1 The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it, the world, and all who live in it; 2 for He founded it upon the seas and established it upon the waters.
3 Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place?
4 He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.
5 He will receive blessing from the Lord and vindication from God his Saviour.
6 Such is the generation of those who seek Him, who seek your face, O God of Jacob.
7 Lift up your heads, O you gates; be lifted up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
8 Who is this King of glory? The Lord strong and mighty, the Lord mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, O you gates; lift them up, you ancient doors, that the King of glory may come in.
10 Who is He, this King of glory? The Lord Almighty - He is the King of glory.
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” (Matthew 5:8)
As we’ve seen during the past number of weeks of this series, each Beatitude builds on the previous one, but we need to begin today by addressing one of the disadvantages of using a series of sermons, because there is a danger that we can easily find ourselves ticking the boxes as we move along, and I think this applies especially to our journey through the beatitudes. The Christian life of faith is not a series of checklists that we work through like a “To Do” app on a smartphone. Checklists are lists of our accomplishments, but when we apply that principle to our relationship with Jesus, that relationship is then based on works, and not on faith. As Paul writes in Ephesians 2:8-9, “It is by grace you have been saved, through faith - and this not from yourselves, it is the gift of God - not by works, so that no one can boast.”
I found this comment on the website Christianity Today, which explains this challenge far better than I can: “Through the centuries there have been some people who have wanted to view Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes as a kind of ladder that can carry us to heaven. If you are poor in spirit, you have passed the first rung. If you mourn, you have reached the second rung. If you are meek, you have come to the third rung, and so on. But then we come to the beatitude we are considering today and this whole approach breaks down. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart,’ Jesus says, ‘for they will see God.’ The system breaks down, not because we cannot understand Jesus’ words, but because Jesus is entirely clear that our effort to climb into God’s presence by way of this beatitude fails utterly. These words of Jesus pull the ladder out from under our feet and sends us tumbling.”
If nothing else, this beatitude reminds us that our own attempts at pleasing God are work-based, and are doomed to fail before we even begin. We know Jesus’ words in John 14 so well, and we would do well to remember them: “I am the way and the truth and the life. No-one comes to the Father except through me.” It is only through Jesus that we will “see God” as He teaches in the 6th Beatitude.
The first thing we learn from this beatitude is that Jesus is concerned with our heart. It is not enough to clean up our act on the outside. God needs to purify us from within. In Matthew 23:25-26 He says, “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.”
The aim of Jesus is not to reform the manners of society, but to change the hearts of sinners. Jesus did not come into the world simply because we have some bad habits that need to be broken. He came into the world because our hearts need to be purified.
The heart, especially in Biblical times, was considered to be the very centre of a person. As we read through the Bible we soon learn that when it speaks of the heart, it means much more than the muscle in our chests. The Bible emphasises the importance of a good heart in order for us to be acceptable before God. Jeremiah 17:9 addresses the problem of the human heart: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it?”
So what is the kind of purity that Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5:8? It’s more than simple clean living and good morals. Someone who is pure in heart loves God with all his heart. There is an undivided loyalty, and a dedication to the things of God. It’s essentially about holiness. Throughout the Bible God says we are to be holy, because He is holy.
The mistake the Pharisees made in Jesus’ time was to draw up a complex system of laws in their attempts to be pure, but all of those laws missed the most important purity of all - purity of the heart. They drew up a checklist of external requirements, and in so doing they missed the point entirely.
A pure heart describes a person whose single-minded loyalty to God affects all aspects of their life.
The Danish theologian Søren Kierkegaard wrote a book called Purity of Heart Is to Will One Thing. That’s a good definition, so long as that one thing we will is the glory of God.
