Thursday, January 3, 2013

Thursday, January 3 ~ Miriam

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Genesis 5-6; Psalm 3; Matthew 3.
Today's scripture focus is Esther 2:1-18.
Mark Driscoll message:  Jesus is a Better Savior

Later when the anger of King Xerxes had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful girls into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. Then let the girl who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.
Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin[a] king of Judah. Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This girl, who was also known as Esther, was lovely in form and features, and Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.
When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many girls were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. The girl pleased him and won his favor. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven maids selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her maids into the best place in the harem.
10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked back and forth near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.
12 Before a girl’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.
15 When the turn came for Esther (the girl Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favor of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favor and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.

So Xerxes here, he can't admit that he was in the wrong, that he did something foolish.  And he doesn't know God to turn to Him.  So he seeks the counsel of his attendants, a bunch of young guys.  We need to be careful to whom we go for advice when we have problems.  Do we seek answers in the Bible, from Christian friends or family members, people who have experienced similar difficulties, a pastor, other friends?

And as he turns to his foolish counselors, they tell him that the answer is to not turn to God in repentance, but to turn to a woman. 
The plan is, “Let’s do The Bachelor: Persia.” That’s what the frat guys come up with. You see all the frat guys sitting around the house, “Let’s do The Bachelor. Let’s have a bunch of beautiful, young virgins all come for a year at the spa to get prepared for their one night with the king, and the woman who pleases the king most shall win. This will be an amazing television drama. This will be the best reality show ever. Just the idea is already trending on Twitter. It’s unbelievable. Oh, you get to be with that guy!” Isn’t it amazing, though, that twenty-five hundred years later we still have reality television shows based upon, essentially, the same premise? Because the human heart never changes, though the nations, and the rulers, and the dates may.
And the men are choosing these women based upon their beauty, and then Xerxes will choose his wife based upon her beauty and her sexual performance. Sadly, tragically, the same thing that many men do today. “What does she look like and how does she conduct herself? And then I’ll sample all of the different options that I can possibly bring before me, like a god to be worshiped in my glory, and the one that I find most beautiful and pleasurable, she gets the grand finale of being with me.” All he is is a dirty American. Moving right along.

“Now when the turn came for each young woman to go in to King Ahasuerus, after being twelve months under the regulations for the women, since this was the regular period of their beautifying, six months with oil of myrrh and six months with spices and ointments for women.” They smell awesome. They smell potpourrific.
Are they going on a date? No. Does it start with dinner, and “Tell me about your family,” “What’s your favorite color?” “Do you know how to read?” Nothing. Where do they start? At bed time. He’s like a lot of guys: “Let me sleep with you, and then I’ll figure out if I want to get to know you.”
 And the gals go in at night, and they come out in the morning. Do they have breakfast? They go for a walk? Do they visit? Nothing. You can go into his bedroom when it’s bedtime. You need to get dressed and get out of the room by the time the sun rises because he’s done with you. You may never see him again, you may never speak to him again. You’re not allowed in his presence unless he summons you.
How many men treat women like that? “I don’t want to know her, I don’t want to date her, I don’t want to love her, I don’t want to marry her. I want her to show up at night and leave in the morning, and I don’t want her to call, text, or e-mail me. If I want to see her again, I’ll let her know. Other than that, goodbye.” And what’s devastating is women in that day, like women in this day, will compete for those kinds of men. The tale turns dark and tragic, right?

Even though the book of Esther never mentions God by name, surely we can all agree that out of the many, many girls that were brought to be pampered, perfumed, and paraded in front of the king, only God's hand at work could have ensured that Esther would find favour with everyone, including the king, that she would be chosen out of everyone to be his new queen.  OK, so God made sure that Esther, a Jewish girl that no one knew was Jewish, became queen so that she could save her people who were living in Persia.  Was this because Esther was a wonderful, godly woman? Was this because her faith was on display for everyone to see?  No, no one knew even her nationality, nevermind her faith (if she even had faith at the beginning of the story).  Was it because she was pure and virginal?  Probably not.  The Bible doesn't tell us, but do you think Esther escaped the bed of the king unmolested on her one-night audition for the part of the queen?  I'm guessing it's unlikely, although not impossible.  

