How You Can Make a Difference
In an interview in Time Magazine, the great Swiss theologian Karl Barth recounted that he advised young theologians to ‘take your Bible and take your newspaper and read both. But interpret newspapers from your Bible.’
When we read, watch or listen to the news it could be easy to get depressed. It sometimes seems that evil is triumphing over good. The plans of ‘the wicked’ seem to succeed, while others are subject to the ravages of terrorism, war, poverty and injustice.
This is why we desperately need to hear the voice of the Holy Spirit and listen to the word of God. As we study the Scriptures, we see the triumph of good over evil. In each of the passages for today we see that evil will not ultimately triumph. At the end of the day, good wins. Furthermore, in this struggle between good and evil, you can make a difference.
6 I say to the Lord, “You are my God.”
Hear, Lord, my cry for mercy.
7 Sovereign Lord, my strong deliverer,
you shield my head in the day of battle.
8 Do not grant the wicked their desires, Lord;
do not let their plans succeed.
9 Those who surround me proudly rear their heads;
may the mischief of their lips engulf them.
10 May burning coals fall on them;
may they be thrown into the fire,
into miry pits, never to rise.
11 May slanderers not be established in the land;
may disaster hunt down the violent.
12 I know that the Lord secures justice for the poor
and upholds the cause of the needy.
13 Surely the righteous will praise your name,
and the upright will live in your presence.
Cry out to God for good to triumph
In a world with so much injustice towards the poor and needy, God will secure justice for the poor and uphold the cause of the needy. We know ultimately that the righteous will praise God’s name and the upright will live before him for ever (vv.12–13).
David is surrounded by ‘trouble makers’ (v.9, MSG). They are ‘slanderers’ and people of violence (v.11). Some deal in physical blows, others deal in words. Both can be equally damaging. In the midst of this David cries out, ‘O Lord; do not let their plans succeed’ (v.8).
He ends this psalm on a note of trust: ‘I know that you, God, are on the side of victims, that you care for the rights of the poor. And I know that the righteous personally thank you, that good people are secure in your presence’ (vv.12–13, MSG).
To the Church in Thyatira
18 “To the angel of the church in Thyatira write:
These are the words of the Son of God, whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze. 19 I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first.
20 Nevertheless, I have this against you: You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophet. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. 21 I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling. 22 So I will cast her on a bed of suffering, and I will make those who commit adultery with her suffer intensely, unless they repent of her ways. 23 I will strike her children dead. Then all the churches will know that I am he who searches hearts and minds, and I will repay each of you according to your deeds.
24 Now I say to the rest of you in Thyatira, to you who do not hold to her teaching and have not learned Satan’s so-called deep secrets, ‘I will not impose any other burden on you, 25 except to hold on to what you have until I come.’
26 To the one who is victorious and does my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations — 27 that one ‘will rule them with an iron scepter and will dash them to pieces like pottery’ —just as I have received authority from my Father. 28 I will also give that one the morning star. 29 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
To the Church in Sardis
3 “To the angel of the church in Sardis write:
These are the words of him who holds the seven spirits of God and the seven stars. I know your deeds; you have a reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up! Strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have found your deeds unfinished in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; hold it fast, and repent. But if you do not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what time I will come to you.
4 Yet you have a few people in Sardis who have not soiled their clothes. They will walk with me, dressed in white, for they are worthy. 5 The one who is victorious will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out the name of that person from the book of life, but will acknowledge that name before my Father and his angels. 6 Whoever has ears, let them hear what the Spirit says to the churches.
Be someone who overcomes evil with good
As we continue today to read Jesus’ words to the seven churches, we see that the battle between good and evil is not only something that occurs between the church and the world, but also inside the church itself. Jesus makes extraordinary and wonderful promises to those who overcome evil.
Live a holy life
The church in Thyatira is praised for its love, faith, service, perseverance and personal growth: ‘I know your deeds, your love and faith, your service and perseverance, and that you are now doing more than you did at first’ (2:19).
However, Jesus challenges the church about its so-called ‘tolerance’. Today, the word ‘tolerance’ is regarded as one of the great virtues and only seen in a positive light. Tolerance is an extremely important quality. But, there are limits to tolerance and some forms of tolerance are not good.
Jesus criticises the church in Thyatira for their tolerance of sexual immorality in the church: ‘You tolerate that woman Jezebel, who calls herself a prophetess. By her teaching she misleads my servants into sexual immorality and the eating of food sacrificed to idols. I have given her time to repent of her immorality, but she is unwilling’ (vv.20–21).
We live in a sex-saturated culture in which we are encouraged and expected to be sexually active and seek personal ‘sexual fulfilment’. The Bible has an extremely high view of sex, delighting in and encouraging it in the right context – that of a loving marriage. But anything beyond this, such as promiscuity or pornography, is exposed as destructive and unhelpful. We do not know what Jezebel’s sexual immorality was – but these verses are a reminder of the importance of sexual purity.
Jesus warns that unless they repent of Jezebel’s ways, disaster will follow (v.22b). The Son of God, ‘whose eyes are like blazing fire and whose feet are like burnished bronze’ (v.18), ‘searches hearts and minds’, and will repay each according to their deeds (v.23).
