Four Reasons to Celebrate

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I’m going to invite you to Esther chapter 9. Esther chapter 9 is where we are today. We’re going to look at the last few verses of the Book of Esther. We’re going to pick up in Esther chapter 9, verse 20. So this is it for us in the Book of Esther today. We’ve been in this story together, and we’ve seen the purpose of the Book of Esther is ultimately to explain to the people, not just what God did in their lives, but to also identify a particular holiday that they celebrate called Purim. And when you think about this holiday, and for many of you, it’s probably, you may have not heard of Purim before, but it’s to mark the story of Esther. And as we’ve read this story together, we have found that the Jews have gone through a very difficult, hard time, especially through the leadership of Xerxes and Haman.

You remember, Xerxes was a king, all about his glory. His glory led to really the destruction of others. As he focused on himself, it was harmful to other people. And through his leadership, there comes one into power named Haman. Haman coerces Xerxes to writing a law to annihilate all the Jewish people. So the Jews are facing extermination, very difficult time for them. In the midst of that, the adversity of that moment, they could have gotten fixated on it, they could have gotten stuck there, but they found a way forward by finding hope in the Lord and their identity and him. And that’s where the book really changes and pivots for us in Esther Chapter 4, when Mordecai and Esther, two of the main characters within the book, recognize God’s hand of favor had been on them in the midst of adversity.

And even more important than that, I said, and I’ve made this argument in this book that I think God’s hand was upon the Jewish people even when the Jewish people weren’t looking for the Lord. God was merciful and God was gracious to them and they found a way forward by putting their faith in God. And in that, they created this Jewish holiday of Purim to commemorate how God had rescued them from the evil hands of Haman. In fact, last week on Thursday, was the Jewish celebration of Purim. And probably the best way to explain it in modern day, the way that it’s celebrated today, it’s kind of like Jewish Halloween. It’s sort of taken on a form of its own, but it’s a time where the Jewish people celebrate, they celebrate by dressing up in Purim.

And they wear all kinds of costumes today, but a part of it is to mark how the Lord led… It’s a picture of how the Lord led their people through a place of despair to a place of hope, and a place of shame and suffering to a place of rescue and identity in him. If you remember in the story, Mordecai, when he finds out that the Jews are facing extermination, he goes into the public square and he’s in sack cloth and ashes. He’s just pouring his heart out and weeping and crying. And then all of a sudden God’s hand of favor comes upon them and now he finds himself in a royal robe that the Lord had delivered them. And he gets recognized before the king and he’s elevated before King Xerxes. And so they go from sack cloth and ashes to really wearing royal robes.

And so the Jews dress up to commemorate that, how they took on a new identity in God, and God turned their lives around. And they reflect that in the celebration of Purim. There’s more to why they dress up but that’s just one idea. And when I look at this story of the Jewish people, it reminds me of something important for all of us. You don’t always have control of the hand you’re dealt in life, but you do get to choose how you go through it. You don’t always get to dictate your circumstances in life, but you do get to dictate how you choose to respond to those moments. And that’s really what the Book of Esther is about. In adversity, rather than get getting stuck in that adversity, rather than find their identity there, rather than refusing to move forward, they continued to press, but when they press, they look to the Lord for their answer.

God was their ultimate source. And so that’s what I’m going to talk about today, is four reasons to celebrate. Because at the end of this book, as they bring about this holiday called Purim, they find four reasons, or more than that really, to celebrate, but we’re going to talk about four reasons to celebrate and make the applications to our lives. So this isn’t exhausting… exhaustive, and it’s exhausting. We’re going to celebrate till we’re exhausted, but this is not exhaustive in its presentation, but I want to find four reasons for us to celebrate, and four reasons the Jews threw a party really, and four reasons why you should too. And number one is this, in your notes, celebration is fitting for salvation. And there’s no better reason to celebrate as when your life is coming to an end and all of a sudden it turns a corner and you get the opportunity to celebrate.

And that’s what the Jews find, is this place of death now come to life. And Esther Chapter 9, verse 20, it goes like this. It says, “Mordecai recorded these events and he sent letters to all the Jews who are in all the provinces of King Ahasuersus,” or King Xerxes, as some translations will say, “Both near and far, this letter goes out, obliging them to celebrate the 14th day of the month of Adar and the 15th day of the same month annually. Because on those days, the Jews rid themselves other enemies, and it was a month which was turned for them from sorrow into gladness and from mourning into a holiday, that they should make them days of feasting and rejoicing and sending portions of food to one another and gifts to the poor.”

