Friday, October 24, 2014

Esther Week 5 - Living Gospel Irony

The following is a summary of week 5 of our Esther series.  Full sermon downloads and more information about Rosalie Baptist can be found at the website.

Two different approaches
In chapter 5 the storyteller shows us both Esther and Haman going to see the king to plead with him for assistance... in doing so the two character are placed side by side and we are drawn to compare them:
  • Esther - having steeled herself to confront the king despite the peril it would put her life in, Esther clothes herself with honour and dignity presents herself to the king.  She does not approach in boldness, anger or panic even though the situation was urgent and the stakes high. Though she was not invited she does not come on her own terms, she bows to the expectations of the court and the King and comes dripping with nothing but reverence.  And even when the king receives her and offers her the assurance of a generous reply, she continues to shower him with honour by inviting him to a feast she had prepared in his honour. Twice she delays presenting her petition in order to lavish the king with this honour.  Esther displays stunning patience in the face of turmoil because it was what the situation demanded... 
  • Haman - meanwhile the driving force of Haman's petition to the king was a deep love for himself.  Haman's heart once happy with the honour of being invited to queen Esther’s feast is immediately overrun with hatred, rage and evil intent when he sees Mordecai at the king’s gate. Haman’s only source of solace was gathering people around him to bask in his glory and worship at his splendour… But not even unpacking the trophy cabinet of his triumphs was enough to cool Haman’s rage this time. As in verse 13 he announces the cause of his sorrow, “Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.” Mordecai is the thorn in Haman’s side, the bane of his existence, the hindrance to his happiness and so Zeresh his wife comes up with what is really the simplest of solutions… kill him! Basically she says, “Why wait for the appointed day? Why torture yourself any longer? Why not exact your revenge on this Jewish scum right now?” And so he rushes as fast as he can to gain the king's approval for Mordecai's death.
Where Esther was able to be patient in the face of great personal peril, Haman could not even wait a few months… he had to be rid of Mordecai now! So the gap between good and bad in our story widens.  Esther’s patience, honour and respectfulness magnify her winsome ways where Haman’s rage, impatience and pride magnify his despicable nature.

The perils of self-idolatry
And the reason for Haman's deterioration is apparent in verse 13.  It did not matter how many goals Haman kicked in life, if there was but one man like Mordecai who refused to worship him he would never be satisfied. Haman had chosen to worship the idol of self and found out that this idol had an unquenchable appetite and no matter how much he tried to feed it… he would never be satisfied. And so when he sees Mordecai this one last time he finally snaps.

And so it is with anyone who chooses to worship the idol of self.  Idols demand more and more of us with an increasing thirst for our attention, effort, money and time… but will never ever satisfy us in return!  And there is no more relentless idol than the idol of self.  Haman had met all of the demands of his idol but was actually more bitter, more impatient and more frustrated than ever before. The circumstances of Haman’s life may have improved dramatically but the quality of his life was dying every day that Mordecai lived.

And it is so easy for us to find ourselves on the never ending treadmill of futility as we feed and feed our idols but never feel as though we are getting anywhere:
  • A girl can strive really hard to gain acceptance in the most popular group at school but still be left feeling empty because the shine rubs off when she realises their lives seem even more lost than hers 
  • A young man can strive and strive to win a promotion only to find that the grass wasn’t greener on the other side and that the demands on him are greater and the stakes are higher if he fails 
  • A young mother can bust her guts trying to juggle all the components of her culturally perfect life (career, looks, children, marriage and friends) but never feel as though she is truly fulfilled 
If we are honest many of us run that treadmill… striving and striving for whatever it is we think will fill the hole in our heart… but the more we run… the bigger the hole gets!

God Opposes the Proud and gives Grace to the Humble
But not only do our idols fail to satisfy, they also move us closer and closer to destruction… as Haman is about to find out.  Chapter 6 begins with the king unable to sleep and so seeking solace he turns to the one source that he knows will sooth his troubled mind, the story of all the great and memorable deeds of his reign as king.  And it is into this sleepless night that God chooses to insert Himself with stunning and unmistakable timing.  Because in God’s providence the section of the annals that the servants choose to read him included Mordecai's rescue of the king from the scheme of two would-be assassins.  And so the king seeks someone to give him counsel on how to best honour Mordecai's bravery.  And Haman comes into the court to seek Mordecai's death right at the very moment the king was seeking to honour him.

