I enjoy going to a number of high school sporting events, like football and basketball games, and track meets. I don’t think I’ll ever forget this one track meet I watched several years ago in Louisiana. As I sat in the bleachers, I noticed this one particular runner warming up, who looked very impressive. He had a spiffy uniform, as well as some custom socks and some golden shoes, and all the most fashionable accessories. He went through his warm-ups in a professional manner, with all the right moves, the right preparation. I thought, I can’t wait to see this guy run — he must really be good. But when the starting pistol went off, I almost burst out laughing. This “impressive looking runner” was the slowest guy on the track! He looked SO good — but he performed so badly.
I was still laughing to myself as I thought about this race afterwards. I thought, you know, this is pretty typical America, where “appearance” means everything. Doesn’t matter as much how good you are, as how good you LOOK. Too often in our country, appearance is more important than substance: in athletics, in politics — and too often, in the church.
But we need to understand something very important this morning: appearance may mean everything in the United States of America — but it is not so in the Kingdom of God. It is the substance that matters in the Kingdom; the heart — and that is the point of this 6th Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
I. What is purity of heart?
We saw in our study of “meekness” that there was a Psalm that helped define that term for us: Psalm 37 told us that it means to “trust in the Lord and do good.” We find a similar foreshadowing of “purity of heart” in Psalm 24:3-4 in the Old Testament:
The Psalm asks: “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD; who may stand in His holy place?” In other words, who can fellowship with God? Who can go to heaven to see Him? This is the conscious or subconscious desire of every person. This is what we were made for: to stand before God, and to be fulfilled in His presence. But who can enjoy that blessing?
The next verse answers the question: “He who has clean hands and a PURE HEART.”
So who is it, the Psalmist asks here, who can see God? “The pure in heart.” This is just what Jesus tells us in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for THEY shall see God.” So if you want to go to heaven, and see God, and experience the eternal pleasure and joy that He has for you there, you must have a pure heart. But what does that MEAN?
— Most of the time, when the Bible speaks of “the heart”, it is not talking about the physical organ that pumps the blood through your system. It is speaking of your inner self: your spirit, your soul, your mind. In Jeremiah 17:10, God says: “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind” – “heart” and “mind” are parallels, which tells us they are synonyms. So when Jesus is talking about “heart” here, He means your inner self, as opposed to your outward, physical body.
–Secondly, the word “pure” here is the Greek “katharos”, which means “clean.” This is a word with a rich Old Testament background. In the Law, God commanded His priests that the temple and people of God were not to be “contaminated” with animals or other things that had been devoted to other gods. If the people of Israel came in contact with anything “unclean”, they had to be “cleansed” before they could worship God. So they had rituals of “washing” for themselves or their things, to make them suitable for God. Now God commanded them to carry out these rituals – but unfortunately, like we often do, many of the people took these things too far. So by the time Jesus came in the New Testament, the religious group called the Pharisees were totally consumed with the issue of keeping themselves outwardly “clean”. They would wash every cup and basin, and wash their hands ceremonially, and go through all kinds of ceremonial “washings” to keep clean.
— Mark 7:1-7 may be the best commentary on what it meant to the Jews to be “clean”, and Jesus’ response to them:
“The Pharisees and some of the scribes gathered around Him when they had come from Jerusalem, and had seen that some of His disciples were eating their bread with impure hands, that is, unwashed. (For the Pharisees and all the Jews do not eat unless they carefully wash their hands, thus observing the traditions of the elders; and when they come from the market place, they do not eat unless the cleanse themselves; and there are many other things which they have received in order to observe, such as the washing of cups and pitchers and copper pots.) The Pharisees and the scribes asked Him, “Why do Your disciples not walk according to the tradition of the elders, but eat their bread with impure hands?” And He said to them, “Rightly did Isaiah prophesy of you hypocrites, as it is written: This people honors Me with their lips, but their heart is far away from Me. But in vain do they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the precepts of men’.”
