Where is God in Esther?

The book of Esther is famous for being the only book of the Bible that does not mention God. Where is God in Esther? Is He just working “behind the scenes”, inferred and “providential”, rather than explicit? And is the God of Esther the God of the gospel that we believe in as Christians?

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I was reading the story again today, and I saw Queen Esther approaching the throne of King Ahasuerus without being summoned. The law of the land was clear about such an action: “…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…” (Esther 4:11).

This called to mind Exodus 33:20 where God tells Moses: “You cannot see my face, for no one may see me and live.”

In fact, under the Old Testament law, only the selected High Priest could step into the inner court (the holy of holies) in the tabernacle (and later, temple). He would have a rope tied to his ankle because in the event that he had overlooked a cleansing ritual and stepped in while unclean, he would drop dead and had to be dragged out.

But then Jesus comes into the world, and He is our clean and perfect High Priest. He has never sinned and does not therefore need cleansing. He does not run the risk of dying when he steps into the inner court and looks at God’s face. He himself in John 1:8 says: “No one has ever seen God, but the one and only Son, who is himself God and is in closest relationship with the Father, has made him known.”

Only Jesus can see God and live.

So what does this have to do with Esther and her God? The law of the land at the time had a caveat: “…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.” (Esther 4:11)

In other words, when you stepped into the king’s presence, the only reason you would continue breathing is if the king chose to be merciful to you. Otherwise, the only guarantee you had is that you were walking to your death. The throne of king Ahasuerus was a throne of wrath and death for those who approached it uninvited. So was the inner court of the God of the Jews.

Then in steps Jesus, one who has never sinned. This means that Jesus as our High Priest could walk into God’s presence with full confidence that He will live to talk about it! But it gets better! God says that if we believe in Jesus, and look to Him as our High priest, we move into Him and He moves into us. He lives and reigns in us and through us!

This means that we can boldly approach the throne of God because we have confidence that when God looks at us He sees His son. Instead of extending a condemning finger, He extends the golden scepter of grace. He lets us live.

But it gets even better! In the story of Esther, only those who entered the king’s court without being summoned deserved to die. But now, through Christ, God is actually summoning us! telling us to come! We know we can approach Him with confidence of life. And even when we doubt whether we have been called, we know we can still approach Him with confidence that Christ has paid the price of death for us.

“For we do not have a high priest who cannot sympathize with our weaknesses, but One who has been tempted in all things as we are, yet without sin. Therefore let us draw near with confidence to the throne of grace, so that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need.”

(Hebrews 4:15-16)

For the fame of His name,

Cornell

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Loving the Enemies We Make

It is an assumption we always make when we read bible passages about loving our enemies, turning the other cheek and blessing those who persecute us. We assume that we are always the victims. When we read such passages, we tend to see ourselves as the innocent target to the slap or the accusation or the insult.

cheekBut the truth is that more often than not, we deserve it. At least I know I do. For instance, not so long ago I lied to a friend, and through that lie, made her an enemy. She “found me out” and I paid the price by not only losing her trust, but also her friendship.

Now, of course I asked for her forgiveness and repented of my sin before God. Ideally, that would be the end of that. But reconciliation is much more complicated, and much less Utopian.

Chesterton once said that “we choose our friends and we make our enemies”. While it is easy to see how this happens, there is something we deliberately make ourselves blind to — the fact that having an enemy does not always mean we are the innocent party. This victim mentality is a product of our sinful, self-preserving tendencies.

We don’t like to look at ourselves as the guilty ones. Continue reading Loving the Enemies We Make

The Day Someone Shared the Gospel With Me

cornell vic poa place I don’t know where it came from, but it finally arrived. In fact, I think it has always been there, though I chose to ignore it. But it was there. And it was real. I am talking about something that exists in all of us, believer or not, born-again or not. It is the desire to live for something greater than ourselves. The need to worship. The yearning for something out of this world. Something more powerful, more important than we are. It is what keeps us going. Something that sets the standards and the stage. What gives our life meaning and a purpose. This is God calling us. It is God drawing us and nudging us, the chosen, towards Him.

