November 3, 2013
Like Lincoln or Churchill, Mordecai was a key individual in Jewish history. As Alistair Begg explains, he played a crucial role in the Jews’ deliverance from the prospect of annihilation, foreshadowing the greater deliverance to come in Christ. Deliverance in Mordecai’s time was partial and temporary; deliverance through Jesus is complete and eternal. Mordecai was the man of the moment; Jesus is King of the ages. Mordecai was used by God; Jesus is God Himself, come into history to deliver us forever.
Sermon Transcript: Print
I invite you to turn with me to the Old Testament, to the book of Esther and to chapter 10. If you are visiting with us today, we’ve been studying this Old Testament book, a book set in fifth century BC and one that speaks to us of the fact that God is providentially at work—that, in the words of the answer to the second question of our catechism, “Nothing happens except through him and by his will.” And we’ve been trying to get underneath the burden of what that means and why it matters. And we’ve come now to the final three verses in this book. Incidentally, if you find any difficulty in locating it, around page 415 or so in the church Bibles you should be able to find it.
“King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land and on the coastlands of the sea. And all the acts of his power and might, and the full account of the high honor of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second in rank to King Ahasuerus, and he was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers, for he sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.”
We bow, gracious God, before your Word, asking for the help of the Holy Spirit to teach it and to understand it, to believe it, and to live in the light of it. And so, we look away from ourselves to you, humbly and confidently. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
Every once in a while throughout the course of history, a single person arises without whose presence everything would be different. If you think about your knowledge of history, recent or ancient, it won’t be too difficult to come up with names that fit that bill—people who made a difference for good and people who made a difference that wasn’t good. And one on the good side was honored this week with a bust of Winston Churchill placed in the Capitol rotunda in our nation’s capital. I, for one, am delighted about this. After all, in Britain we have Lincoln outside the Houses of Parliament. It only seems fair that Winston Churchill should be somewhere around in Washington.
For those of you whose knowledge of history is scanty and you’re nudging your grandfather, saying, “Who is Winston Churchill?”—he’s a former British prime minister. He was a statesman, a defender of freedom, and was made an honorary United States citizen by President John F. Kennedy. A significant figure. In fact, the history of the Second World War and its implications would have been radically different apart from Winston Churchill. No student of history is able honestly to disavow that. It is impossible to imagine what would have happened if he, in all of his witness and consistency, had not stepped forward.
I mention that because in the fifth century BC we’re introduced to another character along the same lines. We’re not able to say whether a bust was ever put together in the name of Mordecai. We do know that the events of Mordecai’s life were recorded in the Chronicles of Media and Persia. It said that in the text. But he also was an individual who, if he had not arisen, everything would have been markedly different. Because, as we’ve been discovering, he played a crucial role in the deliverance of the Jews from the prospect of annihilation, a prospect that was a ticking clock for them until things were reversed. And these three verses which comprise chapter 10 are a wonderful counterbalance to the opening nine verses of the book. In terms of literature, in terms of a short story, it is by any standards a masterful piece of work. And here, in these three verses, we essentially have the postscript to the book, a postscript which you will note also contains what is essentially Mordecai’s epitaph.
I like epitaphs. I think some of you will too. And any time I mentioned epitaphs, it gives me a chance to tell you my favorite epitaph, so I don’t want to disappoint you. And the tombstone reads, “Interred beneath this kirkyard stone”—churchyard stone—“lies stingy Jimmy Wyatt, who died one morning just at ten and saved a dinner by it.” Obviously a Scotsman who was delighted that he died in the lunch hour, thereby not having to expend anymore cash for a dinner that evening, especially if he’d been planning on inviting any of his friends. It’s somewhat humorous, but they must have put that on there because it fitted him to a tee, just in the same way that this fits Mordecai to a tee: “He sought the welfare of his people and spoke peace to all his people.” When people said, “What about Mordecai?” they said, “Rest, welfare, peace, prosperity. He had a mind for those who were his own.”
Now, let us endeavor to work our way through these three verses. Incidentally, I wonder what you would do if, as I had to on Monday morning, I turned the page from chapter 9 into chapter 10 and read these first three verses and said, “Okay, say something about those three verses.” Well, I’d be interested to see your outline. You can send it to me. I might use it the next time. But this is what we’re told.
