Greetings! Welcome to the show today. I hope all of our listeners today are faring as well as you can during this very unusual time. And I hope today’s message of hope will be an encouragement to you.
Intro To Esther— Today we will be beginning a journey through one of my favorite books of the Bible, a book that has a message that is very relevant to some of the things we are facing right now. It is a story filled with plot and intrigue; love and passion; danger and courage. God’s people are faced with annihilation; and yet they are saved by God’s mighty hand through one of history’s most important heroes; a young Jewish girl who, because of her obedience and trust in God’s plan, saved God’s people from certain destruction. And of course we know her as Esther.
Mordecai-- Now just to give you a little bit of background, God had sent the Jews into captivity for their failure to keep themselves free from false gods. But at this point they have been released from exile; yet there are many who still remain. And among these was a man by the name of Mordecai, a Jew whose great grandfather Kish was very likely carried away into the Babylonian captivity. And Mordecai (as elder cousin to Esther) plays a very key role in this story.
Authorship-- Now we don’t know who wrote the book of Esther (it is anonymous). However it had to be someone who had access to the records taken in Persia, and someone who also had a very strong interest in Jewish affairs. This as unusual combination, leading some (myself included) to think the author could very well have been Mordecai himself, who seems to have had some position in the king’s palace. And his most important role in this story is the fatherly role he takes on for a young Jewish orphan girl named Esther.
Hadassah the “Star” of God’s Presence— Now Hadassah is her Jewish name. But the Persian name she is given is Esther, which means “star.” And this makes sense because in Persia (where this story takes place), astrology (using the stars to practice divination in order to learn the future) was a serious thing. Even today, the number of people who check their horoscopes is staggering. Paganism is very much alive today, let me tell you. Now the Wise men (the Magi) of Media and Persia were very into this kind of thing. And remember Daniel not too long before this was actually head of the wise men of Babylon/Media/Persia. And because of his faithfulness to God, God gave him understanding of visions and dreams, some of the very gifts that the Magi claimed to possess. And so Daniel rose to become head of the Magi. And in that position he no doubt was an ambassador on God’s behalf, teaching the other wise men about the one true God, Yahweh, and may have revealed to them signs of a coming Messiah, using their own astrology to do it.
The Magi and the Star-- And so when we come to the birth of Christ, it says Wise Men (Magi) came from the East, following a star; these men whose ancestors had most likely been influenced by Daniel back in his Babylonian captivity, and whose influence could still be felt in the Medo-Persian empire, which was still alive and well during the time of the birth of Christ. There was still a strong Jewish presence there even at the beginning of the New Testament; Jews who never left even after the exile was over. Many chose to stay, Esther and Mordecai being among them. But back to the Magi; that is most likely how they (the Magi) knew of the coming Messiah. And I want to make that connection for you because that star the Magi followed revealed the presence of God; there “with us”. That is the meaning of “Immanuel”; God with us.
God Not Mentioned-- But in the book of Esther, one of the perplexing things is that the word "God" is not mentioned anywhere in the book. We have the pagan Persian king Ahasuerus mentioned at least once in ever chapter, but God is never mentioned. Yet despite that we find that God is in fact the main character. Yet He is not revealed on a mountain; in a pillar of fire; or in a voice from heaven. No, we see His presence revealed in Esther and in how He moves and directs the events in her life to save His people from destruction. God doesn’t speak through prophets in this book; we have no divine revelation; there are no miracles or signs from heaven. Instead God is behind the scenes, quietly guiding these events towards His purposes. And Esther (like the star of the Magi) is in a sense that star that reveals the presence of God; that reveals to Israel that God is still with them and is still their deliverer.
Post-exile in Persia— And this was easy for them to forget. They had been carried into exile in Babylon. Then Babylon fell to Persia and Cyrus the Great came to power, the founder of the Persian Empire. And miracle of miracles, he allows Israel to return to their homeland and rebuild their temple. And not only does he allow Israel to return home to rebuild the temple, but even allows them to use the resources of Persia to do it! Now Cyrus had a bit of strategy here. From what we know of history, his sending former captives back to their homeland was actually part of his overall strategy to help him strengthen his authority in those more remote parts of his empire. But regardless, it served Israel well. And it goes to show how quickly God can bring redemption and restoration to a people that truly repents.
