In celebrating salvation, it’s important to remember what we’re saved from. And we must also remember that victory for one is defeat for another.
In December 2021, Leicester City were playing Liverpool at Anfield in a cup game. Winner goes through; loser goes home. Leicester were winning 2-0, then 3-1, then 3-2 right near the end. The Leicester fans were singing! Taunting! Then Liverpool scored an equaliser! Time for the scouse choir: “You’re not singing anymore!”
Victory is usually two things: A celebration of your own victory and, for the vanquished, mourning over “what might have been”.
That might just be banter at Anfield. But is it appropriate for God’s people to be like that, when the wicked fall? You might sing, “You’re not singing any more” to Satan, or even “obvious” wicked people, but what about to everyone else who doesn’t know Christ?
Rejoice in Salvation
At the very least, we’ll celebrate salvation! Haman, the most important official in Persia next to the king, had put an edict in place that all Jews were to be killed in March. Queen Esther carefully managed a situation where the king, Esther, and Haman were together. She revealed Haman’s plan, and pleaded for her people to the king. Haman then pleaded for his life, but lost it.
As a traitor, Haman’s estate then belonged to the throne (normal) so was given to Queen Esther. She put Mordecai in charge. The king promoted Mordecai to Haman’s position. He was given royal robes and the king’s signet ring. The level of reversals going on is amazing.
It turns out that the decree to kill the Jews can’t be revoked, so Mordecai issues another decree permitting Jews to defend themselves against anyone who would do them harm. The decree was made in June, ready for the following March.
Then, in March, on the very day Haman had dreamed the Jews would be extinguished across the entire empire, the tables were turned. A complete reversal. The Jews were protected and their enemies were the ones killed.
Why was it set for March? Because Haman had cast lots called “purim” to determine the date.
So the day of fear and terror for the Jews actually became a day of rejoicing. They were going to be killed. But they weren’t. The annual feast of Purim was instituted.
- A celebration of joy of salvation, of God’s protection, of the defeat of Israel’s enemies.
- It’s still celebrated today, when Esther is read in full in synagogues, and traditional food is served.
Saved from a very real threat
During the second world war, for Jews in prison camps, Esther was bittersweet. On the one hand, it gave hope. On the other, it could lead to confusion and despair. The German guards knew the danger of Esther too, and would immediately kill any Jew who had a copy. But still, they wrote it out from memory…
The threat of total annihilation was real. No wonder the Jews of Esther’s day celebrated.
But here’s the thing: Your reversal in Christ is greater still.
- You are a sinner, and the wages of sin is death.
- You have been on the road to hell – it’s very wide, and easy, and alluring.
- When the Holy Spirit revealed to you your sin and your destination, you were horrified. Terrified.
- He led you to Jesus, who took the punishment you deserve. He led you to repent of your sin, and to ask for forgiveness, and to new life in Christ.
- You have been saved from hell and its eternal torment and punishment. You have been saved to peace and bliss in Christ forever.
The Jews celebrate Purim every year. You can celebrate your salvation every day (and, of course, we remember together at the Lord’s Table). Celebrate! Sing! Remember the horrible reality of what you have been saved from, and sing praises to Jesus!
But Liverpool’s win was equally Leicester’s loss.
Salvation for you in Christ is lament for another without him.
- Noah – only eight were saved; the Exodus – Pharaoh and his army drowned; entry into Canaan – nations displaced or destroyed.
- And so under Mordecai’s edict, many thousands of enemies of the Jews died. And Esther then asked for a second day of it! Morally dubious to the end, it seems.
Is that appropriate or OTT? In a holy war, you take sides.
There are three of points of detail we need to notice.
- The first is simple: The edict told the Jews they could plunder their enemies, but 3 times we’re told they didn’t.
- The second thing is the shocking wording: Read Esther 8:11. That’s a valid way to translate it, but not the obvious way. The obvious translation is harder to stomach:
CSB: The king’s edict gave the Jews in each and every city the right to assemble and defend themselves, to destroy, kill, and annihilate every ethnic and provincial army hostile to them, including women and children, and to take their possessions as spoils of war.
- The third bit of detail to notice is how the sons of Haman were all killed, and their names are listed so that you know
We saw how Mordecai was a descendant of Kish and that Haman was an Agagite. The destruction of Haman and his sons is a fulfilment of God’s promise to wipe out the Amalekites. The Amalekites had attacked Israel as they travelled from the Red Sea to Sinai. King Saul, son of Kish, was supposed to wipe out the Amalekites and their king Agag, but didn’t.
