What’s Going On?
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What’s Going On?

Esther 4:12–17  (ID: 2972)

The Jews of Susa had a decree of death hanging over them—and Esther faced a dilemma. Her uncle Mordecai proposed that Esther risk her life by approaching the king, revealing her identity, and petitioning for the lives of the Jews. Alistair Begg reminds us that obeying God is of more value than preserving our own lives. Like Esther, Christians must submit ourselves to the hand of providence, serving God in the unique positions He has given us.

Series Containing This Sermon

A Study in Esther

The Unseen God Esther 1:1–10:3 Series ID: 11703

Sermon Transcript: Print

I invite you to turn with me to the Old Testament, to the book of Esther, to chapter 4, and we’ll read from verse 12:

“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.

Father, illumine the page to us by the Holy Spirit, we pray, so that our study may not simply instruct our minds but stir our hearts, challenge our wills, and change our lives. Only the Holy Spirit can do this. To him we look. In Christ’s name we pray. Amen.

Paul writes to the Romans in chapter 15, and he tells them, “Whatever was written in former days was written for our instruction, that through endurance and … the encouragement of the Scriptures we might have hope.”[1] It would be fairly understandable if someone were to say, “I haven’t really been interested in church very much. I haven’t come around much. But I don’t know why it is that we would spend time studying an ancient book. Isn’t there something that is far more up to date, more readable, more applicable? Why would you actually do this?” Well, the answer is there in Romans 15:4.

When we read the Old Testament, Genesis through Malachi, we have the record which God has provided for us as a means of both instruction and of encouragement. And that is our perspective in our study of the Bible. We believe that God has given to us the Bible, that he has orchestrated its beginning and its ending, he has preserved it through all the years, and that when the Bible is truly taught, then that the voice of God is truly heard. Without that conviction, it seems a strange exercise to study the Bible even at all. Then it would be a matter of literature or whatever it might be. But that is not our view. The view that is given to us from the Bible itself is that we might expect to hear from God.

In the book of Esther, the name of God is never mentioned. But God is everywhere in this book where he appears in part to be nowhere.

Now, for some of us, we’ve been in class for a few months in Esther. And I’m not going to weary you by rehearsing everything so that those who are new members of class are able to catch up. Let me suggest that if you have recently come around and are interested in where we’ve been in arriving at 4:12, that the website will afford you all the information you require, that the podcasts are available to you, and you’ll benefit from them, I hope.

But it is safe to say that together we’ve been discovering that this story, set in Persia in the fifth century before Jesus, has been helping us to understand who God is and how God is at work in his world. In this particular book, the name of God is never mentioned. We’ve been intrigued by that, and we’ve also been discovering that although his name is never mentioned, that it becomes increasingly clear to us that God is everywhere in this book where he appears in part to be nowhere. We’ve been discovering that, as we learned in the answer to the second question of our catechism all these weeks ago, “Nothing happens except through him and by his will,”[2] and indeed that “the God-shaped holes in the narrative,” a phrase we borrowed from Alec Motyer, when we were last together, “the God-shaped holes in the narrative”—in other words, the places where you would expect the name of God will appear, it doesn’t appear; and it doesn’t appear purposefully, so that the very fact of its absence may intrigue us and lead us on and may cause us in reading the story to ask, “What’s going on in what’s going on?” For we have the record of what’s going on. But what is going on in what is going on?

The Decree

Now, three words this morning to help us navigate. The first word is decree. The decree. The decree that is contrived in chapter 3. We need to go back a little to go forward, but I trust not in an unhelpful way.

Some of you will be familiar with Simon Winchester’s wonderful book—actually, wonderful books, but the one I have in mind is the one that he wrote in the description of the creation of the Oxford English Dictionary, and it is called The Professor and the Madman. If you haven’t read it, I commend it to you; it’s a terrific read. And I was thinking about it this week, because as I thought about chapter 3, I said, “This is not The Professor and the Madman. This is the story of ‘The King and the Bad Man.’” And Haman is the bad man. He has a supersized ego, and he cannot handle the fact, we’re told, that Mordecai the Jew chose not to bow down to him or to pay homage to him.

