Friday, March 25, 2016

Purim and Easter

It isn't often that my favorite Jewish festival, Purim, intersects with the most important Christian holiday, Easter.  It makes me wonder how these two events are connected and what I can learn by considering them together. 

Purim is the retelling of a great deliverance of God's chosen people from certain genocide under the King Ahasueres and his evil prime minister, Haman. Purim is the most joyful of festivals, with costumes, stories, food, and plenty of adult beverages. But the celebration is only possible because of the faith and obedience of one person who was willing to consider herself nothing in order to save her people from utter destruction. Since the strife between Jacob and Esau, the nation of Israel has been under attack from all sides. More than once the Enemy has sought to destroy the descendants of Jacob, and every time, God has protected them. He has allowed them to be enslaved, dispersed, and judged, but never annihilated. His hand rests on them because He has chosen them for Himself. When Esther went before the king without being summoned, she knew her life hung in the balance. But she went in after fasting and prayer, not just by herself, but with all the Jews in the region. This is what God wants of His people and His children: not to be reckless with life, but to be bold on a foundation of fasting and prayer that His will is done.

When Christians celebrate Easter, they too recall a great deliverance. It is the most joyful of Christian holidays, as it recalls the resurrection of the Messiah, Christ the Lord, called Jesus. Like Esther's story, it begins with a great betrayal that threatens more than the person directly involved. Since the Garden of Eden, Satan has tried to annihilate anyone who calls upon the Father as Lord. God has made Himself known throughout the ages so that hope and future rests with those who seek Him. In Jesus, however, God revealed His most complete deliverance. Jesus did not go to the cross under his human power; he went undergirded with prayer. This time, however, he did not have the prayers of all the Jews with him. His disciples ran in terror, and many who had cheered his entrance into Jerusalem just a few days before were now clamoring for his death. This, too, is a picture for us. When we are alone, God hears our prayers and sustains us.

Esther could not have imagined how her people could be redeemed. An edict of the king could not be rescinded. The call had gone out to massacre all the Jews, and even the king was powerless to change it. God, however, is greater than kings. He uses the intelligence and creativity of the faithful to make a way when there seems to be no way. In this case, Mordecai, Esther's cousin, and the second in command after Haman's defeat, was given permission to write a new edict. It would not cancel the original, but it allowed the Jews to arm themselves and avenge any wrong done to them. The net result? The Jews survived, Haman's plot was rebuffed, and Jews around the world celebrate that day. 

Jesus did not avoid death. In fact, his crucifixion ensured that not only would he die, but die in the most horrific manner invented by evil men. Not only that, but the nature of humanity, with all its evil intent, selfishness, hate, and harm to others weighed down his shoulders. As he hung, nailed to the rough wood of the cross, he bore all the judgement of a holy God for all people in all of time. It is no wonder his death took only three hours instead of the usual days. 

How could such a thing be overcome? There is no restoration after death for humans. That edict stands forever. Dead mean gone. But, God knew in advance and prepared. He spoke through the prophets of old of a resurrection from the dead that provided for the redemption of all who call on His name. The Jews of Esther's day had two days to avenge Haman's plot. Jesus spent only two days in that tomb and on the third day, He rolled away the barricade and emerged, having avenged Satan's determination to rise above God by destroying those who follow Him. When Jesus appeared to Mary, and then to those on the Emmaus road, and to the disciples, and finally to hundreds of people, the news spread: celebrate, for there is redemption and hope and future, not just for today, but for all eternity.

It never ceases to amaze me that the parallels of Jewish holy days and festivals to Christian life is so complete. Only God. 

The story of Esther can be found here.  The Resurrection account is in all four gospels of the New Testament, most expansively in John.