“The Grace of Crises” Esther 4 June 24, 2007
SI: Esther is the story of a young Jewish woman, a believer in the true God,
who completely sells out to the values of pagan, Persian culture.
She compromises her morality, her character, and her identity.
She makes those compromises so that she will have a comfortable, easy life.
And she would have stayed there, but for one thing—God was at work.
He did not let her stay in where she was.
He used a crisis to shake her comfortable, empty life
and force her to make a choice to identify once more with God’s people.
Our reading this morning, chapter 4, is very important.
This is the spiritual climax of the book of Esther.
This is not the dramatic climax.
There is still a huge unresolved problem at the end of chapter four—
the Jews are still facing total annihilation.
But the spiritual turning point of Esther’s life takes place in this chapter.
God uses the crisis the Jews are facing to turn Esther away from the life
of moral and spiritual compromise that she had chosen.
He tears down her idols of comfort and security,
so that she decides to identify publicly with the people of God.
From this point on in the story, God begins to use Esther
as the savior of his people.
So we start to see in this chapter the very first hints
of the great message of the book of Esther.
Because of God’s grace in Christ, there is no such thing as Plan B for your life.
It is impossible to mess up so much that God cannot use you,
in the very place your sinful choices have taken you.
He doesn’t do that by excusing your sin,
or by making it good, or even by removing the consequences.
He does it by sovereignly working through the consequences
to bring about his purposes in ways that you could never imagine.
INTRO: I was once talking to Eliot Free about his work—which is insurance.
He told me a term that the insurance industry uses—“The Hot Tub Principle.”
When people rebuild their houses that have been destroyed by fire or tornado,
they always want to make it better than it was before.
As long as we’re building a new house—let’s put in a hot tub!
There is a parallel in the Christian life.
The Lord uses crises—he uses the fires and tornadoes—
to tear down old things in us, so that he can rebuild something much better.
The Bible, especially the New Testament,
describes the Christian life as a process of tearing down and building up.
Paul describes it as taking off the old and putting on the new.
Putting to death and growing into maturity.
Sometimes, most of the time in our lives, this happens calmly—
in the ordinary flow of life.
Sinful habits and attitudes are torn down, or we might say, they are slowly eroded,
by the ordinary means of grace, by Lord’s Day worship week after week,
year after year, by regular fellowship with believers, by rhythm of Christian life.
Growing in their place are new habits and attitudes, fruit of the Spirit.
Love, joy, peace, patience and so on.
These are cultivated over time.
But sometimes, occasionally, these changes happen violently—
through extraordinary crises.
Things are torn down very suddenly, very painfully.
And the crisis is so sudden, and knocks you so off balance,
that your only real option is to grab on to Jesus Christ in desperation.
You may grab him with mixed motives—
Out of sheer panic and fear. Out of desperate hope he will fix things.
But you grab on to Jesus Christ nevertheless.
And the Lord then uses that to move you to a new place in walk with him.
Even though in the midst of the crisis it may seem that God is far away,
you will one day look back and say—Look at what God did in my life.
Esther 4 is a tremendous chapter—as I’ve already said—
it’s the spiritual climax of the book of Esther—
and it teaches something that you have to know as a believer—
how God uses crises in your life.
When the really bad things come—tornados and fires of life—what is God doing?
I want us to look at this chapter and see that for believers,
crises are a means of grace. The are conduits for particular blessings.
Through crises the Lord does two things in your life—
1. He tears down your idols.
2. He builds you up in Christ.
Knowing this will not make the crisis you are in pass more quickly,
and it will probably not make it any less painful.
But this is what it will do—
It will show you what steps to take in dark, painful, and confusing times.
Knowing what God is doing, is crucial for cooperating with his Spirit.
So let’s look at this passage under these two headings.
Through crises the Lord tears down your idols and builds you up in His Son.
MP#1 First, He tears down your idols
What is idolatry? Idolatry is not just a native bowing down before a statue—
it is the Bible’s way of describing everything that is wrong with us.
Idolatry started in the Garden of Eden when Adam and Eve
chose to worship and serve created things instead of the Creator.
And that’s simply what idolatry is—it is serving, worshipping things besides God.
It is trusting created things to give you what God alone can give.
You can’t truly understand your sin apart from idolatry.
Why do you lie? Why do you break your promises?
Why do you indulge in bitterness, lust, self-pity, and destructive habits?
Of course the general answer is that you are weak and sinful.
But the specific answer is that there is something besides Jesus Christ
that you must have in order to be happy.
