Summary: Get A New Heart! 1) A heart that recognizes its own sinfulness 2) A heart that treasures God’s forgiveness
With it beating an average of 100,000 times a day it’s surprising that the heart doesn’t give out more often than it does. After all, have you ever heard of a car engine that ran 24 hours a day, 7 days a week for 70 years without the need of a tune-up? Still, there are times when the human heart goes bad from lack of exercise, failure to eat right, or bad genetics. In some cases the heart may be so damaged that a new one is needed.
How is your heart feeling this morning? Is it beating with strong regular intervals, delivering an adequate supply of oxygen throughout your body? Even if you haven’t had so much as a heart flutter, God tells us this morning that we all need a new heart. Of course he’s not talking about this thing beating inside of us, he’s talking about an attitude. God wants us each to have a heart, an attitude, that recognizes its own sinfulness and treasures God’s forgiveness. If we don’t have such a heart we are to get one because it’s a matter of eternal life or death.
Although they didn’t know it, the people of Ezekiel’s day were badly in need of such a heart transplant. Ezekiel lived through the second sack and deportation of Jerusalem and was among those carried off to Babylon. He had the task of telling the Jewish exiles that Jerusalem and the temple would be completely destroyed because of their sins.
The people, however, weren’t willing to admit that their sin had brought this judgment. Instead of repenting they quoted the following proverb: “The fathers eat sour grapes, and the children’s teeth are set on edge” (Ezekiel 18:2). What the exiles were saying is that since it was their fathers who had eaten the sour grapes, why should they, the children be left with the bad aftertaste? In other words why should they be punished for sins their fathers were guilty of?
Now it was true that their fathers had been guilty of thoroughly turning away from the Lord. Forty years earlier, King Manasseh had led the people to commit more sins than the Canaanites before them (2 Chronicles 33:9). He not only sacrificed his own children to idols but also filled the Lord’s temple with foreign gods and killed God’s prophets. Tradition says that Manasseh even had the prophet Isaiah sawed in two (2 Chronicles 33)! In contrast to their fathers, hadn’t they, the people of Ezekiel’s day, returned to the Lord under King Josiah? Hadn’t they started celebrating the Passover again and faithfully offered their sacrifices? How could Ezekiel claim that it was their sin and not their fathers’ that had brought about this calamity?
Yes, King Josiah had brought about a reformation destroying the idols his grandfather Manasseh had made, but unfortunately this was a superficial reform for not everyone appreciated what Josiah did (2 Chronicles 36). While the people of Ezekiel’s day may not have been sacrificing their children to the idol Molech, they were guilty of bringing their sacrifices to God out of a sense of duty, not love and thankfulness, and their weekday lives didn’t match their weekend worship. They cheated on their spouse, they harbored grudges against their neighbours, and they lied to get things done. No, the people of Ezekiel’s day were not without guilt and the worst part of it was they didn’t recognize it and blamed others for the hardship that they had brought upon themselves.
The sad thing is that our heart is not any better. By nature we like to minimize our own guilt and blame others for our sins. Children are good at this. “But he hit me!” “So, she started it!” The sad thing is that, as they get older, children only get better at using their old heart until, as adults, they say things like, “I wouldn’t have lost my patience if she wouldn’t have been so rude!” Or “I wouldn’t dislike him so much if he wasn’t so arrogant!”
Brothers and sisters, we are all born with this old heart that doesn’t want to take responsibility for sin, and that’s dangerous. No, it’s more than dangerous; it’s downright damnable for God said in our text: “The soul who sins is the one who will die” (Ezekiel 18:4). God doesn’t care if it was your brother’s teasing that made you so mad that you hit him. He doesn’t care if it’s your co-worker’s lack of social grace that makes you fume every time you have to work with him. He doesn’t care if it was the clerk’s rudeness that caused you to lose your patience. He simply says that if you react in a sinful way then you deserve to die.
Just what kind of death are we talking about here? It’s more than physical death for God said that the soul who sins is the one who will die. We know from the Bible that souls do not die like bodies do, therefore when God talks about the soul dying he’s talking about eternal punishment in hell.