First of all, we’re told that the king was in his counting house. You know, I’m using a nursery rhyme in order to establish that, to lock it in your mind the way it locked it in my mind. Surrounded by my grandchildren, I’m reaching for nursery rhymes all the time now. This is, of course:
Sing a song of sixpence,
A pocket full of rye,
Four and twenty blackbirds
Were baked in a pie.
And when the pie was opened,
The birds began to sing;
Isn’t this a dainty dish,
To set before the king?
The king was in his counting house,
Counting out his money;
The queen was in the parlor
Baking bread and honey;
And the maid was in the garden,
Hanging out the clothes,
When down came a blackbird…
By the way, I have to clean that up for our grandchildren.
And pecked off her nose.
Well, we’re not worried about the maid’s nose at the moment, but we are concerned with the king.
Government is back to normal. It starts with a great hurrah in the opening verses of the book, and now we discover that they are right back on track. All the prospects of these edicts and the implications for the nation seem now to have settled down for the time being, and government is doing what it does best: taxing people. “King Ahasuerus imposed tax on the land”—in fact, “on the coastlands of the sea.” The extent of the empire and the ability to secure taxation from the people is now firmly in place.
Now, part of this is simply to make us understand how significant was the authority of King Ahasuerus: that he has not been superseded by Mordecai or by Esther or anyone else. He still is the king, it still is his empire, and even when he dies, although later the Persian Empire fell into disrepute and disrepair, at the time of his death things were really swimming along very nicely. And you will remember, of course, that Haman had suggested to King Ahasuerus that if he was to destroy the Jews, then Haman could chip in to the treasury, and things would work out splendidly. But in actual fact, the benefits that the king would have enjoyed on that basis would never have come close to what he is now discovering with Mordecai as his prime minister.
If we were in a different context and had time, we might actually just stop there for a moment and think about the implications of Christian citizenship. Because it’s not right for Christians always to be moaning and groaning about the government. It’s not right for the believer always to be carping and complaining. And Christians ought not to be the ones who are always bemoaning the nature of taxation. Because God doesn’t want us to. And Paul, when he writes to the Christians in Rome who are under a jurisdiction that was as threatening as any that we might imagine, he reminded them that the government that had been put in place was there in order to achieve the purposes of God. And “therefore,” says Paul, “one must be in subjection” to this government, “not only to avoid God’s wrath but also for the sake of conscience. For because of this you also pay taxes, for the authorities are ministers of God, attending to this very thing.” Here’s the principle: “Pay to all what is owed … taxes to whom taxes are owed, revenue to whom revenue is owed, respect to whom respect is owed, honor to whom honor is owed.”
The king was in his counting house.
Secondly, we’re told that the queen is not even mentioned. Actually, we’re not told that; we realize it because she’s not mentioned. It’s interesting, isn’t it, that a book called Esther ends with no mention of Esther? Actually, not dissimilar to the story of Ruth. Because although the book is called Ruth, it starts with Naomi, and it ends with Naomi. And here the story of Esther ends without her getting a mention.
Well, there’s a reason for this. She had stepped forward when it mattered. She had exposed Haman for his corruption. She had been responsible for the securing of the second edict, along with the help of Mordecai. She had responded when her cousin had said to her in 4:14, “Who knows [but that] you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” And that was her moment, and she stepped forward then. But her role was passing, her part has been played, and she has now been superseded.
So, the king was in his counting house. The queen is not even mentioned. Thirdly, Mordecai is honored. Mordecai is honored. You see in verse 2, it moves from the acts of the power and might of the king to providing the full account of the high honor of Mordecai to which the king had advanced him.
And ultimately, of course, we’ve been discovering these unspoken lessons about the unseen God, because God’s name is not even mentioned in the book, but God is at work everywhere in the book. And when we see that the king had “advanced him,” it’s true that Ahasuerus had chosen him as his prime minister, but ultimately we see that there is another king that is involved in this unfolding story—namely, he who is the King of all kings.
