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Pastor Scott L. Harris
Grace Bible Church, NY
August 9, 1998
Blessed are the Pure in Heart
The past couple of weeks I have had the joy of having some of my family from California visiting with us. My brother and his family were here the end of July and my parents were with us until this past Thursday. We enjoyed taking the kids camping and going camping with them for a couple of days this past week. It brought back quite a few memories for me. I remember when I was about Jimmy’s age, the sun would shine in my eyes early in the morning and since it was a new day, I was excited to go see mommy and daddy. So out of bed I would hop and I would run into my parent’s bedroom and jump up on their bed and wake them up. Dad would put me on his knees and play a game with me. My kids have done the same thing with me and perhaps your kids have too.
Throughout my life I have liked the times when I could see my dad. As a kid, it did not matter whether we were going fishing or I was going out on a job with him. I loved him and I knew that he loved me and I wanted to be with him. But even with the love we had for each other, there were also times that my dad was the last person in the world I wanted to see. Like the time I was 8 or 9 years old and accidentally broke a neighbor’s window. I fled straight to my favorite hiding place. I was not happy to see my dad open the door and peer in at me and ask if there was anything I wanted to tell him. (He later took me with him to repair the window and apologize to our neighbor).
I believe that is the way it is with all of us in our relationship to God. There is born within every child an innate desire to want to know and be with God. As we grow older and become more conscious of our sinfulness, a fear of God also develops. Properly, that fear will keep us reverent of God and approaching Him with the respect that is due Him. However, improper fear can result in either withdrawing from God, or turning against it Him with anger and hatred.
This morning I want to talk to you about being able to come to God with the same hope and excitement that young children have in running into their parents’ bedroom in the morning. There will be a longing to see God and a desire to be with Him when we are “pure in heart.”
Our text this morning is Matthew 5:8 – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
Let me state at the outset here that everyone will eventually see God. The question is “in what capacity you will see Him?” Will you stand before God as His children whom He loves and for whom He has prepared a dwelling place so that you can always be with Him? Or will you stand before Him to be judged and found condemned by your own deeds and therefore separated from Him for all eternity?
Revelation 20:11-15 describes the fate of those that are not God’s children. 11 And I saw a great white throne and Him who sat upon it, from whose presence earth and heaven fled away, and no place was found for them. 12 And I saw the dead, the great and the small, standing before the throne, and books were opened; and another book was opened, which is [the book] of life; and the dead were judged from the things which were written in the books, according to their deeds. 13 And the sea gave up the dead which were in it, and death and Hades gave up the dead which were in them; and they were judged, every one [of them] according to their deeds. 14 And death and Hades were thrown into the lake of fire. This is the second death, the lake of fire. 15 And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire. Again, I point out that it is according to their own deeds (vs 12,13) that they are judged.
Paul describes their punishment in similar language in 2 Thess. 1:7,8. Jesus will come from heaven “with His mighty angels in flaming fire, dealing out retribution to those who do not know God and to those who do not obey the gospel of our Lord Jesus. And these will pay the penalty of eternal destruction, away form the presence of the Lord and from the glory of His power.”
Many are those who are not “pure in heart.” They will see God, but only once, and that is at their judgement after which they will be separated from Him for all eternity.
Our text says of “the pure in heart” that “they shall see God.” The grammar indicates that it will be a continual seeing of God. It will not be from a point of fear, but the fulfillment of longing that was in the heart throughout life. The “pure in heart” will see God from a position of love and acceptance.
These are those who according to Matthew 25:34 will hear from Jesus, “Come, you who are blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.”Or as Paul puts it in 1 Thess. 4:16-17, those that are in Christ will meet the Lord in the air, and “thus shall we always be with the Lord.” Or as it says in Revelation 21:3-5 . . . “And there shall no longer be any curse; and the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His bond-servants shall serve Him; and they shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads. And there shall no longer be any night; and they shall not have need of the light of a lamp nor the light of the sun, because the Lord God shall illumine them; and they shall reign forever and ever.”
But how is such a proposition to be fulfilled? How is a person to be assured of seeing God in this manner rather than in judgement? What does Jesus mean by saying it is the “pure in heart” that will see God? Who are the “pure in heart?”
To answer these questions, we must first remember the context. This is in the beginning of the Sermon on the Mount – a discourse whose theme is nature of true righteousness. Jesus says in 5:20 that unless our righteousness surpasses that of the Scribes and Pharisees (5:20), you will not enter into the kingdom of heaven. Throughout the sermon Jesus contrasts the self righteousness of these religious leaders with true righteousness. Jesus begins this contrast with the section we are currently studying we call “the Beatitudes.” They demonstrate the character traits that will be seen in those that are truly righteous. Later in the Sermon Jesus will give examples of how that character reacts to various situations in ways that far surpass the legalistic system of righteousness that the Scribes and Pharisees had set up.
