beautiful virgins from all the 127 provinces. He asked each of them to make sure that they had their own pageant in the country in which they lived, and then the final contestants were to be brought there to the palace. And then he phoned Regis and Kathy Lee and said, “Would you please host it for me?” (laughter) If you are a new Christian I should point out that that part of the story is actually in some of the most recent manuscripts only.
And so he had this big beauty contest to find who the next Miss Persia would be. And Miss Persia turned out to be a woman whose name was Esther, whose cousin, Mordecai, took care of her because she was an orphan. And she was a beautiful woman. She was brought into the palace along with all of the other women, and it took them one year before they could see the king because there were two periods of purification that involved cosmetics and oils and creams and all kinds of various perfumes, and the girls had to be schooled in the ways in which the king lived. And so they paraded in front of him, and he chose Esther. And he threw a feast, and he crowned her as his new wife.
At that point the Bible takes us into another part of the story and introduces us to a man whose name is Haman. Haman, the Bible says, is an Agagite. Now if you live in the north you don’t know anything about the Aggies because they are primarily in the south. And if you are from the south you should know that this Aggie was a different kind.
As far as we know he was a descendant of a king who was supposed to have been killed by Saul. Do you remember in the Old Testament God said, “Saul, I want you to kill the King of Agag,” and Saul said, “No”? And as a result of that there as a whole descendant of people who hated the Jews, and Haman hated the Jews, and he was promoted by Artaxerxes to the point of being the chief man in the realm, next to the king himself.
And there was one thing that Haman could not stand, and that is that Mordecai, who was there in the palace as a porter, refused to bow down to him when Haman walked into the palace of the king. And everyday Haman would walk by, and Mordecai would not bow down. And Haman was not amused. So he said to the king one day, “You know, I’ve got lots of money. I’ll give you all of this money. We’ll put it into your treasury. All that I’m asking you to do is to kill all the Jews in the land. You have to understand that there are people here with different customs, and different ways, and what we need to do is to get rid of them. Let us publish a decree to the Medes and the Persians, and spread it throughout the Empire, and let us make sure that all the people know that on a certain day all Jews are dead.”
The King signed the decree and it went to 127 provinces. Esther didn’t know about it, but Mordecai, her cousin, who reared her, was sitting outside the palace in sackcloth and ashes mourning. She looked out of the palace window and she said, “What could be wrong with my friend, Mordecai, who reared me?” And she sent a messenger and said, “What’s wrong?” And she sent him some clothes because he was mourning in sackcloth and ashes, and Mordecai did not accept them.
So then she began to communicate and she discovered that the king had made this decree. And the Bible says that Mordecai then gave her a copy of the decree and said, “Esther, guess what. You have to go into the king and you have to intercede on our behalf.” Esther said, “No way. There are several reasons why I can’t do it. Number one, I have never revealed to him that I am a Jewess, and I don’t know what will happen when he finds that out. Secondly,” she said, “I cannot do it because his love for me has cooled. He has not seen me in 30 days. And thirdly,” she said, “everybody who goes to see the king, unless they are invited, are automatically beheaded. So I am not going.”
Mordecai, bless his heart, gave her a lesson in the providence of God. And I want you to take your Bibles now if you’ve not already found the book of Esther, because we’re going to read just a few verses of what happened. This is the book of Esther, chapter 4. I have told you basically the story of the first four chapters and we pick it up in verse 13. If you are having trouble finding the book of Esther remember it is a neighbor to the book of Job - Esther, Job, Psalms, Proverbs.
But beginning in Esther 4:13 these are the words of Mordecai to Esther. “Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘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?’”
I like the King James Version that says, “Do you not know that perhaps you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law (In other words she said she was going to go anyway, even though he kills people who do this.),” and then she says, “If I perish, I perish.” In Hebrew it is abadi, abadi. If I die I die. So Mordecai went away and Esther did just as he had commanded.
