And Nehemiah, who was the governor, and Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who taught the people said to all the people, “This day is holy to the Lord your God; do not mourn or weep.” For all the people wept as they heard the words of the Law. Then he said to them, “Go your way. Eat the fat and drink sweet wine and send portions to anyone who has nothing ready, for this day is holy to our Lord. And do not be grieved, for the joy of the Lord is your strength.” So the Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be quiet, for this day is holy; do not be grieved.” And all the people went their way to eat and drink and to send portions and to make great rejoicing, because they had understood the words that were declared to them. Nehemiah 8:9-12
The Law can only bring weeping, mourning, desperation and death. It is of little wonder that the people stood grieved in their sin, weighed down with the knowledge they had nothing good to offer a righteous and holy God. All their efforts to respond to God with gratitude and thanksgiving after their miraculous deliverance from captivity in Babylon have failed. As they came to worship, were they remembering the ways they grumbled that very morning on the way to this gathering? Were they blushing as they thought about their own impatience with their spouse or irritability with their children? As each verse of the Law was read, they sank deeper and deeper. Distressed and overwhelmed with guilt, they must have thought, what now? Where will our help come from? As they stood helpless, they heard the good news. A light burst forth as they listened to the preacher tell them that the same God who had afflicted their soul had accomplished their salvation. Their reassurance came through the preaching of God's grace to sinners,
"So the Levites calmed all the people."
They were reminded that the joy of the Lord is their strength. They were encouraged to go and eat, drink and rejoice. Yes they have sinned, yes it is a sad and sorry state of affairs. But God has made a way back and it is the very rescue mission that brings joy and peace, laughter and thanksgiving! They were set free from sin and guilt and shame - that's cause for celebration! Go now, rejoice!
God's final word to those in Christ is the same today. You have been set free. Go now, and rejoice!
What a great reminder for us. We come to God weighed down with sin and guilt, despairing, anxious and clinging to tattered faith. The Preacher stands and lovingly agrees with your pathetic condition. In that moment of utter anguish you find relief, refreshment and restoration. The Lord sings over you with joy and freedom. The chains are broken and the light bursts in. You are strengthened and renewed, free to walk out of the prison of death into newness of life. This is your redemption. Today is the day of your salvation. This is the ongoing story of the sinners' renewal by the power of the gospel. You are free!
Now, go and eat and drink and rejoice!