The Heart Transplant

Ezekiel 36:26

9 November 2008

Woodley Baptist Church

Evening service

[Read Ezekiel 36:16-27]


If you know anything at all about Doctor Who, you will know that from time to time he undergoes a process called "regeneration": a complete renewal of his body and personality. Which is handy in a television series that's been running for 45 years.

I'm not planning to talk about Time Lord regeneration this evening, but I do want to look at the Christian teaching about regeneration. That is, the fundamental change that happens within a person when they first become a Christian.

I'm not thinking so much of the change in a person's relationship with God, or the change in their eternal destiny, though these are massive changes. Tonight, what I want to focus on is the change within a person himself, or herself: what changes within us when we become a Christian?

The Bible teaches that when a person becomes a Christian, he becomes, in some sense, a different person from the person he was before becoming a Christian. This is what we mean by regeneration.

There are several different ways in which regeneration is pictured in the Bible.

One picture is of washing; being washed clean. Paul says to Titus, [God] saved us... by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spiritref. Before we become a Christian we are unclean: we have filthy lives, filthy hearts and filthy consciences. But in regeneration, God washes us clean from the inside out.

Another very well-known picture of regeneration is new birth, or being "born again". Peter writes Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ! In his great mercy he has given us new birth into a living hoperef.

And Jesus famously uses this picture when Nicodemus comes to him. He says to Nicodemus, I tell you the truth, no-one can see the kingdom of God unless he is born again.ref When someone becomes a Christian, in some real sense he or she becomes a new person.

Paul echoes this thought when he describes regeneration as being made a new creation. He says if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; the old has gone, the new has come!ref When I became a Christian, the broken and hopeless old me was thrown away; a brand-new "in Christ" me was created.

Another dramatic picture that Paul uses is that of death and life, or crucifixion and resurrection. He says We were... buried with [Christ Jesus] through baptism into death in order that, just as Christ was raised from the dead through the glory of the Father, we too may live a new life.ref

These are some of the ways the New Testament pictures the fact of regeneration in a person's life: the change that happens inside them when they become a Christian.

But, this evening, I want to focus on a picture of regeneration that is not from the New Testament, but the Old. The picture I want to look at is from the middle of our reading earlier: the picture of a heart transplant that we find in Ezekiel chapter 36 verse 26. God says to his people,

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.ref

The first medical heart transplant was performed just over forty years ago. But God's promise of a spiritual heart transplant was made over two-and-a-half thousand years ago.

For a successful heart transplant, we need three key things: we need a diagnosis, we need a doctor and we need a donor. I want to look at these three things in turn.

The Diagnosis

First we need a diagnosis. And the diagnosis in verse 26 is that we have a serious problem: our hearts are made of stone.

In Bible language, the word "heart" doesn't just mean "the large, muscular pumping thing in our chest that keeps blood flowing". The word "heart" in the Bible has a much wider meaning. It is linked here with spirit, and often in the Bible the words heart and spirit are used interchangeably. So when David prays Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within meref, he is not asking for two things — a clean heart and a right spirit — but one thing: to be completely clean inside. A person's heart and a person's spirit are essentially the same thing.

The Bible use of the word heart most closely means "centre" or "core", as in the modern phrase "the heart of the matter". In relation to people it means the whole "inner being" or "inner man". Biblically speaking, the heart is the seat of our personality, of our emotional state, of our intellectual activities and of our will or volition. Your heart is who you are. Proverbs 4:23 advises, Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.ref

Sometimes modern usage does reflect the wider Biblical meaning of the word "heart". We talk about someone's "heart's desire" — something they long for with their whole being. Or we talk about giving someone our "wholehearted support", meaning we support them without reservation. "I wholeheartedly endorse Arsene Wenger as Arsenal manager" . Or we describe people as having a "change of heart" when they stop behaving in one way and start following a different path.

All these uses of the word "heart" embrace far more than the physical pumping thing in our chests: they sum up our whole being: physical, intellectual, emotional and spiritual, which is the same way the Bible uses the word.

So, when the Bible diagnoses that our hearts are made of stone, we can see that we have a very serious problem. As far as God is concerned, our hearts are just lumps of rock. They are not doing their job; they are not taking God's life-giving essence and pumping it around our inner being.

If our physical hearts were made of stone, we'd be stone dead, wouldn't we? And that's the point of the picture: towards God, we are by nature stone cold dead. We do not love him, we do not believe him, we do not trust him, we do not delight in him, we do not obey him. As far as God is concerned, our inner beings are as responsive as rocks.

This is the way we are born. Not one of us was born with a heart that is alive to God. Ever since the Fall, we have inherited a defect that has left us with a heart problem; a heart made of stone; an inner being that is dead towards God.

The prophet Jeremiah, a contemporary of Ezekiel's, says, The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cureref. Our heart condition cannot be cured. We cannot make ourselves alive to God. We cannot make our cold, stone, lifeless hearts beat with warmth towards God any more than we can take a rock and make it live.

There are any number of books about spirituality; any number of religions promising self-fulfilment and spiritual enlightenment; any number of exercises designed to give us spiritual centredness; all missing the point. If it weren't so serious it would be funny: a vast army of con-merchants getting rich by deluding people that they can make rocks live.

