Current headlines tell a chilling story: “The High Cost of Peace” - “Terrorism on the High Seas” - “Predictions in Perilous Times.” The last headline is arresting - “In the last days perilous times shall come” (2 Timothy 3: 1 KJV). These are indeed “perilous times” in many ways.
Yet life goes on, a bit uncertainly, but we all have our business to attend to. There are classes to teach, orders to fill, patients to see, books to read, games to be played (and watched), papers to write, bills to pay, medicine to take, songs to sing, meals to prepare, and beyond that, there are the closer concerns of marriage and children and friends and family members.
If you were to write down your 3 biggest worries, concerns or fears for the New Year - Financial security. Health. Marriage. A place to live. Walk with God. Loneliness. School. Healthy family. Money. Faith in God. Unable to get pregnant. Who among us could not relate to these concerns? Our people are not unaware of what is happening in the world, but their deepest worries are closer to home.
“Worry is the interest paid by those who borrow trouble.” “Worry is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind.” You could write on countless gravestones: “Hurried, Worried, Buried.”
Perhaps our greatest fear is the fear of death. Christ came to deliver those who had been enslaved by the fear of death all their lives. It’s not just the fear of dying that troubles us; it’s the thought of leaving this life with so much left to do. For some people both living and dying can seem equally painful. How can we overcome our fear over what might happen to us in the future? With all that looms before us in 2012, both internationally and personally, how can we move from fear to faith? Let’s take a look at the story of a young woman named Esther. Even though the events took place almost 25 centuries ago, the story of her amazing courage points the way to a life free from consuming fear over what might happen tomorrow.
A Man Called Xerxes
465 BC - Xerxes was king of Persia. The most powerful man in the world, he ruled an empire even bigger than Nebuchadnezzar. His empire spread from India in the east to Greece in the west to Africa in the south to Turkey in the north. In those days the Persian Empire had 4 capital cities. One you’ve heard of—Babylon. Another one called Susa - here our story unfolds. It is not far from the centre of action in the Middle East today. Archaeologists dug up Susa about 100 years ago and found the ruins of the palace spoken of in the book of Esther.
The King’s Winter Palace
465 BC - Susa was one of the world’s greatest cities. Darius the Mede, father of King Xerxes, built his winter palace there. Darius imported cedar, hard wood, gold, lapis lazuli, ebony, silver, ivory and turquoise. After he died, Xerxes continued the work of his father. The real capital was in Babylon. Susa served as the winter palace. It was a place to get away from the pressures of Babylon.
The king of Persia kept his harem in Susa. The harem was a large group of beautiful women who were there at his beck and call to serve him in any way he wished. They were gathered from among the most beautiful women in the empire - both Persian women and women from foreign countries. Their only calling was to please the king. One after another he would call the women in and they would serve him and do whatever he wished.
How a Jewish Princess Became a Queen
The king had become enraged at Queen Vashti and began to search out his harem to find the most beautiful, most attractive, most desirable woman so that he might make her the new queen. He looked at one woman after another. But he could not find what he wanted until at last he came upon a woman whose beauty, character, form and comeliness was such that he was completely taken with her. He said, “I want her to be my queen.” Her name in Hebrew was Hadassah, and in Persian, Esther. She was a Jew. She was one of God’s chosen people and without any forewarning; she suddenly becomes the Queen of Persia. She is now the most important woman in the entire realm—a Jewish woman, queen to a Persian king. Life was good for Esther because she was the king’s chosen one. She was the one on whom his favour rested. For many days, months and years Esther basked in the glory of being the chief woman of the realm and the one to whom everyone else bowed and paid homage.
Haman came in to see the king. Esther knew nothing about it because in those days the king kept his business and his women far apart. So while Esther was with the other women, the king saw Haman. He came in with a story the king could hardly believe. He said, “Oh, king, there’s a certain people in your realm who are treasonous and seditious against you. They do not follow your law. They do not pay homage to you. They do not respect what you have done. O king, we must do something about these people.” Haman neglected to tell the king that he was talking about the Jews. The things he was saying were not true. The Jews were not seditious or treasonous. But Haman, because he was a descendant of the Amalekites, the ancient enemies of the people of God, wanted to stir up trouble against the Jews.
So he said to the king, “We must do something about these people who are polluting your kingdom.” The king asked, “What do you propose?” Haman answered, “If you will allow me, I will write a decree and have you sign it with your signet ring and we will send a decree out over all the kingdom. The decree will be that on a certain day all the Jews will be put to death.”
