“The Praise of the Praiseworthy”     Esther 5 & 6          July 22, 2007


SI:  We’re back to Esther after a three-week break. 

Remember last time we studied chapter four

   and it was the spiritual turning point of Esther’s life.

And we are starting to see how God sovereignly used

   even Esther’s sin and compromise to bring about his purposes.


In our reading today, Esther takes her first public step of faith—

   she goes to King Xerxes in his throne room without being summoned

   in order to plead for her people.  She was risking her life.

But we’re not going to look at Esther herself this morning.


We’re going to spend our time looking at the bad guy—Haman. 

   He deserves his own sermon because he’s a fascinating figure. 

He one of the most vivid case studies in the Bible

   of a person who is dominated and destroyed by pride.


There are important lessons for us about ourselves and the Gospel

   in the person of Haman.


Credit where credit is due:  Great sermon by Tim Keller on this passage.

INTRO:  A preacher driving home after church one Sunday, and said to his wife:

   “Honey, how many truly great preachers do you think there are in this town?”

Without missing a beat she said:

   “One less than you think.”


What is pride?  Pride is simply a concentration on the self.

   CS Lewis called it the ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.

   In other words, pride means constant ego calculation.


Am I getting what I deserve?

   Am I getting the appreciation due to me?

   Did that person treat me right?

How do I look?

   How will this make me look?

   How do I compare to him or her?


These calculations go on constantly and often subconsciously.

   You don’t get into anything unless it makes you feel good about yourself.

Pride gets no real pleasure out of having something—

   it only gets pleasure out of having more of it than someone else.

There is no real pleasure in doing your best.

   Like preaching the best sermon you are able to preach.


But (like the preacher in the car)

   the only pleasure is in thinking you are better than other preachers.

And as soon as you hear someone preach who is really great—

   obviously better than you, you lose all pleasure in your own sermon.


You’re happy with your success, or your intelligence, or your looks

   when around people whose success, intelligence, and looks less than yours.

But your real pleasure is in your ego calculations.

   Because when you are around someone who is better than you

   in any of these things—you become resentful or despondent. 


Just like Haman.  He’s such a perfect example it’s not funny.

   He was second only to King Artaxerxes himself—

He had power, he had honor, he had wealth, he had a wife, sons, friends

   but as he put it so honestly—all of those wonderful things meant nothing to him,

   as long as he saw that Jew Mordecai who refused to bow.

CS Lewis got it perfect: 

   ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration on the self.

   Endless ego calculations.


And pride is not just the problem of cocky people—it’s a human problem.

   The most depressed, self-hating, remorseful person can be eaten up with pride.

   The most religious, church-going, moral person can be eaten up with pride.

This church is full of proud people. 

   There is a proud man in the pulpit.

   (No that was not me and Allison in the car!)


You need to know what pride is.

   Because the Bible says that pride is a sin that God not only hates—he opposes it.

   He is active in pulling down proud people—like we see happening to Haman.


You also need to know what pride is because most of your sins

   and spiritual pathologies come from pride. 

Your anger and disappointment with people comes from pride.

   Your despondency and disappointment with yourself comes from pride.

   You inability to accept criticism. 

   Your bitterness towards people. 

We see that in this story too.  All the ugly things in Haman came from pride.


You also need to know about pride because the Gospel of Jesus Christ

   is the only cure for pride.  If you don’t know the disease you have,

   and want to be free from it, you can’t enjoy the wonderful cure.

And there is the hint of a wonderful cure in this passage.


But God opposes the proud but gives grace to the humble.

   That grace comes to us through Jesus and the Gospel.

So let’s look at this passage and the topic of pride under two headings:

   1.  The symptoms of pride

   2.  The cure for pride

MP#1  The symptoms of pride

I want to talk about symptoms, because many wise Christians through the years

   have pointed out that prides is the most difficult of all sins to see in yourself.

One minister called it the carbon monoxide of the soul.

   You can’t smell it.  You don’t know you are breathing it.

   You just go to sleep and it kills you.


One reason our pride is hard to see, especially for Christians—

   is that it feeds off of morality and religion.

Morality and religion exposes lots of sins, especially sins of the flesh.

   And a good, strong dose of it can even kill sins like lust and materialism. 

   But religion and morality feeds pride.


Because remember what pride is—concentration on the self.

   Religion and morality cause you to constantly ask the question:

   How am I doing?  Am I living up to God’s standard?

