Sermon: Purim People

I was not sure whether I would be standing up here this morning and sharing God’s word with you, not just because the arrival of our second child is imminent. There was a sign this week, a portent, that perhaps the end was drawing near and the consummation of all things must soon begin. “And God will wipe every tear from their eyes and there will no more mourning or crying or pain” for the Cubs have won the World Series.

As exciting as that was and for how much hope it gives me for my Lions to one day win the Superbowl, Jesus decided not to use this event  to usher in his return in glory. So this morning, we find ourselves finishing up the story of Esther. Esther chapters 9 and 10. I encourage you to turn there with me in your Bibles. Esther is in the Old Testament – Ezra, Nehemiah, Esther, Job. Esther 9, beginning in verse 1.

After Queen Vashti refused to come before the king, she was dismissed and a nationwide search was conducted for her replacement. In a contest that no faithful Jew would really want to win, Hadassah, known as Esther, was chosen as Queen. Some time later, a man by the name of Haman came into power. When Mordecai the Jew refused to bow before him, Haman used the gullibility of the king to send forth an edict that on the thirteenth day of the 12th month, people throughout the empire would be allowed to gather to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate the Jewish people. By the subtle and powerful working of God, utilizing the cunning and wisdom of Esther, God brought Haman down. Haman, son of Hammadatha the Agagite, the enemy of the Jews, was killed and Esther and Mordecai were able to put forth an edict allowing the Jews to assemble on the 13th day of the 12th month to defend their lives against those who hated them.

This morning we see the working out of those two edicts – Haman’s and Mordecai’s – and the aftermath for the people of God. Esther, chapter 9, beginning in verse 1. But before we hear God’s word this morning, please take a moment to pray with me.

Father, may your Word be our rule,  Your Holy Spirit our teacher, and the glory of Jesus Christ our single concern. Amen.

These are the very words of God from the book that we love:

Now in the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, on the thirteenth day, when the king’s command and edict were about to be executed, on the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes, the Jews gathered in their cities throughout all the provinces of King Ahasuerus to lay hands on those who had sought their ruin; and no one could withstand them, for the fear of them had fallen upon all peoples. All the officials of the provinces, the satraps and the governors and the royal officials were supporting the Jews, because the fear of Mordecai had fallen upon them. For Mordecai was powerful in the king’s house, and his fame spread throughout all the provinces as the man Mordecai grew more and more powerful. So the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them. In the citadel of Susa, the Jews killed and destroyed five hundred people. They killed Parshandatha, Delphon, Aspatha, Poratha, Adalia, Aridatha, Parmashta, Arisai, Aridai, Vaizatha, the ten sons of Haman son of Hammadatha, the enemy of the Jews, but they did not touch the plunder.

That very day the number of those killed in the citadel of Susa was reported to the king. The king said to Queen Esther, “In the citadel of Susa the Jews have killed five hundred people and also the ten sons of Haman. What have they done in the rest of the king’s provinces? Now what is your petition? It shall be granted you. And what further is your request? It shall be fulfilled.” Esther said, “If it pleases the king, let the Jews who are in Susa be allowed tomorrow also to do according to this day’s edict, and let the ten sons of Haman be hanged on the gallows.” So the king commanded this to be done; a decree was issued in Susa, and the ten sons of Haman were hanged. The Jews who were in Susa gathered also on the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and they killed three hundred persons in Susa, but they did not touch the plunder.

Now the other Jews who were in the king’s provinces also gathered to defend their lives, and gained relief from their enemies, and killed seventy-five thousand of those who hated them. but they laid no hands on the plunder. This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar, and on the fourteenth day they rested and made that a day of feasting and gladness.

But the Jews who were in Susa gathered on the thirteenth day and on the fourteenth, and rested on the fifteenth day, making that a day of feasting and gladness. Therefore the Jews of the villages, who live in the open towns, hold the fourteenth day of the month of Adar as a day for gladness and feasting, a holiday on which they send gifts of food to one another.

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep  the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month  that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor. So the Jews adopted as a custom what they had begun to do, as Mordecai had written to them.

Haman son of Hammadatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to destroy them, and had cast Pur – that is ‘the lot’ – to crush and destroy them; but when Esther came before the king, he gave orders in writing that the wicked plot that he had devised against the Jews should come upon his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows. Therefore these days are called Purim, from the word Pur. Thus because of all that was written in this letter, and of what they had faced in this matter, and of what had happened to them, the Jews established and accepted as a custom for themselves and their descendants and all who joined them, that without fail they would continue to observe these two days every year, as it was written and at the time appointed. These days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, in every family, province, and city, and these days of Purim should never fall in disuse among the Jews, nor should the commemoration of these days cease among their descendants.

