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Sermon Series: For a Time Such as This
by Mark Horne

More than a King
Esther 1.1-9

Copyright © 1998. All rights reserved.

What does Jesus look like to you? Who does he resemble? When Gideon captured some invaders of Israel, he asked them in Judges 8.18:

“What kind of men were they like whom you killed at Tabor?” And they said, “They were like you, each one like the form of a prince.”

What form does Jesus have in your eyes? We know he’s our priest; we know he’s our prophet; we know he’s our king. We know he’s more than a king; he’s the king of kings. We confess him as our Sovereign.

But it is easy to learn a form of words, and yet, though that is important, not really understand what we are saying. A form of words is necessary, and I don’t want to disparage it, but as we grow in our faith, we need to learn to really feel the impact of what we’re saying.

A few years ago, I was re-reading the Bible and came to the account of Daniel at King Belshazzar’s feast, in which a hand wrote on the wall and no one understood the writing. The King offered to clothe the one who could interpret the message in purple and make him a ruler of the Kingdom. When I read the king’s offer to clothe someone in purple, my heart started pounding! What an offer! What an amazing gift from the king to give that honor to someone!

Now, why did I have that kind of strong reaction? Well, because in the providence of God, at the same time I was reading Daniel, I had also been reading and almost finished the Penguin edition of Michael Psellus’ Fourteen Byzantine Rulers. Psellus was a court historian from the early middle ages in the palace of the Byzantine Empire. And he recounts the mostly short reigns of fourteen Emperors and Empresses who succeeded one another, often by conspiracy and violence. And the color purple was extremely important to the Byzantine royalty, because they saw themselves not only as the continuation of the Roman Empire, but also as the successors of the empires of the ancient middle east.

I had always known intellectually, of course, that purple was the color of royalty. That’s why the soldiers mocking and torturing Jesus had dressed him in purple. But when I read what the king offered Daniel, I actually felt it. I had immersed myself in story after story about how a noble wishing to make himself Emperor would test the waters by daring to appear in public wearing purple sandals. I had read story after story of coronations in which being clothed in a purple cloak was almost as important as actually being crowned. By reading, I had immersed myself in a world which, on this point, was very similar to Daniel’s world. And so instead of simply decoding what it meant, as I had always done before, this time I felt it.

When the New Testament authors wrote about Jesus as our High Priest, or Jesus as the ultimate prophet, or Jesus as king, the original readers of those letters, did not need to go scurrying to a Bible dictionary to discover the implications of what those names meant. No, they had read all their lives about such people, and prophets, priests and kings were still a real force in their world. To call Jesus a priest or prophet or king summoned up a host of connections from Scripture which were felt even before they all came consciously to mind.

Much of my task, as a servant of the Word, will be to help you get immersed in the Bible, so you understand Jesus better. I may indeed have to go scurrying to a Bible dictionary and a whole bunch of other aids. I may have point out all sorts of implications of what the various words mean that are used to describe Jesus. But my goal, at risk of sounding mystical, is to get you to feel who Jesus is and what He did. By staying immersed in the Bible and the Bible’s stories we can hope to come to greater and greater understanding of His person and work.

I have called Jesus, prophet, priest, and king. Of course, he was more than a prophet; he was the greatest of prophets, even greater than Moses. And he was more than a priest, he was the ultimate High Priest. And Jesus was more than a king; He was the King of kings. King of Kings. It is that title which I want to discuss with you today.

You see, we are probably all comfortable with the idea that Moses was a type of Christ–a person who in the Biblical narrative foreshadowed Jesus and what He would do. Moses going up into the cloud and interceding for the sins of the people is obviously parallel to Jesus ascending in a cloud where He is our advocate before the Father.

And we are probably all comfortable with the idea that the judges were types of Christ. The Spirit coming upon them and enabling them to liberate God’s people from bondage was a type of Jesus anointed by the Spirit in His baptism so that He could save His people from their sins.

And we are probably all comfortable with the idea that David and Solomon were types of Christ. God’s promise to be a Father to David’s seed was a promise about Solomon, but even more about David’s greater seed, Jesus Christ the Son of God.