I think that in this description of what’s happened for the Jewish people, Haman wants to kill them and all of a sudden they come before the king and the king decides to spare them. Not only does he spare them, it leads to the execution of Haman, who was against the Jewish people. And now they find this physical salvation in the Lord. But more than just physical salvation, I think they find an ultimate hope that extends just beyond the physicality of life, but eternally in God. Because through this story, as they find themselves physically spared in God, they see a God who is with them, a God who is for them, a God who brings them a future and a hope.

And in this hope, they ultimately discover a salvation that, yes, it’s about physical life, but deeper than that, it’s about spiritual life that they’ve discovered in God. And I think that one of the most beautiful phrases in the passage that encapsulates that is this idea of sorrow into gladness. I think for us, in Jesus, it’s a beautiful description of what happens in the life of a believer that comes to Christ. And celebrating; we talk about celebrating this morning. It’s not to the forgetfulness or the exclusion of adversity, but it puts into perspective what we ultimately have in the Lord through adversity that we face.

And what I mean, is when we talk about celebrating, it’s not to say, look, ignore all the bad things that you’ve had happen to you in your life and just focus on the good things, right? That’s not a very healthy picture at all for us to go through. I think it’s important to understand and walk through the whole experience of the human life and to be honest with the adversity that we face, but to not do so at the despair of hope that we ultimately receive in Jesus. And so this is what we’re talking about here, is recognizing there is sorrow, but greater than that in Christ, there is a gladness, and that gladness is worth celebrating because as long as you have God, you have ultimate victory, because Jesus brings that ultimate salvation for us.

Now, when you think in terms of Christianity, I recognize in walking this Christian life that some people are really good at sorrow and horrible at celebration. And some people are really good at celebration and at completely ignoring the adversity that they face in life, but the thought of Purim is about walking in both. Ultimate celebration in the Lord’s deliverance and a God who is near. Celebration is a time certainly worthy in salvation, but even Esther, she says this in verse 31, wanting the Jews to have a proper perspective, not just of celebration in Purim, but also to realize what God had brought them through. Verse 31, she says this, Esther says, “To establish these days of Purim at their appointed times, just as Mordecai the Jew and the Queen Esther had established them for them and just as they had established for themselves and for the descendants with instructions for their times of fasting and their lamentations. The command of Esther established these customs for Purim, and it was written in the book.”

You might be wondering why in the world that little picture is there at the bottom, but let me explain. When the Jews would celebrate Purim and even to today, the way the celebration begins is actually with fasting. They have a day of fasting and then two days of celebration. And at the day of fasting, they would gather together and they would read the Book of Esther. And when they would read the Book of Esther, anytime the name Haman’s mentioned they hiss and boo at the thought of Haman, because he represents destruction of God’s people. And young children, they actually hand to them a rattle and the kids will swing this rattle and it makes this rattle noise whenever Haman’s name is mentioned. But in this time of Purim, one of the things that Esther says to the people here as they’re laying out in Chapter 9 how this celebration is to go.

She says, I want it to begin with a place of fasting. And you remember in the story where the Jews entered into this position of fasting, it was right when they got the law written by Haman that led to their extermination. And this place of fasting was to recognize for them this place of desperation that they had apart from God. Whenever we think about the Christian life and who we are in Jesus, I think it’s important for us to begin with who we are apart from Jesus. In fact, there’s none of us that truly turn to God for salvation without first recognizing why it’s important we even call Jesus savior. Jesus didn’t simply come to this world to present a good idea for us, or to help us follow a good pattern in our life, Jesus came into this world as the sole rescuer, only capable of bringing your soul from darkness into light in him.

He is the only way forward in life. Apart from Jesus, there is no path. We’re in a place of desperation. We’re in a place of brokenness, a place of sinfulness. When I think about hardship in life, I don’t want to intentionally pursue a life of adversity, but the obstacles that we face are oftentimes a great reminder of the good things that we will have in Jesus one day when he eradicates all sin. And I think that’s what Esther is doing with this festival of Purim, she’s saying, look, you know what makes this holiday so sweet is for us to really recognize how gracious God’s hand has been to us, and the way that we do that is to remind us of where we’ve come from, and the thing that brings us to that place to remind us of where we’ve come from is to fast.

