Belonging

As a Christian, as a believer in Jesus, where do I belong?

Yesterday at Saar Fellowship we looked at Hebrews 13.1-6, and said that as believers in Jesus we belong to each other (vv.1-4), and ultimately this is possible because we belong to Him (vv.5-6). 

We belong to each other, to the Christian family, to those who have the same key interest and insight as you. That is possible because, by faith in His faithfulness, we belong to Jesus.

He has said that there is never any chance that He will leave or forsake us (v.5). In the original language of the New Testament, this is written in the most emphatic way possible. Our belonging is sure, our belonging is permanent as it rests in Him and not on us. It looks like this…

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Simply, we belong to Him and because of that, to each other.

Replace // Revoke – Esther 8

We would be forgiven for thinking that now Haman is out of the way (7.10) that everything is going to be ok, but the decree to kill all of the Jews in the Empire is still valid (cf. 1.19) as we get into Esther 8. If you haven’t read the chapter recently, you can do so here

The honour given to Haman is bestowed on Mordecai, and the shame that was intended for Mordecai and his people found its way to Haman (vv.1-2). Esther is intense in her emotions as she approaches the King again (v.3), and the King states that the old letter and proclamation be replaced by a new (v.8). We see that the old directive cannot be revoked, but it can be replaced. There is an urgency with this new message (v.14), and the good news produces in God’s people light and gladness and joy and honour. These feelings came from the good news that God’s people would be able to take vengeance on their enemies, to triumph over their enemies, to gather and defend their lives.

Again when reading the book of Esther, even though not specifically mentioned by name or in Christian-ese terminology, we see a wonderful preview and picture of Jesus and the New Covenant that He came, lived, died, and rose to secure. The old letter from the King cannot be revoked, nor should it be really.

Once a Sovereign declares something, do we really want them to revoke and go back on their word? Would we take seriously a leader who says one thing, waits a while, then changes their mind? If this leader is wise, the first declaration will have been long thought-over and saturated with wisdom. When people in their fallen sinful humanity behave as such, is it right for that leader simply to revoke what they said? I think of that old phrase about the tail wagging the dog…

Rather, here we see that Xerxes stuck to his word, but also gave provision for the deliverance of the innocent (v.8). This is a wonderful preview of the Old and New Covenants. The Old was initiated in good faith, with good conscience, and with the intention of furthering the kingdom (3.8-11). Now, it is important to say that, obviously, Xerxes was deceived into making this agreement and did so not knowing the full picture, but, in principle, he thought he was acting in the best interests of his kingdom.

Likewise, the Old Covenant was given for the best interests of God’s Kingdom and His people. But, people being people, the sinful and fallen humanity twisted and broke this covenant to the point where a New Covenant was needed, one that sought to reestablish the original intention of the first, one that rested on a much more trustworthy person, and one that truly did seek what was best for God’s people.

How grateful we are that we live now under this New Covenant, that this New Covenant doesn’t rest on us to uphold it (for it would surely have been broken by now), and that this New Covenant truly does provide what is best for God’s people.

Guilty // Innocent – Esther 7

For an Old Testament book that is often overlooked or forgotten, Esther is proving to be a wonderful Christ-centered text to read, isn’t it. If you haven’t read Esther 7 recently, you can do so here.

The story picks up at the feast arranged in 5.8, and Esther finally lays out her request before the King,

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated. If we had been sold merely as slaves, men and women, I would have been silent, for our affliction is not to be compared with the loss to the king.”

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Here is where Esther finally identifies herself as Jewish (my people…we have…I and my people…we had been…our affliction…). Following her request, Esther lays the responsibility square where it belongs, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Inviting him to a private party with the King and Queen proved a very shrewd move indeed.

Xerxes is filled with wrath and, sensibly for a man who commanded the sea to be whipped, takes a walk in the garden (v.7). Haman begs for his life, trips, falls on to the couch Esther is sitting on, incriminates himself even more, and is taken away to be executed (vv.7-8). He is then impaled on the stake he had prepared for Mordecai, as in 2.23, and the wrath of the king abated.

