"A NEW HEART"

Ezekiel 36: 22-27

February 10, 2013

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  With Valentine's Day four days away, what better to talk about than God's promise of a new heart. 

            Physically, a number of Americans could use a new heart.  Diseases related to the heart kill over a million people in the United States every year making heart disease America's leading cause of death.  Every thirty-four seconds a person in the United States dies from it.  So since we began our worship service today, roughly fifty people have died from heart disease here in the United States.  By time we finish our worship service roughly 100 people will have died from heart disease in the United States.  Since 1900 cardio-vascular disease has been the number one killer in this country except for the year 1918.  I don't know what happened in 1918 but that's the only exception.

            Of course, I'm speaking here of physical heart disease, but what about spiritual heart disease?  What about the spiritual heart disease of Ezekiel's day?        

            Ten years prior to destruction of the Temple in Jerusalem, Nebuchadnezzar sent 3000 or so upper class Jews into exile in Babylon.  He wanted to remove the cream of the crop to better control the country.  One of the 3000 upper class Jews was Ezekiel.  He was twenty-five at the time.  Five years later, at the age of thirty, God called Ezekiel to be a prophet, and he eventually became one of the big three of Israel's prophets ... Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel.  His prophetic career lasted some twenty-two years.  His tomb is in modern day Iraq.  You could visit it today if you had the courage to travel to southern Iraq.  He never made it back home to Israel living the rest of his years in Babylon, but he talked about the rest of his countrymen and women getting back home.  He mentioned it in verse twenty-eight.  He also mentioned the need for God's people to undergo a heart transplant. 

            This promise of a new heart, of a spiritual heart transplant, came at the lowest point in Israel's history.  God had punished them for their persistent disobedience and idolatry.  God had taken them away from their land.  God had taken them away from the temple.  He had given them over to a pagan nation.  Then comes the promise of a new beginning, a new heart. 

            Now, for a successful heart transplant, we need three things.  We need a dire diagnosis, we need a skilled doctor, and we need a compatible donor.  Let's look at these three things in turn.

            First, we need a dire diagnosis and we get it in verse twenty-six.  Listen to it once again.

 

            A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

 

            By the way, the word "heart" in the Bible doesn't just refer to the ten ounce muscle pumping blood through our bodies.  The word "heart" in the Bible has a much wider meaning.  It is often linked with the word "spirit" as it is here, and sometimes the two words are interchangeable in the Bible, as when King David prayed (Psalm 51:10), "Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a new and right spirit within me."  In this prayer David is not asking for two things - a clean heart and a right spirit - rather he is asking for one thing, that God will change his inner core.   

            We often use the word "heart" in the same way today.  We often use the word "heart"  to refer to our "core" or our "center" as in the phrase "getting to the heart of the matter."  Biblically speaking, and often culturally speaking today, the heart is the seat of our personality, our emotional state, our intellectual activities and our will or volition.  We talk about someone's "heart's desire" referring to something they long for with their whole being.  We talk about giving someone our "wholehearted support," meaning we support them without reservation.  We describe people as having a "change of heart" when they stop behaving in one way and start following a different path.  Our heart is who we are, and the author of Proverbs alludes to that when he says (4:23), "Above all else guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life."

            All of these uses of the word "heart" embrace far more than the physical pumping muscle in our chest.  All of these uses sum up our whole being ... physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, just as the Bible uses the word.

            So, when God, through Ezekiel, makes a diagnosis saying that their hearts are made of stone, we can see they had a very serious problem.  As far as God is concerned their hearts were not doing the job.  Their hearts were not taking God's life-giving essence and pumping it around our inner being. 

            If our physical hearts were made of stone we would be dead, and that's the point of the picture.  Towards God, the people of Israel were stone cold dead.  They did not love him.  They did not delight in him.  They did not obey him.   They had a serious problem.  A simple angioplasty or a more involved coronary bypass surgery would not suffice.  They needed a brand new heart.  They needed a heart transplant. 

            That's the diagnosis.  Second, we need a skilled doctor.  I'm not going to have my internal medicine doc do this surgery.  He's a great internal medicine doc and we have been seeing him since 1983, but I need someone with different skills for this.  I need a highly skilled heart surgeon. 