Remember as well that the Beatitudes are not rules by which you can earn your way into heaven. Rather, they are statements of blessing that those that have the righteous character described will receive. We must also remember that these proclamations of blessing cannot be taken apart from the other statements. They present a progression of understanding in the nature of true righteousness. Each will be present in a truly righteous person.
Some have wondered why the Beatitude – “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” – does not occur somewhere else in the progression. It would seem that this statement alone is so wonderful and all encompassing that it would govern all the other statements. You might think that it should be found either at the beginning as an introduction or at the end as the final conclusion. What could be a greater blessing that seeing God? Is that not the whole point of striving to be righteous, so that we can see God? Yet the statement is placed just in the place that God wanted it. Let me make a suggestion to you of how all these statements fit together.
First, each beatitude builds upon the previous one. For example, you cannot truly mourn over sin unless you are first poor in spirit, you cannot be meek until you mourn over sin, and you cannot hunger and thirst after righteousness unless you are truly meek. Second, the central theme of the sermon is righteousness, and the central theme of the beatitudes is the same. “Blessed are those that hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled” is the center of the Beatitudes. The first three – Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven; Blessed are those that mourn, for they shall be comforted; and Blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth,” all demonstrate why the person hungers and thirst after righteousness. The following three – Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy; Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God; Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God; all demonstrate the result that comes from being filled with righteousness. In addition the first three correspond to the three following hungering after righteousness. It is the poor in spirit that are merciful – they know fully their own need for mercy and therefore will give it to others. It is those who mourn that strive after purity of heart – they know their own sinfulness and they desire for that to be cleansed from them. It is those who are meek that are true peacemakers – they in humility submit themselves to doing God’s will regardless of the consequences to themselves. The whole section concludes with the reaction of the world toward the truly righteous – persecution.
That is how being pure in heart fits in with all the other beatitudes, but we still have not answered the question of what it means to be pure in heart and why that would enable someone to see God. First, what does it mean to be pure?
The word “pure” is a good translation of the Greek word used because “pure” encompasses the essence of its meanings. Something that is pure is unmixed with any other matter. Pure maple syrup is not mixed with any other syrup – sugar, corn or anything else. That brings out the idea of the Greek word here meaning it is unified, all of one substance, without contamination. Pure water is only pure if it is without contamination.
The word “pure” also brings out the idea of “cleansing” which is the central idea in the Greek word (kaqaroV ) katharos from which we get our word, “catharsis” – meaning to “cleanse the emotions or spirit.” Something may be pure because it was never contaminated or because all the impurities were removed from it. A cup can be washed and made clean/pure (Matt 23:26) and gold is refined and made pure in a fire (Rev 3:18).
So the basic idea then is that the object that is pure is something that is not contaminated with any thing else. There is no pollution, no corruptness, no adulteration, no defilement, no stain, no defect. When this is applied to the human character, we would say that a person who is pure is a person who is holy. The connection between purity and holiness is brought out in Hebrews 12:14 which says to “pursue peace with all men and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord.” It is the “pure in heart” that will see God, and at the same time unless a person is holy they will not see God. I suggest to you that both verses are speaking of the same thing.
My claim is strengthened by looking at the O.T. usage of this same concept. In the O.T. Greek translation, the Septuagint, which was widely used at the time of Christ, the very same word we are looking at in Matt 5:8 is used over and over again in describing the ceremonial cleaning that took place to make an article or a person “holy” and able for usage in the worship of God or to continue in relationship with Him. It must be understood that anything of common usage or anything associated with sinfulness was considered impure. Anything associated with death was impure because death was due to the curse of sin. Childbirth brought uncleanliness because of its association with the curse upon Eve and through her to all mothers. Objects and people would go through a cleansing ceremony in order to be set apart to God.
For example: In Exodus 19:10 Moses tells the people that they must consecrate themselves and wash (purify) their clothes prior to when God would meet Moses on Mt Sinai. In Lev. 8, Aaron and his sons cleanse (purify) themselves in preparation to serve God, and in Numbers 8, the Levities do the same. Most of the book of Leviticus deals with being cleansed (purified) after being made unclean – whether that is because of being in contact with unclean animals, dead things (11), birth (12), leprosy (13,14), molds & mildews in a house (14), sickness (15), or immorality (18). Even the altar upon which the sacrifices would be made had to be purified (Lev 8:15).
It is this concept of outward purification that the Pharisees had dwelt so much upon in setting up their elaborate traditions. Both the Talmudic and Midrashic literature prior to and from the time of Christ describe in great detail what would defile a person or a thing, the consequences of that, and what would have to be done. There were even ten stages of uncleanliness described depending on the degree of exclusion it would cause and what would be required to purify the person/object again. Even the land of Judea was set apart into ten degrees of holiness ranging from unclean people excluded from entering the nation to the inner court of the Temple where only clean Jewish men could enter. Such laws developed by the Rabbis governed every aspect of their lives – but note here that their concern was for the outward appearance.
