Sermon preached on Matthew 5:8 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/23/2014 in Novato, CA.
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Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
“Blessed are the Pure in Heart”
We continue today our sermon series through the Sermon on the Mount. And we come to the 6th beatitude. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Hopefully by now, you’ve begun to see in each beatitude that the specific blessings are in one way or another very fitting for the quality described of the blessed person. That is again clear today with this beatitude. In fact for those familiar with the biblical revelation of God, we should not be surprised at all with the connection made here between one’s purity and their ability to see God. The Bible reveals an all holy and pure God. To come into his presence and see him, we expect that one has to be pure and holy, otherwise who could stand before him? This is in fact what passages like Hebrews 12:14 specifically state — that there is a holiness without which no one will see the Lord. So then, we can appreciate the connection made here. That person is blessed who has a pure heart, because they will be able to do what the rest cannot — to see God.
Let’s begin then by thinking about the purity being described here. To start, let me say that this word of purity is a word about cleanness. We can just as easily translate it as “clean”. In fact that is often how it is translated in the Bible. The concept is closely related with the concept of holiness; though with some distinction, which is something we see brought out several times in the Old Testament. Of course, when we talk about purity and cleanness, it would be easy to think about this from a physical standpoint. Send the kids out to the sand box for a few minutes and they will come back unclean; dirty; needing a bath. But that’s not the kind of purity we have in mind. From a physical sense of cleanness, that’s right. But this verse says we are talking about that cleanness with regards to the heart. Blessed are the pure in heart. And so this is not concerned here with an outward cleanness, but an inward cleanness. We want clean souls. Our inner self. Clean and pure at the core of our being. That’s what we are talking about today. This is a spiritual purity.
Jesus repeatedly directed people to the heart. He repeatedly made the point that we need to be concerned first and foremost with the heart. If we are concerned for external purity alone, we have missed the point. Or if we are trying to address and correct only man’s unclean and impure actions, then we are putting our efforts in the wrong place. We need to get to the core of the issue. This is the point Jesus made in Matthew 12:33-35. He gave the analogy of a tree. He said that if you have a good tree, you will have good fruit. If you have a bad tree, you will have bad fruit. The fruit comes from the nature of the tree. If the tree at its core and root is diseased, then the fruit will be bad. If the tree at its core and root is healthy, then it will give good fruit. He goes on there in Matthew 12 to explain this analogy in terms of man. An evil man can’t really speak good things, because “out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks.” “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good things, and an evil man out of the evil treasure brings forth evil things” Matthew 12:35. And so this is why it’s so important to get to the core. Otherwise, you are just addressing symptoms. If you get someone to temporarily change their outward behavior, but at their core and heart they are still evil, then as best you’ve got a Pharisee. Jesus calls such people whitewashed tombs (Matt 23:27). They look clean on the outside, but inside they are dead. Their hearts are not pure. But God is concerned about our heart. Just remember that’s why God picked King David when on outward appearances humans might not have chosen him; because God was looking at his heart, 1 Samuel 16:7.
This was a concept God taught in a very unique way in the Old Testament, through the ceremonial laws of cleanness. Again, I’ve said that this word for pure here, is the word for clean. This is the same word you would use to describe if someone was ceremonially clean. For example, in Luke 5, a leper comes to Jesus and asks Jesus to make him clean. There he’s talking about an external cleansing, something that would have made him unclean according to the old covenant laws of cleanness. And so Jesus does cleanse him. In other words, Jesus healed him of his leprosy, and told him to go show himself then to the priest and make the appropriate offering for his cleansing. And so all of this was very typical under the old covenant. So many laws and provisions to deal with all sorts of matters of physical and external cleanness. If you became unclean in terms of these physical ways, depending on what it involved, you had to do certain things to become considered clean again. Again, to clarify, this was considered ceremonial cleanness. If you were ceremonially unclean, it put certain restrictions on you, depending on the nature of your uncleanness. Some uncleanness meant you couldn’t go into the temple. Others, like leprosy, required you to leave the city altogether.
It’s often asked why God gave the Israelite people all these laws for external cleanness and purity. From a practical standpoint, we can see how some of them may have given a health value — like laws on leprosy, or ones addressing mold in houses. Other ceremonial laws might have been trying to distinguish from the religious practices of the pagan peoples around than anything else. But we have to be careful not to overly speculate on such motivations. But what does become clear in the light of the New Testament, is that there is especially a spiritual lesson to learn from all these laws of cleanness. That outward purity is not an end in itself. But inward purity is instead to be our real focus and concern. Jesus addressed this with the Pharisees in passages like Mark 7. You see, the Pharisees at that time didn’t stop with just the ceremonial laws given through Moses. They actually had heaped on top of those many laws even more laws on outward purity. They had invented so many extra laws on having to wash cups, pots, etc. Jesus criticized them for it. He criticized them on the one hand, because they were treating these man-made laws as if they came from God. And on the other hand he criticized them because they missed the fact that what really makes someone unclean is not what goes into him, but what comes out of him. This helps us then to understand that all this teaching in the Old Testament on ceremonial cleanness was to make us to look for inward cleanness. Time and again, God used physical and visible things in the old covenant to teach about spiritual or heavenly realities. It seems that was at least one major thing he was doing with the old covenant laws on ceremonial cleanness. It was supposed to get men to seek after inward purity and cleanness. To want pure hearts.