What we’re seeing here in Esther is a continuation of the holy war that runs through the Old Testament. God protected his people from the Amalekites. He went before them into the land of Canaan, as Israel drove out other nations already there. Those nations were being judged and removed because of their sin.
Who are God’s enemies?
Israel were explicitly told they were no better than any other nation, but they were chosen as God’s instruments to the world.
- God didn’t war against nations as such, but against sin and evil. It’s an important distinction.
- God fought for his people and through his people against sin and evil wherever it was.
- That’s why items weren’t taken as plunder – not at Jericho, and later not in Esther’s day either.
- Because this was God’s war, not Israel’s.
Later, when Israel themselves turned completely against God (in the days of Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel, Josiah), God fought against Israel and took them into exile. They knew it too. Lamentations 2:4 He bends his bow against his people, as though he were their enemy.
In the end
The Old Testament follows God’s holy war against sin and evil, and the culmination and end of it all is at the cross of Christ.
- There, God has his utter victory over sin and evil.
- He took the punishment and sting of sin and evil into himself, and ended it for his people.
- Jesus rose from the dead, and ascended into heaven.
- His is the greatest reversal:
- Humility; rejection; beatings; crucifixion; death
- Life; ascension; reigning; glorified; worshipped
And as such, Jesus is the firstfruits of all rising – the guarantee of your completed reversal! On a day when truly the first will be last and the last first. A day when the meek shall inherit the earth, and those who have mocked and ridiculed your faith in Jesus will be forever damned, eternally tormented in a Lake of Fire.
Jesus’ work at the cross has secured the victory. He will end the war at his return: Read Revelation 19:11-21.
We will all be there, either with Jesus or against him. You’ll see all this happen with your own eyes. Which side will you be on? You’re already on one side or another.
- It’s time to be on Jesus’ side. Because this is the good news: Although you are a sinner naturally separated from God, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners.
- To save sinners from that Lake of Fire, from God’s wrath against you! Turn to him.
But we’re not there yet. In fact, God’s war against sin and evil is still going on. And as Christians, we’re foot soldiers in hand-to-hand combat. And it can be exhausting. So:
Remember that the greatest threat to your peace, joy, hope, life – to your existence as a moral being in God’s universe – is gone.
- You have been saved from hell, punishment, even from the wrath of God.
- You have been saved to Christ, to life, to hope, meaning and purpose.
Which means you’ve been saved from the exhausting pressure of having to conform to this world – so its adverts, its social media, its values, trying to keep up.
- Jesus called you to come to him for rest for your soul.
- This world makes you feel like you’re never good enough, never rich enough, never young enough or old enough.
- Jesus says, “Take my yoke, for my burden is light.”
Jesus has promised you a Purim moment better than any there has ever been!
- A day of complete and utter reversals.
- When he returns, you will be lifted from the dust.
- You will never weep or mourn again; you’ll never sin, nor even be tempted.
- God himself will come in close to you and wipe away your tears. He’ll only need to do it once.
The war goes on
In the meantime, we’re still in the war. You’re still in your own part of the battle. Of course that’s exhausting: Ephesians 6:12 For we are not fighting against flesh-and-blood enemies, but against evil rulers and authorities of the unseen world, against mighty powers in this dark world, and against evil spirits in the heavenly places.
How can you fight that? You can’t, on your own. But the Lord gives you the armour of God: Truth; righteousness; readiness that comes from peace; faith; salvation; his Spirit.
- As you are beset by sin, and evil, and opposition, you’re not left alone.
- God fights for his people against sin and evil, as he always has. He fights for you.
Deuteronomy 3:22 “Do not be afraid of them; the LORD your God himself will fight for you.”
Romans 8:31 “What then shall we say to these things? If God is for us, who can be against us?”
So if you feel you need strength for this week, it’s available to you. If you’re struggling with the allure of this world, work problems, money issues, opposition to faith, strength is at hand.
When you feel you don’t have the strength to do great things for God, he turns to you and says, “That’s fine, I can work with that. My grace [divine assistance] is sufficient for you, for my power is perfected in [your] weakness.” (see 2 Corinthians 12:9)