Encouragement in Exile (A Sermon)

Intro

I want to say at the start that I understand it can be hard to sit there and be engaged. I’ve been there. I want to challenge you, however, to lean in and listen. The events we’re talking about here may be some 2500 years in the past but they have amazing significance today.

Plus, the book of Esther is an amazing book. It is a true work of literature. There is a heroine, suspense, irony, reversal, and surprising coincidences. Basically everything you’d want in a story.

Setting: Exile

The book of Esther tells “the story of events surrounding the rescue of the nation of Israel from the threat of extinction while it was in exile in Persia… The more profound and universal purpose of the story is to explain how God’s providence can protect his people.”[1]

Whoever you are, wherever you come from, and no matter where you are spiritually, this year has likely brought many challenges to you. I believe the book of Esther offers some much-needed perspective on things.

Chapters 1-2

As we saw the last two weeks, God’s people are in exile, under the reign of king Ahasuerus. Ahasuerus, as the King of Persia, has a ton of wealth. So he shows his wealth by having a party for 180 days (1:4).[2] With that much partying it is no wonder that he seems to be somewhat of a drunk and pushover. However, it appears that he’s trying to combat his pushover persona (but not his potential alcoholism!) with the help of his friends and so he makes an example of his wife Vashti who did not obey his every whim.

In Herodotus’ Histories, it says that that the “king of Persia could do anything he wished.”[3] And so, that’s what he did. He gets rid of his old wife and throws a lavish beauty pageant to find the most beautiful and pleasing bride in the kingdom (2:2-4). In somewhat of a Cinderella story, the king “fell in love” with Esther or at least more than all the other women and so he put the royal crown on her head and made her queen (v. 17).

Esther’s Exile

Israel is in Exile. God’s people are not in the Promised Land. They have a foreign ruler. And can you imagine, that ruler was allowed to do “anything he wished.”

Our Exile

We too are in exile, we too are not home. It may be different than Esther’s exile but we are in exile too. We see this truth in Scripture in various places. For instance, 1 Peter 1:1 talks about us being “elect exiles” and verse 17 tells us how we are to conduct ourselves throughout the time of our exile. First Peter 2:11 says, “Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul.” Philippians 3:20 reminds us “our citizenship is in heaven, and from it we await a Savior, the Lord Jesus Christ.” Hebrews 13:14 says that “here we have no lasting city, but we seek the city that is to come.”

So, just as Esther was in exile, we as Christians are in exile too. This book is relevant and has a lot to encourage us in the midst of the challenges of exile.

More and more our exile is a very visible reality. The Public Religion Research Institute did a study on religious affiliation in America. Here are their findings:

 “The American religious landscape has undergone substantial changes in recent years… One of the most consequential shifts in American religion has been the rise of religiously unaffiliated Americans… In 1991, only six percent of Americans identified their religious affiliation as ‘none,’ and that number had not moved much since the early 1970s. By the end of the 1990s, 14% of the public claimed no religious affiliation. The rate of religious change accelerated further during the late 2000s and early 2010s, reaching 20% by 2012. Today, one-quarter (25%) of Americans claim no formal religious identity, making this group the single largest ‘religious group’ in the U.S.[4]

The study also found “about two-thirds (66%) of unaffiliated Americans agree ‘religion causes more problems in society than it solves.” They also “reject the notion that religion plays a crucial role in providing a moral foundation for children.”[5]

It is not just America, however, that is becoming increasingly less affiliated. The Church in America also has less and less commitment.

One recent study conducted by Barna Group for the book Faith for Exiles found that out of the around 1,500 people between the ages of eighteen and twenty-nine that grew up in the church (as Christians) the majority no longer go to church. 22% are now considered “ex-Christians.” 30% may identify themselves as Christians but they no longer go to church. 38% describe themselves as Christians and have attended church at least once in the last month but do not have the core beliefs or behaviors associated with being a disciple of Jesus. Only 10% were found to be regularly involved in the life of the church, trust in the authority of Scripture, affirm the death and resurrection of Jesus, and express a desire for their faith to impact their world.

Dedicated Christians are more in more considered odd. Christians are more and more on the fringes of society. If things don’t change, these trends will just continue in the future. The reality of our exile status will be felt more and more.

So, friends, Esther has a lot to teach us about our exile. Let’s go to the first scene…

1. Haman’s Plot (Ch. 3)

Scene 1 starts with Haman, the antagonist or bad guy of the story,[6] being promoted (3:1). It seems like he’s promoted because the beauty pageant was his idea.