Do you see what Jesus was saying here? He was reprimanding them for being ritualistic about their outward “cleansing.” He said, you are SO concerned with these “traditions” of outward cleansing: washing your hands, and cups and dishes, etc. – but He said your HEARTS — your inward thoughts and emotions, your love — are far from Me! He was saying, it is not the outward cleansing you should be concerned about, but the cleanness of your heart.
So it is in contrast to that religious mindset that Jesus says here in Matthew 5:8, “Blessed are the pure in HEART …”. He was saying, I don’t want you just to be concerned about “outward cleanness” of your body, like the Pharisees, but I want you to be concerned about the INWARD purity of your heart. This wasn’t “new”; God had always looked at our heart. We saw that He said in Jeremiah 17:10 “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.” He was saying, I care about your heart and mind, not just your body and your outward appearance.
So in this passage in Matthew 5 on what His disciples’ character is to be like, Jesus is saying, My disciples are not to be people who focus merely on “externals”: our “appearance”; what we “look” like; on our physical bodies. He was saying, My disciples are to be concerned with their HEARTS. It is the HEART that matters to God.
II. There are several important applications of this for us as those who would be His disciples:
A. DO YOU WANT TO SEE GOD in heaven, and have fellowship with Him? You must be pure in heart. What does that mean? It means that your heart must be totally clean in order for you to see God in heaven.
A lot of people think that they will get to heaven as long as their good deeds outweigh their bad, but that is not what the Bible teaches. The Bible says you have to have a perfect righteousness to see God. In :48 later in this chapter, Jesus said, “Therefore you must be perfect, as your Heavenly Father is perfect.” God is a holy God. He is perfect. And heaven is a perfect place. If you and I are going to be there, we have to be perfect as well. We must be totally clean and pure in heart. That’s what this scripture teaches: “Blessed are the PURE in heart, for they shall see God.” It takes total purity of heart to get to heaven and see God.
I was reading an article the other day by a pastor who used to be a missionary in a Muslim country. As you may know, Muslims believe that if their good deeds outweigh their bad, then Allah will let them into heaven. And they are prohibited from eating pork. It is considered an “unclean” food to them, just like it was to the Jews. So one day this pastor was trying to witness to one of his Muslim friends, and he said to him: Suppose I had you over for dinner one day soon, and I was serving pork, could you eat that? The man said, no, we Muslims cannot eat pork. The pastor said, Well, what if the meal I served was only HALF pork. Would that be ok? His friend said no, I can’t have pork. The pastor said, Suppose I just had a little bit of pork in the dish, but it was mixed in with beef and other ingredients, so you really couldn’t even taste it; would it be ok then? The man emphatically said no, there cannot be ANY mix at all of pork in it at all. Even one little bit would defile it in the eyes of God, and it would not be acceptable to Him. And then this pastor said to him: Don’t you know, that is just how God sees our sins. It is not enough that your good deeds are more than your bad. If there is even a small amount of sin mixed in with all your goodness; any bit of sin — even in your heart and mind — that is enough to defile you in the sight of holy God.
And that is just what the Bible teaches. But who among us can say that we have that clean of a heart? In fact Proverbs 20:9 asks that very question: “Who can say, I have cleansed my heart, I am pure from my sin?” The answer is, on our own, NONE of us! As Romans 3:23 says, we have ALL sinned and fall short of the glory of God. God searches our hearts; He tests our minds, Jeremiah says: He knows what’s in your heart & mind. You know very well your heart isn’t clean, and if a pure heart is the qualification, there is no hope for you to see God in heaven.
That is why the only hope that any of us has is for us to admit our sins, and cast ourselves on God’s mercy in Jesus Christ. God knew our hearts, that we had sinned, and could never reach heaven on our own. That’s why He came to Earth in the Person of Jesus Christ, to die on the cross, to pay for our sins, so that if we would put our faith in Him, He would forgive our sins, and purify our hearts before God. I John 1:7 says when we trust Him that, “The blood of Jesus His Son cleanses us from all sin.” And when He cleanses us from sin, we are totally and perfectly clean. It is just like Isaiah 1:18 says, “Though your sins are red as scarlet, they shall be as white as snow.” So when you trust Jesus as your Savior, you are perfect, clean — “pure in heart” and can see God — but that is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ.
