Sunday, 25 June 2017

Stories of Grace: Esther - The Beginning

The commander called for all young women who had not been with a man to line up in the town square. This was no surprise - the royal proclamation had already gone out that the King sought a new Queen. The girls lined up dutifully and the commander took his pick. Eventually a few were sent off to the Royal Palace. The parents feared for their safety, among them Mordecai who had cared for Esther since her parents had died in her childhood. She too was taken to the palace.

At the palace they would have the finest beauty treatments, but we should not get trapped in romantic notions here - most of the girls would be used by the King for his sole pleasure in a series of one night stands. The King was the great King Xerxes of the Persian Empire stretching over 127 provinces. He lived a lavish lifestyle, with marble, gold and excess luxury at every turn. He threw celebrations and banquets lasting 180 days - half a year of over-the-top living!

By contrast Mordecai and his young cousin Esther were modest characters. God-fearing believers, living in exile from the fallen nation of Israel. Mordecai knew his people were despised, so he laid low. He brought Esther up to know God and live quietly under the radar in this foreign land.

Yet now she was taken to the palace. What would be her fate? Mordecai tried to hang around the palace for any news. As he did so, all he could do was trust in God's overall sovereignty.

Key Qn: [UP] Do you quietly trust in God's sovereignty for our nation

What about us in our nation undergoing upheaval, with atrocities, governments taking decisions we may not like, and perhaps how we worry concerning Christian viewpoints apparently being sidelined? In the midst of all this are we able to quietly trust in God's sovereignty? Note the question asks 'quietly trust' - a quiet trust is still a trust in which you are involved in society, respecting the structures and government around you. This is important since, with Jesus as your one and only Lord, you could in theory abandon any allegiance to state. Yet that is not the way we see in the Bible, where the early church leaders called for a respect of the authorities.

Challenge: Pray not for a Christian country, but for God's Kingdom Come

The challenge is perhaps harder, for many Christians lament the UK no longer being a 'Christian Country'. Yet what does this term actually mean? In centuries past Kings/Governments and Church were inter-twined, and the Church yielded state power. It was not a good setup - with the coercion of people that went contrary to the way of Jesus and biblical instruction. In fact the Bible gives us no definition of a 'Christian Country', nor even any aspiration of it.

What we do have is a country of 'Christian Heritage' which we can be thankful for. We want national laws inspired by Christian principles (which we have!), and we want national values that reflect Christian values (which in many ways we also have), continuing in our Christian heritage. Yet there are good reasons to keep church and state separate. Back in the 1600s Helwys, one of the first English baptists pledged loyalty to the king in everything except his worship of God. He called for religious freedom. In fact he called for freedom for all (including muslims) - he was way ahead of his time because he understood the difference between relating to God and relating to a nation state. Baptists continue to call for healthy separation of church and state - for us the 'Free' in 'Countess Free Church' is because we are free of state control!

Back in the story Mordecai continued to be concerned, even as Esther was chosen and made Queen. In his loitering near the palace he saw and overheard alot of coming and going. Among these were two of the King's officers who were hatching a plot to overthrow the King. Mordecai could have ignored this, but he sent word via Esther to the King. The King investigated and found the report to be true, and wasted no time in executing the officers (remember, this is the kind of Kingdom he ruled!).

It is in this kind of Kingdom that Mordecai lived, and now his cousin Esther was Queen to the King Emperor. How would they fare now? To find out, come back next week ...

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