Wednesday, October 15, 2014

Esther Week 4 - More Valuable than Life

The following is the summary notes of week 4 of our Esther series.  Read chapter 4 and use the notes and questions below to continue in your contemplation.  You can download the audio of the sermon here. Previous week's notes are also available on this site.

Worship with Sorrow
There is a cultural awkwardness surrounding public displays of grief in our culture.  We have virtually no cultural processes, practices or postures of grief; I mean wearing black at a funeral isn't even the done thing anymore because we force one another to celebrate a life rather than mourn a death. And what this means
is that when we go through times of grief ourselves we can feel as though there is no real outlet for our sorrow. We don’t think anyone will understand, we don’t know of any ways that we can express our emotions without appearing weird, so we bottle up our hurt or we save our weeping for sleepless nights when no one else is around.

In church world it is so easy to let the cultural awkwardness surrounding grief to colour our worship.  Subtly we expect Christians going through hard times to be super-spiritual giants who can testify to how they are soldiering on in the Lord.  Basically we define 'godly grieving' by our capacity not to put other people out.

But with Mordecai we see a man who has one of the deepest trusts in God that we see in all of Scripture and yet when the news of the king's decree reaches his ears he publicly and passionately grieves.  And the whole Jewish community followed. Fasting and weeping and lamenting in sackcloth and ashes. And it is not just because it is culturally appropriate for them… it is because godly sorrow is actually worshipful. Worship is a response of the whole human being to the reality of God in any given situation. So when Mordecai looks at the dire situation that the people of God have been placed in the only honest worshipful response to God he can make is to cry out in anguish.

When a child is lost in the shopping centre she doesn't cry because she doubts her mother or because she doesn't trust her mother, she cries because she desperately wants her mother… needs her mother… because her mother is the only one who can heal her heart… Likewise Mordecai’s weeping is not because he doubts God, but because he needs God and in so many ways this is the most genuine of all worship moments. Mordecai’s tears are tears of his humble recognition that he needs something more than himself – he needs God!

And sometimes we need to be humble enough to admit that we need God… sometimes like the child lost in the shops we need to realise that our situation is so dire that God is the only one who can heal our hearts… and we need to genuinely and honestly cry out for Him in the midst of our anguish… and if we are a community of worship we need to create space for this to happen!  You might think you are displaying great godliness by suffering in silence, but you might actually be holding back genuine and honest worship from God. There may be no other place in our culture where you can be weak, where you can be broken, where you can weep bitter tears; but let me tell you now at Rosalie Church you can.

The Cost of Doing Right
The palace had sheltered Esther from the confusion and chaos of the king's decree and so when she hears of Mordecai's grief she tries to placate him with fine garments.  But they turn out to be clothes of cold comfort as Mordecai explains to her the terror that hangs over the people of God.  And so he sends a copy of the edict to Esther so that she might read it for herself and be moved to act on their behalf; to appeal to the king for their salvation.

But when Esther reads the edict and hears Mordecai’s appeal her heart must have sunk, because she knew what he was asking her to do was costly indeed.  She sends back a disappointed refusal in verse 11 telling Mordecai of the cost of his request. In fact so costly is this request that for the first time in the story she questions Mordecai’s wisdom. She doesn’t want to disobey Mordecai but she does argue that compliance is virtually impossible. The reality is that Esther stared down the barrel of public disgrace and banishment at best or at worst the death penalty if she dared to confront the king concerning the edict.

And what we have to realise is that there is always a cost for us to do the right thing.
  • A child speaking up against a bully at school will just about always find themselves in the crosshairs of that bully 
  • Sharing the truth of the gospel with a friend may jeopardise your friendship 
  • Nurses and doctors who head to Ebola infested regions of Africa put themselves right in the path of the deadly virus 
  • Missionaries who head into closed countries controlled by anti-Christian regimes to preach the gospel face the very real threat of prison, persecution and death 
Doing what we know to be right often carries a deep personal cost… and if we seek to live the kind of life that speaks up for truth, cries out for justice and gives hope to the broken we will often find ourselves in Esther’s unenviable position.;in the wrestle between knowing what is right and knowing the cost of doing it.  So most of us, if we are honest, take the easy option. We all too often bury our heads in the sand… not wanting to know about what is happening around us in case we are convicted of what needs to be done and end up facing Esther’s dilemma.   Too many of us want to live in safety and ignorance of the palace and let the brokenness of the world float by without us ever knowing.