These aren’t simply words of condemnation, as they are accompanied by a call to ‘repentance’. In fact, even ‘Jezebel’ has been given a chance to repent (v.21). Where we have sinned sexually, it is so important to remember that we can be forgiven – our response to passages like this should not be despair, but repentance and gratitude.
The church is called to holiness. Jesus promises, ‘To those who overcome and do my will to the end, I will give authority over the nations… just as I have received authority from my Father' (vv.26–27). Jesus will share his authority with his faithful overcoming people.
You will also share his glory: ‘I will also give them the morning star’ (v.28). If you turn your back on the darkness of sin, you will see the light of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ. However great your current struggles in your battle for holiness, one day with this star, Jesus, you will remain absolutely and eternally content.
Holiness does not mean being perfect. It means living a life of integrity. It’s the opposite of hypocrisy. It means being real, honest and authentic.
The church in Sardis had the reputation for being alive, but was in fact dead (3:1). It looked active. It sounded like a good church to go to. Yet it had become complacent. Jesus calls them to repent: ‘Remember, therefore, what you have received and heard; obey it, and repent’ (v.3).
The charge against Sardis is hypocrisy and inauthenticity. The call is to reality and authenticity. There were a few in the church ‘who have not soiled their clothes’ (v.4a). ‘They will walk with \[Jesus\], dressed in white, for they are worthy’ (v.4b).
Again, Jesus makes amazing promises to those who overcome: ‘Those who overcome will, like them, be dressed in white. I will never blot out their names from the book of life, but will acknowledge their names before my Father and his angels’ (v.5).
Queen Vashti Deposed
1 This is what happened during the time of Xerxes, the Xerxes who ruled over 127 provinces stretching from India to Cush: 2 At that time King Xerxes reigned from his royal throne in the citadel of Susa, 3 and in the third year of his reign he gave a banquet for all his nobles and officials. The military leaders of Persia and Media, the princes, and the nobles of the provinces were present.
4 For a full 180 days he displayed the vast wealth of his kingdom and the splendour and glory of his majesty. 5 When these days were over, the king gave a banquet, lasting seven days, in the enclosed garden of the king’s palace, for all the people from the least to the greatest who were in the citadel of Susa. 6 The garden had hangings of white and blue linen, fastened with cords of white linen and purple material to silver rings on marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver on a mosaic pavement of porphyry, marble, mother-of-pearl and other costly stones. 7 Wine was served in goblets of gold, each one different from the other, and the royal wine was abundant, in keeping with the king’s liberality. 8 By the king’s command each guest was allowed to drink with no restrictions, for the king instructed all the wine stewards to serve each man what he wished.
9 Queen Vashti also gave a banquet for the women in the royal palace of King Xerxes.
10 On the seventh day, when King Xerxes was in high spirits from wine, he commanded the seven eunuchs who served him—Mehuman, Biztha, Harbona, Bigtha, Abagtha, Zethar and Karkas— 11 to bring before him Queen Vashti, wearing her royal crown, in order to display her beauty to the people and nobles, for she was lovely to look at. 12 But when the attendants delivered the king’s command, Queen Vashti refused to come. Then the king became furious and burned with anger.
13 Since it was customary for the king to consult experts in matters of law and justice, he spoke with the wise men who understood the times 14 and were closest to the king—Karshena, Shethar, Admatha, Tarshish, Meres, Marsena and Memukan, the seven nobles of Persia and Media who had special access to the king and were highest in the kingdom.
15 “According to law, what must be done to Queen Vashti?” he asked. “She has not obeyed the command of King Xerxes that the eunuchs have taken to her.”
16 Then Memukan replied in the presence of the king and the nobles, “Queen Vashti has done wrong, not only against the king but also against all the nobles and the peoples of all the provinces of King Xerxes. 17 For the queen’s conduct will become known to all the women, and so they will despise their husbands and say, ‘King Xerxes commanded Queen Vashti to be brought before him, but she would not come.’ 18 This very day the Persian and Median women of the nobility who have heard about the queen’s conduct will respond to all the king’s nobles in the same way. There will be no end of disrespect and discord.
19 “Therefore, if it pleases the king, let him issue a royal decree and let it be written in the laws of Persia and Media, which cannot be repealed, that Vashti is never again to enter the presence of King Xerxes. Also let the king give her royal position to someone else who is better than she. 20 Then when the king’s edict is proclaimed throughout all his vast realm, all the women will respect their husbands, from the least to the greatest.”
21 The king and his nobles were pleased with this advice, so the king did as Memukan proposed. 22 He sent dispatches to all parts of the kingdom, to each province in its own script and to each people in their own language, proclaiming that every man should be ruler over his own household, using his native tongue.
Esther Made Queen
2 Later when King Xerxes’ fury had subsided, he remembered Vashti and what she had done and what he had decreed about her. 2 Then the king’s personal attendants proposed, “Let a search be made for beautiful young virgins for the king. 3 Let the king appoint commissioners in every province of his realm to bring all these beautiful young women into the harem at the citadel of Susa. Let them be placed under the care of Hegai, the king’s eunuch, who is in charge of the women; and let beauty treatments be given to them. 4 Then let the young woman who pleases the king be queen instead of Vashti.” This advice appealed to the king, and he followed it.
