As we come to the end our preaching through the book of Esther, the Jews are celebrating Purim this week. It began on Monday and continued through Wednesday. The definition of Purim on a website reads, “It commemorates our nation’s miraculous salvation more than two millennia ago.” In a nutshell, this is their story of Purim*
The Persian empire of the 4th century BCE extended over 127 lands, and all the Jews were its subjects. When King Ahasuerus had his wife, Queen
Vashti, executed for failing to follow his orders, he orchestrated a beauty pageant to find a new queen. A Jewish girl, Esther, found favor in his eyes and became the new queen—though she refused to divulge the identity of her nationality.
Meanwhile, the anti-Semitic Haman was appointed prime minister of the empire. Mordechai, the leader of the Jews (and Esther’s cousin), defied the king’s orders and refused to bow to Haman. Haman was incensed, and convinced the king to issue a decree ordering the extermination of all the Jews on the 13th of Adar—a date chosen by a lottery Haman made (hence the name Purim, “lots”).
Mordechai galvanized all the Jews, convincing them to repent, fast and pray to God. Meanwhile, Esther asked the king and Haman to join her for a feast. At the feast, Esther revealed to the king her Jewish identity. Haman was hanged, Mordechai was appointed prime minister in his stead, and a new decree was issued granting the Jews the right to defend themselves against their enemies.
On the 13th of Adar the Jews mobilized and killed many of their enemies. On the 14th of Adar they rested and celebrated.
The story of Esther remains a profound and powerful event in history because of God’s divine providence at work even in the face of such evil. It serves to inspire believers of every age and ethnicity today, not just the Jews.
As I wrote in the last perspective, each Purim requires the retelling of the story, the story of their ancestors’ experience so that in hearing the story of crisis and deliverance, they may recapture the joy that the festival celebrates and remembers.
About a month from now, the Jews will be celebrating Passover, which requires the retelling of the story of the Exodus from Egypt. In a nutshell, this is their story of the Passover*.
On Passover, we celebrate how God took the Jewish People (Israelites) out of Egypt, where they had been enslaved by Pharaoh. With Moses as His representative, God brought 10 plagues upon the Egyptians until they agreed to send the Jews from their land.
About a month from now, as believers of Jesus Christ, we will also remember and retell the story of the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ. The redemptive story of God in history that God became man and died for our sins so that we might be saved from sin and have eternal life (John 3:16).
At the original Purim and Passover, blood was shed. Esther chapter 9 gives us a bloody description of how the Jews killed 75,000 of those who hated them. In the Exodus story – the Passover, the blood of unblemished lambs protected the people from death so they could pass through the sea to freedom. It is interesting to note that it was during the Passover celebration that our Lord Jesus Christ was crucified. He became the Paschal (Passover) Lamb that was slain so that through the shedding of His blood, the ultimate sacrifice was paid of our sins.
Every Sunday, we gather to retell and remember God’s redemptive story and how it continues to this day. We look back at what God has done as we sing, read and hear of God’s mighty acts. This is the reason we preach through books like Esther. We look forward to Christ’s return and share the good news with the world even as we hear God’s word being preached to us so that God’s action, which came to us at an incalculable cost, does not become sterile for us.
As we approach Good Friday, as Bobby Cross rightly puts it, ‘we need to crack open our doctrinal casings’ so that the meaning of the cross becomes anew again.
Atonement: His blood sacrifice on our behalf
Justification: His acceptance of our legal sentence
Redemption: His payment to buy us out of slavery
Reconciliation: His absorption of pain to restore relationship
Salvation: His expenditure of life to rescue us from death
May we retell and remember what Christ has done for us even as we often sing:
All praise to Him Whose love is seen
In Christ the Son the servant King
Who left behind His glorious throne
To pay the ransom for His own
All praise to Him Who humbly came
To bear our sorrow sin and shame
Who lived to die Who died to rise
The all-sufficient sacrifice
(Lyrics by Bob Kauflin & Matt Merker)
Preacher Loliro Sani
March 15, 2020