In my 10 years as a pastor I’ve come across a lot of different kinds of Adventists, and please forgive me, I’m going to share some puns. If you hate puns, I’m sorry. I’m just inspired by pastor Gettys.
We have Adventists of various temperaments. Gladventists. Sadventists. We have those who are fashionable. Fadventists. Those who are fashionable once every 20 years. Plaidventists. Those who enforce the rules. Poorbadventists. Those who like to church hop. Nomadventists. Those who sleep on Sabbath afternoon. Matresspadventists. We have some who are backslidden Adventists perhaps, like the deadbeat-dad-ventist. The scantily cladventists who sometimes spend too much time together. We have little tiny Adventists, little Adventist children. I call them Tadventists, and my favorite, the parents of those Tadventists who sometimes feel that they are Stark-raving-madventists.
But today I would like to talk about another kind of Adventist, the Badventist. I’d like to make it clear I’m going to make my own definition of Badventist. I can do that since I’m the preacher. Basically, the way I see it, a Badventist is an Adventist who is simply living on the fringe. I’m not talking about somebody who is an ex-Adventist or an ex-Christian or who has turned away from the church or hates God. I’m just talking about someone who lives on the fringe. Who may not live up to some of the standards that we hold dear. I should mention that it’s really to their detriment, because I believe that these standards were meant to be lived out as part of a vibrant relationship with Jesus and that they are an expression of our love for Him and that they help us live happier and healthier lives.
Now the Badventists perhaps haven’t quite gotten there yet. Perhaps they were raised in an environment that didn’t value the standards, these practices, or perhaps they grew up in a home where these beautiful principles were turned into oppressive rules. Who knows how it happened, but for some reason they may not be following all of them. But I want to make one thing clear. Many of them, and I’ve actually looked on the site called Badventists Anonymous so I can verify this. Many of them, in spite of this, still love God and they honestly want to do what is right. I believe that this is true about a Bible character that we’re going to look at today. Someone who I call the Badventist.
Now last week Pastor Carlson started off our series looking at Miriam. Today we’re going to look at the story of Esther. Esther? Was Esther a Badventist? Wait a second. Well I think she was. If you’ll hear me out, maybe you’ll think so too when we’re done.
Before I tell her story I want to tell you a little bit about the book of Esther. The book of Esther is a Badventist little book. I like to call it the little book that could because Esther almost didn’t make it into the Bible several times. As I was doing some research I discovered that in Christ’s day there were a number of groups that didn’t accept Esther as part of the Scriptures. The Essenes. They’re the ones who put the scrolls into the caves at Qumran and it’s been great for us because we’ve been able to verify the copies of the Scriptures that we have today because we have these old copies, but the only book not included in the Dead Sea Scrolls is the book of Esther. Then as late as ninety AD, the Jews were still arguing over whether Esther should be included. And the early Christians. I could name patriarch after patriarch who refused to accept Esther as a legitimate book in the Bible. Then we get down to the Protestant era. We owe a lot to Martin Luther as far as our canon of Scripture goes. This is what Martin Luther says about the book of Esther. “I am so hostile to second Maccabees and Esther that I could wish that they did not exist at all, for they Judaize too greatly and have much pagan impropriety.” Now he ends up including her and others did too, so we have Esther as part of the Bible and I’m so glad they did because I really believe this is a powerful little book with a powerful message. I’d like to share that today.
So why was Esther so controversial? Well first of all there’s the issue of God’s name. In the book of Esther, nowhere in that book is the name of God mentioned. Neither is the word prayer, although it’s alluded to when she asked for people to fast for her and she fasts. I think there are even other reasons that make her controversial that cause people like Martin Luther to say there’s much pagan impropriety in the book of Esther.
It all starts in the palace of King Ahasuerus. The king had decided to throw a great feast for all the princes of his kingdom all the way from India to Ethiopia. It’s a huge empire. He knew how to throw a party. It lasted 180 days. Six months. How do you party for six months? I just don’t get it. Some scholars believe that perhaps this was a feast that he threw just before he went out to war with the Greeks. That war did not go very well. Perhaps that should be a lesson to us, if you want to win a war train ahead of time, don’t party the whole time. At the end of the six months, I guess perhaps to celebrate the fact that they had finished partying, they throw another party. This feast is a little bit shorter, a few days and this time it’s just for the people in his city and it’s for everybody in the city. He was kind of a nice king apparently because he invited every single person. It didn’t matter if you are the poorest pauper or the proudest prince. You were invited. And then the queen, Vashti, threw a party for all the ladies. The poorest and the richest, which means that likely at this feast there was one man named Mordecai with the men and a young girl named Hadassah with the women. Kind of ironic.
