The agonized athlete was a Slovene ski-jumper by the name of Vinko Bogataj.  It was the World Ski Jumping Championships in 1970.  Midway through his third run, Bogataj felt he was going too fast and tried to slow down.  Unfortunately, he lost his balance and tumbled spectacularly over the side of the ramp.  Bogataj suffered only a concussion, though it looked far worse.

He’s the guy made famous in the opening of ABC’s long-running series, Wide World of Sports.  Some of you are old enough, or pop-cultured enough, to remember it.  As the announcer opened the program each week he would mention “the thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat.”

Vinko Bogataj’s failed jump defined “the agony of defeat” for a generation of sports enthusiasts.

“The thrill of victory… and the agony of defeat” is a phrase that can sometimes define your life as a Christian.  You’re told in the Bible that you have victory over the world (First John 5:4), the flesh (Galatians 5:16), and the devil (James 4:7); over death, sin, and the Law (First Corinthians 15:54-56).

We are the victors; we are victorious.  Yet we often experience the agony of spiritual defeat.

Our text in Esther gives us some principles about preserving victory.  The Jews had just defeated their enemies in Persia.  They were the victors.  In the aftermath of their stunning victory, they did two things to help remain victorious:

They celebrated their victory.

They commemorated their victory.

We can apply those same two strategies in our own lives – both individually as Christians, and corporately as a Church.

Celebrations normally follow victory.  Sticking with the world of sports, we’ve all seen images of celebrations by the fans and fanatics of the winning team.  (It’s sad that they have gotten so violent and destructive).  After a short while, the celebrations die down, and then folks get back to their normal routine.  All that’s left of their victory celebration is a t-shirt or a hat with their team’s logo.

We need to change our way of thinking regarding Christian victory.  It’s not something we achieve once in a while, then celebrate for a short time – only to return to our normal routine with nothing more than a Christian t-shirt or hat.

Spiritual victory, as I understand it, is ours all the time to either believe or ignore.  The apostle Paul wrote,

2 Corinthians 2:14  Now thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ…

The word “triumph” is a reference to a Roman parade called the Triumph.  It was a grand processional that celebrated a general’s total and complete victory over the enemy.

Here is my thought: If I can have victory all the time, and celebration follows victory, then I ought to be celebrating all the time!

The Jews won a stunning and complete victory over their enemies in the Persian Empire.  They celebrated it.  The ways they temporarily celebrated their victory are ways we can permanently celebrate our victory.

A decree had been issued by wicked Haman calling upon Persians to rise-up and annihilate all the Jews.  After a dramatic scene in the palace, where Queen Esther revealed to King Ahasuerus that she was a Jew, a second decree had been issued.  It allowed the Jews to defend themselves and rise-up against any of their Persian oppressors.  After two days of fighting, the Jews were completely victorious.

The first thing they did was rest:
Esther 9:17  This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. And on the fourteenth of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.

They rested physically on a particular day.  We are to rest spiritually every day.  It is a reminder to us that all of the work of defeating our enemies has already been accomplished by Jesus.  Our part is to walk by faith, resting in Him.

The next thing the Jews did was feast with gladness:
Esther 9:17  This was on the thirteenth day of the month of Adar. And on the fourteenth of the month they rested and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9:18  But the Jews who were at Shushan assembled together on the thirteenth day, as well as on the fourteenth; and on the fifteenth of the month they rested, and made it a day of feasting and gladness.
Esther 9:19  Therefore the Jews of the villages who dwelt in the unwalled towns celebrated the fourteenth day of the month of Adar with gladness and feasting, as a holiday, and for sending presents to one another.

All the Jews, both in the city and in the country, enjoyed a day of feasting and gladness.

God wants to spread out before us, each day, a glad feast; or a feast that will make us glad.  It’s a spiritual feast and it begins with taking-in the Word of God.  Read the Word.  And read it from the perspective that God is revealing Himself to you in and through it.

The next thing the Jews did was treat the day as a holiday; the word is mentioned in verse nineteen.  The word holiday is two words in the Hebrew, good and day.  It was a ‘good day’ because things had worked out for good.  It reminds me of the fact that all things work together for the good for them that love God.  It’s not positive thinking; it’s prophetic thinking – knowing the ultimate outcome.

I can celebrate each day as another in the long providence of God that – although I may not understand it – is working together for my good and His glory.

The next thing the Jews did was send gifts to one another.

God has given you gifts by His Holy Spirit Who indwells you.  They are not for you; they are for others.
They are to minister to others.  Discover them; use them.  If you’ve quit using them, then get stirred-up and start using them.