Biblically speaking, fasting is a practice done throughout the Old and New Testament. And when you think about what fasting represents, from the garden of Eden, we see in Adam and Eve’s life that Adam and Eve were created to eat. There’s the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, and God tells them not to eat from it. And the very beginning of creation, they’re designed to eat. And in that garden, God was seen as the one who would supply what they needed in order to provide for their life. And so anytime someone fasts it’s this innate recognition within the depth of the soul that we’re created to be made whole by something outside of ourselves, and it’s our creator who does that.

So physical fasting, because this reminder to our lives in a spiritual sense that God is the supplier of all things that we need. And so they began the feast of Purim to recognize the lack and inadequacies of what they had within themselves as human beings, apart from a God who revealed themselves to him and showed favor to them and rescued their lives. And it’s oftentimes as a pastor I get phone calls throughout the week, people going through difficult things. And I know a lot of times we go through difficult things we will just want to immediately figure out how we can not feel that experience again. Right? How can I get out of this? I don’t like how this makes me feel in this place that I’m in, and I want to know what the right answer is so I can quickly ignore this and get on with life.

How do I move past this to all the happy celebration things? But there’s an important component of the adversity we face in life just in that moment, especially if it’s self-inflicted, to recognize what really got us here, so that we can see the evidence of God’s grace more brightly in our lives as we look towards that solution. And that’s how this day of Purim began, that celebration is fitting for salvation. And Esther wanted her people to have that moment in the midst of holidays to truly appreciate how God had intervened within their lives. In fact, one of my favorite people in history of Christianity is a man by the name of Charles Spurgeon. And Charles Spurgeon, he’s considered the prince of preachers. He was in England in the 1800s.

He had I guess what we would refer today as a mega church. And in his church, thousands of people would gather together. And this was before you had microphones, so you can imagine how hard it would be to project when you’re teaching thousands of people at one time. And his ministry was considered so popular that the local newspapers every Sunday would show up to the church just to figure out what they could write about for the week for the town, because whatever Spurgeon said kind of led the way for the community. And so on Monday morning you would get Spurgeon’s lectures in the local newspapers because it was such a place of influence. This is before stadiums would gather large groups like this. It was initially began here in the church.

And so Spurgeon’s place was the place. If you wanted to know what was happening in town, that’s where you went. But one of the things that made Spurgeon such a powerful figure in England is that Spurgeon struggled with depression deeply, and said through his ministry… There was 70 other ministries that were born and just a place of heavy influence. And one of the things I think that made him so attractional as a leader, why people loved to hear him and gather around him and listen to how he taught God’s word, was that he connected at such a depth in his soul as he communicated that people could relate to it very easily. Spurgeon in his own struggles and his personal life learned to see the beauty of Jesus in all of it.

And it came out in the way that he taught. In fact, he encouraged, knowing that he was a person that struggled with depression, he said this: “My dear friends, when grief presses you to the dust, worship there.” Worship there. And this is exactly what happened to the Jews. This is Spurgeon’s encouragement to us. And the reason Spurgeon says this, the reason Esther wrote about this in verse 31, that we would fast, is because both of them had learned experientially and through the truth of God’s word that that is where you meet the Lord and the Lord is faithful. And he turns our mourning to a place of celebration. Psalm 30, verse 5 says this, “Weeping may last for the night, but a shout of joy comes in the morning.”

Now, I even think in America, our popular holidays are rooted in a similar idea of the thought of Purim, that in Purim there’s this place of weeping, but in weeping it turns to rejoicing. And our biggest holidays in America, if I talk about maybe the big four holidays, it’s a place of finding freedom. When you think of Easter, it’s this place of darkness in the life, in Christ. Or 4th of July, it’s a place of freedom. Or Thanksgiving, we don’t have enough food and now we have food and the Lord provided. It’s finding God’s hand of graciousness, or Christmas is the same thing, this idea of a place of great need and ultimately turned to great celebration.