I realized that I had a desire to worship. I acknowledged the existence of a supernatural being that held everything together. Everything on earth that I thought would sustain and satisfy me had let me down. Wealth had dumped me. Fame had worn me out and the search for approval had grown stale. I never contemplated alcohol or drugs (all by Grace, now in hindsight). I guess my need was more intellectual than emotional. No philosophy could make my mind content. No. This world just didn’t have the answers. Continue reading The Day Someone Shared the Gospel With Me

In The Grip of Grace

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It was a Sunday morning, we were running late for church and she just appeared out of nowhere. My friend Paul, who was behind the wheel, saw her too late. She was already in the middle of the road. We had just completed overtaking a lorry, the car was now doing 100 KPH and she was about 100 meters in front of us. We had to think fast. Well, at least Paul had to. He figured that since it was a dual carriage highway and the woman was already halfway across, he would switch lanes and move to the lane that she had just finished crossing. It was a reasonable, split-second, decision.

Unfortunately, the middle aged woman didn’t see it the same way. As the car switched lanes, there was a point when it looked like we were headed straight for her. She panicked and did the unimaginable. Instead of continuing in her initial direction, she suddenly stopped and started running back. She was now on the same lane we were on. The gap between the woman and the car was closing, less than 50 meters now. I held my breath and prepared for the worst.

The next thing I remember (albeit vaguely) is the car skidding on the wet tarmac and seeing a small tree heading straight for us. The tree hit the car, or rather, the car hit the tree. But we had been moving too fast, and the tree gave way and broke under the force of 1 tonne of metal moving at about 90 KPH now. The next thing I remember was seeing the world literally turning upside down as the car went over the dropping edge of the road and rolled into the brushes below. In the blink of an eye, I was upside down in my seat, held in place by the safety belt.

in the grip of grace

“Thank you Lord”, I exhaled.

I looked over at Paul and asked him if he was fine. He confirmed that he was. When we managed to extract ourselves from the wreckage, we were relieved to find that there was not a single scratch on any of us. In fact, what I found even more amazing was the fact that there was not even a single speck of dirt on our clothes. We were perfectly fine.

Later on, while rummaging through the wreckage and debris in order to find anything worth salvaging, I found this book by Max Lucado lying on the roof (from the inside of the overturned car). Even though the book was all muddied up, the title was loud and clear to all:

IN THE GRIP OF GRACE

grip of grace

I never made it to church that Sunday, but I had just witnessed a sermon that I would never forget.

PS: No, we didn’t hit the woman. The car missed her by a hair’s breadth. Praise God!

Now This is What I Call a Perfect Prayer

2009-10-prayerI first heard it from my dad more than a decade ago. I was still in primary school. My dad rammed this prayer into my head until it became a permanent part of my memory. No, my dad was not born again, and he was not teaching me this prayer because he wanted me to be more pious. His reasons were different. My dad admired and pedestaled this prayer because it was a revealing prayer. It revealed the hypocrisy in many Christians. The words in the prayer indicated zero self-focus and total God-focus – Something that my father did not see in the professing Christians around him. It was a difficult prayer to live out, and I guess that’s why my dad loved it so much and made sure I memorized it. Here it is:

Oh LORD, If I worship You for fear of Hell, burn me in Hell,

and if I worship You in hope of Paradise, exclude me from Paradise.

But if I worship You for Your Own sake,

grudge me not Your everlasting Beauty.