What I’d like to do this morning is to use the words of Mordecai to bridge 2,500 years to speak to us as a church. What he was saying to Esther in effect was, number one, “Esther, you have to realize that just because you are in the palace doesn’t mean that you are safe and secure, because if this decree is fulfilled, you also will suffer the same fate. We are in this together and I want you to know also, Esther, that if you do not deliver us, and if you are not willing to take the risk, maybe God will use some other way, because God’s ways are not boxed in, and they are not dependent upon one person’s faithfulness. But Esther, be faithful where God has planted you.”
Number one, what he said is, “We are in this together.”
When my wife and I were in Alaska we took a canoe trip. There were about 40 of us who decided to take this side trip in two canoes. That means 20 people in each canoe, and 10 people on each side. Don’t you like my mathematics? And so we are taking this canoe trip, and we are going to go across to the other side of the lake. I learned a number of different things during this experience. One was that there were some people who put their oar on their lap and did not paddle. You know, the interesting thing is they arrived on the other side of the lake at the same time we did. And when it came time to eat the clam chowder and the soup that had been prepared for us, and the salmon that had been baked, they ate just as much as we did.
Let me ask you something. Is it possible for Moody Church to function as a church and to get by, even though there are some people who keep their oar on their lap? The answer is yes. You know, there may be some people who are even members of Moody Church who do not pray regularly, who long ago have given up on God, maybe because of the bitterness of their hearts. Because of bad experiences they no longer intercede. Can we do without their intercession? Yes, I think we can make it. We can make it to the other side of the lake.
There are some of you, bless you, whom God has blessed financially, and yet you do not give regularly and consistently to the ministry of Moody Church because you look at the bulletin and you say, “Well, you know the needs are being met and they could do without me.” Can we do without you? Yes, I suppose we can do without you. But I want you to know that on that lake that day there was a time when everybody did paddle. And that was when we were in a race. During the last couple hundred yards these two boats were in a race to see who would get to the pier first, and I want you to know that the boat that Rebecca and I were in won hands down – no contest. It wasn’t even close, and everybody was paddling.
Don’t miss my point. It is possible for us as a church to get to the other side without your help or with people whose oar is on their lap. But if we want to win the race, if we want to accomplish great things for God, and believe for great things for God in the city of Chicago, every single oar has to be in the water. And I plead with those of you who have been led to Moody Church, who have been called to Moody Church, to become a part of us - heart, soul and sacrifice - to say that God has led us together. We are in the same ship; we are going to the same shore. Let us run the race and let us win with everybody doing his or her part. The only exceptions are those of you who have been wounded so badly for whatever reason, and all that you need to do for a while is to come and to be healed, and to listen, and to gradually participate. I understand that every church has people like that, but I urge those of you who have never become members, those of you who have never put your shoulder to the wheel. We need you to accomplish what God has asked us to do in this city.
Why can’t Moody Church be a church that always has lots of ushers? Or maybe we have enough. I don’t know. I didn’t check. Why can’t we be a church where people say, “The commitment to the Moody Church is great but the need is so great that we recognize that we are together?”
I hope there is nobody listening today, unless it may be some visitor, who has a sense of detachment and says, “Even though we attend here regularly we are kind of here to see what Moody Church is going to do.” No, folks! You are a part of us and we invite you not only to be on the boat but also to help us paddle to the shore.
Mordecai says, “Number one, Esther, don’t ever think that your faith is independent of ours.” We are together in this and when someone shirks his duty, someone else has to take over and fulfill that part, and the boat doesn’t go as well when there are people with paddles on their laps.
Incidentally, the book of Esther has been criticized because the word God does not occur in the book. People have said, “Now how can this be an inspired book? Here you have ten chapters and nowhere does the word God even appear. Well, even though the word God doesn’t appear I want you to know that in this book you can see His shadow. We can see His providential hand at every turn. Mordecai says, “Esther, don’t you realize that you have been brought to the kingdom for such a time as this? Don’t you see divine significance where you have been planted?”
