New Year: New Heart
- “A new heart also will I give you, and a new spirit will I put within you and I will take away the stony heart out of your flesh and I will give you a heart of flesh,” Ezek 11:19, 36:26,
Destruction of Jerusalem, Judah, Israel and the captivity were according to the sovereign plan of God to teach the erring nations a lesson. But the love of God is so great that He cannot forsake Israel forever; He will restore them. But before that the people had to turn from their evil ways and seek God. God himself will initiate the reversal by putting a new heart in them, a heart of flesh instead of their stony heart. This great message of hope is relevant to all generations.
What is a stony heart? "Skleerocardia," hardness of heart is the term in Greek for stony heart. "Stony" ("stiff-necked," Ex 34:9) stands for infidelity, pride and unrepentant mind, defiled with worldly thoughts, delights of the flesh and full of hate and resentment. It is unrepentant, unforgiving, unkind, unloving, cruel, away from God and spiritually dead and no room for goodness, morality or righteousness. It is stumbling to Gospel. Skleerocardia is mentioned only in two places in the Holy Bible. (1) Mathew 19:8 when Jesus explained why Moses allowed divorce, "Because of the hardness of heart." It is a condition which prevents blood flow into heart. As a dysfunctional valve prevents regular blood-flow into the heart and causes death a stony-heart prevents flow of God’s grace causing spiritual death. Satan takes control and impels such a person to commit all sorts of sinful rages. Change of attitude is difficult in such a vicious condition. A spouse who lives with such persons is exposed to the danger of severe abuse, injury or even death. Divorce was preferred as a lesser evil for the safety of the weaker partner, not as a universal standard. Stony heart rebels against God. God calls Israel, “House of rebellion, impudent, heard-hearted, adamant and harder than flint.” Wickedness, infidelity, broken relationships, family feuds, rivalry, social unrest, etc are attributes of stony heart. (2) In Mark 16:14 when "Jesus rebuked the disciples for their unbelief and hardness of heart." The disciples who saw the crucifixion thought that the Lord failed and all their hopes ended. They closed their heart to believe the Gospel that the "The Lord is risen." Whether a heart is closed to love one's wife or disbelieve the Gospel, both are in the same predicament; closed to God's grace.
A stony heart refuses to (1) obey the word of God, (2) heed to the sermons and (3) call for righteous living. Sins of commissions and omissions come out of the stony heart. “Watch over heart with all diligence to guard the character,” Pro 4:23. Bible says not to hold what belongs to another. Achan was put to death for holding what did not belong to him, Joshua 7:1-26. Gehasi was punished with leprosy for holding what was not due to him, 2K 5:20-27. Lev 27:26-33 says, "Firstborn of animals, all the tithe of the land whether the seed or the fruit, is the Lord's." Haggai 1:6-9 says, "You have sown much and bring in little; you eat but not satisfied; you drink but you are not filled; you clothe but no one is warm and he who earns wages, earns to put into a bag with holes; consider your ways. My house is in ruins while every one of you runs to his own house." Malachi 3:8-10 says, "You have robbed me in tithes and offerings. Bring in all the tithes into the storehouse." 'In the old times men were instructed to offer in the temple the first-fruits of the threshing-floor and the winepress, Num. 18:12. Likewise we ought to offer God self-control and truth, ascetic practice, love and prayer as the first-fruits of the virtue of contemplation. Through the first we repulse the assaults of mindless desire and anger; through the second we vanquish empty thoughts and the snares into which they lead us,' says a Church father.
Heart of flesh is just the opposite of stony heart. It believes in the Gospel and delights in the Word of God and takes refuge in the Lord, Ps 34:8. Be it sick with sins of the flesh, infixed in worldly desires or imperfect, it approaches Christ who is life and perfection of virtues, the doctor who heals and fountain of mercy. Heart of flesh is free from burden of iniquity because Christ is its justification and strength; the way to eternal life, light and imperishable beauty. It is full of love, compassion, morally upright and righteous; forgives, considers no offence to others, repents and corrects so that relationship with spouse, siblings, kids and others are in proper place.
