Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

Matthew 5:8

Almost a thousand years before the birth of Jesus, his great, great, great-grandfather David wrote these words in Ps. 24, “Who may stand in his holy place?  He who has clean hands and a pure heart.”

For David, purity of heart was a prerequisite for seeing God.  But for the Jews of Jesus’ time, purity had become something external – something that could be reduced to ritual.  For them, purity meant performing the right ceremonies, participating in the right washings, saying the right words.

There are some dangerous parallels that face each of us today as we strive for purity in our lives – some of the same errors which the Pharisees committed.  Jesus said to Pharisees in Luke 11:24, “Now then, you Pharisees clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and wickedness.”  It is against this backdrop that Jesus spoke the sixth of the beatitudes, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

There is really no more important question we can consider than who will see God.  It would be a tragedy to occupy ourselves, as did the Pharisees with a legalistic devotion to religious rituals, only to find that God’s will for a pure heart is something completely different.

We want to make sure, as we continue this study of the beatitudes that we endeavor, not only to understand the message of Jesus within its context, but especially to examine our own hearts in the light of what Jesus says.

It is important as we come further into the beatitudes that we take a moment to reemphasize the setting of these words.  Jesus never speaks haphazardly, and we want to make sure we see the line of thought that these beatitudes follow.

Last week we noticed that the first four of the beatitudes speak to the inner man – that we must be Christlike before we can act Christlike.  Establishing this inner nature – this foundational relationship with God, Jesus then turns to those qualities which display an outward manifestation of that inner change.

Let’s take that and go a little deeper with it.  In the first three of the beatitudes, Jesus is concerned with our inner need to see ourselves as we really are – brokenness as we see our poverty of spirit; mourning over the awfulness of sin that separates us from God; meekness as we come to understand the true nature of God’s control in our lives. 

These three emphasize the vital important of our deep awareness of the need of God in our lives.  Then with the fourth comes that great provision of God’s satisfaction of that inner need as we hunger and thirst after righteousness.  God himself becomes the answer to our need as we are fully filled, fully satisfied.

From that point on, we look at the result of that filling by God as it overflows in the outward manifestations in our lives – we become merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers.

There is an even deeper correspondence than that, that I want for us to notice this morning.  It seems that the three beatitudes that follow the central statement in vs. 6 correspond to the three that precede it in a remarkable way.

As we saw last week, the merciful are those who have come to realize that they have nothing in themselves to pride over.  They themselves are in absolute need of mercy – they are “poor in spirit” – the first of the beatitudes.  And so, seeing their own need of mercy, they become the most merciful to others.

It follows then, that this second statement, which we are considering this morning, “blessed are the pure in heart,” also corresponds to the second beatitude, “blessed are those who mourn.”  What is this mourning about?  About the state of our hearts, our sinfulness.  Our mourning was not only that we have committed sin, but that we had ever wanted to in the first place.  We come to realize that sin never originates in the action, but in the heart.  We mourn, essentially, over the impurity of our hearts.  And so, this beatitude, “blessed are the pure in heart,” an outward manifestation, corresponds to that inner realization.

And we will see next week that the peacemakers are those who truly are meek.  Unless one has first come to understand the principle of control in his own life, he cannot persuade it in the lives of others.

At this point, as we realize the first three steps in order of need -- then satisfaction of need -- then the results that follow – we begin to take on the very nature of God himself.

This sixth beatitude, “blessed are the pure in heart,” speaks from the very center of the gospel message.  The heart is the emphasis of everything that Jesus will have to say through the length and breadth of scripture.  As you read through the words of Jesus in the Gospels, you will notice that he consistently comes back to the question, “How is your heart?”  I guess that’s a question everyone of us ought to be asking ourselves – whether you are a new Christian or a 60 year veteran of faith – whether you attend church once a month or here every time the doors are open.  The question is irrelevant to no one – it challenges every single one of us – “How is your heart?”  I ask it of myself often.  It’s not a question to be asked or answered lightly.