Queen Esther daughter of Abigail, along with the Jew Mordecai, gave full written authority, confirming this second letter abut Purim. Letters were sent wishing peace and security to all the Jews, to the one hundred twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, and giving orders that these days of Purim should be observed and their appointed seasons, as the Jew Mordecai and Queen Esther enjoined on the Jews; just as they had laid down for themselves and for their descendants regulations concerning their fasts and their lamentations. The command of Queen Esther fixed these practices of Purim, and it was recorded in writing.

King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full could of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.

This is the Word of the Lord. Thanks be to God.

All’s well that ends well. The great reversal is complete. Or is it?

The thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, arrived. It was, as verse 1 describes, the very day when the enemies of the Jews hoped to gain power over them, but which had been changed to a day when the Jews would gain power over their foes.

The Jews gathered in all the cities of the empire to defend their lives by force and cut down their enemies. In the capital of Susa, five hundred were killed on the first day, including the ten sons of Haman. Esther requested a second day and three hundred more were killed. In the outlying provinces, over 75,000 people were killed.

To our modern ears, this violence might sound brutal, unnecessary, or simply sit uncomfortably in our stomachs as the ending of the story of Esther. I confess that I struggle a little bit with the bloody ending of this story, particularly when it says, in verse 5, that the Jews struck down all their enemies with the sword, slaughtering, and destroying them, and did as they pleased to those who hated them.

We are not going to answer most of the questions you might have about this. God’s Word seems to treat this as just punishment upon the enemies of God’s people with no question or qualification. If that reality is particularly troubling to you, I would love to sit down with you and think, study, and pray about it together. However, this morning I want to shift our gaze from where we want to look to where God through His Word is calling us to look. I want us to look at three moments: one of resistance, one of redemption, and one of remembrance.

First, Resistance. The great number of people killed on the thirteenth and fourteenth of the month of Adar demonstrate the amount of hatred, enmity, and opposition the people of God faced in Persia. The three hundred, the five hundred, and the seventy-five thousand were not random killings, but were people who had assembled as enemies of God’s people in order to destroy, kill, and annihilate them. The great number killed demonstrated the great number of enemies the people of God have.

In a fallen world twisted by sin and populated by sinners, the will and way of God consistently encounters resistance. Though God’s victory is sure, his will does not go unopposed. Even after Mordecai and Esther issue the counter-edict giving the Jews permission to fight back, even after Haman has been brought down and Mordecai raised up, and even after many of the people of the country profess to be Jews (a conversion of sorts) – even after all of that – tens of thousands of people in the empire still gathered to kill God’s people.

In a fallen world twisted by sin and populated by sinners, the will and way of God consistently encounters resistance. This is not true only in ancient Persia. Jesus experienced it and he told his disciples that they would too. John 15:18, If the world hates you, keep in mind that it hated me first. And Matthew 16:24-25: Then Jesus told his disciples, “If any want to become my followers, let them deny themselves and take up their cross and follow me. For those who want to save their life will lose it, and those who lose their life for my sake will find it.”

If you seek to follow the will of God, to abide in Christ and be his disciple, expect that there will be resistance. Paul said the same in his second letter to Timothy: Indeed, all who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. But wicked people and imposters will go from bad to worse, deceiving others and being deceived. But as for you, continue in what you have learned and firmly believed, knowing from whom you learned it, and how from childhood you have known the sacred writings that are able to instruct you for salvation through faith in Christ Jesus. All Scripture is God-breathed and is useful for teaching, reproof, correction, and training in righteousness, so that everyone who belongs to God may be proficient, equipped for every good work.

If you seek to abide in Christ and follow him, if you seek to living deeper into your calling as a child of God, expect there to be resistance. For the Jews in Persia, seventy-five thousand rose up resist their very right to exist as the people of God. Expect resistance if you want to live as a child of God. Sometimes that resistance is external, it comes from outside of us. It can look like cultural pressure to lift the idols of safety, financial success, and even love of country over our love of God. It can look like physical pressure through lost jobs and opportunity or physical harm or even death. Just this last week in our own country, some people worshipped the idol of their political allegiance instead of the one true God and lit a black church on fire. Regardless of what you feel you need to do when you vote on Tuesday, this is wrong. Wrong and far too normal. It was not the first and will not be the last church burned in this country because idolatry breeds hatred. And for many of our brothers and sisters around the world, this is a far more regular occurrence.

In a fallen world twisted by sin and populated by sinners, the will and way of God consistently encounters resistance. Sometimes that resistance is from the outside, from the Persian people and their modern day equivalents who feel threatened by the truth of the gospel and gospel people. Yet, sometimes resistance to God’s will is closer to home. It is in the church and in our own hearts. As those who regularly encounter God’s will through his Word, we can often be the first to resist. We can close our ears, we can come up with all sorts of excuses, or distract ourselves with incessant busyness to avoid living into our calling as the people of God. That, too, is resistance.

