A headline from April 2015 read: “Islamic State Shoots and Beheads 30 Ethiopian Christians.”
May 2009: “Pastor Killed in Illinois Church Shooting: 3 Others Injured, Including Shooter.”
Nearly 300 years ago, Jonathan Edwards first preached his historic sermon “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” Thereby he hoped to roust lethargic church members from a false sense of spiritual security, an unintended side effect of the half-way covenant instituted by his pulpit predecessor and maternal grandfather, Solomon Stoddard.
Today, while many church members could stand to hear a similar sermon, the faithful among us desperately need a different kind of message, one whereby our insomniac hearts might be brought to rest, a sermon that doesn’t deny the dangers we face but helps us look beyond and live joyfully regardless. Such was the sermon preached by Mordecai in Esther 9:20-22.
We Face Danger from Others
As the Book of Esther tells us, the threat of violence by people of faith against others of faith is real and persistent. Haman was angry and ungodly—not godless, but ungodly—in that his actions betrayed any reverence he may have felt for Israel’s God. When he previously cast lots to ascertain the date for his intended pogrom (vv. 3:6-7), he did so believing his gods would answer in the luck of the draw. Haman was a man of faith, albeit a misdirected one. The threat he posed was undeniable.
By exposing Haman’s plot, and her true identity in the process, Esther placed her life in peril (vv. 7:1-6). From the moment Mordecai commanded her to approach Ahasuerus on behalf of her people, Esther knew the risk (v. 4:11).
Jesus spoke of counting the cost. For many believers throughout history, that cost has been tragically high. The threat remains for us all but is realized only when God permits. To adapt the fifth consideration of Edwards’ sermon: “At any moment God shall permit him,” and only when God permits, “Satan stands ready to fall upon” the redeemed “and seize them.”
We Face Danger from Within Ourselves
Remarkably, the threat against Esther and her people wasn’t realized. They escaped genocide when Haman was hanged upon his own gallows (vv. 7:9-10). As so often happens, he who lived by the sword died by the sword. Did you catch it in that second headline about the church shooting, that three others were injured, including shooter? Part of the collateral damage was to the perpetrator himself.
Edwards said it this way in his sixth consideration: “If it were not for God’s restraints, there are in the souls of wicked men, hellish principles reigning which, presently, would kindle and flame out into hellfire.” The idea is they would be consumed by the very hell that burns inside them. It’s an awful thing when God gives people up to their own devices (Rom. 1:24-28), when He lifts His restraining hand—the very hand in which His dear children rest (John 10:28-30) and by which they are led.
So how should we live in a world where threats abound as we await God’s final judgment and retribution? We should heed Mordecai’s decree by remembering, celebrating and sharing. “Remember what?” you might demand. “The angry and ungodly are still with us!”
We Can Face Danger Without Fear Because of Christ
That’s true, but consider the words carved into the table in front of us: “This do in remembrance of Me.” In his 10th consideration Edwards preached, “God has never promised to save us from Hell, except for those contained in Christ through the covenant of grace."
By His death, Jesus removed death’s sting. By His resurrection, He opened the way to eternal life. He has turned sorrow into gladness, mourning to feasting. For saints in the hands of the angry and ungodly, that’s worth remembering. That’s worth celebrating!