Haman’s idea was to kill all the Jews in the Persian Empire on the same day. Don’t miss this one fact. Haman neglected to tell the king that he was talking about the Jews so the king didn’t know. Not that it would have made that much difference to a Persian king anyway. So the decree was signed and sealed with the signet ring and it began to go out over all the land.
Sackcloth and Ashes
Enter Mordecai, cousin to Queen Esther. He was a Jew serving in the court of King Xerxes. As a cabinet officer, he was deeply involved in the business affairs of the king, a man of good character, a man whom the king greatly respected. When Mordecai heard what wicked Haman had done, which would mean that he and all his relatives would be put to death, he went to the middle of the city and clothed himself with sackcloth and ashes and began mourning and wailing. Word of what Mordecai had done reached the ears of Queen Esther. She had not heard about Haman’s wicked plot and when she heard that Mordecai was in mourning, she sent her messenger to find out what had happened. He gave the messenger a copy of the decree and said, “Go back to the queen and tell her that she is the only one who can save us now. If she does not act we will all die.”
Don’t Call Me, I’ll Call You
Esther 4: 9 – 11 - All the monarchs of the ancient Near East were absolute despots. You did not come near them without an invitation. If a man rushed in to see the king and the king was startled and didn’t want to see him, without a word the man would be taken out and put to death. So you had to think twice before you went in to see the king. It’s hard for us to understand that today but you must remember this is an ancient Near East nation where even though she was the queen, Esther was still part of the harem. During the 30 days the king had not seen her.
Counting the Cost
Mordecai is saying, “Esther you’ve got to save us.” Esther is saying, “Mordecai you don’t understand what you’re asking me to do.” She’s not refusing, you understand. She’s not saying, “No, I won’t do it.” She’s just saying, “Before you ask me to do that, you’ve got to understand what the risk is. If I go in there and the king doesn’t want to see me, I will be put to death even though I am the queen. Mordecai, think about what you are asking me to do.” She wasn’t saying no. She was doing what any reasonable individual would do. She was counting the personal cost.
That’s always true any time we’re called to get involved. Anytime the phone rings, anytime there’s an appeal, anytime there’s a great cause put before us, anytime the challenge is great, you have to consider what is involved. Before you take the first step you had better sit down and count the personal cost. That’s a biblical thing to do. Nobody goes to war without counting the soldiers to make sure he’s got enough. Nobody sits down to build a building without making sure he has enough money to finish the job. If you want to be my disciple, Jesus said, you must take up your cross and follow me. It’s going to cost you something.
So Esther is saying, “Mordecai, I want to help you but you’ve got to understand something. I am taking my life in my hands if I’m going to get involved with you.” She was the queen. She had a good life. She had anything she wanted. She would raise her hand and 50 servants would come to her. Just say the word and it was given to her. All those other women would have given anything to be in her position. She had it all, material wealth, fame, popularity, adulation, the approval of her friends. Now Mordecai is saying “Esther, it’s time for you to put it all on the line.”
The messenger goes back and tells Mordecai what Esther had said. Mordecai’s answer - heart of the book of Esther: 4: 12 - 14.
He makes 3 appeals to her. The first one is the lowest level appeal. He says, “Esther, you’re the queen, but underneath all that queenly regalia beats a Jewish heart. You’re one of God’s people. Don’t think by remaining silent you can avoid persecution. Once the killing starts it’s going to be mighty hard to stop. Esther, they’ll wind up on your doorstep and they won’t stop killing until they’ve killed all the Jews including you and your family. Don’t think that your position or privilege exempts you from what is going to happen. Just because you’re the queen, you are not out of trouble. You may be the last to go, but you’re going to go.”
We should learn from this that there is no safety in this world, not even for the rich and powerful. Riches cannot save you from the troubles of the world.
The Unnamed God
Then he said, “If you don’t help us"—if you do remain silent—"relief and deliverance will arise from another place.” This is one of the most amazing statements in all of the OT. It is certainly the most amazing statement in the book of Esther. Did you know that Esther is the only book in the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned? It’s because the book of Esther is the story of God’s people in a foreign land - under Gentile domination. It is a real story that serves as a kind of parable to teach us a lesson about how God works through seemingly unconnected circumstances to deliver his people. That is why the name God never appears. Esther believed in God. So did Mordecai. So did all the Jews. That’s what made them Jews—they believed in God.
