Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. Matthew 5:8
The Beatitudes are not just another passage in the Bible. The Beatitudes define what real Christianity looks like. You remember the context. Jesus told us to repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand (Matthew 4:17). That’s how he set up the Sermon on the Mount. It’s about repentance. The Beatitudes sketch out a portrait of what repentance looks like and feels like in sinful people like us. Real Christianity is for sinners in repentance, and for them only. Real Christianity is for people who have failed so badly they have no bargaining chips left. They refuse to fake it. They are bringing their need to God, and he is giving them Jesus. They not only need Jesus, they have Jesus, freely and forever, for all that he is worth.
But now, Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart.” We might think, “I knew it couldn’t last. I really do have to bring my own virtue to the table after all. But I lost my purity long ago.” That’s why the word “heart” is important. When Jesus describes real Christianity, he doesn’t give us a checklist of outward duties. He presses into our hearts and says, “Let’s talk about the deepest part of you. That’s where you need me the most, and that’s where I most want to give myself to you.” What then does the Lord mean by this Beatitude? How is this Beatitude a doorway into something better than we expect?
Blessed are the pure in heart
Not just ritually pure, not just outwardly pure, like the Pharisees, but pure down deep inside. The Pharisees looked good on the outside. They really tried to obey God. But they prostituted their obedience by wanting to be noticed for it. God himself was not the point. The harlots and drunks had no obedience to corrupt. They knew they were rotten to the core. But God sees through us all. The Bible says, “The Lord looks on the heart” (1 Samuel 16:7). Therefore, the biggest question in all our lives is not what we seem to be but what we are. Religion is all about externals. Religion is how to get a reputation for being a serious person without having to change. Every one of us is strongly tempted in that way. The outward impression we want to make will differ among us. But obeying God, even obeying him, for the sake of image is hypocrisy. So Jesus forces the issue with this Beatitude.
Jesus is searching us deeply today. The Bible says he has eyes like a flame of fire (Revelation 1:14). Let’s all admit before him what’s really going on in our hearts. The truth is, we want him. We sure don’t want to go to hell. But sometimes we don’t want too much of God. What if he lays hold of us? How would that change us? What would we have to own up to? Would we lose face? Our hearts can say to God, “Come close. But please don’t come too close.” That is what the Bible calls a “double-minded” person. That is impurity of heart. The Bible says, “Purify your hearts, you double-minded people” (James 4:8). In other words, “Make up your minds.” The Bible is talking about singleness of mind as opposed to divided loyalties. When our hearts are divided, then we wonder why God seems unreal. We wonder why he’s just a doctrine, a concept. But here he himself is telling us why: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
We tell ourselves it’s a matter of priorities. We tell ourselves that God is first in our priorities. But maybe it’s not that simple. Maybe it’s not that noble. Maybe he’s just one item in the list and we put him first in our minds because then we can feel better about ourselves. The apostle Paul didn’t have priorities, as we think of them. All he had was Christ. He said, “For me to live is Christ, and to die is gain” (Philippians 1:21). That is purity of heart. If your job, for example, is not a mechanism for obeying and honoring Christ, then it is competing with Christ and Christ is losing in your heart. And he sees it.
Being a Christian is not a new, top priority. It is a new way of being human. The real Jesus enters into the whole of what we are and takes command entirely. He’ll never settle for being your top priority. You might as well tell him he’s your number one idol. He wants all that you are, right down to your core inner being, the control center of the real you. And that way of being human is unexplored territory for so many people in Nashville today. We don’t live that way, we don’t know how, and sometimes we don’t even want to know how. That’s hypocrisy.
This Beatitude shows us that what’s wrong with us is not our jobs or our marriages or our upbringing. What’s wrong with us is deep inside us. What’s wrong deep inside is our small and insulting view of Jesus, treating the Savior of the world as if he were a problem to cope with – but we’re noble enough to make this “problem” first in our lives. The truth is, Jesus is the pure and sweet river of God’s glory flowing into our sinful hearts, and he only wants us to dive in and swim and play and be refreshed. The real Jesus is not a problem for us to manage; we are the problem for him to manage, and he loves us and wants us with all his heart.
The Lord is searching our hearts today. He wants some answers from us. We don’t have to have life figured out. But we must be clear and definite about Jesus. That is purity in heart.
Now, here’s what purity in heart isn’t. Purity in heart” is not “pure in show, in how we come across.” In our part of the country, in Nashville especially, with all our performing on stage—our whole lives can become theater. It’s posing and pretending. The Bible warned us about religious people who “have the appearance of godliness but deny its power” (2 Timothy 3:4-5). So, you visit a church, and it’s not wacko crazy; it looks downright godly. It has the appearance of godliness. But scratch beneath the surface and that church is a living denial of God’s power. The Bible told us how to run from all hypocritical appearances: “But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship with one another and the blood of Jesus his Son cleanses us from all sin” (1 John 1:7). At Immanuel we want to be not just the most honest church in town but the most honest anything anywhere in town.
