One of my favorite shows when I was growing up was Mission Impossible. I think it drew upon the heroic within my young heart. And I must still be a kid at heart because I thoroughly enjoyed the movies that came out in the last couple years. I enjoyed them for the story and the intrigue. But I think it also appeals to me because I aspire to do things beyond my ability. And the neat thing about Christianity is that each and every day we are called by God to choose to do something impossible. Our call to sanctification is an impossible task (when you really think about it), and yet it is a task that is being achieved by Christians in this congregation who are every bit as heroic in the spiritual realm as the characters in mission impossible were. Who can love the unloveable? Who can replace bitterness with joy? Who can have purity of mind? Who can be content? And yet we see Christians accomplishing this by the power of God's Spirit. It truly is a mission impossible, and it should stir our hearts with admiration when we see each other accomplishing what no one could accomplish apart from grace. I think this is one of the things that makes me weep when I read missionary biographies like Peace Child. I want my life to count for more than just time. Really the Christian life is a call to aspire to go beyond the ordinary (that any unbeliever could do) and to strive for what only God's grace can accomplish.
Take for example our church's burden to bring Reformation the churches of Omaha, or the burden of bringing the civil government of Omaha to bow its knees to King Jesus, or the burden to disciple the nations themselves. The impossible should not be rejected by the Christian just because it's impossible for mere man to do. And the reason is that God will provide all the all the spiritual equipment that we need. In the church we have the training that we need. We have a support team. We have what it takes to make a difference in this city. We have what it takes to be holy personally. We have what it takes to make troubled marriages shine. And as we think of Esther's mission impossible, I want it to stir up your heart to aspire to take the risky mission that God has called you to, individually.
Reasons why this was a mission impossible1
To succeed she has to break a law which ordinarily has the death penalty (4:11)
And that Esther's mission was impossible can be seen on several levels. Let me just give you five reasons why convincing the king to do something about Haman's attempted genocide was indeed a Mission Impossible. First of all, to succeed she had to break a law which ordinarily meant the death penalty. Look at verse 11: "All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that any man or woman who goes into the inner court to the king, who has not been called, he has but one law: put all to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter, that he may live…" Esther was thinking inside the box of what was allowed, and everyone knows that this isn't allowed. And Mordecai is saying, "So, do something that is not allowed. Do something no one else would dare to do." You see, she was thinking inside the box, but people on the Mission Impossible team don't only think inside the box, do they? They achieve what others consider impossible because they don't think like others. And I would encourage you to think God's thoughts, not what the world says is possible. I've got my own impossibilities in the ministry and I have had to think of non-standard ways of doing things to move forward.
To succeed she has to admit that she is a Jew condemned to death by the king himself
A second reason why this was such an impossible mission was that in order to succeed, she would have to admit to the king that she was a Jew whom the king himself had condemned to death. That's a tough call. In order to help the Jews out there, she has to put herself under the death penalty. She has to be willing to identify with the very people who are in mortal danger. And she could easily have thought, "What good will I be if my own life is taken?"
To succeed she has to convince the king to reverse an irreversible law (cf. 1:19; 8:8 with Dan. 6:8,12,15)
Thirdly, to succeed she has to convince the king to reverse and irreversible law. Now why do I say that it is irreversible? Can't the king do everything he wants? Isn't he the mighty tyrant? No, he's got limits. It's because the Persians and the Medes forced the king to abide by his own decrees. They could not reverse any decree that they made. Look at chapter 1:19: "If it pleases the king, let a royal decree go out from him, and let it be recorded in the laws of the Perians and the Medes, so that it will not be altered…" Look at chapter 8:8. "You yourselves write a decree concerning the Jews, as you please, in the king's name, and seal it with the king's signet ring; for whatever is written in the king's name and sealed with the king's signet ring no one can revoke." It didn't matter how much the king loved Esther. It didn't matter how motivated he was to stop this plan, there was nothing that the king could do to reverse the law. Turn with me to Daniel 6 and let me show you how irreversible this law was. This is 27 years earlier under the reign of Darius the Mede. This is a king who was heartbroken over the evil that resulted from one of his decrees. But there was nothing that he could do about it.
