“Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord.”

Do you recognize that quotation? Who said it? Where is it found?

It sounds like something you might hear on Thanksgiving Day. “Go and enjoy choice food,” like turkey and stuffing, or potatoes and gravy, or cranberry sauce and pumpkin pie. “Go and enjoy… sweet drinks,” like apple cider and egg nog. “Send some to those who have nothing prepared,” like the homeless who have already come to this church for Thanksgiving Dinner. “This day is sacred to our Lord.” A day of thanksgiving is a sacred day, like this coming Thursday morning when we will meet here to praise the Lord.

If you are having trouble identifying that quotation let me give you a few hints. First of all, it comes from the Bible. To be more specific, it comes from the Old Testament. It was spoken by one of the great leaders of Israel on a day of thanksgiving for the Word of God. Here is another hint: the words I read earlier are followed in the Bible by these words: “Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.”

Give up? I am quoting from the book of Nehemiah, chapter 8. Nehemiah was a cupbearer or a wine taster for Artaxerxes, King of Persia. I suppose he knew a thing or two about sweet drinks. In any case, Nehemiah led the people of God back to Jerusalem from their captivity in Babylon.

After the exiles returned to Jerusalem and rebuilt the city wall they gathered in a city square for the reading of the Law of God (v. 1). Ezra the priest stood on a high platform and read the Scriptures aloud from dawn until noon (vv. 3-4). All the people stood up and whenever Ezra praised the Lord they lifted their hands and shouted “Amen! Amen!” (v. 6).

The Law of God was not only read, it was also explained. More than a dozen priests stood beside Ezra and instructed the people in the Law while the people were standing there (v. 7). One preacher after another stepped forward to expound the Word of God.

They read from the Book of the Law of God, making it clear and giving the meaning so that the people could understand what was being read (v. 8).

I suppose it was a little bit like the Philadelphia Conference on Reformed Theology: expository preaching at its best.

Then Nehemiah the governor, Ezra the priest and scribe, and the Levites who were instructing the people said to them all, “This day is sacred to the LORD your God. Do not mourn or weep.” For all the people had been weeping as they listened to the words of the Law.

Nehemiah said, “Go and enjoy choice food and sweet drinks, and send some to those who have nothing prepared. This day is sacred to our Lord. Do not grieve, for the joy of the LORD is your strength.” The Levites calmed all the people, saying, “Be still, for this is a sacred day. Do not grieve.”

Then all the people went away to eat and drink, to send portions of food and to celebrate with great joy, because they now understood the words that had been made known to them (Neh. 8:9-12).

These verses teach us a number of valuable lessons about thanksgiving. First, they teach us how sober it is to live before the face of God. The more the people heard the law of God the more distressed they became. They brought fresh repentance for sin to their thanksgiving feast.

Second, they teach us to give joyful thanks. Three times the people were commanded not to grieve but to rejoice. For those who trust in God the joy of salvation always triumphs over sorrow for sin. The tears of repentance are always wiped away by the laughter of forgiveness.

Third, these verses teach us that we can eat and drink to the glory of God. Choice food and sweet drinks are good gifts from the hand of God. God not only allows us to celebrate with food and drink, there are times when he positively commands it.

Fourth, they teach us that thanking God includes sharing his good gifts with others. Before you finish the rich feast on your table you should save at least a few Zip-Lock bags full of leftovers for the needy. A thankful heart is always accompanied by a generous spirit.

Finally, these verses teach us to give a word of thanks for the Word of God. The main reason the people of God celebrated with such great joy is because they now understood the words that had been made known to them (v. 12).

On this Thanksgiving, 1996, I give thanks for the Word of God. When I wake up every Monday morning I am totally empty. However well or badly I have preached the night before I am back at square one. When I go up to my office later in the morning my computer screen will be blank. In seven days I must preach again and I have nothing to say, absolutely nothing.

I am learning to savor that empty feeling. I savor it because I know how essential it is for me to trust completely for the Lord’s help for preaching. I also savor it because I know that by the end of the week I will not be empty, but full to the point of overflowing. The Word of God always fills me with good things to say about Jesus Christ.

That is why I am offering this word of thanks for the Word of God. What thanksgiving will you offer to God this week?

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