If I think about the most extravagant place I’ve ever seen, it would have to be the Palace of Versailles.
From the marble courtyard, the enormous sparking chandeliers, royal jewels set in glass cases, the vast beauty of the gardens, the palace of Versailles emanates prestige and power, because every detail of this former French royal residence was built for the intended purpose of glorifying the king.
Displays of a king’s renown are common throughout history. The opening pages of the book of Esther are no different.
The scene is set during a six month feast, complete with golden cups, magnificent surroundings, and lavish food (and drink), for the sole purpose of showcasing the king’s extravagant wealth, prosperity and greatness. Sounds like it would’ve been a party that spared no expense, making headlines across all of Persia.
For the grand finale, he sought to display the last distinguishing feature of his fame, the crown jewel, the beauty of his queen.
Summoned to present herself before the king, she shrugs off his command, refusing to go. In his drunken rage, the king calls for his advisors who devise a plan to set the record straight about who holds the power and they oust the queen from her position.
Displaying Our Greatness
The first chapter of Esther launches us into a setting of pomp and pride where an insecure king celebrates his wealth and greatness with the elites of society. Though every good and perfect gift comes from above, the king wasn’t acknowledging the hand of the Lord in his prosperity, he was satisfying his own pride, his own strength, his own accomplishments.
We find that this can be true for us too.
Sometimes we find ourselves being tempted to brag about the impressiveness of our children's accomplishments, boast on our effective parenting techniques, or intentionally hint about the forward advancement of our career. We use them as a pat on the back, and if we're honest, sometimes to puff up our feathers to make us look good.
While our possessions, family and homes are things we can be so grateful for, they are not our identity, nor our source of our significance.
The Worldly Greatness of Wealth
As we walked the halls of the grand Palace of Versailles, my son gazed up, from inside his baby carrier, at the elaborate frescoes painted on the ceiling. My daughter, at three years old, enthralled with the ornate jewellery protected behind glass cases, looked up at me and asked if she could try on, the very bedazzled, royal crown.
We may not be celebrities or professional athletes. Our net-worth likely isn't in the millions. Yet the lure of wealth and possessions doesn't escape any of us; the temptation of one-upping our neighbour, owning the newest tech, or acquiring more for our collection, pulls us into jealousy and envy.
When it comes to wealth, scripture admonishes us:
“As for the rich in this present age, charge them not to be haughty, nor to set their hopes on the uncertainty of riches, but on God, who richly provides us with everything to enjoy. They are to do good, to be rich in good works, to be generous and ready to share, thus storing up treasure for themselves as a good foundation for the future, so that they may take hold of that which is truly life”
(1 Tim 6:17-19).
Shifting our focus away from trusting in wealth, and the security it gives us, toward hoping in Christ and what he accomplished for us in our weakness. The world tells us strength and power come from within ourselves, but the gospel points us in a completely different direction; one we're not accustomed to, and doesn't come naturally.
Finding True Greatness in Humility
It all goes back to the beginning, where every piece of God's creation was pronounced good. He looked at all he made and found it pleasing and acceptable. However, the turning of human hearts to desire their own greatness, was the pitfall where it began. We know that hope was not lost, because with the punishment came a promise-a rescuer who would come to make the world right again.
The greatest person to have ever lived wasn't born in a royal palace or pampered with servants. The rescue of his people wasn't achieved by his quick wit, military intelligence, or visible wealth; it was born out of surrender, sacrifice and obedience to the Father.
The humility and contentment of our Lord Jesus was demonstrated as he touched infectious lepers, listened to the distant call of a blind man, had compassion on an adulterous woman and, "though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped but emptied himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form, he humbled himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross" (Phil 2:6-11).
He taught with compassion and authority, leading his disciples to places and situations they never expected. Even as they argued with each other about who among them was the greatest, Jesus taught them, "whoever would be great among you must be your servant, and whoever would be first among you must be your slave, even as the Son of Man came not to be served but to serve, and to give his life as a ransom for many" (Matt 20:26-28).
To pursue serving others rather than ourselves. Fixing our eyes not on what is seen but on what is unseen. These are daily lessons we encounter as the world around us tells us everything opposite. To enjoy the gifts we've been given, but not allow them to be the measure of greatness, nor the defining feature.
So, as the temptation of the world seek to lure us in and our flesh longs to be made great, we look to the one who modelled greatness through humility. We look on the good gifts he has given us, thanking and praising him.