That is what would have been in the minds of people if Jesus had simply said, “Blessed are the pure.” The Scribes and Pharisees had that sort of purity which is why they considered themselves to be righteous. But Jesus went on and said “Blessed are the pure in heart,” and in doing so demonstrated the true nature of being clean before God. It is inward resulting in outward, not outward only.
Jesus was not saying anything that the people should not have already understood because the O.T. makes it very clear that God has always sought for His people to be pure inwardly which would result in an outward purity. God has never wanted people too tried to whitewash over their inward corruption with a thin layer of outward ritual that is supposed to represent purity.
God has already destroyed the world once because, as Genesis 6:5 describes, “the wickedness of man was great on the earth, and that every intent of the thoughts of his heart was only evil continually.” (Note that when the Bible uses the word “heart” to describe the inner nature of man, it is not referring to the seat of emotions only which is how our culture tends to think of the heart. The Bible is referring to that which in the man controls him and sets his direction. It is the seat of the intellect, emotion and will). Because man’s heart was wicked, God sent the flood during the days of Noah to destroy all but a small remnant of mankind. However, it did not take long for the descendant of those 8 people that survived in the ark to fall into the same wickedness. God called Abraham to follow Him – which Abraham did, and God called Abraham’s descendants to be His people in a special way. God eventually raised up Moses to lead the children of Israel out of bondage in Egypt and into the promised land. Moses also gave them the Law – which as already mentioned, the later Rabbis took and expanded into an intricate system governing all the externals of life. But even in the Law itself, God shows that He wants the people to obey from the heart and not just give outward compliance.
This is brought out very clearly in the book of Deuteronomy. In 4:9 God warns the generation that was about to enter the land to be diligent to not let all they had seen “depart from their hearts,” but to remember and teach it to their children. In 4:29 God tells them that regardless of the circumstances that may come, that if “you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him in you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” In 5:29 God laments that they would have “such a heart in them, that they would fear Me, and keep all My commandments always, that it may be well with them and with their sons forever!” In 6:5,6 the call to Israel is that they “shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your might, And these words, which I am commanding you today, shall be on your heart.” In 8:5 God tells them that the testing in the wilderness was to know what was in their hearts. Continually God warns them about what would be in their hearts – be careful of pride (8:14) in your own strength and power (8:17), of self-righteousness (9:4,5), of selfish thoughts (15:9), of greed (17:17). What God wanted from Israel is said well in 10:12, “And now, Israel, what does the LORD your God require from you, but to fear the LORD your God, to walk in all His ways and love Him, and to serve the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul, and to keep the LORD’s commandments and His statutes which I am commanding you today for your good?” They were to “circumcise their hearts and stiffen their necks no more” (10:16).
Jesus was simply calling the people back to this old standard. It is as 1 Samuel 16:7 says, ” . . . man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” It is the same today. Jesus said of the Pharisees in Matt. 15:8,9, “this people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men.” There is a great danger for too many who claim to be Christians that they are like hard hearted Israel of old – like the religious leaders of Jesus’ day. They feign an outward appearance of being good. They, like the Pharisees have washed the outside of the cup. They practice what we would consider to be good things. They give of their time and money to charities. They will give a handout to beggars. They are good at coming to church on Sunday mornings, some may even be outstanding active members of the church. They practice good morals – they refrain from the cultural taboos – drinking, smoking, gambling and going to movies. But God says, “so what.” Like the Pharisees, they forgot to get the inside of the cup cleaned. (Example: the Pastor that would not go to a movie theater, but would watch videos at home that embarrassed Diane).
Jesus said in Matthew 15:18,19, “But the things that proceed out of the mouth come from the heart, and those defile the man. For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, slanders. These are the things which defile the man.” And those religious leaders of Jesus time, as we shall see in the weeks to come as we continue in the Sermon on the Mount, committed everyone of those deeds. They were guilty of murder because of their hatred (Matt 5:21-22), they committed adultery and fornication because they harbored lust in their hearts (5:27-28), they committed theft and were false witnesses because they did not keep their vows (5:33-37), and they slandered because they did not love their neighbors (5:43-45). Pride, self-righteousness, gossip, slander, backbiting, revenge, hatred, bitterness, theft from God of time and money – all these things are common elements in the churches of America today proving that American Christianity is no different in many respects from the hypocritical Judaism that Jesus spoke against. Jesus speaks against this sort of false religion as well.
How can someone become pure in heart?
The beatitudes preceding this one tell us.