As we studied, we realized that there were all kinds of family and religious background pieces to that, which, again, we won’t take time to review. Nevertheless, Mordecai raised the wrath of this man Haman, so much so that his reaction was one that we might refer to as being of satanic proportions. I mean, it would be one thing if he was annoyed that this particular Jewish fellow did not doff his hat at him when he saw him in the morning, so much so that he would make life hard for him. But he actually goes way beyond that: he plans the annihilation of the entire Jewish community. And he goes to the king, and he inveigles a way for Ahasuerus to write a decree to that end, so that on a particular day this pogrom, this holocaust, will take place. And from this point on, to quote Barry McGuire, the nation of Israel, the Jewish population, finds itself on “the eve of destruction.”[3] Chapter 3 ends with the king and the bad man sharing a drink. If you were making a movie of this, you would find them either in a hotel bar or somewhere like that, or perhaps just in a very nice part of the palace, and as they yuck it up together in relationship to what’s going on, the city of Susa is thrown into confusion.

Now, it is out of that that Mordecai, who is the cousin—the older cousin and kind of the father figure to the queen, Esther—that Mordecai, made aware of what is taking place, needs somehow or another to get that information to Esther. Because Esther is isolated from what’s going on in the street. She is physically isolated from it and probably to a great degree emotionally isolated from it. He’s not able to phone her. He can’t text her. There’s no way he could tweet her. It’s absolutely impossible for him to do any of the things that are routine today. So he does what he can do: he takes to the streets in what was surely a genuine display of his own gut-wrenching grief in response to the decree. Because, after all, if you think about it: from a human perspective, he’s responsible for it. He’s the one who didn’t bow, he’s the one who incurred the wrath of Haman, and he’s the one at whose door, if you like, this dreadful decree of destruction may legitimately be placed. So, he is in the streets in sackcloth and in ashes. He is mourning, he is weeping, he is crying aloud, and his life has a knock-on impact as others join him.

Well, the news reaches Esther. She would have people who would do her bidding and be out in the community. She wouldn’t necessarily need to be there and see it for herself. It would be reported in a kind of Upstairs, Downstairs thing, a kind of Downton Abbey—that what was going on upstairs would not necessarily be known until some of the folks from down in the kitchen let the news out. So, the news is out, and she discovers. And we’re told that she was distressed that her cousin was in this predicament, that Mordecai was doing what he was doing. That’s 4:4: “When Esther’s young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed.” Well, that’s nice she was distressed, but she was also completely oblivious to the predicament that Mordecai faced. She thought that if she just sent him a set of clothes, he would be able then to dress himself in a way that would make it easier for him to hang around the king’s gate, because you do not want to hang around the king’s gate making a fuss like that; you might not be fussing for very long. It’s a sort of superficial response. It makes it clear that she doesn’t really get what’s going on: “I sent him a new set of clothes. Maybe that’ll cheer him up! Maybe he’ll stop all that crying in the street.”

We understand that, don’t we? I’ve heard of people who go to the mall to buy themselves something to cheer themselves up: “A new set of clothes. I think I’ll go get a pair of shoes. I think I’ll go get a purse today. I think I might go buy something today.” Apparently, people use those kinds of externals in order to try and transform the internal angst of a life. It can’t be done. It wasn’t done in Mordecai’s case, that’s for sure. He couldn’t be fixed by a new set of clothes. The fact that he refuses the outfit gets back to Esther. She then realizes something else is going on. She’s alert to it. She dispatches Hathach. Hathach goes out into the community, engages Mordecai, gets the whole bill of goods. Mordecai gives him the information and sends him back to Esther. He tells him exactly what has transpired. He provides for him a copy of the decree, which is our word, and with that decree he has a command which he wants Hathach to pass on to Esther.

And in 4:8, he wants Hathach to ask Esther to go to the king, to beg his favor, and to plead with him on behalf of her people. Mordecai figures that if anybody is able to get to the king, it has to be the queen. And since he still has leverage with the queen, ’cause he’s essentially her erstwhile dad, he uses the influence that he has, conveying it by means of this man, to ask her to do something on behalf of her people. Fascinatingly, he had, from a pragmatic perspective, already suggested to her that she did not let it be known that she was part of that people. And now that is no longer going to be applicable. So, the decree.

