Silk Purses from Sow's Ears!
Esther 4:1-6, 11-17
Did you see Barbara Walters interview Donna Rice this week? (You remember Donna Rice? Presidential wannabee Gary Hart's "Monica Lewinski"? A boat called, "Monkey Business"?). Donna spoke openly of her downfall, how as a young woman she was raised in a Christian home but slipped slowly away from that and made the notorious headlines that helped derail a presidential candidate. She spoke of how she asked God to forgive her and turn her life into something useful and wonderful. And He did. He always does when we sincerely make that prayer. Today Donna is on a mission to keep Internet pornography away from America's children.
Who can make a silk purse out of a sow's ear? Or, turn a bad thing into a good thing? Only God! The book of Esther is a compelling and very human drama of power abuse, intrigue, sexism, ambition, passion and national destiny. Its characters read like an afternoon soap opera. Let me introduce the main ones to you:
I. The People
First, there is Mordecai, Esther's cousin who helped to raise her after she was orphaned at an early age. Mordecai was a palace employee in the palace of King Ahasuerus. A Jewish slave carried into captivity when Nebuchadnezzer destroyed Jerusalem in 586BC, Mordecai eventually became second in command of the whole kingdom.
Next comes Queen Vashti who refused to dance naked, wearing only her crown, before her husband, King Ahasuerus and his drunken cronies. The enraged king drove her out of the kingdom.
Esther, the heroine of the book, won one of history's first beauty contests to become Ahasuerus' next queen. She was Jewish but he didn't know it.
King Ahasuerus, better known to history as Xerxes I, ruled an empire but couldn't rule himself. He drank too much then said and did stupid things. He was ruthlessly sexist. Actually, he was both ruthless and sexist. Yet, God used him to set in motion events that immortalized Esther.
Haman was prime minister or grand vizier, the second highest ranking person in Ahasuerus' kingdom. Haman is one of the most despicable characters you'll ever meet in the Bible. An anti-Semite, he persuaded the king to issue an edict that on a given day Jews throughout the kingdom should be slaughtered. He was duplicitous and ruthless with one interest: Self-promotion. He was eventually hanged, albeit on a false charge, on the order of the king.
II. The Plot
Our Scripture reading recalls a moment of high drama in Jewish history. How will Mordecai and Esther avoid Ahasuerus' hasty drunken decree to slaughter all Jews and have the decree lifted from the books?
At this point Mordecai tells Esther, "If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance for the Jews will arise from another place, but you and your father's family will perish. And who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?" That is, "Esther, this is your moment to shine!" She declares, "(Okay, I accept that). If I perish, I perish."
The lesson is very simple: God, Sovereign Lord of human history, can use bad people to achieve good ends. Let this fill all our hearts with hope! Wherever we have been and whatever we have done, God can use us. God makes silk purses out of sow's ears. If you don't believe that ask Donna Rice! Or, Abraham, the liar, Jacob, the cheater, Moses, the coward, David the adulterer, Jonah, the reluctant evangelist, Peter the big-mouthed fair weather friend, or Paul, the bigot. What do they all have in common? It is their very ordinariness and character flaws. The imperfections of each of these flawed people demonstrate what God can do with next-door-to-nothing! It is not Esther's beauty, powerful connections, or perfection that made her famous but her willingness to rise at her moment.
III. The Plan (to Save Israel)
God uses the flawed people of this book to turn history His way. We learn here that because of God's grace, even the flawed can make good Choices.
You can make good choices. It was choices that got us where we were when we were at our lowest; or are! No one meant to end up an addict. They just got on a slippery slope, decided to try it and before they knew it, it was trying them. It was, most often, not sudden. "Just once . . . a little bit of this, little of that won't hurt." But it will! Nobody gains 60 pounds overnight. Day-by-day in the gentle slope of things it's a potato chip here and a bowl of ice cream there and before you know it, you are at the doctor's office!
I can almost hear someone asking, "How do I change that?" The answer is, "Choices!" Change your choices and you change your life's direction.
Second, we learn from this book that because of God's grace, even flawed people have good Capabilities. You don't get far in this story before you realize that Esther's was not just beautiful. She was smart too! Mordecai said, "This is your moment!" She didn't rush compulsively into Ahasuerus' throne-room, half-cocked. She thought it through. In Chapter 5, we read, "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in. . . front of the king's hall. . . . When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold scepter that was in his hand" (Esther 5:1,2). She invited him to a feast, wined and dined him twice and carried out her plan.
Smart woman! Capable! God gives us all multiple capabilities, but in truth, sometimes we have to be challenged to find out what they are. John Bunyan had to go to prison to realize his great gift of writing. The result was Pilgrim's Progress. Before that book, we know nothing of his writing. Ludwig von Beethoven's envisioned a career as a concert pianist until he went deaf. That's when he turned to composing, writing out the music he imagined as he walked in the woods in the loneliness of deafness.
Don't tell me you have come to a brick wall with some insurmountable obstacle in your life. It's simply not true. There are no dead ends on God's maps of our lives. God never leaves us without options. Seek Him; use your heart; use your head, and you'll find capabilities you didn't know you had before.
Third, we learn from the book of Esther that because of grace, even flawed people can develop their Convictions. Mordecai told Esther, "You have come to royal position for such a time as this!" She responded, "If I perish, I perish." She was convicted that this was the right thing for her to do.
Convictions determine the values on which we build our lives. Ultimately, convictions determine the courses we follow. What convictions drive you? What life or death, no compromise principles? For Martin Luther it was, "My conscience is held captive by the Word of God. Here I stand. I can do no other. God help me." His moment came. He stood on his convictions and struck a light that re-ignited Europe for Christ. Seizing your moment for Jesus Christ and His kingdom is a key element in maximizing your life's impact. Convictions stand us in good stead or they lead to our destruction. Good convictions carry us to victory when tough times come. Three times in two weeks I've been asked to address the issue of Sunday sports keeping kids from church activities. I strongly believe nothing characterizes America's moral and spiritual decay more than what we've done with our Sundays. And nothing is more indicative of what we've done than Sunday sports. That's finally a matter of convictions gone amok. Parents, it wasn't a ball coach that hung on the cross for your child's sins!
Mom and Dad, what convictions are you passing on to your kids? It's your moment to raise them. It will never come again. What are we showing them really matters?
It's this idea which Shakespeare emphasizes in the fourth act of Julius Caesar, when he puts these words upon the lips of Brutus trying to enlist Cassius:
There is a tide in the affairs of men
Which, taken at the flood, leads on to fortune;
Omitted, all the voyages of their life
Is bound in shallows and in miseries.
On such a full sea are we now afloat
And we must take the current when it serves
Or lose our ventures.
Pay him heed! What Shakespeare is saying to us is not only that the tides have great power, but that they also possess an irretrievable, unstoppable, un-recallable moment. Their lifting strength comes for but a brief time and then is gone forever. If you miss the moment, you will be left in shallows and in miseries, having lost your children for Christ and His kingdom. Do not miss the moment, my beloved!
And it is not just with children. It can be with our own lives. Each of our lives, given their own course, will naturally drift towards that which will consume, and eventually, destroy us. Only you, with the help of God's Holy Spirit, can stop that natural drift in your life by seizing hold of convictions that become a positive force to prevent that drift. Perhaps today your moment to do serious business with Christ has come. There may never be another. Do not let it pass. Seize it quickly lest you lose it for all eternity.
It wasn't Esther's good looks, heritage, power, that saved her people. It was, finally, her convictions. What are your convictions? What are they doing for you? What will you die for? Or, live for? Let it be for Christ Jesus who died for you on Calvary's cross and who alone can save!