No. No matter how hard we try, no matter how good we manage to be, no matter how much we try to pray, we cannot cure our fundamental problem: we have hearts of stone. A heart of stone can never know God, any more than a rock can be your friend.

Our problem is so serious that there is only one hope. We need a heart transplant. We need to have our incurably diseased old hearts removed, and replaced with a new, living, beating heart. That's what regeneration is, and that's what God through Ezekiel promises:

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.ref

The Doctor

So that's the diagnosis: we need a heart transplant. How can we get one? Well that's where the doctor comes in, the second of my d's.

Open-heart surgery is not something we can perform on ourselves. Open heart surgery is something that can only be done to us, by somebody with very special skills and training and equipment.

It is absurd to think that I could cut open my chest, whip out my heart, stick in a new one, sew it all up again and survive to tell the tale. Medical science is good, but it's never going to be that good.

In the same way, there's no way I can carry out a spiritual heart transplant on myself. I can never make myself a Christian. I might call myself a Christian, I might act like a Christian, I might believe I am a Christian. But unless God has actually performed heart surgery on me, I will never be a Christian. My heart will remain stone cold dead. I will never be able to know God.

No, we need a doctor to perform the transplant. And here God claims that he is able to do it: 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.ref

Actually, this promise comes at the end of a list of "I will" statements starting at verse 24. Have a look if you have your Bible open. From the NIV: verse 24, I will take you out of the nations; I will gather you, verse 25, I will sprinkle clean water on you; I will cleanse you, verse 26, I will give you a new heart; I will remove from you your heart of stone, and verse 27, I will put my Spirit in you.

These are God's promises to his people. God's people, Israel, are pretty much at the lowest point of their Old Testament history. God has punished them for their persistent and gross disobedience and idolatry. He has taken them away from their land. He has taken them away from the temple. He has given them over completely to a pagan nation. There's nothing they can do to save themselves.

But, finally, to his broken people, he promises restoration. More than that, he promises regeneration. He will make a new start with his people. With new hearts, hearts of flesh, and God's own Spirit within them, they will be able to start a deep and genuine relationship with him. It won't be dogged by all the old problems, but will be a relationship of love and obedience. You will be my people, and I will be your Godref he says in verse 28.

And that is the relationship you and I, if we are Christians, have with God. He has taken away our heart of stone and given us a heart of flesh. We have contributed nothing, except that heart of stone. The doctor has performed the whole transplant himself.

The Donor

So that's two of the elements of what we need for the transplant: a diagnosis and a doctor. The final missing element is a donor. Where will we get this living, beating heart of flesh? Who will it come from?

Well, you can see where I am going with this. There's only ever been one man who did not suffer with the birth-defect of a heart of stone. The Son of God, rather than a son of Adam. Only Jesus had a heart that was fundamentally warm to God, a heart of flesh.

When a medical heart transplant is done we know that there must have been a death. The donor gives life to another at the expense of his own life, usually in tragic circumstances.

So it is with a spiritual heart transplant. The donor had to die. Jesus voluntarily died so that we might have life. His heart of flesh was so good, so sufficient that it is sufficient for the hundreds of millions of Christians in the world, replacing their hearts of stone.

That's one of the pictures the Bible gives for what happened at the cross. Because of Jesus' death, he can now live within us: Jesus becomes our heart donor and gives us hope of life.

So Paul can write to the Corinthian church, Examine yourselves to see whether you are in the faith; test yourselves. Do you not realize that Christ Jesus is in you—unless, of course, you fail the test?ref

Unless this heart transplant has taken place — unless Jesus is in us, his heart of flesh replacing our heart of stone — we are not in the faith. We are simply not Christians.


So that's my appeal to you tonight. Have you had that heart transplant? Have you let God take from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh?

You only need one heart transplant. If the transplant has been done, it will not fail. It may not always seem like it is successful in this life, because the process of removing our heart of stone will not be complete until we die.

In Romans chapter 8 Paul writes if Christ is in you, your body is dead because of sin, yet your spirit is alive because of righteousness.ref The work is not yet complete: we have to put up with our dead, old, stony hearts for a while yet. There is a fight within us between the old and the new. But if Christ is in you, then the new heart of flesh gives you life, and one day the dead heart of stone will be completely gone.

The obligation for us, if we are Christians, is not to follow the old heart of stone, but to follow the new heart of flesh that God has given us. The heart that delights in him, in prayer, in his word and in his people. Follow that heart with all your heart!

Perhaps, however, you know that you have never experienced this regeneration. You have never handed yourself over to God so that he can do his regenerating, heart-transplanting work in your life.

Earlier on in Ezekiel, God has urged his people Rid yourselves of all the offences you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel?ref

He is asking you the same question tonight: why will you die? Why won't you come to God for a new heart and a new spirit, and live?

You don't need to be good. Our reading earlier made it quite clear that the Israelites were wicked people. Yet God offers them this promise. That's the point, isn't it: it is the spiritually sick — all of us — who need this transplant. You don't need to be good.

If you were in the doctor's surgery tomorrow and he said "Here's the bad news: your heart is failing, it is riddled with disease and you are certain to die. The good news 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 but "doctor, where do I sign?" wouldn't it?

Well, the donor heart is available for you. The doctor is waiting to perform the operation. Do you agree with the diagnosis? Will you come to him for a new heart?

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.ref

Why will you die with an offer like that on the table?