I want you to think for a moment and realize that when little Esther was in her mother’s womb, and her genetic structure was determining her features, who was it there that embroidered her, as it says in the Psalms, but God? Who is it that made her a beautiful baby, and when she grew up she was a beautiful woman? Who was it that ordained that as that great huge net was cast so that there might be this beauty contest in 127 provinces, that Esther should be one of the ones that were chosen? Even though she was a Jewess she was chosen for this awesome responsibility. Who gave her this vocation, which incidentally wasn’t a very pleasant vocation? Even though she was in a beautiful palace, her husband was something less than desirable, and something less than honest and moral. But who was it that called her to this? She had been called by God at that moment of history, at that particular time geographically just for such a time as this.
If you know anything about genetics, it’s a wonder that any one of us has arrived on the scene. The possibility of you not being born but your brother being born, or your sister being born, is very, very high. We of course believe that it was not left to chance, because God loved us from before the foundation of the world, and therefore, rather than being born in the sixteenth century or the seventeenth century, He allowed us to be born in the twentieth century, and He brought us to the city of Chicago. He joined our hands together and He says, “You have been brought to this moment, to this hour, to this challenge just for such a time as this.”
That is true vocationally. Some of you have been called to be nurses, as my wife is, just for such a time as this, reaching people whose lives I will never be able to reach, or no one else will be able to. You fill a niche that no one else can fill. It is like a key in the door for such a time as this.
Some of you are in the advertising industry. Some of you are bankers, plumbers, lawyers, and bricklayers. You are in charge of quality control, or buying and purchasing in your company, and you have been led by God, born into this generation, into this hour, to be to those people, to accept those challenges for such a time as this. Called of God!
It’s not an accident that Moody Church is here in the city of Chicago, here on the near north side. When you look around us and you see the great needs that exist in the city, it is not an accident that we are so strategically located to meet those needs and be the catalyst that God might use to touch his entire city. And why does this city need to be touched? It is because the average person in Chicago no longer believes that God is relevant. He no longer believes that God answers prayer. He is filled with unbelief. All that he can see is the total irrelevancy of the Church. He does not know that there is a God who can become his Father if he savingly believes on His blessed Son. He doesn’t know that, and we have been called to this hour to represent Christ in this community just for such a time as this.
Now may I say that Esther had no idea of the significance of her being there in the palace until Mordecai pointed it out to her? As far as she was concerned this was just the way the lot was cast.
Oh, I want to look into your eyes this morning, and may I say that it is wonderful to be able to look into your eyes again, and you look so good. So good! Let me look for just a while. But let me tell you something, my friends. Your life has divine significance. God has uniquely gifted you. There is no one else in the world like you. I know that Will Rogers said that one of us is enough, but the fact is that you have been left to this moment to enable us as the Moody Church to represent Christ in a world that no longer believes that God’s blessed Son is relevant.
There’s something else that I see here in the text. Not only does Mordecai say, number one, you’re together. Number two, you are divinely appointed to be together, and may I say that yesterday we had a wonderful time here as we had a seminar for 36 new members who will be joining the church in the near future. And what a delight it is to see God bringing people like this to Moody Church to help us do what He’s called us to do!
But thirdly, I see not only that we are together, and that we are divinely appointed to be together, but also that we are divinely appointed to take risks for God. You’ll notice that Esther said, “If I perish, I perish.” That wasn’t a very hopeful statement, was it? Do you know what I believe? I think that Esther expected to die. She said, “Either way I’m going to die if it gets found out that I am a Jewess and this decree goes through, so if I’m going to die, I’m going to die.” Abadi, abadi! Not a whole lot of faith!
