Hello, and welcome to Lechem Panim. We appreciate your tuning in to us today. We have begun to wrap up our study of the book of Esther, in which we have seen how God used a young Jewish girl by the name of Esther to be His instrument through whom He saved His people from a mass genocide at the hands of the wicked Haman, the king’s former right-hand man who had tricked the king into signing into irrevocable law that on one day (in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day) the Jews all throughout Persia would be rounded up and killed. Now through Esther this plot becomes known and Haman is executed. And the king allows a second decree to be written allowing the Jews to defend themselves and to attack those who were intent on bringing them harm. And so on that day, when Israel was supposed to fall at the hands of their enemies, they instead gained mastery over their enemies. And so there is a dramatic reversal that we observe. And the author of the book of Esther really highlights this in how he has structured the text.
[Chiastic Structure of Reversals-- In 3:10 - the king gives Haman his ring. In 8:2 - the king gives Mordecai that same ring. In 3:12 - Haman summons the king’s scribes. In 8:9 - Mordecai summons the king’s scribes. In 3:12 - letters are written and sealed with the king’s ring. In 8:10 letters are written and sealed with that same ring now given to Mordecai. In 3:13 we see that the Jews, even women and children, are to be killed on one day. In 8:11 - the enemies of the Jews, even women and children, are to be killed on one day (though that was never carried out; it was just part of the law given to directly confront Haman’s decree). In 3:14 - Haman’s decree is publicly displayed as law. In 8:13 - Mordecai’s decree is publicly displayed as law. In 3:15 - couriers go out in haste. In 8:14 - couriers go out in haste. In 3:15 - the city of Susa is bewildered. In 8:15 - the city of Susa rejoices. In 4:1 - Mordecai wears sackcloth and ashes. In 8:15 - Mordecai wears royal robes] So in this we see a dramatic reversal of the fate of Israel.
But one of the questions we need to ask (especially in this latter part of the book of Esther) is “How does this passage (and really the book as a whole) shape our understanding of how you and I are to relate with our enemies? And moreover, how do we balance a desire for God’s justice with an understanding of His love and forgiveness?”
Our Motivation To Seek God’s Justice-- What scripture points us to as we wrestle with this question is to how we are to model our justice after the pattern of a God who chooses to receive the just punishment due us upon Himself and to forgive the wounds inflicted upon Himself. God hates sin, but He loves the sinner and is always seeking to redeem each and every one of us. And you know the same ought to be true of us. Our central desire must not be to see our enemies pay, but to see sin conquered and people freed from the power of death. Whenever we cry out for the justice of God, it cannot be from a desire to see our enemies perish because of their wounding us. Our cry for the justice of God must always be tempered with the desire to see the hearts and lives of our enemies changed by the power of Jesus Christ. If your desire is to see people receive hell from Jesus, then your spirit is not right. The disciples, when offended by the Samaritans, make this mistake in Luke 9:54-55, where it says…
Luke 9:54-55 (ESV)-- 54 And when his disciples James and John saw it, they said, “Lord, do you want us to tell fire to come down from heaven and consume them?” 55 But he turned and rebuked them.
Jesus was not out to punish, but to redeem. That is why He says in…
John 3:17 (ESV)-- 17 For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.
John 12:47 (ESV)-- 47 If anyone hears my words and does not keep them, I do not judge him; for I did not come to judge the world but to save the world.
Not Against People, But Against Sin-- Now you can argue from the Old Testament that Holy War was often used by Israel at the instruction of God. But what we must always remember is that [The essence of holy war in the Old Testament is not about two nations in warfare, one of which happens to be Israel. Holy war is about God warring against sin and evil on the earth.] It’s not against people; it’s against sin. And whenever God does wages war on a people, it is because those people have not repented and accepted the redemption offered to them. You see, God’s Holy War is not against people, but against the sin that enslaves people. Now given those who bind themselves to sin and never allow Christ to set them free have bound themselves to their own destruction. But even then Jesus is fighting tooth and nail for them to come to repentance in order that they might be saved. Hence, the CROSS!!!
The Cross Changes Everything-- And really the cross changes everything in regards to how we think about the justice of God; because Jesus doesn’t cry out from the cross a plea for God to destroy those who pressed that crown of thorns into the capillaries of His forehead; who lacerated his back; who nailed his hands; who pierced his feet; who hung His body in such a way (from what we know of Roman crucifixions) so that every time he had to breath out he had to pull himself up. No, instead, with what strength He could muster between these breaths he was struggling to work out, Jesus uttered these words: “Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34 ESV) I confess to you, I have been a Christian for most of my life; I have been pastoring for many years now and have preached on that statement of Jesus many many times. And yet I still have trouble processing that. I still cannot wrap my mind around that kind of forgiveness.