If the story is, “God loves and uses good people and he doesn’t love and use bad people,” that’s a worthless Book. If that’s the story, that I have to be my own savior, I have to be my own hero, I’ve got to straighten out all that I made crooked. Or worse yet, if you’ve made it crooked, it can’t be straightened out at all, because you’re a bad person and God doesn’t love bad people, and you’ve done bad things and God doesn’t use people who’ve done bad things.
What that leads to is one of two things: pride or despair. “I’m a good person, God uses me,” or despair, “It’s too late. I’ve already blown it. I’m a bad person.” This is a very important interpretive issue for how we approach the Bible.
And religious people who approach it, “Good people, bad people. Do good things and God will bless you. Do bad things and God won’t bless you,” they miss the entire message of grace, that God loves the undeserving, God loves the ill-deserving, God uses the undeserving, God uses the ill-deserving, and they miss the point that sometimes the people in the Bible are painfully normal, like us. 
Here’s what we do know—minimal facts. A year of preparation, goes in at night, comes out in the morning, and the king says, “She’s my favorite.” The Bible doesn’t give us a lot of details. It doesn’t paint Esther in a strong negative light, but it’s a light critical light. What do you think?
How many of you, your story is like Esther’s? “Yeah. I’ve broken some commandments. I’ve slept with somebody or bodies. I’ve hidden my Christian faith. I’ve kept a foot in each world. I’ve lived a life that is compromised and inconsistent.”
Don’t you find great hope in the story of Esther? God takes messed up people, perverted people, rebellious people, people who are not walking with him, people who are not obeying him, people who are not close to him, and he gives them grace, and he gives them favor, and he chooses them. Wow! There’s hope! That’s the hope. And so I have hope.
Here’s a little hope for God’s worldly people. Some of us are God’s worldly people. Number one: like Esther, God walks with you even when you don’t walk with him. Esther’s not going to synagogue. Esther’s not reading the Scriptures. Esther’s not praying. Esther’s not worshiping. Esther’s not tithing. Esther’s not going to the temple to offer a sacrifice and obey God. Esther’s not doing that. She’s not walking with God, but God’s walking with Esther. Through his subtle, soft hand of providence, he’s working through the circumstances of her life.
And even when she makes bad decisions or decisions are made that get her in bad situations, God’s still there working it out, working with her, working on her. How encouraging is that? Some of you say, “I’ve not been walking with God.” Good news for you, God’s been walking with you. He’s right there. He’s not far. You’ve walked a long ways, but he’s a committed God.

There is more... a LOT more... but I tried to pull out the parts that really spoke to me from the message.  God can use us, imperfect and broken as we are.  We don't have to reach a certain level of "goodness" first. Let's face it, we couldn't even if we wanted to.  All the heroes of the Bible had times and places where they failed.  David committed adultery and had someone killed.  Moses had anger management issues.  Abraham didn't have enough faith in God to tell the truth about Sarah being his wife... TWICE.  And these men are considered to have great faith and be godly men.  And they were!  But they messed up too, just like we do.  There is hope for God's worldly people.

Tomorrow's scripture focus:  Esther 2:19-3:15.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage:  Genesis 7-8; Psalm 4; Matthew 4.


LaughingLady said...

I really appreciated that part about God specifically choosing "undeserving" people to do great things. I've never really thought about it within the context of Esther before, but certainly in many other biblical characters, like David, Peter, Rahab, etc. They really do tell the story of sovereign election, don't they??

Pamela said...

Great thoughts. I think it is interesting that this "reality show" premise existed long before tv.

Miriam said...

Does anyone else giggle over the word "potpourrific"? That made me laugh.

LaughingLady said...

I actually got a few chuckles from this sermon. Driscoll's definitely an entertaining teacher. He's got a good sense of humour. I really like the advice he gives dads of girls in this message, too!

TammyIsBlessed said...

He is pretty funny!

He definitely has put a lot of things into a different perspective than I had thought of previously.

I like how he pointed out that Christians often tend to read the Bible - this is the good guy, this is the bad guy, and that's the wrong way to read it. The Bible is all about God and how He accomplishes His purposes through us, how He chooses us, all of whom are bad (though to varying degrees), how He changes us.

Miriam said...

There were some other great points in the sermon and quite a few laughs as well. I actually had more copied into the post, but I hacked it back quite a bit to the main points I wanted to focus on. The whole message was worth a read, though. I also liked the advice to dads and I liked that he made me think more about who these people in the story actually were.