Sunday, December 13, 2020 Brad’s manuscript
Advent Series: Rescues
Esther and the Invisible God
2000 years ago, an angel from God appeared to some young shepherds in the Middle East and said to them,
Luke 2:10–11 ESV “Fear not, for behold, I bring you good news of great joy that will be for all the people. For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior, who is Christ the Lord.
Jesus Christ is the True Savior. The Ultimate Rescuer. He rescues us from judgment and death.
But we all know of false rescuers. They promise, but don’t deliver.
Last month while traveling, Annette and I listened to an audio book. An autobiography of a woman from Cambodia in southeast Asia. She was a young girl in 1975 when the Communists took over the country. The Khmer Rouge regime took power, and the dictator Pol Pot was ruling.
Pol Pot promised to be the savior of the people. To save them from hunger, save them from enemies invading their land, and save them from other problems. He promised but never delivered.
In the end, after just four years he nearly ruined the nation, including the murder of more than 1.5 million people, mostly of minority status. This was about 25% of Cambodia’s population.
Pol Pot in Cambodia was a false rescuers. False savior.
But we can find rescuers in a good sense.
- Medical advances and doctors can rescue us from disease, and at least hold off death for awhile.
- Politicians can bring good to our land to fix what is broken.
- Police can protect us from criminals.
- We can help one another and bring a measure of restoration to our lives.
While a good Rescuer can certainly help us in some ways, no earthly Rescuer can ever fully save us from our troubles.
We are in Week 3 of our Advent series called “Rescues.” We are looking at stories from the OT when God rescued his people, and how that gives us a picture of Jesus Christ coming as the Savior, the Great Rescuer, as proclaimed by that angel to these shepherds.
This morning we are going to read a fascinating story from the OT. The story of Esther and her cousin, Mordecai. God used them to save the Jewish people from annihilation.
Before we begin reading, we need some background to the story as a whole and to Chapters 1 and 2:
- Israel was sent into exile 100 years before this story. God used the Babylonian empire to bring judgment on Israel. (This is when Jeremiah wrote Lamentations.)
- Then 50 years into the exile, the Medes-Persians conquered the Babylonians.
- Now add another 50+ years into that empire’s reign, and we insert the book of Esther.
- Year of this story is ~480 B.C. This is near the end of the OT era. So if we ordered the OT chronologically, Esther would appear near the end.
- The reigning Persian king: Ahasuerus.
- His top official was an evil man named Haman.
- In chapter 1, the king deposes his queen, Vashti. Searches for new queen.
- In chapter 2, this young Jewish woman named Esther becomes queen of the world’s greatest empire.
The storyline is that Esther and her cousin Mordecai, who is her adopted father, were used by God to save the Jews from annihilation in this Medes-Persian empire.
That is the story we will read.
What is unique about the Book of Esther is that certain theological truths and terms are never mentioned.
- The name of God is never mentioned. Not once.
- Prayer is never mentioned.
- Faith is never mentioned.
- Miracles are never spoken of.
Reading only this book, we might think this is just a series of strange coincidences.
But reading this with all the Scriptures in mind, we understand from this story that God is working in his great providence. He is working in an unspoken yet real way as the Rescuer of the people of Israel. Their Savior.
I so appreciate one commentator’s words about this Book:
“The great paradox of Esther is that God is omnipotently present even where God is most conspicuously absent.” (Karen Jobes)
Since this Book contains not one single mention of God, God appears to be absent. Yet without a doubt, God’s fingerprints are all over this Book.
That quote gives us understanding of this Book.
And it may give all of us some insights into our own lives and our walk with God.
Sometimes God seems absent in our day to day lives. But if by faith we are looking for this Invisible God, we will see him “omnipotently present.”
Read Chapters 3-7
Now let’s read, starting in Chapter 3.
For sake of time, we cannot read the remainder of the story.
But here’s a summary:
- In this astonishing turn of events, the king gives Mordecai the place of Haman as the second in command of the most powerful nation on earth, the great Persian empire. This is similar to Joseph’s rise to power in Genesis that Matt read last week.
