Sermon Text: Esther 5:1–14
Preacher: Pastor Brian Sauvé
Rope Enough To Hang On
This morning, God willing, we will make our way through the fifth chapter of Esther, and even though it’s taken us five sermons to get through these five chapters, we’ll actually cover the remaining 5 chapters in the next two Sundays.
Here in this fifth chapter, we will see a stunning foreshadowing of the work of Christ for us, even as we learn about love and the Lord’s tendency to give his enemies enough rope for them to hang themselves with.
So here’s where we’ve come so far: We’ve met four main characters:
First, we have a king named Ahasuerus, or Xerxes in Greek, who rules the Persian Empire at its peak, a kingdom some 3-million square-miles. The thing about Ahasuerus is that he’s kind of a pushover. He’s an abdicator, an unjust man who misused his wife Vashti, then disposed of her when she displeased him.
He replaced her with the second character, Esther. Esther is a beautiful young Jewish woman who was snatched up in king Ahasuerus’s schemes along with hundreds of other women who were forced into the king’s bed to tryout to replace Vashti. Esther won, and became queen.
Esther was raised by the third character, Mordecai, a Jewish man who raised Esther as his own when she was orphaned, because she is his niece. Mordecai has been laying low in the book, trying to avoid being identified with the Jewish people—basically trying to be a secret member of God’s people. And Mordecai discipled Esther to do the same—they’ve been hiding out throughout the story.
But God loves Mordecai, and so he wouldn’t let him get away with that. God brings Mordecai into confrontation with the fourth character, a man named Haman—who is the embodiment of satanic opposition to God’s people.
Mordecai refuses to pay homage to Haman, and so Haman gets the pushover king to issue a genocidal decree to kill all the Jews on the 12th month of that year.
So last week, in chapter 4, we saw Mordecai repent of his abdication and hiding, and radically identify himself with the Jewish people, with God’s people, and to call Esther to do the same by going and outing herself as a Jew, and leveraging her position to plead for the lives of the people before her husband.
But we saw that the stakes are very, very high for Esther to do that. If she goes before the king without being invited, she will be executed unless the king raises his little golden scepter in reprieve.
Now, this isn’t some kind of hypothetical threat of execution; it is very real, historically speaking. We have works of art from this period that portray the king on his throne, and one of the things you will notice in these artworks is that there is a guard with a big axe standing near, ready to execute swift judgment on anyone the king want him to.
And Esther said, basically, “I’m going to risk it, and if I perish, I perish.” Now, here in chapter 5, we see the completion of Mordecai and Esther’s repentance, and as we do, we will see a divine whisper of the work of Christ foreshadowed through Esther.
Esther Stares Down Death
Look with me at verse 1, if you would, and we’ll try to get a sense for the flow of the story here in chapter 5. So Esther and her servants have been fasting, and then,
“On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, in front of the king's quarters, while the king was sitting on his royal throne inside the throne room opposite the entrance to the palace.”
It will help us see the gravity of what Esther is risking if we picture the setting a little bit. The whole point of the throne room was to display the glory of the king—it was a massive hall, full of great pillars carved from stone and standing 65-feet high, with every line of sight designed to converge on the throne of the king.
Architecture actually speaks. We actually have a handful of architects at Refuge, and I think they would agree that architecture is a kind of human language. The architectural subtext of the room Esther is walking into is something like, “Take care all ye who enter here: The King rules on his throne, and his throne is mighty.” That’s what Esther sees as she walks in, and we know that unless he raises his scepter, she will be swiftly executed. Again, this is no empty threat—there are axe-wielding servants at the ready. Verse 2,
“And when the king saw Queen Esther standing in the court, she won favor in his sight, and he held out to Esther the golden scepter that was in his hand. Then Esther approached and touched the tip of the scepter. And the king said to her, “What is it, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given you, even to the half of my kingdom.”
So the king grants her reprieve, allows her to live. He is clearly feeling the part of the benevolent deity on this particular day. But now be sure to remember the Proverbs—the heart of the king is like a stream of water in the hand of the Lord; he turns it where he will.
God isn’t mentioned in the book of Esther, but he is undoubtedly the main character of the book, weaving together every detail down to the emotions of the pagan king to serve his purposes.