5 Now there was in the citadel of Susa a Jew of the tribe of Benjamin, named Mordecai son of Jair, the son of Shimei, the son of Kish, 6 who had been carried into exile from Jerusalem by Nebuchadnezzar king of Babylon, among those taken captive with Jehoiachin king of Judah. 7 Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, whom he had brought up because she had neither father nor mother. This young woman, who was also known as Esther, had a lovely figure and was beautiful. Mordecai had taken her as his own daughter when her father and mother died.
8 When the king’s order and edict had been proclaimed, many young women were brought to the citadel of Susa and put under the care of Hegai. Esther also was taken to the king’s palace and entrusted to Hegai, who had charge of the harem. 9 She pleased him and won his favour. Immediately he provided her with her beauty treatments and special food. He assigned to her seven female attendants selected from the king’s palace and moved her and her attendants into the best place in the harem.
10 Esther had not revealed her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had forbidden her to do so. 11 Every day he walked to and fro near the courtyard of the harem to find out how Esther was and what was happening to her.
12 Before a young woman’s turn came to go in to King Xerxes, she had to complete twelve months of beauty treatments prescribed for the women, six months with oil of myrrh and six with perfumes and cosmetics. 13 And this is how she would go to the king: Anything she wanted was given her to take with her from the harem to the king’s palace. 14 In the evening she would go there and in the morning return to another part of the harem to the care of Shaashgaz, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not return to the king unless he was pleased with her and summoned her by name.
15 When the turn came for Esther (the young woman Mordecai had adopted, the daughter of his uncle Abihail ) to go to the king, she asked for nothing other than what Hegai, the king’s eunuch who was in charge of the harem, suggested. And Esther won the favour of everyone who saw her. 16 She was taken to King Xerxes in the royal residence in the tenth month, the month of Tebeth, in the seventh year of his reign.
17 Now the king was attracted to Esther more than to any of the other women, and she won his favour and approval more than any of the other virgins. So he set a royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti. 18 And the king gave a great banquet, Esther’s banquet, for all his nobles and officials. He proclaimed a holiday throughout the provinces and distributed gifts with royal liberality.
Watch God turn the tables on evil
One person can make a difference. Esther was one of the saviours of the Jewish nation. She was an orphan (2:7). She was beautiful (v.7) and charming: ‘Esther won the favour of everyone who saw her’ (v.15). She was obedient to her adopted parents: ‘She continued to follow Mordecai's instruction as she had done when he was bringing her up’ (v.20). Her call was so significant that it needed a long period of preparation.
Esther is one of the two books in the Old Testament named after a woman (the other being Ruth). It is also one of two books in the Old Testament that does not mention God by name (the other being Song of Songs). It contains the account of the origin of the annual Jewish holiday and feast of Purim. It is set during the reign of Xerxes, King of Persia (486–465 BC).
At about the age of thirty-five, Xerxes inherited a massive empire, which included modern-day Iran, Iraq, Egypt and Ethiopia, as well as parts of India (1:1).
The book of Esther is the account of a moment in the history of the Jewish people when they were able to turn the tables on those who wanted to destroy them.
As Eugene Peterson writes, ‘No matter how many of them you kill, you can’t get rid of the communities of God-honouring, God-serving, God-worshipping people scattered all over the earth. This is still the final and definitive word.’
In the next few days we will read more about Esther’s extraordinary qualities. However, in today’s passage we see how God’s hand was upon her. He was preparing the ground to use her to turn the tables and bring about the triumph of good over evil.
Joyce Meyer writes, ‘I believe that God has a great call and purpose for your life as he did for Esther’s. Your assignment may not be the deliverance of a nation, but whatever God has called you to is extremely significant. Whatever it is, be diligent to embrace the preparation process it requires so that you will be well-equipped when the time comes for you to act.’
Esther 1:1 – 2:18
The story of Esther is a fascinating story. I’ve often wondered why Queen Vashti refused to go to her husband, the king. Whatever her reasons, good or bad, it didn’t go well, and then all the men became nervous about losing control of their wives. There must be a better way of winning respect of their wives than issuing decrees from the husbands. Perhaps modelling the fruit of the Spirit might have been more effective!
Verse of the Day
Revelation 3:6 (MSG)
‘Listen… to the Spirit blowing through the churches’
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Karl Barth in Time Magazine, Friday 31 May 1963.
Joyce Meyer, The Everyday Life Bible (Faithwords, 2018) p.752.
Eugene Peterson, The Message, 'Introduction to Esther' (NavPress, 2006) p.618.
Unless otherwise stated, Scripture quotations taken from the Holy Bible, New International Version Anglicised, Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 Biblica, formerly International Bible Society. Used by permission of Hodder & Stoughton Publishers, an Hachette UK company. All rights reserved. ‘NIV’ is a registered trademark of Biblica. UK trademark number 1448790.
Scripture marked (MSG) taken from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group. Unless otherwise stated.