How and why God's horrible judgment fell upon Zedekiah? Like his most predecessors, “He did that which was evil in the sight of the Lord his God and humbled not himself before Jeremiah the prophet speaking from the mouth of the Lord,” 2 Chr 36:12. “He rebelled against the king, who had made him swear by God, he stiffened his neck and hardened his heart from turning unto the Lord God of Israel,” v13. “Moreover all the chief of priests and people transgressed very much after all the abominations of the heathen and polluted the house of the Lord which he had hallowed in Jerusalem. The Lord God of their fathers sent to them by his messengers, rising up betimes, and sending because he had compassion on his people and on his dwelling place. But they mocked the messengers of God and despised his words, misused his prophets until the wrath of the Lord arose against his people till there was no remedy. Therefore he brought upon them the king of Chaldees who slew their young men with the sword in the house of their sanctuary… and he gave all into his hands,” v14-17. Babylonian army besieged and burned down Jerusalem, captured the king, ransacked and took holy vessels and valuables of the temple, killed the people and carried young people into captivity to Babylon, v18, 19. This total destruction of the nation fulfilled Jeremiah’s prediction, Je 25-27; v20. This reminds not to rebel against admonitions.
Are we different? Many people seldom think how humble they came in this country and prospered. First batch immigrants carried $6 with them. After years of suffering discrimination and toils many are millionaires, landlords, employers and professionals. Indian community ranks in the highest per-capita income group, scores highest in academic excellence, professional expertise and finance. But do we credit these achievements to God's blessings which enabled us to become what we are and feel thankful? Many are church leaders but lack faith of our fathers. Many cry for help in trouble and when get help turn they their back to God! All round prosperity led man to falsely put his trust in his self-righteousness rather than God who sustained him leading to a gradual moral degradation. Some people's attitude amazes me; they are very courteous, religious and punctual on Sundays but when the question comes of helping parish, diocese or a charity they show a stoic face and seldom spare a penny, at the same time would expend huge sums inviting priests, bishops and friends to make baptism, marriage, memorials, etc grand. In the hot pursuit of happiness people often forget their very root. A migrant Malayalee's peculiarity is that women earn more wages and they take upper hand in decisions; men being helpless. Many are obsessed with a wrong notion that high-end houses and cars make them great and compete to excel others. Many people buy them not for need but for status-sake! Many people commit beyond their ability and work overtime to pay it off. Being exhausted they find neither time nor money for the church! Unfortunately, the competitions are primarily between siblings. Many siblings are not in talking terms and worst of all they convert the church into a venue to unload all cold-wars, jealousy and anger and challenge one another to prove their dexterity. Pathetic indeed; people careless of the church sanctity encourage sides resulting in group-rivalry. Parents who run after never-ending quest for material-gains neglect the children. They learn undesirable things from TV, Internet and evil friends and grow disoriented and squander the wealth. Many youngsters remain either singles or divorcees for, the parents failed to impart family values in them. Many are society magnates but spiritually dead, no peace at home, live in mansions but zero in hospitality, curious to imitate the west but not their good aspects.
“Our greatest protection is self-knowledge to avoid the delusion that we are seeing ourselves when we are in reality looking at something else. This is what happens to those who do not scrutinize themselves. What they see is strength, beauty, reputation, political power, abundant wealth, pomp, self-importance, bodily stature, certain grace of form or the life. They think that is what they are. Such persons make very poor guardians of themselves: because of their absorption in something else, they overlook what is their own and leave it unguarded. How can a person protect what he does not know? The most secure protection for our treasure is to know ourselves: each one must know himself as he is, and distinguish himself from all that is not he, that he may not unconsciously be protecting something else instead of himself,” St Gregory of Nyssa.
Repentance is essential to inherit heaven. One who does not repent shall perish, said Jesus, Luk 13:3. One who is in Christ is a new creation, behold old things passed away.
May God bless you.
My family and I wish you a very happy and prosperous New Year, Love,