The Book of Esther #5
Problems, Prayer & Pride
Esther 5:1-14
I wanted to take a quick poll tonight before I get into the Bible study.  I am looking for people who have encountered some problems or difficulties in their life or may have some facing them now.   It may be a health related problem, finances, family, work, church or some other thing. If you are one of these people, please raise your hand.
The truth is I can’t think of anyone I know who doesn’t have problems of some sort. From leaky roofs to arthritis, bald tires or misbehaving kids, everyone has problems. Sometimes you may feel like the men I read about on a sinking ship.
Left on this ship were the captain and three sailors. The captain spoke first. "Men, this business about a captain going down with his ship is nonsense. There’s a three-man life raft on board and I’m going to be on it. To see who will come with me, I will ask you each one question. The one who can’t answer will stay behind. Here’s the first question: What unsinkable ship went down when it hit an iceberg?" The first sailor answered, "The Titanic, sir." "On to the next question: How many people perished?" The second sailor said, "One thousand five hundred and seventeen, sir." "Now for the third question," and the captain turned to sailor number three. "What were their names?"
Four weeks ago, we began to look at this story that took place almost 500 years before Jesus was born. The Jews had begun to go home after 70 years of Babylonian captivity, but many of them remained in Persia. It was the greatest empire of the day, stretching all the way from Ethiopia to India. And it was ruled by a carnal and often cruel king named Ahasuerus or Xerxes.
At the end of a 6-month drunken celebration, the king commanded that the queen be brought before that crowd. He wanted to put Queen Vashti on display in an ungodly and indecent way, but Vashti refused. So in a drunken rage, the king agreed to a plan to take the crown away from Vashti and give it to another.
In the providence of God, against incredible odds, Esther the orphan and secret Jew was chosen to be the new queen. Esther’s selection as the new queen turned out to be a matter of life and death for the whole Jewish people. That’s because the new Prime Minister, Haman, hated the Jews and convinced the king to issue an irreversible decree to slaughter them all.
Esther 3:13 explains that “letters were sent by couriers into all the king's provinces, to destroy, to kill, and to annihilate all the Jews, both young and old, little children and women, in one day, on the thirteenth day of the twelfth month, which is the month of Adar, and to plunder their possessions.”
Jews all over the empire were devastated when they heard the terrible news. But living in the isolation of the queen’s house, Esther did not know about the slaughter planned for her people, until she was alerted by Mordecai. He was the older cousin who adopted Esther upon the death of her parents.
Communicating through messengers, Esther first learned of the murderous decree. Then she was persuaded to risk her life by coming before the king to plead for her people.
Now up to this point in her life, I think it safe to assume that Esther had enjoyed relative ease, living a life with the normal challenges of growing up.
She was separated from her immediate family somehow, a common occurrence among the Jewish people during these times of conquering. However, things are different now. The Scripture states so clearly that “to whom much is given, much is required.”
God has brought Esther to the top, but it is a lonely place, a lesson Esther has quickly learned now that she has to put her own life on the line in going to the king. She is afraid for her life, and is not completely sure of what to say if she does win an audience with him.
But the truth of the matter is, the simple definition of success is doing what God says.  And that’s basically what Mordecai told Esther. He said, “You have to do this thing. Who knows whether this is your life’s purpose?” Regardless of the outcome, Esther was fulfilling God’s purpose for her life, and that is success!
Tonight we come to chapter 5, and it’s rather short and simple to interpret.  It basically shows us two approaches to life that we can choose.  Let’s read it, and then I’ll show you what I mean. 
Chapter 5:1-14
The story revolves around, first of all
  1.  Esther’s Prayer
Verses 1 – 8
I can’t tell you how many times I have heard the phrase, “Pray for me.” Almost every day, someone says that to me. We put together our prayer lists; we say our mealtime prayers, our bedtime prayers, our morning prayers, our opening and closing prayers, and any other kind of prayers we can fit it, but I wonder sometimes if we really have a high regard for the power of prayer? 
The prayer time at church is the least attended thing we do.  Sometimes it seems like everyone wants to be sure someone is praying for them; they just don’t want to be involved in praying for others. 