The Dilemma

Second word also begins with d: the dilemma. The dilemma.

Now, I’ve had a dilemma with this word dilemma, because the word dilemma—of the word dilemma itself. I won’t take time on this, but if I was to take a poll, how many of you… Well, I will take a poll anyway. It’s fun. How many of you would naturally spell this word d-i-l-e-m-n-a? How many? No, no, hold up your hand, just for a moment, okay? All right! And how many of you spell it d-i-l-e-m-m-a? Hands? And how many haven’t got a clue how to spell the word dilemma? Well, that’s the dilemma. Because when I wrote it in my notes, I wrote it d-i-l-e-m-n-a, and I thought, “That’s such a funny-looking word!” And then I went in the first dictionary, and it said, “No, it’s not like that; it’s -m-m-a.” And then I went in another one, and I wasted a tremendous amount of time, like I’m doing right now. So, anyway… Anyway, I’m with the -m-n-a group. I’m in the small crazy group, so there it is. It’s in my notes. I underlined it. I figured, “I’m not changing now. You can’t teach an old dog new tricks, and I’m messed up enough with American spelling to add anything further to it.”

The dilemma. The dilemma is actually on multiple fronts. First of all, as we saw last time, she needs to make sure that Mordecai understands that it’s easy for him to ask her to do that, because if you go into the king’s presence uninvited, you could get yourself killed. And at the end of chapter 2, Bigthan and Teresh had ended up on the gallows,[4] and Esther, frankly, isn’t interested in doing the same thing. She identifies the fact that the only exception to that rule is when the king is prepared to indicate his approval if someone has intruded, and he does so by holding out the golden scepter. But she’s not hopeful on that front either, because she’s honest enough to admit that she has recently slipped down the list of the king’s desirables. The king has a number of women with whom he can spend the night. He obviously really fancied her for a while, but she hasn’t been around for over a month. So, she doesn’t really feel that she has some particular access or leverage to be able to go in there, certainly not uninvited. And that’s the way she responds.

Well, is Mordecai going to be contented with a response along those lines? Essentially, “I’m sorry there’s really nothing I can do at this point. I see that you’ve got a major problem.” She doesn’t yet see that “we have a major problem.” “I’m sorry that there’s nothing that can really be done.” Well, Mordecai’s not going to settle for that—not for a New York minute he’s not. And you will notice he comes right back at it. And he’s blunt, and he’s to the point.

It’s important also to notice that Mordecai could have said, “Oh well, at least I tried.” That’s what some of us do: one shot at it, “I tried to phone,” end of story. “I tried to call. I made my attempt. It doesn’t matter. Someone else will do it.” In the face of such evil, in the face of such injustice, one telephone call, one meager attempt to do something? Surely not! “There’s really nothing I can do. Oh well.” No.

Mordecai comes right back at it. Straight to the point. And his response is representative of the fact that, as my Scottish friend Duguid says, his response is “everywhere grounded in the reality and in [the] necessity of God’s intervention.”[5] Although the name of God is not mentioned, it is absolutely clear that the overarching notion of there being meaning in this process, of there being a historical cycle that is engaging, of the fact that there is an oughtness and a purpose to everything, speaks to the reality and the necessity of God’s intervention.

And so he confronts her with what the real dilemma is by pointing out, number one, “The palace will provide for you no ultimate place of security.” That’s verse 13: “Do not think to yourself that in the king’s palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews.” “Your father’s house and yourself, you won’t be able to run into the palace and decide that that’s your security. God will take care of that.”

Secondly, “You need to know that relief and deliverance is certain whether you step up or not.” That’s verse 14: “For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place.” In other words, the purposes of God are much greater than the obedience or the disobedience of one person. That’s an important principle. The purposes of God are much greater than the obedience or the disobedience of one person. The purpose of God was to take the people into the promised land. The people would have looked and said, “Moses is the key to the promised land. He brought us over the Red Sea.” Moses himself never went into the promised land, on account of the decisions and determinations that he made. But the purposes of God were fulfilled. You see what Mordecai is saying here? “It seems to me that you’re the person in the place for now, and I’m urging you to do something. But don’t think for a minute that God will not keep his promise to his people, to his covenant people, that runs throughout the entire Old Testament. You need to understand that.”

