Tuesday, January 1, 2013

Tuesday, January 1st, 2013 - Happy New Year!

Today's passage from the Bible In a Year Reading Plan is Genesis 1-2, Psalm 1, Matthew 1
Today's scripture focus is Esther 1:1-9
Esther passages follow Mark Driscoll’s sermon series  

Mark Driscoll's sermon on today's passage: Jesus is a Better King

This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendor and glory of his majesty. When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest, who were in the citadel of Susa.The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink in his own way, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.

Happy New Year everyone!  I am very excited about starting another year with you on the Bible blog and am excited about having both returning and new members as we journey together, pursuing discernment and deepening our love for God together.

And we begin with Esther!  I was very excited to find a sermon series by Mark Driscoll on Esther.  As Mark says himself in his sermon, there has been very little study on the book of Esther.  In the first seven centuries of the Christian church there were zero commentaries on this book.  John Calvin, one of the greatest Bible teachers and commentators, didn't ever preach on it.  Martin Luther was sad that this book was written and wished it wasn't even in the Bible.  It's that controversial.  The rest of the Bible says nothing about Esther.  The name of God is never mentioned in the book of Esther.  It's basically a historical account.

But the Bible also says that all scripture is God-breathed and useful, which means we can learn from this book - and that's what we're about to do!  If you have the time, I highly encourage you to listen to or read Mark Driscoll's sermon series, it's excellent.

In this introductory passage we're actually given a lot of information about King Xerxes and his kingdom.  He was an incredibly powerful king and basically ruled the entire world at that time.  He was all powerful and really was worshiped as a god.  He thought he was a god.  And he was rich beyond imagining - I mean, the guy had cups made out of solid gold, couches made out of gold and silver, pavement made out of precious jewels, he used incredibly expensive purple linens (that many of the common folk had never even seen) on curtains!  Curtains!  And then he hung them on silver rods to boot.  And to display his glory, and possibly to keep his subjects loyal to him, he gave an incredibly lavish banquet.  He gave an all-expenses paid banquet for all the military leaders and nobels - likely around 15,000 people - that lasted for 180 days!!  A 6 month vacation at an all-inclusive resort where the only rule is that there were no rules!  You could indulge in anything you wished - alcohol, food, women.  And then after that, he opened it up to the general public and had the same party for everyone that came.  Everyone!  And again, no rules.  You could literally do and eat and drink absolutely whatever you wanted for one week, no holds barred.  Can you even begin to imagine the debauchery and evil that would've gone on?!  Especially since the wives were over at another banquet being given by Queen Vashti.  The only women present at this drunk-fest were ones that were being mistreated and abused.

And it's pretty easy to for us to sit here and pass judgment on the guy.  But, to at least a certain extent, we may do some of the same things he did - if we had the same amount of money, power and resources that he did.

There’s something in us that wants to be king. There’s something in us that wants all the glory. The difference between you, and me, and him is the wealth, opulence, and resources that are at our availability.....And let me say this: some of you guys have this same thing on your hard drive. The only difference between you and Xerxes is income. And so what he had in reality, you have digitally. We’ve got to be careful that as we condemn Xerxes, we condemn ourselves.

As we condemn their overindulgence, we condemn our overindulgence. As we condemn their desire for glory—and it’s what we use Facebook and Twitter and social media to do. “Photos of what I’m doing because the whole world needs to see what I am up to because I am important, I am significant, I am central and essential, and there are things that I am doing that are glorious and you need to see them, and you need to praise me, and you need to honor me by posting on my wall.” The times have changed, but the hearts have not. It’s amazing how what we see externally reveals what is going on internally....

And then Driscoll goes on to say this (and I'm sorry it's so long, but I just thought it was so good, I had to quote it - italics or bold emphasis is mine)...