So Mordecai is saying, “If you don’t help us, God is able to help us from some other source but you yourself will be destroyed.” Then he says, “Who knows but that you are come to royal position for such a time as this?” Think - “Esther, don’t forget where you came from. There was a time when you were lined up with all those other women in the harem. You ate at the same table with them. You dressed the same way they dress. You acted just like them. Nobody knew you were a Jew. Esther, what made the king pick you out? Did you think it was just your good looks? They were all good looking. Do you think it was just your smile? They could all smile. Do you think it was just the way you flirted? They could all flirt.”
Mordecai’s message is crystal-clear: “Esther, you’re sitting here and you’re the queen. You’ve got it all. You’re on top. You’ve got privilege beyond anyone else in the whole kingdom. Do you think that happened by chance? Do you think that’s coincidence? Esther, the reason you’re on top is because God put you there. Do you know why God put you there? He put you there so that at the crucial moment of history you could say the word and you could deliver your people.”
If I Perish, I Perish
What a view of history this is. What a way of looking at the circumstances of life. What a way of understanding the work of God. “Esther, who knows but that you were come to royal position for such a time as this?” For this critical moment. “Who knows, Esther, but that you are come here for this one thing? All that’s happened to you is preparation for this moment.”
Esther’s response – v. 15, 16 - Do you get the principle here? Mordecai’s great appeal to Esther was based on a great principle. The greater the privilege the greater the responsibility. The more you have, the more you have to answer for. The more God has given you, the greater your responsibility to use it for Him.
What does this ancient story teach us about overcoming our own fear of the future?
1. There is no safety in the world. Bad things happen to good people all the time. Sometimes they appear to be “random” acts of tragedy, and sometimes evil people conspire against us.
2. There are no coincidences in life. You are where you are because God wants you to be there. You probably aren’t a queen in a foreign court, but wherever you are right now, God had a hand in getting you there. Your highest calling is to use your position in life to support the cause of Christ in the world. In the end we must do what Esther did—fast and pray and seek the Lord so that when the time comes, we can do the right thing, the hard thing, the tough choice that lies along the road of obedience to God, leaving the results with him. That’s the real meaning of, “If I perish, I perish.” Those are solemn words of faith spoken by a woman who has put her life in God’s hands.
4 Truths for the New Year
1. God is already there because he is the God who goes before his people.
2. God promises to be with you no matter what happens to you this year.
3. If you know the Lord, the worst thing that can happen is that you will go to heaven this year, which is also the best thing that can happen to you this year.
4. You will have all the time you need this year to do everything God wants you to do.
Many of us enter the New Year feeling rushed and hurried. We feel like we’re behind the 8 ball, so to speak, before the game even begins. No matter what else happens in the next 12 months, rest assured that you will have all the time, all the strength and all the wisdom you need to do everything God wants you to do. That principle should not be stretched to mean that you are guaranteed to accomplish all your goals or that every one of your dreams will come true. We still live in a fallen world where things break down and nothing works quite right. But given that limitation, we can have confidence that God will supply all that we truly need, when we need it, so that we can do his will in 2012.
No one can say with certainty what the New Year will bring. None of us knows if we will even be here 12 months from now. But that thought should not alarm us in any way. To all our fears the Lord says quite simply: “Fear not.” Will things get worse? Fear not. Will I lose my health? Fear not. Will I get cancer? Fear not. Will I keep my job? Fear not. Will my loved ones struggle? Fear not. Will my investments collapse? Fear not. Will I run out of money this year? Fear not. Will tragedy strike in my family? Fear not. Will my children disappoint me? Fear not. Will others ridicule my faith? Fear not. Will my plans come to nothing? Fear not. Will my dreams turn to ashes? Fear not. Will I face death this year? Fear not.
Any of those things might happen to us; indeed, some of them are bound to happen to us eventually. But the word of the Lord remains. Fear not. The Lord himself is with us today and he will be with us tomorrow. We of all people ought to be optimistic as we face a new year. We have a great future because we have a great God.
I have a feeling in my heart that 2012 is going to be a great year for us. Not without troubles, heartache, difficulty, opposition. We’ll have our share of hard times, but overriding it all is the promise of God who said, “I will never leave you or forsake you.”
Let us go out into the unknown future with confidence, knowing that if God go with us, we need not fear the future. To walk with the Lord is the greatest of all joys and it is indeed safer than any other way. Amen.