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Monday, April 27, 2015

I Have a NEW Heart!

Copyright April 21, 2015 by Chris Mullis
Ezekiel 36:25-27

Introduction
            I love springtime!  It is my favorite time of year.  I love the weather.  I love the longer days.  But most of all, I love seeing earth spring forth into NEW life.  Trees are budding.  Flowers are blooming.  It is a glorious thing to behold. 
With spring, come caterpillars feeding to prepare themselves to transform into butterflies.  Abigail has a “pet” caterpillar in a jar.  She named him Larry.  Larry has already built a cocoon. Soon Larry will transform into a butterfly (or more likely a moth).  It’s such a pleasure to behold the excitement of a child studying this process—to see it through their eyes.  Abigail also has a “pet” worm, but it won’t build a cocoon. I was joking with Abigail and asked if her worm was going to turn into a butterfly too.

“No!  Worms don’t turn into butterflies!”  She said, “That’s the difference between worms and caterpillars!”
Wisdom from the mouth of an 8-year-old.  The difference between worms and caterpillars: God doesn’t turn worms into butterflies.  Do you have the faith to let God transform you into something NEW?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?
            If you have faith in Jesus Christ—if you trust him with life and your eternity—God will transform you into a NEW creation.  He will give you NEW desires, a NEW way of thinking, and a NEW purpose in life.  Today I want to talk about God’s promise to give us a NEW heart.  Let’s look back into the Old Testament at the words of the prophet Ezekiel written over 500 years before Christ was born. 

Ezekiel 36:25-27
25 “Then I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean. Your filth will be washed away, and you will no longer worship idols. 26 And I will give you a new heart, and I will put a new spirit in you. I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart. 27 And I will put my Spirit in you so that you will follow my decrees and be careful to obey my regulations.”

Explain the Passage
            Ezekiel lived during the Old Testament period of our faith.  We usually forget what a blessing it is to live in our time as opposed to Ezekiel’s time.  You see the whole character of life transformed when Jesus rose from the grave.  He ushered in a NEW Covenant between God and humanity. 
            In the Old Covenant, people were given rules (Laws) to help them avoid God’s judgment.  God said: If you obey my laws, I will be bless you.  If you disobey my laws, I will punish you. (summary of Deuteronomy 26:1-46)  That was the agreement.  The problem was most people only followed the rules to avoid punishment and receive a blessing.  There was very little sense of actual right and wrong—it was mostly about reward and punishment.  People didn’t necessarily want to do the right thing.  They just wanted to be blessed and avoid the God’s wrath.  Following the law was just a mechanical thing people did.  It was not motivated by love.
            Prophets used to lament this lack of love in people.  Perhaps the prophet Isaiah said it best in Isaiah 29:13, “And so the Lord says, “These people say they are mine. They honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. And their worship of me is nothing but man-made rules learned by rote.”

            When Jesus rose from the grave, He ushered in a NEW agreement (a NEW Covenant).  In the New Covenant, love is the only rule.  St. Augustine described Christianity this way.  He said, “Love God and do whatever you want.”  You see if you love God, you can do whatever you want because you will only want to do the right things if you truly love God.  In the NEW Covenant, Jesus offers us a NEW heart that loves God and sincerely desires to do good and not evil.
And all this is what Ezekiel predicted.  Five hundred years before Christ came, Ezekiel prophesied:
·      Vs 25a – “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean.  Your filth will be washed away…”  Since Jesus paid the price for our sins when he died on the cross, we who trust in Christ have been cleansed.  Our sins are washed away!  And how is it that we commemorate this cleansing by Jesus when a person decides to become a Christian?  We sprinkle people with water when we baptize them.
·      Vs 25b "…and you will no longer worship idols.”  An idol is not necessarily a statue.  An idol is anything that takes the place of God in our heart.  Money can be an idol.  Power can be an idol.  Sex or your job or your family can become idols in your heart.  In the story of creation found in Genesis, the forbidden fruit was an idol for Adam and Eve because they desired it more than they wanted to obey God.  You see, there has always been this crazy tendency within the human heart to replace God with something else.  It is the primal sin.  And God promised through Ezekiel, that one day we would stop doing this.  And here’s how God accomplishes this in us.
·       Vs 26 – “I will give you a new heart… a tender, responsive heart.”  Ezekiel dreamed of the days we live in right now!  We live under the NEW Covenant—when we can receive a NEW heart from God—one that wants to do the right thing and no longer wants to do evil!  Because Jesus died and rose from the grave, you can have a NEW heart! 

A NEW Heart
            Christ gives us an amazing opportunity!  We can have a NEW heart!  And here’s what it looks like: 
·       Vs. 26 – “…I will take out your stony, stubborn heart and give you a tender, responsive heart.”  [Some of you may have been hurt, betrayed, or disappointed so that your hearts have grown cold.  You can’t trust anymore.  You’re afraid to feel.  It’s like your heart has become cold and stony.  Your cold, stony heart isolates you from further pain and disappointment, but it also keeps you from experiencing life, love, and relationships in their fullness as God intended.  Ultimately, your cold, stony heart separate you from God—the source of life.  If you go on living with your cold, stony heart, you’re going to die spiritually.  But you don’t have to.  If you trust Jesus, he will give you a NEW heart that is tender and responsive.
·       Some of you have dirty, filthy hearts.  Even though you look nice on the outside, on the inside you harbor evil thoughts, selfish desires, and unkind attitudes.  You know this is not the way you should be, but you don’t know how to change.  Jesus can wash away your filthy heart and give you a NEW, clean heart.
·       Some of you are not so bad.  If fact, you’ve spent most of your life trying really hard to follow all the rules.  Your parents taught you right from wrong and you’ve tried to lived up to everyone’s expectations.  Sure you’ve made mistakes along the way (who hasn’t?), but overall you’d say you’re a pretty good person.  But I’ve got news for you:  More than anyone else, Jesus wants to give you a NEW heart.  You see, no matter how “good” you are, you can never be good enough.  If you’ve been trying to get along in life by simply following the rules, you have misunderstood God’s intention for you entirely.  God doesn’t want you to follow the rules.  God want you to do what’s right.  (And following the rules and doing what’s right are not necessarily always the same thing.)  You see, you (just like everybody else) need a NEW heart—one that is guided by God’s Holy Spirit, one that has His laws written upon it, one that always knows intuitively how to do the right thing at the right in the right way.  You need a NEW heart. 

Invitation
            Do you trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart?  You see, faith is the key that unlocks the power of Christ to transform you.  That’s the difference between a caterpillar and a worm.  A caterpillar and a worm both crawl around on the ground.  But only the caterpillar builds its own tomb, seals it, and waits to see what God will do.  And what looks like the end for the caterpillar, God’s sees as a butterfly. 
            Are you a worm or a caterpillar?  Do you trust God enough to let your old heart die so Jesus can give you a NEW heart?  Would you like to go on living with your old heart (which is not really living at all, just existing), or would you rather trust Jesus to give you a NEW heart and a NEW life—true life?
            God invites us all to trust in Jesus and receive a NEW heart.  That is your choice today.  How will you choose?  Are you a worm or a caterpillar?