by Rev. Dr. Andrew Steinmann
In American culture, the month of October is highlighted by Halloween celebrations that have grown increasingly elaborate. In fact, Halloween has become the fastest growing annual celebration in our culture. Sales of Halloween costumes for adults have skyrocketed. It is not unusual to see yards decorated with ghosts, spiderwebs and tombstones. As I pass those yards in my own neighborhood and see those tombstones, I am reminded of the grip that death has on sinful humans. It calls to mind another event that took place on Oct. 31: the call to repentance sounded by Luther who wrote in the first of the 95 Theses: “When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,’ he desired that the entire life of believers should be repentance.”
Long before Luther, another Reformation was led by Ezra and Nehemiah. It resulted in the prayer of repentance in Neh. 9:527. This prayer is based on God’s revelation in Scripture. It is thoroughly saturated with biblical language. Israel approached the throne of God with the words of God, thereby relying on God and His promises, not on human effort. This prayer was prompted by God and pleasing to Him because He not only invites prayer (Ps. 50:15; Luke 18:1) but also provides the very words that He promises to hear (Matt. 6:513).
Read Neh. 9:56. What three parts of creation are mentioned here? (Note that the same parts of creation are highlighted in Gen. 1:313.) What does God continue do for creation that prompts the praise in Neh. 9:5?
The prayer next moves to a long section that remembers God’s love and mercy toward His ancient people. Note how there is a constant contrast between God’s faithfulness and Israel’s unfaithfulness. Read Neh. 9:78. Who did all of the acts described in these verses? Why did God keep His promise to Abraham?
Despite all of the compassionate acts of God, Israel did not remain faithful but fell into sin. This history is repeated in our lives daily. But God’s grace is constantly available in Christ to repentant sinners. Read Neh. 9:1621. Among this list of Israel’s sins in the wilderness, we also find God’s love for sinful humans. List the ways in which God is described as loving His people.
At the end of this prayer, the worshippers plead with God to remember them in the midst of the hardships they face (9:32). Here they show true humility and repentance.Read Neh. 9:3237.
What plain admission did the people make about God and themselves (9:33)? What does this teach us about confessing our sins?
As we see God’s grace even more clearly in the life, death and resurrection of Christ, we can also learn from Israel to repent daily of our sins. We know that in Jesus we have forgiveness and life, since He loved us when we were sinners (Rom. 5:8).
> The LCMS celebrates Oct. 31 as Reformation Day.
About the Author: The Rev. Dr. Andrew Steinmann is professor of theology and Hebrew at Concordia University Chicago.