Again, why is all this important? I said from the start, that it’s so we can see God. This is what Psalm 24 even says, with the language of worship. Psalm 24:3-4, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” If you are inwardly stained by sin, don’t expect to truly know God; to truly come before God in worship and in relationship. God is holy and clean. Remember when God met Moses at the burning bush, God told him to take off his shoes, for the ground he was standing on was holy ground. When Jacob wrestled with God when God somehow bodily manifested himself to him in Genesis 32, Jacob expresses amazement that he has somehow seen God and survived. A human marred with sin should not expect to come before the holiness of God in our uncleanness. We who approach him, must come to him in purity and holiness.
That leads us then to the blessing promised to those who are pure in heart. They shall see God. All through the Bible, this has been a desire we see. Remember Moses asked to see God in his glory, in Exodus 33, and God said that Moses could not see his face, because no man can see God’s face and live. But he did allow Moses, hiding in the cleft of the rock, to see his back side. I have to admit, I can only begin to fathom this. I can only begin to fathom what that meant for Moses, and only begin to fathom even more so for how we will be able to see God. What will this mean to see God? How is this even possible, given that God is a spirit and does not have a body like men? But it says here, that we will see God.
This comes to its complete fulfillment at Christ’s return, when he ushers in the new heavens and the new earth. John says 1 John 3:2 that then we will see Jesus, and be made like him. Surely then we will be qualified to see God and live, in that state of purity and holiness of glory. That’s in fact what it goes on to say in Revelation 22. In the new heavens and the new earth, God will make his dwelling with men in the city known as New Jerusalem. Listen then to Revelation 22:3-4 describe that city. It says, “The throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and His servants shall serve Him. They shall see His face, and His name shall be on their foreheads.” Again, what does this really mean? To see God in his glory and to dwell with him? To not just approach God in worship for a short time on his holy hill, but to dwell with him there forever as his beloved and redeemed people? I can only imagine. There is a song titled like that, “I Can Only Imagine” that tries to ask this question. About when then happens, how will we even respond to seeing God. Its chorus asks this:
Surrounded by Your glory, what will my heart feel? Will I dance for You Jesus or in awe of you be still? Will I stand in Your presence or to my knees will I fall? Will I sing hallelujah, will I be able to speak at all?
I can only imagine. I can only imagine what it will be to see the invisible, all holy, all righteous, all gracious, all glorious Almighty God. I can only imagine, and point to you the glorious descriptions found in the Word. And the word glory seems to be the place to start when thinking about this.
Though, actually, I can do more than just imagine. Because as we’ve been going along and seeing the blessings held out in these beatitudes, we’ve talked about how we experience these in an already and not yet way. I just spoke about the “not yet.” We won’t see God in this glorious way until glory. And yet, for the Christian, there is even an already expression of this seeing of God. To that, I direct you to John 1:18. You and I have never seen God. But there is a man who has seen God, in his fullness. In his glory. John 1:18, “No one has seen God at any time. The only begotten Son, who is in the bosom of the Father, He has declared Him. This only begotten Son of God is recorded in that same book to say this, “If you have seen me, you have seen the Father,” John 14:9. As a Christian, who has come to know and see Jesus by faith, we have come to know and see God the Father. Yes, not with physical eyes. Not in glory. But truly in substance. All that is of God, his knowledge, his righteousness, his holiness: we are coming to see and know in our relationship with Jesus Christ. Yes, we see it by faith, not by sight. But yet we truly do see it in Christ, and by his Spirit.
This then is the blessing, already and not yet, for the pure in heart. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Already and not yet, this is true. And yet it’s at this point, we come to the core problem. If it’s those who are pure in heart who will have this experience, what does that mean for humans? It’s in this Sermon on the Mount that Jesus tells the people that they are evil, 7:11. He didn’t say that they did evil things there, he said they were evil. Categorically evil. Remember, he says evil things come from evil people. That’s what he said about them. He could say that in a blanketed way, because in truth, that is the condition of all men. To put it in the words given through the prophet Jeremiah, “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” Jeremiah 17:9. Or in the words of the Apostle Paul, humans have become futile in our thinking, and we have foolish hearts that have been darkened, Romans 1:21. This is the problem, you see. If we were to approach God on our own, none of us would be able to see God, because none of us would have pure hearts. This is the problem inherent to man – ever since mankind’s fall into sin, we don’t naturally have pure hearts. Ever since then, we’ve had impure hearts. Diseased hearts. We aren’t good trees by nature, we are bad trees by nature! This is what we call in the theology books as total depravity.