And then, thirdly, “Who knows whether you’ve not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” He doesn’t say, “You have come to the kingdom for such a time as this,” or “I know the will of God.” No, he says “Who knows?” And I like the fact that he says “Who knows?” and I hope you do too. Why does he say “Who knows?” Because we can’t know such things in advance. We only know them looking back. And the reason that the question is posed as it is posed is in part to teach us that lesson. It really is too bad when some of us think that by using grandiose language about the will of God and our knowledge of the purpose of God and what God has told us to do and where God has told us to go, as if somehow or another this is an exemplification of a peculiar engagement that we enjoy with God, when it might be nothing more than conjecture on our part.

If you had asked Joseph, for example, when he was stripped naked, standing in the middle of the public square, waiting for somebody to buy him, eventually purchased by Potiphar—if you had gone to him and said to him, “Hey, hey, Joseph, what’s going on in what’s going on? What is God doing in your life?” what do you think Joseph would have said? “Who knows! I never bargained for this. I got a beautiful coat from my dad, but I ain’t got no coat now.”

Or if they’d interviewed him in the prison: “What’s going on in here? How did you arrive in here? Did you do something bad?”

“No, I did something good.”

“You mean you’re in the prison because you did something good? Do you mean something bad has happened because you did something good? Like, you said, ‘No, I won’t sleep with you,’ and you got put in here because she lied about it?”[6]

“That’s right.”

“What’s going on?”

“Who knows?”

You see, it’s only at the end, through the rearview mirror, when he finally discloses to his brothers, when he’s able to look back down through the corridor of time and to say, “All the way God has led me—all of these things, the good, the bad, and the ugly, the bad choices, the wise choices. You intended this,” he says to his brothers, “for evil, but God intended it for good.”[7]

Someday, something will happen that will cause you to have to say, ‘This is who I am, and this is where I belong, and this is what I believe.’

It’s the same principle. That is what is being addressed, and that is what creates the dilemma for Esther herself. She can sit tight and hope for the best in the palace, but according to Mordecai, she’ll die, and so will her family. Or she can do what Mordecai is asking her to do, and that is go in to the king unannounced, and the chances are she’ll die for doing that. That’s a dilemma, whatever way you want to spell it.

What is happening is that she is confronted with a situation that is going to call for her to come clean about who she is, what she believes, to whom she belongs, so that she is being called, if you like, out of the shadowlands, out of the blurred shadow in which she lives between two worlds. Because she’s living in a private world where she knows she’s Jewish, she knows she’s part of the covenant family of God, but she’s living in a public world where there is no disclosure of that at all. So, privately she has an identity, publicly she has an identity, and now she’s gonna have to determine “Am I here, or am I here?”

Some of us are being confronted by that very same thing in our study of Esther. We’ve got a private little world. We believe certain things in our hearts. But there’s no one in our office knows, there’s no one in our street knows, there’s no one around us knows. Something will happen. Someday, something will happen that will cause you to have to say, “This is who I am, and this is where I belong, and this is what I believe.” “Who knows but you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

To this point she’s been passive. She’s the girl that won the beauty pageant. She’s the plaything of the king, her true identity concealed for five or six years. And now she’s gonna be flushed out, not as a result of God intervening with a burning bush, a miraculous sign, a dramatic voice from heaven, but a question from her cousin. A question from her cousin! Like a note from a friend, like a call from your mom, like an intervention by your business colleague, like someone who just says to you, “Hey!” And in that moment, we’re either staying on the fence, or we’re getting off this side of the fence or off on this side of the fence. We’re gonna come out of the shadowlands between our two worlds. That’s the dilemma. “Choose you this day whom [you] will serve.”[8] Who you gonna serve?

The Decision

The decree, the dilemma, and finally, the decision. There has to be a decision. And there is a decision.

And here in verse 15, it moves from passive to active. Now Esther is up and about and doing. Up to this point, Mordecai’s been sending the instructions. Largely, she’s been responding; she’s been in the response mode. But now she’s in the directive mode. “Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa.” “Wow! What are you going to do?” “Well, we’re going to fast for three days, and I’m going to fast with them as well, and my young women are going to fast with them too.”

