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Fasting, Weeping, Lamenting (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg
The Truth Network Radio
March 2, 2023 3:00 am

Fasting, Weeping, Lamenting (Part 1 of 2)

Truth for Life / Alistair Begg

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March 2, 2023 3:00 am

The Bible contains many stories about God’s providential care for His people. So why do we still become anxious and sad? Hear the answer on Truth For Life as Alistair Begg examines the reactions of the Jewish people to the threat of imminent extinction.



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Throughout the Bible we read story after story about God's providential care for his people. So why do we still become anxious or sad?

Are we failing to trust him? We'll hear the answers today on Truth for Life as Alistair Begg takes us to the book of Esther to examine how the Jews reacted to the threat of imminent extinction. Esther chapter 4 verse 1, When Mordecai learned all that had been done, Mordecai tore his clothes and put on sackcloth and ashes and went out into the midst of the city. And he cried out with a loud and bitter cry. He went up to the entrance of the king's gate, for no one was allowed to enter the king's gate, clothed in sackcloth. And in every province, wherever the king's command and his decree reached, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them lay in sackcloth and ashes. When Esther's young women and her eunuchs came and told her, the queen was deeply distressed.

She sent garments to clothe Mordecai so that he might take off his sackcloth, but he would not accept them. Then Esther called for Hathak, one of the king's eunuchs, who had been appointed to attend her, and ordered him to go to Mordecai to learn what this was and why it was. Hathak went out to Mordecai in the open square of the city in front of the king's gate, and Mordecai told him all that had happened to him, and the exact sum of money that Haman had promised to pay into the king's treasuries for the destruction of the Jews. Mordecai also gave him a copy of the written decree issued in Susa for their destruction, that he might show it to Esther and explain it to her and command her to go to the king to beg his favor and plead with him on behalf of her people. And Hathak went and told Esther what Mordecai had said. Then Esther spoke to Hathak and commanded him to go to Mordecai and say, All the king's servants and the people of the king's provinces know that if any man or woman goes to the king inside the inner court without being called, there is but one law, to be put to death, except the one to whom the king holds out the golden scepter so that he may live.

But as for me, I have not been called to come into the king these thirty days. And they told Mordecai what Esther had said. Then Mordecai told them to reply to Esther, Do not think to yourself that in the king's palace you will escape any more than all the other Jews. For if you keep silent at this time, relief and deliverance will rise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. And who knows whether you have not come to the kingdom for such a time as this? Then Esther told them to reply to Mordecai, Go, gather all the Jews to be found in Susa, and hold the fast on my behalf, and do not eat or drink for three days, night or day. I and my young women will also fast as you do. Then I will go to the king, though it is against the law, and if I perish, I perish.

Mordecai then went away and did everything as Esther had ordered him. Thanks be to God for his Word. Gracious God, we humbly pray, make the book live to me, O Lord. Show me yourself within your Word. Show me myself. Show me my Savior. And make the book live to me.

Amen. Esther is proving to be a wonderful adventure, at least in my own personal study. It has now taken its place alongside the study of Joseph, in my mind, alongside the study of Ruth as well.

And in each case, the link between them all, of course, is the doctrine of God's providence—that there is a God who oversees the affairs of history, that he is involved cosmically, that he is involved ecclesiastically, nationally, familiarly, individually, and that we are not cast about upon a sea of chance, we're not held in the grip of blind and deterministic forces that are dark, but we're actually being schooled in the realm of God's providence. This is the story—it's a good story—about real people in a real place at a real point in time—the place Persia, the point in time around 479 BC, so about five hundred years before the birth of Jesus. I think most of us have come to agree that it is a good story, as stories go. After all, it has a heroine. We like stories with heroines, especially if she's beautiful, as Esther was. There's an evil villain who gets his comeuppance, and we like it when they do. There's a Jewish man who wouldn't take no for an answer, and we've met some just like that—both Jew and Gentile.

But in this case, he was a Jewish man. As we read the record, there is love lost and love found. There is ethnic rivalry, sudden reversals, dramatic irony, poetic justice.

