Then he said to them, “Go your way, eat the fat, drink the sweet, and send portions to those for whom nothing is prepared; for this day is holy to our Lord. Do not sorrow, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites quieted all the people, saying, “Be still, for the day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink, to send portions and rejoice greatly, because they understood the words that were declared to them. (Nehemiah 8:10–12)As I read this passage again, I imagine at the end of a Sunday sermon the pastor telling the people two things. One is that they have sinned, but they are forgiven. The other is to go home, put on a feast, and share what they have learned with their family and friends.
Ezra, the Levites, and Nehemiah told God’s people to stop mourning (for they had wept when they heard God’s Word) and start celebrating. Mourning over sin is important, but once I know, really know and believe that my sin is forgiven, my response is total joy. As God’s child, I know sorrow for sin, but I also know the power of God that transforms sorrow into gladness of heart.
Obviously, some of the people in Nehemiah’s day were not present to hear the reading of God’s Word on this occasion. Others needed to hear it, so their leaders told them to have a celebration and share with their family and friends — those for whom nothing had been prepared. The same is true in my life when I read, hear, and understand what God is saying to me. Sometimes I share what I heard with those who were also at church. This is akin to “preaching to the choir” for they also heard it. What about those who did not? What about those who couldn’t attend, or who watch my life and wonder about the things that cause me joy?
Last night we ate with two of our family members. I noticed then and have noticed in the past that sharing spiritual truth seems much easier over a meal. While they may not ask questions or show interest, those who do not know Jesus are more receptive during a shared feast. Besides, it seems easier for me. All of us are in a relaxed frame of mind simply because of the food on the table.
I also notice one more thing in this passage. Whatever it was that convicted the people of sin is not described, leaving room for just about anything. In my life, when I am convinced of sin and then assured of my salvation, that is the full meal deal and a complete message to share. It isn’t enough to tell others how glad I am that God has forgiven me. Such a statement can sound “holier than thou” but when it is prefaced with an admission of the specific sin or sins that He has forgiven, then those who hear me know that I am just like them. The forgiveness that I talk about is not exclusive.
One of my commentaries says that the Bible brings conviction and leads to repentance, but it also brings joy. The same words that wound can also heal. People can feel sorrow for sin and wallow in that sorrow for years if they do not know about Jesus. People can also work hard to be happy all the time and refuse to think about sin. An honest and complete sharing of what God is doing in my life offers hope for both situations.
There are great treasures buried in God’s Word, and as I “dig” for them, I am joyful. Sure, God points out that I am sinful and that I do foolish things, yet He also shows me that I am forgiven and holy in His sight. After studying this passage, I am encouraged to share more often with family and friends during meals together. I want them to hear what He has caused me to understand and know the same sorrow and joy that He has given me.