The unknown author of Esther paints for us a pertinent picture of the ancient world. We’re told that no one could enter through the king’s gate while wearing sackcloth – the sign of those who were downtrodden. Don’t misunderstand, it’s not that the ancient world was wicked in its dealings with the downtrodden. It’s not even that those who were clothed in sackcloth were treated in an inhumane manner. In fact, the rulers of that ancient world were quite ready to be beneficent to those who were less fortunate – as long as they didn’t enter through the king’s gate.
There was a place for the poor in the ancient world, but it was a place that was set apart. The kings of that day threw gifts of coins and food to the poor, pressing crowds as they passed by in their chariots, but this was done while their chariot passed by. Fancy gifts might be given, but they were given without fellowship. A lazaretto might be provided for those with leprosy, but those who provided it would never come near. Hospitals were erected for the sick, but the benefactors would never grace the sick with their presence. The wealthy might send gifts to those who were needy, but they would send them, not bring them. They would command their servants to take care of the mundane, menial task of touching those who were sick and sinful. This is why no one clothed in sackcloth would have ever been allowed to enter the gate of the king.
Those of that day thought that they were honoring the king by not allowing him to come into contact with those wearing sackcloth. Royalty was seen to be above being burdened. It must always be at rest. Majesty must always be surrounded by music. The Sovereign must be bathed in perpetual sunshine. Power must live without ever being pulled down by emotion. The one who wore the crown must be so elevated as to never come into contact with the cross. This was their view of earthly royalty and it was also their view when considering contact with the King of Heaven. They viewed heaven as simply their earth in the air.
The men of that ancient world considered it to be glorious and wondrous that a human king would not touch sackcloth. So, naturally, they thought the same must be true of the King of Kings as well. The High King of Heaven must certainly rise above our tears. Certainly He would charge His angels to take care of those in need. He must never hear their cry. No cloud should ever come near Him. No shadow must ever fall upon Him. No voice of hurting hearts must ever be heard through the halls of His court. No one wearing sackcloth should ever be allowed to come through the gate of Heaven’s King.
I am so very thankful that Jesus has presented a reversed view of royalty. He has shown that His mission is to wear the sackcloth of His people, to cry tears over His people, to bear their burdens and even suffer their shadows and sorrow. He has revealed to us a higher level of royalty – one that isn’t just clothed in purple and fares sumptuously ever day, but that ministers to the pains of His people.
No longer do we have to look for Him behind the secluded walls of His temple. He’s not there. He’s out, walking on the water in the midst of our storms. He’s walking, and even carrying us, through the dry, deadly deserts. He stands before Bethany’s tomb, at Jacob’s well, at Bethesda and Golgotha. He comes with the clouds, no matter where the clouds may come from. He is here. When the night falls, He’s here. When the pain rises, He’s here. When the sickness worsens, He’s here. He’s waiting and touching and crying and holding. He is indeed touched with the feeling of our infirmities.
The amazing thing in the economy of God’s government is the fact that it is my sackcloth that makes me fit to meet my King. In fact, no one can enter His gates who is not clothed such. He said that it is those who are poor in spirit, those who are meek, those who are thirsty who will see the inside of His gates. There will stand those who mourned for the past and hungered for the future. There will be the labourer and the laden, the restless and the weary, the homeless and the helpless. It is humility that rises to Him, and lowliness that draws near. We are clothed in sackcloth and come bearing the flowers of our conscious guilt to His gate. You see, it is the recognition of our rags that enables us to enter His gates with great praise.