THE FEAST OF PURIM 2001
Sabbath Day Sermon, Saturday 10 March 2001
Today we are faced with the knowledge that multitudes of people are dying every day under the reign of unrighteous leaders and laws that defy Yahweh's commandments. History reminds us that where nations are under the rule of ethnic warlords or men such as Hitler and Saddam Hussein, thousands of people are being destroyed, oppressed or starving without receiving the salvation message of the forgiveness of sin and fellowship with our Heavenly Father, Yahweh-Elohim, though Yah'shua the Messiah (Jesus Christ).
Yesterday was the Feast of Purim which you remember commemorates those brave deeds of Queen Esther who was placed in a position of great influence. After she learned of the king's decree to destroy, kill and annihilate all of the Jews in the Persian Empire, Esther called for a three day fast from all food and water. As she counted the cost with these words, "If I perish, if I perish", Mordecai, her uncle, united with her in calling all of God's people in Susa to join with them in this fast. Through their fasting and intercession, Haman, the enemy of Yahweh's people, was hanged and the evil plans of the 'strongman' were countered. A new decree was sent forth reversing Satan's plan, liberating multitudes of Jews from mass destruction.
Like Esther and Mordecai, we live in such a time as this, though we, living our sheltered lives out here in the Swedish wilderness, might not always be aware of it. Friends of mine living in Safed in Israel tell me that there is much talk of another major war breaking out in the Middle East. The Muslims are clamouring for it, hoping that this time they will succeed in wiping out the little state of Israel. Saddam Hussein is threatening to attack it again, and it is widely believed that he now possesses nuclear weapons. In Israel itself the Talmudic Jews are persecuting believers in Christ and throughout the world Bible-believing Christians are being murdered, even today. God-mocking and oppressive laws in such countries as the former Soviet Republics in Asia, Pakistan, and elsewhere are putting Christians under unbearable pressure. Christians are murdered in Indonesia and forced to convert to Islam under threat of death. Christians in southern Sudan are sold into slavery in the Muslim north. The violence against Christians has escalated in Hindu India. We fear the worst for our two brethren in India and Pakistan with whom we have lost contact. Who is to blame for all this?
The simple answer is, of course, Satan, and all of his followers, both those who openly confess to being his disciples and those who have no idea, but who unknowingly work for Satan by professing atheism and adhering to false religion. But Christians themselves are also much to blame, for we live in a casual and a careless age where people seem more interested in self than with others. Our sense of community and family is being destroyed even amongst Christians. There is a lack of repentance for wrongdoing, and a lack of purity amongst believers is robbing the church of its power of intercession.
I am sure every one of you can imagine the horror and despair that the Jews felt when they read the order for their complete and utter extermination. Mothers must have looked anxiously at their little ones, husbands and fathers at their wives and daughters. The Book of Esther tells us that there was a great mourning. Why, they doubtless asked, was this happening to them? Unlike Job's friends who tried to rationalise what their friend's sins were, and ended up twisting the truth in every imaginable way, the Jews of Persia had no time for self-examination. Facing imminent death for their whole community, they did the only thing that was left to them: they fasted and prayed for three whole days in deep humility.
The three main characters in the Book of Esther are, of course, prophetic representations. The King, Ahasuerus (Gk. Xerxes, Pers. Khshayarshan), represents the Heavenly King, Yahweh-Elohim, to whom we lift up our prayers in intercession. Queen Esther, his wife, represents Israel, to whom Scripture says God is symbolically married. Under the New Covenant the King is a type of Christ and Esther of the Church. It was Esther's intercession with her husband that saved the rest of the people.
Esther, as you know, was not always Queen. The King of Persia was married to many wives, just as our Heavenly Father is symbolically married to many believers. His original Queen was the beautiful Vashti who was disobedient and was replaced by Esther. With a little prophetic hindsight I am sure you can all see that Vashti represented Judea, the nation eventually occupied and destroyed by the Romans. When Judea went into revolt she was finally destroyed and dispersed amongst the nations, falling out of favour with God. There is more that could be said about this prophetic type but there isn't time today.
More importantly, Vashti is a type of the disobedient Christian who refuses to do what her Master instructs. We are told in the New Testament that the disobedient will eventually be separated out from the obedient - the impure from the pure - and be replaced by the obedient and pure at the end of the age. The righteous usually have to suffer at the hands of the unrighteous in this world, but there is a time of reckoning to come, when the first will become last, and the last first.
Can you imagine what would have happened if Vashti had remained on the throne as Queen? The wicked Haman was still out to destroy Mordecai and probably would have succeeded since he, as Prime Minister, was the second most powerful man in the land. Would Vashti have interceded for the Jews? Hardly - because she had no connection with them. She, like most vain women, was more taken up with her own beauty and position. Indeed, she became so conceited in the end that she defied her lord and master, just as Satan did, and fell.
In our modern day of women's liberation and equality the Church would set herself up as God's equal with the right to negotiate. Whenever Christians have been puffed up in their own pride the Lord has rewarded them for their arrogance by cutting them off and by replacing them with those who were pure and worthy. When the false Vashti-type Christians face calamity and they go into intercession, God does not hear them, because they are impure and rebellious.
