Rejecting Passivity and Risking Perishing
Rejecting Passivity and Risking Perishing
Main Idea: As God entrusts us with positions of opportunity and empowers us for obedience, may the stewardship of faith lead to our participation in his plan and away from the selfishness of passivity.
- Mordecai’s Reaction (4:1-8)
- Mordecai’s Request (4:9-11)
- Mordecai’s Realization and Reminder (4:12-14)
- Mordecai’s exhortation
- Mordecai’s expectation
- Mordecai’s evaluation
- Esther’s and Mordecai’s Resolve (4:15-17)
- Christ’s Role
When God rewards his people in heaven for faithful service, some of us will miss out on rewards because we were fearful rather than faithful. Will someone else be rewarded because they participated in God’s plan where perhaps you were passive? Understand that our fearfulness, passivity, and selfishness will not thwart God’s ultimate plans, but they will diminish our eternal rewards. And if you say we should not obey just for the rewards, I would heartily agree with you because I hope the gospel is fueling our obedience above all. But in his preaching Jesus himself kept pointing to eternal treasure and rewards because he knew we are far too occupied with perishing trinkets and trash. So think about it: When God rewards us in heaven for faithful service, will you miss out on rewards because you were fearful rather than faithful? How can we be moved to serve boldly and faithfully?
On a Tuesday evening in 1925, Gladys Aylward had her soul stirred for the sake of missions by a young man she heard preach in England (Carol Purves, Chinese Whispers, 8–9). She became burdened for China and knew “somebody” needed to go there and declare the gospel of Christ. Gladys decided to contact every important person she knew and ask them to consider going to China on mission. Purves writes, “She approached doctors, clergymen, bank managers, and solicitors. She wrote to the wealthy and influential people who she knew slightly or whom she had met in the course of her work” (ibid., 12). When they turned her down, Gladys next approached her brother Laurence. He was not particularly burdened to see the lost come to Christ, but God would use him in Gladys’s life. Laurence said to her, “If you’re so keen why don’t you go yourself?” (ibid.).
After trying to convince every man she knew of the great need for missionaries in China but seeing none of them respond to the call, Gladys finally realized the “somebody” God wanted to use was her. She prayed, “O God, here is my Bible, here is my money, here am I. Please use us, God, please use us” (ibid., 15). After that, she made two resolutions. Her first resolution was that “never again would she ask someone else to do a job God was asking her to do. Secondly, if God would show her the way, she would go to China even if it meant being unsponsored” (ibid., 16). Gladys kept both resolutions, and God used her in amazing ways for the advancement of the gospel. If you have not read her full story, please do so. In order not to reduce Christianity to what is safe, easy, and comfortable for me, I constantly consider the cross and read biographies of missionaries.
One last thought on Gladys: She once shared that she had prayed for God to send a husband to join her on mission to China. However, none appeared. She believed God called a man not just to marriage but to mission, and he never chose to obey.
When considering Esther 2:19–3:15, I referenced Proverbs 24:10-12, in which a father tells his son that if he sees people being carried away to death or others stumbling toward it themselves, then the son should not look around and hope somebody else does something but should intervene. Too often we find ourselves in situations in which everybody knows that somebody needs to do something about an issue, but nobody does. I, in fact, have had multiple moments in my life where I felt “somebody” should do something but then failed to act on what I could do. There is one moment that always stands out in my mind.
I had been teaching in Uganda but made a trip with a friend to Rwanda. He was there on behalf of an organization that was seeking to minister to some of the widows of the genocide who made handicrafts to try to provide for their families. A local church was trying to support these women by helping them develop skills, organize their efforts, and promote their products.
On our first night in Rwanda, we attended a service at the church I just mentioned. Their pastor was not in town, but he had a guest pastor from the Congo preaching in his stead. The guest was speaking in one language; someone on the stage was interpreting what he was preaching to those in the congregation; and the church provided someone to sit next to me to interpret it in English.
As the “preacher” was sharing, I began to get nauseated. Not because of the travel but because of his teaching. He started telling the congregation that if they wanted their enemies dead, then they just needed to pray for that. If the congregation wanted their enemies to have a disease, then they just had to ask God to move in that way. Providentially I had preached on Matthew 5:43-48 the Sunday before I left the United States. I knew that what he was saying was not just wrong but demonic. People in the crowd, however, began to run up to the stage and throw money onto it as a sign of their approval and appreciation for his teaching.