In other words, we discover that she has made a decision. She’s absolutely committed. She’s committed. Maybe she had recalled the fast in Nineveh, which went for three days, for the proclaiming of the good news in that place, whatever.[9] This is not a mourning fast because of the predicament. This is a fast to say, “O God, we’re really serious about this, and we have a really serious problem, and we’re on the eve of destruction. And apparently, I have to do something, and I don’t want to just go into the king here just willy-nilly. I don’t want to stumble into his presence. I don’t want to go in on the basis of how cute I am. I don’t want to go in on the basis of who I have been. I don’t want to… I only want to go in there on the strength of who you are and what you want.” Committed.

Connected. Connection Sunday: works. Connected. It’s not a solo deal. “I’m the one going in, but you’re the ones who are fasting. I’m the one that has to go and say the thing, but I’m not going on my own. It’s not of my own strength. It’s not on my own ability. We’re going to do this together.”

“And I am not only committed and connected, but I am consecrated. I’m giving myself up to the will of God.” Notice: “If I perish, I perish.” “I’ll go to the king, though it’s against the law, because there comes a point where the law of God, the demand of God, supersedes the laws of man.” Read Acts chapter 4 just for yourselves: “Whether it’s right for us to obey you or to obey God: we’re going to obey God.”[10] “I must obey God here. Therefore, I put my life at risk.”

What does she come to? She’s come to the point where she understands. She’s made a decision: “It’s not necessary for me to live, but it is necessary for me to do my duty. I don’t have to live, but I do have to do what I have to do. And so, if I perish, I perish.” She places herself in the hands of providence. She knows the risk that’s involved. She’s prepared for the worst, she hopes for the best.

There’s a great common sensibility about it, isn’t there? There’s no sort of peculiar drama—you see her wrestling: “Well, if this, well, what if…” It runs all the way through the Bible. You get it everywhere. For example, when Jacob, remember, is on the receiving end of the return of the brothers after they’ve been to see Joseph, they tell their father that Joseph wants Benjamin to come. Jacob says, “I don’t want to lose Benjamin”—you know, “Benjamin’s my boy.” Eventually they prevail upon him. He says, finally, “Take Benjamin.”[11] Then he says, “If I am bereaved, I am bereaved.”[12]

You see, really, until we’ve got to that point in our spiritual journey, we really haven’t got to the right point of departure at all, have we? ’Cause it’s only when we can say, “You know, if I die, I die,” that we can then say, “Then let me go on living.” Because what’s the worst thing that can possibly happen to us in life? For us no longer to have any life. We could stop there, but we won’t.

She decides that it’s better to die being obedient than to live being disobedient. It’s what we sang this morning: “I’d rather spend a day opening and closing the doors of your house than spend a thousand days living in the tents of wickedness.”[13] God had put her in a unique position. “Who knows but you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?” He says, “Think about it. I mean, you won the pageant. There’s no doubt about that. But you didn’t make yourself cute. God made you cute. I mean, you didn’t put your nose on your face. You didn’t determine the color of your eyes. You didn’t determine the length of your legs. You didn’t do any of that. God did all of that. I mean, you lost your parents. You were an orphan; I took you in. You had no control over that. I looked after you. I nurtured you. I cared for you. Think about it.” And as she thinks about it, she realizes, “God has put me in a unique position for a unique purpose.” And God has put you in a unique position for a unique purpose.

Do you believe that? That there is no ideal place to serve God except the place he set you down. Where has he set you down? In such and such a road, such and such a street, such and such an office, such and such a bank, such a whatever it is! You are there by God’s appointing. How do you figure that? Question 2: “Nothing happens except through him and by his will.” You’re not outside of his will being where you are today. You are, he has you, exactly where he wants you for purposes that he has foreordained for you to do. That’s Ephesians 2:10: that there are “good works” that he has “prepared beforehand” for his people to do. So, today, he’s got stuff for you to do; tomorrow, stuff for you to do. And he’s put you where he’s put you in order that you might do that stuff.

