For Such a Time as This

Today around the world many will celebrate Purim. This is a celebration that thousands of years ago God delivered the Jewish people from near certain death. When the writer of the book of Esther chose to tell the story, their method of telling the story was very strange. For centuries Esther has baffled commentators and Bible scholars. It is the only book in the Bible where the word God is not mentioned – not  even once.

How we use our words can be very revealing. The lack of words can also be very revealing. If you have ever been involved in a polite work discussion in the British isles you may have heard the phrase. “That is very brave.” What an American hears a Brit saying is, “They think I am courageous,” when in fact the Brit is trying convey a completely different thought: “You are barking mad.” So it was many years ago, the writer of Esther wanted to convey the feeling that God was hidden and removed from the day to day life of His people. It felt like God was absent.

To top it all off. This book which tells the story of a hidden or surreal God, tells the story of a very real and clear existential threat to the Jewish people. The Jewish citizens living in Persia were faced with a life and death situation and God seemed painfully hidden. In the hiddenness God is actively working. Esther, in vicarious representation of her people, walked into the courtroom of the king and pleaded in proxy for her people.

“If I have found favor in your sight, O king, and if it please the king, let my life be granted me for my wish, and my people for my request.” (Esth. 7:3)

Esther risks power, privilege and position to petition the potentate for her people. We know of a true and better prince, who not only risks everything, but actually gave up everything to rescue his people.

Let those Purim words sink in this Lent. Hear Jesus plead on the cross, “Let my life be granted to me … and my people for my request.”

Large Petitions

Outlandish Statements

“100 million dollars,” that is the outrageous sum that the villain Dr. Evil demands for ransom in the film Austin Powers. This demand is followed by laughs. The sum is outrageous for the 1960’s. There is no way that any world leader will answer this outrageous and large petition. At the end of chapter 1 and beginning of chapter 2 we see Nehemiah pray multiple times for success and favor. His petitions are not small ones. He is asking for the undoing of exile. He is asking for the restoration of Zion. Judah ceased to be a kingdom. The last time there was a Judahite commonwealth was 600 BC. Nehemiah’s petition is large, it is outlandish, it is brazen.

Read Nehemiah 2:1-20

After his prayer, Nehemiah declares, “The God of heaven will make us prosper, and we his servants will arise and build, but you have no portion or right or claim in Jerusalem.”(2:20)

There is an amazing confidence in this statement. Is Nehemiah being cheeky? Is he out of touch with reality? We probably remember moments when we have asked something of friends that was extremely cheeky. Somehow we make large petitions of friends, but sometimes forget that large petitions are something which God delights in hearing. Just as our friends, if it is within their power, love to help out whenever it is possible.

Part of the reason we don’t bring large petitions is that deep down inside we think that God is actually not able to answer. It may be something as small as, “God help me find my misplaced car keys.” But then a voice inside us says, “Don’t bother the maker of the universe with such a petty request. Surely he has better things to do.” When in fact the real reason we say this is that it is just as large a petition as asking God for a great miracle. In our heart of hearts we believe God is not able to grant this.

Brazen Petitions

There is a story of Alexander the Great being at a wedding feast of one of his generals. After the night had gone on, the general was now intoxicated from the wine and merry-making. He went up to Alexander and asked a for a very large monetary gift. It was such an outragous request that the wedding party came to a standstill. The musicians stopped playing. All the party guest stared expecting Alexander to be greatly insulted and mete out an appropriate punishment for such brazen ask.

Something unexpected happened. Alexander the Great, looking at his general, said, “This man honours me, for he has said that I am both wealthy and able to fulfill this request” By making this outrageous statement petition to God Nehemiah declares two things about God’s character: 1. God is actually powerful enough to grant it 2. God is gracious enough to grant it.

We are incapable of truly knowing what to pray or how to pray. That is why the disciples asked Jesus teach us how to pray. And Paul said we don’t know how to pray but the Spirit intercedes for us.

“Thou art coming to a King,
Large petitions with thee bring;
For His grace and pow’r are such
None can ever ask too much. “
–John Newton (1725-1807)