I WILL GIVE YOU A NEW HEART
Dear Christian friends,
At another church at a different time, a 21 year old woman was in a very serious car accident. After living ten days or so, she was declared dead. I visited her each day, but she was in a coma. When I visited the attending nurses schooled me on some of the machines she was hooked up to. A nurse explained one of the numbers that appeared on a screen. It measured the pressure on the brain. It was supposed to read between 5 and 22. Hers was 25. The nurse told me that no one could live with the swelling of the brain she was having.
I visited one day and was reading the Scripture. Suddenly alarms and bells went off. I looked at the number that had been reading 25. In a matter of seconds the number changed from 25 to 142. There was no doubt Karen was dead.
She was the first person in my ministerial experience who donated organs. They kept her hooked to a respirator and kept her heart beating until they were ready to take the organs. It took another twenty four hours. Her kidneys went to Indianapolis; her heart went to Louisville. Other parts were donated too.
When I was in high school, a doctor by the name of Christian Barnard did the world’s first heart transplant in South Africa. The year was 1967. The patient died 18 days later. Mr. Waushansky’s body rejected the new heart. It was a first step. Once they figured out the anti-rejection medicines, heart transplants were and are much more common and successful.
In a spiritual sense heart transplants have taken place since time began. They began in Eden. Heart transplants are the specialty of the Holy Spirit. Today, as we celebrate Pentecost, the Holy Spirit’s day of the Christian Church year, we turn our attention to a message of Ezekiel. God says through him, “I Will Give you a New Heart,” 1) Not because of what you have done; 2) Because of my holy name.
To understand Ezekiel’s message, as is true of all the Bible, we must understand context. Ezekiel was a prophet of the Lord during a very tough time in Judah’s history. As a nation Judah no longer existed. Babylon had thrown her weight around. They conquered Assyria and Egypt. Since they were in the area the conquered Judah too. Babylon emptied Judah of many of her residents. That included Ezekiel. He was living in exile in Babylon.
Why did God allow this to happen? Why did God desert his people? You hear that a lot of people blame God for things. The young lady I referred to in the introduction was twenty one. She was a sweet and beautiful woman. She had her whole life in front of her. Why?
The question is answered in Eden. Don’t underestimate the tragedy there and the long-ranging effects. “Therefore, just as sin entered the world through one man, and death through sin, and in this way death came to all people, because all sinned.” Adam’s sin affected people for all time. The hearts, the very core of people, all become dark and stony. We die.
Oh, people object! It was just a piece of fruit! If my child took a bite out of a piece of fruit, I would do cartwheels. If it were cake or a cookie or ice cream without permission, that that would be different! But it was a piece of fruit.
But let’s examine more closely. “When the woman saw that the fruit of the tree was good for food and pleasing to the eye, and also desirable for gaining wisdom, she took some and ate it. She also gave some to her husband, who was with her, and he ate it.” There were plenty of trees around, but they focused on the one that God had forbidden. If she wanted a piece of fruit, all she needed to do was look around. None of it was infested with worms or canker. Everything was perfect, but she wanted fruit from the tree that God told them to stay away from.
Another thing! The first couple blew a perfect opportunity to honor their Maker. Obedience to the Lord was honoring God. They blew the opportunity and turned their backs on God.
And another thing! Eve was no longer God satisfied with the way that God had made her. She wanted more wisdom that what God gave her. You see, this was more than about eating a piece of fruit. That sin and the very make up of every human was now passed onto all people for all time.
Let’s go back to Ezekiel and exiled Judah. The nation had been in full rebellion against the LORD for a lot of years. Their hearts turned to vile gods and goddesses. They no longer remembered how God had given the land they had been living in by such miraculous means. Remember they were the people from whom Messiah would come, but that no longer mattered.
Ezekiel was sent to straighten them out. His charge? “Son of man, I am sending you to the Israelites, to a rebellious nation that has rebelled against me; they and their ancestors have been in revolt against me to this very day. The people to whom I am sending you are obstinate and stubborn. Say to them, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says.’ And whether they listen or fail to listen—for they are a rebellious people—they will know that a prophet has been among them. And you, son of man, do not be afraid of them or their words. Do not be afraid, though briers and thorns are all around you and you live among scorpions. Do not be afraid of what they say or be terrified by them.”
They needed a good shaking up. Babylon would be God’s instrument. Ezekiel was to warn them and then comfort them. One Bible commentator wrote about the book of Ezekiel, “For many Christians Ezekiel is a closed book. Apart from a few familiar passages… It is easy to give up at the first chapter – the vision of flashing lights and peculiar creatures and wheels with eyes. But this is our loss. Because in our materialistic, man-centered world, we need Ezekiel’s vision of the almighty God. We need to see sin as God sees it. We need to be reminded of our accountability. We need to know that God is God, before we learn it the hard way, like Israel did, through judgment.”
