First Lesson: Esther 7: 1-6, 9-10; 9: 20-22
Responsive Reading: Psalm 124
Second Lesson: James 5: 13-20
Gospel Lesson: Mark 9: 38-50
Grace and Peace from Our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ,
I want to tell you the story today of the Queen, who grew up an orphan. I want to tell you the story of a queen who rose to the throne in a land other than her own. I want to tell you the story of a queen whose exploits were such that she became a national hero who her people celebrate over 2000 years after her death. This morning, I want to tell you the story of Queen Esther.
Esther’s story begins about a century before she was born. The Jewish people strayed from worshiping the one true God against the warnings of men like Jeremiah. The Babylonians had conquered and seized the land of the Jewish people. Many Jews had been forced from their homes for generations and forced to migrant to the Kingdom of Babylon. But like all great empires, the Babylonians soon fell to a more powerful army of the Persians. The Persians soon controlled all Babylonian land. Living in the capital of these Persian lands was Esther along with her cousin Mordecai that raised her after the death of both of Esther’s parents.
How did Esther become a queen? Our story begins with a great royal banquet.
King Artaxerxes was the most powerful man in the world as the ruler of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes decided to hold a banquet of triumph for all the dignitaries and inhabitants of the capital city. At this banquet, Artaxerxes wanted to parade his Queen before the people. The Queen refused to appear. At this sign of great disrespect, Artaxerxes decided to begin a search for a new queen. Artaxerxes decided to hold a beauty contest for women from all 127 provinces of the Persian Empire. Artaxerxes was going to choose the best looking woman from the Middle East to India to be his queen. Esther was a beauty. Older folks might imagine Sophia Loren, younger folks might imagine Jessica Alba when they picture Esther. Esther was chosen to be the new Queen of Persia.
Esther had a secret though that she wasn’t going to tell. Esther was a Jew. The Persians didn’t know what to make of the Jews and their religious ceremonies. If word got out that Esther was a Jewish queen, there would be trouble for not only Esther, but it would cause a weakened standing for Artaxerxes in the eyes of his people.
If Esther is the hero of our story, then the story needs a great villain. Haman is a great villain. Haman was an official of King Artaxerxes. Haman wasn’t satisfied. Haman had a big ego. Haman thought that he should be king so that all the people would bow before him. Haman’s life was one continual power trip because of this. One day, Haman encounters Esther’s foster father Mordecai, who refuses to bow down before Haman. Haman snapped! Haman decided that he wanted revenge not only against Mordecai but all Jews.
Haman decides to throw dice or “pur” as a way of determining the extermination date for the Jews. A favorable roll for the Jewish people takes place as Haman’s plan was going through in eleven months time. King Artaxerxes gives Haman’s plan his blessing. The threat was so serious that 375 tons of silver were set aside to enlist soldiers to carry out the extermination. It was the custom of the Persians that not even the King himself could withdraw such an order. Esther, Mordecai, and all the Jews in the Persian Empire had eleven months to live. God’s people would soon be no more!
Mordecai heard about Haman and Artaxerxes’ plan and was frightened. Mordecai began to weep in sackcloth and ashes. Mordecai figured that there was only one person in all of Persia that could save his people in Esther. Mordecai goes to Esther imploring her to take action. Esther was closer to Mordecai then anybody else in the world.
Esther initially was afraid of acting upon Mordecai’s request. Esther did not know what might happen to her once her secret became known. Esther’s secret was a source of terror for her.
Mordecai though says to Esther the most important thing in her story “For this time Esther you have been born, God has put you in this place to save his people?”
Mordecai reminded Esther that she did not become queen by accident. Esther was queen because God wanted her to appear before the King. Esther knew that approaching Artaxerxes was going to be risky. The King did not know that Esther was Jewish. Esther asked that Mordecai ask her people to pray for her for three straight days.
Where Esther did not know how to approach the King, Esther had a trump card, though. Esther’s trump card has caused plenty of men to do stupid things for women over the years. Esther knew that Artaxerxes would not be able to resist her beauty. Esther gets invited to a feast with Haman and Artaxerxes. At this banquet, Haman sees Mordecai outside once again. Haman’s obsession was getting Mordecai to bow down before him. Mordecai still refuses. Haman snaps he orders that gallows be built “seventy feet high” to hang Mordecai. King Artaxerxes also saw Mordecai on that day remembering him from before. Mordecai harbored no ill-will towards the King. Mordecai, in fact, a while back had saved Artaxerxes’ life by warning him of a plot that had planned by a couple of his officials.