Read the whole book of Esther, God is never mentioned once. It’s a “godless” book. God never appears. God doesn’t speak. No prophet speaks on God’s behalf. No angel shows up. The heavens don’t open and God delivers a word personally. There are no miracles. There’s nothing supernatural. There’s no mention of Jerusalem, and the temple, and the presence of God. There’s no mention of the priesthood and the sacrificial system for sin. There’s no quoting of other books of the Bible. There’s no giving of God’s laws. No one repents, no one prays. There is no action from God or to God that is revealed anywhere in the entirety of the book of Esther. It’s this stunningly curious omission.

How many of you this sounds like your life? How many of you this sounds like your life? You’re like, “I have never seen a miracle. I’ve read about them, I’ve never seen a miracle. God’s never showed up in that way in my life.” How many of you have never heard from God? You’ve never gotten a dream, a vision, an audible word. You’ve never gotten visited by an angel. You’re sick and you haven’t been healed. You’ve prayed and it’s not been answered. You’ve looked and it’s not been accomplished.

How many of you, that’s your life? It feels like the story of Esther. “Dirty, rich men rule the world, I’m grinding it out, and God doesn’t show up.” And it leads to all kinds of questions. “God, do you even exist or is Xerxes really God? Is this the best we have? God, if you do exist, are you paying any attention at all? Are you just a deistic God? Are you an absentee landlord? Have you been on vacation and do you not care?” Or “God, do you lack the power to do anything? Is your glory not commensurate to the Xerxes of the world? Is your throne not above their throne? Do you not see? Do you not care? Will you not act?” How many of you in your dark, desperate, desolate moments have either uttered that or thought that privately? Let’s be honest.

“Where is he?” Women are being abused, money is being misspent, and mere men think they’re gods. Where’s God? Where’s God in the story of Esther? He’s silhouetted in the book, friends. Any of you seen a silhouette? See, a painting is in great detail. A silhouette paints a portrait through absence. God appears in the story of Esther, but he does so silhouetted. He’s not there. So it is with a silhouette. When you see it, you can’t make anything out, and then all of a sudden, you look at the absence, and it reveals the presence of something that you missed at first glance.

God is silhouetted through the book of Esther, and might I submit this to you, friends: God works in Esther not through his visible hand of miracle, but through his invisible hand of providence. Because, see, we know that history is not circumstance, happenstance, or chance. It’s governed by providence, that God is sovereign and good, that God rules and reigns over all peoples, times, and places, that God is in the details of history, that God is working everything out according to a plan for his glory and our good.

And for those of you who have felt like the story of Esther feels, I want you to know that God is at work in your life as well. You may never hear his voice. You may never see his face in this life. The angel may not come. The healing may not occur. The prayer may not be answered. Yes, the voice of God may not thunder down, but God is active, and present, and at work in the lives of his people, even those who are far away from him as they were.

How many of you, in hearing the story of Xerxes, there’s a hollowness, there’s a shallowness, there’s an emptiness. “That’s it? That’s all we get is one guy who thinks he’s a god, and we all worship him, and then he dies, and then some other nation rises up, and he’s our new god, and we worship him, and then he dies? Is human history just thousands of years of corrupt, rich, perverted men sitting on thrones being worshiped as God? Is that all there is? Is there no more?” How many are frustrated?
Here’s the good news: above Xerxes, there’s another King. This is not the only book of the Bible. It’s part of the storyline that leads to a greater King. Above Xerxes, there’s another throne, and seated on it is another King named Jesus. And Jesus is our King, and unlike Xerxes, he got off his throne. He didn’t invite us just to come and sit around him. He first came down to dwell among us. Mars Hill, I need you to know that Jesus is a better King.

Here’s what Xerxes says about himself from an inscription that the archaeologists uncovered: “I am Xerxes the Great King, the only king, the king of all countries which speak all kinds of languages, the king of this entire big and far-reaching earth.” Xerxes thought he was Jesus. Some of you think you’re Jesus. Some of you honor, obey, worship, follow, adore people who think they’re Jesus. Jesus is a better King. Amen, Mars Hill? Jesus is a better King.