When Esther told Mordecai to pray, and to have all the people pray, she wasn’t asking as a formality or to sound spiritual. She knew that all her earthly success depended on the divine intervention of heaven. How often we are asked to pray, and yet we do not think enough to remember what we are to pray for, or we simply do not pray as though we were absolutely dependent on the God of heaven for an answer.
We must elevate our view of prayer – it is no little thing. It is not a habit to be taken lightly or to discard as either a formality or an inconvenience. Prayer is not one of the things we are to do, it is the main thing. Moses was a prayer warrior. So was Samuel, and David and Paul and Jesus. They spent hours in prayer pleading for God to do great things.
I read about men like Martin Luther, who prayed up to three hours a day. John Wesley prayed for two hours a day. It is said that the missionary Adoniram Judson made it a habit to withdraw from everyone and everything seven times a day in order to pray. He began at dawn; then at nine, twelve, three, six, nine, and midnight.
I would venture to say that most of us do not spend much time pouring our hearts out to God in fervent, heartfelt prayers for divine intervention.
Place that in contrast to Esther.  In reality, her circumstances were very similar to ours.  Our nation, like hers is in a precarious position. I think few really realize the significance of this election and what another four years of Obama could mean. 
Someone asked me the other day about whether I believed he was the anti-Christ.  I don’t, but I do believe him to be the one preparing the way.  His world-view and attitude about America make him a perfect fit for what the Bible tells us of the anit-Christ. 
And I say all of that to say this:  It may well be God’s plan to bring the end of the world together through policies and positions that he favors, but that ought not keep the people of God from praying against it and working to stop it.
We are living in a time, much like Esther found herself when we should be actively praying and fasting on behalf of our people.  
It’s really not all that difficult.  In simple childlike faith we are taught in the Scriptures to come to our heavenly Father and ask Him to meet our needs, in faith, believing that He can and that He will answer our prayers. You should have such an elevated view of prayer that you ask for your daily needs to be met. Plead with God for our children. Pray for marriages. Pray for me and for one another. Pray for your church, and for anything else that the Spirit brings to your mind.
And by the way, if we prayed more, we might be less pessimistic. We should never find ourselves saying that this thing can’t be done, or that person will never change. To say that there is no hope is to deny the power of God working through the life-changing prayers of His people.
If you want real success in the midst of your troubles; if you want to see God work great change in your life or your home or your church, then pour out your hearts to God. Some of us are a lot like the hound I heard about sitting in a country store and howling as hounds do. In comes a stranger who says to the storekeeper, "What’s the matter with the dog?" "He’s sitting on a cockleburr." "Why doesn’t he get off?" "He’d rather holler."
Esther recognized the significance of prayer.
In contrast to that, notice
  1.  Haman’s Pride
I hope that you can see the two great opposing character traits at work in this chapter. On the one hand you see Esther and the Jewish people in prayer. Do you know what prayer is? Prayer is simply the result of a heart that has been humbled before the God of heaven, making known the needs of a person or a people who have no ability to help themselves.
In contrast to that is boasting.  If prayer is the result of humility, then boasting is the result of pride, and rather than being driven to a cross, boasting seeks a crown. Prayer is the result of humility. Prayer is saying to God, “I am nothing.” Boasting is saying to God and everyone else, “I am everything.”
Haman was so proud of himself and what he had done that when he got home that day he invited all his friends over so he could tell them all about himself.
Verse 11
And yet he wasn’t happy. 
Haman was so infuriated that he couldn’t even enjoy his good fortune. He told his friends and family that he couldn’t enjoy what was happening to him so long as Mordecai was alive, and though Mordecai was to be killed in just a few months by the king’s decree, Haman wouldn’t wait.
He had a seventy-five foot gallows built, for all to see what Mordecai’s fate was for not bowing in the presence of Haman. It was madness. He was infuriated, driven to an extreme because of a heart of pride – pride that would ultimately lead to his demise.
So let’s get back to where we started: with problems. Both Esther and Haman had a problem. Both were closer to the king than anyone else, and both had a great deal of family and friends supporting them, but they responded differently to their problems, and that response made all the difference in their success. Esther humbled herself, Haman elevated himself. Esther prayed; Haman boasted. Esther pleaded; Haman plotted.
What do you do when faced with life’s troubles?  Let me give you some lessons to keep in mind when you’re going through a struggle. 
