© 2015 Lynn Abbott
He entered this world with a mind of his own… just a year and a half after his grandfather died and 15 months after his brother was stillborn.
I adored him from the start. Perhaps, I loved him more because of my loss. I dunno.
But love that child, I did. He’s grown now, but I still clearly remember those early years.
Actually, such love caught me off guard. I’m not a baby person. Indeed, I had never really taken much interest in other people’s babies.
But this one was different. I thought him the most wonderful being in all the world.
I’m told that most of us feel that way about our off-spring. Somehow, those initially helpless, brawling beings capture our hearts. And we do practically anything for them.
That’s the way it is.
We’d go without just to feed them. We’d do without to make their dreams come true.
We give up personal time and financial security to encourage them in their pursuits. We sacrifice for them.
We suffer with them, and sometimes even because of them.
They transform our lives forever. We love them just because we do. Our fortunes are connected because we are family.
Recently, a dear friend of mine agonized over the heartbreak of her child. And I had no difficulty empathizing. How many times I have hurt for my son!
I remember one instance in particular. In his mid-elementary school years, he encountered a bully. For whatever reason, the bully had taken a dislike to my much loved and kindly boy. And of course, my son told me all about it before one evening’s bedtime prayers.
Almost immediately, my husband and I spoke with the bullying child’s parents, and all agreed that the two boys should not play together in order to avoid further conflict.
It was an awkward conversation and it produced, at the very least, some interesting neighborhood dynamics. But it was all necessary for our son’s safety and well-being.
Yes, what concerned our son impacted us as well. That’s what it means to be family.
That’s genuine love.
When you truly love, you don’t resent the sacrifices. You don’t even stop to consider the pain or inconvenience it might cause you personally.
But you do whatever is necessary for your child and for one another.
You don’t even give it a second thought because this kind of love readily sacrifices for the beloved.
As I pondered my friend’s and my own concern for our sons, I thought of Abba’s love for you and me. Christ, of course, radically redefined our view of the Father in the Sermon on the Mount.
In Matthew 7:9, He told his followers, “Which of you, if his son asks for bread, will give him a stone? Or if he asks for a fish, will give him a snake?”
He also said that although we are far from perfect, we give good to our children. It therefore follows that since our heavenly Father is perfect, His perfect love and grace give so much more than we ever could (Matthew 7:11).
It was a radical concept.
I think perhaps you and I miss the extraordinary in Christ’s words because our New Testament faith is grounded in grace. I know I sometimes take grace for granted. And thus, while I have direct access to my heavenly Father, I often fail to run to Him.
Sadly enough, I frequently miss “grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16) simply because I count on that same grace to forgive my attempts to manage things on my own.
However, for an Old Testament Jew, Christ’s words would have been nearly incomprehensible. Shocking, even. To suggest such familial closeness to Yahweh would have been unthinkable for a devout Jew.
God is holy and therefore, the rabbis taught that He was inapproachable by imperfect humanity. Indeed, only the high priest could enter the Temple’s Holy of Holies–the place where God’s glory rested, the visible sign of God’s presence.
Each year, the high priest entered that place with great reverence that required ceremonial cleansing before he could offer sacrifice.
The Holy Sovereign of all creation was both feared and worshiped.
Yet, in the Old Testament, glimmers of God’s grace and love are also consistently found; often, in moments when God seems most absent or inapproachable, He lovingly protects His people.
We find one such example in the book of Esther.
Israel had been conquered by Persia. They had again drifted from God, and the result was the Persian invasion and Jewish captivity.
Times were tough if you were a Jew. However, a beautiful young Jewess named Esther would advance in fame and fortune. Opportunity knocked when King Xerxes’ queen died.
Since there was no royal match.com, Xerxes decided to host a beauty pageant. And Esther’s guardian, Mordecai, seized the chance to secure a better future for his niece.
Esther entered the pageant, and her incredible beauty won the King’s favor.
Thus, in this Biblical Cinderella-like story, a young Jewess married the powerful king of the Persian Empire. And in some sense like Cinderella, Esther remained a bit of a mystery. No one at court knew she was a Jew.
Because he wished to encourage Esther’s success, Mordecai believed it best to withhold that information. After all, revelation of her ethnicity might hold her back. Esther’s future looked spectacular.
But all was not well in Persia. Jealousy and pride fueled court intrigue. Two disgruntled officers plotted to assassinate King Xerxes.
Fortunately, Mordecai overheard the men scheming at the gate, and immediately let Esther know. The young queen, in turn, warned her husband; in addition, she gave credit to Mordecai for discovering the plot.