And by the way, this is another time where government officials tricked the king into signing something whose repercussions he wasn't aware of. Daniel 6:8 says, "Now, O king, establish the decree and sign the writing, so that it cannot be changed, according to the law of the Medes and Persians, which does not alter." He signs the decree, and it condemns Daniel (his friend) to death. When he finds out that this is the result, verse 14 says, "And the king, when he heard these words, was greatly displeased with himself, and set his heart on Daniel to deliver him; and he labored till the going down of the sun to deliver him. Then those men approached the king, and said to the king, "Know, O king, that it is the law of the Medes and Persians that no decree or statute which the king establishes may be changed." So the king is forced to throw Daniel to the lion's den. In verses 18-20 you find out that he is incredibly stressed: "Now the king went to his palace and spent the night fasting; and no musicians were brought before him. Also his sleep went from him. Then the king arose very early in the morning and went in haste to the den of lions. And when he came to the den, he cried out with a lamenting voice to Daniel. The king spoke saying to Daniel, 'Daniel, servent of the living God, has your God, whom you serve continually been able to deliver you from the lions?'" If even the king who is highly motivated to reverse the decree cannot do so, you know that Esther has a mission impossible. She is going to ask the king to do the impossible.
To succeed she has to oppose the most powerful person on earth (next to Darius)
Fourth, to succeed she has to oppose the most powerful person on earth, next to Darius. Haman was no slouch. He must have been an extremely skillful man in speech, diplomacy and cunning to have gotten so quickly to the top of the heap of princes. He's not going to take her opposition lying down. And if you know the story of Vashti, the princes have more power than the Queen did. She may fear that he may be able to talk the king out of anything that she says.
To succeed she must strike a serious blow to the king's pride
The fifth thing that makes this a mission impossible is that in order to succeed she will be forced to strike a serious blow to the king's pride. Think about it. Whose decree was it? It's the king's decree. Sure he didn't know it was for the Jews, but he is till to blame. He will have to admit that he is wrong. It's hard enough for any humans to admit to wrong apart from grace, but for a king to admit that a decree distributed to every part of the empire is wrong, will be a major loss of face.
And so I hope you can appreciate the fact that she is not whining in 4:16 when she says, "If I perish, I perish." She is willing to do the right thing knowing that apart from a miracle she is toast. Some of you may feel the same way when you respond to God's impossible calls upon your lives. Your heart may be pounding and your stomache may be in knots as you say "Yes" to the Lord and prepare to die. Now I'm sure for all of you it is simply a metaphorical dying – not nearly as bad as hers. But it can sometimes be just as painful - dying to your pride; dying to your fleshly desires; facing fears and phobias. But Esther stands as a challenge to each of you to be men and women and children who listen to God when he tells you to admit wrong, or to take on a ministry, or to rebuke someone or to witness, or whatever it may be. That message has to be answered yes or no immediately. Like on the movie when the phone self-destructs in a few seconds, your opportunities to say yes are limited. God gives you new opportunities and new integrity checks, but the old ones that were failed are often gone forever. You may feel that God is asking you too much, but let me assure you that God will never let you down. He has a plan. And by the way, he is part of the team. There is a thrill in truly living a supernatural life that God intends us to live. In fact, the Christian life is so worth it, that those who have experienced God coming through on one mission impossible after another wouldn't trade this life for anthing. They become addicted to living in the realm of the impossible. It's my prayer that this would be true of you. And truly is exciting to see sins we thought impossible to conquer, or fears we thought impossible to conquer being licked, and going on to new adventures.
Now let's take a little time to look at her strategy and then maybe just begin to look at God's strategy. And we will continue on with God's strategy next week. She basically has a three point plan. And each of these three points is an attempt to take dominion of her circumstances. It's an attempt to be responsible for what is her responsibility and leave the rest to God. There is a lot that she does not know, but she can at least elminate some of the unknown in these three ways.
