(Photo: Harvest Ministries)
Pastor Greg Laurie of Southern California's Harvest Church encouraged believers to use their influence, gifts, and talents for God's glory, explaining from the story of Esther that there are no coincidences, but only providence in Christians' lives.
The title of Laurie's sermon on Sunday was, "For Such a Time as This," the first in a series on the book of Esther.
Many of us like fairy tales, which typically end with the phrase "and they lived happily ever after," Laurie told the congregation in his Riverside church and an online audience. But the truth is that life is not a fairy tale, he added. "Life is full of pain and unexpected twists and turns," he said, adding, however, that the bigger picture is that we will live happily ever after but only when we get to heaven.
"In this story, there are no fairies, no witches, no princes, and no mermaids," he said. However, there is a beautiful orphan girl named Esther who wins a beauty contest and becomes a queen. There is also an evil man who plots the destruction of her people. But because of her bravery, she saves her nation, and they really do live happily ever after, Laurie explained.
He noted that it's a story where God is not specifically mentioned or prayed to in an overt way. "And yet God is clearly all over this book from beginning to end." As Christians, we do not believe in coincidence, but in providence, he stated.
The story of Esther begins with Xerxes, the king of Persia, the pastor said. He ruled over a vast Persian empire that ranged from India to Ethiopia. He was raised as a royal, the son of Darius and the grandson of Cyrus.
History depicts Xerxes as a towering figure, a large man who stood taller than his contemporaries, Laurie added. He was also intolerant and insensitive, and he was lacking in people skills.
Xerxes decides to throw a great feast for all his kingdom, Laurie said, as he narrated the incident. Everyone is invited to the palace to eat the finest food and to drink as much as they wanted. During the feast, the king decides to bring in his beautiful queen, Vashti, to parade before his lords and subjects. But to his surprise, she refuses because she didn't want to be treated as a mere object, a possession.
"The king's buddies tell him he cannot allow Vashti to get away with this, because the other women in the kingdom would also never obey their husbands," the pastor added. "They convinced him to fire Vashti. So the king needed a new queen, and what better way to do that than having a beauty contest. The most beautiful woman in Persia would become the next queen."
This was significant because God wanted His person, Esther, to get into the palace, Laurie said.
So they had a contest for a new bride for Xerxes, the pastor continued. Many girls dream of becoming queen, Laurie mentioned. According to Jewish historian Josephus, about 400 women participated in the beauty contest. They found the most attractive virgins, who then underwent an extensive makeover.
This is when Hadassah, also known as Esther, came into the scene. She was quickly identified because of her beauty. But she was beautiful also on the inside; she had inner character; and later we see she was also brave, Laurie said.
God has given different gifts to different people, he added. "We need to cultivate our talents and use them for the glory of God… Do you know what your gifts are?"
Laurie read from Esther 2:10, "Esther had not told anyone of her nationality and family background, because Mordecai had directed her not to do so." There is time to speak and there's time to be silent, he explained.
"So Esther did become the queen. And if this were a fairy tale, the story would have ended with, 'And they lived happily ever after.' But this is not a fairy tale," Laurie said.
Every good story has to have a protagonist and a villain, he added. "In Esther's story, it was Haman, who would manipulate to get whatever he wanted. He hatched a plot to exterminate the Jewish race, and told the king about it. Xerxes signed a decree to that effect, without realizing that he had signed a death sentence for his own queen as well."
Esther won the contest for a reason, Laurie explained. "But she was not prepared to use her influence to save the Jews, as she feared being put to death if she went into the king's presence without being summoned. Then Mordecai told Esther what she needed to know. 'If you remain completely silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place, but you and your father's house will perish. Yet who knows whether you have come to the kingdom for such a time as this?' as given in Esther 4:14."
Esther finally put her beauty and feminine influence to deliver God's people from death, risking her own life, Laurie said.
Like Esther, who was in the right place at the right time, God prepares all believers to use them, he added. Christians should be aware of what is happening around them, and should not isolate themselves, he said. They should infiltrate and permeate, and use their influence to glorify God.
Information about the upcoming Harvest America with Greg Laurie can be found online here: http://harvestamerica.com/