An investigation ensued, and the traitors were duly hanged. Mordecai had saved the King’s life, and preserved Esther’s prominent position.
Not surprisingly, Mordecai later turned to Esther in his own hour of need. Scripture tells us that a noble named Haman had taken a dislike to Mordecai.
The problem was simple. Because of his Jewish faith, Mordecai had refused to bow to Haman.
Haman was humiliated and enraged. And having discovered that Mordecai was a Jew, Haman was not satisfied with punishing Mordecai alone. Haman devised a plan to eliminate the Jews.
In desperation, Mordecai turned to Esther. He asked that she intercede on Israel’s behalf.
But there was a problem. Persian law required that Esther wait for the King’s invitation. To enter her husband’s royal chambers uninvited was to risk the his wrath and certain death.
If the King extended his gold scepter when she entered, she would be safe. Yet, although she was his queen, Esther questioned the extent of his devotion. Would he receive her?
To seek out the king was a huge gamble. He was to be reverenced and feared.
Mordecai’s response? He gave Esther perspective: “Do not think that because you are in the king’s house you alone of all the Jews will escape…who knows but that you have come to royal position for such a time as this?” (Esther 4:13-14).
What concerned Mordecai ultimately impacted Esther as well. And Mordecai reminded her that she was also uniquely placed. Her influence could make a difference.
For this reason, despite any immediate personal peril, she identified with and stood for her people.
When she entered the throne room, the king granted his beloved bride unprecedented grace. He certainly loved her; perhaps, he loved her all the more because of his previous loss. I can’t say.
I do know, though, that the remainder of the book outlines the course of Xerxes’ love and loyalty, and of the resulting justice.
I imagine that it was extremely awkward when Esther finally confronted Haman in the presence of the king. Nevertheless, after much courtly intrigue, the bully Haman was punished and the Israeli people saved.
Despite the fact that God is never mentioned by name in the book of Esther, I see many spiritual truths in Esther’s history. In fact, Hebrews can certainly find comfort in the book’s stunning account of God’s providential care.
I certainly do.
In fact, in the book of Esther, I also see a number of spiritual parallels…
Abba is the most powerful of all sovereigns. Yet, we are His beloved. Where others might fear to tread, we find grace. When enemies threaten or when circumstances overwhelm, you and I have free access to the throne room.
Just as my son can turn to me and confide his fears, so I can run into Abba’s court at any time. As His beloved, I am always welcome. He loves and extends grace. Therefore, no business is more important; no sacrifice too great.
I also see in Esther another parallel: Christ, my intercessor or high priest, fully identifies with me. What concerns you and me impacts Him. Even though, Christ was and is the Father’s “Beloved Son” with whom the Father is pleased, Christ calls imperfect believers His own. And no sacrifice is too great to secure our safety.
The enemy bullies and seeks to destroy, but Christ entered the Holy of Holies to secure our lives: Christ, in fact, continues to seek favor, grace and forgiveness on our behalf.
When He took human form, He identified fully with us. Our pain became His. He suffered with us. In fact, He suffered because of us. Because He loves, that’s just the way it is.
For this reason, not only did He teach us that we can run to the Father freely to find grace from in our time of need (Matthew 7:7; Hebrews 4:16), but He also encouraged us to give to one another, (Matthew 7:11).
Or as Philippians 2:4 says, “Each of you should look not only to your own interests, but also to the interests of others. Your attitude should be the same as that of Christ Jesus…”
After all, in Him, we are family. And that’s just what family does…
Yet, when this occurs, I remember that you and I are most like Christ when we sacrifice our own safety, when we forgo our self-protective instincts and choose to extend grace…running in love into Abba’s throne room with our petitions…prayers for ourselves, our brothers and sisters, and even our enemies.
Who knows? When we face personal crisis or success, we perhaps find ourselves in that place for “such a time as this.” It’s all a matter of perspective.
Of this one thing, I am thoroughly convinced: Abba most loves the sound of His Beloved’s footsteps in the great hall of grace. Certainly, He not only extends His scepter, but He also throws His arms around His cherished child.
And no matter what threatens us, we are safe in His arms of love.
“For you did not receive a spirit that makes you a slave again to fear, but you received the Spirit of sonship. And by him we cry, “Abba, Father.” ~Romans 8:15
“Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of compassion and the God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our troubles, so that we can comfort those in any trouble with the comfort we ourselves have received from God,”~2 Corinthians 1:3, 4