This is the third in our series on the beatitudes. I started it because I believe the sort of people described in this part of the Sermon on the Mount are like those who feel they are at home here – ordinary, simple and dependent on God. If you recall, “blessed”, means “to be congratulated”. We are congratulated by God if we have the characteristics described in the beatitudes, because these virtues make us like him, and especially like Jesus.
If the emphasis of the first two beatitudes has been counter- cultural, i.e. different from our society, this third one is perhaps even more “out there”; it is well beyond the range of interest of the average Australian.
Jesus does not say “Blessed are the intelligent” or “Blessed are the wealthy” or “Blessed are the beautiful” or “Blessed are the famous” or “Blessed are those who feel good” or anything that our culture wants to hear. He says “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.” He is saying that purity of heart gives you a direct experience of God in a way that gifts and possessions do not.
“Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”
The word “heart” is one of the most important biblical words to do with the human make – up. It is not easy to explain exactly what is its spiritual meaning (though it doesn’t mean how you feel), but we can get a sense for it by looking at how it is used. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Watch over your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life.” This teaches us the heart is the fountainhead or the well – spring of how people live. The heart is the spiritual and moral core of the person. It is who we are most deeply. Our thoughts, decisions and emotions flow from our heart (Heb 4:12).
Because God relates to our hearts, the heart is of central importance to him, e.g. when the prophet Samuel was looking over the sons of Jesse to see which one of these fine strapping young men the LORD had called to be king, God rebuked him, ““Do not look on his appearance or on the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for the Lord does not see as mortals see; they look on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart.”” (1 Sam 16:7). (‘I have found David, son of Jesse, to be a man after my heart’) (Acts 13:22)
“pure in heart”
Sadly, Jesus needs to encourage us to have a “pure heart” because the natural condition of the heart is not pure. God says to Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?”(Jer 17:9) (Not even God can understand the human heart, it is so depraved!) Spiritually speaking, everyone (outside of Christ) has a fatal heart disease.
We need to think about this carefully; God concentrates more on who we are than on what we do. Jesus said, ““It is what comes out of a person that makes them unclean. 21 For it is from within, from the human heart, that evil intentions come: fornication, theft, murder, 22 adultery, avarice, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, folly. 23 All these evil things come from within, and they make a person unclean.” ” (Mark 7:21- 23). People do evil things because they have evil hearts, not the other way around.
The beginning of our heart problem starts in the Garden of Eden:
“Now the serpent was more crafty than any other wild animal that the Lord God had made. He said to the woman, “Did God say, ‘You shall not eat from any tree in the garden’?” 2 The woman said to the serpent, “We may eat of the fruit of the trees in the garden; 3 but God said, ‘You shall not eat of the fruit of the tree that is in the middle of the garden, nor shall you touch it, or you shall die.’ ” 4 But the serpent said to the woman, “You will not die; 5 for God knows that when you eat of it your eyes will be opened, and you will be like God, knowing good and evil.” (Gen 3:1- 5)
The serpent is called a creature of God; it cannot tempt Adam and Eve unless God permits it. And God does permit it because he has a deep purpose: “I the Lord test the mind and search the heart, to give to all according to their ways, according to the fruit of their doings.” (Jer 17:10). To be in the sort of intimate relationship with God he longs for your heart has to be right with him. So the temptation story in Genesis reveals what is in the human heart.
The serpent’s cunning (= Satan Rev 12:9) consists in the claim to know what is in the heart of God, he claims to know God’s hidden motives, according to Satan God has forbidden the fruit not out of care for humans but because he does not want an equal, he does not want someone “like God”. He wants to remain top dog/master/ruler/lord or king.
This is exactly how people think about God – you have to bargain with him, you have to sacrifice to him, you have to get on his good side etc. The whole history of human inspired religion (and the reaction of anti- religion) is based upon the heart conviction that God puts himself first and demands worship for his own self- gratification. God wants people to serve him so he will feel great i.e. God’s heart is not pure, but selfish.
This is how our human parents saw God – as ungrateful children they quickly forgot the caring Father who provided for them the delights of the garden and spoke to them with tenderness. As soon as they took their eyes off God’s kindness they started to see something else – themselves. “Then the eyes of both were opened, and they knew that they were naked; and they sewed fig leaves together and made loincloths for themselves.” (Gen 3:7). Immediately their spiritual eyes were opened they saw themselves stripped of the glory of God (Rom 3:23) – naked of his warm presence, pure joy, sheer delight and complete love – all that remained was shame, guilt and fear. Their inner emptiness was so great that they had to cover it over with anything- symbolically, the fig leaves represent any self- styled human achievement of intelligence, art, politics, personality, sport, religion or any other thing we use to make us feel good about ourselves.
