Transplant Surgery

Romans 5:6-8

13 May 2005

Cornhill Training Course

Sermon practice for the Evangelism and Church planting stream


Does anyone here carry a donor card? What made you want to carry one?

I was impressed to discover recently that over 12 million people are on the NHS organ donor register. That's more than one in five people in the country.

It's an awesome thought, isn't it, that out of the untimely death of one person can come life for others. Tragedy for one can become hope for another.

This morning I want to tell you about another death that brings life to others. It's the death described in the short extract from the Bible printed on the backs of the menus. I'll just read it out.

For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us.ref

The death it talks about is the death of Christ, that is, the death of Jesus. I just want to focus in on the first sentence, while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodlyref, and I want to ask three questions: why did Jesus die, when did Jesus die, and for whom did Jesus die?

Why did Jesus die?

Answer: because we need a heart transplant. Let me explain.

According to the reading, it says that Christ died because we were weak. In what sense are we weak as people? Some of us, no doubt, are physically puny, but it's not talking about that. Some of us are no doubt sick and unwell, perhaps chronically, but it's not talking about that. Some of us may suffer from depression, we may feel emotionally weak, but it's not talking about that. What the reading is describing not our physical, or emotional infirmities, but our debilitating spiritual weakness.

The Bible teaches us from start to finish that all of us have a serious spiritual disease. When it comes to God we have a diseased heart that just can't do the job it was designed for. We simply cannot love God and obey him as we were created to do, no matter how hard we try. Even when we want to please God we find that we are powerless to do so. This is what the reading means when it says we are weak.

Our innermost being is faulty. It is broken and diseased and corrupt. We can never be spiritually centred, because our very spiritual centre is rotten.

We know this in our experience, don't we? There is a universal sense of dissatisfaction with life. An endless spiritual searching, but never an experience of finding. Our lives are marked by conflict and insecurity and doubt and worry. It was never supposed to be like that. Something at the core of our being has gone badly wrong, and no matter how hard we try we can't fix it.

But it's not just life now that is spoilt for us. There are eternal consequences too. Just as if we had heart disease in our physical hearts the result of this spiritual heart disease is spiritual death. The Bible says that God has put eternity in our hearts. We were created to live forever with him. We ought never have to face spiritual death. But heart disease has overcome every one of us, and there's nothing we can do about it. That's what our reading means when it says we are weak.

If we were to survive a physical heart attack the doctor would give us all sorts of advice: give up smoking; do some exercise; don't go to McDonalds; take half an aspirin every day. If we followed this advice might postpone the end for a while, it might improve our quality of life in the meantime, but ultimately we're a goner aren't we? The heart always stops beating—it never goes on forever.

We are in exactly the same situation spiritually. Our spiritual hearts are diseased. We can try all sorts of things to keep them going: we can go to church every Sunday, we can say the Lord's prayer every day, we can give lots of money to good causes, we can try to do unto others as we would have them do to us, we can meditate or put crystals round the house. But whatever we do we can't keep that innermost heart beating. We are weak; we are powerless.

What hope is there if we can't help ourselves? What do we do if someone suffers from serious heart disease? Well, it's one of the true miracles of modern medicine that nowadays he can be given a heart transplant. If a healthy heart of the right type is available, the diseased heart can be removed and replaced. It's extraordinary to say, but this amazing miracle has become almost routine these days.

This is the same solution the Bible gives to our spiritual heart disease: we are powerless to do anything about it ourselves, but our rotten hearts can be replaced.

Why did Jesus die? He died because we are weak, because we need a heart transplant.

But for a transplant to work, the right heart needs to be available at just the right time. And for a heart to be available when we need it, it means that someone else must have died at just the right time to provide it. That is exactly what our reading goes on to say has happened.

When did Jesus die?

Our reading says that Jesus died at the right timeref. The point is that whatever it looked like, Jesus' death was not a disaster. It was not a tragedy. It was not the untimely execution of an innocent man who was an inspirational teacher. No, he died at precisely the moment he chose.

Perhaps you've seen the Liver Donor sketch from Monty Python's The Meaning of Life. Mr Brown's doorbell is ringing.

As the Python team are pointing up, the dark side to the miracle of transplant surgery is that every organ transplanted must have fallen out of use by somebody else. Every life saved is the result of the tragic death of another.

On one level, Jesus' death might look like a tragic failure. A great religious teacher, completely innocent in the eyes of the law, conspicuously not seeking political power or revolution, but nonetheless tragically executed by one of the most brutal methods ever devised. His life cut short at the age of 33. What could he have achieved if he had been allowed to live for a few years longer?

But our reading tells us that it was not like that. Jesus' death at just the right time was always part of God's plan, and it happened just as he intended. Unlike the man in the sketch, Jesus went willingly and knowingly to his death under God's initiative precisely to provide the heart transplant we need. Jesus lived in order to die. He died that we might live. He died to do for us what we could not do for ourselves: to give us new hearts.

Of all the men who ever lived, his was the only heart that was good. In fact, his heart was so good that by his death he can provide each and and every one of us with the new heart we need. Because of Jesus' death we can have the transplant we need: a good heart that will last forever.