So instead of saying, “Oh, goodness, if I could only get out of my job, if I could only get out of this place, if I could only do this or could only do that, then I would get on with the big, overarching plan of God”—no, you wouldn’t. The plan of God is doing what you’re doing. Doing what you’re doing, whatever it is you’re doing—unless what you’re doing is sinning. That’s a tremendous liberation! I’m not a queen. Neither are you. But my life matters. My little history matters. “I’m only one, but I am one. I can’t do everything, but I can do something. And what I can do, I ought to do. And what I ought to do, with God’s help, I will do.”[14]

You’re not outside of God’s will being where you are today. He has you exactly where he wants you for purposes that he has foreordained for you to do.

Charles Wesley captured it perfectly in his hymn that begins “Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue.” Here’s your song for tomorrow morning when you get up. This is going [sound of alarm buzzing], and you go, “Oh noooooo!” Right? That’s a first reaction: “Noooooo!” Then you go, “Okay.”

Forth in thy name, O Lord, I go,
My daily labor to pursue;
Thee, only thee, resolved to know
In all I think, or speak, or do.

The task thy wisdom hath assigned,
O let me cheerfully fulfill;
In all my works thy presence find
And prove thy good and perfect will.[15]

So you see, this transmutes sweeping up a floor into divine activity. “Who knows but you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?”

Two PS’s

Now, let me finish in this way—two ways, actually.

First of all, by asking you to consider how radically different this perspective is from the perspective of our surrounding culture. In other words, when we realized this morning that in the intersection of life and faith, we declare the core convictions of our lives, so that, okay, this is a big vast history involving the people of God and Esther and all those people, but I have a little history, and so do you. My little life has twists and turns. Our shared community experience here is full of disappointments and failures, and advances and declines, and cancers and compromises, and delights and divorces. And in all of that God’s saving, keeping purpose is at work, thus allowing us to put our heads on the pillow at night—because providence is a soft pillow—and allowing us to waken up in the morning to say, “Okay, forth in thy name, O Lord, I go, my daily labor to pursue.” Do you realize what an amazing—an amazing—apologetic that is in our generation?

On the first of August—it’s about a month ago now—there was an interesting piece. I wonder, did you see it? “The Disquiet of Ziggy Zeitgeist”? I shouldn’t ask that question anymore. I learned that last time. But I’ve been holding onto this, and I’m glad I did, because it absolutely, when I went back and looked for it, I said, “This is even more perfect than I realized.” I always tell young guys, “You tear stuff out, you file it, you keep it. You don’t go looking for illustrations on a Saturday night. You have all your illustrations. The living of life is your illustration. They will be there as you need them.” So I thought, “I wonder if Ziggy is a help to this.” So I went, and here’s the opening line: “For the first time in my 72 years, I have no idea what’s going on.” “Oh,” I said, “this is even better than I remembered.” ’Cause where did we start? Esther confronts us with the question “What’s going on in what’s going on?”

Henry Allen writes this piece as a journalist of some time, acknowledging the fact that the stabilizing elements of culture, the zeitgeist of life, the spirit of the age, that he has been able to mark and modulate throughout his journalism career seems to have lost all of its footings. So, for example, he makes statements like this:

We [now] have individualism but we have no privacy. We are all outsiders with no inside to be outside of.

… We’ve lost our sense of possibility. …

[There’s] no arc, no through-line, no destiny. As … 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.”

No arc, no destiny, no significance, except in the moment. Says the journalist,

I don’t know what’s going on. I doubt that anyone does. …

Like most people I used to think the world would go on the way it was going on, with better medicine … the arrival of an occasional iPad or an earthquake. [But] that was when I knew what was going on.

I worry that reality itself is fading like the Cheshire cat, leaving behind only a smile that grows ever more alarming.

What a strange time [to live] in America.[16]

This is our world, a world in which our brightest and our best put up their hands and say, “What’s going on in what’s going on?” And who knows but you have come to your office, come to your school, come to your friends for such a time as this?

That was my PS. This is my PPS: decree, dilemma, decision.

This story is about a decree. We saw that, right? The decree that would bring about the destruction of the Jews. So alarmed was Mordecai that he sought for a mediator to intervene so that what had been decreed would not be experienced. That ought to make us think. Because the King of the universe has also made a decree: “The soul who sins [will] die.”[17] Physical death combined with spiritual death means eternal death.