The Bible describes how amazing this feast was. It says there were white and violet linen hung by fine purple cords from marble pillars. There were couches of gold and silver carefully placed on a mosaic pavement of marble and mother-of-pearl and potpourri, which is kind of a red granite, and precious stones and there was wine in abundance served from gold and silver pitchers and nobody had to drink any more than they wanted to. The Bible says that after the King’s heart was merry with wine after seven days, he ordered his servants to go and fetch queen Vashti, apparently because he wanted to show off her stunning beauty to the men of the city.
Now something you need to understand about Persian kings and their queens. Persian kings usually had two or three different kinds of wives. They had their queen. A royal lady who hopefully would provide an heir who would become the king someday. Then they had their normal wives, just the regular wives that they had. Then they had their concubines. The wives who were also slaves. You really did not want to be a concubine. In fact there was an Egyptian king who refused to give his daughter to one of the Persian kings because he didn’t want his daughter to become a concubine.
Concubines, besides attending to the needs of the King, also were slaves of the queen. Now imagine how well that went, ladies. Imagine if you had to share your husband with somebody who was your slave. How well do you think you would treat her? I think the story of Sarah and Hagar says it all. It was not necessarily a good thing to be a concubine for the king. Especially since normally when the king would have a feast it would start off with his royal wife and his normal wives and as the party got worse and worse and more and more raucous and people started getting drunk he would turn to his real wives and would say, “Okay ladies, bye-bye now. I wouldn’t want to offend your pretty faces. Please leave. Bring in the concubines.” The concubines would come in to sing and dance and entertain the guests. And that I think is why it was so offensive to queen Vashti when the king asked her to come after so many days to show her beauty. It must have seemed that he was treating her like a concubine. And she said, “Oh no you didn’t.” And he said, “Oh yes I did.” And we know what happened. He calls for his counselors to figure out what to do and he finally decides that she should be demoted and I presume that she would lose her royal position which I guess means that she became a concubine and she would never go into the king again.
Well I can imagine that the party was over after that. No one was laughing. I bet the king just stormed out and went back to his room. Maybe one of the eunuchs came out and said, “I think it’s time to go gentlemen. The king is so glad that you came. The party’s over.” And the women’s feast. I’m sure that the ladies stole away quietly after their host was escorted out by the royal guards. A bad ending to a wonderful time.
Some scholars think that he went off to war after that, about four years, and even took one of his normal wives with him, who history knows as a mistress. That’s why the Greeks would know about her. When he comes back to the palace, maybe the atmosphere and the memories associated with the place, he starts to miss Vashti. He calls his wise men together and they come up with a plan. They say gather together all the most beautiful virgins of the land and then choose a queen to take Vashti’s place after that. He thinks that’s a marvelous plan. They write the decree and soon messengers are heading out from city to city to proclaim the news.
There was at this time a man living in the city of Susa, which was the capital where the king lived, and this man’s name was Mordecai. He was the great grandson of a man who had been brought over in the captivity from Babylon. Mordecai was raising his cousin Esther because she was an orphan. The Bible says that she was beautiful both in form and in face, which is nice way of saying that not only was she pretty but she had a really great body.
Now I should pause here and explain a bit about Esther and Mordecai. You need to know that they were likely the descendents of Badventists. Bad Jews. If they were living today they would be called Badventists because these Jews had been given opportunity after opportunity to return to Jerusalem and they had rejected it. This is how the book Patriarchs and Prophets says it. “Many of them remained unimpressable to later influences and refused to leave when they were given a second chance by Darius the first.” So the ancestors, the parents and grandparents of Mordecai and Esther are called unimpressible, which I think of as the Holy Spirit trying to impress them and they’re not listening anymore. These were the kind of homes they were raised in. And yet I should say the same book says that Mordecai and Esther were some of the Jews who feared God, so they had some of a relationship with God, but I’m not sure that they were raised as good Jews.