A PERFECT PRAYER

It’s obvious that this prayer expresses an other-worldly attitude of selflessness. It’s true that many people are “Christians” because they do not want to end up in hell. Others are Christians because the images they’ve been fed of heaven titillate their carnal cravings. Very few (if any) of us worship God for who He is. For a long time, I was persuaded that there was no prayer more profound than this one. Not even the Lord’s Prayer came close. Yet, something always bothered me about the prayer. It was an impossible prayer. What appeared to be a perfect prayer was actually a perfectionist prayer. It was a dangerous prayer. I never really prayed it. Whenever I examine my heart, there are always some strings attached in my relationship with God. My prayers and acts of worship are tainted with both explicit and subtle selfish aims. As apostle Paul once remarked;

“I find this law at work: Although I want to do good, evil is right there with me.” [Rom 7:21]

WORSHIPING GOD FOR GOD’S SAKE

Later on, I realized that even though I had elevated this prayer and placed it on such a high pedestal, there’s an important element of the prayer that I never bothered to question. What does it mean to worship God for His own sake? This the question, though unanswered, was actually the most important aspect of the prayer above. To worship God for His own sake means to worship God as He really is. And to worship God as He really is means that one must first get to know this God. The Bible is God’s revelation of Himself to us. God has revealed Himself as the creator and sustainer of the universe. But this is not all. The Bible reveals God as Savior and Redeemer of a world imprisoned in sin and the effects of sin. To worship God for His own sake is to worship God, not just as creator and keeper, but also as the redeemer of the world.

FREEDOM IN CHRIST

So you see, while the prayer above was indeed impressive, it was also imprisoning. I don’t want to tell God to take me to hell because I am worshiping Him for the fear of hell. The truth is that I am afraid of hell, and part of the reason why I worship God is because I do not want to end up there. This may not be the main reason for my worship, but it is part of it. If this makes me sinful, then I am headed to hell, for I cannot perfectly not mix my worship with my fear hell. On the other hand, I want to go to heaven, and I admit that to some extent, I worship God for the hope of paradise. If this means that I am disqualified for paradise, then I am hopeless.

But the good news is that I do know God for who He is. And of all the things that God is, He is also my Savior. Through the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, God has redeemed me from the curse of my sin. He has redeemed me from the power and penalty of my ever-sinful ways. I am free in Christ. This means that even if sometimes I worship God for the fear of hell, I will not end up there. It means that even if sometimes I worship God for the hope of paradise, He will not exclude me from paradise. This prayer that I learnt from my dad was profound. It was impressive. But it was also an imprisoning prayer. It disregarded the saving grace of God, and for that reason, it was a false prayer.

*****

PS: Just last year, I Googled the words of the prayer only to discover that it was written/said by an ascetic female Sufi (Muslim) mystic called Rabi’a al-‘Adawiyya (717 – 801 A.D.).

No wonder.

What Is Joseph Prince Doing on TBN?

joseph-princeExactly. I thought I was the only one asking this question. Apparently, I am not. In the few times that I’ve listened to snippets of Joseph Prince’s sermons, I’ve found it difficult to understand how he gets airtime on TBN. Yes, he admits that he is a Word of Faith preacher like the rest of the TBN “cast”, but his sermons are different. You will not hear him out-rightly calling people to claim their inheritance and turn their faith into gold. Pastor Prince’s gospel is slightly different. The difference is so subtle that even I missed it for quite awhile. I admit, I am a grace junkie, and every preacher who teaches on God’s grace is bound to tickle my ears. I guess that’s what blindly drew me to Joseph Prince at first. He is an excellent communicator and a passionate preacher. Grace, or unmerited favor, is at the core of all his messages. Continue reading What Is Joseph Prince Doing on TBN?

The Life of the Party

weddinnJesus, the winemaker. I bet anyone who attended Sunday school knows what Jesus’ first recorded miracle was. He turned water into wine. It is easy to miss the point in this passage. Many people have often used abused this account in Cana to make a case for drunkenness. Others have gone to great lengths to prove that the wine made by Jesus was not alcoholic. These are just a few examples of how we can twist scripture to fit our rigid religiosity. But there’s something utterly liberating about this account of Jesus at a wedding. Personally, I am not so much amazed that Jesus turned water into wine as I am amazed that Jesus was at a wedding in the first place. Continue reading The Life of the Party