I knew “somebody” needed to stand up and say something. I looked around to see if anybody would. But everywhere I looked, I saw affirmation rather than anxiety. I then began to rationalize my delaying by saying that I was only in Rwanda to support my friend, and I did not want to mess up the ministry he was working toward. And I regret to inform you that I did nothing. By the time we left the building, I had a migraine because I was sick from his “sermon” and sick at myself for shrinking back in fear.
I confessed my disobedience to the Lord and asked his forgiveness. I resolved should I ever find myself in a similar situation in which I know “somebody” needs to do something and believe God is calling me to be that “somebody,” I will trust his empowerment and intervene however he is directing me.
In Esther 4:1-17 Mordecai will challenge Esther to be the “somebody” to help meet the needs of her people, the Jews. By chapter 4, he is starting to see that her position as queen has perhaps been God’s providential plan all along. If she rejects his request, her passivity will not mean the destruction of all her people; it will mean her own, and God will find another means of delivering them.
Before we dive into the text, let me ask another initial question: Is there something you are hoping “somebody” will do in your faith family or in your city? With regard to your church or town, do you ever think to yourself, Somebody ought to . . . , or I wish somebody would . . . ? Maybe you should step up.
As God entrusts us with positions of opportunity and empowers us for obedience, may the stewardship of faith lead to our participation in his plan and away from the selfishness of passivity. Maybe the Lord is saying to you, “I have put you in this position; now, be faithful with what I have entrusted to you.” If so, I hope stewardship outranks selfishness in your list of concerns. God would preserve his people through Esther’s and Mordecai’s obedience.
Our obedience is God’s ordinary means for accomplishing his extraordinary plans. I need to be clear, though. The message of Esther 4:1-17 is not “Be a hero like Esther.” Nor is the message “Do not be a problem causer like Mordecai, but be a problem solver like Esther.” Instead, the message is that God is choosing to save his people through the ordinary means of two Jews who transition from compromise and concealment to conviction. Jobes challenges us:
Perhaps, like Esther, you have been brought to this moment in your life by circumstances over which you had no control, combined with flawed decisions you made along the way. Perhaps instead of living for God, you have so concealed your Christian faith that no one would even identify you as a Christian. Then suddenly you find yourself facing calamity. . . . Regardless of the straits you find yourself in, turn to the Lord your God. His purposes are greater than yours. (Esther, 142)
In times of crisis, let us be more concerned with confessing our fear and feelings than with concealing our faith.
When I was in my early teens, there was a television character on a certain sitcom who, every time he made a mess, would ask, “Did I do that?” And the answer every time was clearly, “Yes! You did that!” Mordecai finds out about Haman’s plan and knows his defiance ushered in consequences for so many more than just himself. A phrase I repeatedly emphasize to the faith family I shepherd is this: “My sin but our consequences.” The point is that our sin never just affects us as individuals; there tend to be consequences for our families and faith families. Breneman contends, though,
There is no indication that Mordecai was sorry for his actions in refusing to bow down to Haman. This would support the idea that his action was based on religious convictions. Rather, he grieved over the signed fate that his people would perish. (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, 334)
In his reaction to the edict, Mordecai chose certain actions while avoiding others. Though the letter was in the king’s name and signed with his ring, Mordecai did not attempt to seek an audience with the ruler himself. Serving at the King’s Gate meant that Mordecai was a public official, but probably not one with a lot of royal privileges. And as Esther will note, anyone who approached Ahasuerus uninvited risked death (4:11). Another thing Mordecai avoided was trying to make things right with Haman. Even after the edict Mordecai still refused to honor him (5:9). Apparently, in Mordecai’s mind, apologizing to Haman was not an option.
When we are wrong (and the author never tells us that Mordecai was), I hope we will be quick to seek reconciliation with any we have wounded. And when we are wronged, I also hope we will be quick to seek reconciliation. One of the clearest ways we image God is by initiating reconciliation and offering forgiveness to those who have sinned against us.
