I don’t think I have ever received so many letters and emails about a single event. It was a ‘joyous celebration’. It was a time of ‘happiness and joy, gladness and honour’. We were celebrating the 150th anniversary of St Paul’s Onslow Square and the completion of three years of renovating the church and re-opening for worship. It was a time of honouring the many heroes of the faith, especially the former vicars such as John Collins and Sandy Millar (who had stopped the church being sold as a block of flats in 1981). St Paul’s had opened for worship just before Christmas 1860. On 16 November 2010, 1600 people filled the building. It was probably fuller than it had ever been in its history. It was a time of great celebration.
Apart from anything else, many people have encountered Jesus Christ in that building – and hopefully many more will do so in the future. There is a celebration in heaven every time one person turns to Christ. We read in Luke 15 how, when the prodigal son returned to the father, the father said, ‘Let’s have a feast and celebrate’ (Luke 15:23).
In a few days’ time, we will be celebrating Christmas – which C.S. Lewis described as ‘the central event in the history of the earth – the very thing the whole story has been about’.
In our Old Testament passage for today, we read that ‘the city of Susa held a joyous celebration. For the Jews it was a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honour. In every province and in every city, wherever the edict of the king went, there was joy and gladness among the Jews, with feasting and celebrating’ (Esther 8:15–17).
What were they celebrating? What should we celebrate now? How should we celebrate?
Celebrating answered prayerPsalm 142:1–7
For many years as I’ve read this psalm I have written down a list of ‘troubles’ and situations for which I am crying out to God for mercy and help. As I look back, it is amazing to see the way in which he has answered these prayers.
The context of this psalm is 1 Samuel 22:1–2. David is imprisoned in a cave and fearing for his life. He cries out loudly to God, spelling out his troubles and pleading for mercy (Psalm 142:1– 2, MSG). He prays:
‘Get me out of this dungeon
so I can thank you in public.
Your people will form a circle around me
and you’ll bring me showers of blessing!’ (v. 7, MSG).
David longs to be able to praise God for answering his prayers and rescuing him. He promises that if he is rescued he will turn it back to worship, and gather others together to celebrate God’s goodness.
It is important to remember to celebrate answered prayers – to praise God’s name and celebrate his goodness.
Lord, I want to praise your name for answering my prayers. Thank you for your goodness to me. Thank you that you have been my refuge. Thank you that you have listened to my cry when I have been in desperate need. Thank you that you have rescued me from those who pursued me and were too strong for me.
Lord, again this year I cry out to you …
Celebrating before the throne in heavenRevelation 4:1–11
We are opening a 24/7 prayer room in our church. There will be worship and prayer going on twenty-four hours a day, seven days a week: ‘night and day, never taking a break’ (v.8, MSG).
We do not need to wait until we get to heaven to experience ‘heavenly’ worship. This worship is going on right now 24/7 in heaven. In this passage we get a glimpse of what it looks like. Every time we worship we join in with the worship of heaven.
In this chapter, John’s eyes turn from the church on earth to the church in heaven. John looks through an open door in heaven (v.1). We accompany John as he is invited to ‘Ascend and enter. I’ll show you what happens next’ (v.1, MSG).
What follows next is an extraordinary vision of the greatness and glory of God. God is at the centre of the universe, surrounded here by images of who he is and what he has done. The ‘throne’ suggests the highest authority, the ‘rainbow’ is the rainbow of promise, the ‘lightning, rumblings and peals of thunder’ point to the power of God and the ‘sea of glass, clear as crystal’ suggests peace and security (vv.2–6).
‘Seven fire-blazing torches fronted the throne (these are the Sevenfold Spirit of God)’ (v.6, MSG). There is one Holy Spirit but the fire-blazing torches represent all the different ways in which he expresses himself and we experience his fullness in our lives.
Around the throne are twenty-four elders seated on thrones, probably representing the twelve tribes of the Old Testament and the twelve apostles of the New Testament. This is the completed and perfect church of Jesus Christ. All of us are included.
As those around the throne contemplate the wonder of God the natural response is to turn to worship – and this is the first thing that John finds going on in heaven. There are five worship songs in the next two chapters.