Ezekiel is a good book for present times. Many have fears for our own country. I do. While God is in control as he was Judah, God chastised them because they would not be warned.
Are we being chastised? Is there more to come? Does anyone care what God said to Judah through Ezekiel? One of our presidential candidates speaks fondly of her Methodist roots, but she says that an unborn baby has no rights. At a recent rally she was introduced by someone who led the Pledge of Allegiance. She said, “I pledge the allegiance to the flag of the United States of America and to the republic for which is stands, one nation, un……….. Indivisible with liberty and justice for all.” “Under God” was purposely omitted. Hillary cackled in laughter as did the crowd. Ashamed of the Lord?! The other candidate is no better. He says he needs no forgiveness from God. His favorite Bible passage is, “An eye for an eye, tooth for tooth, and life for life.” He calls people vile names. Our nation has chosen to choose between these two?
It is time to listen to Ezekiel. Do you remember the Bible story when the twelve spies were sent to check on the Promised Land, the future home of Israel. They came back with glowing reports. The land was beautiful and fertile, but there was a big problem. People living there were too numerous and too powerful. Ten of the twelve spies were adamant about refusing to go to war, even though the Lord, who put the heavens in place, was on their side.
The LORD voiced his displeasure with Israel. “How long will these people treat me with contempt? How long will they refuse to believe in me, in spite of all the signs I have performed among them? I will strike them down with a plague and destroy them, but I will make you into a nation greater and stronger than they.” Moses objected. “Then the Egyptians will hear about it! By your power you brought these people up from among them. And they will tell the inhabitants of this land about it… If you put all these people to death, leaving none alive, the nations who have heard this report about you will say, ‘The Lord was not able to bring these people into the land he promised them on oath, so he slaughtered them in the wilderness.’ People would think the Lord was weak.
Ezekiel writes that Judah had done the same to the LORD. They made their Lord look weak to the nations. They profaned God’s name. Literally translated Judah treated God’s name like dung. Oh Judah, do you see what you have done?
At a different church and at a different time there was a member who would always leave church the same way, “Pastor, you really gave it to them today!” and he would smile. Dear people understand that God isn’t just talking to Judah, he is talking to everyone…to you and me too.
Like Judah the Lord isn’t always been first place in our hearts. Countless times standing up for the Lord would have been embarrassing so we didn’t! At certain times in life and in certain places it just isn’t convenient to follow Jesus.
But while we might have been embarrassed to have the name Christian, our God was the one who could have been embarrassed by us.
Let me ask you this question: If you wanted to prove your greatness to someone, how would you go about doing it? Some people might punch the other in the nose. If you are into athletics, you defeat the other person on the playing field. Scholastically, you get better grades.
Listen to this. Even though Israel kicked dirt in God’s face, the LORD proved his greatness by loving even though he was not loved. ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: It is not for your sake, people of Israel, that I am going to do these things, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations where you have gone.” The Lord describes himself “as merciful and gracious, abundant in goodness and truth. He forgives iniquity, transgression and sin.” He does this because that’s who he is, not because we deserve him because of our ‘fine” qualities.
That’s what he did for Judah who treated his name like dung? He brought them back to Jerusalem. “‘For I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you from all the countries and bring you back into your own land.” Judah would return after seventy years. King Darius of Persia defeated Babylon. They would return and rebuild the temple and Persia even paid for it.
This was a necessity. You know why? The Lord had planned a world changing event that was to take place in Judah, specifically in a little town called Bethlehem 540 years later. You know that story.
He also says, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols.” The Old Testament Law addressed the issue of cleanliness versus being unclean. Ultimately he wanted the people to understand they needed cleansing – from their sin. Messiah would do so… With his blood! With his suffering!
He shows his love in still another way. “I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. Then you will live in the land I gave your ancestors; you will be my people, and I will be your God.” Heart surgery!
Heart replacement surgery has come a long way since the days of Christian Barnard. Yet the Lord has been doing this kind of surgery since Adam and Eve. We are not talking about that three pound pump in the middle of your chest, the heart refers to the center of all life and breath, our very core.
The unconverted heart is a nasty thing. It is hard and stubborn. It is not acceptable to God and doesn’t accept God. .
That heart of stone must be removed and replaced. It is. The surgeon? Dr. Holy Spirit. His tools are God’s Word and sacraments. His tools replace the heart of stone with a heart of flesh that receives Jesus and loves Jesus. All credit to the surgeon and not to the patient. And it’s free. There is no charge. It only changes his patience. From darkness to light, from death to life, from unbeliever to believer. Thank you, Dr. Holy Spirit and your promise “I will remove your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh.”