Wednesday, November 12, 2014

Esther Week 8 - Speaking Peace

The following is the summary notes from the final week of our Esther series.  You can check out the whole series online at our website.

The Changed King
Tax carries a negative connotation in today's society; there is no such thing as a good tax.  And yet here in the final chapter of this epic story we come to the section which is supposed to be the happy ending, and yet we find the opening words of chapter 10 declare, “King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea.” And we are like, wait a minute, why on earth would the narrative finish like this? Surely the imposition of a new tax cannot be a good thing.

But in reality this short statement that rounds out the life and times of King Ahasuerus in our story contains a stunning reason for the people of God to rejoice. Yes you heard me right… the people of God would have rejoiced at this new tax:
  1. The tax here represents a significant change in King Ahasuerus’ economic policy. His last great idea for bringing in much needed funds to the empire’s treasury came from Haman and was basically, "kill the Jews and steal their stuff".  Furthermore other economic policy of ruthless dictators of the time included things like enforced slavery.  So yes the Jews rejoiced in Ahasuerus’ new tax because he was embracing a conventional and just system for raising funds instead of strong arming out of them, enslaving vulnerable people or worse still following through with Haman’s plan.
  2. Secondly, the extent of Ahasuerus’ kingdom is defined as the lands and coastlands of the seas. While we are told very specifically in chapter 1 that he ruled from Ethiopia to India, now in chapter 10 there is just this general description of his empire, “the land and the coastlands of the seas”. Scholars believe that this was a simple phrase that basically meant “all the known world”.  Therefore at the end of our story Ahasuerus' empire was at its strongest and most secure. 
So not only had Ahasuerus been convinced to embrace a fair and equitable taxation system, his nation was the stronger for it. When the text tells us that “all the acts of his power and might... are written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia?” it is not lying, this stage of his reign was the most prosperous of his life. But it was not always this way…

If you remember right back to chapter 1 we met the mighty King Ahasuerus and he was throwing a spectacular party for himself.  At the time I told you that this was the actions of a pathetically proud man who needed to feel affirmed and honoured. What I didn’t tell you was what happened next.

See according to historical research the third year of Ahasuerus’ reign marked the beginning of a long military campaign in Greece. Perhaps riding on the high of having the empire worship him, Ahasuerus set sail for Greece in an attempt to extend the borders of his kingdom even further. While they had initial success on both land and sea, eventually Ahasuerus’ pride got the better of him. The Greek ships had retreated to a stronghold and even though he was advised against it, Ahasuerus pursued them in battle and suffered significant losses. He was forced to return with his army to avoid a revolt amongst his troops leaving behind a skeleton army which was thoroughly defeated.

See we have to understand that in many ways the spectacular 180 day feast was a smokescreen to hide the less than spectacular standing of the king. Sure he had wealth, power and territory but he had inherited it all from the dynasty that went before him.  And after the defeats in Greece that dynasty loomed large over him and he was slipping into the shadows of giants. Compared to the great kings like Cyrus and Darius, Ahasuerus was failing badly.

What we have to realise is that while on the outside the King was full of pomp and splendour, on the inside he was wrestling with feelings of insignificance, insecurity and depression. He gave the impression that his empire was vast and strong, but in reality it was starting to crumble on the fringes.  And this explains so much of the story we have journeyed through:
  • It explains the feast in his own honour to puff himself up in the eyes of others
  • It explains why when he came back from Greece, depressed and unsettled, he sought a new Queen for himself
  • It explains why members of his own court would seek to assassinate him as they viewed him as a weak target
  • It explains why he was so insecure that Haman’s deception worked and he moved quickly to eradicate the supposed threat of the Jews
  • It explains why he was up late at night and needed the record of his great deeds read to him to ease his troubled mind
So much of Ahasuerus’ behaviour in this story has been dictated by this hidden insecurity. But time and time again we have seen that God was working behind the scenes to bring this king’s story into line with the story He was writing until they became intertwined. God was working out His purposes through the rise and fall of this proud Persian king.

If you compare Ahasuerus’ story before and after it became entwined with God’s story you see something quite stunning. And ultimately this is what I think the author of this story wants us to see. Yes the salvation of God’s people has been a central theme, but if you look at the bookends of this story you see a dramatic change:
  • Chapter 1 saw Ahasuerus as this despicable, self-indulgent and proud king who magnified himself at the expense of others. A man who trumpeted his own glory to hide the insignificance and insecurity in his own heart. A man who would crush anyone who stood in the way of his pride even if it was his own wife. 
  • But chapter 10 sees Ahasuerus more powerful, just and prosperous than ever before, more truly worthy of honour than ever before, but there is no fanfare or pomp and splendour like in chapter 1. Instead there is the stunning reality that this once proud king shares his glory with Mordecai the Jew. Mordecai’s name, integrity and honour is recorded alongside the king’s own name in the Chronicles of the Kings of Persia. The king shares his lasting legacy with a common Jewish man and elevates him to the highest office in the land. 
In the beginning of the story Ahasuerus magnifies himself even though his character is hardly worthy of praise. By the end of the story his character is actually now worthy of honour and yet he shares this honour with another.  So I guess the burning question is: what happened to cause this change? You can’t seriously read the story of Esther without being drawn to see this radical change in the king and ask this very question.  And the end of chapter 10 slaps us in the face with this answer, “For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.”

