This is the start of the narrative in which Esther reveals her true identity. Up until this point she has been living SECRETLY as a Jewess. We have read that she is told by Mordecai to keep her heritage secret ..
“Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so.” (Esther 2:10 niv)
“But Esther had kept secret her family background and nationality just as Mordecai had told her to do, for she continued to follow Mordecai’s instructions as she had done when he was bringing her up.” (Esther 2:20 niv)
Up to this point, we have been given a “bird’s eye view” of the unfolding events and how they play into one another. We know what they call the “back story”. We know that Esther has previously kept her heritage secret, we know the plan to commit genocide on the Jews, we know that Esther is a Jewess and that she is under threat because of this, we know that she has been challenged by Mordecai who has said “don’t think you’ll escape just because you’re here”, we know that Esther and all the Jews have been fasting and praying. We know what Esther is intending to do.
Haman and Xerxes are both oblivious to all of this. Haman, plotting the genocide of the Jews has no idea that he has put Esther at such risk, and the king who has approved this is also completely oblivious to the peril his actions have placed Esther in. Neither of them have any idea about what Esther is going to reveal. This is a “make or break” moment for Esther.
We are right at the heart of the account, the key theme and the whole point of the book of Esther. How she courageously reveals her heritage in the face of extreme risk and saves her people. Today’s message is all about that moment, it’s all about the “reveal” of who she really is. How does she do this? What can we learn from it about how we tell people about our faith?
I am going to talk around this narrative and see if we can tease out some hints and pointers about declaring our faith to those around us.
Xerxes and Haman
Two of the main characters in the narrative tell us something about people who don’t share our faith and their attitudes towards us. Haman is malicious, and Xerxes is oblivious.
Haman – The Malicious one
On occasion the peril we are in as Christians is intended by people. They take positive action which is intended to harm us. Don’t be deceived there are such people in our nation, today, who hate Christians and what they stand for so completely that given a half chance they would do exactly as Haman is planning to do to Mordecai and the Jews – they would take action to destroy us all.
The Asher’s court case is clear evidence of this. The people bringing the action against the Christian baker for not baking a cake promoting gay weddings was a deliberately targeted attack at a Christian baker – they knew full well they would be refused. There is also a case where a Christian guest house was forced out of business because a gay couple deliberately targeted them knowing they wouldn’t be able to agree to them sleeping in the same bed. These are just two examples among many of where action is taken which targets Christians precisely BECAUSE they are Christian. Even though at this point, in the UK, being a Christian is not illegal, but holding to Christian values and living by them is increasingly becoming intolerable to people, and laws are being passed all the time and the day our beliefs and lifestyle are illegal is coming towards us with increasing speed. In other nations, especially the Islamic and Atheistic ones, simply being a Christian already puts your life at risk. Here in this nation, in the United Kingdom, there are those who would approve of the total destruction of Christianity, and if they succeed, this threat may come to our shores as well. We are at risk from these people whether we realise it or not.
We have in those moments to stand on the promises of Scripture …
(1 Peter 3:13–17 niv) “Who is going to harm you if you are eager to do good? But even if you should suffer for what is right, you are blessed. “Do not fear their threats; do not be frightened.” But in your hearts revere Christ as Lord. Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have. But do this with gentleness and respect, keeping a clear conscience, so that those who speak maliciously against your good behaviour in Christ may be ashamed of their slander. For it is better, if it is God’s will, to suffer for doing good than for doing evil.”.
(John 15:20–22 niv) “_Remember what I told you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will persecute you also. If they obeyed my teaching, they will obey yours also. They will treat you this way because of my name, for they do not know the one who sent me. If I had not come and spoken to them, they would not be guilty of sin; but now they have no excuse for their sin.”_
(1 Peter 4:14–16 niv) “If you are insulted because of the name of Christ, you are blessed, for the Spirit of glory and of God rests on you. If you suffer, it should not be as a murderer or thief or any other kind of criminal, or even as a meddler. However, if you suffer as a Christian, do not be ashamed, but praise God that you bear that name.”
In other words, we should not be surprised at this AND the threat should not stop us being who we are.
Xerxes – The Oblivious One
Mostly and more commonly, however, many people just don’t think, or even care, about the effects their actions have on us and our faith. When parliament enacts laws which we, as Christians, find unpalatable, are they doing it for some nefarious anti-Christian reason? For the most part, I believe the answer to that question is “no, they’re not”. They are just so wrapped up in their own concerns that they are indifferent to us. They are more bothered about votes and power than they are about what is right and wrong.
