October 4, 2013
When placed in a potentially life-threatening predicament, Esther responded with determined obedience to God. Just as God placed Esther in a unique position for a unique purpose, He has done the same for every Christian. Alistair Begg challenges us to consider whether every circumstance of our lives, both good and bad, may have been fashioned by God to place us where we are “for such a time as this.”
Sermon Transcript: Print
“And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, ‘Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father’s house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?’ Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, ‘Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold a fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.’ Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him.”
Thanks be to God for his Word.
Now, let’s just be honest. How many of you have read Esther since Wednesday? It’s dark in here, so you can, you know… A few. All right. Good. I admire those who have put up their hands, and equally those who said, “No, I’m not reading Esther just ’cause you said to read Esther. If you knew how much I have to read, you knew I wouldn’t be paying attention to you.” So, that’s all right. I like honesty. So let’s honestly acknowledge before God our need of him in a brief prayer:
Father, what we know not, teach us. What we have not, give us. What we are not, make us. For your Son’s sake. Amen.
Now, this statement at the end of chapter 4, made by Mordecai, is—says Duguid, another Scotsman—it is “everywhere grounded in the reality and necessity of God’s intervention.” It is, as we said on Wednesday morning, one of these God-shaped holes in the narrative that points us to the unseen God. And you will have noticed that Mordecai is very, very straightforward in speaking to his cousin. If I can summarize his statement, it is as follows: “Esther, you need to know, number one, that the palace provides for you no ultimate security”—any more than this gymnasium will, either, for you. But that’s by the way. “The palace provides no ultimate security. Secondly, relief and deliverance is certain, whether you step up or whether you don’t.” In other words, the purposes of God are much greater than the obedience or the disobedience of one person. And thirdly, and classically, “Who knows but this is your destiny? Who knows but whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” In other words, “Who knows but that everything that has happened up until this point in your life has been leading you to this moment?”
Now, I think we should be reassured and encouraged by the fact that the question is posed in that way. He doesn’t say, “And God has told me that this is your destiny,” the way some of us are tempted to do. I’m growing old listening to people tell me about what God has told them. It’s quite remarkable; he hasn’t ever told me anything along those lines at all. “What more can he say than to you he has said?” But anyway, Mordecai doesn’t have a word from God; he has a question. He has a question about Esther’s life: “Who knows?” Because, you see, we can’t know these things in advance. That’s why the question is posed as it is.
If you take any story of providence in the Bible—classically, perhaps, Joseph—you find that the same thing is there. If we had asked Joseph what was going on when he stood stripped naked, being sold as a slave, to be purchased into the house of Potiphar, he would have said, “That’s a good question, because I don’t know what’s going on. One minute my dad gives me a new coat; the next minute my brothers hate me, then I’m down in a pit, then I’m hauled out of the pit, then I’m sent off with the Ishmaelites, or these slave people. Then now look at me! What is happening to me at all?” He doesn’t know what’s going on. It’s only afterwards, when his brothers finally come, and they have that great denouement, and that great revelation, he says, “Hey, listen. You intended this for evil, but God intended it for good, looking back.”
The dilemma that faces Esther is a real dilemma. She either sits tight in the palace and hopes for the best, or she steps up and does what Mordecai’s asking her to do: to go into the king unbidden and face the prospect of dying for the sake of her people. It’s a big moment in the development of the story. We can’t finish the whole story, so there’s still time for some of you to read it before you die—at least, I hope so.
She has been passive up until this point. She’s the beauty queen. She’s the king’s plaything. Her true identity has actually been concealed. The king doesn’t know that he’s married to a Jewess. We’re not talking about for three weeks, here, or four months, or two terms, but for four and a half or five years she has lived in the shadowlands between her true identity and what she expresses before the king. She has had no burning bush encounter, no miraculous sign, no voice from heaven. All she has to go on is a question posed by her cousin, who’s a wee bit older than her, living as her adopted dad. She now has to decide whether her confidence really lies in the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, whether her allegiance is to this God, whether her companionship is with her people. Essentially, she’s brought to the question: “Choose you this day whom [you] will serve.”
And she makes the decision. The dilemma’s a real one, and the decision is well made. She moves very quickly from passive to active. As you allow your eyes to scan it later on, you will see that she decides that she is committed to her people, she is connected with them and with the others who share in the fast, and she is consecrated to the will of God. She would have been happy with a number of our songs—probably all of them this morning. She would have sung of the faithfulness of God that found her in that place. She would have said, “Do what you want, now, with my life, O God of my fathers.” And she recognizes that it is not necessary for her to live, but it is necessary for her to do her duty. That’s why she says what she says: “If I perish, I perish.” This is not fatalism. She’s placing her hands in God. She lifts up her eyes to the hills, as it were, with the psalmist, and she says,
Where does my help come from?