So this verse: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”, just brings us ALL to our knees before the cross of Jesus Christ, to admit that we are sinners and don’t have pure hearts, and to cry out like David did in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” But when you have done that, then you can be assured that your heart is indeed “clean” before God, and you will “see God”, just as Jesus promised. And some of us need to pray that very kind of prayer today.
B. But “purity of heart” applies to more than just getting our hearts ready for heaven. It also means that as Christian disciples, God wants our focus to be on our purity of HEART, not just our outward appearance or legalistic “deeds”.
Jesus repeatedly taught this in the New Testament:
— Here at the very outset of His first sermon in the New Testament, He tells us it is the pure in HEART that God cares about. And if you notice, the other qualities of the Beatitudes here are all inward qualities. It not “Blessed is the one who reads so many chapters in the Bible” or “Blessed is the one who gives so much money” or “Blessed are those who go to church so many times.” These are all outward actions that may or may not involve the heart. Instead, Jesus says the qualities He is looking for in His disciples are INWARD qualities: “poor in SPIRIT” — a heart dependence on Him; “mourning” — that is an inward quality; “meekness” which we saw is a trust in Him; “hunger for righteousness”; “merciful” — seeing and “feeling compassion” — all of these things that Jesus says is the goal for His disciples are HEART qualities. He’s not looking for us to read so much, or give so much, or do so much — because all of those things can be done legalistically. Instead, what He wants from us to is develop this kind of HEART.
— We find the same thing later in Matthew 5, in :21and following, where Jesus said the righteousness He wants us to develop as His followers is not just keeping the Law, but an inward righteousness of the heart. He said it is not enough just not commit murder; but not to be angry in your heart. He said it is not enough just not to commit adultery, but not to lust in your heart, and so on. The point is, it’s not just our appearance and external actions God cares about; it is our HEARTS.
— Later in Matthew 23:25 Jesus condemned some of the leading religious leaders of their time, because although they looked good on the outside, their hearts and minds were filthy on the inside: “Woe to you, scribes & Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and of the dish, but inside they are full of robbery and self-indulgence.” Jesus said one of the big problems with these supposedly religious men had was that they made themselves look really good outwardly, when they had serious problems with filth in their hearts.
There are many of us who are the same way, too. Your outward life can be as clean as a whistle, but your mind can be a cesspool! You can be the sharpest guy outwardly: have a neat appearance, wear a shirt & tie, have a perfect work record, drive an immaculately cleaned car, be well-mannered, loved and respected by all and held up as a model citizen – and your mind and heart can still be in the gutter — and that is what God is looking at.
And this is not just theoretical; it is very real. Statistics tell us that about 70% of men under 50 are currently involved with internet pornography. And sadly, the statistics are not much better in the church than they are outside of it. At a Promise Keepers rally a couple of years ago, HALF of the men present stood, indicating that they had used pornography in the previous week! This wasn’t at a bar or at a rock concert, but a Promise Keepers rally! And who knows how many more didn’t stand up! These are Christian guys, who may look very nice outwardly on Sunday morning, yet God is concerned about what is going on on the inside, in their heart and mind.
The same thing is true for women. That’s why He commanded Christian women in I Timothy 2 not to let their beauty be of “braided hair and gold and pearls and costly garments”. He doesn’t want your focus to be on what you LOOK like, but on what you are in your heart before Him. That’s why the most important thing we can do in the morning is not to put on fashionable clothes and the right makeup, but to get your HEART right with God in His word and prayer.
But how many of us do the opposite? We spend a hour or more getting our bodies clean, and our hair and clothes and makeup just right — and little or no time in God’s word & prayer getting your heart right. But God says THAT is the most important thing. That is what matters to Me: cleanness of HEART on the inside, not what you look like on the outside.