If you think you are doing good, living moral life, doing religious exercises—

   then you feel good about yourself.

If you think you are failing at God’s standards—

   then you feel crushed and despondent.

But notice that both of those are expressions of pride—

   it’s an ego calculation.  How does this make me feel or look?


That brings us to another thing that makes pride so hard to see—

   As I said a moment ago—it’s not just the problem of cocky people.

Yes, pride can make you feel superior to people,

   but it is also pride that makes you feel inferior,

Pride makes you hate how you look or how you are doing—

   because it’s the very same underlying problem—concentration on yourself.


When you hate yourself you are concentrating on yourself like crazy—

   you’re just not making out too well.

And so many people who are despondent,

   and who think it is impossible for them to be proud—are really eaten up with it.

Even Christians who are convinced they are terrible Christians and utter failures

   are full of pride because they are constantly thinking about themselves.


Pride is also hard to see in yourself because we are such experts

   in seeing it in other people. 

Let me ask you a question:

Up to this point in the sermon, have you thought about somebody else?

   Have you said:  I hope so-and-so is listening?

   So-and-so ought to be here—I’ll send him a CD!

Of course you have.  I have. 

   Even while I was writing this, knowing I should be preaching this to myself

   I was saying—I hope so-and-so is here this Sunday.


All of that is to say that pride is very hard to see in ourselves.

   So we have to look for symptoms.  Want us to look at three in story.

   There are others—but we’re going to stick to the story.


1.  One symptom of pride is the inability to accept criticism.

When you are proud and you get criticized, you have one of two responses.

   You either goes on the attack against your critic—

   or the criticism devastates you and you melt down.

But in either case, you are unable to accept the criticism.


Haman responded by going on the attack.

Criticism I’m referring to was Mordecai’s refusal to bow in his presence.

   That was a criticism.  Mordecai was saying, you do not deserve honor.

Let’s not get into the question of whether or nor Mordecai was right.

   Bible scholars have had different opinions of that.


But let’s look at Haman’s response. 

   Instead of learning something from this criticism—

   at least that as a leader he couldn’t please everyone—

   his pride made him angry at Mordecai and he went on the attack.


How do you respond to criticism?  Do you say:  I’m an imperfect sinner.

   There may be something too this.

   Holy Spirit may be trying to show me something.

Or does it just make you angry or depressed?  That’s a symptom of pride.

   Because pride is unable to take things that make us feel bad about ourselves—

   even little things, even if they are true.  So you never learn from criticism.


2.  A second symptom of pride is bitterness towards particular people.

When you are proud and people wrong you,

   and deny you things you want in life, you become bitter towards them.

I’ve already mentioned it but you see this in that fascinating exchange

   between Haman and his wife and friends.

   He boasted about all that he had, his wealth and honor.

“But all of this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai

    sitting at the king’s gate.”


All the satisfaction gone because of his bitterness toward this one man

   who had denied him the thing he wanted most in life—

   for everyone to give him honor. 

Now, you might say that Haman was silly—this was a little thing.

   But the things that this or that person has done to you are big things.


But where does that bitterness come from?  It comes from your pride.

   You can’t stay bitter toward a person unless you feel superior to him.

   You look at what he has done to you and say:  I would never do that!

And so your sense of moral superiority keeps you bound in bitterness.


3.  A third symptom of pride is a lack of contentment.

When you are proud, you are unable to really enjoy what you have.

   I mentioned that at the beginning. 

There is the constant ego calculation.

   Am I getting what I deserve? 

   Am I getting the approval of those I value?


And, of course the answer is always no.  Never satisfied.

   Haman had wonderful things.  Power, honor, wealth, friends, ten sons.

   “All this brings me no satisfaction . . .”

If it hadn’t been Mordecai, it would have been something else.

   Haman was craving some kind of affirmation that would

   decisively prove to him his value in his own eyes and the eyes of others.


The gallows Haman decides to build is just a picture of his discontent.

   He can’t even get satisfaction out of just killing Mordecai.

   Has to put him on a gallows so high that everybody will see his body.


Are you content with what you have? 

   Do you really enjoy all the things of life—family, possessions, place—

   or are you restless and discontent?  That’s a symptom of pride.

MP#2  The cure for pride

If honest, these and other symptoms raging in us. 

   What’s the cure for this deadly spiritual disease?

The cure for your pride is the Gospel.  Let’s look at chapter 6.