My help comes from the Lord,
the Maker of heaven and earth.
“So I will go and do what I must do. I have to break this law because there is a higher law. There is a demand that is placed upon me.” And she determines it’s better to die being obedient than to live in disobedience.
You see, God had put her in a unique position for a unique purpose. And he has done the same for you.
I’ve had this verse in my mind ever since I knew it was the Homecoming, and ever since I knew there would be ancient people like me here. Not just you youngsters, who—the longer I come here, they’re letting people in much younger now to this place than they did even ten or fifteen years ago. Fifteen years ago, people were, like, eighteen, nineteen, twenty. Now they’re twelve, thirteen, fourteen. I don’t know what’s going on. It can’t possibly be me, that my eyes are dimming, or anything like that. But no, I thought there’d be some older people here who, perhaps at the mid stage in their life, or in the final decade of their life, or wherever they are, might be saying, “Well, what am I going to do now?”
And I want to say to you, “Who knows but that you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Who knows but every single event in your life has not led you just to this very moment, for the very plan and purpose that God has for you?” Whether you’re 15, 19, or 59, or 109, the same is true. We don’t have the drama that she had. But we have to live in the place of God’s appointing, the place that he has prepared for us. Because although we have been saved by grace, through faith, and that not of ourselves, not of works, that any of us should boast, we know that the tenth verse, then, says that we have been saved in order that we might do good works which God has foreordained for us to do.
And what this story is making absolutely clear, in contrast to so much of our surrounding culture—as we said by way of introduction last time—is that history matters, that life has meaning, that you are not just another brick in any old wall, that you are, in Christ, “being built [into] a spiritual house.” And this story set in the fifth century, in Persia, causes us to ask, as we said on Wednesday, “What is going on in what’s going on?” And it’s helping us to see that at the intersection between life and faith, back there and then, we are enabled to live at the intersection of life and faith in the here and now. Helping us to understand that our little histories—yes, our little histories, with all their twists and their turns, with their disappointments and their failures, with their advances and their declines, with our compromises, with our delights, with our disappointments, with our disasters—God’s saving, keeping activity is not in doubt. This, my dear friends, is a Christian perspective. And it stands in direct contrast to much that is before us all day, every day—to the questions and the conclusions of our age.
Some of you who are perceptive—which narrows the group considerably—will have noticed, as I did, and tore it out… Incidentally, if I can say to you, all prospective young pastors: make sure that you start at an early age to have a filing system and file it very, very well so that you won’t spend hours of your life trying to find that thing that you read in that book that was somewhere, that your cousin gave you before you left for your trip to Europe. But anyway, just get a filing system!
And in my filing system… It is quite recent. This is from the first of August this year. It was a piece by Henry Allen, who’s a celebrated journalist and columnist and a critic of culture. It was called “The Disquiet of Ziggy Zeitgeist.” “The Disquiet of Ziggy Zeitgeist.” And it began—and this is why I tore it out—it began with the statement, “For the first time in my 72 years, I have no idea what’s going on.” “For the first time in my 72 years, I have no idea what’s going on.” He says, “I used to be Ziggy Zeitgeist, Harry Hip. I like to think I was especially good on the feeling-tone of the world around me.” Then he goes on at considerable length. Here’s just a couple of his quotes. He says, here’s where we are:
We have individualism but we have no privacy. We are all outsiders with no inside to be outside of. … No arc, no through-line, no destiny. As the British [soldiers] sang in the trenches of World War I, to the tune of “Auld Lang Syne,” “We’re here because we’re here because we’re here because we’re here.”
I don’t know what’s going on. I doubt that anyone does. … Will organized religion die? I got talking to a girl from an Episcopal youth group in Missouri. “Episcopalianism is great,” she said. “You don’t have to believe in anything.”
Like most people I used to think the world would go on that way it was going on, with better medicine … the arrival of an occasional iPad or an earthquake. That was when I knew what was going on.
I worry [now] that reality itself is fading like the Cheshire cat, leaving behind only a smile that grows ever more alarming.
What a strange time it is to be alive in America. It can’t stay this way, can it? Or can it?
What’s going on in what’s going on? “What’s going on in your life, Esther? You listening to your cousin?” “Who knows but that you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”
I tried to turn around and look at you as you sang these songs this morning. I want to see you. I want to have this picture in my mind. I want to think about the immense potential that is represented in this gymnasium, on this particular day, in this particular year. I want to think about what it means for lives to say, “Take my ransomed soul and do with it what you want.” I want to conjure that up. I want to grab hold of it. I want to thank God for giving me the tiniest part in it at all. For I was once where you are. But I’m old now. I’ve got less in front of me than I have behind me. You’ve got more in front of you than behind you, God willing. What are you going to do with the rest of your life? “Who knows but everything, everything—the good, the bad, the ugly, the stupid stuff, the failures—all of that, God has woven into his plans so that you would be here for such a time as this.”