And he has been advanced to a position of honor, second only to the king. It’s a dramatic change in the circumstances of this little man, isn’t it? I say “little man”; I don’t know if he was little, but I’ve got him in my mind as little. Verse 5 of chapter 2: “Now there was a Jew in Susa the citadel whose name was Mordecai.” It’s a kind of inauspicious kind of introduction, isn’t it? “And there was a Jew in Susa whose name was Mordecai.” It doesn’t seem like much. It wasn’t really very much. His family background was such that they had been snatched away and taken into captivity. That was his heritage: one generation, and another generation, and here he was, an alien in a strange land, caring for his cousin Esther, who was gonna provide a crucial role in the story of God’s purposes. And yet he sat at the gate. He didn’t have access to the palace or to the king. Now look at him! And he was advanced—advanced to become “second in rank to King Ahasuerus.”
This is amazing when we rehearse the story, because, remember, at the beginning of chapter 3, in contrast to little Mordecai who sits at the gate, Haman had been advanced by the king. He was put in the position of extreme usefulness, in contrast to the fact that Mordecai, who wouldn’t bow to him, found himself relatively in obscurity. But now, as the story ends, where’s Haman now? Now he is hanged in judgment. He has been buried in disgrace. He remains for us, in the story of Esther, a classic illustration of the fact that pride comes before destruction, that a haughty spirit leads to this kind of dissolution. And he is long gone, but Mordecai is now in the position that he thought was justifiably his own, second in rank to King Ahasuerus.
And this fact, we’re told, is recorded in “the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia.” It’s an interesting little sidebar, isn’t it? Because after all, we don’t have the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia. I mean, you can’t go to the national library and say, “I’d like to take out the Chronicles of the kings of Media and Persia.” Nobody has it. Maybe one day it will be discovered. Fragments of it could still be discovered. Archeologists are always at work. But for now, we don’t have it. So why is it mentioned?
Well, we know the book has been mentioned, because this is the book that they read from on the night the king couldn’t sleep, which proved to be such a strategic reading from a book. And the point is fairly straightforward. “This biblical record,” says the narrator, says the author, “may be confirmed if you read the secular record, which is in the Chronicles of the Medes and the Persians.” So in other words, he says, “If you want to go and check whether what I’m telling you is accurate, then just read the secular record.” He wouldn’t reference the secular record if when they went to the secular record, it undermined what he had just told them in the story—unless he was stupid, which he isn’t. In a not dissimilar way, when we read the New Testament and the story of Jesus and his resurrection and the events of Pentecost and what follows from it, we’re able to say to our friends and neighbors, “Go read the books of Josephus, go read the Roman and the Jewish historians, and there you will find confirmation of what is recorded for us in the New Testament.”
Now, we daren’t ask them to go and do that unless when they go and do that they discover that both the Roman and the Jewish historians confirm the fact that Jesus of Nazareth was crucified at the time that Pilate was the governor, Pontius Pilate; that they confirm the fact that his disciples gathered together on the first day of the week and sang hymns to him as God and followed him and declared him to be the Messiah. Keep that in mind when your friends are pushing you back and saying, “You crazy people. You just read that Bible, and you’ve got that stuff in the Bible, and you make parts up, and you twist things around, and so on.” Say, “No, we’re not doing that at all. And if you would like just to check, you can look and see whether what is affirmed in the New Testament is confirmed in secular history.” Now, is it challenged? Of course it is challenged. But nevertheless, the confirmation is there by the honest who are not substantiating a claim. They are simply recording history.
If we had time as well, we might ponder what it means to write things down, why it matters to keep good minutes, why a history is a crucial piece of life. I’m not so sure that we understand the implications of what we’re doing right now with all these emails and things. You could argue, “Well, we’re creating an amazing history on my phone with iOS 7” or whatever else it is now. “I have a thread. It’s a thread, and I follow the thread.” I understand that. It’s jolly good. But I can’t imagine me still with the same miserable cell phone when I’m 112 years old, you know, trying to thread my way back to you know, the third of November 2013. And when you’re in meetings, isn’t it still true, in the age of advanced communication, is it not still true that you’re sitting in the meeting, and as the meeting unfolds, somebody immediately says, “Is anyone writing this down?” Why? Well, we’d better know what we said, why we said it, when we said it, because it has implications. History matters. History matters.