Why did Jesus die? Because we need a heart transplant. When did Jesus die? At the time he chose, to give us the heart we need.

For whom did Jesus die?

You may think that the answers I've given to these questions from our Bible reading are quite extraordinary. But to my mind the most extraordinary thing of all is the answer to the third question: For whom did Jesus die?

Our reading tells us whom Jesus died for: he died for the ungodly. That is people described at the end of our reading as sinners, and a couple of sentences later on in the Bible as God's enemiesref. That is, he died for you and me.

This is the root cause of our heart disease: that we are by nature ungodly. We live our lives largely without reference to God. We barely acknowledge him, and seldom, if ever stop to thank him. Perhaps we're good enough to give him an hour a week at church, but that's just the crumbs from our table. By and large, God does not feature in our day-to-day lives, and that is what it means to be ungodly.

But it's not just that we are indifferent to God, it is that we are actively hostile. We know that he has a claim on how we run our lives, but we persist in running them our own way. We reject his authority and do just as we wish.

Imagine at work if one of the people you are responsible for managing began to behave like this. He turns up when he feels like it; he dresses as he wishes. While at his desk he doesn't bother himself with any of the work you ask him to do, he just surfs the internet all day. He doesn't return your calls; he doesn't reply to your email. You've warned him repeatedly, but things never change. Nonetheless he keeps cashing his pay-cheque each month.

How are you to interpret his attitude? Well, it's more than indifference, isn't it? It's downright disobedience, even hostility. It's taking the mickey. I don't think we'd put up with it for long before the P45 landed on his desk.

But that is exactly how we are with God. Living our lives without reference to his authority is just taking the mickey. We've set ourselves up as his enemies and should prepare to face the consequences.

Would you die for someone like that? The reading invites us to ask the question, doesn't it? One will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to dieref

Who would you really be prepared to die for? It's a penetrating question, isn't it? I suppose I might be prepared to die for one of my daughters if that were the only possible way she could live. I might be prepared to donate a kidney for my wife, but to die for her... That would take some thought.

But, what if I were asked to donate my organs for the thief who stole my phone, or the yob who scratched my car? What if my heart ended up pumping blood round a rapist's or murderer's body?

I wouldn't want to give my organs to these people even involuntarily. I'd like to write on my donor card, "please make sure only good people receive my body parts" . The thought of giving myself for this sort of people voluntarily is almost repellent.

But that is exactly what Jesus did. Our reading says, Christ died for the ungodlyref.

The last sentence of the reading expands on this. God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for usref.

The flipside of the question we are invited to ask is "who would die for us?" Can any one of us name somebody who would willingly give his or her life for us? We know that we are deeply unworthy of anyone's life. It's almost shamefully embarrassing to think that someone, knowing what I am, might voluntarily die for me. Can anyone of us dare to say, I am worth dying for?

Yet that is the awesome truth of the message of the Bible. Here we learn that God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for usref.

Why did Jesus die? Because we need a heart transplant. We are powerless to save ourselves.

When did Jesus die? At just the right time. He voluntarily gave his life that a new heart, a good heart, might be available for us.

For whom did Jesus die? He died for us. He died for the ungodly. He died for his enemies. And he did it because of the extraodinary depth of his love for us.


So where does all this leave us?

Well, quite simply, our disease is diagnosed: we need a heart transplant. A good heart, the best heart, is available. And it is guaranteed to be compatible with us. There's no danger of rejection because it was given with people like us in mind.

Imagine you were in the doctor's surgery and he said "Here's the bad news: your heart is failing, it is riddled with disease and you are certain to die. But the good news is that a perfect replacement has just come in, would you agree to a transplant?" What would you say? It would be strange to say anything else but "doctor, where do I sign?" wouldn't it.

It might seem unbelievable to you that this is possible, but it is. Just look at our reading one more time. Notice that it is written in the past tense: while we were still weak, while we were still sinners. Some of us here have already accepted a new heart from God. For us it is in the past tense. It is possible to have the new life God offers, we are living examples of transplant success.

Some others here today will be ready to accept the new heart on offer. You will know the disease at the very core of your being and long for a cure. You may have tried many ways to improve yourself, but only realised your own powerlessness. You may be ready to come to God and humbly accept his new heart, knowing that it will mean living your life his way from now on. If that is you, then I will pray for you in a moment.

But it may just be that you believe you are beyond hope. Who indeed would give his life for someone like you? What I want to say to you is, don't underestimate the love of God. It is precisely for you that Jesus gave his life: Christ died for the ungodly, while we were still sinners Christ died for us. Don't hesitate to join in the prayer if you can. It is precisely for you that Jesus gave his life.

There will also be people here who are unconvinced of the diagnosis, and unpersuaded that Jesus died for them. To you I say, read more of the Bible and then come and tell me that you disagree with its verdict. You will find no clearer insight into the heart of men than in that book. It is the consistent verdict of centuries of writers. Read it first, then tell me its diagnosis is wrong.

Let's pray.