Esther 7 gives us a wonderful type (preview, foreshadow) of the substitutionary death of Jesus. Here in Esther, the guilty party dies to abate the wrath of the king and save the innocent. However, flip that around and we see the story of Jesus shining though; the innocent dies to satisfy the wrath coming against the guilty.

Just think, are we talking here about Haman or Jesus?

A substitutionary death to calm the anger of a King.

A substitutionary death to save God’s people.

A substitutionary death to turn away wrath.

A substitutionary death to absorb punishment.

A substitutionary death.

See, when we look, when we think, when we pause, and when we see, Jesus is in every book of the Bible. All of the law and the prophets point to Him, and it is those He came to fulfill. Here in Esther 7, His death that gave us life is shining through!

More Providence- Esther 6

In chapter 5 we saw another strong foreshadowing of Jesus, and today more providential circumstances are on show. If you haven’t read Esther 6 recently, you can do so here

The providential circumstances are on show in vv.1-6, and we see that nothing happens by accident. Of all the books to be brought, of all the pages to be opened, of all the accounts to be read, the King hears about Mordecai. There are no happy accidents when we trust our lives to the Lord. 

Providentially, Haman is in the court at the right time (v.5) and he lays out a wonderful proposed gesture for the man whom the king delights to honour. Sadly, for Haman at least, this plan backfires spectacularly and the King ends up saying “…as you have said, and do so to Mordecai the Jew…”.

Haman then has to eat a huge slice of humble pie and personally and physically dresses Mordecai in the royal robes and parades him around as an example of what happens to those the King favours (v.11).

This is really the beginning of the end for Haman, and he finally receives some sensible counsel when he is told “If Mordecai…is of the Jewish people, you will not overcome him but will surely fall before him.”

The arranging of circumstances, people, places, timings, books, pages, comings, and goings by the Lord to facilitate His good and perfect will is just amazing, isn’t it. Reading this passage, I couldn’t help but think of this, from Proverbs

Image result for many are the plans of a man's heart

I would encourage you today just to pause. 

Pause and look around at what is happening in your life. Who is happening in your life. 

Pause and look at what the Lord is doing and allowing in your life. 

We have many plans that, if we are honest, are often self-exalting. We have seen here in Esther that when we plan our own climb, we are often unknowingly plotting our own fall. Rather than seek to prosper ourselves, let us trust in a good, loving God who has promised to work all things for our good.

Pause, pray, and look for His providence.

Priorities – Esther 5

Today Esther takes great courage and puts her plan (4.16) into action. If you’ve not read Esther 5 you can do so here.

Going in to see the King unannounced took great courage, give the law of the land (4.11) and the King’s previous dealings with his wives (1.12). Providentially, Esther is received with favour (v.2), and rather than get straight to business, Esther builds trust and relationship with the King (vv.4-8).

This might be difficult to understand to those with a Western, black-and-white, truth and error worldview; Esther needs something, the King can grant it, so let’s ask him for it. However, given the culture in which these events took place, relationship is more important than truth, shame and honour trump right and wrong, and going from 0-100 when making requests and petitions is not the done-thing.

Esther gets her priorities right, but we see that Haman has his all wrong. Having been invited to a private party with the King and Queen, he still find himself filled with wrath on seeing Mordecai. He is irrational, selfish, prideful, and boastful, and cares more about what others think of him than what is actually going on in his life. He is so consumed by all of this that he agrees to have Mordecai put to death in the most horrendous way, despite the fact that the annihilation of his people is already coming (3.15). Haman arranges for Mordecai to be impaled on a giant stake,

“A pointed stake is set upright in the ground, and the culprit is taken, placed on the sharp point, and then pulled down by his legs till the stake that went in at the fundament passes up through the body and comes out through the neck. A most dreadful species of punishment, in which revenge and cruelty may glut the utmost of their malice. The culprit lives a considerable time in excruciating agonies.” 

So irrational, so consumed, so bothered about what others think of him and how he is treated, he is pleased by this idea and has the gallows made.


This same irrational hatred and self-centredness led people to kill another innocent man.

Another innocent man was hung on a large, wooden torture device.

Another innocent man was killed to satisfy the self-important, self-centred, self-centric priorities of people.


 

The same irrational, violent hatred that made Haman want to see Mordecai hang to his death is the same irrational, violent hatred that made man want to hang Jesus on a cross.