But Jesus was more than the king of a single nation like David or Solomon. He was the King of Kings. We know that because Jesus is called King of Kings in Revelation 19.16.

But Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon was called King of Kings first. Through the prophet Ezekiel, in chapter 26, verse 7, God Himself designates Nebuchadnezzar King of kings. He gives the title to Nebuchadnezzar first, before he gives it to Jesus. And that title would obviously apply to Ahasuerus as well.

And it doesn’t stop there. Nebuchadnezzar is described in incredible terms, unmistakably theologically-loaded terms, by God. Listen to what God said through Jeremiah in chapter 27, verse 5:

I have made the earth, the men and the beasts which are on the face of the earth by My great power and by My outstretched arm, and I will give it to the one who is pleasing in My sight. Now I have given all these lands into the hand of Nebuchadnezzar the king of Babylon, My servant, and I have given him also the wild animals of the field to serve him.

Now, this statement is incredible. Who was given dominion over the beasts of the earth after God made them out of the ground? Adam. Nebuchadnezzar’s dominion of the whole world is being compared by God to Adam’s dominion which he received from God.

Daniel had apparently heard Jeremiah prophesy or at least read him. Listen to what he says to Nebuchadnezzar in chapter 2, verses 37 & 38:

You, O king, are the king of kings, to whom the God of heaven has given the kingdom, the power, the strength, and the glory; and wherever the sons of men dwell, or the beasts of the field, or the birds of the sky, He has given them into your hand and caused you to rule over them all.

Again, we see rulership ascribed to this emperor, not only over men, but over animals and birds. I don’t think this is simply a report based on observation. I doubt very much that Nebuchadnezzar had domesticated all of the pigeons in Babylon, let alone the buzzards in the desert. But it does make sense as an image of Nebuchadnezzar’s status. He is a new Adam, given a dominion like that of the first Adam.

Now think about how this fits in with the theology of the book of Daniel. In Chapter 7 Daniel sees a vision of the Babylonian Empire and its successors portrayed as great beasts. These beasts arise from the sea where the four winds of heaven are stirring it up. Then these four beasts are put under the dominion of “one like the Son of Man.” And remember, in Hebrew, the word for man is Adam. A son of Adam is given dominion over these beasts. Nebuchadnezzar is described as a new Adam in chapter 2 but compared to the true “one like a son of Adam,” his empire and those following are merely beasts.

What I’m trying to show you is, Nebuchadnezzar was a type of Jesus Christ, just as much as Moses or Solomon were types of Christ. Like Moses or David he fell short and sinned. But that doesn’t change the fact that he was appointed by God to represent His coming Son.

You see it was not enough for Israel to simply be ruled by judges, as Israel was ruled from the time of Joshua until the time of Samuel. The judges were small tribal chiefs and that, while sufficient for the time, was not enough to foreshadow the coming Judge Jesus Christ. So God anointed Kings to rule His people as a nation. David and Solomon were much more glorious than the judges, but even they were not enough. Jesus was destined to be, not simply the King of one nation, but the king of all the kings of the earth. The world emperors of the Babylonians, the Medo-Persians, the Greeks, and the Romans, were God’s representatives, however horribly they fell short of what they were supposed to be.

This kind of thing is not only said about Nebuchadnezzar. Turn with me to Isaiah 44.28 -45.1:

It is I Who says to Cyrus, “He is My shepherd! And he will perform all My desire.” And He declares of Jerusalem “She will be built,” and of the Temple, “Your foundation will be laid.” Thus says the LORD to Cyrus His anointed, Whom I have taken by the right hand, to subdue nations before him and to loose the loins of kings; to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut….

Now, that language is as strong as any used to describe David. Cyrus is God’s shepherd and His anointed. Cyrus did, in fact, as Isaiah prophesied long before, end the exile and order the rebuilding of the Temple. In doing so, he foreshadowed in a greater way than Solomon did before him Christ’s work in building the new Temple, His Church.