Sometimes people are not not necessarily against us, but for their own reasons, they acquiesce or ignore the harm that is being done. So, for example, there are statutes passed which impact on our faith and the exercise of it (surrounding alternative lifestyles for example). We fall foul of those Laws if we hold to, live out and openly express our Christian faith. We must understand, though, that those who pass the laws are not specifically targeting us, they are just completely unconcerned, oblivious or indifferent to the impact those laws will have on us.
This is a key distinction to recognise because it will impact how people react towards us if we reveal our faith to them. It will determine whether they listen to us or whether thy dismiss us or even try to damage us or our reputation in some way. It pays to be wise and to recognise the motivations and ideologies we see in the people we see around us, and to account for that as we speak to them.
For this reason, many Christians live “secret” lives. They (often quite successfully manage to so “hide” their faith that people around them have no idea that they are believers). They go into work or to school or to the shops, they live among the ungodly and the people around them just cannot see any evidence of their faith. They are secret believers – and they are also all around us.
This is not a new thing.
In the Bible, we read about Joseph of Arimathea, who we read about in the Gospels, “Later, Joseph of Arimathea asked Pilate for the body of Jesus. Now Joseph was a disciple of Jesus, but secretly because he feared the Jewish leaders. With Pilate’s permission, he came and took the body away.” (John 19:38 niv)
(John 12:42–43 niv) “Yet at the same time many even among the leaders believed in him. But because of the Pharisees they would not openly acknowledge their faith for fear they would be put out of the synagogue; for they loved human praise more than praise from God.”
We also know that the disciples were also fearful – that they hid for fear of the authorities:
(John 20:19 niv) “On the evening of that first day of the week, when the disciples were together, with the doors locked for fear of the Jewish leaders”
For the Disciples, the coming of the Holy Spirit at pentecost transformed fearful, hiding, followers of Jesus to bold proclaimers who determined they must fear God, not man. For Some, the right thing to do is boldly proclaim our faith publicly in the face of persecution. For others, it might the right thing to do to keep themselves under the radar like Esther did until the right time to declare is revealed to us.
I don’t know if you’ve heard of something called the catacombs in Rome, tunnels under the city, and in them there is archaeological evidence that the fist believers met in secret. The Icthus was initially a secret Christian symbol, by which believers could identify one another, because revealing your faith to the wrong person meant certain death.
We don’t at this point live in a society where being a Christian means death for us, though coming out as a Christian will often mark us as bigoted and hateful according to the values of today, so it is increasingly challenging to live openly as a person of faith, and increasingly tempting to hide our faith to some degree.
My own testimony has this characteristic. For many years when I was younger, I led a “secret” Christian life. I hid my faith, I watched some of the bolder believers at school suffering teasing and ridicule and I was fearful of being treated the same way if I “came out”. I recognised the inconsistency in my life and responding to the Billy Graham message in 1984 was not an act of faith, but a choice to turn away from a lifestyle of hypocrisy.
A few points here I believe God would put a finger on which were true for Esther as they are true for us as well.
- Just as Esther was a Jewess regardless of whether the king knew or not – we are Christians EVEN if we hide it from others. we don’t know whether or how our faith will impact our lives, but we must be aware that even if we keep our faith secret from those around us, ultimately we will be counted among those of faith and our fate will be the same as theirs.
- We must not criticise other believers who are quiet about their faith. So often the “Go to” of Christians is superiority and criticism of those who live such lives. We quote some of Jesus’ words about acknowledging him before men, and so on, but I ask you also to consider which is better….
To look like the world and live like a Christian, or to look like a Christian and live like the world?
However, we will live in fear of being found out and fear of what will happen to us – which is no way to live at all.
Many “secret believers” come to a watershed, they face a choice, “do I stand and speak out, or stay silent? Do I reveal my faith, or do I keep it hidden?” That was the choice I made in 1984, and that is ultimately the choice every one of us must make.
How we act in that moment reveals our faith for what it really is, are we just going through the motions? Do we really believe the gospel or are we only giving lip service to God? Do we truly have a life giving relationship with Jesus?
Sometimes this choice is forced on us by external circumstances, sometimes like it was for me, it is rooted in deep dissatisfaction with our own witness, and a conviction that the right course of action for us is to nail our colours to the mast.
Are you in some kind of place where you should reveal a secret-possibly even “coming out” about being a follower of Jesus, and you fear that revealing this aspect of yourself is dangerous to you in some way?