And in Christ, there is a place that in ourselves, we mourn in brokenness, but in Jesus, we end in victory. For the Jews, the idea of Purim became this place of ultimate victory for us. And it’s a reminder to us that no matter how dark the day is, that in Jesus, there is always a way forward. There is always hope to come in him. Point number one, celebration is fitting for salvation. Point number two, genuine celebration shapes you. And in verse 22, genuine celebration shapes you, and verse 22, it reminds us not only does it turn sorrow into gladness, but also mourning into a holiday. Mourning into a holiday. Anything that takes us from mourning to a holiday requires a celebration.

But most importantly, this idea of holiday is significant here. Things that we are about, things that feel important to us as people, we tend to put them on a pedestal and we honor them and they start to shape us. As we look at that object or that event, maybe; maybe it’s not just something physical, but it’s something experiential that happened to us. As we think about that thing, that’s important to us we sort of elevate it in our lives and we continue to come back to it and look to it. And it sort of marks us or shapes us in the way that we think and how we act as people. It becomes that monumental moment that we find a lot of our identity in. And the idea of holiday carries that same perspective.

And you can learn a lot about a person by what they celebrate, because what you celebrate is a revelation of what really is in your heart. And when I say celebration, we’re talking about a genuine celebration. We can go through holidays and go through the motion of holidays and it really has no effect on us, it’s just, we kind of show up because that’s what you’re supposed to do for holidays. In some instances, maybe, you might think of a holiday that you really don’t enjoy so you just go through the practices of family tradition because that’s just what you do. But I’m talking about a genuine celebration, what your heart really is inclined to, what you appreciate the most and look forward to in life.

Whatever calls your heart to well up inside and you’re so excited about it, and you want to express it, that is the intention behind what holiday is intended to mean for us. The idea of holiday, it really gets its root from holy day. Another way of saying holiday is holy day, and holy day is this thought of setting it apart. And the reason that we want to set it apart is because it should shape us. And so therefore when we come to that, we should be genuine in the approach to it because of how monumental it is intended to be for our lives. And so when you think about holidays that we celebrate as a country, that is the purpose behind it that is intended to shape a people. In fact, I would even say in a very practical sense as Christians, if we don’t desire holiness in our faith with Christ, we shouldn’t call ourselves Christians.

Holiness carries this idea of being set apart. If you don’t desire holiness in Jesus, you shouldn’t be following Jesus, because the whole point of following Jesus is for Jesus to shape you and to mold you, as you look at the sacredness of who he is. You elevate him and as you gaze upon him, he transforms your life. Verse 23 to 25 it goes on from there, “Thus the Jews undertook what they had started to do and what Mordecai had written to them. For Haman, the son of Hammedatha, the Agagite, the adversary of all the Jews had schemed against the Jews to destroy them and had cast Pur, that is the lot, to disturb them and destroy them. But when it came to the King’s attention, he commanded by letter that his wicked scheme which he had devised against the Jews should return on his own head so that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.”

So Haman comes in to kill the Jews. You know how the story goes if you’ve been a part of the series together. The way that Haman decides to kill the Jews is he casts lots, he literally rolls the dice. And so when the Jews came to this particular day, they said, we’ve seen God’s hand and the way that he has preserved us. What shall we call this day? And they decided to call it the day of the dice. And it was to remind them of the desperate place that they were when Haman had cast the dice to land on a particular day to kill the Jews. But it was a reminder to the Jews in calling it the day of the dice that though Haman may have cast the dice, God was in control of the way that they landed. And it was a picture for them in moving forward in life, and it’s a reminder for all of us that wherever you walk in this world and no matter how difficult things may seem, the Lord is there and the Lord is with you, and he goes before you.

And though others may try to cast dice against you, God is in control of how they ultimately land. Genuine celebration shapes you. Point number three, celebration also connects you. Celebration also connects you. In verse 26 to 28, they also recognize this, that “Therefore they called these days Purim after the name of Pur, and because the instructions in this letter, both what they had seen in this regard and what had happened to them, the Jews established and made it custom for themselves and for their descendants and for all of those who of those who allied themselves with them, so they would not fail to celebrate these two days according to the regulation and according to their appointed time annually. So these days were to be remembered and celebrated through every generation and every family, every province and every city, and these days of Purim were not to fail from among the Jews or their memory fade from their descendants.”