Karen Jobes and Holy War-- Holy War ends at the cross. An author I was recently reading said that: [The death of Jesus Christ, the Messiah of Israel, provides the only basis for the cessation of holy war, and the infilling of the Holy Spirit provides the only power by which one may love one’s enemies as oneself. All of the vengeance God’s people would like to wreak on those who practice evil has now been satisfied in the suffering and death of Jesus. He has taken the wages of sin, he has suffered the vengeance of evil. The vengeance due to us for our sins against others and due to them for their sins against us has been satisfied in Jesus’ body on the cross. It is only on the basis of recognizing that the penalty has been paid by Jesus that we can forgive others as we have been forgiven. True holy war in human history has ceased because Jesus has fought its last episode on the cross. It is no accident of history that the modern nations that still endorse the concept of holy war (Arabic, jihad) are nations that reject the gospel of Jesus Christ and the moral system he commands.]
Jonah’s Attitude-- Now you and I can cry out for the judgment of God. There’s a place for that. But what we have to remember is that God’s judgment is always redemptive. If Jonah had had the right perspective, He would have rejoiced at Nineveh’s repentance. But did he? No. He wanted to see the justice of God exacted in the form of vengeance. He wanted to see Nineveh burn. Why? Because of their wickedness and particularly how they (Assyria, of which Nineveh was the capital) had injured his people.
What Would We Do?-- But where do we stand on this issue? If your greatest enemy; the one who persecuted you the most; who was the greatest thorn in your flesh repented and therefore escaped the judgment of God, would you be happy for them? Or would there be bitterness in your heart? Would you be like the second son in the story of the prodigal son; angry because of the mercy of the father? Or would you, recognizing God’s own mercy towards YOU, be able to rejoice in their escaping God’s wrath? And more so; do we go beyond that to actually seek their salvation and help them to escape God’s wrath? One of the verses I find to be the most difficult passages in all of scripture to apply; and I think it is virtually impossible to apply without the infilling of the Holy Spirit is…
Matthew 5:43-45a (ESV)-- 43 “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ 44 But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45 so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven.
Agape your enemies-- Now that word “love” here in Matthew is a special kind of love in Greek. It’s not a casual kind of love or an entry-level kind of love; no, it’s agape; a sacrificial kind of love; the very kind of love Jesus Christ Himself demonstrated in His life and ministry and then on the cross. Well, how does sacrificial love translate into my relationship with my enemy? Do I extend to them the agape of Christ? Many of us struggle just to pray regularly for those close to us. How about how much time we actually devote to praying for our enemies? In thinking about our world, we often pray for justice. Yet I think the cross challenges what we mean when we pray for justice; because ultimately the Christian’s cry for justice is always and must always be a cry for people to find forgiveness and redemption from sin and find healing. And that can be hard to desire for those who have wounded us. And that leads me to think about the question, “Are we truly yearning for people to find freedom from God’s judgment in and through Jesus Christ?” Now we say we do. But if we are to take what Jesus says seriously, “How does our prayer life reflect that?” “What kind of prayers are we offering on behalf of those who have set themselves against us, against Christ, and against His Church?” “What kind of love are we showing to our enemies?” A love that merely tolerates? Or a pro-active, sacrificial, pouring out kind of love; an agape kind of love?
Burned Hands-- [Corrie Ten Boom in the book, Reflections of God’s Glory (page 69), wrote, “In Africa a man came to a meeting with bandaged hands. I asked him how he had been injured. He said, “My neighbor’s straw roof was on fire; I helped him to put it out and that’s how my hands were burned. “Later I heard the whole story. The neighbor hated him and had set his roof on fire while his wife and children were asleep in the hut. They were in great danger. Fortunately, he was able to put out the fire in his house on time. But sparks flew over to the roof of the man who had set the house on fire and his house started to burn. There was no hate in the heart of this Christian; there was love for his enemy and he did everything he could to put out the fire in his neighbor’s house. That is how his own hands were burned.”] What a remarkable story.
Our Focus/Central Concern-- We live in a culture that is in flames; and as we watch the news we see that is now often literally true. When we get to heaven, Jesus is going to ask us, “Where are your burn marks? Where are the marks of your intercession for those who needed me?” Folks, we need to make sure that we are actively seeking the redemption of those who are lost; that we are praying for them; that we are ministering to them; that we are leading them to Jesus. We need to allow Christ’s mission to seek and to save the lost to become the very center and focus of our lives. Peace is only found at the foot of the cross. Because it is through our reconciliation with God that we can then become reconciled with one another. That is is the message of the Gospel. And so let us make the decision to be instruments of peace by bringing people the Good News of the Gospel of Christ. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.