September 27, 2009
“Where is God in all of this?” Haven’t you asked that before? We often live our lives on the edges of faith, where promises and circumstances collide.
One might rightly ask, “Where is God in Esther?” His name is not in the book at all. It seems He is nowhere to be found. But that is the point of Esther. In the inexplicable times of life, God is not absent. He is there. The lectionary readings help us to see more: that the very things which seek to destroy God’s people become, in the hands of a purposeful God, the very things that bring them blessing. These are God’s “sovereign surprises.” There are plenty of them in Esther, but here are just two.
I. God’s sovereign surprise is that He uses unmitigated evil for everlasting good (7:1-6,9-10).
Luther used to say that “the devil is God’s devil.” Luther meant that every diabolical move of Satan is supernaturally checked by God for His glory and our good. This truth is dramatically borne out in Esther.
The Jews were in a jam. They were facing annihilation. Where was God? Mordecai, Esther’s adopted father, refused to bow down to the pagan prime minister, Haman. So, in his prideful madness, this conniving courtier, Haman, plotted to “destroy all the Jews.” But God had placed a Hebrew lass in a royal beauty contest, and she became queen to King Ahasuerus. Mordecai reminds Esther that she was chosen “for such a time as this” (4:14). Indeed she was! Esther uses the occasion of a wine-drenched royal party to unveil the murderous plot of Haman, the enemy of the Jews. And in a surprising twist of providence, the gallows meant for the meek Mordecai become the place of judgment for hateful Haman.
This is the gospel. The cross, a devilish instrument of shame, becomes the divine center of salvation. Who could have written such a story?
And so it is with our stories. We are more than conquerors (
I never will forget the words of a member of my congregation who looked at me as he was about to go into surgery. He told me, “Pastor, this is not my cancer. It is God’s cancer. The cancer is evil. But God is good. And He will win. I can leave it to Him.”
This faithful Mordecai-like man had embraced the truth of Esther, the truth of the gospel, that God transforms unmitigated evil for everlasting good.
II. God’s sovereign surprise is that He brings unforgettable joy from unimaginable predicaments (9:20-22).
Everyone loves a happy ending, and Esther doesn’t let us down. Mordecai becomes the prime minister, Esther rules as queen and the people live in peace. The royal Hebrew heroine thus proclaims a feast day that is still celebrated: Purim, a word taken from the word for the casting of lots (Pur). Haman had gambled and lost. Life is not a dice throw after all. Satan’s plots are governed by God’s plans. Our predicaments are under the governance of God’s providence. And God, who sometimes does not seem to be there, such as when He was dead in a tomb, is there after all. For while the disciples ran, and those who plotted to kill the King of the Jews relaxed, Jesus rose again. And that changed everything.
I love surprises. Don’t you?