I don't suppose that Vashti was an evil woman - we don't know too much about her. But one thing that was for sure is that she was careless. She was careless in that she forgot her true position and she was careless in exalting herself over others.
Esther, by contrast, thought only of her people. She did not use her position as Queen to lord it over others or to amass great power for herself. Her motives were entirely selfless. And it is selflessness that makes a person pure and dear to the heart of God.
I think it is probably true to say that the majority of Christians who never do anything deliberately to harm anyone regard themselves as basically good. But goodness is not defined by what we don't do but by what we do do. I am sure that Vashti lived a very insular life with very little contact with anyone except her ladies-in-waiting. In the Book of Esther we learn that she gave a separate banquet for all the women (Esth.1:9). Having a party or a social gathering is, to be sure, nice, but these things do not work goodness in a world of evil. There must have been plenty of social injustices outside the Palace at Susa. As believers in Christ we have access to the Royal Palace above, and have the promise of coming to live there with Him one day, but in this particular phase of our existence - earth-life - we are nowhere near the Palace. We are in the world where we may be useful to the absent King whose representatives we are.
Some periods of history are worse than others. Sometimes true Christians abound in large numbers and sometimes they are very few. Do you remember what it was like in the days of Elijah? In a nation of millions, the true believers of Yahweh numbered only a few hundred, though there was a time - a very long time - that Elijah felt that he was completely and utterly alone. The despair he felt is hard for us to imagine though there are many who rightly believe we are very soon to enter a time when conditions will become just as they were in his day.
Many Christians seem to think that when evil multiplies all around them that all they have to do is sit around and have faith. It is possible, I suppose, that the Jews in Esther's day might have risen up in armed revolt and trusted in Yahweh to give them the power to overcome their enemies. If they had been an independent nation, as once they had been, experiencing many mighty deliveries against superior enemy forces, that might have been an option. But they, just like Christians, have no nation - we are scattered in the nations of the world and could not possibly defend ourselves.
The Book of Esther and this Feast of Purim is a revelation to us of the weapons of our spiritual warfare. The first is always PURITY which comes from living an obedient life as Esther did. Without that, nothing else can work. The second weapon is FASTING which is to deprive ourselves, of our own free wills, of something that is vitally precious to us for our life processes - in this case, food and water - for a short period of time. In other words, the second is SACRIFICE. And finally, the third weapon is PRAYER. Not ordinary prayer, mind you, but INTERCESSORY PRAYER.
Intercessory prayer is going before God on behalf of someone else other than yourself. It's not a five minute prayer to ask God to bless Aunt Maude with better health or for little Johnny to be protected from bullies at school. No, this is a real pouring out of the soul - a deep-felt expression of the whole mind and heart. The trouble is, our minds and hearts are often trapped in this shell called our physical bodies which places so many demands upon us for entertainment, pleasure and egotistical self-fulfilment. To really liberate the mind and heart often requires that we temporarily still the bodily passions through such things as fasting so that the real self can be released to pray in power. Part of the reason Christians don't do this more often is that they have become blinded to the reality that is around them.
God intervenes, as we know, in so many different ways. Mostly Christians hope that He will show some fantastic display of power like the parting of the waters of the Red Sea, and sometimes He does. But most of the time He works as He did through Esther, by placing pure and selfless people in positions of influence where they may petition heaven for those not so well placed. Such people often lead very lonely lives. Can you imagine what it must have felt like for Esther being married to a pagan king? She had her free choice to enter the King's degrading beauty contest and the only reason she did was because the invisible hand of God was asking her if she would be willing to make a sacrifice of a happy believer's marriage in order to save a nation, not to mention the Messiah who was still yet to be born through that nation. You may rest assured that she has a great reward in heaven and is enjoying the marriage and happiness she was denied here because she was willing to sacrifice for others.
Although not every one of us is necessarily called to make the kind of life-sacrifice that Esther did - and she truly did lay her life down - we are all, as sons and daughters of the King, to make sacrifices throughout our lives in behalf of others.
Judah found herself in captivity because of sin. The fact that the Jews were in this terrible position in the first place was because they and their fathers had rebelled against Yahweh. And desperate situations often require desperate measures. Had the people not been so evil, Esther would never have had to be called. Sometimes we forget that our own carelessness, thoughtlessness, and disobedience means that others must make tremendous sacrifices on our behalf. The nature of this existence is such that Yahweh always delivers through PEOPLE - He does not just put His hand down here and sort everything out Himself. The reason He operates in this way is based on the choices that man has made since the fall in the Garden of Eden. Satan has legal rights over rebellious men and God cannot break His own laws without falling. Therefore we must help each other or perish one and all.