There’s a whole generation growing up that they don’t know what happened before the Berlin Wall came down. They don’t even know there was a Berlin Wall—unless someone tells them. And they better have written it down. ’Cause it was a pivotal event in the twentieth century, in the story of the demise of atheistic communism and the rise of freedom for countless millions of people. But they don’t know unless they’re told. Here’s a passing thought, but write a journal. Write things down for your children and for your grandchildren. Write down where you were born. Write down where you went to school. Write down when you got your first bicycle. Write down when you first had a kiss. Write it down so they can read it. Otherwise they will have no record of you. For, after all, you’re here for a moment, and you’re gone—and so am I.
The king was in his counting house. The queen wasn’t mentioned. Mordecai was honored. You say, “Well, of course he was honored.” No, there’s no “of course” in it. Why was he honored? Do you think he was honored because he was speaking out of both sides of his mouth? Do you think he was honored because he was seeking to curry favor with King Ahasuerus? No, he clearly wasn’t. The reason that he was honored is presumably because of his absolute integrity and his moral consistency. He was so clearly a Jew and lived as a Jew. He wasn’t a Persian. He honored another god. He lived in a different way. He kept different traditions. He was an absolute obvious standout from the Persian community, and yet he was the one that was eventually chosen to fulfill this position.
It’s not dissimilar to the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis, or to the story of Daniel. Again, these men came to positions of significant influence not on account of their ability to be political animals but on account of their willingness just to tell the truth. I quoted Churchill, so that gives me liberty to quote Margaret Thatcher. Says Thatcher, “If you just set out to be liked…” “If you just set out to be liked, you would be prepared to compromise on anything at any time, and you would achieve nothing.” If you just set out to be liked—“I have to be liked; well then, I’m gonna have to compromise here and compromise there”—and you’ll have achieved nothing. Mordecai didn’t set out to be liked. He set out to do what God had put him in the place to do. He set out to influence his cousin so that she might understand that she came to the kingdom for such a time as this, so that they might go against the absolute run of play. And as a result, he ends up in such a unique position.
In fact, you will see that the position that he fills, as second in position to the king himself, is both a dangerous position and an honorable position—dangerous insofar as it brings the threat of self-aggrandizement, honorable in that fulfilling the role of second fiddle is not an easy position to fill. It’s very possible for us to begin to undermine the person that we are reporting to, serving with, to use it as an opportunity to advance our own cause, to make more of ourselves, to decide that “really and truly, I ought to be the king. I mean, he made me the prime minister, but I should be the king.” And if you think that way, then you will never be a good prime minister. The only way to be a good prime minister is to fulfill the calling that is entrusted to you.
He played the position of second fiddle. I guess it’s a hard place to play in the orchestra. Frankly, any place would be a hard place to play in the orchestra for me. But if you want to have the principal seat, to play the second fiddle, it’s got to be a tough road—especially if you spend your entire orchestral career playing in the second chair. Not everybody can do it. And he did it fantastically well. We have wonderful illustrations of that right here at Parkside.
So, his position was not one that incurred the wrath or the jealousy of his friends, but it was a position of popularity as well. You will see that’s the very word that is there in the text: “He was great among the Jews and popular with the multitude of his brothers.” “Popular with the multitude of his brothers.” Have you noticed that people in your office become very unpopular when they just move up two floors? It was fine when she was on the sixth floor, when she had the same kind of desk as you, but then she got moved to the ninth floor. “And she’s changed.” Oh, she has? Do you think maybe you’re just jealous that you’re still on the sixth and she went to the ninth? No, to be put in such a position of significant influence and to remain popular with your peers is a unique thing. It doesn’t happen all the time.
And Mordecai is both in position and popular and, thirdly, seeking the prosperity of his people. That’s the significance of the phrase “he sought the welfare of his people.” That’s what he was concerned about, and they knew that’s what he was concerned about. He was concerned about them. He didn’t say, “Well, now that I get to ride in a Daimler with two flags on the front, now that I get to get a cavalcade, as it were, through Susa…” If you’ve been in Washington, DC, and every so often you see somebody coming flying by, you’ve got to assume, “It must be the president of the United States.” But no, it could be just about anybody now. But Mordecai, he’d go flying through with a two-flag chariot. Very easy for him then to be regarded as somebody who is isolated from the people, no longer interested in the people. But not Mordecai.
