When we think about fathers, we often search the Bible for stories about Abraham. We study the plight of Joseph, the earthly father of Jesus. Or we consider even the struggles of David in raising his large family. But I'd like to take you to a text that I've never seen used as a character sketch of a good father. Mordecai isn't a father by choice. He is an adoptive father—maybe a single dad, for all we know. His wife is never mentioned. He lived 500 years before Christ—a minority in an oppressed land.
Many of the Jews had returned to Jerusalem because the period of 70 years of captivity in Babylonia had ended. The Persians, or the Bible calls them the Chaldeans, had overcome the Babylonians and been strangely kind to the Jews. Consequently, Nehemiah, Ezra, and Zerubabel led three different expeditions from the city of Susa, or the area of Persia, back to Jerusalem. But there were some who chose to remain. What you find as you look at the Book of Esther is the only account in the Bible of the Jews who chose to remain in Persia after the captivity—an interesting insight into the lifestyle and the ways and the means of those people who stayed behind.
What you also have in the Book of Esther is a riveting drama, carefully sewn together by some unnamed author, perhaps Mordecai himself. What you also have is one of the only two books of the Bible in which the name of God is not mentioned. The Song of Solomon is the only other one. But though his name is not written in the Book of Esther, his fingerprints are on every page. The theme of the Book of Esther is the providential hand of God.
Now it may have been a while since you thought about the Book of Esther. So let's review the characters. First of all, there's Mordecai. Mordecai is a key player in this drama. We don't know what he does for a living. He's probably an important person because often we find him at the city gates, where decision makers linger to make decisions. He is Jewish. He adopts his cousin. Her name is "Hadassah," which is Persian for "dazzling beauty." Isn't this story already getting good? Her Jewish name is Esther. So, we'll call her Esther. She is so beautiful that she catches the eye of King Xerxes. That's the easier of his two names to pronounce—Xerxes. Even Donald Trump in the 80s had nothing to compare with King Xerxes. Listen to this. He is the king over 127 different provinces, stretching from India to Ethiopia.
How many of you have heard the phrase, "The Law of the Medes and the Persians"? If you've ever heard that, it means it's an unchangeable, immutable law. That comes from the era of King Xerxes. He was viewed not just as a king, but also as a god. When he spoke, it was law. Not even he could change what he spoke.
His wife is Queen Vashti. Queen Vashti is only in scene 1 of chapter 1 of the story of the Book of Esther, because she's a little too spunky for her era.
The story begins with some banquets—I mean banquets! The king has decided to display his power and strength. He has invited all the important people of the world to come to the capital city of Susa for a party. And this party lasts—hear this—180 days. How many of you have ever been to a six-month party? Not a party for a six-month-old, but a six-month party! And if that's not enough, at the end of the party he decides to have another party. I guess he has to wind down from the six-month party with another party. And so he has a seven-day party. It's just a little party. It's an after-party party. So there's a seven-day party.
And in the middle of the seven-day party, he decides that he would like Queen Vashti, who apparently is not present at this party (it's a men only affair), to come and be displayed to all of the men.
How many of you think that what Xerxes wants is for all the men to see her intellect? Nor do I. She refused to come because she knows what these guys have in mind. She says: Man, I'm not stepping in there. You've been drunk for 180 days. Now you're on a seven-day binge. I'm not about to step in there.
Let me tell you folks, that set badly with King Xerxes. The decision was to remove her from office, and to send a letter throughout the kingdom. (And I thought you might enjoy reading this at the end of chapter one, the last sentence:) These letters announced that "every man should be ruler over his own household." Submission by legislation.
The consequence is that Vashti is no longer queen, and they do need a queen. So how are they going to get a new queen? They bring in Ed McMahon and they stage a star search. It's one unlike any ever seen. Ladies come from all over the region. And the one who catches the eye and wins the throne is … guess who? Esther! We meet her in chapter 2 verse 7: Mordecai had a cousin named Hadassah, who had no father or mother. So Mordecai took care of her. Hadassah was also called Esther. And she had a very pretty figure and face. Mordecai had adopted her as his own daughter, when her father and mother died.
Good fathers keep deciding to be fathers.
