For Such a Time as This

Scriptures: Esther 4; Philippians 2:1-4

Guest speaker: Richard Hoisington

“Look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others,” Paul wrote. I’ve often wondered, how in the world can I do that. It’s a difficult thing to even think about, to put someone else’s interests above my own. But Queen Esther might offer us some insights.

Have you ever noticed how someone might act – someone else, not you – when you ask them to do something for you? Think about it. Sometimes someone might refuse. Sometimes they might try to negotiate with you, and maybe want to do half of what you want them to do. Or maybe they might tell you it’s not necessary to do that at all.

I’ve reacted most of those way, throughout my life. I remember one time when my father asked me to weed the garden, and I tried to negotiate. I said, “Why can’t my sisters help with this chore?” That didn’t go over very well. My next tack was to highlight the unfairness of it. “My sisters never get any of these chores.” That approach didn’t work well either, as you might imagine.

Weeding the garden was not going to be harmful to me. But I didn’t want to do it. I probably knew it would have been a miracle if my father had let me off that easy. But think about it. How would you react, if someone asked you to do something that could end in your death? That’s what Queen Esther did.

Many of us would have to think long and hard about whether to do that. Maybe we would go pray about it. Maybe we would ask friends to pray about it. Or maybe we would just talk to other people about it. Then we might come up with good excuses or good reasons not to do it. Besides, we think we’ve obeyed God at times in the past, and He wouldn’t ask us to do something that was going to be harmful to us, would He?

Unlike Jonah (who I preached about last time I was here), Esther promised Mordecai that she would fast and pray, and asked Mordecai and the other Jews to fast and pray. The reason I say “fast and pray” is that in the Jewish tradition, when you were fasting, you were also praying. You heard the Scripture read, where it said just “fast.” But I’m inserting that word “pray” because that was their tradition, and I believe that’s what they were both doing. She promised to go to King Xerxes after three days of that.

So she made a promise right up front, to do that. Esther didn’t need a second chance like Jonah had needed, three centuries earlier. (By the way, my father gave me a second chance to weed the garden.) Most of us have obeyed God from time to time.

Usually we obey when we want to do something. If it’s something we want to do, “Yes, I’ll obey God in this,” whatever that might be. Or we obey God if we think we’re going to get a blessing out of it. But visit King Xerxes who might kill you? Where is the blessing in that? But it appears that God was working, even as Esther and Mordecai were praying.

I’m going to give you part of the rest of the story from Esther 5, 6, and 7. I’m going to summarize, and I might read a few places. When Esther went in to King Xerxes’ presence, he was pleased with her and held out the gold scepter that was in his hand. That was a good thing to happen for Esther. She didn’t lose her life, even though she had risked it to go in.

At that dinner that evening, King Xerxes and Haman both came (they were both invited). When King Xerxes asked Esther, what was her request, she just asked that both of them would come again to dinner tomorrow night. It doesn’t seem like much of a request, but King Xerxes said, “Sure! This has been a great dinner.” (I’m paraphrasing very loosely here.) “Great dinner. Good wine. Why not? Let’s do this again.”

That night, King Xerxes couldn’t sleep. We’ve all probably been through that, where we can’t sleep, and maybe we’ll get up and read something. I don’t know if King Xerxes could read, but he had somebody who could read for him. So he asked his attendant to read the record of the his reign in the kingdom that night.

Part of the record told about two of the king’s officers, who had conspired against King Xerxes. It also told about the man who came forward and let the court know who was behind this insurrection that was about to happen. That person was Mordecai. It was written in the record that Mordecai alerted the king to this – I don’t know if it would be called an assassination plot, but it was certainly an insurrection.

The next day, Haman happened to be around the court, and King Xerxes asked him how to honor someone. I’m going to read what Haman answered. Of course, Haman thought the king wanted to honor him, when he asked that question.

The next day, King Xerxes asked Haman, “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Haman thought the king wanted to honor him, and answered the king in a manner that shows his arrogant desire for recognition. Here’s what Haman’s reply was:

“For the man the king delights to honor, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with a royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honor, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor!’”

Can’t you just see Haman saying that to the king, thinking the king wants to honor him, that is, Haman? The king ordered Haman to do exactly as he described, but for Mordecai the Jew, in recognition of saving the kingdom from the insurrection. Haman, of course, realized he was in big trouble, but he did exactly as the king said and as he had described, and he honored his hated enemy, Mordecai, who was Jewish.

That night, Haman and the king came back for a second dinner with Queen Esther. Esther made a request. “If I have found favor with you, o King, and if it pleases your majesty, grant my life—this is my petition. And spare my people—this is my request. For I and my people have been sold for destruction and slaughter and annihilation.”

The king asked in an angry voice, “Who is he? Where is the man who has dared to do such a thing?” Esther said, “The enemy is this vile Haman.” Of course, Haman was terrified, begged Esther for his life, and the king stepped out into the palace garden to vent his rage. When the king came back in, it looked to him like Haman was trying to molest Queen Esther.

When he commented about that, his attendant said, “A gallows 75 feet high stands by Haman’s house. He had it made for Mordecai, who spoke up to help the king.” The king said, “Hang him on it.” And that’s what happened. So they hanged him on the gallows that he had prepared for Mordecai. Then the king’s fury subsided.

The blessing really came to Esther, and all of the Jews in Persia, when she was ready to obey. She had the interests of others, and put the interests of others above herself. That’s part of the great news of the book of Esther. God gives us opportunities to obey Him, to do what He says. He hasn’t given up on us.