His position left him popular, left him concerned for their prosperity, and left him in a position where he “spoke peace to all his people.” I think this means that he encouraged them to be what they needed to be, even as he was. Because, you see, “Mordecai’s lasting legacy,” as Reid puts it, “is that he combined service to the king with service to his people.” And he did so “without compromising” on either front. “He serves both” king and people, “speaks up for both, desiring for both their good and their peace.”
So, there you have it. That’s his epitaph. We’re done. “He sought the welfare of his people,” and he “spoke peace to all.”
So, the king was in his counting house. The queen wasn’t mentioned. Mordecai was honored. And the people were relieved. The people were relieved. We saw that last time in chapter 9. They had been under threat of annihilation, and they’d now found rest. They were now at peace. They were now enjoying this amazing deliverance that had taken place.
So, having been delivered from the threat of annihilation, they now gonna have to learn how to live delivered. In the same way that—since we’ve got a post–Second World War metaphor going now—in the same way that after the liberation, after the armistice, on the eleventh hour of the eleventh day of the eleventh month, then the people had said, “Okay, now we’re delivered. What do we do now? Because we have lived under threat of annihilation for all of this time. Someone has interceded on our behalf. We’ve been set free, but now we’re gonna have to figure out, how do you live with the peace? We know how to live with the war, but I don’t know if we know how to live with the peace.”
So, is that the end of the story? Well, it is really, isn’t it? Unless we remind ourselves of what we’ve always said: the importance of reading the Bible backwards. Because, remember, Paul tells the Romans when he writes to them that everything that was written in the past, all these Old Testament stories, were written in order that “through endurance” and “the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope”—in other words, that we might have that which pushes us forward into an understanding of that which is not only recorded for us here but that to which this record then in turn points. And so, what does this point to? Well, it’s the story of a great deliverance. Yeah, there was a deliverance, but the evil empire was only vanquished for a moment or two. The people of God were then to be under threat that would come again and again and again in waves. They were to live their entire lives longing somehow or another for a deliverance that would be the great deliverance.
Now, let me summarize this for you. And you needn’t follow along in terms of turning it up, so that we can get through it quickly. But if you get this, then you will be greatly helped. In chapter 9, I pointed out to you that when Mordecai sent out the letters concerning the establishment of this celebration of Purim, that he sent the letters to those who were “near and far.” I said in passing that that was a significant little phrase. The reason I did so is because it is a recurring phrase, and it is a phrase that is used in the prophecy of Isaiah, in chapter 57, where the prophet, speaking from God, says, “‘[I speak] peace, peace, to the far and to the near,’ says the Lord, ‘and I will heal him.’” So he says, “I’m speaking peace, peace, to the far and to the near.” So the story ends: Mordecai was concerned for “the welfare of his people,” and he “spoke peace to … his people.” That was a great deliverance, but it wasn’t the ultimate deliverance.
When Peter preaches on the day of Pentecost, he says the same thing. He says, “This message concerning the risen Jesus is for you and for your children, for those of you who are near, and also it is a message for those of you who are far away.” In other words, “This is the message which is the message for the entire world. This is the message for all the nations of the world.” That’s what he’s saying. That was the lesson that Peter himself was going to have to learn as he realized just how isolated and Jewish his mentality was. He was gonna have to learn it in a dramatic way as the story of Acts unfolds.
And Paul makes it absolutely clear when he writes his letters—a lesson that Paul himself discovered, and therefore a lesson that Paul began to convey. Ephesians 2:17, Paul reminds his readers that Jesus has come, and he now is the one who has preached peace. This is what he says: “And he came”—that’s Jesus—“and preached peace to you who were far off and peace to those who were near. For through him we both have access in one Spirit to the Father. So then you are no longer strangers and aliens, but you[’re] fellow citizens with the saints and [the] members of the household of God,” and so he goes on.
Paul gets it. He says, “This message of deliverance is a message of deliverance which is foreshadowed tons of times as the drama of the Old Testament story unfolds,” dramatically in the exodus from Egypt; in a small manner in the crossing of the Jordan; here in the establishing of the feast of Purim, which two and a half thousand years later is still celebrated, as we said last week, here in the city of Cleveland. So that the people, when they celebrate the feast of Purim, might say, “But are we really delivered? We know our people were delivered. But are we really delivered?” I mean, did that deliverance prevent the Holocaust in the Second World War? No! Has that deliverance been the deliverance? No. Then they ought to say, we ought to say, “Then maybe it points to the deliverance, the great deliverance.” That’s exactly what it does. Because the deliverance here in Esther is a deliverance that is partial and is temporary. The deliverance that Jesus brings is complete and it is eternal. Mordecai is the man of the moment. Jesus is the King of the ages. Mordecai was used for a moment by God to deliver the people in that context. Jesus comes as God into time in order to grant deliverance to all who turn to him in repentance and in faith.