The Change Agent
The change in the king was brought about by the fact that he came into contact with the people of God, more specifically he came into contact with Mordecai and his cousin Esther.  Right throughout the story these two people appear not just as the saviours of their own people but as the saviours of the king as well.
  • Esther won over the king and his court 
  • Esther gave her best to please the king 
  • Mordecai acted with integrity and courage to save the king’s life 
  • When Haman had manipulated him into making a huge mistake, Esther and Mordecai exposed this treachery and spared the king from potential disaster 
Basically Mordecai and Esther stood in the gap between the people of God and their enemy and “sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.” And there is no doubt that coming in contact with the ones that God raised up to be the saviours of his people changed the king’s life dramatically. Esther was the best thing that ever happened to the king’s life.  Mordecai was the best thing that ever happened to the king’s reign as ruler of Persia.

Seeking welfare and speaking peace
The people of God living in Persia were exiled, trapped and longing to be home. They were in the minority and their voice was unable to be heard to the point where a simple decree form the king threatened to wipe them out completely.  And it is easy for us, living here in Brisbane and Rosalie to feel like this as well.

We probably don’t have kings threatening to end our lives but we do have:
  • Scores of people living all around us who honestly believe that the church and Christianity are bad for society 
  • People who don’t think we have anything to contribute to modern society; that our views are unhelpful, narrow-minded and draconian 
  • People who will actively fight to make sure that we have no voice in the public arena 
  • People who have embraced life outside of the boundaries of God’s good design and present their lifestyle as the best for society 
And to generalise the church has reacted to this in one of two ways:
  1. To retreat into a private faith. A faith where we feel comfortable to live out our convictions within the safety of church and home, but not pull back from society and let them taste the consequences their godlessness 
  2. To develop a negative and aggressive outlook on society and jump up and down about every step away from God’s design that they take. To climb on a moral high horse so to speak and seek to point the finger at the world 
But this is not what God called the people of God living in exile to do. Mordecai and Esther are presented here in this story as the ones who lived out God’s desire for His exiled people. And God desire for His people was that they might be the best thing that ever happened to the proud, pagan king. The palace was different because they were there, the empire was different because they were there and the trajectory of the king’s life was different because they were there.

People of God living in Rosalie, Brisbane, the question that you must be confronted with from the book of Esther is this: How is your city, your workplace, your street, your school, your sporting team, your family different because you are there? God does not want His people to retreat to safety and live a private faith.  Nor does He want us to climb on high horses and live a finger pointing faith.  He wants us to be present in the world and live out a peace speaking faith; a welfare seeking faith.

And I want to make this insanely practical for you as we finish.  The question I want you to wrestle with is this: How could the trajectory of people’s lives around you be changed simply because you are present in their life?
  • What if instead of subconsciously expecting our children to be popular at school we encouraged them to befriend the outcast kids who are caught at the bottom of the social pecking order 
  • What if you were the person in your street who looked out for others and invested in their lives, their marriages, their families
  • What if you were the person in your workplace who didn't join in the criticism and negativity but instead breathed life, joy and job satisfaction into the work environment
  • What if you were the political activist who didn't just write letter after letter of complaint, anger and venom, but took the time to write letters of honour, respect and blessing
Basically what I am asking you to consider is how you might speak peace and seek the welfare of the people in your life regardless of how hostile to you or your faith they are.  I am asking us as a church to consider how the trajectory of our community here in Rosalie might be changed if we speak peace and seek welfare.  How might the school be changed, how might the kindy be changed and how might the shops and restaurants be changed?  Will Rosalie be better off for having a church? And if so how?

The Ultimate Peace Speaker
Because ultimately this what Jesus did for us!  See the trajectory of our world was headed towards disaster.  The trajectory of my life was headed towards ruin. The trajectory of humanity was headed towards hell.  And yet Jesus came and sacrificed His life to speak peace to us and seek our welfare.  Jesus came to change the trajectory of our world and our individual lives and He wants us to do the same for the people and communities around us... He wants us to help them find the trajectory transformation that only He can provide.  And it is only when you are captivated, empowered and filled by this Jesus that you will ever have the power to do it.

As we round out our series in Esther you have to let the story question your heart: has God placed you in the neighbourhood, school, workplace, family, community that you are in for a time such as this?  So that you might be His hands and feet to see the trajectory of people's lives changed forever?


  1. Can you see the change in King Ahasuerus' life?  Consider the lives of the most hostile people around you. Do you believe that God can change their life trajectories?
  2. Which response do you think you have tended towards the most?  Private and silent faith or finger pointing high horse faith?  What is wrong with these responses?
  3. Think about the communities God has placed you and your family in.  Where does peace need to be spoken?  Where does welfare need to be sought?  What are the great areas of need in your community?
  4. In what tangible ways can you be God's hands and feet to speak peace and seek welfare?  How could your church or bible study group do this together?
  5. How does seeing the sacrifice of Jesus fuel your trajectory changing desire?

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