So then we need to have our hearts cleansed and purified if we are going to see God. How does this happen? This is something that James exhorts sinners to in James 4:8. James says, “Cleanse your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” So then, how does someone do this? Isaiah 1:16 says, “Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Put away the evil of your doings from before My eyes.” Or Jeremiah 4:14, “Wash your heart from wickedness, That you may be saved.” So the Scriptures call us to purify our hearts — but how? Well, it’s sort of a trick question. You see, the solution in all these calls to purify your heart is to look to God. In the James passage, it’s put in the context of drawing near to God in Christ and in repentance. In Isaiah 1 it goes on to say, “‘Come now, and let us reason together,’ Says the LORD, ‘Though your sins are like scarlet, They shall be as white as snow.'” As we read on in the book, we find that the washing will come through the Messiah that acts as a suffering servant to atone for our sin. Or in Jeremiah, it goes on in Jeremiah 31 to say that the solution will be a new covenant by which God will write his law on our hearts. In the same way, it was prophesied all the way back in Deuteronomy 30, that God’s people wouldn’t be able to keep God’s law on their own; that they would need God to circumcise their hearts.
In other words, there is only one who can actually clean our hearts. That’s the Lord. And yet that’s why Jesus came to this world. When he was on earth, who did he focus his ministry on? On sinners. When asked why he spent so much time with those most visibly identified as sinners, he said this: “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I have not come to call the righteous but sinners to repentance,” Luke 5:31-32. You see, this is what we all need. A physician who can heal our sick hearts. I’m not talking about a cardiologist. I’m talking about the Lord who heals our inner self. King David recognized this when in Psalm 51, as he was repenting of his sin, he said, “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me.” Or it’s what we see in the book of Ezekiel. In Ezekiel 18:31, God told the people they needed to get a new heart. Later then in Ezekiel 36:26, he tells them where they can get that new heart — from God. He would give them a new heart and a new spirit.
How is that Christ can give us such new hearts, cleansed by sin? Well, an integral part of it is that he actually has dealt with our sin. He’s atoned for it. He’s covered it. By his death on the cross, he’s made it so that our sins can be washed away. Think about it his death in terms of purity. Jesus Christ is the only human ever to walk this earth without any uncleanness of sin. Jesus was that perfect lamb of God, without spot or blemish. He was fully pure of heart as he went to the cross. He was the perfect sacrifice to stand in our place. And so what did he accomplish at the cross? Hebrews 1:3 says he made purification for sins. Purification. That’s what we need if we are going to have pure hearts. What makes our hearts impure and unclean is our sin. So we need the sin cleaned and purified away. That’s what Jesus did at the cross. That’s why he can make our hearts clean. That’s in fact the only way for us to make our hearts clean.
The result then in our lives is that Christians do in fact now have pure hearts. And at the same time, our hearts are being made pure. As we put our trust and faith in Jesus, at that moment are sins are forgiven and we are positionally sanctified. Listen to what 1 Corinthians 6:11 tells us who are in Christ: “But you were washed, but you were sanctified, but you were justified in the name of the Lord Jesus and by the Spirit of our God.” That’s our position before God: washed and sanctified and justified. But the ongoing work of the Spirit is to be at work in an ongoing way to purify our hearts. And that work will come to completion at the point of glory. We are pure, we are being purified, and we shall be pure. All by Christ and his Spirit.
So then, dearly beloved saints of God, let us rejoice in how he has made us pure. Let us rejoice in how we have already begun to see God by faith. Let us rejoice in how we will see God in the age to come. This is our hope. It’s a sure hope. How then does the Christian whom Christ has purified respond to this hope? Listen to 1 John 3:3, “Everyone who thus hopes in him, purifies himself as he is pure.” In other words, as the one whom Christ has purified and is purifying, let us seek purity. If we believe this is what he has done in our hearts and is doing in our hearts, let’s act in line with that hope.
So then, meditate on purity. Examine our hearts and lives. What does this examination look like? Let me give some examples. Examine our thoughts — are they godly? Examine our attitudes — do we have the kind of attitude that God would have us to have? Examine our perspectives — are they inline with how God sees things? Do we outwardly condemn something, while inwardly enjoy it? Do we say one thing, but do another? Do you think one thing, and do another? Do you find good and bad thoughts in your mind — double mindedness? Examine your faith even — does it fully trust Christ for our salvation? Or are their parts of you that try to earn your salvation? Or are their parts that think it’s okay to give lip service to faith, but not really seek Christ as your Lord? God has called us to purity of heart. Meditate on the Word of God in light of this examination of your soul. Seek to turn from those things not keeping with this purity that we’ve come into. Trust that Christ is purifying you even through that. Because we know he loves us. We know this is his goal for our lives. We know that even in the struggles, that’s part of his refining fire. Believe and trust and know what this beatitude tells us. That you are blessed in Christ who purifies the hearts of his people. Praise be to God! Amen.
Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.
Spanish Translation of “Blessed are the Pure in Heart” Sermon (Traducción en Español)