It starts with King Xerxes unable to sleep. 

   So he has a servant read the book of the chronicles of his reign.

   And he comes across the record of Mordecai exposing a plot, saving his life.

Do you remember when that happened?

   It was back in chapter 2.  Five years earlier. 

   King had forgotten it but God hadn’t.


The next thing that happened is the most ironic scene in the whole Bible. 

   Haman had hustled up to the palace first thing in the morning,

   to get permission to hang Mordecai on the gallows. 

The King, impulsive as usual says:

   I’ve got to honor this man Mordecai—who’s in the court?


King asks Haman:  What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?

   Haman thinks:  Who else would the king rather honor than me?

Clothe this man in robes the king has worn,

   let him sit on one of the king’s horses,

   and let a great noble be a servant leading this horse, shouting:

“This is what is done for the man the king delights to honor.”


Why robes?  Why would you want to wear someone else’s clothes?

The king’s robes had tremendous significance in ancient world.

   Remember in Genesis 41, when Joseph raised to Prime Minister, robes.

   In 1 Samuel 18, Jonathan, crown prince, gives robes to David.


So for a king to put his own robes on a person was to say to the world.

   I delight in this person.  I, the great king, honor this person.

And so you can see why this appealed to Haman.

   His ego calculations were buzzing.

When the people out there see that I am esteemed and honored

   by someone this great, then they will know,

   and I will know my value.

Nothing can make me unhappy if I have this.

   The praise of the praiseworthy is above all rewards. 

But then the king spoke those devastating words:

   Go at once, get the robe and the horse and do all this for Mordecai the Jew.

Haman had to change places with Mordecai.

   He had to robe Mordecai himself.  He became the servant leading the horse.

   And it destroyed him.  It was the beginning of his downfall.

The Bible says over and over that if you try to lift yourself up—

   you will be pulled down.  God opposes the proud.


But what I want you to see is that in a very important sense,

Haman didn’t ask for the wrong thing.

   He asked for something that we all want.

   We all want someone praiseworthy to praise us.

   We all want someone we think the world of, to think the world of us.

   We want someone of ultimate glory to honor us.

That longing in itself has been put in our hearts by God.


As Tim Keller put it so well:

Haman’s problem was not that he asked for the wrong thing—

   He asked the wrong king.


There is a better King. 

Jesus Christ left heaven, came to earth, and stripped himself of honor.

   On the cross, Jesus was not just stripped of his clothes—

   he was stripped of God the Father’s praise and approval.


He changed places with you—and he did it freely.

   He was stripped naked so that you could be clothed in his righteousness.

He became sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God.

   He became a servant and we get to wear his robes.

   As he says in prayer in John 17, “I have given them the glory you gave me.”


When you believe that Jesus did all that for you—

   that he came all the way down, and reversed places at infinite cost

   it cuts the root of your pride.

There is not longer any need for the constant ego calculations

   Knowing he had to die for you it humbles you.

   Knowing he was glad do die for you, it affirms you infinitely.



When that sinks in, then you get strong enough to accept criticism—

   it doesn’t make you angry or despondent because your value

   not based on what people think of you, or even what you think of you—

   but on what Christ thinks of you and what he has done.


And you are able get past your bitterness toward people who have wronged you—

   because Gospel has humbled you.  You’ve seen the great cost Jesus

   has paid for your sins.  How can you be bitter at another sinner?


And you are able to enjoy the blessings of life in themselves, for themselves—

   because they are no longer just a way you calculate your worth

   in your own eyes and the eyes of other people.

You are the man or the woman that the King delights to honor—

   and so whether you have a little or a lot, you can be content.


CS Lewis said that if you ever met a truly humble person,

   you would not think, That’s a humble person.

There would be two strong impressions.

   First, this is a very happy person.

   Second, this person is very interested in me.


That’s the effect the Gospel can have.

Knowing that God the Father delights in you through Christ,

   you are actually freed to think of yourself less—

   you are liberated from the bondage of ruthless, sleepless, unsmiling concentration

   on yourself.

And you only get there by looking at the cross—

   never by saying, I’m going to be a more humble person—

   only by looking away from yourself, to the one who delights in you.


So come to the Table this morning.  Look at what you are wearing—

   the royal robes of Christ—his perfect life.

   And look at the bread and cup—his shameful death.

And put aside your ego calculations—

   and eat and drink and be happy to know,

   that you are the man or the woman that the King delights to honor.