Let’s see what Esther requests. And it’s going to be crafty. She’s going to get a little crafty here. Verse 4,
“And Esther said, “If it please the king, let the king and Haman come today to a feast that I have prepared for the king.” Then the king said, “Bring Haman quickly, so that we may do as Esther has asked.” So the king and Haman came to the feast that Esther had prepared. And as they were drinking wine after the feast, the king said to Esther, “What is your wish? It shall be granted you. And what is your request? Even to the half of my kingdom, it shall be fulfilled.” Then Esther answered, “My wish and my request is: If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my wish and fulfill my request, let the king and Haman come to the feast that I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said.”
Did you catch that? Esther doesn’t come right out and, in front of the whole court, break down and cry and demand that the king repent of his iniquitous decree. She doesn’t say, “I’m a Jew! If you let your decree stand, all my people will be wiped out! Please change your mind!”
No, she invites Haman to a meal. Why? Think about her husband and his proven character. He is absolutely stuffed with a vainglorious kind of conceit. He is arrogant, proud, full of himself. He put his wife Vashti away because she embarrassed him publicly.
So what Esther is doing is approaching him with cunning and wisdom. She’s avoiding public spectacle. She’s saying, “Come have a nice dinner with your beautiful wife in front of your important friend.” And not just one, but two.
She’s trying to show him an exaggerated amount of regard and respect, in other words, to set up the scenario in such a way as to have maximal credit in her account with him when she attempts a withdrawal that is going to require her to say—at least on some level—that he has made a mistake.
We will see that the Lord is at work behind the scenes, and the Lord is going to prosper this cunning plan of Esther’s beyond anything she could possibly have hoped for and in ways far out of the boundaries of her control, like the insomnia of the king on a certain night. Now, in the rest of chapter 5, the Lord is going to give Haman enough rope to hang on. Verse 9,
“And Haman went out that day joyful and glad of heart. But when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, that he neither rose nor trembled before him, he was filled with wrath against Mordecai. Nevertheless, Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and brought his friends and his wife Zeresh. And Haman recounted to them the splendor of his riches, the number of his sons, all the promotions with which the king had honored him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and the servants of the king.
Then Haman said, “Even Queen Esther let no one but me come with the king to the feast she prepared. And tomorrow also I am invited by her together with the king. Yet all this is worth nothing to me, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate.” Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, “Let a gallows fifty cubits high be made, and in the morning tell the king to have Mordecai hanged upon it. Then go joyfully with the king to the feast.” This idea pleased Haman, and he had the gallows made.”
Now, one of the things that the Apostles teach us in the way that they deployed the Old Testament Scriptures in the New is that we are Christians, and that means that we read the whole Bible as Christians.
That is actually one of my biggest goals in teaching the Bible Sunday after Sunday at Refuge Church, is to dismantle the idea that the Old Testament is primally about anything other than Christ—his work, his rule, his gospel, his Kingdom, his glory.
So what I want you to see in this little snapshot of Esther’s story is that God is the author of history, and that he has always been bending it into the shape of the gospel of the Kingdom, the message that Christ is the sin-forgiving, enemy-defeating, Kingdom-establishing Lord of all things, who judges his enemies even as he saves his people. We see this story in Esther chapter 5 serving that story in four ways:
1. Like the people of God in the story of Esther, we were a people under the sentence of death.
Like the people of God in the story of Esther, we were under a sentence of death. They are under a sentence of death that is the result of an iniquitous decree. We, however, had nobody to blame for the death sentence hanging over us except our own sin.
Romans 3:23 teaches us that all have sinned and fallen short of the glory of God, and just three chapters later, in Romans 6:23, we learn that the wages—or the just reward—of our sin is death.
What that highly theological language means is that humanity was made for glory—to live in light of and revel in and enjoy and be shaped by the awesome glory of our Creator. And we fell short of that glory, meaning we reached for lesser glories as if they were the ultimate glory. That is the distillation of sin, and it is sin, fundamentally, because it speaks untruths about God. It is blasphemy.
What is justice for blasphemers? Death. So the world is a world of blaspheming idolaters, and so the world languishes under the sentence of a death. God the Judge has the day already appointed on which it will fall, just as the day for the death of the people in Esther was already appointed.