- Under Esther’s and Mordecai’s recommendations, the king issues a decree that the Jews can defend themselves against anyone who tries to kill them under the earlier decree concocted by Haman.
- The Jews defend themselves on that day, killing 75,000 who try to attack them.
- This astonishing turn of events to rescue the Jewish people becomes the reason for an annual Jewish celebration, the Feast of Purim. Still celebrated to this day. It is a reminder to the Jews of God’s protection of his people, even when facing extraordinary odds.
What do we make of this story?
So what do we make of this story?
God’s name is never mentioned. Prayer and faith are never spoken of. Yet surely God is not absent in this series of remarkable events.
- This young “nobody” Jewish woman Esther becomes Queen of this great empire.
- As just an ordinary man, Mordecai refuses to bow down and worship Haman.
- Haman is so jealous he determines to commit genocide, wiping out all Jews.
- Haman wants to ruin Mordecai and his people. But instead Haman is killed and Mordecai is raised up.
- Mordecai is given charge over the most powerful nation on the earth. And a pagan nation, at that. And so he saves all the Jewish people scattered across the empire.
What a remarkable story.
So what do we take from this?
I want to take this passage and make some applications to our lives today.
The first lesson:
- Look for the invisible God in the visible world
We learn from stories like Esther (and also Joseph and Noah from the past two Sundays) that this invisible God we believe in is extraordinarily active, even when he seems to be absent.
Fundamentally, faith is about believing that God is there even though we don’t see him.
This is the essence of faith.
Hebrews 11:1 NIV Now faith is confidence in what we hope for and assurance about what we do not see.
Faith means simply to trust. To rely on someone.
Though we cannot see God, by faith we believe he is there.
By faith we believe he has the power to move rulers of nations.
By faith we believe he is omnipotent. All powerful.
By faith we believe he cares for his people.
Look at this quote again about the Book of Esther.
“The great paradox of Esther is that God is omnipotently present even where God is most conspicuously absent.” (Karen Jobes)
We read Esther, and if we know God as he is revealed elsewhere in the Scriptures and in creation, his fingerprints are everywhere in this book.
And when we see him like that with eyes of faith, we glory in him. We worship him for his presence and his power.
And we recognize that we can trust him today in our lives. We can rely on him during the most mundane, boring days. We can rely on him in the most stressful and terrifying days.
From cover to cover in the Bible we see God’s people looking to him in their troubling times. .
Psalm 46:1–3 NIV God is our refuge and strength, an ever-present help in trouble. Therefore we will not fear, though the earth give way and the mountains fall into the heart of the sea, though its waters roar and foam and the mountains quake with their surging.
Though our world collapses around us, our great God is an ever-present help in our trouble.
So we don’t fear.
So we look for this invisible God by faith, and we call on him as our Great Rescuer.
First, we worship him for his power. We call to mind his unsurpassed strength to do whatever he wills.
And we worship him for his invisible presence, even for the Holy Spirit whom God has given to every believer to guarantee our salvation.
Second, we pour out our troubles, complaints, sorrows, and fears to him. We do this knowing he cares about us. And we know he cares because he has sent his Son, Jesus Christ. More on this in a minute.
Third, we wait patiently for his answer. The answers of God’s rescue don’t always come in the timing we desire. We want rescue yesterday.
In the Book of Esther, Haman’s plot to kill all the Jews was 11 months ahead. Then the Jews lived for two months under extreme terror until Mordecai’s decree for the Jews to defend themselves. After that, they still had nine more months of waiting. So God’s rescue often comes much slower than we desire because he is cultivating our trust in him. While we wait, we believe that he cares and he hears.
And we should note that God’s rescue typically comes through people.
The Jews were saved by God but through Esther and Mordecai.
In the story of Joseph from last week, Egypt and the world was saved through Joseph.
For us today, we are called by God to be rescuers.
For example, we are to pray for one another. We are to “bear one another’s burdens.” We are to comfort and encourage one another. We are to weep with those who weep.