Haman soon became furious at a Jewish man named Mordecai because he would not bow down to him. But instead of just taking it out on him, Haman wanted to destroy all the Jews throughout the whole kingdom (3:5-6). So, we see a big problem introduced in the plot.

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A few helpful resources before you vote…

Here are some resources and quotes I’ve found helpful in thinking about this years election…

I highly suggest that you check out Jonathan Leeman’s article: “What Makes a Vote Moral or Immoral? The Ethics of Voting.” And I found Justin Taylor’s article “The Case Against Pro-Lifers Voting for Joe Biden” helpful too. Taylor quotes John Piper: “No endorsement of any single issue qualifies a person to hold public office. Being pro-life does not make a person a good governor, mayor, or president. But there are numerous single issues that disqualify a person from public office.”

I recently read David Platt’s helpful book, Before You Vote: Seven Questions Every Christian Should Ask. You should buy it right now on Kindle. Here are a bunch of quotes from that book:

“This world is not a democracy. This world is a monarchy, and God is the King.”

“In the end, what’s most important, and what I am definitively advocating for based on God’s Word, is the realization that how we use our vote is a matter of faithfulness before God. For our vote is a unique privilege and responsibility that God has entrusted to us by his grace, and God calls us to use every means of grace he grants us to love him above all and love our neighbors as ourselves.”

“Even if we lose every freedom and protection we have as followers of Jesus in the United States, and even if our government were to become a completely totalitarian regime, we could still live an abundant life as long as we didn’t look to political leaders, platforms, or policies for our ultimate security and satisfaction. We can still have hope, peace, joy, and confidence regardless of what happens in our government, as long as… we look to Jesus alone for these things, and all of our hope hinges on him.”

“We are not worried or panicked about elections, no matter how important they may seem… Instead, we seek the kingdom of Jesus and his sinless righteousness with true peace and total confidence in his supreme reign. After all, we know that throughout history, leaders have risen and fallen. Presidents have come and gone. Through it all, one King alone has remained constant, and he is not up for election. Regardless of what president is chosen in our country, Jesus will be in control of it all.”

“According to God,… my concern in voting should not just be for me and my children but also for others and their children.”

“A clear takeaway from the book of Jonah is that we are to work for the spread of God’s love in all nations more than we are to seek safety, security, prosperity, and comfort in our own nation.”

“By God’s grace, we have been given so much as citizens of the United States of America. For all that God has granted us, we should be deeply grateful. At the same time, we follow a King who commands us to lay down our rights and use the grace he has given to love our neighbors as ourselves. This, after all, is the essence of the gospel that has saved us.”

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Christian Status

As Christians, Jesus is emphatically our Leader and Lord and His Kingdom is not of this world. His Kingdom is an everlasting Kingdom made up of people from Sierra and Senegal, Armenia and America, China and Czechia, Portugal and Pakistan, Mexico and Mali (and many many more). America is not and never will be Israel. And the paradigms and parallels that we try to place on America that are meant for God’s people will never work because they are not theologically accurate. 

Christians belong to an entirely different kingdom. Jesus’ Kingdom is not of this world. The paradigms that people have that have Americans or Christian Americans as the promised people is gravely wrong. God’s promise to bless the nations is not a promise to America, it is a promise fulfilled in The Son of Abraham, Jesus. All the nations of the earth are blessed in and through Him.

Christian citizenship and allegiance first belongs to our Lord Jesus’ Kingdom, and only secondarily to any merely earthly kingdom. Our hope also needs to visibly be in the Lord Jesus, the supreme Lord of the universe that actually suffered as a servant for His subjects, and not in any earthly power. We work for change and we work with sacrificial love, but we do not have our hope wrapped up here.

As Christians, it is also important to remember, we work primarily at the heart level as Jesus did, and as surgeons do, not mainly on the symptoms level. Our overarching desire is to change the cause, pull the root. We believe primarily in transformation from the inside out and not mainly in the mere reformation of society. We don’t want to rearrange the furniture on the Titanic, we want as many passengers rescued as possible. We don’t mainly want to save America, we mainly want Americans saved. So, even while we work for progress on the policies we believe in, our hope is not in them. We know, as it says in the book of Revelation, the new Jerusalem comes down out of heaven; it is not constructed here (21:2).