She presents her case in person rather than by letter
The first thing that she decides to do is to present her case in person, rather than by letter. Verse 1 says, "Now it happened on the third day that Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, across from the king's house, while the king sat on his royal throne in the royal house, facing the entrance of the house." People have debated as to why she did this. According the ancient historian Herodotus, people could send a letter to appeal to the king. Even though they couldn't approach the king, they could send a letter. So why didn't she? I see five good reasons why she wants to present her case in person rather than by letter.
It lets her communicate with more than just words. Though her words could be misinterpreted, her body language can show her sincerity.
First, it lets her communicate with more than just words. It is so easy for a written letter to be misinterpreted. Face to face communication can be misinterpreted as well, but in a face to face situation you can communicate with far more than just words. Your tone of voice and your body language can powerfully aid in your communication. In verse 2 she shows poise of mind and body. Though there are times when a letter is more effective, there are times when there can be no substitute for personal presence.
It lets her read the body language of the king and Haman
A second good reason for taking this risk was that this would let her read the body language of both the king & Haman and it would enable her to adjust her speech accordingly. If the correspondence had been by letter, she might never see his response, the action that he might take or have any input of her own. In verse 2 she immediately knows that he is favorable toward her, and certainly in verse 3 her mind is set at ease when he says, "What do you wish, Queen Esther? What is your request? It shall be given to you – up to half the kingdom!" And that's an advantage for you as well. You can read how the people are responding to you and make any necessary adjustments and explanations to clear things up.
It helps her to control the circumstances to some degree and to determine the best timing
The third good reason that she wants to be personally present in the throne room and to have them personally present at the banquets is that this enables her to control the circumstances to some degree and to determine the best time and way to spill her message.
It forces the king to deal with a person rather than an impersonal "problem."
The fourth reason is that it forces the king to deal with a person rather than an impersonal problem. Sometimes people are not so sensitive when they are seeing simply text rather than a flesh and blood body. Now sometimes it is the reverse. They may be more intimidated by a personal confrontation and a letter can calm the stress. Sometimes you see the personal dimension in a totally different light when you see the person.
It keeps a decision from being procrastinated
The fifth reason is that this keeps a decision from being procrastinated indefinitely. Why would he want to procrastinate? There was every reason in the world to procrastinate. When you understand how much the king's hands are tied, it would be easy for him to make no decision, except for the decision to protect Esther. And so this precipitates some action.
And whether you are facing controversy, broken relationships, or are trying to convince somebody of something, face to face is often the best, even though it is often the scariest for a person to pull off. That's not to say that written letters don't have their place. Sometimes, to avoid misinterpretation, a letter can be the best way of approach. But this first part of the strategy was examining the issue of how to approach the problem
She appeals to the king's curiosity
What could be so important that she would risk her life?
Her second strategy is to appeal to the king's curiosity. And this is setting up a context. She presents herself in a context that immediately arouses curiousity. So he immediately asks, "What do you wish?" And that was not an idle question. He knows that she has deliberately risked her life and cast herself upon the king for an important reason. What could it be that was so important? If I were him, my curiosity would be piqued. She says in verse 4, "If it pleases the king, let the king and Haman come today to the banquet that I have prepared for him."
What could be so important that she doesn't spill her tale on the first banquet?
But in verse 6 she piques his curiosity even more. It says, "At the banquet of wine the king said to Esther, 'What is your petition? It shall be granted you. What is your request, up to half the kingdom? It shall be done!'" He knows that she didn't just want to have him at a banquet. She must have something far more profound up her sleeve. Well she just plays on that more. Verses 7-8, "My petition and request is this: If I have found favor in the sight of the king, and if it please the king to grant my petition and fulfill my request, then let the king and Haman come to the banquet which I will prepare for them, and tomorrow I will do as the king has said." Now we don't know for sure why she postpones it. Maybe she lost nerve. Maybe she senses that this is not the right time. Maybe God prompted her not to say anything. But God obviously made sure that she postponed it so that the king can have his sleepless night, find out about Mordecai not being honored, humiliate Haman, etc. But I think appealing to curiosity may be in part what is going on. So she sets up a context.