And finally—finally—resolution. Events which took place clearly a long time ago and far away from here, and yet events which confront us with a fundamental question. And that is the question, How do you live as someone believing in this God of providence in a world that thinks about the entire world in a different way?

And that, of course, is the question that many of us face on a day-by-day basis. Some of us are scientists. I am not, clearly, although I listened to a wonderful scientific program this week on the BBC about a man called Dennis Klatt, whose name I'd never known, who was famous at MIT for the development of speech technology. And I learned a great deal, although most of it I found difficult to understand. Some of you are involved in science, and your friends regard it as rather strange that, despite how good you are at your job, you have this strange predilection for suggesting that somehow or another God is overseeing things. The same would be true for others in different places—the arts community, in the daily routine of family life. It is absolutely different to make these claims—the claims that lie at the very heart of this unfolding drama concerning Esther. I find that on a daily basis, I am talking out either to the television or talking out to my newspaper.

You're not supposed to talk to the trees, but you can talk to your television. And especially when it is funneling you a bunch of nonsense. Now, yesterday morning, in the Wall Street, in the inside cover, Mind and Matter, a lady there writing a little piece entitled Does Evolution Want Us to Be Unhappy? How many of you saw this article?

How many of you read this article? Not a single soul. Okay. I don't know how to feel about that.

I feel very special. You've got to read the paper. One of the reasons that Christians cannot interact in society is because we're talking to ourselves, and we're reading our own stuff. But that's for another day. She writes this article, and she says we're hardwired as a result of evolution to try and find stuff that will satisfy us. But it doesn't satisfy us to try and be fitter than the person next to us. But just when we think we're fit enough, we're not as fit as we would like to be. And it goes on quite wonderfully. It's not a bad piece. She says, It is as if every time we make a decision that actually makes us better off, evolution resets our happiness meter to zero.

Okay? So this is a view of the world. We are the product of time plus matter plus chance. We are just finding our way through this strange business till we shuffle off this mortal coil. And it resets our meter to zero.

That prods us to decide to take the next action, which will make us even better off, but not any happier. So I finished the article, and I finished my coffee, and I sat for a little bit. And then I said, Well, I'll just write across the top of the article. I looked if she had an email, but she didn't, so I couldn't immediately write a Dear Alison letter. It wasn't going to be an unkind letter. I was just going to ask her if she'd ever read C.S. Lewis, and particularly this quote from Mere Christianity, which we all know now, don't we?

I repeat it about every third Sunday. If I find in myself, says Lewis, desires which nothing in this world can satisfy, the only logical explanation is that I was made for another world. Of course we'll never satisfy these longings. These longings were never supposed to be satisfied by stuff, by experience, by all of the enjoyments of our earthly lives. Now, it's very, very important that we learn to read our newspaper as a result of knowing our Bibles, not learning from our Bibles as a result of what we have found in the newspaper.

And these people, 479 BC, at a far different level and to a far deeper degree, were confronted by the tyranny of a Persian community that had turned in upon them and was about to drive them into extinction. How, then, is a man like Mordecai to hold the line as a believer in God and yet as a significant subject of the king Ahasuerus? How is Esther, who has been taken into the king's bed, to navigate the fact that she has a Persian name and a Jewish name, and she can't figure out who she really is? Is she ever going to come clean? Is she ever going to identify with the cause of God?

Or is she going to live in the splendid isolation that is afforded to her in a palace which has become a prison? Those are the questions. They might not be so dramatic for us, but they're not so far removed. And what we've been learning is that the providence of God does not relieve us of our human responsibility. It doesn't call for inactivity.

It calls for activity. We're learning that although God's name is never mentioned, his activity is evident in what Alec Mattia refers to as the God-shaped holes in the narrative. What a great phrase! You know, you long for one phrase like that in your life, don't you?

That you could just write one like that. The God-shaped holes in the narrative. The God-shaped holes in the narrative are there because God wants the holes in the narrative. And if we try and go too quickly to fill in the theological gaps, then we miss the way in which this story unfolds.

It's supposed to be like this. And as someone has observed, God is most present and most absent in this fourth chapter. Well, we'd better get to chapter 4, but let's just understand. And some have walked in out of nowhere, and you're saying, I have no clue what's going on here. Well, I can give you the whole program.

