Tuesday, October 28, 2014

Esther Week 6 - Longing for Justice

The follow are study notes from week 6 of our Esther series.  Find out more at the Rosalie Baptist Church Website.  Read Esther 7-8 to get the context.

Human cry for justice
Just about every year there is a big name film that seeks to capture the common human cry for justice. .We flock to see films like: To Kill a Mockingbird, 12 Angry Men, The Shawshank Redemption, Braveheart and 12 Years A Slave because there is within the collective heart of humanity a cry for justice. We have a finely tuned radar that is quick to spot injustice and a longing to see what is obviously wrong made right.

Over the last few weeks the tension in the story of Esther has been building to this point.  Esther has steeled herself to present her request to the king and when the moment finally arrives she presents the plight of her people in the form of a story of injustice.  Verse 3, “If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request. For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.” They are being sold… but not sold as slaves… sold into death.  Esther has made the injustice of her people personal to the king, they are not some distant people, far away and irrelevant to him, this injustice is being perpetrated against his most beloved queen and therefore against him as well.

The tension in the story is at boiling point right now.  The charge has been laid… The injustice uncovered… The king’s anger has been aroused… And the identity of the enemy is literally hanging in the air and we are just dying to hear it declared!  Verse 6 gives us our satisfaction, “A foe and enemy! This wicked Haman!” Then Haman was terrified before the king and the queen.”  And so the servants present cover Haman’s head to remove the offence of his presence from the king’s view. Then one of the servants tells the king of the gallows that Haman had made to display the body of Mordecai, the one who had saved the king’s life, and the king, without a second thought, sentences Haman to hang.

The oppressor gets justice
In this moment it is like every aching justice bone in our body explodes with joy.  Haman, the enemy of the people of God, the one who had sold the people into complete destruction, the one who had sought the life of the innocent Mordecai, was now completely and utterly defeated. And to add to our joy the justice he receives is poetic:
  • He had built the gallows for Mordecai and now his own instrument of fear and malice was turned against him
  • All his life he had strived to be in the highest office in the land, clothed in honour… but now he hung from the highest gallows in the land, clothed in shame
  • Haman had wanted everyone to bow down and look up to him in worship… but now they would point up at him in mockery
Part of us wants to let out a cheer of resounding joy when we hear of Haman’s demise because we long for this kind of justice in our world today.  We secretly hope that the next time we see that maniac driver who cut us off in traffic is a kilometre down the road pulled over by the police getting a ticket.  So many people call this karma, “what goes around comes around”, but if we are honest karma lets us down far too often.  People who hurt us go on living normal, happy, comfortable lives without a care in the world despite what they have done to us; karma promises to satisfy our longing for justice but rarely ever delivers.

The Justice of God Never Fails
But the thrust of the story of Esther tells us that the poetic justice dished out to Haman was not a matter of the universe simply giving back what he deserved. But if the story of Esther tells us anything it tells us that God does not leave us without hope of justice; the justice of God is not a matter of sheer chance or luck.  God actively works behind the scenes to bring Haman to justice. He orchestrated everything.

See karma will let you down time and time again and leave you longing for justice without the hope of ever being satisfied, just waiting in vain for the universe to turn things in your favour; but the justice of God will never let you down. God is at work in this world, to bring justice to those who have oppressed, enslaved and abused others. And even if they don’t see it in this life, God has ordained a day of justice:
  • A day when evil deeds that were hidden on earth will be exposed for all to see
  • A day when those who were wrongfully accused will be vindicated
  • A day when those who lived in fear will see their tormentors tremble
  • A day when every wrong will be made right
One of the joys of the Christian faith is the promise of this Day of Judgment, and the most stunning application of the coming Day of Judgment is that there will be a resounding vindication for all who suffered in silence here on earth. Karma will let you down because it is just random chance, but the justice of God will never let you down because it will reveal the truth that sufferers long to hear.

Esther identifies with her people
So God is at work in this world to bring justice to the hurting and broken people who desperately need it, but in almost every case God chooses to use a human vessel to be the bearer of His justice.  Right throughout this story we have seen Esther being prepared, positioned and privileged to become to vessel of God’s justice for His people. The people of God were scattered across the Empire, they were living in confusion, fear and turmoil.  And there was nothing they could do about it because they had been held captive by Haman, the man who held the highest office in the land, the man who bore the King’s signet ring and gave orders that had to be obeyed.

