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A God whose timing is perfect - Esther 5:1 - 6:14

This is a sermon by Lee McMunn from the morning service on 27th April 2008.

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Most of you know that in less than five weeks time I will be a married man. For over a year I have been attempting to be a 21st Century Mr Darcy but as my wedding day quickly approaches I occasionally get nervous that in the future I may not be able to sustain my romantic zeal. Therefore, I am constantly on the lookout for romantic role models who can teach me how to show my love for my new wife in practical ways.

I think I have found a brilliant example of how to do this and I thought I would share it with you this morning.

I have a friend who lives not too far from Doncaster and every morning when the alarm goes off he heads downstairs to make his wife a cup of tea. She is definitely not a morning person and so hates the sight of daylight streaming through the curtains. You may be able to relate to her. But every morning he crawls out of bed, heads off to the kitchen, puts the kettle on and brews a cup of tea for his sleepy wife. He then carries it upstairs and puts it beside the bed. This happens every single day but on Friday he does something extra special. As usual he brings her a hot cup of strong tea but then instead of leaving his wife to wake up at her leisure he leans over and whispers three special words in her ear. With romance beating in his heart he leans over and says, “It’s bin day!” And as quick as a flash she’s up and dressed and on her way downstairs to leave the bin in a convenient place for the binmen.

In the world of comedy we all know that timing is everything. If a joke is to be to be received with the sound of laughter and not met with the silence of failure then timing is everything. However, timing is also crucial when God’s plans are being worked out for his people.

If we are honest we frequently get frustrated with God when his timetable is out of sync with ours. We plan and prepare and we think we have the best strategy laid out for the future and then it doesn’t happen. God seems to have other plans.

How should we react when our best laid plans are not taken up by the heavenly architect or when God’s start date differs markedly from our own?

Quite simply, we need to believe wholeheartedly that God knows best. We need to be reassured that we worship a God whose timing is perfect.

And this is what we discover in Esther chapters 5 and 6. We meet a number of human actors who all have their plans and agendas for the future. And they all make responsible decisions which effect other people. However, what we discover is that behind every decision and every choice in the human story is the divine Lord of history who demonstrates with crystal clear clarity that he is the all-wise director of human affairs.

Let me show you this from the book of Esther. Look with me at what we’re told in 5:1, “On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the place, in front of the king’s hall. The king was sitting on his royal throne in the hall, facing the entrance. When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out to her the gold sceptre that was in his hand. So Esther approached and touched the tip of the sceptre.”

If you were here last week you’ll remember the tension that we were left with at the end of chapter 4. A new piece of legislation had been passed with the express purpose of wiping out the Jewish people from human history. Their utter annihilation was being planned by a man called Haman, who had recently been appointed as the Prime Minister over the vast Persian Empire. However, at roughly the same time as Haman was elevated to his position of power a Jewish girl called Esther found herself married to the most powerful man of her generation – King Xerxes himself.

So a plan was drawn up by Mordecai, Esther’s close relative, to save the Jews from extinction. Esther would bravely approach King Xerxes without permission, something that would normally have been punishable with instant death, and if King Xerxes allowed her to live by raising his golden sceptre, she would beg him to save her people.

The tension at the end of chapter 4 is unbearable. A three day fast is called so the God of Israel can be petitioned for his help but after this is finished Esther must go to her wardrobe, pick out her best royal frock, and then bravely walk for either an audience with the King or an audience with the King’s executioner.

What happens? Her life is spared. 5:2, “When he saw Queen Esther standing in the court, he was pleased with her and held out the gold sceptre that was in his hand.”

So far so good. Queen Esther has survived. The King is pleased with her. Mordecai’s plan seems to be working. And so at this point we are supposed to think that perhaps there is hope for the Jewish people after all.

Their prospects seem to get even better in verse 3. Listen to what king Xerses said to Esther. “The king asked, ‘What is it Queen Esther? What is your request? Even up to half the kingdom, it will be given you.”

Surely this was her big moment? Surely this was the moment she had been waiting for? Indeed surely this was the moment she and all her people had been praying for? But listen to what Esther says in verse 4, “If it pleases the king, let the king, together with Haman, come today to a banquet I have prepared for him.”

It’s important to notice that Esther has already prepared the banquet so her reluctance to ask for the salvation of her people at this point was not because she chickened out. She already had a plan. She had already put the casserole in the oven and now seized her opportunity to invite the two most powerful men in the empire round to her apartment for a bite of supper. So, verse 5, “The king and Haman went to the banquet Esther had prepared. As they were drinking wine, the king again asked Esther, ‘Now what is your petition? It will be given you. And what is your request. Even up to half the kingdom, it will be granted.’”

Esther replied, “This vile Haman has sold my people to death and I beg you to have mercy on them and save them from annihilation!”  Well, actually, no that’s not what she said at all. We may have expected her to seize her chance this time round but she simply invited the king to yet another dinner party.