If I were to ask you this morning, “How’s your heart?”  Would you say, “Man, I’m great.  I’m going strong.  I go to church, I attend Bible class, I’m involved in ministry, I give generously, I invite people to church all the time.  If I were any better, I couldn’t stand myself!”  You didn’t answer the question, “How’s your heart?”

Do you remember?  That’s the problem the Pharisees had.  They did all the right things, but they failed when it came to the heart.  Jesus reserved his sharpest rebukes for the Pharisees, and that’s because he expected the most from them –  “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You give a tenth of your spices—mint, dill and cumin. But you have neglected the more important matters of the law—justice, mercy and faithfulness. You should have practiced the latter, without neglecting the former…. Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men’s bones and everything unclean. In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.”  (Mt. 23:23, 27-28)

Hypocrites!  What a slap in the face.  Hypocrisy is an ugly word.  It’s not a word you throw around casually – it’s a fighting word.  It’s a word we reserve for those who claim to be something they are not.

·         Ironically, there are many atheists who are not hypocrites.  They really do believe there is no God – they are “pure” in their beliefs.  They may be fools, but not hypocrites.

·         There are people who live extraordinarily immoral lifestyles – they revel in their debauchery.  But they can’t be called hypocrites, because they don’t claim to be anything else.

We generally reserve the word for those who claim to be religious.  During Jesus’ time, the most religious, most pious appearing people were the Pharisees.  And yet, over and over on the lips of Jesus we hear the words, “Woe unto you Pharisees, hypocrites.”  They were very careful about their religion; they were meticulous in keeping the most precise demands of the law.  If they kept a little garden, they would go out and carefully divide out a tenth of the garden herbs for the Lord.  Can you imagine – stalks of dill, bunches of oregano? They were that precise in their obedience.   And yet, Jesus would call them hypocrites , saying they were like whitewashed tombs – beautiful on the outside, but inside full of death.  In Mt. 15:7-8, Jesus condemns them, “You hypocrites!  Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: ‘These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.’”

If anybody could have claimed righteousness because they looked good in all the external actions and appearances it would be the Pharisees.  Yet, even they fell short – not because they needed to be more religious, but because religious ritualism is not and has never been the path to righteousness.  This demand by Jesus for purity of heart runs counter to this overwhelming nature in man to make religion a matter of externals – to do the right things without involving the heart or the commitment of ourselves.  Yes, the externals are important, but Jesus said, “you should have done these without neglecting the more important things” – those matters of the heart.

Be careful of the opposite:  Those who say it’s only about the heart and that what we do doesn’t matter to God.  I don’t need to go to church because God knows my heart; I don’t have to give, because I’ve given my heart to God.  Yes, God wants your heart, but when you’ve given your heart, your actions will follow.

Let’s pause a moment to make sure we understand the biblical meaning of a couple of words that are essential to our passage this morning – really that are essential to the understanding of all scripture.

We have already talked somewhat about the word “heart,” but let’s go a bit deeper.  “Heart” is a word that occurs over 830 times in scripture and only a handful of them refer to the muscle in your chest that pumps blood. When Jesus uses the word “heart,” he refers to that which is at the very center of your person – it’s your inner man – it’s who you really are inside those flesh and bones.  It is your heart that leads you to be and to act.

Now, it’s not just the emotions.  Some people say, when they are talking about falling in love or making some kind of decision, “Just let your heart lead you,” as though you needed to quit thinking, rule out the facts, and let your emotions take you.  But that’s not what Jesus means by heart.

By the same token, Jesus never commends the purely intellectual.  You cannot reduce Christianity to a series of propositions, give intellectual assent to them and be done with it.  Christianity cannot be contained merely in its doctrine.  Doctrine is important, but it’s not the sum total.

