Rev. Dr. Niveen Sarras
Ezekiel 36:24-28/changing the heart
round-robin midweek service.
Egypt has one-third of the world-historical monuments and antiquities. I visited The Museum of Egyptian Antiquities in Cairo. It took me the whole day to see some of their antiques. I couldn't see the 120,000 items in one day. Tourists are impressed the most by the mummies. Scientists still unable to figure out how ancient Egyptians preserved dead bodies. In ancient Egypt, “The heart of stone refers to the internal organs of someone who is dead. In fact, in Egyptian burials, in the process of mummification, they replaced the heart with a stone one.” This practice was in God’s mind when God talked to Ezekiel about a heart of stone. In my Palestinian culture, we have a saying “a heart of stone,” which carries a negative connotation. It refers to a merciless and uncompassionate person.
God declares in the book of Ezekiel that God’s intention is to replace the Israelite’s heart of stone with a heart of flesh. Heart of stone is a sample of a heart weighed down with sins. From God’s perspective, the Israelites were dead. To revive them, God needs to perform heart transplant surgery. We need to ask why Ezekiel describes the Judeans as stonehearted or dead.
The book of Ezekiel was written to the Israelites in exile. The Israelites believed that God punished them by sending the Babylonians to destroy their city, temple, and to take them as captives to Babylon. In sum, the exile was a result of their sin and abandoning God’s law and statutes. Through the prophet Ezekiel, God accuses the Israelites of profounding God’s name among the nations (v. 22). Despite the Israelites transgression against their God, God takes on Godself the responsibility to restore them to their land. Their restoration is not based on their merits. God wants to restore them for the sake of God’s name. God’s grace poured out on the wicked and sinful Israelites. Despite rejecting God, God welcomes them back. But before they receive forgiveness and restoration, they need to repent. They need a new heart. Sinners can receive forgiveness if they repent. God shows God’s kindness to sinners. Let us see how God is going to restore the Israelites.
Firstly, God will gather and bring them to their homeland.
Secondly, God will sprinkle clean water upon them to clean them from all impurity. This reminds me of our baptism. In our baptism, we receive forgiveness of sin. We die with Christ and rise up with him. In baptism, our old nature dies as we put on Christ. Our baptism also cleanses us from all impurity.
Thirdly, after cleansing the Israelites, God will give them a new heart and spirit. This also reminds me of our baptism. In your baptism, you have been sealed by the Holy Spirit. The Holy Spirit dwells in you to guide you and transform your heart. The heart of stone becomes a heart of flesh. A heart that is eager to follow the teaching of our Lord Jesus Christ. The spirit of God convicts our hearts and calls us to repent. Opening our soul and ears to the call of the Holy Spirit to repent will change the heart of stone. Listening to the spirit of God will heal a heart weighed down with sin. The Holy Spirit revives a dead heart. Our Lord Jesus Christ has the power to transform any evil heart. He is an expert in heart transplantation.
God concludes God’s promise of restoration and salvation by using covenantal language. “You shall dwell in the land which I gave to your fathers, and you shall be my people, and I will be your God” (v. 28). God established a new covenant with the Israelites that is similar to the covenant in Jeremiah: 31:31-34
I will put my law within them, and I will write it on their hearts. And I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 34 And no longer shall each one teach his neighbor and each his brother, saying, ‘Know the Lord,’ for they shall all know me, from the least of them to the greatest, declares the Lord.
God commits Godself to you. When you repent, God will grant you privileges. You will experience God’s grace; you will be called a child of God; God will be proud to claim you.
See how the grace of your God is poured out upon you abundantly, offering forgiveness and restoration. Even though we abandon our Lord Jesus Christ and commit transgression against him and against our neighbor, Jesus is still committed to you. God will continue to see you through Jesus Christ. God’s love and forgiveness are not based on your merit, but it is based on the love of God and the covenant that God established with you through the blood of Jesus Christ. God will never cease to show you mercy. God’s mercy is new every day, and God’s call for repentance is always new. Rely on the grace of Jesus Christ to heal your heart from all impurity and give you a heart of flesh.