You can get the CDs if you want or download them for nothing, I'm sure, somewhere. But what this king Ahasuerus has done is he has been involved in the rejection of his queen, Vashti. So we've seen the rejection of Vashti. We've seen the selection of Esther. She has now become the queen. Do you like her? Do you like Esther?

So far in the story, do you like Esther? Yeah? You do. I'm not sure I do.

No? She's a beauty queen, she's a spa babe, she is just living the life. So far, I'm not seeing much from her at all, apart from the fact that she's cute and sleeps with a king.

Why do you like her so much? You must have been reading ahead. That's why you hadn't read the newspaper. That's good.

That's good. Of course you were reading your Bible, and I should have been doing the same instead of reading the newspaper. The rejection of Vashti, the selection and the election of Esther, the corruption of Haman, who is so infuriated with Mordecai that he has engineered this edict to exterminate the Jewish population, the prospect of which has thrown the entire city of Susa into confusion. And that's where we left things last time, with the final phrase of chapter 3, the city of Susa was thrown into confusion. The word was out that on a certain day, this pogrom was to take place.

Those who named the name of God were to be swept up and carried away into extinction. And chapter 4 begins with the reaction of Mordecai to this. Let's just notice in verses 1, 2, and 3 Mordecai's reaction. His outfit, with torn clothes and sackcloth and ashes, is not a fashion statement. Tearing your clothes is apparently one way of showing how wealthy you are these days, that you can tear them up and show… That's for another time.

I just was in Fort Collins, Colorado, ten days ago, and I was just remarking, I said, I'm so boring, I really need to tear some of my clothes. But anyway, Mordecai, if he had shown up like this in Fort Collins, Colorado, nobody would have hardly looked at him at all. But they would never have assumed that what he was actually doing, by means of this strange outfit, was conveying the grief that had engulfed his heart. Read the Old Testament, and you discover that this was a commonplace reaction by the people of God.

It was a public display of mourning, of agitation, of consternation. And for Mordecai, of course, there's something very personal about this, wasn't there? Because this edict had been issued, if you traced it back, directly to the fact that he refused to give obeisance to Baal before Haman.

And Mordecai would have had occasion to get up in the morning and say to himself, you know, we are moving inexorably towards extermination, and I'm the problem. Maybe I was a little rash. Maybe I shouldn't have done what I did. Wouldn't have cost me much just to bow to the fellow, for goodness' sake. And now look what I've done.

He's not walking out going, I believe in providence, diddly-diddly-doo. No! No! No!

Look at him! He is in the middle of the city, crying with a loud voice and a bitter cry. He's at the entrance to the king's gate.

That's as close as he dared go, because if you go in like that, you're a dead man. Kings don't like it when people are sad. We saw that a hundred years ago when we studied Nehemiah. Nehemiah was the cupbearer to the king, remember? And he was sad because the news had reached him from Susa that the glory of God was in disrepair and the gates were broken.

And he says, And I was sad before the king, and I had never been sad before the king before. Why not? Because you might get your head chopped off. So he is there at the entrance to the gate. His refusal to bow has triggered this dreadful predicament. And we note in passing that although his actions have consequences, as do our actions, we ultimately can't control the actions of others. He did what he thought was right to do. He did it in relationship to the animosity that had existed going back, as we saw in our study.

He couldn't control Haman's reaction, and he did what he thought was right, and he must leave the rest to God. Now look at the pathetic picture of him there, crying aloud, and his actions are duplicated throughout the provinces where the news has spread. Once again, you will see that the response of the people is not one of celebration but one of consternation. There was great mourning among the Jews. Verse 3 says, There was fasting and weeping and lamenting, and many of them were lying around in sackcloth and in ashes. Lawson, the old commentator, makes the point—and I think it's helpful—the faith of God's people does not interfere with the exercise of emotion suited to mournful dispensations of providence.

