[Pentecost 19]  Ezekiel 18:1-4,25-32  J.D.Roekle

 

The word of the Lord came to me: 2 “What do you people mean by quoting this proverb about the land of Israel:

“ ‘The fathers eat sour grapes,

and the children’s teeth are set on edge’?

3 “As surely as I live, declares the Sovereign Lord, you will no longer quote this proverb in Israel. 4 For every living soul belongs to me, the father as well as the son—both alike belong to me. The soul who sins is the one who will die.

25 “Yet you say, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Hear, O house of Israel: Is my way unjust? Is it not your ways that are unjust? 26 If a righteous man turns from his righteousness and commits sin, he will die for it; because of the sin he has committed he will die. 27 But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. 28 Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die. 29 Yet the house of Israel says, ‘The way of the Lord is not just.’ Are my ways unjust, O house of Israel? Is it not your ways that are unjust?

30 “Therefore, O house of Israel, I will judge you, each one according to his ways, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall. 31 Rid yourselves of all the offenses you have committed, and get a new heart and a new spirit. Why will you die, O house of Israel? 32 For I take no pleasure in the death of anyone, declares the Sovereign Lord. Repent and live!

 

Get A New Heart!

 

Dear Friends in Christ,

          Each year, thousands of people receive a heart transplant.  They receive a new heart because they were in severe heart failure.  They needed the heart transplant in order to survive.  Even while there are many, many people who receive a new heart, there are many on a waiting list that do not receive one.  There are various factors and reasons for that, but the fact remains that each of those are on the waiting list for a reason.  Each have are in severe heart failure.  Without a new heart, their chance of survival is not good. 

          In order to survive before God, the same thing is true: we need a new heart.  It really doesn’t matter who you are.  It doesn’t matter how old you are, or where you grew up, or who raised you.  In every case, our hearts are bad.  Our hearts are failing.  With only a bad heart before God, we don’t stand a chance.  So the Lord tells us today Get a new heart! 

 

          Get a new heart is what God spoke to the people of Judah through the prophet Ezekiel.  They had been held captive in Babylon since they had been carried into exile by the Babylonians.  They were in a foreign land.  And not only that, Ezekiel relayed to them that their precious city of Jerusalem would be destroyed along with its crown jewel, the temple.  He told them that this was happening because of their rebelliousness. 

          The people didn’t take Ezekiel’s message very well.  In fact, they retorted that they didn’t deserve this.  They shouldn’t have had this coming.  Why?  They relayed their frustration in the form of a proverb: “The fathers eat sour grapes,

and the children’s teeth are set on edge’” 

          In other words, they were blaming their forefathers for what they were going through now.  They’re the ones who did all the terrible things wrong, and now this generation is paying for it, they reasoned.  They argued that their sins were not all that bad in comparison to the past sins their ancestors did. 

          There’s nothing new here, is there?!  This goes all the way back to our first parents.  Adam and Eve sinned, and what did they do?  It wasn’t my fault!  It was the woman you gave me…It was the serpent’s fault, they said.  Think about how easy it is for you to deflect responsibility from yourself.  He hit me first.  But she started it.  Everybody else is doing it.  Taking personal responsibility for something we have done wrong does not come naturally.  We want to think better of ourselves.  We want to think that it wasn’t that bad.  It was just a little sin.  Or I just made a mistake

          What does God say?  “The soul who sins is the one who will die.”  God is serious about sin.  He tells us that it doesn’t help matters to try to deflect it away from yourself.  When you sin – no matter what that sin may be – you deserve to die.  Your soul deserves to die.  A reality of life is that one day we will die.  But when the Lord talks about the soul dying, he’s talking about eternal death.  A separation from God in the fires of hell.  That’s how seriously God takes sin.  Any sin! 

          So what’s the remedy?  He tells us to get a new heart.  How do we go about that?  The Lord says: “Repent! Turn away from all your offenses; then sin will not be your downfall.”  Repentance.  That’s the key.  Repentance begins with contrition.  Contrition is the recognition of sin and the desire to turn away from the sin that has offended the holy God.  True contrition makes no excuses.  It makes no comparisons.  It doesn’t say: “I may have sinned, but I’ve never committed a whopper that that guy did.”  True contrition comes to the recognition and understanding that the soul that sins is the one who will die

                   But a new heart never stops there.  Otherwise we’d fall into despair.  What would be the use of going on if we knew we’d only be separated from God in the end anyway?  Or if we stopped there, we could also go to another extreme.  We could try to justify ourselves and say, I’m really not all that bad.  In fact, I’m a pretty good person.  I do some good things.  I avoid many bad things.  Neither extreme is healthy.  Instead, the new heart knows that there is a second part of repentance.  A second turn. 

          What is that turn?  “But if a wicked man turns away from the wickedness he has committed and does what is just and right, he will save his life. 28 Because he considers all the offenses he has committed and turns away from them, he will surely live; he will not die.” 

          How is it that someone is able to do what is just and right?  Is God just simply setting us up for failure?  After all, he tells us that “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,”  and “no one is righteous, not even one.”  And he even reminds us: “whoever keeps the whole law and yet stumbles at just one point is guilty of breaking all of it.”  Is God just setting us up for failure?

          The Lord does not take pleasure in the death of anyone.  He does not want to see anyone separated from him.  He is not setting us up for failure.  We are enabled to do what is just and right as we make the second turn in repentance by turning to our Savior.  You see, it is there that we see how our sins are taken care of.  It is there that our Lord shows us that our sins are taken care of by Christ and his cross.  How thoroughly are our sins wiped out?  The prophet Micah (7:19) says: “you will tread our sins underfoot and hurl all our iniquities into the depths of the sea.”  Our sins are banished from God’s sight.  We are forgiven for Jesus’ sake.  And now through faith, we are covered in the righteousness of Christ like a robe covers our body. Treasure that gift! 

 

          After all, it is this gift which enables you to get a new heart and a new spirit.  Without forgiveness in Christ, there would be no restoration.  There would be no possibility of a good relationship with God.  But with Christ, things are changed.  You are God’s own.

          But the temptation to sin remains.  And we often fall.  Let’s not make excuses when we do, but let’s practice repentance.  You see, repentance wasn’t meant to be a one and done thing.  It’s not even meant to be a once in a while thing.  It isn’t meant to take place only after you committed a big sin.  In fact, Martin Luther, when he wrote the 95 Theses, he put this as the very first one: ““Our Lord and Master Jesus Christ, in saying, ‘Repent,’ wanted the entire life of the believer to be one of repentance.”  In order to have a new heart and a new spirit, repentance is the key.  Repentance that is to take as an everyday occurrence. 

In fact, when we think about this, we should remember to go back to our baptism.  For it is there that Christ first enabled us to practice repentance.  And it is there that we are encouraged to continue to practice it.  Luther in his Small Catechism reminds us: “Baptism means that the old Adam in us should be drowned by daily contrition and repentance, and that all its evil deeds and desires be put to death.  It also means that a new person should daily arise to live before God in righteousness and purity forever.” 

Daily contrition and repentance.  As you practice it, God works through His Gospel to create a new heart in you.  A new heart that is ready and willing to serve Him and others.  Amen.