As it was, God spared her, and what an awesome story the rest of the book is that you can read this afternoon or sometime this week, because Esther does go into the king, and she does speak to Xerxes who was the man who ordered that a bridge be built across the Hellespont, and when it blew down he asked that the 300 workmen who worked on it be put to death. This was the king, who when a friend of his came and said, “I would like to give you what in our terms is about five and a half million dollars,” the king gladly accepted it and then returned it with a gift of praise and adoration. But when the same man asked that his son be exempt from military service, Xerxes had the boy cut in two and the armies of Persia marched between the two pieces. He was that kind of a man. And Esther went into him, and he received her, and how the whole story turned around as a result of it is something that I don’t have time to tell you, but it’s there in the Word of God and you can read it for yourself.
But here’s my point. When Esther took the risk to go into the king, she had no real assurance that this was going to work. But she had asked for fasting and prayer, and because she asked for fasting and prayer, she was willing to take that risk and say, “By God’s grace, I am going to try it and depend on Him while I am doing it.” And she interceded.
Let me ask you something. Are you an intercessor? I mentioned that a moment ago. Are you an intercessor? I want you to know that I attended prayer meeting on Wednesday evening, and I was in a group where some of them had gone to Romania. What an exciting time! I can hardly wait for the report. Did you know that when our team went to Romania for ten days, there were about 55 people praying around the clock. The idea was 24 hours of prayer per day, even though they didn’t quite reach that. I’d like to know what hours of the morning perhaps were left absent, but nevertheless, can you imagine all that prayer? And here we’re going to have the privilege of hearing what God did through their ministry in Romania?
I want you to know this. When we begin to intercede as a church, when we begin to pray, God is going to do things above and beyond what we can ask or think and we will begin to see His hand in ways that we could never describe in a bulletin. I’ve always said when I prepare the bulletin, “Oh God, this is what we are planning but please don’t be limited by what we are planning” because the real thing that Moody Church does, the real ministry of the Moody Church, is so much beyond the bulletin. And I want you to know today that as a people, we must always keep before us the super naturalness of God, and believe Him for greater things because we have been led to the Kingdom just for such a time as this. And what we need to do is to expand our knowledge of His promises and our knowledge of His ability, and to say, “God, we don’t understand it all. Sometimes our hearts flutter because we are in doubt and disbelief, but oh God, ‘Abadi, abadi!’ If we perish, we perish, but we must do what we must do, for you have called us to work together in this great and wonderful city.”
Another story from Alaska! We were shown a video about the Serum Run in 1925. Do any of you remember it? I don’t. Get the picture! Gnome, Alaska! School children were dying every single day because of diphtheria. There was no way to get the serum to them. There were no planes in those days. There were no boats. The coast was frozen. So what they decided to do was to run dog sleds between Fairbanks and Gnome, Alaska – 684 miles, and America and the world, really through the press, kept abreast of what was happening.
They began with the precious serum, which needed to be kept cold and also needed heating occasionally along the way, I am told. But they began with this precious serum, and they took it those 684 miles, and 127.5 hours later they arrived in Gnome to save the lives of the children that were dying of diphtheria, but what courage and what ambition these people had.
They used about 20 different dog sleds, and you see they went from point to point, and men were available at every point waiting with their dogs to take the serum so that they could go day and night without stopping. In fact, the lead dog that made it into Gnome has a statue in Central Park in New York.
So anyway, as I began to think about this serum run, a couple of things began to dawn on me. Number one, it was a team effort, believe me. Everybody was in it together - the scientists who prepared the serum, and then, of course, there were all of the men that were involved. There were the dogs that were involved, but there were also the families that were involved because they said goodbye to their husbands who were willing to take incredible risks over the snow, over mountains and over lakes to do it.
Number two, it dawned on me that there was a lot of risk involved. In fact there was one man whose stretch was over a lake and they did not know whether the ice in the middle of the lake was even strong enough to hold him. The other option was to go around the mountain but he felt that going across the mountain around the side may not even have been possible, given the deep snow, and even if it were possible, he felt that it would slow down the precious serum that needed to get to dying children. And so he went across the lake.