Celebration connects you. And you see this here in verse 28, they’re saying, look, this event was so important we want it to shape not only our identity today, but for all generations, because it’s a reminder of a God who is for us in the midst of adversity. And as long as you have a God who is for you, you always have reason to celebrate because in the end, God always wins. And through this victory, as God’s people, it connects all of us throughout all generations, among all people groups through throughout this world. And so they wanted this holiday to transpire and to move forth for all of God’s people to continue to find this moment as important in a way to mark their identity in God’s presence as his people.

Because I recognize in the Christian faith, it’s not even just about a holiday that this has to happen, that there are moments in your specific life that as you follow Jesus, that you can look back upon and continue to celebrate, have your own little party about what God has done in your life and it becomes important because there are places that you continue to remind yourself of who you are now in Christ, especially as you face adversity in this life, you go back to these markers and they continue to play over and over in your mind as to why, in Jesus, your position matters because of what he’s done for you. In fact, after second service, I know I’m going to talk about baptism with some people and why that’s important as a marker in your Christian life.

But one of the things I love about talking about baptism is in Christian history, especially for the first three centuries, Christians were heavily persecuted for their faith. And they got to a place where they begin to recognize if I’m going to die for my faith, I really want to articulate what it is I’m going to die for. And when they were baptized in the early church, they would recite creeds. In Jerusalem, they would recite what’s called the Old Jerusalem creed. In Rome, they would recite what was the Old Roman creed. And both of those creeds, they came later to be known as the Apostles’ Creed, and the Apostles’ Creed became this place where they found an identity of what they represent in Jesus.

And it not only became something that represented them individually as they were baptized and proclaiming their faith in Christ, but this creed became something that connected Christians throughout all generations. “I believe in God, the father, almighty maker of heaven and maker of earth. Jesus Christ his only begotten.” It’s this anthem that God’s people have resonated with and found identity, not only personally in the Lord, but corporately, connected to one another throughout all generations because of what God has done. That celebration of God’s salvation connecting us in him. And number four, and I think this is probably the most important, at least for me and maybe for you. But godly celebration promotes peace and truth. I think it’s important to remark here, we’re not just talking about celebration for the sake of celebration, but this celebration rooted in the Lord. Godly celebration promotes peace and truth. And most of our celebrations, I find, especially maybe in America, becomes self-absorbed. It becomes very me-centric. It becomes an idolatrous excuse for greed and things that are toxic to the soul rather than beneficial for the soul.

But I don’t think God intends celebration to be that way, especially when we caveat it with the idea of godly celebration. You remember how the Book of Esther starts; it starts with a celebration. Kings Xerxes, Chapter 1, verse 5 wants the children of Israel to gather together and… Or excuse me, not just Israel but the people of Persia to gather together and celebrate, really, his glory. And his glory is all about his selfishness and it’s built on lies that we discover later, that Haman, there’s another celebration that happens in the life of Haman, and Haman wants that celebration selfishly in his favor and the Jews won’t bow to him. And so he gets mad at Mordecai and in order to destroy Mordecai, he starts to lie about the Jewish people.

When we make celebration about self it becomes destructive to our soul and really to others. But godly celebration, godly celebration promotes peace, and it promotes truth. Verse 29 to 32, it says like this “Then Queen Esther, daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm the second letter about Purim. He sent letters to all the Jews to the 127 provinces of the kingdom of Xerxes, namely words of peace and truth.” When God’s presence has been made known to his people, it’s a mark of peace and truth that comes with it. Because God’s hand, acting on his people’s behalf, becomes a place of deliverance and blessing. Jesus, when he walked this earth, his declaration to us is peace. “Come to me, all you who are weary and heavy laden and I will give you rest.” When you think about the way Esther starts with a party and the way Esther ends, it’s a beautiful contrasting in the story.

Esther Chapter 1, verse 5, they celebrate selfishly to honor the king. The king’s all about boasting in himself. It leads to the destruction of the Jews. But in Esther Chapter 10, after God’s people turn back to him after, after Esther and Mordecai turn back and they lead the children of Israel to the Lord, Esther Chapter 10, “Now King Xerxes laid a tribute on the land and on the coastlands of the sea and all the accomplishment of his authority and strength and the full account of the greatness of Mordecai, to which the king advanced him, and are they not written in the Book of the Chronicles of the Kings of Media and Persia? For Mordecai the Jew was second only to King Xerxes and great among the Jews and in favor with his many kinsmen, one who sought the good of his people and one who spoke for the welfare of his whole nation.”