If we simply fixate on the Mosaic period of Israel’s history, or if we hold up as the ultimate Old Testament situation, the reigns of David and Solomon, we are not doing justice to the whole counsel of God. And this will result in several problems.

One of the main problems is that we won’t know Jesus as we should. I’ve already touched on this, but it bears repeating. Cyrus and Nebuchadnezzar are given to us in Scripture to show us Jesus. Jesus is the true King of Kings, the real world emperor. If we want to really feel what we profess with our lips when we say “Christ the Sovereign,” we need to not neglect this part of the Hebrew scriptures.

This is actually the key to understanding how Jesus was able to survive for three years without compromising on his identity and without getting crucified much earlier than he was. Jesus constantly called himself “the son of man,” a great title that in Aramaic can simply mean “this fellow.” What we see happen is, when someone acknowledges to Jesus that they believe He is the Messiah, they call him “son of David.” That’s the best title that they can think of. Jesus, however, can go around calling himself the son of man without raising much opposition from those who don’t think he is or don’t think he should be the Messiah. The fact is, however, that by calling himself the son of man, Jesus is claiming to be more than a king like David. He’s claiming to be the world ruler like Nebuchadnezzar, the son of Adam, the king of kings.

Another problem we face by neglecting this period of covenant history in the Scriptures, is the problem of zealotry and nostalgia in various ways. Jesus told the pharisees that their forefathers killed the prophets. Well, why did they kill the prophets? When you think of the message of prophets like Jeremiah, it isn’t hard to figure out. Jeremiah told everyone that Judah had to surrender to Nebuchadnezzar because God had made him the king of kings.

You can bet that conservative, right-wing, religious Israelites just loved Jeremiah. Imagine what would have happened if, during the height of the Cold War, someone of Billy Graham’s stature had started preaching that Russia was God’s appointed nation to rule the world and that the U.S. needed to unilaterally surrender or else God would destroy us. That will give you some idea of how people responded to Jeremiah, Ezekiel, Daniel and others. These prophets were siding with the New World Order. Daniel was working for the United Nations. Remember, he was Nebuchadnezzar’s chief official when Nebuchadnezzar destroyed the Temple. No wonder they hated the prophets.

And the same attitude carried over into Jesus’ day. Jesus found a people who thought that the Godly way to deal with the Romans was to slit their throats whenever possible. These people constantly reminded themselves of the Davidic Kingdom, but didn’t want to hear about bearing burdens for the Roman occupying forces. To them, Jesus was treasonous for daring to say the Temple would be destroyed but Barrabas, the murdering insurrectionist, was a hero.

We are liable to similar problems in our ethical outlook if we don’t pay attention to this covenantal administration. We believe in the authority of the Word of God. We believe in the authority of the Law of God as given through Moses. But we are doing ourselves and our neighbors and even God a real disservice if we assume that we can simply impose the Mosaic situation as if it was all there was to the Law of God. Daniel knew the Law of God better than us, and he became the chief advisor to Nebuchadnezzar and Darius. What did he advise them to do? What did he tell them was good policy for a world empire?

Now, my answer to the question I just asked is: I have no idea. From what I’ve read in the Law of Moses I would have to tell Nebuchadnezzar to abdicate and break up the empire into tiny self-governing countries. But that’s not what God wanted. Somehow Daniel internalized the moral code of the Pentateuch and was able to apply it in a much different situation, a cosmopolitan world empire. That empire with Israel in exile and then simply one province among many was part of God’s covenantal plan-just as much as the Hebrew republic under judges or the Davidic monarchy was part of God’s plan. All of those various situations are recorded for us to study and meditate upon so that we can apply the Law of God to our own situation. Let’s be sure we don’t neglect any one of them. The story of Esther would not be in the Bible if we did not need to hear it.

King Ahasuerus is the successor to Nebuchadnezzar and Cyrus. He is the King of kings given dominion over the sons of men, the beasts of the field, and the birds of the air. God has given him the kingdom, the power, the strength and the glory. He is God’s anointed one, a shepherd for all the peoples of the world.

In other words, he’s a type of Christ, just as much as David or Solomon was.