Self- centredness is the opposite of purity of heart and is the root of all human evil. If an old class mate shows you a school photo who is the first person you look for? Our self- centredness has generated something in the modern world that is a disaster – it is “the myth of self-esteem”. Students of which Western country have the highest self- esteem? Which country has the lowest academic averages?
Answer for both = America, and we (along with most of the world) are choosing to become more and more like them. We are choosing a society in which TV is the primary social institution, celebrities are stronger role models than parents, and success is the highest value. All of this because it this suits our ego –centric hearts. We are seeing more and more fragmentation in our culture – e.g. lady spoken of last week (10 children and no one to care for her).
Since the meaning of life is the relationship between God’s heart and our hearts, God continually tests every human heart to find out what is going on inside. If God tests every human heart then he must have tested the heart of Jesus. This is exactly what the Bible says: “Because he himself was tested by what he suffered, he is able to help those who are being tested.” (Heb 2:18) “we have one who in every respect has been tested as we are, yet without sin.”(Heb 4:15) How did the Father test the heart of his Son?
“Then Jesus was led by the Spirit out into the desert to be put to the test by the devil. 2 He fasted for forty days and forty nights, after which he was hungry,3 and the tester came and said to him, ‘If you are Son of God, tell these stones to turn into loaves” (Matt 4:1- 3) The devil challenges the starving Jesus and says, if you are so important, if you are God’s Son, do a miracle to save your life – Jesus refuses this and every other temptation because he loves God for God’s sake. “Away with you, Satan! For it is written, ‘Worship the Lord your God, and serve only him.’ ” (Matt 4:10)
The greatest test of Jesus heart is not the wilderness but the cross. A test that is behind Jesus terrible cry “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mark 15:34). At this point every good reason for Jesus faith has been stripped from him – the warm presence, pure joy, and complete love of the Father have been taken away. Naked of these things, Jesus is alone with a dying body, a disordered mind and fragmented emotions – all he has left is his heart, and from the depths of his heart comes a cry not for self’s survival but for God. His heart seeks God. It is an absolutely unselfish and pure heart. Jesus loves God for God’s sake. We now know that it is possible for a human heart to beat only for God because the cross was the complete sacrifice of Jesus self.
Because God longs to share his heart with us he tests us in the same way as he tested his Son. Jesus says to the Christians of Thyatira,” I am throwing her (the evil false prophet Jezebel)on a bed, and those who commit adultery with her I am throwing into great distress, unless they repent of her doings; 23 and I will strike her children dead. And all the churches will know that I am the one who searches minds and hearts, and I will give to each of you as your works deserve.” (Rev 2:23)
God tests our hearts in order to break our demand for material, emotional and spiritual self- gratification. He tests us particularly through suffering, because it is only when things go badly does what is on the inside come out. Think about Job, his children are dead, he is bankrupt, covered in painful sores and has a wife who says to him, “Curse God, and die.” (Job 2:9). Job’s resolution, “Though he slay me, yet will I trust in him” (Job 13:15) reveals that he is one of the pure in heart – and at the end of the story he does see God (Job 42:5).
How do you purify your heart? Scripture commands us, “Since we have these promises, beloved, let us cleanse ourselves from every defilement of body and of spirit, making holiness perfect in the fear of God.” (2 Cor 7:1) “Put to death, therefore, whatever in you is earthly: fornication, impurity, passion, evil desire, and greed (which is idolatry)… get rid of all such things—anger, wrath, malice, slander, and abusive language from your mouth.9 Do not lie …” (Col 3:5, 8, 9)
What brings purity of heart is persevering with God when things get tough. This is what Jesus did on the cross. We need to continue to pray, to praise and commit our way to him whatever is happening – keep on telling him we love him and that he is number one. This is cooperating with God’s initiative to purify our hearts.
Here is a story from the time Christians were being persecuted in Russia. (Wurmbrand “The Overcomers” p.13f.) “What characterised the literature secretly printed in Russia was first of all its great care for children. For instance, the following story appeared. Sister Mary L. had five children….She bought them a rubber doll. But when the children played “prayer meeting”, the knees of this doll could not be bent. So the children complained to their mother that she had bought them an “unbelieving doll”. A believer is recognized by the fact that he bends his knees before the Creator. Children taught in school that the cosmonauts did not see God in space answered: ‘But did the cosmonauts have a pure heart? Without it you will never see God, wherever you travel. With it, you can see him everywhere!’”