So, what did Mordecai do? He responded as God’s people had in previous generations: he put on sackcloth, which was used to express grief, guilt, deep distress, or despair. This public lament over the edict at the entrance of the King’s Gate suggests he was no longer worried about concealing anything. And as Breneman suggests, “One should not hide one’s concern in crisis situations” (Ezra, Nehemiah, and Esther, 333). Considering the death decree that had been issued, Mordecai did not have time for religious pretense. He was genuinely moved with grief and expressed it in the clearest way he knew.
In our Western, individualized world we often have little grasp on how both our obedience and disobedience will impact others. We tend to think only of I, me, my and not about we, us, and our. Like Mordecai, we may make bigger messes than we intended, and we cannot fix them on our own. Remember: “My sin but our consequences.” And know that its sister principle is also true: “My obedience but our blessings.”
Blessings seemed in short supply for God’s people living under Ahasuerus’s reign. Mordecai’s reaction was multiplied many times over by all the Jews in each province. They too donned sackcloth and ashes and expressed laments. We are not told about their specific expressions or cries, but Lamentations 3:40-66 offers a possible example. Because of space considerations, I will not include that passage here, but I hope you will take time to turn to and read it now. I also hope, at some point, you will consider shepherding your people through the book of Lamentations. As Kaiser notes,
God has placed personal and national laments in Scripture, it would appear, as a corrective against euphoric, celebratory notions of faith, which romantically portray life as consisting only of sweetness and light. . . . God has given us in the laments of Scripture a solace where the full spectrum of our earthly journey can be represented. (Preaching and Teaching from the Old Testament, Part 2, Section 8, CBD Reader Edition)
Through Lamentations we are encouraged to deal with suffering by directing our despair not away from God but toward him.
When Esther heard about the scene Mordecai was making near the King’s Gate, she expressed her concern by sending clothes for him to put on. In our concern, however, let us not try to cover grief without first determining the cause of it. Esther was trying to provide answers when she needed to be asking questions, which she eventually did. Esther apparently had no knowledge of the edict, so Mordecai sent her a copy and a command of his own. Through her servants he told her not to worry about clothing or consoling him but to focus on communicating with the king. (If only God had known this was coming, then maybe he could have had someone in place to help . . . oh wait!)
While Esther and Mordecai may have been surprised and worried about Ahasuerus’s and Haman’s edict, God was not. God never paces in heaven, hoping things work out. Like all things the edict was foreknown by the Lord, and in his foreknowledge he had made provision. The events in Persia, after all, were not his first rodeo. Remember when God told Abraham what would happen to his descendants even before Abraham had a child (Gen 15)? Or remember when God used massive events in Joseph’s life to get him to be second-in-command of Egypt so that Joseph’s father Jacob and Joseph’s eleven brothers would have provision during a famine? Remember when God said, “I declare the end from the beginning, and from long ago what is not yet done, saying: my plan will take place, and I will do all my will” (Isa 46:10), so we would have no doubt of his awesomeness and control? Yeah, if only God had known that Haman would try to wipe out all of his people.
The human heroes of this story could not yet see that God already had a plan of salvation in place for them. Nevertheless, even here in chapter 4, Esther and Mordecai were starting to understand providence a little more clearly. It may have initially felt like the situation of the blind one Jesus was healing who saw people who looked like trees walking (Mark 8:24). But as sure as he saw clearly before the Son of God was done with him, they too would eventually gain clarity.
Before moving on to the rest of our discussion, I want us to consider two questions. First, how do we react when we get bad news? Do we panic, or do we pray? In Acts 12 the church learned that James had been executed and that Peter was in prison, but Luke says, “The church was praying fervently” for Peter (Acts 12:5). I love that though they were grieved because of James’s death, they were not dissuaded from interceding for Peter. I also love that the reason they are praying in Acts 12 is because they had devoted themselves to it in Acts 2. Prayer, then, was not just about crisis but commitment. Neither Mordecai’s nor the Jews’ reactions were wrong. When they learned of doom, they did what they had been discipled to do in hopes the Deliverer would hear and help.
Second, why does it often take God’s using drastic matters to get us to the point of repentance, remorse, dependence, or even wanting to communicate with him? Receiving an empire-wide decree giving those who live in our village permission to slaughter each member of my family would certainly get my attention. The Lord, I think, would not have to use “drastic” means if we were committed to “daily” means. The greatest gift of the gospel is that God gives us himself. He reconciles us for the purpose of relationship. Losing sight of this great grace is always to our detriment.