If you look beneath every failure to trust God, you will find an idol.
If you look beneath every failure to live rightly, you will find an idol.
I’ve learned a lot about this topic from Tim Keller’s sermons and writings.
One very helpful distinction he makes is between what he calls
“far idols” and “near idols.”
Far idols are deeply rooted idols, far from the surface of your life.
They are hard to see. They are the things that motivate us.
Keller says there are basically four far idols:
power, approval, control, and comfort or security.
In other words, at the deepest level, these are the things we crave more
than God himself. These are the things more important to us than Jesus.
Depending on your personality, drawn one or two more than others.
Then there are near idols.
And these are the created things we actually turn to
in order to serve these far idols and get their blessings.
Money is a good example.
Some people want money in order to have control. Their idol is control.
Their greatest nightmare is uncertainty. Their problem emotion is worry.
But if I have enough money, I can control my life and destiny.
So money is the thing I crave, not in itself, but because of what it promises.
Other people want money because their idol is approval.
Their greatest nightmare is rejection.
Money buy access into social circles and can be spent to make them
more beautiful and attractive. So once again, money is an idol,
not in itself, but because having it will give me the approval I crave.
We could go on but I think you have it.
Some people want money for power, some people want it for comfort.
And you can substitute any good thing God has made for money.
People use marriage, children, career, sex, religion, food, drink—
all sorts of things as near idols to get deep things that they crave more than God.
Now, let’s look at Esther through this grid.
What was it that motivated Esther to compromise her morals and identity?
Esther had an idol. Pretty obvious her idol was security.
The thing she wanted most, more than God himself, was security.
Her cousin Mordecai taught her this. His idol as well.
And so what did this idol demand of her?
You want a secure and comfortable life—then go with the flow.
Conform your morality and values to everyone else.
Remember, that’s exactly what Esther did.
Why was she so successful? Because she said to the head eunuch.
You tell me what is beautiful. Tell me what I should be and I will become that.
He told her and she played the perfect Barbie Doll.
She adopted the world’s standard of beauty and sexuality.
And what did that get her? A place of security and comfort in Xerxes harem.
But not for long. And now we get to the crisis and God’s grace.
Esther had been living this life for five years.
Became queen in 7th year of Xerxes’ reign, it is now the 12th year.
She had sunk so deeply into this life of comfortable compromise
that she was not even aware of the edict against the Jews.
She had no idea why Mordecai was in mourning.
And when Mordecai tells her and urges her to go to the king and beg for her people,
look at Esther’s first response. No way.
It’s against the law to go to the king without being summoned.
Hasn’t called me in 30 days. In other words, playing with other women in harem.
If I do what you say I will be jeopardizing the thing that is most important to me—
my security. No way. I’m not going to do it. Too hard to ask.
Then Mordecai responds with words that must have shaken Esther to the core.
“Do not think that because you are in the king’s house, you alone of all the Jews will escape.
If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will come from another
place, but you and your father’s family will perish. And who know but that you have come to
royal position for such a time as this.”
I’m sure she started hyperventilating when she heard that.
Because these words were a crushing blow to Esther’s security idol.
All her years of trying to fit in, all her moral compromises.
All her hiding of her true identity did not give her the life she wanted.
She thought it had, five years were pretty good—but it was an illusion.
Do you see God’s grace? He orchestrated this crisis to tear down her idol.
And he works in the same way with you.
In one of Tim Keller’s sermons he gives a powerful example of this
that I’ve mentioned this a number of times, so you will probably remember.
He had a minister friend who was in a family crisis.
His teenage daughter had moved in with her boyfriend.
Father was despondent and full of self-hatred and blame—Keller asked him why.
What kind of minister am I that this would happen in my family?
When he said that, the light came on.
He was using the ministry and his family to get approval from people.
He certainly believed in Jesus, but admiration of people was what he lived for.
And his approval idol was torn down by this crisis.
When you are in a crisis, you have to cooperate with the Lord in tearing down idol.
Means first you have to know what that idol is.
Start by identifying your problem emotions. Everybody is different.
Some people respond to crisis with anger and bitterness,
others fear and worry, others despondency and self-hatred. Ask questions.
Am I angry because I’m blocked from getting something I think necessary for life?
Am I scared because something being threatened that I think necessary for life?
Am I despondent because I have lost or failed at something think necessary for life?
What is this thing that is so important to me that I think I can’t live without?
Eventually you will find the answer, something that Lord alone can give you.
MP#2 Second, He builds you up in Christ.
That leads to God’s other blessing in crisis.
