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Major Truths in Minor Prophets: A Heart Transplant

June 3, 2007

Ezekiel 11:17-21

Our Scripture today comes from the prophet Ezekiel, just four verses from Chapter 11. I will begin reading at Verse 17. This is the Word of God for the people of God.

“Therefore say, ‘This is what the Sovereign Lord says: I will gather you from the nations and bring you back from the countries where you have been scattered, and I will give you back the land of Israel again.’

“They will return to it and remove all its vile images and detestable idols. I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone and give them a heart of flesh. Then they will follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws. They will be my people, and I will their God.”

I was talking with a woman this week who was preparing for surgery. She was scheduled to have a pacemaker implanted in her chest. She said, “I have been trying to get the name right. I have been calling it the wrong name all week.” I asked, “What have you been calling it?” I have been calling it a pacifier.” That is not a bad name. I told her about a time when I visited with a woman in the Coronary Care Unit who was going to have emergency surgery. Realizing she was quite distraught, I asked, “What’s wrong?” She answered, “Dr. Kirk, I just don’t know what to do. The doctors want to put a peacemaker in my heart.” I laughed, “Let me tell you something. If a surgeon wants to put a peacemaker in your heart, let him do it.” We all want peace of heart.

Ezekiel is a long book, written against the backdrop of the Exile in Babylon, a terrible time for the people of Israel. The Exile was a traumatic event, one of the two most significant events in their history. As much as the Exodus marks their liberation from bondage in Egypt, exile in Babylon was a hard pill to swallow. People were bitter, and they tended to have little hope. Against that backdrop, we have much of the wonderful literature of the Hebrew Scriptures. The prophets – Isaiah, Jeremiah, and Ezekiel – all wrote during that time. Other prophets wrote more extensively than Ezekiel. Jeremiah wrote many prophecies. You remember the prophecy about the Valley of Dry Bones in which Jeremiah envisioned bones of people rejoining. I suppose we could say that in that instance, God was serving as an orthopedic surgeon, putting broken bones back together.

In the Scriptures today, God is a cardiologist, a surgeon. He says clearly, “I am going to give my people a new heart. I am going to put a new spirit within them.” Of course, God is talking here in spiritual terms; but when we read this Scripture, we think of a heart transplant, considered radical surgery. It has been only during my adult years that heart transplants were even imaginable. I can remember the first one done in South Africa. Now, they are routine.

The Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, has kept archival records of patients who have had bone marrow transplants, kidney transplants, heart transplants, or liver transplants. They make this information available because the patients’ stories encourage those who are facing similar kinds of surgery.

I have read some of the stories about people who have had heart transplants. One man named Oscar McKnight suffered with heart difficulty for about ten years. When medications failed, his doctors referred him to the Mayo Clinic. He met with a physician there who told him that he needed immediate surgery even though no donor heart was available. They implanted a mechanical device called a VAD, Ventricular Assistant Device, created by Dr Robert Jarvick. The VAD is similar to a little motor that pushes the blood through the heart. Doctors left it in until a heart became available for transplant. Oscar, who received his new heart about a year ago, says that one activity he enjoys doing the most since his surgery is singing in the choir at his church. He asserts, “God has given me new life, and I just want to sing His praises.”

A young man named Eric Peterson was eighteen years old when he began experiencing shortness of breath. His local physician referred him to the Mayo Clinic. Eric said that he was shocked when the doctors there told him he needed a heart transplant. He was somewhat reluctant to have this surgery at first, as was his family. Doctors put him on the waiting list; and when a heart became available, Eric agreed to have the surgery. He just finished his sophomore year in college, and his aspiration is to become a high school coach.

These heart transplant patients and others have two reactions in common. First, they were stunned when their physician told them they needed a new heart. That information caught them by surprise. Even though they may have had a history of heart disease, the radical procedure of a heart transplant came as a surprise to them. Second, the recipients had an overwhelming sense of gratitude that the surgery was possible, as well as a sense of gratitude for the family of the person who donated the heart. The recipients all expressed sorrow for the grief the family had experienced. A heart transplant would have been impossible without a willing organ donor. That person’s death had supplied them a new heart and a new life.

I have seen that same experience in one of our own members. Many of you know that Tim Timmons was diagnosed with bone cancer. He went to the Anderson Clinic in Houston, Texas, for a transplant. A large bone from a donor was transplanted in his upper leg. I learned that Tim was particularly concerned about the family of the donor. Diane, his wife, later explained, “Tim’s sister, Ann, died in an automobile accident in Kingsport, Tennessee. Ann had indicated that she wanted to be an organ donor. An African-American man who lived in Mississippi received her heart.”