She makes sure that Haman (the accused) is present
It will prevent Haman from being able to talk his way out of it without her being able to respond
The third strategy is to make sure that Haman, the one she will accuse, is present when the confrontation happens. Haman is such a crafty fellow that if she were to do things by letter, or without his presence, he might be able to talk his way out of it without her being able to respond at all. She wants to make sure that she can say the right things, and to say everything that is needed.
This will have the advantage of throwing Haman off guard
But inviting him to both parties could only elevate his ego and throw him off guard as well.
It will let the king read Haman's body language
It also let the king read Haman's body language. And I think this is perhaps the biggest reason of all. She wants the king to be able to see the guilt written all over Haman's face. She wants him to hang himself on his words or his actions.
It will present an object towards which the king's wrath can be turned immediately and will help the king to save face.
The fourth reason why inviting Haman to the banquet is that there would be an object towards which the king's wrath can be immediately turned. Remember that the king is implicated in this threat against her life. In saving face, he could just decide to sacrifice her. I mean, life was cheap to him. So it was important that she be able to help him save face by having Haman to take the full heat and to be present. It deflects the king's wrath towards something immediate and concrete.
It will maximize the possibility that action can immediately be taken.
And finally, it will maximize the possibility that action can immediately be taken against Haman. And of course, it was in chapter 7. And so to me it is clear that Esther had a strategy, and it was a good strategy. She knows that it will still take a miracle, and so in 4:16 she has asked for prayer for three days. But she does whatever is necessary to make sure that she communicates effectively.
And I think in this she stands as a model for us. When you apologize to someone, you may want to write out exactly what you are going to say and rehearse what you are going to say so that you don't come across like an idiot when it tumbles out wrong – or worse yet, so that you don't come across in an accusatory way, or making yourself appear better than you know you should. When we get to her speech in chapter 7 we will see that it must have been rehearsed. I doubt very much that she came up with that on the fly. Planning and care in execution is biblical. Wise choice of words is Biblical.
It's not enough to do the right thing. We also need to do it in the right way. This past week I got another catalog from Trinity Book Service and there was a set of books by the Puritan writer Thomas Adams. And this quote got my attention: Thomas Adams said, "With God, adverbs shall have better thanks than nouns. Not what we do, but how we do it, is the grand question." Isn't that so true? Let me repeat that: "With God, adverbs shall have better thanks than nouns. Not what we do (that's the nouns), but how we do it (that's the adverbs), is the grand question."
In our communication we need to make sure that we are saying the right thing, saying it in the right way and saying it in the right context. For example, a loud cheery greeting is a good thing, right? But Proverbs says that if you wake up your friend early in the morning with a loud cheery greeting, it will be considered a curse. Why? The context is not right. He wants to sleep. Or you may ask for forgiveness with the right words, but not in the right way and come across as the opposite of being sorry. "Well, sorrrrry! Pleasssse forgive me!" If somebody says that, you know that person is not really sorry and is not really asking for forgiveness.
So having the right context and saying it in the right way is important. But having the right words is also important. How many times have people had the right context, the right attitudes but their words just didn't come out right. And they've blown it. There needs to be planning. We can't just pray about things and expect God to bail us out. We need to come up with a strategy. And our strategy needs to have the right context, the right way and the right words. It needs to think through what would be most effective. How will that person respond to what I have said? Will it be taken in the spirit in which I intended it to be taken? And if you don't know, write it out and run it past a confident who can help you to rephrase things. I bet that Esther practiced this little speech in chapters 5 and 7 over and over. She had a strategy. The question is, "Do you have a strategy for your mission impossible?' You need to. And if you don't, it's no wonder you are nervous. God expects us to plan.
He gives Haman plenty of rope to hang himself
He knows Haman will be blinded by pride (v. 9a,11-12))
But the neat thing about this is that we can count on God having a strategy as well. And this is our last point: God's strategy. We are just players in the mission, but God has information and help that goes far beyond our own. God knows that Haman will be blinded by pride in verses 9-12. Haman is happy as a lark at what has just transpired, but God needs to bring a little complication into the picture. Verse 9 – "So Haman went out that day joyful and with a glad heart; but when Haman saw Mordecai in the king's gate, and that he did not stand or tremble before him, he was filled with indignation against Mordecai." God knows the human heart so well. He knows that when pride is well fed, it doesn't matter how well things go, pride will make the person unsatisfied.
