December 3, 2023 | Doug Sauder
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“When Mordecai learned of all that had been done, he tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly. But he went only as far as the king’s gate, because no one clothed in sackcloth was allowed to enter it. In every province to which the edict and order of the king came, there was great mourning among the Jews, with fasting, weeping and wailing. Many lay in sackcloth and ashes. When Esther’s eunuchs and female attendants came and told her about Mordecai, she was in great distress. She sent clothes for him to put on instead of his sackcloth, but he would not accept them.”—Esther 4:1–4 (NIV)
Did the king know exactly what he had decreed? Did he know whom he sentenced to genocide? Did he know it was the Jews—whose laws didn’t impede them from being upstanding and productive citizens; who also happened to be numerous in his empire—or was he led to believe it was a small group of rebels? We don’t know for sure.
But something we do know is that Haman knew what he was doing. We also know Haman was a descendant of Agag, former king of the Amalekites. This is significant because the Amalekites were Israel’s sworn enemy for generations! So, for Haman, an insecure and prideful fellow, not only got to stick it to the man who refused to kneel before him, but also to the nation with whom his ancestors had many conflicts.
Today, we see the reaction of the people to King Xerxes’ decree at the behest of Haman: mourning, sorrow, inconsolable grief. Mordecai, we’re told, “tore his clothes, put on sackcloth and ashes, and went out into the city, wailing loudly and bitterly” while the Jews who were scattered throughout the Persian Empire mourned and fasted; they wept and wailed.
Now, I’m not sure what it’s like where you’re from, but I feel as though the modern world, particularly the West, discourages public displays of grief and mourning. It’s not acceptable to grieve and wail and wear ash; it’s not okay to spend more than five minutes overcome by sorrow.
Our culture has stripped us of the ability to not be okay, to process tragedy or hardship or pain, to break and give ourselves space and time to walk through the process. Instead, we bottle it up and push it down, which inevitably leads to an explosion/outburst and potentially to even worse reactions. Ancient cultures, though, particularly the Jews, were big on allowing space to grieve and mourn. But here’s the thing I see here for us: They did this together.
You don’t see a lot of instances of suffering in isolation. I think of the widow’s son in Luke 7, Jairus’ daughter in Mark 5, or all those who gathered when Lazarus died. There are countless other instances, too. Why is this important? Because when tragedy strikes in whatever form it takes, the people of God should rally together! We should grieve and mourn in community, with one another and with Jesus, whom we know cares and is with us in the pain. We should wail and weep together, process the grief and not hide it or bury it, but also be moved to godly action and enter into fasting and prayer together.
Theologian Matthew Henry wrote, “Public calamities that oppress the church of God should affect our hearts more than any private affliction, and it is peculiarly distressing to occasion sufferings to others. God will keep those that are exposed to evil by the tenderness of their consciences.”
The persecution and oppression of the church in other countries should grieve us; the biblical illiteracy and cultural degradation rampant in the West should cause us to weep. These types of things should cause deep sorrow but also lead us to a posture of prayer and fasting together, to a renewed devotion for meeting together, praying together, and worshiping together as we seek God’s Spirit and power to bring us to and through these things.
Pause: When was the last time you let yourself mourn, grieve, feel sadness? When was the last time you wept with someone or allowed yourself to break down in the presence of others?
Practice: If you’re feeling like Mordecai today, reach out to someone! Share your struggle and ask Christian friends to join you in the pain and to join you in prayer and fasting. Seek the Lord together. If you know people who are struggling, reach out and pray with them and/or fast on their behalf. Or perhaps the situation doesn’t have to be that close to you in proximity. For example, you can lament, pray, and fast for the persecuted church around the world.
Pray: Dear Lord, may my heart be grieved and moved to action by that which grieves You and has Your heart. May my heart be aligned to Yours so I may be moved to empathy and action in those spaces. Amen.
Danny Saavedra is a licensed minister who has served on staff at Calvary since 2012, managing the Calvary Devotional and digital discipleship resources. He has a Master of Arts in Pastoral Counseling and Master of Divinity in Pastoral Ministry from Liberty Theological Seminary. His wife Stephanie, son Jude, and daughter Zoe share a love of Star Wars, good food, having friends over for dinner, and studying the Word together as a family.