The heart, when Jesus refers to it, involves both intellect and emotions.  It is the total person – our will and our feelings.  And when we are pure in heart, we are pure not only on the surface – in the things we do – but at the very source of those activities.  Our “want to” and our “ought to” get together and things start to work.

The heart, though, is also where our troubles begin.  Take any problem in life, any sin, and having peeled it down to the core, you find the heart.  Jesus said, “The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.” (Lk. 6:45)   

I hope you heard that phrase – “out of the overflow of the heart.”  Sin doesn’t appear out of nowhere, it doesn’t “just happen.”  Jesus said in Mt. 15:18-19,  “But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ‘unclean.’ For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.”

That’s why I plead with you to listen to these words, not just with your mind – analytically listening to the words, maybe entertained by some intellectual exercise in scripture – but allow these words to reach into your heart, to affect you from the inside out.  How incredibly important is the heart.  Solomon will tell us in Prov. 4:23, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.”

Many times people will tell me about someone else who is sporadic in their church attendance and say, “If only we could get them to come to church more often, they would be great Christians.”  Church attendance is important, but only  a symptom – the real problem is the heart – they haven’t truly given their heart to Jesus; their heart belongs to another Lord.  Until you change their heart, getting them inside a church building isn’t going to make them anything.  Yes, it’s a great place to hear the truth, but I’ll tell you – there are folks who have sat for years in this very auditorium listening to the truth who aren’t any closer to God or to heaven than the day they first started coming, because their hearts don’t belong to God.  Yes, follow your heart, but make sure you understand what that means.

It’s equally as important that we understand what Jesus meant by “purity.”  Purity is a multi-faceted word in scripture, but we want to focus upon two aspects this morning.

First, purity has to do with cleansing.  It is absolutely imperative that the Christian’s life be a life free from the filth of this world.  Not only from sin, but even the very appearance of sin, Paul will tell us this over and over in his letters – “Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God?  You are not your own; you were bought at a price.  Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Cor. 6:19-20) 

There is such a dynamic difference between the Christian and the worldly person.  Now, we are all exposed to the influences of this world.  Jesus tells us plainly, we must be in this world but not of this world.  When you walk through a pig pen, you can’t help but get your feet dirty, but that doesn’t mean you have to get down and wallow in it.  We have to be extremely careful to protect our lives from the influences that will stain our souls. 

But really, the difference comes in the cleansing.  Try as we might to stay clean, we are only made pure as we are washed in the cleansing waters of baptism.  As we allow the blood of the Lamb of God to purify our hearts and our lives, we begin to be changed to take on the nature of our Lord.  That is, in fact, exactly the point of what he says in 1 Cor. 6:9-11 – Do you not know that the wicked will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: Neither the sexually immoral nor idolaters nor adulterers nor male prostitutes nor homosexual offenders nor thieves nor the greedy nor drunkards nor slanderers nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. And that is what some of you were. But you were washed, you were sanctified, you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus Christ and by the Spirit of our God.

Purity, though, goes beyond this cleansing, and purity of heart especially speaks to an issue much more basic.  We understand when the word purity is used in connection with metals or with water. Pure metal is free from alloy – pure gold is 100% gold, without other metals.  Pure water is free from contaminants – no dirt, no chemicals.  Our heart needs to be the same way: single in its purpose, its focus, its love.  There can’t be a mixture of this, added to that, set alongside something else.  It must stand alone and pure.  Jesus was approached by a lawyer of the Pharisees, who asked him what the greatest commandment was--he replied, “You shall love the Lord with all of your heart, soul, strength and mind.”  There is that absolute need in our lives to give our love – total, unadulterated love to God.  Any less is impurity of our hearts.

And so I ask you our question, “How is your heart?”  Are you striving to live in purity of heart and motive, of purpose and goal?  This morning you need to see that necessity of a pure heart in order to see God.  I hope the greatest goal in your life is to see God – to live eternally in his presence.