Like Mordecai we should encourage others to leverage their positions of influence for the sake of the kingdom.
Mordecai wanted Esther to intercede on behalf of all the Jews. The time for secrets was over. Through Hathach, Mordecai encouraged Esther to leverage her influence with Ahasuerus. Passivity was not an option. Esther, however, wavered at her cousin’s prompting, and you can hear “Houston, we have a problem” in her response. In case Mordecai had completely lost his mind, she educated him on basic royal protocol that everyone in the empire apparently knew. Even though she was the queen, her access to the king was restricted. The penalty for breaking protocol was death. She then revealed that it had been a month since she was last summoned before Ahasuerus, which in any other circumstance would probably have been a blessing. Esther’s people were in trouble, but instead of immediately jumping at the chance to help them, she hesitated. Her first thought was not their deaths but her own. She was not certain she wanted to take such a risk.
I would be the last to throw a stone at Esther. After all, like her, you and I may be hesitant to seize opportunities the Lord entrusts to us for his sake. You may even be deliberating right now about a specific situation in your life. But why was Esther hesitant? It could be that she thought she could ignore the announcement and remain safe in the citadel. Maybe she thought it was not her problem. That possibility brings to mind a member of the church I pastored in Baton Rouge, who shared with me once that her eighty-year-old father had taken a thirty-year mortgage out on a mobile home. When she asked him about the possibility of his dying and leaving that financial responsibility unmet, he responded, “Not my problem!”
Esther was obviously concerned the king would not grant her permission to be in his presence. After all, Vashti had refused to go before the king when summoned, and everyone knew how that turned out. Suddenly asked to approach the king unsummoned, Esther knew there was no room for playfulness in the protocol. Entering the throne room and asking, “Ahasuerus, did you call me, Sweetie?” would bring a swift response: “No. Kill her.”
What is encouraging to many is that her obedience was not immediate and courageous. Like us, Esther may have had a “natural proneness for seeing the difficulties rather than anticipating what God could, and would, do” (Prime, Unspoken Lessons, 76). My wife always says that if I were not in ministry I would be in insurance because I can assess all the ways something can go wrong in about five seconds.
Perhaps since Esther had not been in the king’s presence for thirty days, she reasoned that she was not the right mediator. Maybe you have been there before too. Maybe you are there now and are listing all the reasons that you are not the right person for whatever opportunity God seems to be granting. We tend to set our gaze on our deficiencies or disqualifications rather than the Lord’s sufficient grace and empowerment. Know that if you are delaying obedience out of fear, that is actually disobedience.
Mordecai’s Realization and Reminder
Like Esther we often need others in our lives to encourage our obedience and faithful stewardship of what God entrusts to us.
When Mordecai was informed of Esther’s deliberations, he told Hathach to make sure she understood she would not escape the edict. Even in the palace, there would be no exemptions. Mordecai was certain God’s people would be preserved; but if Esther faltered, she and her lineage would perish. In assessing Mordecai’s boldness, Prime contends,
We sometimes need to be extremely forthright in exhorting one another to do the right thing, just as Mordecai did with Esther. Our best friends are those who love us enough to be genuinely honest with us. . . . When relationships are good, reprimands can be given, even welcomed, and accepted in the spirit in which they are given. (Unspoken Lessons, 79)
Let’s consider Prime’s statement for a moment in light of our lives. Within your family and faith family, are there good relationships, are reproofs voiced in appropriate and loving ways, and are reprimands welcomed? The author of Proverbs tells us, “The wounds of a friend are trustworthy” (Prov 27:6).
One of the most transparent examples I have ever read of one Christian brother exhorting another to do the right thing and finding that exhortation received is in a blog post by Garrett Kell. In the piece Kell admits he was at one time a pastor enslaved to the sin of pornography. In preparing to launch a new church plant with one of his friends, Kell decided to reveal his sin and lengthy struggle through a letter to his planting partner. Kell records what happened next:
That trip to Jersey began an intervention that I believe saved my soul, my marriage, and my ministry. Carrie and I met Reid at a coffee shop and through tears he said, “I love you, brother, but after reading your letter, I don’t feel like we can move forward as partners. And to be honest, I don’t think you should be a pastor right now.” No one had ever gotten in my face like that—or at least I had never listened. Most people were willing to overlook my struggles because of my perceived giftedness or personality. But Reid didn’t care about any of that. He loved God, and he loved me. (“I Was a Pastor Hooked on Porn”)
To remain silent when those we care for are chained to sin is never loving. Kell would return home, confess his sin to the elders of his church, and then confess to the entire congregation, even repeating it for those who were not in attendance.