Xerxes was the son of Darius, but Jesus is the Son of God. Xerxes never tasted poverty nor humility, but Jesus tasted both poverty and humility to identify with us. Xerxes used his power to abuse women, but Jesus used his power to honor women. Xerxes spent his entire life being served, but Jesus spent his entire life serving others. Xerxes killed his enemies with an army of millions, but Jesus died for his enemies, saving billions.

Xerxes sat on a throne in Susa, but Jesus sits on a throne in heaven. Xerxes was the most powerful man on earth, but Jesus made the heavens and the earth and he rules over all creation. Xerxes said he would rule wherever the sun set, but only Jesus made the sun and rules over all of creation.

Xerxes died and today, no one worships Xerxes as god; but Jesus conquered death and today, billions worship Jesus as the only God. Xerxes thought he was a man who became god, but only Jesus is God who became a man. Xerxes’ kingdom had subjects from many nations, but Jesus’ kingdom has joyful worshipers from every nation. Xerxes threw enormous banquets, but the one Jesus is preparing for us makes his pale in comparison. Xerxes’ kingdom came to an end, but Jesus’ kingdom has no end. Xerxes declared himself king of kings, but he died. He stood before and was judged by the one and only King of kings, the Lord Jesus Christ.

Mars Hill Church, today is our day of celebration. We are citizens of a greater kingdom. We have received a greater gift. We are looking forward to a greater blessing, and we gather in the name, and the presence, and the fame of Jesus Christ. He is our great King. He is a better King than any king and every king. He is the King of kings, and so now, we will celebrate Jesus Christ. And if they were willing to throw lavish, extravagant, fun, joyful parties for a demonic, false king, how much more should we rejoice and be glad that our King knows us, that our King loves us, that our King saves us, that our King seeks us, that our King serves us, and our King is preparing a banquet for us.

Tomorrow's scripture focusEsther 1:10-22
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Genesis 3-4, Psalm 2, Matthew 2


LaughingLady said...

I thought that last part of his sermon was particularly powerful, too. (he's a good yeller! ;)

I've sometimes wondered, too, how Esther got included in the Canon of Scripture. Like, how does it meet the criteria like all the other books do? I love the story though, so I don't much care!

I also like the way Driscoll has his sermon series set up ~ always with the comparison to Jesus. Very powerful, I think.

Miriam said...

I purchased a Kobo the other day and my first purchased ebook was an NASB MacArthur Study Bible. The preface to the book of Esther says "Esther and Exodus both chronicle how vigorously foreign powers tried to eliminate the Jewish race and how God sovereignly preserved His people in accordance with His covenant promise to Abraham. As a result of God's prevailing, Esther 9 & 10 records the beginning of Purim-a new annual festival in the 12th month (Feb.-Mar.) to celebrate the nation's survival. Purim became one of two festivals given outside of the Mosaic legislation to still be celebrated in Israel (Hanukkah, or the Festival of Lights, is the other)."

Also, "Along with Song of Solomon, Ruth, Ecclesiastes, and Lamentations, Esther stands with the OT books of the Megilloth, or "5 scrolls." Rabbis read these books in the synagogue on 5 special occasions during the year-Esther being read at Purim."

Could be why Esther is included in Scripture? There is a lot more info there, but these seemed to be the most pertinent to that question.

Pamela said...

Happy New Year! Great post...this stood out for me:
"As we condemn their desire for glory—and it’s what we use Facebook and Twitter and social media to do. “Photos of what I’m doing because the whole world needs to see what I am up to because I am important, I am significant, I am central and essential, and there are things that I am doing that are glorious and you need to see them, and you need to praise me, and you need to honor me by posting on my wall.” The times have changed, but the hearts have not. It’s amazing how what we see externally reveals what is going on internally."

How true. To think that just because he had couches of gold and individual gold glasses that he was showing off and trying to make look himself better to others, we are not immune to using social media to do the exact same thing.

LaughingLady said...

Haha, Pam, that same part stuck out for me, too. I found myself getting rather uncomfortable! Funny how it's so much easier to see how others are "chasing after their own glory" than it is to see how WE'RE doing it!