And that means that when we read about this great Kingdom and this great feast of the Kingdom in chapter 1 of Esther, we have every reason to see in it the greater Jesus and a greater feast, the one which we will all participate downstairs today. Contrary to popular opinion, God is present in Esther. Indeed, Jesus is present.

And, if we can go against popular opinion on God’s presence in Esther, perhaps we can also reconsider another popular opinion, that the New Testament contains no references to Esther. I would suggest that it does. In chapter 1 of Esther, we have a feast in which, according to verse 5 everyone was invited whether rich or poor. But while the poor were present, one of the richest people lost her place at that feast by refusing the king’s invitation.

Now doesn’t that seem vaguely familiar? Didn’t Jesus tell a parable about a wedding feast in which the invited guests refused to come and the poor were invited. In fact, in Matthew 22, Jesus goes on to tell of how one person was cast out of the feast because he was not dressed properly, and, later on, in Esther 4.2, we’ll see that Mordecai is not permitted into the Palace because he is not dressed properly.

Now, Jesus does not directly quote from Esther , but the story of Esther and the Parable of the wedding feast seem to be operating on remarkably similar principles. Esther seems to have provided the background for Jesus’ parable. This is especially likely because most of Jesus’ parables are shot through with Old Testament imagery.

The feast of King Ahasuerus foreshadows the feast of a greater king and a greater feast. Not only should this be obvious to us as Christians looking back on the story with the knowledge of how it has been fulfilled in Jesus, it really should have been obvious to a contemporary Jewish reader studying the text before Christ. Now they wouldn’t have known of course about how all of it would come together as a prophecy of Jesus, but they would notice things in the story of Esther which pointed beyond themselves to God’s redemptive plan.

I am tempted right now to start listing for you all the different ways in which the book of Esther makes allusions to God and His covenant in the description of the King and his decrees, but that will have to wait for future sermons.

However, I will point out to you, that the King choosing Esther to be his queen from all the ladies in all the 127 provinces of his empire, would undoubtedly remind a Hebrew reader of God’s choosing of Israel from among all the nations of the world to be his bride.

My point this morning is to lay the groundwork for understanding one of the ways in which God and even Jesus are present in this book so we can build on it as we go through Esther. King Ahasuerus is the anointed ruler in God’s covenantal administration for this era in Biblical history. He is God’s representative, and we will not properly understand the book of Esther if we simply assume that he is nothing more than a pagan emperor who just happens to be dominating the nation of Israel.

We need Esther. If we are to learn wisdom as to how to remain loyal to Jesus in a pagan environment, then we need to study a book such as this which uses a pagan environment to show us Jesus. We’ve already discussed, from last week, that one principle of wisdom is to submit to authorities-something that is especially hard to do in an age when the authorities do not acknowledge God or His Son Jesus as Sovereign.

Perhaps we can now add another principle of wisdom from our background study this morning. We live in an age that seems completely contrary to God’s will for humanity. Modernism, humanism, individualism, atheism, and totalitarianism are forces in our day which seem to be tearing apart everything we know and love from Scripture. Likewise, it was completely unthinkable to the Israelites that God would actually give authority over His people to a pagan emperor. But God planned for such things to happen precisely for the good of His Kingdom. He was in control all along bringing about something that was more glorious than what had existed before. As we’ve seen, he prophesied the majesty of His Son, the New Adam, more fully than he ever had before. There are other ways as well in which God put His People in a covenant that was more glorious than the covenants that had preceded it-we’ll deal with that in future sermons.

Likewise, however horrible it seems right now, compared to past ages which were more Christian than ours, God brought those ages to an end, and allowed this secular age to arise, for the good of His Church. We don’t know how it will end up being better, but we can trust God that He has a good purpose in all that He has caused to happen. God brought about Esther’s situation in order to reveal the glory of His Son, and that is true of our own situation.

Let’s pray for wisdom from the Spirit that we may glorify Christ the Sovereign, Christ the world-emperor, in a way that is appropriate.

Copyright © 1998, All rights reserved.

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