The Christian hero and hope is a seemingly powerless middle-eastern refugee carpenter with olive skin that was crucified as a criminal and rejected outcast. That’s who Christians identify themselves with and place all of their hope in. Not in the seemingly powerful people, politicians, or political parties who have technology and Ph.D.’s, money and influence, beauty and charisma. 

Further, we should not even lead people to believe that our hope is in people or any earthly power. “The hope within us” that is supposed to be communicated and seen is that Christ is Lord (1 Peter 3:15). It may not always look like He is in the world around us, but the reality is that He is. Jesus rose from the dead and demonstrated in space and time that He is Lord and He is coming back soon. It is also important to remember that when we tell people about our hope in Messiah Jesus, that we do so “with gentleness and respect” (1 Peter 3:15).

When the onlooking world sees Christians, they should see we have hope that transcends this world. “Christ in us”—not a mere person, policy, or political party—is the “hope of glory” (Col. 1:27). The exiles spoken of in Hebrews made it clear (11:14) that “they were longing for a better country—a heavenly one. Therefore God is not ashamed to be called their God” (11:16). May that be clear for us too! May we make it abundantly clear that we are looking for and longing for the country the Lord has prepared for us (v. 14).

Rule #8: Respect and don’t steal other’s property.

“You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15).

We might be tempted to think that stealing isn’t relevant to us. We know it’s wrong and we don’t do it but that just might not be the case.

I was convicted of stealing when I was in college… I was stealing and I went to a Christian college. What was I stealing do you think?… Music. I was pirating music…

There are a lot of things people do that often is not considered stealing when it really is.

So, what does God say about stealing?…

1) What does God says about stealing?

God says, “You shall not steal” (Ex. 20:15). So, what does it mean to steal? It means to take something that doesn’t belong to you or to receive something in an unlawful way.

Even taking supplies from the church, from a hospital, or even a hotel is stealing. I read, “one hotel reported in its first year of business having to replace thirty-eight thousand spoons, eighteen thousand tiles, three hundred and fifty-five coffee pots… one hundred Bible!”[1]

So, there is all sorts of ways that stealing happens. “You don’t need to put panty hose over your face and sneak into a house to be a thief. You can steal in broad daylight, in the marketplace, whenever you defraud or deceive. ”[2] Scripture demands honesty in all our dealings no matter how small and insignificant they may seem (see e.g. Lev. 19:35; Deut. 25:15).

Stealing is more of a problem then it might at first seem. There is stealing, for example, on both sides of credit cards. “In recent decades credit card debt has risen from five billion to more than five hundred billion dollars.”[3] Not only that, but “each year Americans spend more money on various forms of gambling than they do on food or clothing.”[4]

One catechism says, “God forbids not only outright theft and robbery, but also such wicked schemes and devices as false weights and measures, deceptive merchandising, counterfeit money, and usury; we must not defraud our neighbor in any way, whether by force or by show of right. In addition God forbids all greed and all abuse or squandering of his gifts.”[5]

The Ten Commandments are hard but good. They function like a mirror. They show us our sin.

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Societal Analysis

It’s very interesting and perplexing to me that as a society we want and we are begging for and demanding what is good. We are acknowledging that things are very wrong in society. That seems to be the case no matter where you are politically, whatever side you find yourself on.

We acknowledge there’s a problem, but as Plato pointed out a very long time ago, good people make for a good society. That seems to make clear sense. Yet, society seems soiled. Thus, we have found the problem, and it’s me.

When someone is sick there’s a medical analysis. This entails five different elements:

  1. The Ideal (of what’s healthy)
  2. Observation (of symptoms/signs)
  3. Diagnosis (or analysis of disease/disorder)
  4. Prognosis (or prediction of cure/remedy)
  5. Prescription (or instruction for treatment/action for a cure)

I believe that society is in need of an analysis. What are we observing? What’s the problem? Can it be fixed? If so, how?

We are observing a lot of problems or symptoms: violence, racism, inability to patiently discuss important issues, pride, etc. What is the disease? The disease seems to be a problem with people. Many people lack goodness. What’s the cure? We must be good. What then is the solution? We must learn to be good. That is the prescription. That is the treatment.

This seems very shallow and very simple. But it is not. Stick with me.

If we want a good society, we must have good people. Yet, I’m not sure we even have an understanding of what “good” or healthy even is. Do we even have a starting place for what constitutes good or healthy? If not, how could we possibly arrive at a prognosis or prescription let alone be in a place to give a diagnosis?!