We have an interesting principle here about fatherhood that's worthy of a parenthetical statement. Mordecai decided to be a father. Somehow in the great consequence of events, this little girl was left with no mother or father. He could have said, "Well, I'm not a good dad, I'm not a good potential father." He could have said, "I'll find somebody else." He could have said, "Let's send her to Jerusalem." But something in him said, "I can raise this child." And he made a decision to be a dad.
Illustration: I want to share with you a personal theory that I have. And that is, for nine months, when our wives carried our children in their womb, they got to know those kids pretty well. Those women could feel the baby turn and kick. They had morning sickness, or sleepless nights. And try as we might to relate, most of us men simply could not.
When the child was born after nine months, the mother welcomed that little baby boy, or girl, as a friend. Am I right, ladies? It's almost like you already knew the child. But, we guys, standing back there still shocked by what we've just witnessed, now look at that baby almost like a stranger. And I can remember standing, looking through that glass at all those bassinets in the nursery, picking out the one that was mine, thinking, What in the world have I gotten myself into? It was just beginning to hit me. It had already hit Denalyn. She had been living it for nine months. And I had to make a decision as every father does at that point. Fatherhood doesn't begin at conception for dads as much as it does at delivery. And the dad has to say, "I am going to be the dad!" And he sets in motion a whole lifestyle called fatherhood, which is in essence a series of decisions.
Stephen Covey, for example, says that every day all across America, fathers drive home from work and some make that decision and some of us don't. He says the wisest way to use your drive time home from work is to make the decision to once again adopt your children. Be a dad. Mentally go through the process of taking off the work hat and putting on the father hat. Mentally go through the process, for whatever it means in your life, of resigning from work and volunteering to be a father. That's what Mordecai did.
Now, you really need to pay attention to scene three. The queen was lost in scene one. The queen was found in scene two. Esther is the queen, and then something happens in scene three. A plot is discovered. There are two people that Mordecai overhears near the gates, plotting to overthrow the king. Listen to their names: Bigthana and Teresh. They sound like villains, don't they? Bigthana and Teresh are plotting to overthrow the king. Mordecai overhears their plot and tells Esther. Esther tells the right people. The plan is thwarted, and please note what the writer inserts in chapter 2, at the end of verse 23: All this was written down in the daily court record in the king's presence.
The fact that Mordecai overheard the plot, told the right people, and the king's life was saved was written down in the court record. Now that's very important. And, like a good novelist, whoever wrote this book put that just at the right place. What difference does that make? Ah, you're gonna see what a difference that makes.
In scene four the villain enters. His name is Haman. Haman is a raging bigot, arrogant, with an ego the size of Persia. We do not know how he came to be second in command over Persia, but we do know that once he got there, he used it to the hilt. He demanded that every person who saw him, bow in his presence. And everyone played into his hand, with one exception. Mordecai was not mortified by Haman. He was not threatened by him at all. Consequently, when Haman passed by, Mordecai would be the only one out of that long row of people who stood erect. He had but one God before whom he would bow. It was not Haman. It was Jehovah. He would not bow before another man.
How do you think that made Haman feel? Insulted! And it's not enough, the book tells us, that he wants to destroy Mordecai. Haman decides he's going to annihilate the entire nation.
Children catch character from good fathers.
Now, can we pause here for just a second and look at another characteristic of a good father? Please note the built-in character of Mordecai. If you are acquainted with the Book of Esther, you know that before the story is over, she's going to demonstrate courage that will save a nation. But where do you think she learned it? A crisis does not develop character. Crisis reveals character. I'll say that again in case any of you missed it. Crisis does not develop character. Crisis reveals the character that is within. And let me tell you point number two under this: character is not taught, children catch character. Character is not taught. Character is caught.
Children don't like lectures. How many of you really enjoyed it when your dad set you down and said, "Okay, I'm going to tell you who I am." You don't like that. What we do is we catch character.
This year is the 10th anniversary of the burial of my father. And he was on my mind a lot this week. And I gave myself these few moments to stop and think, what in terms of character did I catch from my dad? Because he was not a man of many words. He was a west Texas oil field mechanic. What did I catch?