Now remember it was Haman’s pride that drove him to come to the king, so it is his pride that is awoken when the king asks him how to honour someone because in Haman’s egotistical mind the king could only possibly want to honour him. And so his answer reveals the true nature of his heart’s desire: He wants royal robes (the king has worn), a royal horse to ride (the king has ridden), a royal crown and the king’s noble official to proclaim his greatness in the heart of the city… Basically Haman wants to experience the splendour and glory of being the king!

And as he unveiled this glorious celebration you get the impression that he can just taste it, that he can sense his greatest honour is there within his grasp.  But as he stands there, heart wide open to the glories that await him the king says, “Hurry; take the robes and the horse, as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew, who sits at the king's gate. Leave out nothing that you have mentioned.” It would have felt like a knife had been plunged up under his ribs stealing his breath and ripping out his heart. Haman couldn't even bear the thought of Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate, let alone on the king’s horse, and to have the sheer indignity of serving this Mordecai and proclaiming his honour in the heart of the city; Haman’s pride died a thousand deaths in that instant!

But if Haman had known anything about the God of the Jews he would have known that God opposes the proud and gives grace to the humble and that God often ensures our haughty words come before a fall.  Even his wife Zeresh and his advisors recognised the hand of the Lord in this for when he arrives home and tells of his crushing shame they say, “If Mordecai, before whom you have begun to fall, is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”  Zeresh and his advisers understand something of the history of Yahweh’s work in this world… they know how the God of the Jews had brought down greater rulers and powers than Haman, they had heard how anyone who defied Yahweh could come to grief even when they seemed to have the victory in hand. Basically Haman’s wife tells him that his fate it sealed.  It may have just been one blow inflicted on him today, but it was indicative of his total defeat.

Gospel Irony
This story seems almost too ironic to be true:
  • Haman had made the gallows ludicrously high so that the city would see Mordecai’s demise… but instead of lifting him up onto the gallows Haman had to lift him up onto the king’s horse so the city would see his glory
  • Haman thought the only way to soothe his pride was to kill the one who wouldn't honour him… but instead he was forced to honour the one who wouldn't honour him
  • Basically Haman did everything he could to enact his greatest victory but it turned out to be his greatest defeat
But this is the way in which our God chooses to work in His world.  And it is how God chooses to reveal His most glorious victory. See the cross of Jesus Christ looked for all intents and purposes to be the greatest victory of Satan.  Like Haman, Satan thought he had Jesus right where he wanted Him; he had manipulated the situation to perfection: Judas had been turned to betray Jesus, the Pharisees had developed a murderous hatred for Jesus, the crowd was incited against Jesus, the Romans took pleasure in crucifying Jesus; Jesus seemed to be clothed in nothing but defeat, death and shame.

But the cross was not the ultimate victory of Satan... in fact it was the most glorious victory of God! And as Jesus was lifted up for all to see His shame we actually get to see His glory; the glory of the one who would give His life in our place, to defeat the powers of sin and death… to triumph over Satan himself.  And so when God raised Jesus from the dead on the third day Satan’s fate was sealed!

And do you know the only way we can be set free from the treadmill of futility, from the never ending quest of feeding our idols without ever finding satisfaction, is to realise that gospel victory will never be seen in our awesomeness, in our strength or in our victories...  The glory of the church is not in steeples and stained glass or strobe lights and rock bands or in programs or people... but the glory of the church is the seemingly inglorious cross of Jesus Christ.  And it is only when we see the one whose greatest glory was being bathed in shame, that we can lay down our quest for the earthly glory our idols promise and embrace the gospel irony of losing our life to truly find it; because true satisfaction can only be found here.

  1. Do you approach difficult situations or people with honour and dignity or with impatience, anger and frustration?
  2. What is the "treadmill of futility" in your life?  What is the thing you strive and strive to gain, investing all of your time, money and energy?  
  3. How satisfied are you by whatever it is you are chasing? 
  4. Haman's fall came after his pride built up his own perception of himself.  Have you ever experienced pride coming before a fall? 
  5. How do you feel about the reality that we must lose our life in order to find it?  Do you find it difficult letting go of the question to build up your own image?
  6. How can seeing the irony of the cross help you to abandon your quest for personal glory?

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