Well the decree is made and Esther is one of the beautiful maidens who are gathered together and brought to the king’s palace. When she first arrives she makes an immediate impression on the eunuch in charge. The Bible says that Haggai was pleased with her and soon moved her to the best part of the harem and gave her seven maids and assigned special beauty treatments just for her. It seems that Esther was already a shooting star headed straight for a collision with her destiny. Each woman was given 12 months of beauty treatments, six months of soaking in oil of myrrh and six months with makeup and perfumes.
They were getting ready for something special. Special time with the king. This leads us to one of the touchiest parts of the book of Esther. I have to be careful how I say this. What exactly were these women preparing for? Was it a beauty contest where the winner gets a crown and all the other girls clap and give her hugs and go home? I don’t think it was just a beauty contest. The stakes were much higher and the method was less than noble. I’ll read exactly how it says in the Bible and let you use your imagination. “In the evening she would go in to the king and in the morning she would return to the second harem to the custody of Shaskazz, the Kings eunuch who was in charge of the concubines. She would not again go into the king unless the king delighted in her and she was summoned by name.” I think it’s abundantly clear that it wasn’t the beauty contest that we see depicted in the children’s storybooks, but this was Esther’s wedding night. And what a miserable excuse for a wedding night because it wasn’t a time of expressing one’s love and commitment. It was a contest to see which of the many new wives would become the queen. It was a winner take all, losers lose all. Winner becomes a queen, losers become concubines. The winner gets all the royal privileges, the losers become love slaves and slaves to the queen.
So is this what makes Esther a Badventist? Maybe. It may be that she volunteered for this assignment. The women in Persia were not the subjugated class that they are now. In fact, Persian women at that time were some of the most liberated women of all history. They could own their own businesses separate from their husbands. They owned their own property. They could serve in the military. They served as generals. High-ranking officials. There was one that was even a chief of police. So it may be that the women who were selected for the king’s harem came voluntarily. Perhaps for financial reasons. “It might be better. I can afford to live at least, if I end up being a concubine,” or just for that chance to be the queen.
Let me ask you. If your daughter told you that she was going to go to be a part of a contest where she would sleep with President Obama in order to become the first lady and if she lost the contest she would end up becoming a White House intern for the rest of her life without pay, how would you feel about that? You’d be at prayer meeting with everybody praying with you and crying, right? You’d be concerned. You’d consider her a Badventist. And the worst part is she was probably encouraged to do this by Mordecai which would make him a Badventist as well. We don’t know that for sure. The Bible doesn’t say it so we’re not going to assume. Let’s assume that she was taken against her will. Probably the more likely choice. The soldiers come. They knock on the door. They have a chat with Mordecai. He brings out Esther. They take Esther and as she’s walking through the courtyard with the soldiers, Mordecai shouts, “Esther, Esther. Whatever you do don’t give away your heritage.” And for good reason. Apparently Persian Kings usually, almost always, took only Persian wives as their royal wife. If they were from a different country they would end up becoming concubines, which Esther was trying to avoid at all costs.
Now we come to the part that I think makes Esther the Badventist. Do you realize what we just said? What Mordecai just said. He asked her to hide her Jewishness. I’d never even thought about that. I just thought that meant that she didn’t tell anybody. She didn’t tell anybody that she was a Jew. How do you think Daniel and his three friends would have fared if they had hid their Jewishness? Could they have done it by having only vegetables to eat and water to drink? Certainly not. According to ancient texts, vast amounts of wine and meat were provided to the harems. And we can imagine what kinds of meats.
What about the Sabbath? Well I suppose she had seven maids so it should be okay, except that we forget that the fourth commandment also includes servants. I understand sitting in a bath of oil all day on Sabbath, that’s relaxing. After she got married though, you should know that Persian queens were not pampered ladies of the court. They were more like CEOs. We know that Esther hid her Jewishness after she became queen and while she was trying to hide her Jewishness she would’ve been running businesses, ordering supplies for our household, managing property, traveling and possibly running cities. It would have been pretty hard for her to do all this business and hide the fact that she was keeping the Sabbath.