The passage that I read from Isaiah 57, where it says that the peace is extended to those who are near and far away, goes on to say in the next verse, “The wicked don’t know this peace.” The wicked, he says, the prophet says, are like the sea, which is always churning and throwing up mud and throwing up mire. They are unable to calm their hearts. They’re unable to deal with the refuse that is stirred up—the refuse that is stirred up in the terminal 3 at LAX two days ago; the refuse of the wicked; the evil of people’s hearts; the “taste this, inject this, enjoy this, it will make your life fabulous!”; the churning of the wickedness as men and women long for deliverance. Who can set us free?
Well, who is it that is able to calm the wickedness of the human heart? Who is it that is able to grant peace? Only Jesus. Only Jesus. When he calmed the sea, the disciples said, “What manner of man is this, that even the winds and the [waves] obey him!” It was only a metaphor for the fact that he alone is able to calm the troubled hearts. Because this is how Paul puts it in Colossians 1: in Jesus “all the fullness of God was pleased to dwell, and through him to reconcile to himself all [those], whether on earth or in heaven”—here’s the phrase—“making peace by the blood of [the] cross.”
You see, the basis of the reign of Jesus, the establishing of the peace of Jesus, is in the blood shed upon the cross. That’s why, as we anticipate Christmas, we’re going to say again, “And his name [will] be called Wonderful, Counsellor, The mighty God, The everlasting Father, [and] The Prince of Peace.” Peace.
Here we are, 2013. I’ve lived sixty-one years of my life. I lived through at least one peace movement if not two. I remember when Paul Simon, in his Paul Simon songbooks, you know, picked up the song,
Last night I [dreamed] the strangest dream
I ever dreamed before.
I dreamed the world had all agreed
To put an end to war.
I dreamed I saw a mighty room,
And the room was filled with men,
And the papers they were signing said
They’d never fight again.
And when the papers all were signed
And a million copies made,
They all joined hands and bowed their heads,
And grateful prayers were prayed.
And the people in the streets below
Were dancing round and round,
And guns and swords and uniforms
Were scattered on the ground.
What a forlorn, understandable longing in the heart of the child of the ’60s! Of course we long for this. Jesus said, “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called [the] children of God.” But first the peace has to come to the storm-tossed heart of an individual life.
Does Christ reign over your storm-tossed heart? Has he established his reign over your sexuality, over your business practices, over your life, over your home, over your singleness, over your marriage? Have you ever said to him, “Lord, I need a great deliverance. I need to be delivered from myself, from my selfish propensities, from my wandering heart,” whatever it may be.
You see, that’s why Esther is ultimately in the Bible: to record such a significant deliverance that God has done. The unspoken, unseen God delivers in order that we might then follow through and say, “Hear! This unspoken, unseen God has stepped down into time, making peace by his blood shed on the cross.” And what we’re supposed to understand is that a day is coming that is foreshadowed in the book of Esther, a day of deliverance, when all that has been accomplished by Jesus for those who turn to him will be seen to be true.
Can I encourage you to be diligent in thinking these things out, those of you who profess to believe—to be imaginative, to be creative, to be bold, to be unashamed? You don’t know all the answers to the questions. I don’t know them either. You don’t need to know all the answers to the questions. You just need to read the newspaper. You just need to engage your friends. You just need to ask them, “Hey, how’s it going, you know? Would you say that your life is filled with peace? Do you have a sense of forgiveness? Do you?”
I quoted Paul Simon. I bought another album by Simon the other day. I don’t know why I need another Paul Simon album. It’s like a disease, buying Paul Simon albums. But having bought it, I had to play it. And then I was playing “America” in my car, you know:
“Let us be lovers, we’ll marry our fortunes together.
I’ve got some real estate here in my bag.”
and so on. But remember the lines:
“Kathy, I’m lost,” I said, though I knew she was sleeping.