When God gives us a chance to obey, He’s not giving up. He is not done with us. He has not given up on us.

As a result of Esther’s obedience, King Xerxes made Mordecai second in command. He gave him the signet ring, and that gave Mordecai power to write edicts from the king, like the earlier one that we heard about in passage the liturgist read, that first one that was distributed throughout Persia.

So Mordecai and Esther wrote another edict and had it distributed throughout Persia, allowing the Jews to protect themselves from any who attacked them on the dates previously established to wipe them out. The Jews were saved from destruction, through an organized defense that was joined by many people throughout the kingdom, because they knew that this was the king’s new order, not the original order.

We don’t need a lot of fancy words to obey God. We don’t need a lot of fancy words to tell others about the power of God in our lives. You may remember that Jonah said only five words, in Hebrew, when he went to preach at Nineveh. That was eight words in English. And we don’t need a lot of fancy words to obey God when He asks us to do something that we may not want to do, that may put the interests of others above ourselves.

All we need is faith, a willingness to speak or act, and a desire to obey God. Although Jonah had strong faith, and had obeyed God in the past, he disobey God when he headed for Tarshish. Esther, on the other hand, obeyed God after fasting and praying.

When God tells you to witness to someone you don’t like, what do you do? Do you remember that God may be giving you an opportunity to put the interests of others above yourself, above your own interests? After all, it’s part of loving our neighbor, which is part of our mission statement on the front of our bulletin.

Or you may know someone who is overbearing, that you don’t want to share the good news with. Yet God may be prodding you to establish a relationship with that person, and tell them about His grace and mercy. Or maybe you tell God that you pray for someone else to do it, so you won’t have to have that relationship with this person you don’t like.

I struggle to obey God. When I was a young man, my pastor asked me if I was interested in becoming a pastor. I don’t remember if I ever answered him directly, but his suggestion scared me. I spent the next several years of my life drifting from God. It wasn’t until fifteen years later, when our first child was born, that I actually began to try to obey God, and put the interests of others above myself.

Today I still struggle to obey God. If you struggle, as I do, have you asked God’s forgiveness for ways that you don’t obey, or for the ways that you don’t put the interests of others above yourself? Turn from your sin, and turn toward our Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.

We’re told by James, by Jesus’ brother, in chapter 1 of the book of James, “Blessed is the man who perseveres under trial, because when he has stood the test, he will receive the crown of life that God has promised to those who love Him.

It’s truly a blessing when you are ready to obey God, in spite of the cost, in spite of the trials and tribulations that may result.

I want to tell you about another young man. His name was William Whiting Borden. Borden lived about one century ago, and he was heir to the Borden family mining fortune. Not the ice cream fortune, but the mining fortune, in Pennsylvania. He had a clear path of success and wealth ahead.

Before Borden began his education at Yale, his parents decided to send him on a trip around the world. It sounds like a pretty extravagant high school graduation gift to me, but that’s what happened. Earlier in his life, Borden had come to Christ through the great ministry of D. L. Moody – perhaps many of you have heard of him.

While traveling the world, something happened that nobody expected. As Borden was going to many countries, he was moved by the spiritual and physical needs that he encountered in most of the countries that he went to. After that, he wrote a letter to his parents, and informed them that he wanted to spend the remainder of his life as missionary.

So he came back, went to Yale, graduated from there, and attended Princeton Theological Seminary. When his ministry preparation was completed, he boarded a ship to Asia, to serve among Muslims in China. Along the way, he stopped in Cairo, Egypt, to learn Arabic and study Islam. In Egypt, Borden contracted spinal meningitis. Less than a month later, he was dead, at age 25.

Borden had walked away from his fortune to take the gospel of Jesus to the world. Most people in America regarded his death as a tragedy. However, God took the tragedy and did something far greater than Borden could ever have himself. When other young men and women read Borden’s story in newspapers across America, it inspired them to leave all they had, and give their lives to reach the nations with the gospel of Jesus Christ.

Earlier, when Borden had been struggling with his desire to become a missionary, against his father’s strong disapproval, we are told he wrote in his Bible, “No reserves.” (Today, if we were writing that, we might write, “I have no reservations.”)

A little bit later, when he was at Princeton and had approximately three-quarters of the population of the school attend a Bible study he was leading, he wrote again in his Bible. “No retreats.” And as he lay dying of spinal meningitis in Cairo, he again wrote in his Bible, “No regrets.”

At a surface level, Borden’s life and death may seem like an unfortunate mistake, but God had other plans. God used Borden’s life and death to call thousands of young people into international missions for Jesus Christ. God did greater things through Borden’s story than he may have ever done with his life.

We, all of us, can get in a role of playing it safe. We tend to retreat from things that are hard or unpleasant. Just like me, when I didn’t answer my pastor. But when we look back over time at the opportunities we didn’t take, we often have many regrets.

My question to you is, how will you live this week? I share this story as a challenge for you to live like William Borden – or like Queen Esther – with no reserves, no retreats, and no regrets.

Let us pray. Lord God, our heavenly Father, we give you thanks and praise for your son Jesus Christ, who, being in very nature God, did not consider equality with God something to be grasped, but made himself nothing, taking the very nature of a servant, being made in human likeness, and being found in appearance as a man, he humbled himself, and became obedient to death, even death on a cross. Therefore God exalted him to the highest place, and gave him the name that is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father. Amen.

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