TODAY’S READING: Esther 1–5
Ahasuerus (Xerxes) ironically means “mighty man.” The irony is that he was not half as mighty as his father (Darius the Great), nor could he control his wife or counselors. Ahasuerus would famously defeat the Greeks in the battle of Thermopylae in 480 BC, only to lose the war and flee in disgrace. A further irony is that the story does not center on him, nor Haman, nor Mordecai. Nor, astonishingly, does the book mention the name of God—the story revolves around the actions of a woman: Esther.
Esther’s exploits happened in 483 BC between the return of the exiles. At this time, most Jews still lived in the diaspora where the rules differed from those who lived in the land. Where Ezra and Nehemiah attacked intermarriage, Esther was encouraged towards union with the foreign king. Where Jews in Jerusalem could worship openly, Jews in exile faced more hostility. One of the great lessons for Esther is appropriate for missions today: Faith was not designed to thrive or last hidden; it must stand up fearlessly and face the consequences.
Central to a missionary spirit is the refusal to bow to no one but the king (3:2–3). Mordecai would not bow to Haman, and we must not bow to any authority other than King Jesus. Respect is not to be confused with surrender or agreement. We can respect others’ rights to think as they will, but nowhere we are required to affirm that belief nor acquiesce to it. The missionary spirit is the warrior spirit jealous for the glory of God among all peoples, a spirit that is provoked when King Jesus is insulted and His deity denied, a spirit that cannot stand for the name of Christ to be maligned. Syncretism is still idolatry, and we can contextualize respectfully without ever bowing to false religions or their wicked representatives.
When we stand up for Jesus by refusing to bow to idols or ideologies or to compromise with false religions, there is always pushback and consequence, and the palace will not save us from the ramifications. Christianity is antithetical to unending hiding, for we are commissioned to speak up, and if we remain silent, God will bypass us and bring deliverance from another place (4:14). The missionary spirit refuses to bow to any but the King and accepts the blows that follow, saying simply and magnificently: “If I perish, I perish” (v. 16).
The missionary life lived in dispersion among the peoples is not to be a hidden presence that only silently leavens through prayer and presence. The missionary life is to be an unbowed present with power proclamation that volunteers to be used as a means of deliverance no matter the cost. The missionary life is not afraid of death; for perish or not perish, the focus is not on us, but on the God of glory and the saving of souls. The missionary life refuses to make
self-preservation the goal and is not deluded into thinking powerful friends will shield it from gospel consequences. In this sense Mordecai and Esther were astute missionaries in their day—unbowed, unmoved by the possibility of perishing, not just willing but longing to be used as God’s agent of deliverance. If we perish, we perish. It doesn’t matter as long as Jesus is glorified and unreached peoples saved.