As David wrote in Psalm 24, “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in His holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to an idol or swear by what is false.” A pure heart is a heart that has nothing to do with falsehood. In the New Testament James 4:8 says “Come near to God and He will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded.” It is here where we are given an insight into how purity of the heart is made possible. If the human heart is deceitful above all things, and as I wrote in the bulletin today, purity of the heart is impossible for the sinful heart, then we must ask the question why God requires it from us? The point is that purity of the heart is possible if we “come near to God” as James writes. Remember that nothing is impossible for God.
David knew where to turn after his adultery with Bathsheba and the arranged murder of her husband. In Psalm 51 he writes, “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.”
Purity of heart is to will one thing, and that is God’s truth. The aim of a pure heart is to align itself with the truth of God and to reflect His truth to the world. And if you think about it, that should be our greatest desire anyway – remember Ephesians 5:1 from last week – “Be imitators of God.”
Blessed are the pure in heart. Jesus then goes on to make this amazing statement: “For they will see God.”
What we need to remember is that our sin has driven us away from Him, but once we have been purified by the blood of Jesus, we are ushered into the presence of God once more. This is the first part of seeing God – living in a relationship with Him. We’re admitted into His presence.
We can only imagine the heartbreak that Adam and Eve must have gone through when they were evicted from the Garden of Eden. Flaming swords guarded the entrance, and they had no way back. The place where they had spent time in God’s presence was taken away from them, and that has been the curse of every human being since that day. To borrow a baseball analogy, we start life out with three strikes against us. We are born with a death sentence hanging over us, but thanks be to God, and the mercy He shows us through Christ – He has made it possible for us to be in His presence once more.
So the first thing seeing God means is being admitted to his presence.
Secondly, seeing God means we’re able to experience His presence in a very real way. Take nature for instance. Put a Christian next to a non-believer and tell them to look up at the sky on a cloudless night. Both will be amazed at the sheer beauty of the night sky, but the Christian will be awestruck because he knows who put the stars in place. As David wrote in Psalm 19, “The heavens declare the glory of God, the skies proclaim the work of His hands.” There is evidence of His work wherever we turn, but more importantly than the physical, we see Him spiritually. By His Spirit He lives in our hearts, guiding and prompting us to follow His will for our lives instead of our own. Jeremiah says that the human heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked, yet we see Christians moved to do the most amazing things for their fellow human beings. We do see believers loving as Christ loved them, forgiving as they have been forgiven, showing grace and mercy to those who don’t deserve it, and so on. Where does that come from? Not from their own hearts, because their hearts are desperately wicked, but rather from a new heart that has been purified by Jesus. They have seen God, and they experience His presence in a very real way in their lives.
And of course, this beatitude refers directly to the promise of being in God’s physical presence in eternity. One of the most wonderful promises in the Bible is found in Revelation 21:3-4. “I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, ‘Now the dwelling of God is with men, and He will live with them. They will be His people, and God Himself will be with them and be their God. He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” But that is still to come.
The third aspect of seeing God in this life is that we are comforted by His grace. David writes in Psalm 27:7-9, “Hear my voice when I call, O Lord, be merciful to me and answer me. My heart says of you, ‘Seek His face!’ Your face, Lord, I will seek. Do not hide your face from me, do not turn your servant away in anger; you have been my helper. Do not reject me or forsake me, O God my Saviour.”
“Do not hide your face from me” is the same as saying, “Be gracious to me.” Psalm 51 again: “Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.”
It’s the same cry for mercy. Remember that awful moment on the cross when Jesus cried, “My God, my God. Why have you forsaken me?” When God turns away from us, all we have is despair and hopelessness. But when we see Him, we know His power and we experience His comforting, healing grace.
So when Jesus promises the reward of seeing God to those who are pure in heart, it means at least these three things: We will be admitted into his presence, we experience the reality of His presence in our hearts, and we find the comfort of His grace.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. This is not only the promise of seeing Him in eternity, because we see Him right now. The promise is partially fulfilled. We see enough of Him and He gives us enough reminders each day of His presence to sustain us through life.