            And when it comes to a spiritual heart surgeon, we have one in God, but what God says here reminds me of my cardiologist.  When we moved back from Florida over twelve years ago, I had to find a new cardiologist, and we did, but I had difficulty with him at first.  He was and is very, very competent, but his bedside manner leaves a lot to be desired.  Sort of like God here in our passage.  I'm referring to verse twenty-two.  Look at that with me.

 

            Therefore say to the house of Israel, Thus says The Lord God: It is not for your sake, O house of Israel, that I am about to act, but for the sake of my holy name, which you have profaned among the nations to which you came.  I will sanctify my great name, which has been profaned among the nations, and which you have profaned among them; and the nations shall know that I am The Lord ... It is not for your sake that I will act, says The Lord God; let that be known to you.  Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel.

 

            In other words, I'm not performing this surgery because I love you so much, I'm performing this surgery to restore my good name.  Not the greatest bedside manner here.  My spiritual heart transplant doctor sounds a lot like my current cardiologist.

            Now God's bedside manner probably bothers you ... I know it bothers me ... and I think I know why.  First, it bothers us because we have assumed that, at the core of God's nature, ours is a rather mushy God.  To a degree we have slipped into the habit of seeing God in grandfatherly imagery, not that God is old, but that God is soft.  We know that grandfathers, in the main, are more inclined to be soft than stern.  I know that's true of me.  I'm much softer with my grandkids than I was with my kids, and my kids remind me of that all the time.  They say things, "Wow, you never would have let us do that," and they are right, and God's being stern here is hard to square with our notion of God's "softness."  Meaning that when push comes to shove, we will usually choose soft over stern.  We'll opt every time for the Charmin God ... squeezably soft.  And there's much to be said for a pliable God ... easier to relate to ... easier to be in touch with ... and easier to be loved by.

            But there is another reason God's bedside manner bothers us.  It also bothers us because down deep we like to think of ourselves as being rather nice people.  Why wouldn't God want to deliver us?  How could God possibly become fed up with people like us?  After all, aren't we doing the best we can?  We are only human, after all.

            One of the benefits of reading the Bible on a regular basis is that it forces us to read a lot of stuff we would skip over, especially if we are using something like the "One Year Bible."  If we read a lot of the Bible, one of the scripture's recurring themes that we would just as soon skip is the theme of divine depression over our sorry performance.  In no small number of places, God is depicted as being sorry that God made us, even to the point of flirting with the notion of scrapping the whole enterprise and writing us off as a noble experiment gone sour.

            So, that's the skilled doctor.  In this case, not with the bedside we come to expect.  "It is not for your sake that I will act, says The Lord God; let that be known to you.  Be ashamed and dismayed for your ways, O house of Israel."  I'm not pulling the fat out of the fire because you are so wonderful, I'm pulling the fat out of the fire to restore my good name. 

            OK, we have our dire diagnosis.  We have consulted with our skilled doctor.  Now, we need one more thing.  We need a compatible donor. 

            Where will we get this living, beating heart of flesh?  From whom will it come?

            You probably have already guessed where I am headed here.  There's only been one person who did not suffer with the birth defect of a heart of stone.  Only Jesus had a heart that was fundamentally warm to God, a heart of flesh.

            When a physical heart transplant is done we know that there must have been a death.  One person had to die so another could live.  So it is with a spiritual heart transplant.  The donor had to die.  Jesus voluntarily died so that we might have life, and heart of flesh was so good, so sufficient that it is sufficient for hundreds of millions of Christians, replacing their hearts of stone.

            So let me ask you this morning.  Have you had a heart transplant?  Have you let God take your heart of stone and replace it with a heart of flesh? 

            If we were in the doctor's office tomorrow and he said or she said, "Here's the bad news: your heart is failing.  It is riddled with disease and you are certain to die.  The good news, however, is that a perfect replacement has just come in.  Would you agree to a transplant?"  What would you say?  It would be strange to say anything else than "Doctor, where do I sign up?"

            Well, the donor heart is available to us.  The doctor is waiting to perform the operation.  Do we agree with the diagnosis?  Will we come to him for a new heart?  Listen to the offer one more time.

 

            A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you: and I will remove from you body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.

 

            Why would we choose death with an offer on the table like that?