1. Prayerful People Accept God’s Pardon
verses 1-3
Esther was facing the death penalty for appearing before the king uninvited. But vs. 2 tells us that Esther found “favor” in the sight of the king.
The word translated as “favor” here also means “grace,” “graciousness” or “acceptance.” It’s the same word used in Genesis 6:8, where “Noah found grace in the eyes of the LORD.”
Esther desperately needed grace from King Ahasuerus, but we all need grace from the King of Kings.  Thank God that we find His grace in the cross of Jesus Christ!
Ephesians 2:4-9
Imagine how relieved Esther must have been when she saw the king raise his scepter to grant her a pardon.  -How foolish she would have been to reject the king’s pardon. -But not as foolish as we would be to reject a pardon from God!
And by the way, notice that when Esther reached out to receive the king’s pardon in vs. 2, she not only found life, but abundant life.
Verse 3
Esther’s pardon reminds us of the abundant, eternal life we can all receive from Jesus Christ, the King of Kings.
2. Prayerful People Recognize God’s Plan
Verses 3-8
What happens there is not what I expected and it’s certainly not what most people would have done. Most people wouldn’t have waited two seconds before they complained to the king about Haman’s vicious plot.
Why did Esther wait? Where did she get her plan? I think it came from God in answer to three days of prayer and fasting from Esther and God’s people.
That reminds me of the truth in Isaiah 55 that God’s ways are not like our ways. God’s plans have often been most unexpected.
In Exodus 14:15-16, God’s people were trapped between the Red Sea and the Egyptian army.
15. And the LORD said to Moses, "Why do you cry to Me? Tell the children of Israel to go forward.
16. But lift up your rod, and stretch out your hand over the sea and divide it. And the children of Israel shall go on dry ground through the midst of the sea.
When Joshua fought the Battle of Jericho, the walls came tumbling down, all in accordance with God’s plan for victory.
In 2 Kings 5:10, Naaman was the commander of the Syrian army, and a good man, but he was sick with the terrible disease of leprosy. What was he to do? -- “Elisha sent a messenger to him, saying, ‘Go and wash in the Jordan seven times, and your flesh shall be restored to you, and you shall be clean.’”
Sometimes God’s plans are unexpected, and if we aren’t prayerful. We’ll miss what God is doing. 
3. Prayerful People Seek God’s Presence
Verses 9-13
C.S. Lewis wrote the best explanation of pride I have ever seen. Here is just a little of what Lewis said: “There is one vice of which no man in the world is free; which everyone in the world loathes when he sees it in someone else; and of which hardly any people, except Christians, ever imagine that they are guilty themselves. . .
Pride drives us from the presence of God.  It was through pride that the devil became the devil.  It is the complete anti-God state of mind.
Pride always means enmity, not only between man and man, but enmity to God. In God you come up against something which is in every respect immeasurably superior to yourself. Unless you know God as that and, therefore, know yourself as nothing in comparison, you do not know God at all.
As long as you are proud you cannot know God. A proud man is always looking down on things and people. And, of course, as long as you are looking down, you cannot see something that is above you.
On the other hand, a prayerful person depends upon and relies upon the presence of God.  It is the strength of our life.  It is our source of dependence.  Esther was about to learn a valuable lesson about the essence of living close to God. 
4. Prayerful People Rely on God’s Power
Verse 14
I think it important to keep in mind that this is not the end of the story.  Things may look bad and getting worse.  They certainly did for Mordecai, but God is still in charge. 
In Acts 3 and 4, Peter and John were going into the Temple to pray, when a poor beggar asked them for alms. That man had been lame for over 40 years, ever since the day of his birth. And in Acts 3:6, Peter told him:
“Silver and gold I do not have, but what I do have I give you: In the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, rise up and walk.”
By the power of God, that man was miraculously healed. And it caused a great stir that gave Peter and John the opportunity to preach to the people about the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus Christ. Five thousand people were saved!
But Peter and John were arrested and hauled before the high court. They were questioned and threatened, but both took a bold stand for the Lord. And the rulers were forced to let them go, because the healed man was there for everyone to see.
Listen to the prayer the church prayed in Acts 4:24-30, after Peter and John reported everything that had happened.
Acts 4:24-30
God is in control.  God was working behind the scenes to help Esther and Mordecai, and He is at work in our lives today as well. 
Don’t get swelled up with pride.  Instead pray.


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