The English writer and philosopher, G.K. Chesterton, once said, “What is wrong is that we don’t ask what is right.” We have no way by which to measure what is wrong and what is right. That is an obvious problem. You can’t build much with a standard that’s not standard.  

If good individuals make for a good society, as seems to make sense. Perhaps the first and foundational prescription is to return to the conviction that there is such a thing as “good.” And not merely what is good for the subjective individual, but a good beyond and above us that corrects us.

In any field of work you have to have a standard, a means to measure; a way to know what is healthy and what is not. We have an idea of when one is overweight because we understand that there is a range of healthy weight. How can we prescribe a cure when there is no standard for what is good or healthy? And how can there be hope when there is no standard of healthy?

We, as a society, for the most part, don’t have a clear way to say what is good. And we don’t have a pathway to make good people. If anything, we have many conflicting things shaping people. Porn is prevalent and it makes objects of people and materialism is too and it plays down the importance of people in place of the value of objects. Ours is a conflicted society. 

I believe the disorder in society comes from a plague more destructive than any pandemic, and that plague is sin. Its signs are everywhere. In my heart and actions, and yours too.

The diagnosis is deadly if not dealt with. The plague exponentially increases if not dealt with. It wreaks havoc on the scale of the Tsar Bomb. It leaves devastating effects on generations. It leaves gaping holes in individuals and is the downfall of society if not dealt with.

The prognosis, however, thankfully reveals that progress is possible. But it will be slow and painful. And it entails admitting there’s a problem; a problem, a plague, not just out there in the world, out there in others, but in me.

When someone observes a ghastly problem and knows the cure we inherently know the right thing to do in that case. It is to cure. Humans often fumble around talking about problems and we hustle around trying to cure. But all the while only grasping at what it meant to be truly healthy. We half see and so we get the diagnosis, prognosis, and prescription wrong. We always have.

I believe, however, that hope is not lost. I believe Messiah Jesus, the Healthy One, has brought the cure. He who did not have the plague took our problems, our sin, upon Himself on the cross. He showed us the cure, it is Himself. It is love. Death is the only answer. Death to self. We must die to self, we must love.

We must turn from our prideful and sinful ways and trust in Jesus our loving cure. Jesus gives us 1) the ideal of healthy, 2) the observation about what’s wrong, 3) the diagnosis, 4) the prognosis, and 5) the prescription. Without the provision of those five elements the only prognosis is death.

The New Testament on Suffering

“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. 11Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10-12).

“But I say to you, Love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, 45so that you may be sons of your Father who is in heaven. For he makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust” (Matthew 5:44-45).

“And you will be hated by all for my name’s sake. But the one who endures to the end will be saved” (Matthew 10:22 cf. 24:9, 13; John 15:18-21; Mark 13:13; Rev. 2:10; Heb. 3:6).

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Elon Musk and Ethics

I read a biography on Elon Musk awhile back. It was fascinating. He seems like a super smart, super driven, and genuinely concerned individual. Though, I clearly don’t know Musk or his motives.

I was troubled, however, recently when I watched a progress update about Neuralink. Neuralink is a company that has Elon Musk as one of its founders and is “developing implantable brain–machine interfaces.” Neuralink is working to invent “new technologies that will expand our abilities, our community, and our world.”

In the video update, Musk said he is concerned with our “species.” He speaks of “what we [humanity] would want.” He was presuming about the “sum of our collective will.” He talked about “the future of the earth” being “controlled by the combined will of the people.”

It reminded me of something perceptive C.S. Lewis said:

“Of all the tyrannies, a tyranny sincerely exercised for the good of its victims may be the most oppressive. It may be better to live under robber barons than under the omnipotent moral busybodies. The robber barons cruelty may sometimes sleep, his cupidity may at some point be satiated; but those who torment us for our own good will torment us without end, for they do so with the approval of their own conscience.” 

It seems to me that Musk and his team have good intentions but an ethicist was eerily absent on the panel. And they spoke of such things as erasing fear and pain. One of the guys on the panel said he’d like to study consciousness and simultaneously dismissed all writings on consciousness in the last thousand years.[1] That was very concerning to me. To sweep away a whole history of thought on a subject, even one as confusing as consciousness, in a mere fleeting moment is concerning. It speaks to the panelist’s pride and unreasonableness. As well as to what Lewis referred to as chronological snobbery

One can have knowledge and intellect and be absent of wisdom. And history teaches us that science, even good science with good goals, can bring about terrible things. We can see this by looking at the origin of the Nobel Prize.