What can we learn from Esther’s example about how to do it?
make ‘em wait
Esther asked Xerxes and Haman to come to a banquet that she would prepare, this did a couple of things:
firstly asking Xerxes and Haman to a banquet would ensure that the reveal happened in private, not out in front of many witnesses. this meant that she was not manipulating Xerxes in any way. To confront Xerxes with information in front of other people (bearing in mind his character and his desire to appear as king in front of everyone) would have been a really high risk strategy. So frequently, people feel constrained to act in a certain way because of the opinions of others, so remove that temptation – when witnessing to people, the best thing we can do is ensure that people’s reactions are not determined or driven by the people around them.
I have often found that speaking to one person in a private conversation is far more fruitful than speaking to a group of people where no one wants to lose face in front of their friends.
secondly she chooses the time. Note how Esther increases anticipation by delaying the reveal. She invites Xerxes and Haman to a banquet, and then during the meal she then invites them to another. She reveals her heritage when she is ready, she won’t be rushed and she won’t be pushed.
This delay has an impact on Xerxes, he wants to know what the thing is she’s going to reveal, and as we read in 6:1, his mind is so active in anticipation he can’t sleep.
It also has an impact on Haman, firstly, we read in 5:9 that he is happy and in high spirits. After all the queen has invited him to private meal with the king, how much more could he be honoured. As he leaves though, he is confronted again with the fact that Mordecai will not who him honour. So much so that his happiness and high spirits are reduced to rage almost immediately. It is this rage which he shares with his wife and his friends who encourage him to build a gallows for Mordecai. Haman has no idea what’s coming!
Both of these events prove to be significant in the events as they later unfold. Sometimes there is a delay and the things that happen during the delay can have more impact on our lives than we could ever imagine (reminds me of the delay when Jesus was going to Jairus’ house and he was stopped by the woman who had bleeding – a significant impact on lives happens during a delay).
note also that Haman is broadcasting his hatred of Mordecai and the Jews, and he is scheming and planning against them during this time. Another reminder of what I said earlier about Haman. Some people are so opposed to the things of God that they will plot and scheme to dishonour us in some way.
Haman is going to the king to get approval to impale Mordecai but instead is asked “What should be done for the man the king delights to honor?” Thinking the king is talking about him, he makes suggestions which he would like. The king takes his advice and gives the honour to Mordecai. This gives Haman, and us, the knowledge that even in the face of hate, God is ultimately sovereign over our lives.
Haman’s wife says “Since Mordecai, before whom your downfall has started, is of Jewish origin, you cannot stand against him—you will surely come to ruin!” (Esther 6:13 niv)
the Bible encourages us that even though people might plot and scheme, God is ultimately in control.
Jesus says, “A time is coming and in fact has come when you will be scattered, each to your own home. You will leave me all alone. Yet I am not alone, for my Father is with me. I have told you these things, so that in me you may have peace. In this world you will have trouble. But take heart! I have overcome the world.” (John 16:32–33 niv).
we’ll leave the conclusion of these events to next week, I just want to recap a few things we can take on board.
- Sometimes we may choose to hide our faith, but even when we do that we must still be prepared to reveal who we really are. Like Esther, revealing our faith may have massive implications for us and for others.
- We must recognise that not everyone has the same motivations for how they act towards us. Some will be antagonistic, other will be indifferent. How people feel about Christianity will drive how they relate to us.
- Choosing how and when to share your faith can have a real impact, if we can choose the timing and manner of our witness, we can make a real difference to the outcome.
- You will note that Esther prepared herself to reveal her heritage, through prayer and fasting. We must, as Peter says always be ready to give an answer. Ready, or prepared can have two meanings: ready as in trained and ready as in willing.
Finally, we can note that God also worked in the situation. We must prepare, we must do our part, but we must always remember that God has a part to play, and we must trust Him.
Abraham and Sarah were given a promise by God. A promise that their descendants would be as numerous as the stars in the sky, and they didn’t fully trust Him, instead of standing back and waiting for God to move in His way and in His time, Abraham used Sarah’s maid Hagar and had a son through her. But God’s plan was to come to fruition through Sarah. Hagar’s son Ishmael and his descendants were the source of much of the opposition the Jews have encountered throughout history.
Mordecai and Esther planned, they fasted and they prepared, and God moved. The Jews were saved.
We can plan, we can prepare, we can fast and pray, but ultimately let’s trust God to act sovereignly in every circumstance we encounter. That’s the best and safest thing we can do