Kell did not run from his church, and they did not run him off. He notes that almost a year later, “many [members] began confessing their own hidden sins. Self-righteousness was expelled, and supernatural healing came for me and for the church family that remained” (ibid.). At the end of his blog post, Kell exhorts his readers,
You need someone in your life who knows you—who really knows you. Not who generally understands how you struggle, but who has a pulse on the state of your affections and sin struggles today. We all need someone along with whom we’re constantly confessing and repenting and trusting in Jesus. (Ibid.; emphasis in original)
In his grace God used the exhortation from a loving friend to move Kell not to do what was easy but to do what was holy and right. Esther had a similar relationship with Mordecai. You and I need that as well. Who needs your encouragement to obey the Lord, and who is encouraging you? I hope you are modeling how to give and to receive loving reproofs.
After hurricane Katrina, I had the opportunity to serve at a staging area at the New Orleans airport, helping families transition from rescue helicopters to inside the terminals. According to some of the evacuees’ stories, not all of them had been convinced help was going to arrive on time; for some caught in the floods, it did not. My wife and I asked one of the evacuees, who was seven months pregnant and had a two-year-old son, to stay with us until we could reconnect her with her family. She told us they had to cut their way through their roof to escape the rising waters. When she and her son were rescued, they left her daughter and mother standing on the roof. Though the pilots promised to return immediately to her roof, help had to be found elsewhere.
Regardless of Esther’s actions, Mordecai was certain God’s people would be preserved. If she faltered, it would be to her detriment, but the Jews would be delivered. From where and from whom would other help arise? Bush contends,
Given the facts of the story that the narrator has emphasized, such as the character of the king, the power of Haman’s position, the diabolical nature of his edict, and the irrevocability of Persian law, a plausible source for another human agency that could deliver the Jews is hard to imagine. (Ruth/Esther, 396)
Bush also rejects notions of “Jewish officials, a Jewish armed revolt, or the goodwill of the inhabitants of the empire” because they were “lamentably implausible” (ibid.).
So, does Mordecai mean “God” when he says the Jews will receive help from “another place” (4:14)? For those who believe Mordecai’s confidence is related to his conviction of divine providence, Bush contends, “There is simply nothing in the story even suggesting that the narrator characterizes Mordecai as a man of such firm faith and piety” (ibid.). While I agree with Bush that up to this point in the story there is little evidence to support a claim that Mordecai possesses unwavering faith, I do believe the author of Esther will provide glimmers of that hope in the passages to come and even in the final question of 4:14. Once again, though, we find ourselves wishing for specificity and clarity where none is provided. What is clear is that even if Esther does nothing, something will ultimately be done for the good of God’s people.
Either way, Esther herself is facing loss. In one scenario she risks losing her life. In another scenario she risks losing the blessings that come from doing the good she ought to do. I am always grieved when the Lord has to work around me instead of through me. Mordecai did not want this to be the case for Esther.
One of the most remembered and recognized phrases in the entire book of Esther is found at the end of verse 14. After evaluating the Jews’ problem and Esther’s placement, the lights of providence are possibly just beginning to gleam for Mordecai as he asserts that perhaps Esther’s being taken and then her becoming queen are not a random tragedy after all. Maybe the reason she has such a position is for a higher purpose. These musings reveal what we noted earlier in this book: Esther and Mordecai were not part of a well-organized coup to take power and remove Ahasuerus. No, in Mordecai’s ponderings of Esther’s position, there is much more the sound of Gomer Pyle’s “Gawl-lee” than of Sherlock Holmes’s snarky “Elementary, my dear Watson!” Mordecai may not have fully reached the answer of “4,” but he is at least beginning to frame the equation of “2 + 2” with this statement.
Mordecai’s point is clear enough. Obtaining a royal position is a matter requiring stewardship. Esther was entrusted with an opportunity and the responsibilities that came along with it.