“I’m empty and aching and I don’t know why.”
Counting the cars on the New Jersey Turnpike.
Now, the gospel is not just for those who discover themselves to be “empty and aching.” The gospel is for those who say, “I’m not empty, and I’m not aching.” The gospel is for those who are prepared to face up to the scrutiny of the Bible that says, “You may not believe yourselves to be empty, but the Bible actually says that unless you have the solid joys and the lasting treasure about which we were speaking, you are actually empty. Unless you have that which gives to you not only peace and forgiveness and security and time but the prospect of all that awaits you, then you need to consider these things.”
We’re going to sing a song in conclusion. And I offer to you help in any way: a chance to think these things out, to take a copy of John’s Gospel which is available for you, to meet with anyone. But it struck me as we were singing the hymn “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” that of all the hymns that might have been sung at Waverley Station in Edinburgh when Eric Liddell left Scotland for China to teach in a missionary school, to teach mathematics in a missionary school, having won Olympic gold in the 1924 Olympics in Paris, of all the hymns that he might have decided he wanted to sing, and he pulled down the window of the train and led the people—not just his church family but everybody that had come there, ’cause he was the Michael Jordan of that period of athletic fame—and he led them in the singing of the hymn:
Jesus shall reign where’er the sun
Doth his successive journeys run,
His kingdom stretch from shore to shore,
Till moons shall wax and wane no more.
And he stood there in the train, and he sang,
People and realms of every tongue
Dwell on his [word] with sweetest song.
And I wonder what reverberated in his heart as he sang,
And infant voices shall proclaim
Their early blessings on his name.
And he invests his life for this cause, among schoolchildren.
And in a way that seems just so all wrong, he contracts a brain tumor and dies as a young man in relative obscurity in a mission school in mainland China. He was here for just a moment, doing what he did, because he understood that God is forever. And that’s why the moment of your life and mine has significance: because it fits with the unfolding drama of God’s purpose for you.
Let us learn from Mordecai to be like Mordecai. Don’t sit on your hands and pronounce peace. Do something. Do something. How ’bout that? Do something.
Father, thank you for the Bible. Thank you that when Daniel looked ahead, he saw “one like [unto] a son of man,” whose glory was beyond the ability to frame, the dominion extended to the ends of the earth. When John, on the island of Patmos, looked forward, he caught a glimpse of the day when “the kingdoms of this world” would “become the kingdoms of our [God], and of his Christ,” and that he would “reign for ever and ever.”
It’s so hard for us to wrap our heads around these things. We are such creatures of time. We’re all so concerned about the moment, and understandably so. But help us, Lord, to view all of our moments in light of eternity, so that although things may not be as brilliant as we had hoped them to be at this point in time, nevertheless, we believe ourselves to be under your fatherly care and loving jurisdiction, and we can trust you. To this end we seek you. In Jesus’ name. Amen.
 The New City Catechism, Q. 2.
 Romans 13:5–7 (ESV).
 See Proverbs 16:18.
 Debra Reid, Esther, Tyndale Old Testament Commentaries (Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 2008).
 Romans 15:4 (ESV).
 Esther 9:20 (ESV).
 Isaiah 57:19 (ESV).
 Acts 2:39 (paraphrased).
 See Isaiah 57:20–21.
 Matthew 8:27 (KJV). See also Mark 4:41; Luke 8:25.
 Colossians 1:19–20 (ESV).
 Isaiah 9:6 (KJV).
 Ed McCurdy, “Last Night I Had the Strangest Dream” (1950).
 Matthew 5:9 (NIV).
 Paul Simon, “America” (1968).
 Isaac Watts, “Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun” (1719).
 Daniel 7:13 (ESV).
 Revelation 11:15 (KJV).
Copyright © 2023, Alistair Begg. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
Unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations for sermons preached on or after November 6, 2011 are taken from The ESV® Bible (The Holy Bible, English Standard Version®), copyright © 2001 by Crossway, a publishing ministry of Good News Publishers. Used by permission. All rights reserved.
For sermons preached before November 6, 2011, unless otherwise indicated, all Scripture quotations are taken from The Holy Bible, New International Version® (NIV®), copyright © 1973 1978 1984 by Biblica, Inc.TM Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.