Looking Back to Egypt— Now you can say God was harsh in sending them into exile. But remember that this was an issue that God had wrestled with them over for hundreds of years, ever since He delivered them out of Egypt and that whole pagan culture. We know that there were times that they looked back in physical hunger, longing for what was familiar to them in Egypt. And that included paganism and idolatry. But God knew that though He delivered them out of slavery in Egypt, they would never be free (even after reaching the Promised Land) until they forsook their false gods and embraced Him (Yahweh) as the center of their reality and the sole recipient of their worship. And the same is true of us. You may not bow before a statue; an idol. But I am telling you, there ARE things we worship other than God; that we give ourselves to other than God that will bring us no life and will in fact produce death in us. And God knows it, which is why He fights so hard (even being willing to allow us to suffer for a while) in order that we might let go of those things and come to experience life in His very presence; before His very face. Lechem Panim (the bread of the presence of God in the tabernacle) was a reminder to them of that reality.
They Are Cured!— And one of my mentors pointed out to me that after this Israel never again fell into idolatry. God’s judgment in sending them into exile worked. And the God who was holy enough to send them into captivity was also loving enough to bring them out. You can never separate God’s holiness from His love. You can never separate God’s holiness from His love. And that is how we ought to see God’s judgment; as an extension of God’s love. It is always redemptive; it is always constructive. In fact, it proves to us (as Hebrews 12:5-11 says) that He has accepted us as His children.
Now some say America is too far gone to make any kind of significant spiritual turnaround. But I don’t believe that for a minute. There is hope for our nation. But that hope lies not in our being able to sway major institutions, though we should always strive to do so. Our hope lies in the salvation, obedience, and consecration of normal everyday people; in the individual rather than the institution.
Individuals, Not Institutions-- One scholar I read often said something that has always stuck with me; and which is very important for us to remember in and throughout our study of this book. He says: We live in a day when most people believe that institutions are the determining factors. They declare that if we could just change institutions, then we could change society. This is the appeal of the politician. Scripture tantalizes us with the amount of space it devotes to individual people rather than institutions. People seem to be the tools that God uses to bring change. The implication is clear. Ultimately, persons determine institutions; institutions do not determine persons. The decisions that are made deep in the heart of an individual in the intimacy of aloneness with God are the decisions that will be historically significant for deciding the future.
What God Can Do Through One Obedient Person-- Herein lies our hope. It isn’t going to be institutions that have the greatest impact on turning our country around; it’s individual people like you and me who, as the darkness closes in, will choose to remain faithful to God. Nowhere in scripture is it more clearly shown to us what God can do through one obedient person to affect the course and the fate of a nation than right here in the book of Esther. An insignificant Jewish girl, through the providence of God and her obedience, changed the fate of a nation.
Our Potential Power-- Now many of us may feel powerless when it comes to affecting change; I know I do; at least significant change on any kind of large scale. But what God wants you to understand today is that you have a power you can’t even fathom; power that is released through your personal commitment to Christ to remain consecrated to Him. John Wesley said an amazing thing. He said, “Give me ten men that hate nothing but sin and love nothing but God and we will change the world.” It is important to note that he did. And there is no telling what God can do through you if you (like Daniel and Esther), even in the face of leadership that is telling you it is okay to do something else, still choose to do and to stand for the right thing. God can do great things through us.
God is Present-- And even when God may seem absent (like in the book of Esther, where His name is never even mentioned; and maybe that’s the point), He is never more present even when we can't see Him. This is the message of the book of Esther. And it is His message for you and for me this week.
This week, may we live a lives that are characterized by true repentance. May we seek God with all of our hearts. And may you and experience (in every way) His redemption, His restoration, and His love for Us. 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.