Feb 28 2013
Imagine the following situation. You are a believer and you have just got a new job, it’s a dream job; and the pay is good. On the first Friday the company holds a social event so everyone can get to know you. While chatting with other members of staff you overhear your immediate boss talking to the managing director about religion and it’s quite clear that neither of them like it. In fact they both shake hands on the fact that they are atheists and make a number of quite insulting remarks about the Christian faith. And this leaves you wondering, “What do I do? Do I declare my beliefs or keep quiet? If I am open about my faith will it endanger my position?” If you can relate to this kind of dilemma then you will understand Esther and the decision she had to make.
♦ Perhaps you know Esther’s story. If so feel free to jump to the next paragraph (where the blue bullet is). But if you don’t know it, here’s the basic outline: The Jews are in exile in Persia. The King of Persia (Xerxes) takes Esther (a Jew) to be his wife. He also makes Haman (a Persian) his right hand man. Everyone is to bow before Haman in the streets, and all do, except Mordecai ‘the Jew’ (he only bows to God). Haman is angered and decides to kill all the Jews. A lot is cast to decide the day all will die and it fell on the 13th Adar. King Xerxes backs Haman’s plan. The Jews are distraught and Mordecai asks Esther to plead with the king for their lives. Esther tells him that for her or anyone to approach the king without being summoned could result in execution. The Persian custom was that anyone interrupting the king would be greeted with favour or death. But Mordecai asks her to do it for the sake of her own family at least. Esther thinks about it and eventually agrees to do it, but asks that all Jews fast as she prepares. Meanwhile Haman has had enough and decides to erect a gallows to hang Mordecai even before the 13th. That night the king can’t sleep so he has the chronicles of his reign read to him, and he discovers he has not rewarded a certain Mordecai for saving his life. Just then Haman enters the palace to get permission to hang Mordecai. But before he can ask he is required to lead Mordecai through the streets on the king’s horse to honour him. Haman returns home embarrassed before his family and friends. Meanwhile Esther takes her life into her hands and approaches the king. The king is merciful and asks what her request is. She says she would like the king and Haman to attend a feast so she can make her request there. At the feast she pleads for her own life and the lives of her people. She points out that Haman is the one who has arranged their execution. The king is enraged and has Haman hung on the gallows he made for Mordecai. An edict is then sent throughout the kingdom allowing all Jews to destroy their enemies. This they do on the 14th Adar (24th Feb 2013). So although the lot was cast against the Jews, God turned it back on their enemies.
♦ Jewish people celebrate the story of Esther every year in a festival called Purim. The word Purim comes from pur meaning ‘lot’ – the lot that was cast against the Jews. This year (2013) Purim fell on Sunday 24th Feb, so I decided to teach on it. Purim is a colourful event; many people dress up as Esther, Mordecai, Haman, or the King. Children put on synagogues plays just like Christians in churches at Christmas. Everyone gives gifts to each other and the Megilla (the book of Esther) is read out aloud. When Haman’s name is mentioned everyone stamps and shouts their disapproval, and when Esther’s name is mentioned (in some synagogues) people wave a colourful flag. The story of Esther has given Jews great courage over the centuries, especially in times of persecution.
So how does the story of Esther relate to us as Christians? Well, the lesson is in the characters. Haman is a symbol of evil; he is the hater of God’s people. Mordecai is simply known as ‘the Jew’ which is apt, for he was the only true Jew among them. Everyone bowed to Haman except him. This must be the case, because no one else was accused except him. Mordecai is the kind of believer who is devoted and uncompromising; he is made of the stuff martyrs are made of.
But Esther is the main character. Esther starts out as the comfortable believer. She has it all. She is queen, she is beautiful, she lives in a palace, has servants, all the best clothes, and all the best food. All will go well for Esther as long as she is quiet about her faith. And she is. Haman would never have given an order to kill all the Jews if he knew the queen and her family was among them. The king would never have agreed to Haman’s plan if he knew Esther would die too. Esther’s faith remained in her bedroom!
Do you know people like Esther? People who don’t want to rock the boat because life is good, people who say ‘religion is a private matter’? Well, God arranged a situation where all that would change. The uncompromising Mordecai challenged Esther to go public and make a stand for God and his people, even if it meant death. And Esther had a decision to make. Was she going to live for herself or God? Was life about being comfortable or about representing her Creator? And she made the right decision; she chose God and went public. But she had to lay down her life to do it.
Have you made the Esther decision? Are you making a public stand, though it costs you everything? Bowing the knee to Haman is easy. We do it every time we decide to be more like the world and less like Christ. It’s lying for your boss, it’s bribing for the sake of the company, it’s taking one drink too many to be polite, it’s turning a blind eye to corruption in the police station. And when we do bow we have to be quiet about our faith. Let’s not bow, let’s be like Mordecai; bold and clear about what we believe! It’s better to be a good dead witness than a bad living one! Jesus said “Whoever finds his life will lose it, and whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Mt 10.39).
Purim was a victory for the Jews. But it all started with Esther’s decision. Prior to her decision Esther was known as the queen; but afterwards she was known as a Jew who was queen. What are you known for? Are you known for your occupation or your faith? If you haven’t done it, I challenge you to make the Esther decision! Live for God! Go public!
Other Illustrations used: Purim Pictures | The Honest Golfer
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