Verse 7, “Esther replied, ‘My petition and my request is this: If the king regards me with favour and if it pleases the king to grant my petition and fulfil my request, let the king and Haman come tomorrow to the banquet I will prepare for them. Then I will answer the king’s question.”

People disagree about why Esther decided to delay revealing her true intention yet again. Some think she lost her nerve. In the heat of the moment she lost her bottle and issued another dinner party invitation because it was simpler. Many people certainly think this is what happened. However, it may well be that the reason Esther delayed was because she possessed the IQ of an expert negotiator. Twice she has been asked by the king in public to present her request and twice the king has offered to grant her whatever she asks. Also, by now the king knows that it’s got to be something serious so by the time she does get around to asking for the salvation of the Jewish people she is perhaps more likely to meet with a positive response from her husband.

I’m more inclined to believe that Esther was more smart than scared. In chapter 2 she was certainly not behaving like a spiritual saint but she did show her cunning and resourcefulness. She was not short of a few brain cells. And then in chapter 7 when she does finally get around to asking the king for the salvation of her people, her speech to get her way is truly masterful. So I am inclined to believe that Esther was more smart than scared.

However, just in case we are in danger of concluding that God’s people will be saved by Esther and her brilliant plan, the story moves on to tell us about a danger that Esther didn’t even know about let alone have a plan to remove it. Look at what we’re told in verse 9. “Haman went out that day happy and in high spirits. But when he saw Mordecai at the king’s gate and observed that he neither rose nor showed fear in his presence, he was filled with rage against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home.”

Remember Haman has just been invited to a second impressive banquet with the King and the Queen of the Persian Empire. So, as you can imagine, he was feeling rather pleased with himself. His job prospects were impressive, his food intake was delicious and his social network was something to boast about.

What more could a man ask for? There was a fly in Haman’s ointment. Mordecai the Jew still refused to give him the honour of his position and this was enough to make him very, very annoyed. In fact, he was so angry that he called his friends around to ask them how he could do away with the one man who was spoiling his mood.

To begin with he told them about his own successes. It is frequently the sign of a proud and insecure heart. Do you know people like Haman? They do like to inform you of what they own, what they’ve done and who they know. Listen to what Haman says in verse 11, “Haman boasted to them of his vast wealth, his many sons, and all the ways the king had honoured him and how he had elevated him above the other nobles and officials. ‘And that’s not all,’ Haman added, ‘I’m the only person Queen Esther invited to accompany the king to the banquet she gave. And she has invited me along with the king tomorrow. But all this gives me no satisfaction as long as I see that Jew Mordecai sitting at the king’s gate.”

His friends and his sweet little wife were not exactly from the ‘I think you should drop it or have a quiet word with him’ school of diplomacy. They encouraged him to build a 75 feet gallows in his back garden – do away with the hanging baskets and put up a hanging tower - and in the morning ask the king to hang Mordecai on it.

Here is the danger that Esther knew nothing about. She was perhaps confident that her plan to save the Jews had a good chance of success but even if it did it would not save Mordecai. You see there is a new twist to the story. The egg timer of his life was quickly running out. In just a few hours time it appears that Mordecai will be meeting his maker. So who can save him? Well, let’s read on and find out.

“That night the king could not sleep: so he ordered the book of the chronicles, the records of his reign, to be brought in and read to him. It was found recorded there that Mordecai had exposed Bigthana and Teresh, two of the king’s doorman, who had conspired to assassinate King Xerxes.”

The king naturally asked, “What honour and recognition has Mordecai received for this?” To his great embarrassment the attendants replied, “Nothing has been done for him.”

This is a wonderful example of the perfect timing of Almighty God. Remember back at the end of chapter 2. We read of a thrilling assassination plot against King Xerxes which Moredcai first uncovered and then stopped by informing the proper authorities. But at the end of chapter 2, much against the custom of the Persian Empire, this saviour of the king didn’t receive any reward.

The question is why? No doubt various human explanations could be provided but the ultimate answer for Mordecai’s lack of recognition was because God wanted his man on the ground to be rewarded at a later date, a date when he decided was best. This is what we see happening at the beginning of chapter 6.

All this is supposed to take our breath away and make us laugh. Consider what we’ve just read at the end of chapter 5. Mordecai’s life seems to be nearing its end. Very soon Haman will be asking the king’s permission to rid the world of the person he despises.

And then what happens? In the middle of the night the king cannot sleep. Coincidence? No. It is all part of God’s plan to save Mordecai from the danger of death and ultimately to save the Jews from the danger of extinction.

It gets even better. Not only did God wake the king from his slumber he also directed his night time entertainment.

How did the king occupy himself in the early hours of the morning? He had so many alternatives available to him but what did he do? Watch BBC News 24? Listen to some live music? Call for one of his many concubines? No! He decided to have a history book read to him, a book describing what he had achieved during his reign so far. Maybe he thought this would put him to sleep. But the ultimate reason he chose this form of ‘entertainment’ was because it was all part of God’s providence.

