This is the sixth message in a series on Jesus’ statements called “the Beatitudes” that are found in the Sermon on the Mount (Matt 5:3-11; Luke 6:17-38).
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matt 5:8).
What do you see when you look out from the vantage point of your heart?
Do our hearts even have the capability of sight? Jesus wasn’t talking about a physical heart. He was talking about the thoughts and feelings that make us human. The common question, “Please describe your feelings?” and the statement of viewpoint, “Here is how I see it” tell us that we can “see” with our hearts. But what do we see?
Jesus cautioned that our human perspective was too limited to judge what we observe. “Do not judge, so that you may not be judged. For with the judgment you make you will be judged, and the measure you give will be the measure you get. Why do you see the speck in your neighbor’s eye, but do not notice the log in your own eye? Or how can you say to your neighbor, ‘Let me take the speck out of your eye,’ while the log is in your own eye? You hypocrite, first take the log out of your own eye, and then you will see clearly to take the speck out of your neighbor’s eye” (Matt 7:1-5).
The story is told about “a woman [who] complained to a visiting friend that her neighbor was a poor housekeeper. ‘You should see how dirty her children are– and her house. It is almost a disgrace to be living in the same neighborhood as her. Take a look at those clothes she has hung out on the line. See the black streaks on her sheets and towels!’The friend walked up to the window and said, ‘I think the clothes are quite clean, my dear. The streaks are on your window’” (Anthony De Mello, The Heart of the Enlightened [New York: Doubleday, 1989]).
Our perspectives are limited by conditions like time, place, culture, family, pain, fear, anger, wealth, poverty, pride, shame and guilt. Paul wrote to Titus, “To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure” (Tit 1:13). Selfishness smears and obscures. Unbelief makes one near-sighted with the limited viewpoint of one’s broken and stained self.
The Beatitudes are often misunderstood and misapplied, but perhaps none more than “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” The human tendency is to judge the motivations of others by their actions while we want our actions to be judged by our “good” intentions or that we “meant well.”
When I walk through the rows of self-improvement books in Christian bookstores, it is apparent that Jesus’ statement is perceived as a instruction that heaven can be achieved through a rigorous regimen of “spit and polish” moral hygiene. That is a false conclusion that will inevitably disappoint. Jesus’ plans for us to live with him for eternity are too important to rest on our cleaning abilities.
Ovens can be made to self-clean, humans can’t. Even the most carefully maintained heart cannot be trusted the Lord told the prophet Jeremiah.
The heart is devious above all else;
it is perverse–
who can understand it?
I the Lord test the mind
and search the heart,
to give all according to their ways
according to the fruit of
The blessing is the Lord’s to give. In matters of purity of heart, Jesus is calling us to trust him to do the job for us. In fact, just before his observation on the perversity of the human heart, the Lord tells Jeremiah,
Blessed are those who trust in
whose trust is the Lord.
What makes a heart pure is a faithful, trusting focus on God. The Apostle Paul prayed that the “eyes of the heart” of the Ephesian believers would be “enlightened” so that they could know the big picture of hope in God’s grace glory and mercy (Eph 1:18-19). As the philosopher Soren Kierkegaard famously wrote, “Purity of heart is to will one thing, the good that comes only from God.”
How does one find such a clear, unwavering focus on God? By looking for God, praying for God, and thinking about God, in other words, worshiping God in spirit and in truth. How can a secular world busy with its own affairs, or even a people who confine their attention to God to one day of worship a week or even a few minutes a day of devotion and prayer, get to that God-focus — they can’t!
David wrote: “Take delight in the Lord; and he will give you the desires of your heart” (Ps 34:4). This isn’t a “Lord, if I pay attention to you, you have promised to give me whatever I want” prayer. Obviously not, because that would mean our delight was in the gifts, not the Giver. No, David is saying, focus on the Lord and he will change what your heart wants. That desire is an intense consuming longing of the heart and flesh for the living God (Ps 84).
God’s stirring of that desire will lead us to pray (Ps 85-6-8). But our broken, distracted hearts cannot maintain the focus necessary to stay with God. David faced with the same problem prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name” (Ps 86:11).
This may shock you, but there is precious little Scriptural authority for asking Jesus into your heart even though we may have grown up singing songs and listening to fervent appeals about doing just that. “That’s just semantics,” someone told me, but semantics in this case express beliefs and concepts that owe more to feelings than accuracy.
David spoke to the truth that the blessing of a pure heart is the result of a gift, not a process. He prayed, “Teach me your way, O Lord, that I may walk in your truth; give me an undivided heart to revere your name” (Ps 86:11).
Our hearts aren’t equal to the Lord’s demand of purity. He doesn’t waste time on “rearranging the furniture” of our thoughts and feelings so he can move in. The Apostle Paul wrote to the Corinthians with emphasis, “If anyone is in Christ, there is a new creation: everything old has passed away; see, everything has become new!” All this is from God . . . .” (2 Cor 5:17-18).
At the most sin -convicted, broken moment of David’s life he came to the desperate realization that he needed a new heart, not a patch job on the old one.
Psalm 51 is the prayer of David’s conviction. At the essence of his plea for mercy and cleansing is the request for a new creation–
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and put a new and right spirit within me.
It is the Lord’s will and way to give that new heart, a change of thoughts and feelings, to those who ask him for it. He knows the old one is too rock-hard and tenacious in its pride and sin. God assured his people through the prophet Ezekiel, “A new heart I will give you, and a new spirit I will put within you; and I will remove from your body the heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezek 36:26).
That exchange of hearts initiates and empowers the obedient life, God said (v. 27). The new heart is pure because it is the result of grace. The yielding to God that allows the change is a permanent condition, not a one time thing. The life of God flows in new thoughts and feelings. We begin again to live badly when we forget this and seek our own way.
Euodia and Synchte, two women who were leaders in the Philippian church, fell into a disagreement that was the major focus of Paul’s Letter to the Philippians. Towards the end of the Letter, Paul called them “to be of the same mind in the Lord” (Phil 4:2). He urged them to rejoice in the Lord and to reflect the gentleness that is a fruit of the Spirit. He told them to thankfully pray their requests to God instead of venting their anxieties.
In Paul’s capstone instruction, he tells them to think God-honoring thoughts. “Finally, beloved, whatever is true, whatever is honorable, whatever is just, whatever is pure, whatever is pleasing, whatever is commendable, if there is any excellence and if their is anything worthy of praise, think on these things” (Phil 4:8). The peace that would result from doing these things was a gift of God’s presence, Paul said (Phil 4:7,9).
The blessing of the pure in heart really is getting to see God now and in eternity, but it is only possible for us if we let the Lord give us his heart as our own.
I don’t want to deceive you about what we are talking about here. I work hard on these messages trying to make my words as accurate and my transitions as smooth as possible. But what we are discussing involves a power that is beyond nuclear in strength and far beyond any capacity of language to describe.
Receiving a pure heart is a devastating path from death to life and it goes right through the Cross. It requires an explosive and extraordinary creative power beyond what it took God to bring light out of darkness at the creation of the world (2 Cor 4:6-7). It took the very life of the Creator to create the new life of the pure heart in us (2 Cor 4:10-11; Col 3:3-4).
It is God the Father himself who devotes the glory of his love to bring us to the new, pure life in Jesus Christ (Rom 6:4). The mountains tremble and the oceans roar in praise of this love. As the old hymn puts it, “How can I keep from singing.”
“O taste and see that the Lord is good. Happy are those who take refuge in him” (Ps 34:8).
Under the mercy of Christ,
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