2. Like the people of God in the story of Esther, we need a mediator before the King who has issued the sentence.
Standing under this sentence of death, we have no hope unless someone can stand before the Judge and argue our case, make peace. That is, we need a mediator.
We need a mediator who can stand in both camps—in the camp of the King’s court and in our camp. That is Esther, right? She can stand in and represent the people under the death sentence on the one hand, and on the other hand, she has standing in the court that the people lack. She is the queen. She stands in both camps.
But for us, it is an infinitely wider gap. It’s not just the gap of political and socioeconomic imbalances among creatures, but the gap of a Creator and his creatures. This is why Jesus cannot be merely man or merely God—but must be both!—if he is to be the mediator between us and God. The mediator has to have a foot in both camps. Only the God-Man, Jesus Christ, can do that.
That’s why Paul, in 1 Timothy 2:5–6, exalted in the glory that, though we need that kind of mediator, there is such a mediator!
“There is one mediator between God and men, the man Christ Jesus, who gave himself as a ransom for all…”
-1 Timothy 2:5–6a
And Jesus is not just like Esther here—he is the better Esther. Where Esther was halfhearted in her identification with God’s people until the last moment, Jesus fully identified with us. He fully identified with us in our humanity—shared our nerve endings, our temptations, our pain, and even took our sin.
3. As in Esther 5, the very life of the mediator is at stake in interceding for the people.
Esther stares down death in walking into the throne room of the king unbidden to intercede for the people. Jesus faced down death as he willingly took up his cross to intercede for us.
Again, he is the better Esther—she risked her life; he gave his life. She risked facing the wrath of an earthly ruler; he actually bore the wrath of the cosmic Ruler.
4. Like Esther, Jesus will offer his enemy the rope with which he will hang himself—and he will do so in a very crafty way.
As Esther is crafty in the way she intercedes for the people of God and opposes the enemies of God’s people, so is Jesus.
We won’t see the fullness of the trap that is being woven in Esther until next week, but we can see the craftiness of the cross from where we stand now.
There’s a little snipped from Acts 4 that unfolds this for us. The church is being persecuted, and yet God keeps frustrating the attempts of the world to stop the spread of the gospel, and so the believers gather to pray for continuing boldness.
And what they do is to look at what’s happening to themselves and their enemies—that God is using the very attempts of their enemies to actually advance the gospel—and then they look back at the cross and they say, “Ha! That’s exactly what God did there!” They quote from Psalm 2,
“‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
Then they conclude,
“…for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.”
Do you see that? All of these enemies—Herod, Pilate, Gentile rulers in league with Israel’s rulers—are conspiring against the Lord and his Anointed. But what is that? What is that opposition, actually? It’s the enemies of God doing exactly what God predestined to take place—namely, they assure their own destruction and defeat.
God uses even the schemes of his enemies to defeat his enemies. That is what we will see—writ large!—in the final chapters of this book, of which this first half of chapter five is just a setting of the trap.
A Pattern Echoed, & Echoed Again
So what are we seeing in the book of Esther? An living, breathing, historical echo of the gospel story, an echo of Christ’s mediating work for us, his crafty, enemy-defeating work for us.
Now, what are we supposed to do when we notice these great story arcs and types and shapes and echoes of the gospel in the story of the Bible? Like, what are we supposed to do with it?
We’re supposed to marvel at God’s sovereign hand over history, at his divine authorship of this book. We’re supposed to see that the whole story of human history and of Scripture is about Christ and his cross and his Kingdom. We’re supposed to see that the whole Bible is Christian Scripture.
We’re certainly supposed to see all of that. But another thing we’re supposed to do is to look back at those shadows of the cross, then see them land on the cross, and then see something essentially important:
We are to see that these echoes are intended by God to go out in both directions in history—the cross echoes backwards in time in the stories of the Old Testament that typify and foreshadow and anticipate the work of Christ on the cross, but it also echoes forward in time through us, his people.
We are intended to be echoes of our Lord as well. Jesus said this himself in John 13:15, after having washed the feet of the disciples—a radical display of humble love—he said,
“…I have given you an example, that you also should do just as I have done to you.”
Or in 1 Peter 2:21,
“Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps.”