As I have taught you so many times, Christianity is not a solo religion. No one person can ever possibly hope to survive alone in this spiritual jungle. And Satan knows that, which is why he tries to isolate Christians and convince them that they can live in their own faith and strength. Though Esther is the heroine of Purim, she did not act alone. Mordecai and every Jews who fasted and went into intercessory prayer played a vital part - insignificant perhaps when seen on an individual basis, but a power to be reckoned with when acting in concert. Christians are at their most powerful, and Christians are victorious, when they move together in unity and purpose, having their eyes fixed on a single goal. These are not necessarily situation-specific goals such as that faced by the Jews at the time of Haman, but more often are goals that are common to every generation and at all times.
What are those goals? What are we praying together and working together for? Most obviously, we are praying for the salvation of souls, but to do so that we must also equip ourselves against the unseen enemy who is out to hinder us. There can be no doubt that Christians today are not living in one of those "good times" when true Christians exist in large numbers and the Church of God is strong. True Christians are few and the Church is pitifully weak. And they are going to get fewer and the Church is going to get weaker. We are very fast approaching a time which will not only be like it was in the days of Elijah but considerably worse, when the powers arrayed against us will appear so overwhelming that we will despair of surviving.
We are, even now, awaiting for the end-time outpouring of the Ruach haQodesh (Holy Spirit). As God's people diminish in numbers and spiritual strength, Yahweh always intervenes by sending proportionally more power. He did it in the days of Moses. He did it in the days of Elijah. He did it in the days of the first apostles. And He is about to do it again. However, that power will not enter anyone who is not pure, for were it to do so, it would roast them alive. That is why before such an outpouring of His Spirit, God allows His true followers to wade through much suffering so that they may focus their minds and hearts on the things that matter and come to understand the foolishness and vanity of the world. All around the world the men and women whom He is going to empower to defeat the devil and his wicked plans are right now suffering. As wickedness multiplies, as the Church is increasingly persecuted, as the devil relentlessly works on Christ's followers with sickness, demonic attacks, economic misfortune, marriage break-ups, the rebellion of sons and daughters against parental authority, so God is preparing to do a wonderful work and a wonder. But first His chosen vessels - those who name the Name of Christ - must be worked on. Many of them - far too many - will run away and not want to follow the Lord any more. Others, through carelessness and indifference, will become so weak that the enemy launches his full-scale attack on them, they will simply be stamped out like someone crushing a cockroach under his foot.
This is the reality of our day. All around us wickedness is multiplying. It's all over the newspapers. You can't fail not to notice it, though you may grow indifferent to it because you have heard it so many times. That is fatal. We cannot - must not - grow indifferent. We must not grow careless and lazy. And it is usually at that moment when we most want to be indifferent and lazy that we can least afford to do be. For it is at such times that we are the most vulnerable.
All around us unborn children are being murdered in their millions. Their blood is crying up from the ground. They need our intercessory prayers. All around us, in one half of all the households in the land, children are being sexually and violently abused by the very people who should be protecting them - both the children and their parents need intercessory prayer. All around us more and more people are getting sucked up into the seductive trap of witchcraft and all the abominations which led to the destruction of Israel anciently and which ultimately placed the Jews in that terrible situation of threatened extinction - we need to go into intercessory prayer for them. All around us Christians are under mounting spiritual attack through bad music, alcohol, drugs, false philosophy and religion, and the cult of egotism, to compromise their faith in order to be socially acceptable and not be pushed out - they need our intercessory prayers. In every nation politicians are enacting ever more evil laws to squeeze God's people and make life unbearable for them - we need to intercede for people in high positions like Mordecai who are able to practically change the course of these diabolical actions. There is little else we can do except to witness when we can and to always be loving and caring of others. And finally we must pray for each other, that we may be strong to resist temptation and to be found still carrying the cross and banner of Christ.
A friend once told me that the prophets are born in intercessory prayer. And he is right. The spiritual gifts such as prophecy and revelation God withholds from all but those who are disciplined in prayer and caring enough of others to spend much time in this holiest of callings. God is close to those who pray much, and far from those who do not.
There is much more that could be said about Purim. If you carefully read the Book of Esther you will discover all kinds of hidden truths that are relevant to us right now - today. For not only is Esther a type of the Church in intercessory prayer to the Messiah-King, but she is also a type of our Saviour Yah'shua (Jesus) in intercession for us before Yahweh our Father-King. As she fasted and prayed for three days and nights, so Christ was in the tomb for three days and night, just as Jonah was in the belly of the whale for three days and nights. Indeed, our own water baptism is closely related to this kind of spiritual ministry, for we must lay down the old carnal man in death and arise clothed and empowered with the beauty and power of God's Holy Spirit. That is the sacrifice part - the fasting part. Everything good and noble costs something precious. And if true Christians won't do it, who will?
As Haman was eventually hanged in the gallows that he had constructed for Mordecai, so Satan will eventually be thrown into the prison he has planned for rebellious mankind. There is a happy ending to our story, but that has yet to come. In the meantime we have our commission - our calling. Yahweh is calling brave and noble men and women to stand up for His cause, to take up their spiritual weapons and armour, and to sally forth into battle carrying the cross of Yah'shua (Jesus) "going on before".
This page was created on 18 March 2001
Last updated on 18 March 2001
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