Some people would say, and I’ve heard this actually, “Well, God must have performed a miracle.” Of course God performed a miracle so that she was able to do all these things. She didn’t have to eat food offered to idols. She didn’t have to eat unclean meats. She was able to keep the Sabbath because God worked it out so that she was able to do all that. What an amazing miracle. I would sure like to read that in the Bible. It’s just not there, and don’t you think it would be? If God had performed such an amazing miracle wouldn’t He have included it. It’s no wonder this book scandalized so many rabbis and early Christian fathers. How could God work with someone as scandalous as Esther? But that is what is so awesome about this book, is that God did indeed work through Esther. God uses Badventists.
So Esther’s time to come to the king arrives and we don’t know for sure but according to the tradition of the time she might have gone into his room and waited and then he would have come and sat down next to her on the couch and they would have shared two halves of a loaf of bread that had been cut with a sword and then they would have shared some wine together before they consummated their marriage. The Bible says that the king loved Esther more than all the women and she found favor and kindness with him more than all the virgins so that he set the royal crown on her head and made her queen instead of Vashti.
Well you know how the rest of the story goes. Esther becomes queen. She and Mordecai uncover a plot to kill the king and then Haman is promoted. Haman starts to hate Mordecai because he refuses to bow to him. Haman decides to get revenge and he convinces the king to kill all the Jews, and it goes on and on and on. Finally the decree is sent out to all the land and Mordecai and the Jews begin to mourn in sackcloth and ashes throughout the city.
Esther, unaware of the decree, is told that Mordecai is wailing and wearing sackcloth right by the king’s gate. So she sends her messengers to find out what’s going on. She probably thinks one of his relatives has died. She does it in a subtle way, perhaps to a hide her identity. She has her servants offer him some clothes. “Sir, why are you doing this? Here’s some nice clothes for you.” He says no and he refuses them. The servants come back and so she sends them back again to ask him why he refused, and he tells her about the decree that all the Jews would be killed on a certain day and he sends the copy of the decree with the messenger and he asks her to go to before the king on behalf of the people.
Now Esther is scared. She reminds her uncle that anyone who goes before the king uninvited will be killed unless the king holds out the royal scepter. Then she mentions that she hasn’t been called in to him for 30 days which tells me that perhaps their relationship is on the rocks a bit. In fact you can look earlier in Esther and it says that the king had called for a second round of virgins. Perhaps he was already looking for somebody else and she was worried. It’s a dangerous thing to disobey the king. Mordecai responds with this message. “If you remain silent at this time, relief and deliverance will arise for the Jews from another place and you and your father’s house will perish and who knows whether you have not attained royalty for such a time as this.” So Esther replies by telling Mordecai to have all the Jews do a fast from food and water for three days and that she and her maidens will do the same and she ends her message with her immortal statement of faith. “And thus I will go in to the king, which is not according to the law, and if I perish, I perish.” Suddenly we begin to realize what a huge step this was. This wasn’t a woman, necessarily, of great faith who was serving God regardless of the cost, who was choosing now to go before the king. This was someone who had been hiding her faith, hiding who she was, who was stepping out of the closet and saying, “That’s it. I’m taking my stand with my people. I’m taking a stand for what is right and if I perish, I perish.”
I think God is calling Badventists to do the same. It’s time to step out of the closet. It’s time to stop hiding who you are. It’s time to step forward and be the Christian God that wants you to be.
I can imagine the busy court of the king. He is sitting in the center of his astonishing audience hall. He had one in another city and one in Susa. This building was apparently about four times the size of the White House. A little bit taller except that it didn’t have six stories like the White House. This audience hall was just one massive open room with massive, huge pillars 78 feet tall. It must’ve echoed in there. He’s sitting on his throne right there in the center. The counselors and eunuchs and general’s and satraps all holding audience, coming and going and their voices and footsteps solemnly echoing in that massive hall.
Suddenly there’s a disturbance at the end of the chamber. The king and his court turn and they freeze. There, standing in the distant shadows, because it’s a very large place, is the figure of a woman. She’s standing all alone except for the guards who stand in front of her with their swords drawn and ready. “It’s Esther,” someone gasps. Everyone looks to see the kings face. They’re relieved to see it soften and then without much fanfare the king just raises his scepter and smiles. The place is so big it takes her quite awhile to step forward to the throne and then she bows and as she steps up to touch the scepter, the courtiers notice that her face is pale and strained. Then the king, with concern, says, “What is troubling you Queen Esther, and what is your request? Even to half of the kingdom it shall be given to you.” Esther simply requests that the King and Haman come to a banquet that she has prepared for them.