The Lord doesn’t just tear down your idols, He builds you up in Christ.
He does that by showing you that Jesus and the Gospel give you fully
the very thing your idol promised but couldn’t deliver.
Esther was devastated by her loss.
For five years she had given herself, body and soul to making a secure life.
All of that was ripped away.
But look at Mordecai’s words again.
“If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place . . . And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this.”
This is a remarkable statement. It is so full of grace.
Mordecai was not a good Jew.
He had made many of the same compromises Esther had made.
He must have known that he and Esther did not deserve to have things go right,
but he expressed a confidence that the Lord was going to work things for good.
He was sure that deliverance for the Jews will arise.
If not through Esther, through some means, the Lord would deliver them.
Mordecai still believed in God’s covenant.
He knew that the Lord had made a binding promise, sealed with blood.
That promise was: I will bless Abraham, and all nations blessed through him.
That meant that the Lord would be faithful to keep the children of Abraham
safe, even in the most hopeless situations.
What Mordecai and the Old Testament church saw dimly, we see clearly.
God has made a covenant with his Son Jesus Christ.
He promised to care for and protect all who are in Christ.
That promise has been sealed by the blood of Jesus on the cross.
So even though we don’t deserve to have anything go right,
the Lord is working everything for good because of his love for us in Christ.
And all of our sinful compromise and idolatry was paid for by Jesus death—
That means God only allows bad things for his holy and wise purposes.
So we can relax because our security in this life is not based on luck,
or hard work, but on his gracious love for us.
Reason this is so significant is that the very thing that Esther wanted so badly,
and tried to get through her sinful compromise—the Lord says to her—
I will give you. Relief and deliverance. Security in this life and the next.
In fact, God was already working things out for Esther’s good.
This position she was in, even though she got there by compromise,
he is going to use to work things out for her salvation and all the Jews.
Look at Esther’s response. This is so much like us in crisis.
Esther didn’t respond right away by saying: You’re right, Mordecai.
The Lord is faithful to his covenant with Abraham—
I know he will keep me and all his people safe and work all things for my good.
Instead she said: Fast for three days, and I will go to the king,
even though it is against the law. And if I perish, I perish.
Some commentaries try to make that statement sound like strong faith.
Like Esther is saying: Bring it on! I’m not afraid.
I’m ready for anything.
But it’s really a statement of weak faith.
Esther felt backed into a corner.
She knew that if she didn’t do anything, she would die.
But she had very little hope that going to the king would help.
She thought she would just die sooner rather than later.
So this is not strong faith, it’s weak faith—but it’s real faith!
And for the very first time in the story we see Esther taking a step
towards the Lord and away from her idols.
This is the Lord’s work. It’s tiny, but it’s real.
That’s how the Lord still works. In crises he comes to his people,
shows us that through Christ and the Gospel we can have fully
the things that our idols promised and never delivered.
Even when we take weak little steps toward him,
even when we move toward him more out of desperation than devotion,
he still receives us and blesses.
Allison and I had some friends in
Once he told me about a significant crisis in his life.
He was a building contractor. In early years, his business was a success.
He didn’t know it at the time, but later on he would say it was also his idol.
Because success gave him a sense of power. He was on top.
The people who counted wanted to be on his good side.
But then some bad things happened in his business.
He was no longer the top dog.
And their standard of living greatly affected.
Had to sell their house, moved into a small rental apartment.
So that was an added humiliation.
He had always suffered from insomnia—but this made it worse.
One night, instead of picking up deck of cards for solitaire, picked up Bible.
He was a Christian, just never read the Bible much.
All through those long nights, of that difficult time he read the Bible.
Not only did it give him a taste for the Bible that he never lost—
but he started to see that real significance and success
come through Jesus Christ who suffered and died.
He saw that power did not come by winning but by serving.
The Gospel humbled and softened him.
Dealt with his humiliation, wounded pride, anger
And so like Esther, God in his grace gave him the very thing he had sought
through idols, by drawing him closer to Jesus Christ.
When you are in a crisis—God will be doing the very same thing.
You have to cooperate with Him.
We’ve talked about identifying idols. But don’t stop there.
Ask yourself this:
How does Jesus Christ give me more fully and graciously
these things my idol promised but couldn’t deliver?
How does Jesus give me approval, power, control, security?
If you are asking those questions, then you will be more open to the Lord
when he speaks to you through a Christian friend, or spouse, or sermon.
And you will be ready to take those little steps of faith,
that seem so small at the time, but lead to great things.