He knows Haman likes vengeance with style (v. 10)
God knows that Haman likes vengeance with style, so God was perfectly safe in placing Mordecai where he was in that gate. Other lesser men might have lashed out right there on the spot and killed Mordecai. But verse 10 says, "Nevertheless Haman restrained himself and went home, and he sent and called for his friends and his wife Zeresh."
God knows that Haman's friends and wife will feed his pride and satisfy his desire for vengeance (v. 10-14)
God needs these friends and Zeresh to push Haman faster than he might otherwise have been pushed. Verses 11-13 "Then Haman told them of his great riches, the multitude of his children, everything in which the king had promoted him, and how he had advanced him above the officials and servants of the king. Moreover Haman said, "Besides, Queen Esther invited no one but me to come in with the king to th ebanquet that she prepared; and tomorrow I am again invited by her, along with the king." Even though I am not dealing primarily with the pride issue that you see in this chapter, this is so instructive on the way pride works. Pride always wants to be best, but is not satisfied with simply being best. It wants to be noticed. A humble person can be best and not say anything about it. But pride cannot bear to be anonymous. It has to have other people noticing it. So Haman calls others to notice all that he has become. It is a form of self-worship. That's why God hates pride so much.
And you need to think through the reasons why you want others to notice you. Some will do the strangest things – shoot, I have done the strangest things simply because others will see. You know, the snipers in Maryland set their own trap because one of them had to brag – had to be noticed. His pride led to his downfall. And you need to evaluate why you do things. Is it to show off like Haman is doing here? If so it needs to be confessed as sin and put under the blood. Pride leads to a fall. And God knows that pride will cause Haman to hang himself. You know, Haman probably didn't even realize that he had pride. Pride is like bad breath. Everyone knows you have it except for yourself.
He knows Haman will be blinded by rage & bitterness (v. 9b,13))
Well, God knows that Haman will be blinded by rage and bitterness as well. Verse 13 says, "Yet all this avails me nothing, so long as I see Mordecai the Jew sitting at the king's gate." Here is a man who has almost everything, and yet he is so miserable. We can see that sin makes us miserable, yet we refuse to let it go. When you allow bitterness to cling to your heart you have been conquered by your enemy. Why do we hang on to sin when sin makes us miserable and when we know that righteousness leads to peace and joy? It's irrational.
He let's Haman build his own noose (v. 14)
These sins are irrational and Haman does not see straight. And God very justly allows Haman to build his own noose in verse 14. "Then his wife Zeresh and all his friends said to him, "Let a gallows be made, fifty cubits high" [that's 75 feet high. They too are appealing to his pride and his sense of vengeance] "and in the morning, suggest to the king that Mordecai be hanged on it; then go merrily with the king to the banquet." And the thing pleased Haman; so he had the gallows built."
You can see that God is working the impossible out for Esther and Mordecai. Next week we will look at more of God's wonderful strategy in chapter 6 where the king is Sleepless in Susa. But you can already sense that the irony is building. God in these chapters knows how to control timing, the sins of His enemies, the advice of their friends, and many other details to fulfill His purpose. Though we must use all the skill that we can muster, we can rest in the mastermind behind our mission impossible.
If you have been balking at saying "Yes" to God's mission, think of it this way: your mission impossible is one more evidence of the genuineness of your Christianity. Only Christians are called to mission impossibles, only Christians are able to achieve mission impossibles and are equipped and backed up in these mission impossibles. So that is an indication of how highly God thinks of you. You are sons and daughters of the Most High. What an awesome privelege it is to take such risks for the king. Though you must do your best in pursuing this calling, you can rest in the fact that God has a perfect strategy for your victory. He's on your side. Trust Him and accept the honor of His challenges. Amen.
Children of God. I charge you to say "Yes" to the offer of the mission that God has been challenging you with.
These five subpoints come from Bob Deffinbaugh in Esther: A Study of Divine Providence. (Biblical Studies Press, 1998). Though I disagree with much of what he writes, I thought this was a helpful observation. ↩