Now the king is no dummy. He knows this is not her real request. His face shows that he is carefully considering what it all might mean. Whatever it is it must be very serious considering the risks she took, and whatever it is he’s determined to give his brave beauty the request that she asks.
So Esther has this feast with Haman and the king and Haman is very proud to be there with just the king and the queen. The king finally says, “Esther, make your request. What is it?” She says, “Well, what I would like is another banquet with you and Haman.” “Okay, we’ll do that.”
So the king and Haman depart and as Haman is leaving he runs into Mordecai who refuses to bow once again, and he’s furious, and he goes home to his family and they make a plan in which he can have Mordecai hung a bit earlier than the deadline. So he goes into the king early in the morning to make his request, and as he arrives the king calls him in and he says, “Haman, tell me what shall be done for the man whom the king delights to honor?” Of course Haman knew he was talking about himself and he told him what he ought to do. Soon Haman found himself taking Mordecai on a horse and Mordecai is dressed in kingly robes and Haman is shouting, “Thus shall it be done to the man whom the king delights to honor.” After the day of embarrassment he rushes home. He changes. He goes back to the palace for the banquet and at the end of the feast the king finally says, “Okay Esther, what is your request?”
She begins to explain. She says, “I would only ask for my life and the lives of my people, because there is someone who’s trying to destroy us.” And the king is puzzled and he says, “Who would do such a thing?”, and pointing her finger at Haman she cries, “A full enemy is this wicked Haman.” The king storms out of the room. Haman realizes that he is dead and he throws himself at her feet, and apparently as he throws himself at her it looks like he’s throwing himself on top of her and the king arrives about that time and Haman soon finds himself being hung from the gallows that were intended for Mordecai.
So God used a Badventist to save her people. And I might add that the people that she saved were all Badventists along with her. They were the people who refuse to go back to Jerusalem.
Sitting here today is someone who’s a Badventist. Or maybe you’re from a different denomination who’s visiting. You might be a bad Methodist or a bad Baptist. Whatever you are, you’re on the fringes of Christianity. God is calling you and He’s saying, “You have been called for such a time as this. I have a plan for you.”
We’re living in a time that is much like Esther’s day. Soon I believe God’s people are going to face the greatest dangers they’ve ever faced. It’s time to take our stand. It’s time to come out of the closet. It’s time to stop being halfway Christians and to say, “If I perish, I perish.”
One of my professors at seminary told me a story of when he was a pastor, He had a member who apparently was a Badventist. This was a lady who didn’t dress quite right. She didn’t hang out with the right people. She was on the fringe. Apparently she wasn’t always treated the best. Perhaps she wasn’t mistreated but she wasn’t included. Then tragically this lady died. He tells how he went as a pastor to visit her home. When he arrived at her home, her house was filled with some very rough looking characters. They were all wearing colors and they weren’t the same colors. He realized that this lady had befriended, in her kind of rough part of the neighborhood, gang members. He was wondering if a fight would break out but everybody was cool, nobody did anyhing. He heard stories that told him that this woman had been ministering to and treating these gang members with love. Then on the day of her funeral the church was packed with standing room only and a lot of them were gang members. He tells how he realized that this woman was one of their greatest assets and he didn’t even know it. Here she was on the fringes but it was the very fact that she lived on the fringes that put her more in contact with the people, the secular people, than those who kind of hung out with Christians all time. Perhaps she had been called for such a time as this.
You know, the truth is I think that most of us are Badventists in our own special way. Some of us just hide it better than others. I don’t think anybody could stand up and say, “Yes I keep God‘s law perfectly. I live up to the standards perfectly.”
God is calling each one of us for such a time as this and I hope you’ll accept that challenge. I hope that you’ll stand, and I want to stand with you today and just say, “Lord, I want to do what You want me to do. I want to take my stand with God’s people and if I perish, I perish.”
Hymn of Praise: #315, O For a Closer Walk Scripture: Esther 4:13-14 Hymn of Response: #308, Wholly Thine Sermon Notes: Sermon notes available as PDF
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McDonald Road Sermon transcribed by Steve Foster 7/24/10.