I dug a hole…
I was excited about starting a series in the book of Esther. The story of how God orchestrates salvation for His people through a young Jewish girl conscripted into the king’s harem. As a preacher, I couldn’t wait to unpack her winsome courage and faithfulness in the face of danger. So when I opened up the first chapter I was taken aback. Instead of finding the courageous, winsome, and faithful Esther, I found the abusive, greedy, and proud King Xerxes.
The first chapter of Esther unpacks the personification of pride displayed in the disgusting behaviour of an arrogant king. This king summons people to come from all over the empire to bask in his glory, he lavishes luxuries on his guests so that they might marvel at his wealth, he puffs himself up and expects everyone to stroke his ego, he orders his wife to parade naked in front of the feast and when she refuses he publicly shames her and banishes her from his harem. And I had to prepare a sermon on this guy! The congregation were anticipating the beauty of the story of Esther, but that story started with the ugliness of Xerxes. What is a preacher to do?
It is at times like this that it is vital for us to remember that every part of the Scriptures is inspired by God – even the bits that seem depressing and ugly. This means that the flow of this narrative was shaped by God for His purposes. God had a purpose in starting with the ugliness of Xerxes; my job as the preacher was to discover that purpose and preach it.
As I read through the text again I felt as if God was digging a deep hole of despair. The more the narrative tells us about the king, the more we are caused to reflect on how dire life was for the people of God. They were trapped in exile and enslaved to this despicable ruler, with very little hope of rescue. This realisation confronted me with the reality that if God shaped the narrative to dig a hole of despair, my sermon would have to dig a hole as well!
My sermon had to dig a hole that showed the perils of pride and the misery of a life spent looking for a good king only to find that they are all just like Xerxes… only to find that WE are all just like Xerxes. We might not gather people from across the globe to bask in our glory… but if we are honest, we would if we could. If it was to be faithful to the narrative, my sermon had to dig this hole of despair… but if I was to give my people hope, the hole had to be filled.
Here is where understanding the flow of the narrative helped me. God used this hole He dug to demonstrate both how horrible life in exile was for the people, and how powerful His salvation would eventually be. Under exile the people of God were longing for a better king than Xerxes; and in Jesus, God provided that King!
In Jesus, we find a king who did not need to summon people to come and bask in His glory but left His glory in Heaven to come and find people who were lost & broken. A king who did not demonstrate his power through lavish luxuries but by embracing a life of a suffering. A king who did not exploit women to puff up his pride but one who esteemed, valued and restored women. A king who did not cut off the ones he loved when he felt betrayed but one who was prepared to be cut off himself despite the betrayal of His loved ones. If the sermon made my people long for a better king than Xerxes; I wanted them to find that King in Jesus.
So when texts seem to dig holes of despair don’t be afraid to start mining the depths of that hole. The call upon us who preach is to dig that same hole in our preaching; to allow our people to feel the dire nature of the hole… And then to show how only God can fill that hole with Jesus!