Sermon Text - Matthew 5:8
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”The beatitudes continue this week with Jesus giving his blessing to people who are pure in heart. The blessing they receive is “they shall see God.” We need to address the same fundamental questions here that we have with the other beatitudes: What does it mean to be “pure in heart” and what is the nature of the blessing? As we do this, we’ll see the thing in this beatitude that will shape much of the way Jesus will later speak to the religious leaders of his day, the Pharisees and scribes. I conclude this is the case because Jesus does not say to those listening, “blessed are the pure.” Instead, he says, “blessed are the pure in heart.” The difference between those phrases explains almost the entirety of Jesus’ ministry in Matthew and is behind his confrontations with the religious leaders of his day – the Pharisees and scribes.
Jesus Desires Purity of the Heart – Not External Appearances
The first thing we can conclude from this text is that Jesus considers purity of the heart to be of critical importance. What does this mean to be pure “in the heart?” In Hebrew thinking, the heart includes the entirety of a person’s core, and it includes the totality of a person’s mind (and its thoughts), emotions, and will.1 So when Jesus blesses these people, he’s talking about the purity of everything that is at the center of a human being. The heart is the thing that makes a human tick. What do we know about this heart? We know two main things:
The first thing we know about the human heart is that it is corrupted by sin. That is, our minds, our thoughts, our feelings and emotions, and our wills are not as they should be. The prophet Jeremiah testifies to this truth when he wrote this about the human heart (chapter 17:9):
The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?The reason the human heart has been corrupted by sin is because of the sin of Adam. As children of Adam, we are born with corrupt hearts that have a predisposition for evil and rebellion. It is deceitful about all things. The biggest liar you will encounter in life is the human heart. It is desperately sick, which means it is beyond health and restoration. The heart, in other words, needs rescue. It needs to be shocked in order to be restored to proper function.
The second thing we know about our hearts is that God knows their complete contents. God always know every detail of our spiritual condition. We know this because of what God says next in Jeremiah (17:10):
“I the LORD search the heart and test the mind, to give every man according to his ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.”We will see several times in this gospel that Jesus knows what is going on in our hearts at all times.
This text from Jeremiah also shows us the third thing we know about our hearts: The state of our hearts determines how we live. God knows the contents of our heart, and has promised to search them out thoroughly in order to administer true justice. But notice this: The Lord tests the hearts on the basis of what? It’s on the basis of a person’s “ways, according to the fruit of his deeds.” There is a deep connection between the contents of the heart and what a person does.
Jesus knows this too, which is why his concern in his ministry was the purity of the human heart. He didn’t really care much for the outward appearance of righteousness. For example, later in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus will address the topic of adultery in Matthew 5:27-28. Here is what he says:
You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I say to you that everyone who looks at a woman with lustful intent has already committed adultery with her in his heart.Think about that for a minute. You can live your entire life without committing the outward act of adultery, and Jesus says that isn’t sufficient evidence of purity. If a man looks at a woman with lustful intent, you have already committed adultery with her in the heart. The heart is the issue. The lack of physical adultery isn’t evidence of righteousness at all. This same principle can be applied in other ways. You may never actually take something that belongs to someone else, but you may think ill of your neighbor for having something you think you deserve. That’s called coveting. It’s an inordinate desire in the heart for something that isn’t yours.
In fact, Jesus will really go after the Pharisees on this issue. The Pharisees were very big on external performance and demonstrations of righteousness. To this, Jesus says, “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven” (Matthew 6:1). There is no reward in heaven if you perform a deed of righteousness in front of others so that they can see how good you are! Jesus then immediately applies principle this in the case of gifts to the needy (6:2-4) and the loud, public prayers said at the street corners (6:5-6).
If we skip even further ahead to Matthew 25:25-28, we read these woes (woes are the opposite of blessings):
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean.
Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people's bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness.The point from this beatitude and from this gospel could not be clearer: Jesus is infinitely more concerned about the purity of your heart rather than your outward performance of deeds of righteousness for the sake of appearance. You can play a good game and have your name lauded in the newspaper, you can have perfect worship attendance and a perfect tithing record, but God’s concern is this – What is the condition of your heart?
For the Christians, the ethical demand in this blessing is purity of heart. But in our sinful condition, the condition so clearly identified by Jeremiah, how can anyone be pure in this way, such that they can see God? The answer is: No human can do this of his or her own will, especially since the human will itself is corrupt. Something must break into that broken human heart so that it even has a chance at the kind of purity that results in the blessing promised here by Jesus.