Artaxerxes, in fact, couldn’t sleep that night as he remembers his failure to honor Mordecai for his previous service. So Artaxerxes decides to do something for Mordecai. Artaxerxes asks Haman “How can you honor a man who served the king with a great reward?” Haman is feeling pretty good about himself at this point. Haman figures the King is talking about him. Haman sticks his chest out, begins to walk around the palace with a strut. Haman is soon shocked though to learn that the King wishes to honor Mordecai. Mordecai! Really! Haman thought Mordecai was the last person to honor. To Haman, this would seem like Barack Obama wishing to give a presidential medal to Donald Trump. The King wanted to put his own robe on Mordecai and parade him all over the capital city. Haman was ordered to lead the King’s horse and Mordecai in this process. Haman was humiliated. Haman figured though his blood-thirst for Mordecai would soon be satisfied.
Esther requests a second banquet take place. Esther wants Haman present at this second banquet. Esther was finally going to reveal her secret to the world.
“For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.”
Esther revealing her faith would have been a huge political scandal. Think of Esther like you would Bill Clinton-Monica Lewinsky, Thomas Jefferson-Sally Hemmings in 5th Century BC Persia. Jaws would have hit the floor upon this revelation. The Persian King married to a Jewish woman! This would have seemed like a story straight out of the National Enquirer.
The evening drama though was just beginning as Esther pointed out how Haman was behind a plot to exterminate her people. Artaxerxes was furious! Artaxerxes stormed out of the room! Haman for the first time in the last number of months no longer obsesses with Mordecai but rather protecting his own life. Haman begins to grovel to Esther pleading for her to save his life. Right at this moment though comes bad news in Artaxerxes returning to the banquet room and thinking that Esther is being assaulted by Haman. Never touch another man’s wife! Haman is sentenced to death by immediate hanging. Haman suffers the death that he had spent months plotting for Mordecai.
There was still one little problem, though. The King could not rescind his decree to exterminate the Jewish people. Royal decrees always being honored was the law of the Persians. The King does allow the Jewish people though the right to defend themselves. Soon Haman’s sons and their allies had been defeated at the hands of their Jewish enemies.
Esther and Mordecai’s story has a happy ending. Esther sends a letter to the Jewish people advocating to create a holiday which would celebrate the day of the Jewish people’s redemption in Purim. Esther would receive all of Haman’s land, and Mordecai would receive Haman’s position. All the Jews enemies in Persia were defeated. Esther had saved her people!
So what is the meaning of Esther’s story for our lives? Martin Luther did not like the Book of Esther. Esther is a unique book along with Song of Solomon in that it never mentions God within its pages. Esther is rather a story about God’s chosen people. Esther brings up the common Biblical theme of enemies of the faith seeking to destroy it.
What the story reminds us of is that God lurks in the shadows even when we can’t necessarily see him. God’s people had been assigned a death sentence, yet God rises up the orphan Esther to be a queen. Esther is a story of coincidences that end with a remarkable conclusion.
Mordecai was now the prime minister of Persia where as Esther was the queen.
Esther above all else is a story of death and resurrection. When Esther initially appraised the situation of trying to save her people it seemed to be hopeless. Mordecai reminded Esther thought that God will not abandon his people even when times seem to be at their bleakest.
Esther then went forth to her place of judgment in the presence of the king with the utmost of confidence. The key line in the entire book is Esther saying “If I must die, I will die”. Esther reminds us that the grave is not the scariest thing that we might encounter; instead what is scarier is that no one promises to die alongside us.
Esther’s story is a tale of hope for us as Christian people. God does not and will not fail his people. Our evidence of this is the cross. The Cross serves as the definitive proof that there is not one place where God will not go for our salvation. God will save his people through the Queen of Persia, God will save his people through a burning bush, God will his save people in a Lions’ den, and God will save us in spite of our best proofs at a given moment that salvation is currently taking place. In Esther’s story God’s plan took place over the course of eleven months, in our story, God’s plan of salvation might take a lifetime.
Esther’s story reminds us of the famous words of the 46th Psalm: “Be still, and know that I am God.”
No matter how mighty of foes we might be facing on this day, God’s faithfulness towards his people will ultimately win out in the end. Amen
 Markquart, Ed. “Ester”. Sermons from Seattle. Web. Sept.17.2015.
 Esther 4:14
 Esther 7:4
 Smith, Vaughn. “The Sovereign in the Shadows”. Lectionary.Org sermons- Esther 7. 2009. Web. Sept.17.2015
 Esther 4:16
 Psalm 46:10