Well, I want to leave you to pursue the story on your own. But I want to finish with a PS. Postscript.
The kicker in this whole thing, of course, was the decree which we noted on Wednesday—the decree that had been issued for the annihilation of the entire Jewish population. One of the things you must do when you read your Bible, especially in the Old Testament—in fact, when you read the Bible all the time. You don’t read the Bible to ask the question, “Where am I in the story?” That would be terribly me-oriented, wouldn’t it? Plus, you’re not in the story. But you want to ask—in fact, if you’re in the story of Esther, do come and see me afterwards; we’re gonna have a talk. You want to always be asking the question, “Where is Jesus in this whole thing?”
Now, here’s my PS. A solemn decree was issued there, which points us to a decree that God has issued: “The soul that sins will die.” That decree created a dilemma, and the dilemma is ours. By nature, we’ve broken God’s law. We cannot climb up to God by keeping his law. If we are not forgiven in this life, we will be lost forever. The problem is not, as our culture says, outside of us, with the answer being found inside of us. But the problem is inside of us, with the answer being found outside of us, in the work of Christ.
The decision that Esther had to make is a decision that we need to make. Some of us have actually become masterful at playing the Esther card. We live in the shadowlands of our own little world. I understand this. I did it for a time in my own life, like Boy George’s “Karma, karma, karma, karma, karma chameleon,” from all those years ago. He’s gotta be about a hundred years old himself by now. But anyway…
And maybe God is saying to you, just in these couple of days, he’s saying, “You know, it’s about time for you to come out of the shadowlands.” It’s about time for you to really get clean and clear, not just when you’re in the chapel service but when you’re out and about, when you are moving into the realm of the scientific world, or moving in the realm of the arts, or whatever place God has put you. And you gotta come forward and acknowledge that it’s not possible for you to saunter into the King’s presence. She couldn’t saunter into the king’s presence. Remember, she may have got her head chopped off. You have to go to chapter 5 to find out what’s going on.
It’s a reminder, isn’t it, of Mr. and Mrs. Beaver, when they tell the children that they’re going to see the king:
“Is he—quite safe? I shall feel rather nervous about meeting a lion.”
“That you will, dearie, and [make] no mistake … if there’s anyone who can appear before Aslan without their knees knocking, they’re either braver than most or else just silly.”
“Then he isn’t safe?” said Lucy.
“Safe?” said [Mrs.] Beaver; “… Who said anything about safe? ’Course he isn’t safe. But he’s good. He’s the King, I tell you.”
Not a king like Ahasuerus. But this King wore a crown of thorns. This King laid down his life. This King bore our punishment so that we might know his forgiveness. This King is risen and intercedes for us before the Father, so that we might know for a surety that our only comfort in life and in death is that I am not my own, but belong body and soul, in life and in death, to God and to my Savior Jesus Christ. And when that matter is settled in your heart of hearts and you arise to a new day, you take Esther chapter 4 and says, “Who knows but I have not come to the kingdom for such a day as this?”
I wish I could live long enough to see how you all turn out. But I guess maybe I can see you in a better place—the place about which we have been singing and to which we will all move.
I thank you for your attention. Let me pray for you:
God our Father, for your Word this day we give you our humble thanks. And for this student body, Lord, I humbly pray that you will accomplish your plans and purposes in them and through them. Help them, help me, to say with C. T. Studd of old, “If Jesus Christ be God and died for me, then no sacrifice that I could ever make for him could ever be too great.” Help us to understand that ultimately it is not our duty to live, but it is our duty to obey you and to live to the praise of your glory. So be with this alumni group as well, and bless these days to them. May they be an encouragement as they themselves are encouraged.
And may the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God our Father, and the fellowship of the Holy Spirit rest upon and remain with each one, today and forevermore. Amen.
 Iain M. Duguid, Esther and Ruth, Reformed Expository Commentary (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 49–50.
 “How Firm a Foundation” (1787).
 Genesis 50:20 (paraphrased).
 Joshua 24:15 (KJV).
 Psalm 121:1–2 (NIV).
 See Ephesians 2:8–10.
 1 Peter 2:5 (ESV).
 Henry Allen, “The Disquiet of Ziggy Zeitgeist,’ Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324110404578626314130514522.
 Ezekiel 18:20 (paraphrased).
 Boy George, “Karma Chameleon” (1983).
 C. S. Lewis,The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe (1950), chap. 8.
 Heidelberg Catechism, Q. 1.
 Quoted in Norman Grubb, C. T. Studd: Athlete and Pioneer (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan, 1946), 129. Paraphrased.
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.