Another thing dawned on me as I was thinking about it and that is that the thanks for having gotten the serum there was unevenly distributed because the last man who was supposed to take the serum in apparently was sleeping and so the previous man ran by him. And some people think that he did that so that he would hog the glory, and so that his top dog would get a statue somewhere.
And that’s the way it is oftentimes in life. The people that do the work, the people that are the unknowns are the heroes, and then some top dog gets a statue somewhere. But do you know what? It doesn’t matter, and the reason it doesn’t matter is because the serum got to the kids, and that’s what matters.
And I want you to know today that as a church God has given us something that is so precious. It isn’t just serum that keeps people from diphtheria. It is a message that can change people’s hearts. It is a message of transformation.
If you want to know how I would like to be characterized sometime when it is my time to go, I hope that you remember me as somebody who may have lots of faults and lots of things about me that you don’t really like, or you wish I could change, but one thing I wish that you would remember about me is I love the Gospel.
One day there in Alaska I was standing in a cemetery in Car Pass. You’ve probably never been to Car Pass, have you? It has a population of perhaps 100 people. Car Pass is really Caribou Pass, and so I am taking a picture of this grave of this woman who was involved in the Gold Rush. The tour guide whose name was Jamie was standing right next to me. I’m taking a picture of the grave and I said, “Jamie, do you know the most important thing about that woman?” She said, “What?” I said, “The most important thing is whether or not she trusted a qualified Savior before she died.” Jamie said, “Huh, that’s interesting. Tell me more.” So what do I do? I spend two or three minutes explaining the Gospel to her, explaining why it has to be a free gift, why Jesus had to die, and what the message of the Gospel is. She turns to me there in the cemetery and she says, “You are a messenger of God to me.” That woman is so open that I wrote her a letter this past week and sent her the materials I promised. I think that Jamie is going to get saved the minute she understands the truth, and the truth was clearly presented but we couldn’t do everything that we wanted to do in those few moments.
Do you realize that the message of the Gospel is the only message that can change people, that can forgive people, that can enable them to trust a qualified Savior, and we need to take risks. And sometimes we have to go across lakes and mountains and rivers, so to speak. We must we willing to do that because God says, “You have been called to the Kingdom for such a time as this.”
Esther’s deliverance was a physical deliverance, and the Jews were delivered. How they were I will not tell you. You can read it on your own. But we have a message today of spiritual deliverance. And even some of you who are here this morning need to savingly believe on a qualified Savior because you need a message of forgiveness and restoration and spiritual health, and to be brought into the very presence of God through His beloved Son, the Lord Jesus Christ.
And do you know what today, folks? Just think that we at The Moody Church have been called by God to get the serum out there, even at high cost, with every single oar in the water because God says, “You have been called to the Kingdom for such a time as this, called together, called by divine appointment, and called to take risks to get the Gospel out.”
Some of you, bless you, drive past some very good churches to get here. Some of you say that Moody Church has parking problems. Actually parking problems are not as great as many people anticipate.
My dear friend, when you think of the worth of the serum, all other sacrifices pale into insignificance because we together have been called just for such a time as this.
Let us pray together.
Father, we don’t feel adequate for the job. In many instances the trail seems to be unclear, and the storms seem to blow against us. How can we as a church minister to one another, to make those sacrifices to get involved in other people’s lives, to say, “Lord, whatever and wherever, and whomever, we want to pay the price to be faithful because You have given the serum to us,” and You’ve said, “Get it out there.”
Grant us that, Father, and even today those that are here who have perhaps never savingly believed on Jesus Christ, we pray that at this moment they may say, “Father, I accept Your Son as mine. He is the only qualified Savior. He is the One who died for me. I receive Him.”
We pray that before people leave today that might happen. And grant us, Lord, the ability to say, “We give all to You at this critical hour that You have given us the privilege of serving.” In Jesus’ name we pray, Amen.