God will use the love we show to one another to bring measures of his rescue.
Five years ago my wife had a significant stroke. And in those first few months we were reeling from the trauma of it all. But I still distinctly remember the care that dozens of people gave to us.
I recall one couple in our Community Group who wrote a simple note and gave a small gift card. Others sent a simple text saying, “I was praying for you this morning.”
Every single day, something like that would happen. And I took it as heaven-sent. To me, it was like God sent gold from heaven to bring comfort and strength and encouragement.
This invisible God we worship may seem conspicuously absent, at times. But by faith we believe he is omnipotently present. The story of Esther shouts that to us.
The second lesson
- We marvel at this story of Esther, but much more so at the story of the Advent of Christ
What God did back in Esther’s day is just a taste of what he did 500 years later when he sent his Son into the world.
What mankind has always needed since the Fall of Man in Genesis 3 is an eternal Savior.
Someone to rescue us from the judgment of God, and his curse upon mankind and this world, the curse of death.
Other rescuers, other saviors simply are not enough for what we ultimately need.
- Esther and Mordecai were saviors, of a sort. But their salvation was temporary. The Jews were astonishingly saved at the end of the year. But eventually all of them died from some cause.
- You and I can and should help one another providing rescue. But that help is short-term. And sometimes simply inadequate.
- Doctors and healthy habits can save us from ailments and disease. But even that eventually runs out, for we will all die someday.
- And then some rescuers actually have evil intentions, though they promise to deliver us. Like the dictator Pol Pot in Cambodia.
- In addition to that, sometimes we look to the wrong things to deliver us. We seek deliverance from extreme things like drugs and alcohol. Or even more normal things like playing video games and eating to escape from our burdens, but they simply don’t satisfy.
But God sent his Son into the world to save souls for all eternity. This is why Jesus came. Jesus himself said this:
Luke 19:10 ESV For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
Jesus Christ came to save to the uttermost. Completely. Eternally.
Hebrews 7:25 ESV Consequently, he is able to save to the uttermost those who draw near to God through him, since he always lives to make intercession for them.
The work of Jesus is full and complete. Nothing is left out.
All other “rescuers” and “saviors”, even if they are good and from God—like the story of Esther and Mordecai—are temporary, partial saviors.
So we marvel at the thoroughness of the work from the First Advent of Jesus, where salvation is assured to anyone who believes in him.
Even then, the final step of our salvation is yet to come. At the Second Advent of Christ when he returns to earth, our salvation will made full.
So we marvel at what has already been done. And we long for what is coming soon.
If you are not yet assured of eternal life—the rescue of your soul for all eternity—then look to Jesus.
The Bible tells us to “Repent and believe.” We turn from our evil ways and our ignorance of God …. and instead turn to him. Look to him.
A story in the OT describes what this repentance and belief is.
In the Book of Numbers, Israel had sinned, so the Lord brought judgment on them. He sent poisonous serpents had come into Israel’s camp, and people everywhere were dying for their sins.
But God instructed Moses, “Make a bronze serpent, lift it high up on a staff. And tell Israel to look up to this serpent and so live.” Anyone who did survived and did not die.
So we are to look up to Christ and so be saved. Jesus said this:
John 3:14–15 ESV And as Moses lifted up the serpent in the wilderness, so must the Son of Man be lifted up, that whoever believes in him may have eternal life.
Look up to Christ and live forever.
As we marvel at stories like in Esther, much, much more do we marvel at the work of Jesus Christ from his first Advent.
Let me wrap up with this.
This remarkable Story of Esther surprisingly makes no mention of God. Yet his fingerprints are everywhere. God took this ordinary young woman and her adopted father to save a nation.
We see not only from this story but from others in the Scriptures, especially the story of God’s Son coming to earth, that God has the desire, the wisdom, and the power to save people from extraordinary distress. He is the Great Protector. He is the Ultimate Rescuer. The Savior.
So we look to him by faith. And we marvel at his wonderful works of deliverance.