Hoisted on their own Petard

In the book of Esther, Haman, right-hand man to King Ahasuerus, despised Mordecai and all the Jews, and sought to destroy them. With the permission of the King, Haman funded and organized a day when all the Jews in the Persian Empire would be put to death (Esther 3:7-11).  Were that not enough, Haman also built a gallows 75 feet tall upon which to hang Mordecai personally.

If you know the story,Queen Esther, also a Jew, intervenes, risks an audience with King, revealing Haman’s plot. She helps her people by allowing them to defend themselves, since the King’s edict could not be revoked; a day that is still celebrated as Purim. To top it off, Haman threw himself at Esther begging for mercy, and when King Ahasuerus saw it, he had Haman hanged on the very gallows he had prepared for Mordecai.

Talk about ironic justice.

This is what it means to be “hoisted by your own petard,” to be undone by your own creation. That phrase, coined by Shakespeare in Hamlet, Act 3, Scene 4.  Here, the characters Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are given letters ordering Hamlet’s execution, but he changed the letters, and they carried their own death summons unknowingly. Hamlet then says, 

“For ’tis the sport to have the engineer hoist with his own petard; 
and ’t shall go hard but I will delve one yard below their mines
And blow them at the moon.” 

To be “hoist by your own petard” quite literally means to be “lifted up by your own bomb.” A petard was a small explosive device that was used to blow doors off their hinges in military raids. (Interestingly, the word petard originally was French, meaning “break wind,” or as we’d say, “a fart” – so there’s that image.)

In His Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught “when you give to the needy, sound no trumpet before you, as the hypocrites do in the synagogues and in the streets, that they may be praised by others. Truly, I say to you, they have received their reward” (Matt 6:2). The reward, the goal of the hypocrites and the self-righteous is to be seen and praised by man, and they do all that they do for the glory of man. That’s why Jesus said they have received their reward. When the praise and glory of man is your goal, it will also be your undoing.

How do hypocrites receive their rewards today? We are quick to cut others down to make ourselves look good. We put on a fine show for other to see, masking the inward insecurities and sinful desires. We compare ourselves with others, and assure ourselves that our self-righteousness is sufficient.

But what happens when the standards change? Those things that gain the attention and admiration of the world around you are always changing. The behavior that once brought your the laud and approval of others is one social shift away from bringing you cancelation and derision.  Politicians who were heralded by the press are now pariahs, excoriated though they only do what they’ve always done. If you will say, do, and be whatever the culture demands just to gain fame, be warned, that will be the very thing that brings you infamy.

Later in the gospel of Matthew, Jesus told his disciples, “If anyone would come after me, let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me.  For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it” (Matt 16:24–25). Haman built the gallows to bring his enemies down, and it led to his own demise. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern were killed by the very letters they carried.  Living your best life now will only bring you the worst through eternity.  Jesus calls his disciples to lay down their own lives, taking up the cross, and following Him. It is only when we lose our lives, laying down our selfish, self-centered, and self-seeking, seeking first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness that we actually find life in Christ.

Guilt is Not A Fruit of the Spirit

With my whole heart I seek you; let me not wander from your commandments!
I have stored up your word in my heart, that I might not sin against you.
(Psalm 119:10–11)

“The road to godliness is one of discipline, and discipline doesn’t come naturally to most.”
Bill Hull, Choose the Life

One of the great goals of the Christian life is that we are to be “conformed to the image of God’s Son” (Rom 8:29), that we would “in all things grow up into him who is the Head, that is, Christ. From him the whole body, joined and held together by every supporting ligament, grows and builds itself up in love, as each part does its work” (Eph 4:15), to “grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ” 2 Peter 3:18.  This growth in the likeness of Christ is only possible by the inward working power of God’s Holy Spirit, but the Spirit uses and supplies many spiritual graces, helps for our life of faith and maturity in Christ.

These graces, or Spiritual Disciplines, are vast.  We have the opportunity to come together as a congregation for worship and prayer. We have the signs of grace in the sacraments to aid us in our walk with the Lord. We are all literate people, and have the advantage of mass-produced copies of God’s word: every home has multiple copies of the Bible, and now you can have the Scriptures on your Smart-Phone, tablet, and mp3 player. There are endless opportunities for service, prayer, giving.  All of these are gifts given from God as disciplines intended to help you mature in your faith and understanding, as you grow in love for God and one another, and are transformed in the likeness of Christ.

The road to godliness is one of discipline, using the means of grace that have been given for our growth and strength.  We are to daily take up our cross, to die unto ourselves and to live unto Christ. The problem is, like diet and exercise, for most of us, discipline does not come naturally.  We want to be like Christ, and we love the idea of worshipping regularly, of reading the Bible daily, of serving more readily. But when it comes to actually doing it, the demands of work and family come crashing in. I’d go and visit my neighbor, but I don’t know what to say, and my favorite TV show is about to come on, so maybe tomorrow…

We have good intentions when it comes to Spiritual Discipline, but the implementation is difficult.  Add to that the fact that our enemy doesn’t want you to be disciplined and to grow in grace.  Satan would rather have you “spiritually soft” and undisciplined, stewing in the regrets of unfulfilled commitments, struggling with the doubts of despairs of an undisciplined heart and mind.

Friends, the purpose of taking on Spiritual Disciplines like daily reading scripture, prayer, fasting, service, etc, is not to make you feel guilty about the times when you neglect the spiritual disciplines.  The purpose is to make you more like Christ, to lead you away from reliance upon yourself – your own wisdom, strength, and even tenacity – and turn ever more to the perfect wisdom, the perfect strength, the perfect faithfulness of God.

Rest assured, the disciplines are hard work, they take time, and we will all, at one point or another, fail in our efforts to be disciples.  The original 12 disciples often failed in their discipleship. But the point was, they kept following.  When many would be followers of Jesus left Him because of some very difficult teaching, He turned to the 12 and said, “Will you leave me too?” Peter replied, “Where else shall we go to find the words of life?”

If you made a plan to read a chapter of the Bible every day, and then one day wake up and realize it’s been a week since you’ve last read, don’t be overcome by guilt and shame and just give up altogether. Turn to Jesus, admit your lack of discipline, then pick up and read. Seek His grace today. Sit at His feet and learn from His word.

If you want to grow in prayer but struggle to pray, then plead with God would put a passion for prayer in your heart. The desire to pray is a prayer in and of itself. Don’t despair that you cannot go more than two minutes in prayer without your mind wandering. Pray through the wanderings, then come back to prayer in praise.

I will say it again: Guilt is not a fruit of the Spirit. Discouragement is never the product of close communion with Christ.  Do not despair if you are not where you want to be.  Keep putting yourself in the place where growth will occur. Stop dwelling on the things you haven’t done, or you struggle to maintain some self-imposed standard. Rest in the grace of God, trust in His steadfast love, keep running back to the nail-pierced hands of Christ who died for your disbelief and rose for your righteousness.