The bottom line is, as Christian disciples we are NOT to be concerned merely about what we LOOK like, or just what we DO, but what we are in our HEARTS. That’s what God sees and cares about:
— Not just “am I having my quiet time”, but do I LOVE GOD in my heart?
— Not just “am I reading my Bible”, but “do I DELIGHT in the Law of the Lord?” from my heart.
— Not just “am I making visits” to check off my “list”, but “Do I LOVE PEOPLE?” from my heart.
— Not just “am I giving?” but am I THANKFUL in my heart for what God has given me, so that I show it by the way that I give?
— Not just “do I have a ticket to heaven?” but “Do I long for heaven and to be with God?” Is He the greatest treasure in my heart, and what I am hungry and thirsty for?
In all of these things, we have to realize that it is the HEART God is looking at; not just what we “do.” He is not content with anything less — and as His disciples we should not be either.
When I got sick in 2012, they ran me through a bunch of tests trying to diagnose my illness. One day I found myself on an exam table, hooked up to an ultrasound machine, with some gel on my chest, and a scanner right over my heart. And the technician said: “There’s your heart. See it pumping? See that opening, and closing? That’s your heart valve.” I just sat there with my mouth open. It was amazing that they could see inside my body, into my heart!
But we need to understand that that is what God does all the time — and not just with our “physical heart” but with our spiritual heart as well. “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.”
The sad thing is, so many of us Christians are missing that. We have basically become just like that runner I mentioned in the introduction. We look good on the outside — and that is where our focus is, on “looking the part” of the “good Christian” — and we DO look good: we get all dressed up, and we go to church, and we have the Bible under our arm, and a holy smile on our face — but the truth is, our hearts are not holy. And we’re missing it — because life is not about what we LOOK like. Real life is not about what kind of house you have, or what kind of car you drive, or whether your clothes are fashionable, or whether you have the right kind of hairdo or glasses or makeup — and there’s nothing wrong with these things, but so many of us even as Christians spend an inordinate amount of time and energy on them, as if they were what life is about, and it is NOT.
Jesus says here that the real issue of life is about what kind of person you are becoming in your HEART: are you becoming like these Beatitudes? Are you becoming more poor in spirit — dependent upon God? Are you a person who mourns sins in your heart? Are meek — trusting in the Lord and doing what is good? Are you hungry in your heart for God? Do you have a merciful heart?
In the end, your life is not going to be judged on anything external — by what you wore, or put on, or drove, or lived in — the real “success” of your life in the end will be judged by what your heart was like before God. That’s what God is going to be looking at that day. And the fact is, that’s what He’s looking at in your life right now!
— These words of Jesus ought to bring some of us to our knees today, because if many of us were truthful, we’d admit we have just been “going through the motions”; trying to do the “right things” — but the truth is, we’re a lot more like the Pharisees than we are comfortable admitting. And we need to get real with God, and get down on our knees before Him, and say, God, help me to be the person You want me to be in my HEART.
— Others of us would say, people may look at my outward appearance and think I have it all together, but in my heart I don’t. I have lustful thoughts, I have envious thoughts, I have anger, bitterness, unforgiveness, jealousy — and God cares about these more than the way you look. Bring these to Him for His forgiveness, and ask for His help to change them.
–We can’t do any of these things on our own. We need to ask HIM to do in us what we can’t do for ourselves.
— The most important thing you may need to do today is to ask the Lord to give you clean heart before Him for the very first time. Admit that you’ve sinned, that your heart is dirty before God. And ask Him to wash your heart just like Isaiah 1 talks about, in the blood that Jesus shed on the cross and make you “as white as snow” so you can have a “pure heart” and see Him in heaven.
— Some of you may have given your heart to Jesus, but you have never followed through by being baptized, and you need to come and publicly confess Jesus as your Savior and set up a time to be baptized. Or maybe you need to visit with someone and get some information about how to join the church, and become part of our church family.
— And of course the altar’s always open for us to pray for others who are on our hearts — but let’s be sure we each begin with OURSELVES this morning. Let’s ask God to do whatever He needs to in our HEARTS …