In the beginning, you see a man all about himself, the destruction of others. But in the end you see a picture of a different man, who’s given his life over to the Lord. And in giving his life over to the Lord, he’s discovered peace and the truth of God, and discovering peace and the truth of God, he now uses his life to celebrate the presence of that God, and to present that same peace and truth to others as well. And through him, others become blessed. Godly celebration. Godly celebration promotes peace and truth. When I think about the importance of celebration in our lives, it reminds me of this story. When 2020 hit, I had just finished a book on church history. And I wrote in my notes on my phone, just one word: Blandina. Blandina, I wrote, because I had just read about her story.

And Blandina is for me, she’s a picture of really an Esther type of life. Blandina, she grew up as a… Born in slavery, grew up as a slave girl in France. And she had physical struggles in her life, but she grew up as a slave in France and she grew as a believer who was a slave in France. And the way Blandina became a believer is a man by the name of Polycarp sent Christians… Polycarp was a minister in Smyrna in the west of Turkey and he sent missionaries in the middle of the second century to France. And some of you may read that and say that’s lion with a Y, but it’s pronounced Lyon. So in Lyon, France, this Polycarp sent missionaries into this town, and in 177 AD the town turned on Christians. And they brought them into this coliseum and they started to persecute them. In fact, they brought them out in front of the lions, they stuck them on poles and they lit them on fire, and the city gathered and they were entertained by the destruction of these Christians. They hated the Christians.

But in the midst of this group, there was a pastor by the name of Pothinus, who at 92 years old, he was drug before people, he was burned. They would heat up metal grates and they would attach it to your body and just sear your body to torture you. And after they tortured him, they threw him into a prison cell that’s about the size of a modern-day dishwasher. And there he died, and as he died in that prison cell, they also brought a young lady named Blandina. And she was brought before the people, and she was tied to a pole and the wild animals were released. And when the wild animals gathered around her, it’s said that they refused to eat her. But she stood there faithfully, praising the Lord. And the crowd became angry that the animals refused to eat her.

But the Christians who were all set to die that day looked out at Blandina as she continued to worship the Lord on the pole and they remarked that she was just like Jesus. As Jesus hung on a cross to die for us and in complete faithfulness and praise to the Lord, he says he despised the shame, he endured the cross for the greater hope that was to come; that’s what Hebrews tells us. And they looked at Blandina, and here she was on this pole, this cross, with all these animals gathered around her to destroy her body. And she continued to praise and worshiped the Lord in the midst of that difficult moment. And they said because of her faithfulness, as the other Christians were brought into this arena, they now had hope, that her life became an example to him.

And they actually removed her from this pole and they took her out. And each day they had this festivity at this coliseum and persecuted Christians, they brought Blandina before them to watch the death of her friends. And finally, on the last day, they brought her back out again and they tortured her and they burned her body and they fed her to the wild animals again. And still she was alive and so they wrapped her body in nets and they threw her before a bull and the bull gored her, and eventually, still alive, she met the end of her life by dagger.

But what was remarked about Blandina, they say this in history, “She faced her death rejoicing, as if being called to a marriage feast rather than wild beasts.” I think the idea of these holidays, what’s important for God’s people to recognize is that while in this moment in Purim, the Jews faced a freedom from the physical harm that was to come to them, it’s a picture of what we ultimately get in Christ, no matter what, that at the end of the day, all of us will meet an end, but in Jesus, there is absolute victory to come. You don’t always get to choose what you go through, but you do get to choose how you go through it.

Esther’s faith encouraged her people, as she celebrated the presence of God that God brought freedom for them. And the same is true for Blandina. “Though in the midst of adversity, she continued to celebrate the presence of God and it gave her people hope. And in this world, as they were taken from this world, they found ultimate freedom in Jesus and what was to come.” Celebration is an important part of the Christian journey. It doesn’t mean we act disingenuous to the adversity that we face in life, but it does remind us that no matter what we face, we have ultimate hope in Jesus because of what Jesus has done for us.