Prime asserts, “We should all be asking, ‘What work has God especially for me to do because he has allowed me to be alive at this particular time?’” (Unspoken Lessons, 81). The Lord determines both when and where we live. As Paul says of God, “From one man he has made every nationality to live over the whole earth and has determined their appointed times and the boundaries of where they live” (Acts 17:26). There is not another time period in which you should have lived. The places where we are, the positions we hold, and the people by whom we are surrounded have been entrusted to us for the purpose of gospel advancement. God is no less intentional with our lives than he was with Esther’s and Mordecai’s. And just in case you need to be reminded, this “time” is our only time to make disciples, and the time decreases each day. May our lives be gripped with gospel urgency.
Esther’s and Mordecai’s Resolve
Like Mordecai and Esther, let us seek God’s power through prayer so that we will be resolved and faithful rather than resistant and fearful.
Where there initially had been reluctance, now in Esther there is resolve. The one who was given a command (4:8) would end up giving one of her own (4:16-17).
Several years ago I led a large group of teenagers on a mission trip to Germany. One of the requests of the missionaries with whom we were partnering was that our group spend time prayer walking through universities, apartment complexes, and city blocks. The students (and regrettably some of the other adults) were not really excited about this. In various forms they kept saying, “We came all this way to do something. We did not make the trip just to pray.” To their complaints, the missionary responded, “Prayer is doing something. No one else comes and prays in these places, and before we do anything else, we need to pray.” Pausing for prayer is not the same as pausing obedience for procrastination or passivity. As a matter of fact, prayer is never a bad first step.
But the text does not say anything about prayer. Frustrating, isn’t it? If there was ever a good place in Esther (and indeed we have seen several possibilities already) to make a few extra swipes with the pen to specifically tie actions with reliance on God, then this would be a great candidate. The author, however, refrained from doing so. Nevertheless, Prime contends that Esther’s statement “tells us what she did not trust in: she did not place her confidence in her own beauty, position, or eloquence. The mentioning of fasting indicates where Esther placed her trust” (Unspoken Lessons, 82). We would affirm that fasting reflects dependence on God. But could not her fasting have been an attempt to earn favor through asceticism? Sure, but from whom or what would she be earning that favor? Certainly not Ahasuerus, since he liked his women to have their cosmetics and food! In connecting prayer and fasting, Prime says,
Prayer is the principal purpose of fasting, in that fasting concentrates the mind and helps to detach it from current preoccupations. Fasting, therefore, is a way of abstaining from what may interfere with prayer. It is an expression of earnestness, and recognition of the seriousness of a situation, expressing either sorrow or repentance. (Ibid., 83)
Prime believes Esther, Mordecai, and all the Jews they could gather in Susa prayed along with their fasts, and I do as well.
When is the last time you fasted and prayed because you were seeking the Lord’s direction? When I was trying to discern whether I should pursue marriage with Tara, I fasted four days and prayed through Proverbs 3:5-6, taking one phrase per day as a focus for my prayers. David Mathis says, “Fasting has fallen on hard times—at least, it seems, among our overstuffed bellies in the American church.” He then admits, “I speak as one of the well-fed” (Habits of Grace, 117). Nevertheless, he contends that how we view fasting is important:
If we are awakened to see fasting for the joy it can bring, as a means of God’s grace to strengthen and sharpen godward affections, then we might find ourselves holding a powerful new tool for enriching our enjoyment of Jesus. (Ibid.)
In his book Spiritual Disciplines for the Christian Life, Don Whitney says many purposes for fasting can be found in Scripture. One of the purposes he lists is to strengthen prayer. He notes that Nehemiah (Neh 1:4), Daniel (Dan 9:3), Joel (Joel 2:12), and the church at Antioch (Acts 13:3) all fasted and prayed. He does offer two important cautions. First, he says,
The Bible does not teach that fasting is a kind of spiritual hunger strike that compels God to do our bidding. If we ask for something outside of God’s will, fasting does not cause him to reconsider. Fasting does not change God’s hearing so much as it changes our praying. (Spiritual Disciplines, 166)
Whitney’s second caution is that
we cannot use fasting as a way to impress God and earn His acceptance. We are made acceptable to God through the work of Christ Jesus, not our work. Fasting has no eternal benefit for us until we have come to God through repentance and faith. (Ibid., 165)
The fasting in this chapter of Esther certainly is a stark contrast to all of the feasts that are recorded. I hope fasting, however, is not unfamiliar to you but is a discipline you use often as you continue to grow in and pursue Christ. I have always appreciated the idea that the root of Christian fasting is the hunger of homesickness for God, [which means] we will do anything and go without anything if, by any means, we might protect ourselves from the deadening effects of innocent delights and preserve the sweet longings of our homesickness for God. (Piper, A Hunger for God, 15)
Like Esther we should fast to express that our confidence and trust are not in ourselves but in God. Sure, the possibility exists that Esther and the others only fasted and did not pray. But I would say what is possible in this case is not probable. In fasting we are able to say to God, “We hunger for you more than anything else. We can do without some things but not without you. As I fast, I express to you that I do not live by bread alone but desire to live on your words. And I need you to show me in your Word the way you would have me go.”