It gets even more wonderful. What section was read? It just happens to the one where Mordecai’s noble deed is mentioned. Coincidence? Of course not. It was all part of God’s perfect timing.

What happens next is very funny. The king wants to know what can be done for this loyal citizen but as always he needs someone to ask so he enquiries who is around the court at this ridiculously early time of day? And who just happened to be around? Verse 4, “Now Haman had just entered the outer court of the palace to speak to the king about hanging Mordecai on the gallows he had erected for him. His attendants answered, ‘Haman is in the court.’ ‘Bring him in,’ the king ordered.”

“When Haman entered, the king asked him, ‘What should be done for the man the king delights to honour?’ Now Haman thought to himself, ‘Who is there that the king would rather honour than me?’ So he answered the king, ‘For the man the king delights to honour, have them bring a royal robe the king has worn and a horse the king has ridden, one with the royal crest placed on its head. Then let the robe and the horse be entrusted to one of the king’s most noble princes. Let them robe the man the king delights to honour, and lead him on the horse through the city streets, proclaiming before him, ‘This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!’”

You can just imagine how pleased he must be with himself. What a prospect awaits him! Being led through the city on the king’s horse, with the noble princes shouting out ‘This is the guy the king delights to honour.’

However, what the king said next would have shattered his dreams straight away. “Go at once,” the king commanded Haman. [So far so good]. “Get the robe and the horse [Excellent idea your majesty] and do just as you have suggested for…Mordecai [Look at how he described!] the Jew, who sits at the king’s gate [I know that’s the problem!]. Do not neglect anything you have recommended.” “So Haman got the robe and the horse. He robbed Mordecai, and led him on horseback through the city streets, proclaiming before him, “This is what is done for the man the king delights to honour!”

You could say it had been a pretty eventful day for Haman. He had risen early with a spring in his step but his grand ambitions had not quite gone according to plan.

Instead of listening to the screams of Mordecai being strangled on his gallows he had to listen to the screams of the crowd as the royal procession passed through the streets.

How do you cope after such a day? Listen to what Mordecai and Haman did. Verse 12. “Afterwards Mordecai returned to the king’s gate, But Haman rushed home, with his head covered, in grief, and told Zeresh his wife and all his friends everything that had happened to him. His advisers and his wife Zeresh said to him, “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him – you will surely come to ruin!” However, before he can even contemplate this advice the king’s eunuch’s arrive and hurry him away to the banquet Esther had prepared.

What are we to learn? (Not all on the handout!)

The first truth is that God’s timing is perfect.

You have to believe in those moments when your life is not working out as you would have planned it that God knows better than you.

God knows us better than we know ourselves.

I don’t know what you are facing at the moment. I don’t know what your employment prospects are like or how your relationship plans are working out. But what God is urging us this morning is to live differently as a result of believing this truth revealed in God’s word – this is the truth that God’s timing is perfect.

Secondly, we don’t always see the significance of what we do at the time. We will never see the ultimate significance until we stand with Christ in glory.

Think of Mordecai and his action to save King Xerxes from the assassination plot. Do you think he felt peeved? Do you think he said to himself, “Why do I bother?”

So much depression and despair occurs because we evaluate the significance of our life using the wrong criteria and from the wrong perspective. As Christians we can certainly start to use the right criteria but never until eternity will we see the total perspective.

Do you ever ask what the point of what you do for Christ actually is? You don’t have those evangelistic conversations every day at work or at the school gate or at the sports club? You don’t witness hundreds, tens or even one person coming to Christ? Is it worth it? Are you doing anything significant?

We will not see the full significance of what we are doing at the time. Keep on living for Christ, praying for opportunities to speak up for Christ but get on day by day knowing that God has a plan and that in the end we will look back from eternity and say, “Ah, now I understand, now I get it.”

Thirdly, this section of the bible encourages us to renew our confidence in the protection of God. Why will events always work out for our good? God has  a plan for our lives. I love this section of the Bible. You could think the protection of God’s people is all down to Esther. As we’ll see next week God will use her planning to achieve his outcome. But what we’ve read today, as we’ve heard of a danger Esther was not even aware of, is a healthy reminder that our ultimate protection from spiritual harm is a consequence of God is looking after us. Let me encourage you to renew your confidence in the protection of God.

Fourthly, we should note the conclusion of these pagan advisers. They got it right. They had seen the hand of God at work in human circumstances and come to the right conclusion. Ultimately you cannot stand against God’s people.

This is the promise of the NT. If you stand against the church of God, ultimately you will come worst off. People may mock, insult, torture and even kill the followers of Christ but one day there will be a reckoning. A day of justice when the cry of ‘How, long oh Lord?” will be answered once and for all. On that day what will happen to you? Where will you have aligned yourself? With Christ and his people or against them? Still time to turn. Come to Christianity Explored.

As we wait, let’s trust his timing, let’s trust his plan and let’s have confidence in his protection.

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