Purity in heart is not “pure in ceremony and ritual.” No liturgy came down on Mount Sinai, forever written in stone. Jesus said that man-made tradition undermines the Bible (Mark 7:1-13). Here at Immanuel let’s stay open to newness, within the parameters of Scripture.
Purity in heart is not even “pure in doctrine.” Our doctrine matters! At Immanuel we love classical, mainstream, Christian theology. But the Bible says the demons believe sound doctrine – and shudder (James 2:19). The devil is the best theologian in all this world. We’ve all seen churches, with doctrine as pure as the driven snow, acting in ugly ways, because their hearts were as wrong as their doctrine was right.
Here is one of our Lord’s most urgent warnings: “Beware of the leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy” (Luke 12:1). What does leaven or yeast do? It gets mixed into bread dough and spreads out. Hypocrisy is like that. It spreads. When no one is honest and open and vulnerable, everyone starts thinking, “Gosh, I’d better not let anyone see what’s really going on in my life.” We cover up. And it spreads throughout a group until everyone is playacting. That is what doomed the Pharisees. They were hypocritical—but sincere. They thought posing was what God wanted. But it hardened their hearts. Honest confession spreads too. We all know what it’s like to be in a group when someone owns up to something and everyone senses instantly, “The ground rules have just changed. Now we can be real. What a relief!” Hypocrisy spreads. Honesty spreads. At any given moment, in every group, one or the other is spreading and setting the tone.
What then does “pure in heart” mean? It means undivided and simple and uncomplicated. In 1846 Søren Kierkegaard wrote his famous essay, “Purity of heart is to want one thing.” The pure in heart are sinners, but their hearts are not saying, “I want Christ and _____________.” The pure in heart know that whatever they write in that blank will end up robbing them of Christ. They know they will soon be thinking, “I want ______________ and Christ,” and eventually “I want _____________.”
The first time Jesus speaks in John’s gospel he asks a question: “What do you want?” (John 1:38, NIV). That is the question of our lives. The pure in heart have a clear answer to that question. They want God. They know he has the answers they need. So, they are not sitting on the fence. They’re not trying to fit God into their crowded lives. They want God to clean out their crowded lives. Moses said to God, “Show me your glory” (Exodus 33:18). That’s purity of heart. The mother of James and John lobbied Jesus for her sons to get prestigious positions in his kingdom (Matthew 20:20-21). That’s impurity of heart. The desire for Jesus so that we can then get something else we really want, and if we could get that something else without Jesus then so much the better because then he wouldn’t have to deal with him – how is that pure, even if “Jesus” is dragged into it?
I looked up this word “pure” in my Greek lexicon. This word was used in Classical Greek to describe clear water, metal without alloy, open space, an obvious meaning. The pure in heart are easy to read. What they are on the outside is the same as what they are on the inside. You don’t have to wonder. As they read the Bible, they don’t put a filter between themselves and what it says. When they see what the Bible is saying, they accept it and obey it without raising objections and complicating it.
If you read the Bible with your own mental filters protecting you from its full impact, you will not see God. The Bible will seem impossible to you. It will frustrate you. But the reason is you. David said to God, “To the pure you show yourself pure, but to the crooked you show yourself shrewd” (Psalm 18:26). If you want the security code to get through to God, it’s simple. It is simplicity – which can be hard for gifted, able, talented people who think they’re pretty good at life. Jesus prayed, “I thank you, Father, that you have hidden these things from the wise and understanding and revealed them to little children” (Matthew 11:25). Jesus said, “Unless you turn and become like children, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 18:3). Our biggest barrier to God is not intellectual. God loves your mind and wants to satisfy your questions. Children ask a lot of questions, and Jesus told us to be like children. But what sets children apart is, when they get a good answer, they accept it. They don’t fold their arms and say, “I still don’t believe you. It can’t be that simple.” It’s humiliating to become childlike again. It’s humiliating to accept what God says in the Bible without pushback. You to actually trust him and accept his way of seeing things But that is purity of heart. Purity in heart is not about achieving perfection. It’s about calling our hypocrisy what it is, giving it all to the Lord, and asking him for a clean heart, whatever the cost.