Since Jesus was pure in heart he saw God in the miracles he performed, he saw God in the revelation of his kingdom. He constantly saw what the Father was doing (John 5:19). Jesus’ purpose in seeing the Father was that others might see the Father perfectly imaged through him: ““Have I been with you all this time, Philip, and you still do not know me? Whoever has seen me has seen the Father. How can you say, ‘Show us the Father’?” (John 14:9)
But most of all, Jesus has seen God in the insight that was given to him through his death and resurrection – his experience of agony and joy communicated to his own heart how much the Father was willing to sacrifice in order to restore to humanity the glory he had always desired for us. Because Jesus lives with a resurrected body in the eternal glory of God (John 17:5) he knows that God himself is absolutely pure in heart. The wonder of his own resurrection is the final proof to Jesus that God always had our interests in first place. The death and resurrection of Jesus is the measure of how much God wants to be seen. [The resurrection of Jesus tells us how much value God places on the human heart. It reveals that God desires fellowship at a heart level with us in a way that is beyond measure.]
There are two dimensions to our seeing God – a present and a future dimension. In the present we can see God in one another: “No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us.” (1 John 4:12). God’s love is seen in the love of the Christian community. This is what Jesus taught, “By this everyone will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”” (John 13:35). When Barnabas visited the church in Antioch he “saw the grace of God” (Acts 11:23).
An old pastor was in conversation with a struggling younger pastor concerned for the future of his small congregation. Finally he challenged him, “What is the reason for the church being there?” If God is not being seen through a group of people then it has no purpose in existing. (It is a club rather than a church.)
Do we want to see God that others may see God?
There is also a powerful future dimension of seeing God: “What we do know is this: when he (Jesus)is revealed, we will be like him, for we will see him as he is. 3 And all who have this hope in him purify themselves, just as he is pure.” (1 John 3:2- 3) God has loved us purely that we might love him purely. [“In His [Christ’s] revelation to come, our own being [who we really are] will be revealed.” (Barth CD 1/2 p.117)]
“For now we see in a mirror, dimly,but then we will see face to face. Now I know only in part; then I will know fully, even as I have been fully known.” (1 Cor 13:12)
“Then the angel showed me the river of the water of life, bright as crystal, flowing from the throne of God and of the Lamb 2 through the middle of the street of the city. On either side of the river is the tree of life with its twelve kinds of fruit, producing its fruit each month; and the leaves of the tree are for the healing of the nations. 3 Nothing accursed will be found there any more. But the throne of God and of the Lamb will be in it, and his servants will worship him; 4 they will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads. 5 And there will be no more night; they need no light of lamp or sun, for the Lord God will be their light, and they will reign forever and ever. ”(Rev 22:1- 5)
Seeing God as God sees God – knowing and loving God in exactly the same way as Jesus does –this is our destiny, this is the reason why we were created, it is what it is all about. As the old hymn puts it, “Then at last our eyes shall see him through his own redeeming love.”
Application and Conclusion
[““The eye is the lamp of the body. So, if your eye is healthy, your whole body will be full of light; 23 but if your eye is unhealthy, your whole body will be full of darkness. If then the light in you is darkness, how great is the darkness!””(Matt 6:22 - 23)]
Purity is a most powerful thing, it is a powerful thing to know that you are loved purely for yourself. Yet most of the church seems to have forgotten about purity. Much contemporary Christian preaching and counselling is motivational and directed towards the healing of self- esteem. This is a tragic mistake. The idea of self- esteem as we have come to know it was invented in the affluent nations of the 20th century. (John Smith – Oprah Winfrey etc.) It is about time we realised that the more we tell people to raise their self- esteem the worse things become e.g. many psychopathic killers have high self – esteem (reckon themselves to be geniuses).
We don’t need a message on self, what we need is a pure heart that looks away from itself to find its identity in Jesus. It is only through seeing God that you see yourself as you have always been intended to be – in the true greatness of his image. You do not discover your worth in yourself, you discover it in Jesus. You discover it in the same way as Jesus discovered how much men and women meant to his Father, by identification with his cross and resurrection, by submitting to suffering under the hand of God so that you might see God in a deeper way.
Is it worth it? Is it worth the struggle to get to know Jesus more? If you have never asked this question then I would question the depth of your spirituality.
The psalmists pray, “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). Create in me a clean heart, O God, and put a right spirit within me.” (Ps 51:10).