In a fallen world twisted by sin and populated by sinners, the will and way of God consistently encounters resistance. Expect it, just as the ancient Israelites and the first Christians did.

The first moment was one of resistance. The second is redemption. But the book of Esther is the story of redemption. The thirteenth and fourteenth day of the twelfth month were days of redemption. The Jews were to keep these days, it says in verse 22, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday.

It was a great reversal. The people who were low had been lifted up. The people who were threatened with annihilation now gained relief from their enemies. Those who were powerless were now powerful. Sorrow had turned to gladness and mourning into a holiday.

After all that has happened – all the tension, all the drama – the people are saved. For now at least. For all the joyful celebration of these last two chapters, there is something a little funny about the last few verses. King Ahasuerus laid tribute on the land and on the islands of the sea. All the acts of his power and might, and the full could of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the annals of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was next in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was powerful among the Jews and popular with his many kindred, for he sought the good of his people and interceded for the welfare of all his descendants.

It is almost as if God wants to remind us that these people are still in exile. Even after this deliverance, Ahasuerus is still king. As much as this redemption has impacted people through the empire, Ahasuerus remains untouched. He is still in charge and exercising his power for his own interests. We are reminded that this redemption in Esther was only partial, only provision.

As significant as it was, this great reversal in Esther points ahead to THE great reversal  – the gospel. The people of God in Esther received good news, but it was not yet the best of news.

Though they were right to celebrate their deliverance from immediate extinction, the end of Esther reminds us that the people of God were waiting for a greater deliverance. They were longing for one greater than Mordecai. They were longing for one who would forever seek the good of his people and intercede for the welfare of all God’s children. They were longing for the day when God would again, fully, and finally turn all sorrow into gladness and mourning into a holiday. They were longing for the day when the Great King, God himself, would give them complete rest from all their enemies. They were longing for Jesus.

When God came in the flesh, lived among us as one fully obedient to the Father, and died sinless in our place, the Greatest Reversal happened. The Gospel is this: In Christ, by his death and resurrection, those who were far off and separated from God are brought near, united with Christ, and adopted as God’s children. In Christ, those who were guilty in their sin are justified by the blood of Christ and sanctified in Christ by the Spirit. In Christ, those who were dead in their trespasses and sins and made alive in Christ Jesus. Those who were broken and separated are united together as the body of Christ. The good news of the gospel is that through faith in Christ by the power of the Spirit, you can know that all of this was done for you. That you are forgiven, made whole, sealed by the Holy Spirit and marked as Christ’s own forever.

This is the great reversal, the great redemption, the wonderful deliverance which the book of Esther points toward.

Resistance. Redemption. Now, Remembrance.

What now? The call of the Gospel is for each of us to let go of whatever resistance we have inside and trust in Christ and his work for us. Having done this, the call for each of us is to become Purim people. The call is to remember. Verse 20:

Mordecai recorded these things, and sent letters to all the Jews who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus, both near and far, enjoining them that they should keep  the fourteenth day of the month of Adar and also the fifteenth day of the same month, year by year, as the days on which the Jews gained relief from their enemies, and as the month  that had been turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and gladness, days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor.

The people of God were called to feast and remember God’s deliverance. God knew how easily we can forget, so they were to celebrate and remember every year what God had done for them. Even though we do not regularly celebrated Purim, we continue this practice as Christians. Soon we will enter the season of Advent, where we remember the waiting of the people of God for the coming of the Messiah. Then we will rejoice on Christmas at the coming of the Savior, Jesus Christ the Lord. A few months later, we will enter Lent, where we remember Christ’s journey to the cross, culminating with Good Friday and Easter Sunday where we proclaim that Christ died and rose again for us and for our salvation.

We remember in big ways through how we shape our year and our life in worship together. But we also remember God’s redemption every time we come to the table, when we feast and remember how Christ’s body was broken and blood shed for you and me. And we remember every Sunday when we gather in worship. When we praise God, confess our sins, receive forgiveness, and proclaim the mighty deeds of him who brought us out of darkness into his marvelous light.

For Israel, part of remember God’s deliverance involved caring for the poor. The festival of Purim was not only filled with joy and gladness, but they were days for sending gifts of food to one another and presents to the poor. The people of God who received grace were called to show grace. The people of God who had their fortunes reversed in the largest way, were called in small ways to be part of a reversal in the lives of others.

Remembering God’s deliverance, for Israel, involved compassion for others. May we, who have receive the ultimate deliverance in and through Christ Jesus, remember well and become Purim people.

In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

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