-1 Peter 2:21
The Old Testament bursts with hints and types and shadows and pictures of Jesus, yes. But the story of the Church is to serve as another kind of typology, a living typology, a living story of the gospel of Jesus Christ.
Whenever we see a type of Jesus’ saving work, we see not only a glimpse of our salvation, but a pattern for our instruction. What instruction do we receive here in Esther’s risky venture?
A Portrait of Love
There is an attribute of God that shines brightly at the center of the gospel that Esther puts on display for our instruction here in chapter 5: Love. This story is a portrait of authentic love.
We know from 1 John 4 that God is love, and that it was this love of God that motivated God to send the Son of God to die for sinners. That’s John 3:16, that God loved the world like this: He gave his only Son that whoever believes in him wouldn’t perish but have everlasting life.
That’s love. And so if the gospel is fundamentally an act of love, and Esther a type of that gospel, we should expect to see love embodied in Esther, right? And we do! Specifically, there are 3 facets of this gospel love on display through Esther for our instruction in this section:
1. Authentic love is risky.
Meaning for us creatures, we can’t authentically love somebody without risk. Love is willing to risk the self for the other. Esther risked everything for the people.
Now, God is sovereign and we are not, so God’s love is authentic and not risky for himself, but for us creatures, real, gospel-shaped love is going to feel unsafe. It is going to feel risky.
You can’t love and remain completely safe. And the problem is that for many of us we actually attempt to do that. We try to love without risk. And that really is a problem, because trying to love without risk is like trying to skydive without falling—it’s just part of the thing.
Why? Because at the heart of authentic, gospel-shaped love, there is a kind of faith in operation, faith that it will be better in the end for you to die to yourself and love your neighbor, your family, your spouse, your enemy, than if you were to protect your life and love yourself.
Self-protection, self-love, that takes no faith. But authentic love is a radically faith-saturated act, because it lives in light of God’s promises of resurrection and reward. It says, “If I give myself away in this way, I’m trusting that God will give resurrection.”
So, closely related to that, number 2,
2. Authentic love is costly.
It gives away something precious for the sake of other.
See, one of the most dangerous things you can do is try to love without loss, try to love without giving something away—especially if the thing you’re trying to preserve is yourself.
Our Lord teaches us in John 12 that “Whoever loves his life loses it, and whoever hates his life in this world will keep it for eternal life.”
What are you trying to preserve that is keeping you from loving your neighbor and your enemy? Your pride? Your comfort? Your alone time? Your money? Your energy? Your stuff? Your clean house? Your free Friday evening? Your vacation time?
There is no such thing as free love that is also real love. Every single attempt at free love reduces to sentimentality and slogans and talk that doesn’t actually do anything. Love without cost is dangerous to your soul. But cross-shaped love is potent; it is dangerous in the right way. Number three,
3. Authentic love is dangerous.
Authentic love is a weapon.
This love of Esther is going to be a wrecking ball that smashes and tears down the wicked, genocidal, Satanic schemes of Haman, the enemy. Love makes us dangerous.
Do you hear that? Dangerous. It’s supposed to; that’s supposed to be what we are. Love is supposed to make us dangerous to sin, to Satan, to the powers and principalities, to the world. It is supposed to make us dangerous.
When we love ourselves and not our neighbor, we endanger our own souls, but make enemies safe. When we love our neighbor and give ourselves away—that makes us dangerous in the right way.
When you look at the cross and really see it, and when you look at the fruit that grew from that cross—how it upended the world—you will begin to understand just how dangerous love is in the hands of the Lord.
The love of Christ tore down and built up kingdoms. It has broken down and rebuilt men and women and children and families and cities and states and nations. It is potent. It isn’t safe. And it is what the Spirit is calling us to right now, as the forgiven, purchased, Spirit-empowered people of God.
God intends to use the weak things of the Kingdom to confound the strong things of the world—things like motherhood and smiling at your coworkers and conversations and meals at tables and singing together as the Lord’s people and the simple invitation of the gospel.
He has shown this in the most ultimate possible way by using the weakness of execution by crucifixion to reorient all things. And he intends to press, not just the whole world, but your life, the lives of his people, into the shape of that world-upending cross.
So who needs you to give your life away? Who is God calling you to love? What walls does he intend to throw down through that love? Walk in the power of the Spirit, give yourself away in love, and you will find out.