Do you see what he's saying? It's actually understandable and legitimate for the people of God who believe in God, who trust God, who are committed to the notion that he is overruling everything for the praise of his glory and will bring everything in heaven and earth underneath the rule of Christ. It is still appropriate and understandable for the people of God to express the emotions of deep sadness and of lament and of inquiry and of discouragement and of disappointment and of fearfulness and of faintheartedness. And that ought to be, for some of us, a real liberation, especially if we're hanging around with a group of people who have told us that if you were a real, solid, faithful, believing soul, you would not be lying around on the ground wailing and mourning and lamenting and creating such a ruckus. What do they know?

What do they know of faith? What do they know of the exercise of emotion suited to the mournful dispensations of providence? The mournful dispensation of providence that takes your spouse when you want her to stay living with you. That takes your child when you expect her to grow to the fullness of life.

That takes your life from you when you have an expectancy in human terms that runs out before you. What is the emotion then, you see? And here we find in the reaction of this man an understandable reaction, an honest reaction, and an action which sets many of us free from some of the silly stuff that has been foisted upon us, which owes more to self-help books than it does to an understanding of the Bible. The hymn writer gets it, doesn't he? When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie.

And not when over fiery trials. If you've been flying a lot in these last three weeks, especially around the south as well, you know that we can't just keep going over this stuff. We're going through it. We've asked everyone to be seated. You know the routine. We've asked them all to be seated.

We have suspended the service. It's like, Okay, here we go. Buckle up and hang in there. Through it. Not over it.

Through it. I find that tremendously encouraging. I hope you do too. When through fiery trials your pathway shall lie. His grace, all sufficient, will be your supply. For he will be with you in trouble to bless and sanctify to you your deepest distress. Your deepest distress.

What is your deepest distress this morning? God will sanctify that to you. Yeah, but please remove it from me. No, I'm not removing it from you.

I'll sanctify it to you. I'll make it a means of grace to you. I promise to be with you. I will not forsake my people. I am committed to bring into fulfillment the promise that I made to Abraham, although it seems to be rocking and rolling in the middle of Persia five centuries before Jesus. That is Alistair Begg on Truth for Life reminding us that our emotions are not always evidence of weak faith.

Sometimes they are merely a sign of our humanity. We hope that the teaching you hear on Truth for Life provides you with time for quiet reflection on God's Word. A break from the busyness of daily life, so you can remember God's promises.

You can rest in his care. Our current study in Esther is a great way for you to hit the pause button and reassess your circumstances in light of God's providence. I hope you've found this study to be helpful. You need to know that we counted a privilege to teach God's Word to millions of listeners all around the world, and all of the content at Truth for Life is made available because of Truth Partners. Listeners like you who regularly pray for the ministry and who give an amount each month, an amount that they have determined. It is their support that makes it possible for you to hear Alistair's teaching each day of the year, and their support also helps us provide at-cost books and study guides, free articles, and unlimited access to Alistair's sermon archive. So if you are one of our Truth Partners, thank you. And if you've been benefiting from this listener-funded ministry but you've not yet become a part of the team that supports it, think about becoming a Truth Partner today.

It just takes a couple of minutes. You can sign up online at truthforlife.org slash truth partner, or you can call us at 888-588-7884. When you become a Truth Partner, one of the ways we say thank you is by inviting you to request the books we offer each month.

When you commit to giving $20 or more, you can request both of our monthly recommendations. Today we want to suggest to you a terrific family devotional, something you'll enjoy reading with your children or your grandchildren. It's called Darkest Night Brightest Day. This new book will walk your family through the Easter season. There are 14 daily readings drawn from each of the Gospels, beginning with Palm Sunday. They lead you through the events of Good Friday and Easter, all the way up to the Ascension. Request your copy of the book Darkest Night Brightest Day today when you sign up to become a Truth Partner, or you can request the book when you give a one-time donation at truthforlife.org slash donate. I'm Bob Lapine. In today's message, we learned that there are times when God will carry us through fiery trials instead of taking us around them. What does He do when we're reluctant to risk our personal security to stand up for His people? Join us tomorrow for more from Esther. The Bible teaching of Alistair Begg is furnished by Truth for Life, where the Learning is for Living.
Whisper: medium.en / 2023-03-02 05:25:33 / 2023-03-02 05:34:31 / 9

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