Illustration: One of the earliest memories I have of my father was when I was old enough to read and old enough to get bored in church. I was sitting, holding his pocket book that had a check stub in it and a check ledger. What I remember is that there were entered a series of checks written to the Andrews Church of Christ. Not just one, but all the way down. One page down the next, down the next, down the next, down the next. Only later would I learn his practice of sitting down the first day of every year and writing 52 contributions. The money wasn't there, and he wouldn't give all those checks at once. He waited until the dates came by. He postdated them. But he put those checks in a drawer, so that on Sunday morning he wouldn't forget, and he wouldn't be tempted not to give. He didn't make a lot of money, and I don't know what the amount was. But do you think I caught something? He never sat down and gave me a lecture on being a steward, but he gave me a lesson. As they see us, as they watch us, as they listen to us, what are they catching?
Apparently Esther caught some courage, because the story from now on is a story of courage. Moving on to scene five. We've met Mordecai. We've met Haman. And we know that Haman wants to kill all of the Jewish people. And so that decision is made. He convinces Xerxes it's necessary. And Xerxes says, "We're going to kill all of the people." And so the people of Susa are thrown into pandemonium, because many of them are Jews and they know their lives are over. Mordecai weeps and fasts. And when Esther, his daughter, sees him weeping and fasting, she inquires as to what has happened. He responds with these words: You may have been chosen queen for such a time as this.
Now, folks, I want you to see what is happening. It was not easy for Mordecai to send his beloved Esther right into the throne room of the king. That would not be easy, because it's not easy today, and all we do is send our kids to college, or send our kids to summer camp, or send our kids to grandma's. We like to protect our kids.
Mordecai knew that there was a time in which a child's life matures and he or she has a purpose. Which begs another question, dad, what is the purpose we're challenging our children to live for? What is the purpose we are preparing them for? Equipping them for? Are we helping them have great dreams about God's kingdom? Are we challenging them to think great thoughts about God's church? Are we equipping them for that time when they will be released, and then do we back off and let the archer control their destiny? That's what he did.
Esther knows something. She knows that she can't just go walking into the kings throne room, even though she is his wife. She knows that if she goes in there and he doesn't give her the little dip with the scepter, then her head comes off. She can't go unless she is invited. So she tells all the men and women in Persia, all the Jewish people, to pray and fast for three days.
Good fathers challenge their children to live for a purpose.
Look what happens in chapter 5. You're gonna love this. "On the third day Esther put on her royal robes and stood in the inner court of the king's palace, in front of the king's hall" (Esther 5:1). Oh, the savvy of a woman. She puts on her nicest clothing. She smells good. She looks good, because she knows the way to king Xerxes' brain is through his eyes. She just stands there in the doorway. She doesn't go rushing in like we guys would do. She doesn't make any demands like we guys would probably do. She just stands there looking nice.
And Xerxes lifts his eyes, and then he lifts his eyes again. And then he lifts his eyes again wider and wider. When the king saw Queen Esther standing in the doorway, he said, "A-hubba, a-hubba, a-hubba!"
That's a loose translation of the Hebrew here. I mean the guy's heart started beating. Sweat broke out on his brow. "He was pleased," it says here, which was the greatest understatement in the Book of Esther. He was pleased, and he said, "Come on in." So she goes in. He says, "What do you want. I'll give it to you, up to half of my kingdom." She has really pushed the right button. She says: I just wanna have lunch with you, honey. Let's just you and me have a little banquet. And invite Haman to come along.
Well, he's probably disappointed that Haman is invited, but he has the party—Esther, Haman, and Xerxes. And then, the party's over and he says, "What do you want?" And she says, "I want to have another party with you tomorrow." These are partying people aren't they? So they set up another banquet for tomorrow.
Haman is so proud of himself. Not only has he just had dinner with the king and the queen, he's been invited for a repeat performance tomorrow. And so he struts out of the throne room, and he walks outside of the palace and all the people bow except for Mordecai. "That Mordecai makes me so mad."
He gets in the limo. He goes home. He gets out, and he says: I just had the greatest day of my life and it's been spoiled by that jerk, Mordecai.
So his friends and his wife say: Listen, the guy's a pain in the neck, put a pain in his neck. Build the gallows. Make 'em tall. You can do it. You're the boss.
He says: That's a great idea.