William Barclay in his commentary wrote, “If the ordinary person goes out on a night of stars, he sees only a host of pinpoints of light in the sky; he sees what he is fit to see. But in that same sky the astronomer will call the stars and the planets by their names, and will move amongst them as his friends; and from that same sky the navigator could find the means to bring his ship across the trackless seas to the desired haven. The ordinary person can walk along a country road, and see by the hedgerows nothing but a tangle of weeds and wild flowers and grasses. The trained botanist would see this and that, and call it by name and know its use; and he might even see something of infinite value and rarity because he had eyes to see. Put two men into a room filled with ancient pictures. A man with no knowledge and no skill could not tell an old master from a worthless daub, whereas a trained art critic might well discern a picture worth thousands of pounds in a collection which someone else might dismiss as junk. In every sphere of life, we see what we are able to see. So, says Jesus, it is only the pure in heart who shall see God.”
It’s an incredible statement that Jesus makes in this beatitude if you really think about it. Us mere mortals, sinners who deserve nothing but eternal punishment, are told that not only will we be blessed, but our hearts will be pure and we will see God!
Purity is a prerequisite for seeing God, and He has made it possible for us to be purified – not through our own futile attempts at purity, but through His atoning sacrifice on the cross.
Throughout the Bible we are reminded that it is by grace alone that we are saved. Grace is what sets the Christian faith apart from all other religions which are man-made and ultimately doomed to failure.
When we begin to understand that without Jesus there is no hope, we can echo the cry of Proverbs 20:9. “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure. I am clean and without sin?’”
The disciples asked the same burning question that every sinner has asked: “Who then can be saved?” Jesus’ answer to them was, “With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.”
In other words, God creates a purity for us and in us so that we can pursue that purity.
And by His grace He gives it to those who seek Him. Our prayer needs to be the same as David: “Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.” God says through the prophet Ezekiel, “I will sprinkle clean water on you, and you will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities and from all your idols. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh. And I will put my Spirit in you and move you to follow my decrees and be careful to keep my laws.” (Ezekiel 36:25-27)
Purity of the heart is not something we do. It is not something we achieve and are then able to tick off on our list of to-do’s. The apostle Peter in Acts 15 was addressing the racism shown by the Jewish Pharisees to Gentile Christians, and as he teaches them, he teaches us how purity of the heart is given to us. “Brothers, you know that some time ago God made a choice among you that the Gentiles might hear from my lips the message of the gospel and believe. God, who knows the heart, showed that He accepted them by giving the Holy Spirit to them, just as He did to us. He made no distinction between us and them, for He purified their hearts by faith.” (Acts 15:7-9)
And there is our answer. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.” God is the one who purifies the heart – not us - and the instrument with which He purifies it is faith. And then we will see Him.
Homegroup Study Notes
Discuss this statement in your group:
“Some people view Jesus’ teaching in the Beatitudes as a kind of ladder that can carry us to heaven. If you are poor in spirit, you have passed the first rung. If you mourn, you have reached the second rung. If you are meek, you have come to the third rung, and so on. But then we come to the beatitude we are considering today and this whole approach breaks down. ‘Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.’ It breaks down, not because we cannot understand Jesus’ words, but because He is clear that our effort to climb into God’s presence by way of this beatitude fails utterly. These words of Jesus pull the ladder out from under our feet and sends us tumbling.”
Of all the Beatitudes, this is the one which reminds us the most of our complete failure to please God by our own efforts.
How have you made the mistake of confusing faith and works in your Christian walk? (See Ephesians 2:8-9)
Discuss the dangers of using the Beatitudes as a checklist.
If purity in heart is impossible for us to achieve, yet remains a prerequisite to seeing God, how does the death of Jesus deal with this problem?
The promise that we will “see God” will ultimately be fulfilled in eternity, but we are able to see Him in this life too.
How have you seen or experienced God?
Next week: “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God.” (Matthew 5:9)