‘Day and night they never stop saying: “Holy, holy, holy is the Lord God Almighty, who was, and is, and is to come” ’ (v.8). (Those of us who find repetition hard are going to have to get used to a lot of it!)
‘Whenever the living creatures give glory, honour and thanks to him who sits on the throne and who lives forever and ever, the twenty-four elders fall down before him who sits on the throne, and worship him who lives forever and ever. They lay their crowns before the throne and say:
“You are worthy, our Lord and God,
to receive glory and honour and power,
for you created all things,
and by your will they were created
and have their being.” ’ (vv.9–11)
The church, the angels and all created things bow down and worship God. The eternal Father sits on the throne surrounded by the worshipping community.
One day we will join the church triumphant, the great multitude that no one will be able to count, drawn from every nation, tribe, people and language, and we will stand with them before God’s throne.
The King of the universe will give us refuge in the shelter of his throne. We will see him and worship him day and night. The Lamb turned Shepherd will lead us with the rest of his sheep to fountains of living water. We will satisfy our thirst for ever at his eternal springs.
Lord, thank you that we don’t have to wait until the new heaven and the new earth to worship you. Thank you that we can have a foretaste of worship now. Help us to worship you today and every day for you are worthy, our Lord and our God, to receive glory, honour and power.
Celebrating the great acts of GodEsther 6:1–8:17
Sometimes as we look at the world it seems that evil is triumphing. Good people are suffering and even being persecuted for their faith. Will things ever be put right?
Yes they will. God has come to earth in the person of his son, Jesus (the incarnation which we celebrate at Christmas). He has defeated evil through the cross and resurrection (which we celebrate at Easter). The final victory will take place when Jesus comes again. In the meantime he has given us the Holy Spirit so that we can experience a foretaste of that final victory right now (this we celebrate at Pentecost).
God was preparing his people for these great events. In the book of Esther we see a prefiguring and a picture of what was to come in Jesus.
In a dramatic turn around, Haman’s plot fails. Mordecai ‘the Jew’ is honoured. Judgment falls on the evil and arrogant Haman. Esther is used by God to save the people.
This is the origin of the great Jewish celebration of Purim. The providential hand of God rescued his people from ‘destruction and slaughter and annihilation’ (7:4).
Events began to turn when ‘the king could not sleep; so he ordered the book of the chronicles – the record of his reign – to be brought in and read to him’ (6:1). He was reminded of the heroic loyalty of Mordecai (v.2).
Have you ever achieved something for which other people have taken the credit? Haman tried to take the honour that belonged to Mordecai. Mordecai’s response is a model of humility and trust in God. Other people may not see what you have done but God sees and he will reward you.
Instead of being hanged, Mordecai receives honour and recognition. The king issues an edict granting the Jews in every city ‘the right to assemble and protect themselves’ (8:11).
The city of Susa held a ‘joyous celebration’ (8:15). It was ‘a time of happiness and joy, gladness and honour’ (v.16) ‘with feasting and celebrating’ (v.17).
‘Many people of other nationalities became Jews because fear of the Jews had seized them’ (v.17). This is the earliest reference to many non-Hebrews putting their faith in the Lord. There had been cases of individuals coming to faith (for example Ruth and Uriah the Hittite), but nowhere before had there been a mass movement like this.
When the Jewish festival of Purim is celebrated, the book of Esther is read. It is now one of the three great Jewish celebrations.
The church also has three great celebratory festivals: Christmas, Easter and Pentecost. These should be joyous celebrations of happiness, gladness, honour and feasting – celebrating the great acts of God in history: the incarnation, the resurrection of Jesus who died for us on the cross, and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit.
Lord, thank you that you have given us so much to celebrate. Thank you that as you delivered your people from the hand of Haman (6:1–8:14), so you have delivered us through Jesus Christ. Thank you for the birth, death and resurrection of Jesus and the outpouring of the Holy Spirit. May we celebrate these great events daily in our hearts as well as annually in our festivals.
‘Now Haman thought to himself, “Who is there that the king would like to honour rather than me?” ’
Thinking too much of oneself is not a good idea!