Wednesday, August 5, 2015

Lesson 6: "Esther and Mordecai"

Sabbath School Today
With the 1888 Message Dynamic
Biblical Missionaries
Lesson 6: "Esther and Mordecai"
"Satan will work his miracles to deceive; he will set up his power as supreme. The church may appear as about to fall, but it does not fall. It remains, while the sinners in Zion will be sifted out--the chaff separated from the precious wheat. This is a terrible ordeal, but nevertheless it must take place. None but those who have been overcoming by the blood of the Lamb and the word of their testimony will be found with the loyal and true, without spot or stain of sin, without guile in their mouths. We must be divested of our self-righteousness and arrayed in the righteousness of Christ" (Ellen G. White, Letter 55, Dec. 8, 1886; Selected Messages, book 2, p. 380).

Esther's story is a type of this end time process. Her "church," the nation of Israel and its system of worship had actually fallen. Their idolatry had become so pervasive, God allowed them to be taken captive by Babylon, but after 70 years they were allowed to return home. One of the many Jews who chose not to return to Israel was a man named Mordecai who was living in the city of Susa, one of the four capitals of the Persian Empire. Because her family was gone, he had adopted a young cousin, Hadassah, also called Esther. Mordecai raised her to love God and His people Israel, so when the time came God could use them both in a mighty way.

The story is simple. The Persian king was angry with his Queen Vasthi and replaced her with Esther after a nationwide compulsory "beauty contest." For unknown reasons, Mordecai advised her not to reveal her true racial identity at that time.

Haman enters the story as a man of petty and bigoted hatred born and nursed by his pride. The result was what all hatred produces, a desire for the death of its object. Mordecai refused to kneel in homage to Haman, which hurt his pride, so he convinced the king to kill not only Mordecai, but his entire race. Once again, a test of worship results in hatred and irrational anger. At the end of time, the test will be loyalty to the true God as manifested in an act of worship. Mordecai's actions sent a message that he would remain loyal regardless of the consequences. The message of righteousness by faith alone does and will cause hatred by those who are relying on their assurance of salvation based on their works, in which they have taken pride.

Esther was faced with a difficult choice. Her cousin was a known Jew, but Esther's secret had been preserved. If she kept it quiet, perhaps she had a chance of escaping the death squads. The parallel to the Godhead is unmistakable. When Adam and Eve sinned, God could have quietly let nature take its course, and they would have died as God predicted "on the day" that they ate of the tree. Then God could have created another pair as if nothing had gone wrong. But, the universe had not witnessed death, and the watching universe would wonder how a selflessly loving (agape) God could simply let go of those He loved. The plan of salvation was designed to demonstrate the lengths God will go in order to save His creatures.

Most of the human race does not know its true condition, sinners in need of a savior. Without a warning message, they will continue knowing nothing of their true condition and need. Most religions teach a form of works righteousness, which produces hopelessness. When Esther chose to disclose her true identity, she was willing to accept the consequences of being a part of a condemned group. Unlike Christ, Esther did not have a choice to be born Jewish, but Christ chose to be "made like His brethren," permanently aligning Himself with a doomed race. Like Esther, Christ in His humanity had no foreknowledge that His mission on earth would be successful, but He loved us with a self-emptying love and went in faith to the cross.

Three times Esther invited the King to her banquets, and on the third time she sealed her fate as permanently aligned with her corporate kin by disclosing her secret. Three times Christ asked for another way, but ultimately gave His will to His Father.

We are sometimes tempted to be discouraged with our church and what appears to be little acceptance of the message that was rejected after 1888. Some even believe they are justified in leaving the church, but this is not what God expects of us. We can choose to be part of the corporate body of the church. We can continue to pray for corporate repentance by those leaders who would stand in the way of fully proclaiming the message of righteousness by faith, and we must also acknowledge our part in the sin of the body.

Our lesson discusses the prudence of silence regarding our faith in certain circumstances. We are not told why Mordecai and Esther kept her racial identity and faith a secret, but there came a time when clearly, they had to take a stand. There are some who think we should never discuss or teach the message of 1888 unless it is so diluted as to be indistinguishable from nominal evangelical righteousness by faith. Certainly we need to be wise as serpents and harmless as doves, but if we truly believe this message is the "third angel's message in verity" (Review and Herald, April 1, 1890), it must be given in detail to a dying world .

Even on pain of death, the message must be given, but that is not humanly possible without the full acceptance of the Holy Spirit in our lives. Martyrdom is not something we volunteer for to make God think we are so pious that He will take us to heaven. The special 1888 message for the end time church is that God is able to change willing hearts with His agape love for the entire human race. We come to see ourselves as sinners equal with others who have yet to hear the message that saved the entire world. Our love for them (not ourselves) compels us to risk everything to tell them. We will be given great power that lightens the whole earth with glory, and that includes the change of heart from self-centered to urgent selfless outreach evangelism. Nothing will hold us back. What a privilege for those who are included in that group.

"I heard those clothed with the armor speak forth the truth in great power. It had effect. I saw those who had been bound; some wives had been bound by their husbands, and some children had been bound by their parents. The honest who had been held or prevented from hearing the truth, now eagerly laid hold of the truth spoken. All fear of their relatives was gone. The truth alone was exalted to them. It was dearer and more precious than life. They had been hungering and thirsting for truth. I asked what had made this great change. An angel answered, 'It is the latter rain. The refreshing from the presence of the Lord. The loud cry of the Third Angel.'

"Great power was with these chosen ones. Said the angel, 'Look ye!' My attention was turned to the wicked, or unbelievers. They were all astir. The zeal and power with the people of God had aroused and enraged them. Confusion, confusion, was on every side. I saw measures taken against this company, who were having the power and light of God. Darkness thickened around them, yet there they stood, approved of God, and trusting in Him. I saw them perplexed. Next I heard them crying unto God earnestly. Through the day and night their cry ceased not. I heard these words, 'Thy will, O God, be done! If it can glorify thy name, make a way of escape for thy people! Deliver us from the heathen round about us! They have appointed us unto death; but thine arm can bring salvation.' These are all the words I can bring to mind. They seemed to have a deep sense of their unworthiness, and manifested entire submission to the will of God. Yet every one, without an exception, was earnestly pleading, and wrestling like Jacob for deliverance" (Review and Herald, "The Future," Dec. 31, 1857).

There is no cause for discouragement. God's church goes through to the end. Take joy in this and "press together."

--Arlene Hill

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