Tim’s mother did something amazing. She invited that man and his family to come to Atlanta for a meal with her family. Ann, a horse enthusiast, had owned a collection of miniature horse figures. Tim’s mother gave each of the man’s three children a horse from Ann’s collection. This touching story reminds us that whenever we receive an organ donation, a donor family is deeply involved in the process.

Ezekiel, speaking on God’s behalf, says to the people or Israel, “Your heart is so diseased (speaking spiritually) that I am going to give you a new one.” This news must have been shocking to them. Ezekiel was not just speaking to the people of Israel. Ezekiel is speaking God’s Word to all of us. We may ask, “Why would God say, ‘You need a new heart’? Why do we need a new heart?”

I can scan the congregation this morning and see so many people who have a broken heart, a heart that has been scarred. A person you trusted has let you down, betrayed you, done something to break your heart. When that kind of heartbreak happens to us, we begin to put up defenses. We are no longer quite as trusting as we once were. We are no longer quite as open to other people. We tend to become more closed, more suspicious. Our hearts become hardened. Jesus told the Pharisees, “Your hearts were hard.” One physician told me that is the worst kind of sclerosis. We do need a heart transplant. We need a new heart. In order to get a new heart, we must have a donor.

Where will God find a donor? God has already found a donor, a donor who died on a cross at Calvary. Jesus died so that we could have new life. Jesus died, shedding his blood so that we could receive a new heart. Hearts that have been cynical and untrusting now can be replaced. Our transplanted heart becomes the heart of Jesus, a heart that can trust and have faith. Hearts that are rebellious and obstinate become hearts that are obedient, willing to follow the Lord Jesus. Jesus’ heart of compassion can replace hearts that have become hard. The good news is that the Savior who wants to give us his heart is still alive. He is alive through the power of his resurrection.

On the night before Jesus died, he gathered his disciples around a table for a Passover meal. He reinterpreted these elements, saying, “The bread is my body, broken for you. The cup is my blood shed for you.” This is to be a memorial, a way of remembering. We need to come to this table with some frequency because we need the heart of Jesus to replace our hearts. We need this kind of radical surgery in a spiritual sense. My prayer is that as we take these elements, each one of us will be in prayer. May we ask God to give us the heart, the mind, and the spirit of Jesus Christ, our donor who died so that we might have life.

This table is not Morningside’s table. It is not a Baptist table. It is the Lord’s Table. All who acknowledge that Jesus Christ is the Lord of their life is welcomed to take this Supper with us. We will take the Supper together now.

On the night of his betrayal, the Lord Jesus took bread. He blessed it and broke it, saying, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” We will have a prayer of blessing now for the bread.

Our Father, it is because You have such a heart of love for us that You gave Your only Son to die for our sins. Because of You, we might have a new heart to serve You. Through the power and the presence of Your Holy Spirit, help us to be ever mindful of that love as we partake of this bread. For we pray in Jesus’ name. Amen.

On a hill faraway stood an old rugged cross,

The emblem of suffering and shame;

And I love that old cross where the dearest and best

For a world of lost sinners was slain.

So I’ll cherish the old rugged cross,

Till my trophies at last I lay down;

I will cling to the old rugged cross,

And exchange it some day for a crown.

Jesus said, “This bread is my body, broken for you.” Eat this whenever you eat it in remembrance of him. Eat ye all of it.

We will have a prayer of blessing now for the cup.

Our Father, we thank You for the greatest gift to us of all, Your Son Jesus Christ our Savior who died on the cross at Calvary. His blood spilled on the ground at the bottom of that cross. We pray that You will bless this cup now as we honor and remember Jesus Christ, the Risen Savior. We pray in Your holy name. Amen.

Down at the cross where my Savior died,

Down where for cleansing from sin I cried.

There to my heart was a blood applied;

Glory to His name!

I am so wondrously saved from sin,

Jesus so sweetly abides within;

There at the cross where he took me in;

Glory to his name!

Jesus said, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood.” Drink it as often as you drink it in remembrance of him. Drink ye all of it.

You cannot come to a service like this with beautiful music and Scripture from an ancient prophet and not be touched by the Holy Spirit of God. Ezekiel tells us exactly what we need to help our spiritual condition. If God’s Holy Spirit has touched you, surely God has a decision He wants us to make. Every person here has some type of a decision to make. Perhaps you do not know Jesus Christ as Savior. If that is the case, please do not leave this building until you accept Christ as your Lord. He died for you. You may have another decision to make, a decision you have been thinking about and praying about for a long time. If God has led you to Morningside to be your church home, we invite you to respond. Do not leave this Sanctuary without being obedient to whatever God has laid on your heart. As we sing together a hymn of invitation, “O Master, Let Me Walk with Thee,” we invite your response.

© 2007 Kirk H. Neely

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