Through Mordecai’s exhortation, expectation, and evaluation, we have seen Esther shift away from self-preservation to be willing to sacrifice her life if necessary. With each opportunity the Lord gives us, our responsibility is obedience, not results. Neither Esther nor Mordecai knew how things would turn out. They both knew that Esther should intercede for her people and that it could cost her life. Abraham did not know how things would turn out with Isaac; he just knew what God was asking him to do (Gen 22). Paul did not know how everything would turn out; he just knew he was being compelled to go to Jerusalem (Acts 20:22-23). What is needed is not our full knowledge but our faithful obedience.
Since Christ is our great high priest, let us draw near to God in full confidence.
If left to our own resources with regard to holiness, we, like Mordecai, should don garments of mourning and never take them off. But as Isaiah says,
I rejoice greatly in the Lord, I exult in my God; for he has clothed me with the garments of salvation and wrapped me in a robe of righteousness, as a groom wears a turban and as a bride adorns herself with her jewels. (Isa 61:10)
Esther tried to cover Mordecai, but God has succeeded in clothing us. He was able to do this by making “the one who did not know sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor 5:21).
That same one is the “one mediator between God and humanity, the man Christ Jesus” (1 Tim 2:5). Esther interceded on behalf of her people, but there is no greater mediator than Jesus, our great high priest (Heb 7:22-28). Becoming our mediator did not merely require the possibility of his death but the certainty of it. Keller notes, “Esther saved her people in two ways: identification and mediation. Does that remind you of anyone? Jesus didn’t say ‘If I perish, I perish,’ He said, ‘When I perish’” (“If I Perish, I Perish”).
Other than in Christ, there is nowhere we can hide from God’s wrath. Esther would not be safe in the citadel, and we are never safe in our sin. Christ is our only refuge. Once we are in Christ, we can draw near to God in full confidence that he welcomes us and desires our presence (Heb 10:19-22). Let us then never neglect an opportunity to draw near, for in his presence is “abundant joy” and at his right hand “are eternal pleasures” (Ps 16:11).
There has only been one perfect person God used in accomplishing his purposes. For the rest of his agenda, God uses imperfect people. He uses our daily and ordinary obedience to accomplish his extraordinary plan. Perhaps you feel you have concealed your faith too long or compromised with the world too much. Here is where Esther and Mordecai provide us a lot of hope. It is not just that we should see what they did right and do that, but we should also see all they did wrong and know it did not disqualify them from being used by God. The same is true for us.
Reflect and Discuss
- Describe a time the Lord called you to do something but you were full of fear rather than faith and did not obey. Why is Esther 4 a good chapter for many of us who have been in this position?
- In what ways, if any, are you currently hesitating to obey the Lord? How can the gospel fuel obedience?
- In the time of crisis, how far do you have to make it down your reaction list before you get to prayer? Why is prayer always the best reaction to difficult circumstances?
- Why do we tend to conceal our grief or struggles rather than sharing them openly?
- Who is someone God has used to encourage you to be obedient to something God was calling you to do? Why do we need others who will help spur our obedience? How can we encourage one another to be obedient?
- What, if anything, are you hoping “somebody” will do in your faith family or in your city? Why do you think you are not the “somebody” to do it?
- How might the gospel bring us to the point where we are willing to say, “If I perish, I perish, but I am going to obey at all costs”?
- How often do you consider and take advantage of the fact that through Christ we have full access to meet with God the Father?
- To what degree are you amazed that the Father wants us to be in his presence? Explain.
- How often do you express gratitude for Christ’s identification with and mediation for us? Why is Christ called our great high priest?