And before he goes to bed, he leaves instructions that gallows, 75-feet-tall, be built right outside of the castle. He goes to bed and he sleeps good, knowing that he's going to take care of Mordecai in the morning. But guess who doesn't sleep well? Xerxes! A little indigestion from the banquet, and he can't get to sleep. So, he has the court officials come in with the court records. Does anybody remember what was written in the court records?
The court records are brought in. I don't think he wants to read them because he's interested. That stuff is boring, and that's what's going to put him to sleep, he hopes. So the court official reads about a time in which two men by the name of Bigthana and Teresh plotted against Xerxes, and Mordecai overheard them and told Esther and the plan was nipped in the bud. The king turns to the official and says: Did we ever do anything for this guy, Mordecai? Did we ever give him a medal? or a week off? or anything like that for him?
And he says: No, we didn't do anything.
About that time Haman shows up. And the king says: Haman, what do we do for a wonderful guy? If I really wanted to honor a hero, someone who has earned my loyalty and my respect, what would you suggest I do for him?
Guess who Haman thinks he's about to honor? Haman, the ultimate egotist, thinks the king is talking about him. And so he says: Well, you could let him wear the robe that you have worn. You could let him wear the crown and ride on the back of the stallion that you have ridden upon. You could let him do all this. You could let him be led through the city streets and have all the people bow down and worship him.
And Xerxes says: That's a great idea. I want you to go out and do that for Mordecai.
Then Haman says: Augggh! And he spends the morning being a chauffer for Mordecai. He's so upset. He almost forgets about the banquet he's supposed to go to that day. He runs home and he complains to his wife. His wife says: Oh, boy, I think you are in trouble.
About that time people show up from the court saying: Have you forgotten to come to the banquet?
So he runs and gets to the banquet. There's the king and the queen eating, and he sits down and begins to eat. And pretty soon the king says to the queen: Now tell me, honey, what is that you really want?
She says: I'll tell you. There is a man who is so villainous and evil that he wants to destroy all my people.
And the king leans back and stiffens his neck, and he says: Who is it?
And she points that pretty finger right at Haman's nose.
And the king is so angered that he stands up and he runs out of the banquet hall. Haman falls before the couch of the Queen, and begins begging for mercy. The king comes back in. He thinks that Haman is putting a move on his wife. And that really does it. And somewhere he's heard that some gallows have just been built. And he snaps his finger, and the next thing Haman knows, Haman is hanging on his own gallows. Mordecai is soon elevated to take the place of Haman.
We're left with some interesting lessons, three takeaway truths:
One. Never underestimate the providence of God. Some of you have a Haman in your life right now, don't you? A troublemaker. Somebody who is just a thorn in your flesh. Remember, the story's not over. The culprit may be in the throne room. The power may be on the throne. But the sovereign hand of God runs history. The story is not over, friend. Don't get discouraged. Don't give up. Don't throw in the towel. The sovereign hand of God is still working.
Two. Never underestimate the influence of a good father. Dads, we just don't know what we're doing yet. We're sowing seed right now with these children, some of whom have already left the house. But at the right time we may be privileged to influence a child. And if he doesn't change the world, he might change his neighborhood. He might change his workforce. May God give you the strength and the wisdom to say at the right time, "You may be in the kingdom for such a time as this." May he give you the right words to say. You may never be called upon to speak to a queen who's going into a throne room, but you may be called upon to speak to a teenager who going to be interested in dabbling in drugs, or dealing with sex. You're going be called to stand face-to-face with a teenager, an adolescent, a young adult who has failed. And they need not to hear the words of a lecture, but words of love. You will be called upon to stand face-to-face with your children when they are confused and they need direction. They don't need compromise. There are times they need to be told firmly and sternly the direction they need to go. May God give us as fathers the wisdom to do it exactly right. There are certain things that only a father can say to his child.
And then lastly, never underestimate the significance of a disciple. She was a little Jewish, orphan girl when we first met her. When we leave her, she is the Queen of Persia. Some of you came from humble beginnings. Some of you came from obscure places. Remain faithful to God. Hear his call on your life. Don't bow before the Hamans of the world. And when you feel that you are the arrow being released by the archer into that appropriate destination of history, then go. Go in God's speed and go in God's power. For perhaps it was for this reason that you came to be on the Earth.
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart? ____________________________________________________________________________
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Max Lucado is an author and minister at Oak Hills Church in San Antonio, Texas.