The pure in heart have to be made that way by the power of God. Those who are so blessed have been granted a purity that must come from God, because we lack any competency for purity because of the sin dwelling within us. King David sinned by committing adultery with Bathsheba, an act that resulted in a pregnancy that he then tried to cover up in ways that resulted in the death of Bathsheba’s husband. He was confronted by the prophet Nathan about this sin. One of the outcomes from this story was the famous penitential Psalm number 51, which David wrote when his sin was exposed. What did David pray for? He prayed for a clean, pure heart (Ps 51:7-10):
Behold, you delight in truth in the inward being, and you teach me wisdom in the secret heart. Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow. Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones that you have broken rejoice. Hide your face from my sins, and blot out all my iniquities. Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.What does God delight in? Truth in the inward being. David knows that the only chance he has for true forgiveness for everything he has done is if God, in his mercy, creates a clean, pure heart within him.
That is our only hope as well. Our only hope for a pure heart and for the blessing of this beatitude is if God grants his purity to us. The good news, the gospel, is that he has provided the means by which we can have pure hearts. He has done this great thing through the person and work of his Son Jesus. By faith in Jesus, all of the brokenness and impurity and sin that has marred your heart, your will, your emotions, your mind, the core of what is you, is washed away by His blood. What God sees in your heart, then, is not your sin, which is forgiven, but Jesus’ purity and spotlessness. That then frees you from immobilizing fear so that you can, by the power of the Holy Spirit, be obedient to Christ out of love.
Moreover, when God performs this miracle in the human heart, he also grants the indwelling presence of the Holy Spirit, who then begins the work of refining your heart so that it becomes more and more like the heart of Jesus. And that process doesn’t stop until you die or the Lord comes in glory. Acts 15:9 says,
...and he made no distinction between us and them, having cleansed their hearts by faith.The cleaning of the heart is granted by God by the means of faith in His Son, Jesus.2
The Blessing – Seeing God
What about the blessing given to those who are pure in heart, to see God? I want to give you a just a few texts in the bible so that you can see just how stunning this blessing is. It is stunning because, apart from Christ, seeing God isn’t possible.
Back in Exodus 33, as he makes intercession on behalf of the rebellious Hebrews, Moses asks God for a huge blessing: To see his God’s glory. In response, this is what God said (Exodus 33:19-20):
“I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The LORD.’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy. But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.”Not even as dedicated a servant as Moses is granted the blessing of seeing God’s face. Nobody can. When Isaiah, in Isaiah 6:1, sees the Lord sitting on the throne, he cries out “Woe is me!” This should probably be heard like the cry of someone condemned to death. Isaiah has no wings to cover his face, as the seraphim attending the Lord did. And so he says, “For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!”
God’s perfect sinless purity and holiness lays bare every single sin of every single person and exposes it to the universe for all to see. In the light of God’s sovereign judgment for sin, there is absolutely nowhere to hide. Isaiah knows this, and cries out in great fear and terror. The corrupt heart cannot withstand God’s perfect holiness.
But God, in his great mercy, has decreed that there will be those who by faith will believe in Jesus Christ and his purity. And so they will get to see God.
Those who are called to believe will be in God’s presence. They will see him in all of his splendor and majesty directly. We are granted this blessing partially now, because Christ, the Christ of the Scriptures, is the very “image of the invisible God” (as Paul says in Col 1:15). Later, in Col 2:9, we learn that “In him,” Jesus, “the whole fullness of deity dwells bodily.” If you have faith in Jesus, you already are enjoying this blessing partially. But when he comes again to claim his bride, you will have a direct experience of God’s glory.
We know this because of what is written in Revelation 22:4, “They [the saints] will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads.” Moses could not see the Lord face and live. But when God completes the sanctification of his children they will be granted the eternal blessing of seeing him in all of his wonder and beauty and all-satisfying perfection. Oh what a time that will be, loved ones! What a time that will be! Blessed are the pure in heart! Amen.
1Bruner, Frederick Dale. Matthew: A Commentary. Vol. 1. Grand Rapids, MI: W.B. Eerdmans Pub., 2007. 175.
2I am grateful to John Piper for this observation in a sermon he gave on this same text.
Given at First Presbyterian Church in Jackson, Minnesota
November 6, 2011
32nd Sunday in Ordinary Time
Copyright © 2011 by Christopher Donald Drew