The psalmist prayed, “Unite my heart to fear your name” (Psalm 86:11). In other words, “Simplify me, so that I can live for you.” The pure in heart are willing to look stupid in human eyes, if only they can be pleasing in God’s sight. The pure in heart will not compromise. If living for Jesus is going to get them into trouble, they’re okay with trouble. The pure in heart know what they want and they don’t let anything get in the way. The apostle Paul said, “This one thing I do: forgetting what lies behind and straining forward to while lies ahead, I press on toward the goal” (Philippians 3:13-14). If you live that way, you will be criticized – mostly by people who look good on the outside. But Jesus will become real to you. Real Christians are saying to the real Jesus, “I’m a sinner. But you are my only Savior. If you fail me, I’m damned. But I have no back-up plan. I put my trust in you. Whatever I lose, I want you. I’m all in.” That is purity in heart.
Some of us allow ourselves to think, “One of these days I’m going to become definite about Jesus. One of these days I’m going to do something for him. I really am. But not just yet. There are other things I have to see to first. But I’ll get around to it. I really will. Hey, I’m serious about this.” No. You are lying to God. You’re making room in your heart for other gods, and they will never let you go until you renounce them. What is that hard step of faith the Lord is calling you to take, the one you’ve been putting off? On the other side of that hard step is deeper intimacy with Jesus. What desire competes with Christ in your heart? What if you got that desire fulfilled? Would you then live for Christ? No. That desire would be very careful to present to you yet another desire, equally urgent, that would again put Christ off. And the longer you live that way, the more dishonest your heart becomes, until you reach a point where the lie you’re living starts feeling normal. And then, you’re trapped in the web of your own self-deception. God turns his face away. He might stop knocking on the door of your heart.
But here’s what he’s saying right now: “Blessed are the pure in heart, the open, the trusting, the decisive, for they shall see God. They don’t deserve to, but they will.” Jesus wants to give you that priceless gift. It is your only escape from your own fraudulence, and you have no time to lose. But it comes down to this. If you will be content to have Jesus only, even if others look at you and disapprove, he will make himself wonderfully real to you. That takes us to the second part of this Beatitude.
So, what starts happening to us, when we’re purified and simplified as our hearts are drawn more and more to Jesus?
For they shall see God
I saw the Beatles once. Seeing them was so different from hearing them on the radio. Seeing is being there. Seeing opens the door to deeper experience. God wants that intimacy with you. How do we see God in this life?
The Bible says, “We all, with unveiled face, are beholding the glory of the Lord” (2 Corinthians 3:18). What is that? It’s us believers sitting together in church, enjoying the gospel in song, word, creed and sacrament, and the Lord himself enters into our experience. The gospel doesn’t just tell us about Jesus; by the power of the Holy Spirit the gospel shows us the face of Jesus. “God has shone in our hearts to give the light of the knowledge of the glory of God in the face of Jesus Christ” (2 Corinthians 4:6). As we are exposed to the gospel and receive it with a simple faith, something miraculous happens. Our hearts experience Jesus himself in his grace and glory. It happened to us the evening of Good Friday a week ago. The presence of the Lord was here. It was sacred. It was powerful. It was real. And it had nothing to do with what we deserved or could claim. It was his mercy visiting us. We, the undeserving, wanted him, and we got him.
This Beatitude is not saying, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall leverage themselves into God’s favor.” We can’t bribe God to reinstate us in his good graces. There is nothing we can do, to make God love us more. God is love, and he doesn’t need our help. In his love he sent his Son to live the perfect life we’ve never lived and die the guilty death we don’t want to die. All we do is receive Jesus. There is no other way to get God back in your life. That’s called justification. But Jesus isn’t talking about justification in this Beatitude. He’s talking about clarification. He’s talking about our repentance re-clarifying our hearts, so that we can experience God again. David the believer committed adultery and had her husband killed and covered it up with an appearance that everything was okay. But God knew. And God hid his face from David. Then David repented: “Create in me a clean heart, O God” (Psalm 51:10). David the believer needed that. His heart had been running from God. Maybe you’ve read the poem, “The Hound of Heaven”:
I fled him, down the nights and down the days;
I fled him, down the arches of the years;
I fled him, down the labyrinthine ways
Of my own mind.
We run from God, even as we keep up a good appearance. Then we wonder why he seems far away. If that’s you today, God loves you and wants you back. He isn’t far away. If your heart is still hard and sneaky, you must know this. God loves sneaky hypocrites. And God is able to create in you a pure heart. God can do for you what you can’t do for yourself. God can reach down inside you and change what’s going on down in the deepest you and by his love draw you back to himself. Would you like that? God can do it. You can have reality with God again. Jesus died and rose again to give blind sinners his most intimate best. Won’t you pour out your heart to him right now, no covering up, no excuses, nothing but need – the real you turning back to the real Jesus for the only real love you’ll ever find or ever need?