Briefly, Alfred Nobel was refereed to as the “merchant of death.” Among his inventions was dynamite. “Merchant of death” was not the reputation he wanted. So he funded the Nobel Prize in order to change his legacy.

Nobel’s intention was not to be a “merchant of death” but nevertheless his technology of dynamite led to the death of many. Technology itself is not wicked, but sometimes those who wield it are not wise and sometimes they are wicked and use technology in devastating ways.

Also, concerning is that Musk seems to be a naturalist and determinist.[2] He talks about what the collective will of the world is. That, to me, is concerning. Especially from someone that believes they are doing good and yet, at the same time, have no basis for believing in the concept of good.

As amazing as Elon Musk is, in a lot of ways, he and his programs need ethics, and I would argue transcultural and transtemporal ethics.

My kids in my home need reminded and held to the transcultural norm of love and truth and if they don’t follow those norms my house is in unrest. How much more Musk and Neuralink?!


[1] He said, ““There’s a lot of really silly philosophy that’s been written about [consciousness] over the last thousand years.”

[2] Musk said, “The universe started out… hydrogen and then after a long time… well, what seems like a long time to us, that hydrogen became sentient. It gradually got more complex… We’re basically, you know, hydrogen evolved. Um, and somewhere along the way that hydrogen started talking and thought it was conscious” (See the 51:46 timestamp in Neuralink Progress Update, Summer 2020). If we are merely evolved hydrogen that think we’re conscious, how can we possibly make sense of our world? Is not then everything random? How can we trust our minds? That’s akin to trusting a random paint splash to relay truth. They’re both random chance processes with no real significance.

Gospel Motive Filter

How can we know if our motives are gospel-focused or not? In the below video I outline a way to filter out motivations that are not gospel-focused.

Pride→disgrace. Humility→wisdom.

“When pride comes, then comes disgrace,
but with the humble is wisdom” (Proverbs 11:2).

When we see gray clouds we know a storm and rain are probably coming. Proverbs leads us to see other connections and correlations from other phenomena and make other important deductions. Just as if we see gray clouds we know rain is coming, if we see pride we know disgrace is coming.

Disgrace follows pride like dessert follows dinner; one comes then the other. Superiority then scandal, self-importance then shame. Disgrace follows pride as surely as two follows one. There’s a sequential relationship. If one is not humble there will be humiliation.

The prideful person, however, may not even see or experience the humiliation though. They may further puff up against the pain rather than confront their inadequacies.

The arrogant are in the dangerous place of not seeing their own ignorance. If we see ourselves as superior, we aren’t in a good place to see our own stupidity. Those who think they stand then should take heed lest they fall (1 Corinthian 10:12).

What is the solution? Humility.

We should be willing to admit we are sometimes wrong. We have done wrong and been wrong in the past, we should know that this could (and will) happen in the future too.

Christianity gives a basis for humility.[1] It teaches us repeatedly that we don’t always get it right. And Jesus said, blessed are the humble who know that truth (See Matthew 5:5ff).[2]

Christians should be willing to listen, willing to learn. We should be humble because our Lord Jesus has called us to humility. We don’t know it all and we should admit that truth.

“With the humble is wisdom.” Those who know they don’t know, are in a good place to know. If we realize what we don’t realize, we are open to realizing.

Pride → disgrace.
Humility → wisdom.

_____

[1] Christian behavior is not based on knowledge alone, that leads to pride and destroys others, even those for whom Christ died; Christian behavior is based on love grounded in the knowledge of Christ. We tend to think we know all we need to know to answer all kinds of questions—but sometimes our humble hearts can help us more than our proud minds. As Eugene Peterson has said in his paraphrase of the Bible, the Message: “Knowing isn’t everything. If it becomes everything, some people end up as know-it-alls who treat others as know-nothings.” I appreciate what Richard Baxter said, “If we have any knowledge at all, we must needs know how much reason we have to be humble; and if we know more than others, we must know more reason than others to be humble” (The Reformed Pastor, 144). I also appreciate this from Thomas à Kempis: “What good does it do to speak learnedly about the Trinity if, lacking humility, you displease the Trinity? …I would rather feel contrition than know how to define it. For what would it profit us to know the whole Bible by heart and the principles of all the philosophers if we live without grace and the love of God” and neighbor?” (The Imitation of Christ).

[2] Proverbs also tells us repeatedly that “the fear of the LORD is the beginning of wisdom.”

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