And yet for this voiceless, oppressed and hopeless people God provided salvation!  Salvation in the form of a young Jewish girl from a family broken by death and sorrow, conscripted into the king’s harem without a choice and thrust into the role of Queen.  In God’s providence Esther found herself as the only Jew in Persia who had any hope of bringing salvation to her people.  And we have seen this girl, who could have lounged in the luxury of the palace, risked everything including her life to step into the very centre of God’s purposes for His people.
  • She became a voice for the voiceless
  • She became freedom for the oppressed 
  • She became hope for the hopeless 
And in this section of the story we see how she did it.  It is easy to miss the fact that up until this moment the king had no idea that Esther was a Jew. Esther was living in the palace and had been far removed from the confusion, chaos and turmoil of the king’s edict until Mordecai told her of their pain. Esther had a choice... She could continue to live in secret in luxury and hope she escaped the destruction or she could identify herself as being part of the oppressed people of God.  The following verses show us what she did: Esther 7:4“For we have been sold, I and my people, to be destroyed, to be killed, and to be annihilated.” and Esther 8:6 – “For how can I bear to see the calamity that is coming to my people? Or how can I bear to see the destruction of my kindred?” (Emphasis added)

Esther identified with the scattered and hurting people of God.  Effectively she stepped outside the comfort of her secrecy and was prepared to put her head on the chopping block alongside her people. Where so many would have ducked for cover and remained out of the firing line, Esther stuck her neck out and stepped into the crosshairs.

The voiceless, hopeless and oppressed
And do you know that there are literally millions of people who are voiceless, hopeless and oppressed living in our world today who desperately need to be set free.  Millions in poverty, millions forced from their homelands by war, famine and terrorism and millions sold into sexual slavery.  Men, women and children scattered all across our world who are in desperate need and yet there are very few people with the courage of Esther to become their voice, become their hope and fight for their freedom.

And it is not even just the big, global problems… because these can seem too monumental for us to have any impact… but we have people all around us in Australia who need us to stand with them as well:
  • There are at least 90 thousand babies who are without a voice aborted every year in Australia
  • There are thousands of single mums who are left without hope when their ex-partners abandon them and give them nothing with which to support their kids
  • There are untold numbers of people with severe disabilities who are trapped without freedom and often times forgotten about in institutional care
We hear of this turmoil around the world and our hearts ache for justice... for about 5mins after the YouTube video finishes and then it is back to my profile page.  So often our response the the cry of humanity is deafening silence! Why? Because we are also oppressed…
  • We are rendered voiceless by our all-consuming thirst for material gain
  • We are made hopeless by our addictions to lust, image and escapism
  • And we are trapped by our desire to be popular
We lack the motivation to step out in Esther-like courage because we are pre-occupied with our own profit, pursuits and pleasures.  We read stories like Esther and we like to think that we identify with the heroine… that we are like Esther, but in reality we are more like the helpless people of Israel, scattered across the empire oppressed and in need of someone to set us free.

Jesus identified with us
The end of chapter 8 sees Mordecai, having been given the king’s signet ring, reversing Haman’s decree and the king’s riders heading out with the joyous proclamation of freedom. Now the voiceless can sing, the hopeless can dream and the oppressed can dance.  And the only way we will ever have the courage to act on behalf of the broken-hearted people of this world is if we hear the joyous proclamation that we have been given a voice, that we have been given hope, that we have been set free!

See instead of staying hidden in the luxury of heaven Jesus Christ identified with the broken and lost people of the earth, and not just with empathy and compassion, but He actually embraced our situation; He embraced our flesh! Jesus spoke out for the voiceless, He gave hope to the hopeless and He set captives free.  And like Esther He did it by identifying with His people; even to the point of dying our death!

See unlike Esther and Mordecai, Jesus was not spared injustice, in fact He suffered the greatest injustice of all time. Though completely innocent He was beaten, mocked, tortured and killed. He was hung up high for the world to see His shame; but God did not leave Him without a voice!  When God raised Jesus from the dead He vindicated Him and the joyous proclamation of freedom for the people of God rang out across the land.

When we see this Jesus who shed the luxury of Heaven and identified with broken and hurting humans like us, and who suffered the greatest of human injustices in order to secure our freedom, that we can shed the shackles of our pre-occupation with self and tackle the injustices those around us are suffering.

  1. How do stories of injustice make you feel?  What emotions do they evoke?  Think of some examples.
  2. How did you feel when Haman was finally revealed as the enemy and received the punishment and shame he deserved?
  3. Esther identified herself with the Jewish people, stepping outside of the privilege of her title.  In what ways can you identify with broken and hurting people around you?  What privileges might you have to step outside of?
  4. Be honest. What things are you consumed by that dampen your passion for justice?
  5. How does seeing Jesus identifying with us and suffering our injustices help you to shed those things and embrace the task of bringing justice to this hurting world?

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