First, there is a casting away of all human endeavor to earn it, because you cannot earn it. It is as Isaiah the prophet said, “all our righteousness is as filthy rags.” We must start by being poor in spirit. We must come to God and Him alone for help and trust Him to do it. What I read Dt. 4:29 is still true – “you will seek the Lord your God, and you will find Him if you search for Him with all your heart and all your soul.” Heb. 11:6 puts it this way, “And without faith it is impossible to please Him, for he who comes to God must believe that He is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him.” To seek out and place trust in any other place – in ourselves, our works, a church, or even a religion leaves a pollution, and you are not cleansed. You start by recognizing that you are spiritually bankrupt, and as a spiritual beggar, you seek out God. You must follow the call of James 4:8, “Draw near to God and He will draw near to you. Cleanse you hands, you sinners; and purify your hearts, you double minded. Be miserable and mourn and weep; let your laughter be turned into mourning, and your joy to gloom. Humble yourselves in the presence of the Lord, and He will exalt you.”
Second, as you come to God you recognize your sin and mourn over it. Scripture tells us in 1 Cor 7 that Godly sorrow leads to repentance without regret, leading to salvation. You ask God for His forgiveness and based upon the work of Christ on the cross in dying for your sins, He does forgive you and comforts you by removing your sin. 1 John 1:9 tells that “If we confess our sins, He is faithful and just to forgive us our sins and cleanse (purify) us from all unrighteousness.”
Third, in the humility that comes from being poor in spirit and mourning over sin you yield yourself to doing God’s will. Though you may be / will be / slandered and taken advantage of, your goal in life is no longer self glorification – but pleasing Jesus Christ our savior and bring glory to Him. Like Jesus, your food becomes doing the Father’s will (Jn 4:34). That is meekness.
Fourth, you are driven by a hunger and thirst to become like Christ in all of your character. You want the righteousness of Christ which was imputed to you – you were given the righteousness of Christ before God the Father – you want that righteousness to become the reality of your day to day life as well. You want people to see Jesus Christ living in you and thereby fulfill the very purpose of your salvation of being conformed into His image (Rom 8:29).
Fifth, because of the mercy you have received from God through Jesus, you extend that mercy to others. You reach out in graciousness to help others and forgive even when they wrong you.
And now you desire to go beyond conforming to doing good things outwardly, you want every thought and attitude to be held captive to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor 10:5), and you want to be pure in heart.
You were purified at the start when you placed your trust in Christ for salvation by His sacrificial death on your behalf. Heb. 1:3 says, “When He had made purification of sins, He sat down at the right hand of the Majesty on high.” 1 John 1:7 tells us that the “blood of His son cleanses us from all sin.” Peter says in Acts 15:9 that God had brought salvation to the gentiles just as he had to them and was “cleansing their hearts by faith.”
But salvation is not stagnant and neither is purification. We continue to strive to be pure in practice. The Holy Spirit continues to “cleanse our conscience from dead works to serve the living God” (Heb 9:14). Paul’s call in 2 Cor 7:1 is that in light of all God’s promises to us that we, “cleanse ourselves from all defilement of the flesh and spirit, perfecting holiness in the fear of God.” We “flee from youthful lusts, and pursue righteousness, faith, love and peace, with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart” (2 Tim 2:22). As we do this, the promise that keeps us motivated is that one day we will wear clean (pure) white linen at the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev 19:8), and we will dwell in the city of pure gold (Rev 21:18) that is illuminated by the glory of God (Rev. 22:5) and so shall we see God for ever.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God
One last Scripture. Titus 1:15,16 tells us that “To the pure, all things are pure; but to those who are defiled and unbelieving, nothing is pure, but both their mind and their conscience are defiled. They profess to know God, but by their deeds they deny Him, being detestable and disobedient, and worthless for any good deed.” To those that have been purified through the blood of Christ and who are striving to live in purity from the heart, all things are pure because they strive to do all things to please God and understand all things from His perspective. To all others there is only impurity. They demonstrate that they do not believe God because they do not obey God.
I do not know your hearts, but God does. I have been in ministry long enough to know that eventually what is really in your heart will come out. For those that are pure in heart there will be a deeper walk with Christ. For those that are not – some of whom as I said earlier may even give an outward appearance of being good, will eventually tire of the charade and return to serving what is at the center of their hearts – themselves.
If you have never made a profession of faith in the Lord Jesus Christ – or if you are living a charade and you know it – I invite you to turn to Jesus Christ and let Him begin His cleansing work. Let Him purify your heart. Talk with me or one of the church leaders today. If you do know the Lord Jesus Christ, I challenge you to continue to let the Holy Spirit purify your life in every area and bring glory to the name of Jesus. Flee every defilement of the flesh and spirit and perfect yourself in holiness in the fear of God (2 Cor 7:1).
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