Where we have wrong priorities, wrong choices and wrong actions are sure to be close behind. Esther focused on others, on relationships, on honouring people. Haman focused on himself. For the modern day believer, we could do a lot worse than model the priorities of Esther in our approach to Jesus; courage to approach, a focus on relationship, and seeking to honour.

Foreshadow- Esther 4

Coming off the back of learning that his people are to be systematically killed (3.13), Mordecai responds somewhat understandably and seeks out help. Perhaps he feels responsible(3.5-6), perhaps he knows this cannot be changed (1.9), perhaps he is just overcome with sadness, but he makes enough of a scene to attract the attention of Esther (v.4). 

Mordecai wants Esther to boldly approach the King to stop this coming atrocity (v.8). Esther is in a difficult situation wherein she wants to help, but circumstances seem to be very much against her (v.11). 

After laying some harsh truth on Esther (v.13), Mordecai then says,

And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this?

Esther 4.14b 

Could this be a reason behind the providence shown to her?

Could this be why Esther has been taken from relative obscurity to this privileged and powerful position?

Could it be that Esther was put in this role for this very moment, to be the representative for her people against a seemingly undefeatable enemy?

The courageous actions of one from humble beginnings allowing God’s people to be saved?

Esther gathers collective support (v.16), and commits boldly to being the representative that God’s people need (v.16b). 

Reading this chapter, we cannot escape the foreshadowing of our Lord and Saviour Jesus. One from humble beginnings, called to take on the task of snatching God’s people from impending death through a situation that looks like it will claim the life of the redeemer.

It would be easy to read this chapter and think of ourselves as Esther; you are here, you need to be bold, you need to save some people…the problem with that is that it leaves Jesus out of the story completely, the One whom all the Scriptures point to. 

He defeated a seemingly undefeatable situation.

He entered into the battle even though it seemed like it would claim His life.

He saved God’s people.

He saved you from impending death.

Friends, you don’t need to be Esther in this story because you are the redeemed, you are the saved, you are the people snatched from death to life through the person and work of Jesus.

Listen & Obey

There is a scene in the movie Finding Nemo where his Dad is telling him to stay close and to stay with him, and Nemo neither listens nor obeys. The result is that Nemo is taken away from his Dad, his friends, his environment, everything he knows, and this could have all been avoided if he had listened and obeyed. 

Yesterday at Saar Fellowship we had an all-age service and read Hebrews 12.25-29,

25 See that you do not refuse him who is speaking. For if they did not escape when they refused him who warned them on earth, much less will we escape if we reject him who warns from heaven. 26 At that time his voice shook the earth, but now he has promised, “Yet once more I will shake not only the earth but also the heavens.” 27 This phrase, “Yet once more,” indicates the removal of things that are shaken—that is, things that have been made—in order that the things that cannot be shaken may remain. 28 Therefore let us be grateful for receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, and thus let us offer to God acceptable worship, with reverence and awe, 29 for our God is a consuming fire.

In the context of a family service, we talked about how the Bible teaches us that to listen and obey our parents is a good thing,

Ephesians 6.1Children, obey your parents because you belong to the Lord, for this is the right thing to do.

Colossians 3.20 – Children, always obey your parents, for this pleases the Lord.

Here in Hebrews, they are being taught the same lesson – listen and obey.

See that you do not refuse him who is speaking.

For the Hebrews then, previously if they didn’t listen to and obey the law, there were consequences. Now we know that Jesus is much greater than the law, don’t we. So if there were consequences for not listening to the law, how much more should we listen to and obey Jesus?

Hebrews 12 finishes with a powerful message about God – 

He has given us a kingdom which cannot be shaken, something that can never be taken away from us.

He had spoken earlier to the Israelites at the giving of the Law through Moses. Those people had refused God’s message on earth and tried to do their own thing. Those that did not listen and obey and did not escape, like Nemo. 

For us now, God is still speaking, at many times in many ways He spoke before, now it is all through the person and work of Jesus, that is what we need to listen to and that is what we need to obey.

He is so much greater than Nemo’s Dad, isn’t He, so much greater than laws and rules and regs, all of Hebrews has shown us how much greater He is than anything ever! 

Surely we must listen and obey Him.