That’s the decree. Here’s the dilemma: we have all sinned and come short of the glory of God.[18] We have all broken God’s law. None of us can use God’s law as a mechanism to climb up into the safety of his presence. If we are not forgiven in this life, we will be lost forever. And the problem we face is not what the culture says. The culture says, “Now, don’t listen to Begg or any of those crazy preachers who tell you bad things. Don’t let them tell you those kinds of things. You know that the problem is not inside of you.” That’s what our culture said: “It’s not your problem. It’s a problem that is outside of you. And the answer to all these problems that are outside of you, you will be able to answer if you look inside you.”

The Bible says, “No, the problem is actually inside you. And the only answer to what’s going on inside you is if you look outside you.” To where? To the cross of Jesus Christ, where a King—unlike Ahasuerus, who set himself apart from his people—a King who entered into our predicament, a King who wore a crown of thorns, a King who rode upon a donkey, a King who died in the place of his subjects, a King who was the only mediator and is the only mediator between a holy God against whom we have sinned and before whom we are accountable… And this mediator has entered into time and calls us to come to him.

Decision. Have you ever come to him? Have you ever said, “I am in the wrong. I’m not okay. Jesus, you are in the right. You are okay.”

Somebody said to me the other day, when I said I fancied the idea of having a cemetery in the property here, they said, “A cemetery? Why would you have a cemetery?” I said, “So that we could think about dying.” He said, “How strange to think about dying.” I said, “Well, you’re going to die, aren’t you?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “And what provision have you made for that eventuality?” He just looked down at the ground. He has made none.

What provision have you made? The decree is against you. You stand condemned. The dilemma is undeniable. The decision is yours. And when we resolve that, it changes not only today, tomorrow, but all of our tomorrows.

Father, thank you that your love is vast beyond the heavens. Thank you that you reach down and “enter into our world, your glory veiled.”[19] Nobody would ever look at your totally messed-up body and say, “That must be the Messiah.” They would say, “This surely can’t be.” And yet,

Bearing shame and scoffing rude,
In my place condemned you stood;
And sealed my pardon with your blood.
What a Savior![20]

Father, I pray that individual lives will be doing business with you, even now. I pray that you will not let us live in the shadowlands of a double life; that you will bring into our lives the things, the calls, the questions that demand from us the kind of decision that identifies us with you and with your cause and with your gospel, so that when we stand before you, we may do so unashamed. Hear our prayers, for your Son’s sake. Amen.

[1] Romans 15:4 (ESV).

[2] The New City Catechism, Q. 2.

[3] P. F. Sloan, “Eve of Destruction” (1964).

[4] See Esther 2:23.

[5] Iain M. Duguid, Esther and Ruth, Reformed Expository Commentary, ed. Richard D. Phillips and Philip Graham Ryken (Phillipsburg, NJ: P&R, 2005), 49–50.

[6] See Genesis 39:11–20.

[7] Genesis 50:20 (paraphrased).

[8] Joshua 24:15 (KJV).

[9] See Jonah 3:1–5.

[10] Acts 4:19 (paraphrased).

[11] Genesis 42:38 (paraphrased).

[12] Genesis 43:14 (NIV).

[13] See Psalm 84:10.

[14] Attributed to Edward Everett Hale in A Year of Beautiful Thoughts, ed. Jeanie A. B. Greenough (New York: Thomas Y. Cromwell and Co., 1902), 172. Paraphrased.

[15] Charles Wesley, “Forth in Thy Name, O Lord” (1749).

[16] Henry Allen, “The Disquiet of Ziggy Zeitgeist,” Wall Street Journal, August 1, 2013, https://www.wsj.com/articles/SB10001424127887324110404578626314130514522.

[17] Ezekiel 18:20 (ESV).

[18] See Romans 3:23.

[19] Graham Kendrick, “The Servant King” (1983). Lyrics lightly altered.

[20] Philip P. Bliss, “Hallelujah! What a Savior” (1875). Lyrics lightly altered.

Copyright © 2024, 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.

Alistair Begg
Alistair Begg is Senior Pastor at Parkside Church in Cleveland, Ohio, and the Bible teacher on Truth For Life, which is heard on the radio and online around the world.