Here’s a clue: Just hang around other believers, with a desire to help them, and you will find yourself using the gifts God has given you.

You can celebrate your victory all the time, everyday, if you are resting in God, feasting on God’s Word, looking to your future hope, and looking for ways to exercise your spiritual gifts to benefit others.  It’s so simple that we don’t always do it.

Mordecai and Esther knew that the thrill of victory would quickly begin to fade.  So they combined to think of a way to commemorate the victory.  They established, on an annual basis, the Feast of Purim.

For us, the key principle in this section is found in verse twenty-three:
Esther 9:23  So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,

The word “accepted” is a poor translation.  Let me give you a better reading of the verse from the good ‘ole KJV:

Esther 9:23   And the Jews undertook to do as they had begun, and as Mordecai had written unto them;

They undertook to do something that would commemorate their victory.  It was a great undertaking, involving thought and planning and foresight.

The Christian life is a great undertaking.  If we give it some thought… Some planning… Some foresight… Then we will commemorate our victory on a daily basis.

Esther 9:20  And Mordecai wrote these things and sent letters to all the Jews, near and far, who were in all the provinces of King Ahasuerus,
Esther 9:21  to establish among them that they should celebrate yearly the fourteenth and fifteenth days of the month of Adar,
Esther 9:22  as the days on which the Jews had rest from their enemies, as the month which was turned from sorrow to joy for them, and from mourning to a holiday; that they should make them days of feasting and joy, of sending presents to one another and gifts to the poor.
Esther 9:23  So the Jews accepted the custom which they had begun, as Mordecai had written to them,
Esther 9:24  because Haman, the son of Hammedatha the Agagite, the enemy of all the Jews, had plotted against the Jews to annihilate them, and had cast Pur (that is, the lot), to consume them and destroy them;
Esther 9:25  but when Esther came before the king, he commanded by letter that this wicked plot which Haman had devised against the Jews should return on his own head, and that he and his sons should be hanged on the gallows.
Esther 9:26  So they called these days Purim, after the name Pur. Therefore, because of all the words of this letter, what they had seen concerning this matter, and what had happened to them,

The Jews still celebrate Purim today.  Like all celebrations, customs and traditions surrounding it have changed over the centuries.  I do want to share one of the more modern customs.

The children dress up as the characters found in the story of Esther.
The Book of Esther is read aloud as it is acted out in a play or acted out with puppets.  Every time the name of Haman is mentioned, everyone boos, hisses, and stamps their feet.  There are even special noisemakers, called groggers.  When the name Mordecai is mentioned, the people cheer.

Esther 9:27  the Jews established and imposed it upon themselves and their descendants and all who would join them, that without fail they should celebrate these two days every year, according to the written instructions and according to the prescribed time,
Esther 9:28  that these days should be remembered and kept throughout every generation, every family, every province, and every city, that these days of Purim should not fail to be observed among the Jews, and that the memory of them should not perish among their descendants.

I like the wording, “imposed it upon themselves.”  We would say we discipline ourselves.  Discipline is a part of the victorious Christian life.  We impose discipline upon ourselves, knowing that our spirit is willing but our flesh is weak.

They also imposed it upon their descendants.  Parents: It’s your joyous privilege to share Jesus Christ with your children.

They also imposed it upon all those who would join them.  This doesn’t mean we try to force others to become believers.  But we ought to take advantage of every opening and opportunity to share Christ with others.

Esther 9:29  Then Queen Esther, the daughter of Abihail, with Mordecai the Jew, wrote with full authority to confirm this second letter about Purim.
Esther 9:30  And Mordecai sent letters to all the Jews, to the one hundred and twenty-seven provinces of the kingdom of Ahasuerus, with words of peace and truth,
Esther 9:31  to confirm these days of Purim at their appointed time, as Mordecai the Jew and Queen Esther had prescribed for them, and as they had decreed for themselves and their descendants concerning matters of their fasting and lamenting.
Esther 9:32  So the decree of Esther confirmed these matters of Purim, and it was written in the book.

This feast was not prescribed by God.  It was wholly the invention of Mordecai and Esther.  It is in the category of a tradition of man.

Traditions are not wrong in-and-of themselves.  They can be a great aid in passing on our faith to the next generation.  It is when tradition becomes traditionalism that we get into problems.  One theologian said, “Tradition is the living faith of the dead; traditionalism is the dead faith of the living.”

For us, it means we should desire to establish certain days and events to honor the Lord.  But we must constantly be seeking God’s leading to alter or even cancel them if they become traditionalism.

Celebrate… Commemorate… Let the Lord direct you to discover how.

And may He continue to direct us, as a fellowship.