Esther’s Courage
While I am sure Mordecai was sympathetic to Esther’s dilemma his reply delivers 3 stunning realities that, as we soon see, steel Esther’s resolve and give her the courage that both she and the people of God desperately needed:
  1. In verse 13 he reminds Esther of the her inclusion in the trials they faced.  Basically he says “Death is coming to us all Esther, so you can either face it now trying to intervene for your people or you can wait in the the palace until the appointed day when you will be swept away with us all.” The comfort and luxury of the palace may have been sheltered her from the confusion of the decree, but it wouldn't shelter her from the consequences of the decree. 
  2. In verse 14 Mordecai reminds Esther of her relative insignificance in the scope of God’s sovereign plan for His people. It’s like he is saying, “This is not about you. God is big enough to save His people whenever and through whomever He pleases. He doesn’t need you.” Mordecai knows his history and he knows the salvation of the people of God is ultimately assured by the promise of God not the courage of the people. 
  3. As verse 14 continues Mordecai asks Esther to consider the providence of God, basically saying, “You cannot ignore the way God has been at work in your life, you cannot ignore the reality that a Jewish girl is Queen of all Persia at the very time that the Persian Empire is about to crush the Jews, God might not need you Esther - but He wants you!” 
If you bring these three arguments together you see the weight of what he is saying:  See what Esther needed to know in order to gift her the courage she needed was that she was not throwing herself at the mercy of the King of Persia… she was actually casting herself into the merciful arms of the King of the universe.  Esther needed to know that while the cost of doing the right thing was high, the peace of being in God’s will, the joy of stepping into His sovereign arms and the reward of walking in His providence was infinitely greater!

Esther was now prepared to give up the comfort of the palace, to face the public shame of being stripped of her crown and cut off, to confront the very real possibility of her own death.  She was now willing to absorb the cost of doing the right thing because Mordecai had shown her something in God that was of infinitely greater value.  And so she courageously says, "I will go to the king, though it is against the law,and if I perish, I perish."

More Valuable than Life
And this morning if we hope to be a people who are able to absorb the cost of doing the right thing for the benefit of those around us.  If we want to walk in the providence of knowing that God has put us here in Rosalie for such a time as this.  Then we need to know that Jesus Christ is of far greater worth and value than any cost we might be called to bear.

And this morning Esther has shown us why.  See like Esther, but in a far greater way, Jesus showed us a joy, peace and hope more valuable than the cost of doing the right thing, no matter how steep that cost:
  • He gave up the comfort of His throne to turn away the wrath of the king
  • He didn't just risk the shame of the removal of His crown but He was actually mocked and shamed with a crown of thorns
  • He didn't just put His life on the line but He actually gave His life on the cross
For the joy set before Him, Jesus absorbed the full cost of doing what was needed so that we might be spared the wrath of the king… Jesus perished so that we don’t have to! And it is only when we have this infinitely valuable treasure Jesus that we can absorb the cost of doing what is needed in this world.

  1. Think back to the times you have gone through trial or sorrow.  Do you think you handled it well?  Did you share your burden with the church or did you think the godly response was to bear it alone?
  2. What practical things can we do as a church to foster a community that worships through sorrow?
  3. Have you ever wrestled with the cost of doing the right thing?  Did knowing the cost put you off following through with what you knew was right? 
  4. Think about your life and the situation you find yourself in right now.  What do you think God's providence has prepared you for?  Who does He want you to reach out to?  
  5. How do you feel knowing that God doesn't need you to fulfill His plans... but He does want you? 
  6. How does seeing Jesus' bearing of the cost of doing right empower you to see Him as more valuable than any cost He might ask you to absorb?

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