“It’s What’s Inside That Counts” (Matthew 5:8 sermon)

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, and the technician smeared some gel on my chest, and put a scanner right over my heart. As we looked at the screen she said: “Do you see that? That’s your heart. See that opening, and closing? That’s your heart valve. It looks like it’s working well!” I just sat there with my mouth open. It was the most amazing thing, that they could see inside my body like that, into what the valves of my heart were doing! Some of you have been in that same situation, and it is truly a wonder. 

But as amazing as that is, we need to understand that this is what God does all the time — and not just with our “physical heart” but with our spiritual heart as well. God says in Jeremiah 17:10  “I the Lord search the heart; I test the mind.” All the time – not just on “special checkups” – God is examining what is going on inside of us, in our hearts and minds! 

And this is really the point of this 6th Beatitude that we are looking at today. It is that the HEART is what matters to God. And if we are ever going to achieve the pinnacle of human existence/the height of human desire — to see God, we must be “pure in heart.” “It’s what’s inside that counts”!

 I.  This verse means: “It’s What’s Inside That Counts”!

We saw in our study of the 3rd Beatitude how Psalm 37 defined “meekness” for us and showed us that it means to “trust in the Lord and do good.” Well another Psalm refers to “pure in heart”: Psalm 24:3-4, which asks: “Who may ascend the mountain of the LORD; who may stand in His holy place?” In other words, who can have 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. (We’ll talk more about this later) But who is it 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.” If you want to go to heaven, 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  blood through your system. It’s not talking about what I saw in my ultrasound that day in the lab. 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” there are synonyms. So when Jesus is talking about “heart” here, He means your inner self, as opposed to your outward, physical body. He means the “inner you;” what you think, and feel, and desire.  

— And, the word “pure” here is the Greek word “katharos”, which means “clean.” This word has a rich Old Testament background. In the Law, God commanded His priests that the temple and the people of God were not to be “contaminated” with animals or other things that had been devoted to other gods. If they did come in contact with anything “unclean”, they had to be “cleansed” before they could worship God again. So they had rituals of “washing” which were to make them suitable for God. God had commanded these rituals  – but unfortunately, like we tend to 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 this practice of keeping themselves outwardly “clean”. They would wash every cup; every basin, and they would go through all kinds of ceremonial “washings” to keep themselves “clean” — which they thought would make them presentable to God. 

— But Jesus corrected that in Mark 7:1-7, perhaps the best commentary on what it meant to the Jews to be “clean”, and Jesus’ response to it:

“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’.”

Jesus reprimanded them here for being so 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 inward cleanness of your heart and mind!  

So it is in contrast to that Pharasaical mindset of “outward religious cleanness” that Jesus says here in Matthew 5:8, No, “Blessed are the pure in HEART; THEY shall see God”. He says, be concerned about the INWARD purity of your heart, not the cleanness of your hands or your outward appearance. He’s basically saying: “It’s what’s inside that counts”!   

I know we all have regrets of one sort or another. One of mine from when I was younger, is when I went shopping for my first car. I wanted a car that was just like my neighbor Johnny had — a Chevy Vega! Some of you know that infamous car: it looked “sporty” but it had aluminum cylinders that were really bad about melting! My dad told me when we went shopping that this wouldn’t be the best car to get – the engine had a bad reputation already – but I liked the way it looked; it was sharp. Well, two engines later, I wished I had listened to may dad (good lesson young people: listen to your dad; sometimes he knows what he’s talking about!) and I had learned an important lesson: it is not how a car looks on the outside, but how it runs on the INSIDE that counts!  

“It’s what’s inside that counts.” Really, if you just want a quick summary of what this Beatitude means in a nutshell, this is it: “It’s what’s inside that counts.”

— it’s what’s inside cars that counts

— it’s what’s inside books that counts: it may have the most artistic looking cover, but it’s the WRITING INSIDE that makes it really good

— It’s what’s inside PEOPLE that counts, isn’t it, as many of us have discovered over the years!

— And God is telling us in this Beatitude that it is what is inside US that counts to HIM too! 

Some of you know the story of Eliab from I Samuel 16:7, when Samuel was looking for God’s man to anoint as the future king of Israel. All of Jesse’s sons were brought before Samuel to look at, to see which one should be anointed as king. As soon Samuel saw Jesse’s son Eliab, he saw this tall, good-looking guy, and the Bible says he thought, “Surely the Lord’s anointed is before me.” But God stopped Samuel and said: “Do not look at his appearance or at the height of his stature, because I have rejected him; for God sees not as man sees, for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.”  

This is exactly what Jesus is saying here in this 6th Beatitude: “Blessed are the pure in HEART” — It’s what’s inside that counts with God!

II.  “It’s what’s inside that counts” for heaven!

Do you want to “see God” — to go to heaven; to have fellowship with Him? Then Jesus said you must be pure in heart: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for THEY shall see God.” That means your heart must be totally clean for you to see God in heaven. 

Most people don’t understand that. They think they’ll get to heaven as long as their good deeds outweigh their bad, but that is not what the Bible teaches.The Bible says you must have a perfect righteousness to see God. In Matthew 5:48, 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 live there, we have to be perfect as well. We must be totally pure in heart. That’s what this scripture teaches: “Blessed are the PURE in heart, for they shall see God.” Not “good deeds outweigh your bad,” but “PURE in heart”!  It takes total purity of heart to get to heaven and see God.  

A pastor who used to be a missionary in a Muslim country wrote about an encounter he had with a man there. As you may know, Muslims believe that if their good deeds outweigh their bad, then Allah may let them into heaven. One of their “good deeds” is considered to be abstaining from eating pork. It is an “unclean” food to them, just like it was to the Jews.  So one day this pastor was witnessing to this Muslim friend, and he said to him: Suppose I had you over for dinner one day soon, and I served pork, could you eat that?  The man said, no, we Muslims cannot eat pork. The pastor said, Well, what if it was only HALF pork. Would that be ok? His friend said no, I can’t have any pork. The pastor said, Suppose I just had a little bit of pork in the dish, but it was mixed in with so much beef and other good ingredients, that you really couldn’t even taste it; would that be ok then? The man emphatically said NO, there cannot be ANY mix at all of pork in it whatsoever. 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: My friend, that is just how God sees our sins. It is not enough to God that your good deeds may be 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 make you unworthy of heaven.

And that is exactly what Jesus teaches here: You must be “PURE in heart” to see God. But the problem is: who among us can say we have a pure 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, as Jeremiah says: He knows what’s in your heart & mind. You know very well that your heart is not clean. You know the thoughts that dwell there — and God knows it better than you do!  If a pure heart is the qualification for heaven, then I think we all know, there would no hope for any of us to see God!  

This is where the Gospel of Jesus is such good news! 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, died 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.”  When He cleanses us from sin, then 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.” When you trust Jesus as your Savior, you are perfect, clean — “pure in heart” and you will be able to see God — but it is only possible through faith in Jesus Christ and the cleansing He gives you.    

So this verse brings us ALL to our knees before God. It makes us all admit that we are sinners and don’t have pure hearts, and cry out to God like David did in Psalm 51:10 “Create in me a clean heart, O God.” If you have asked God to cleanse you, through what Jesus did on the cross, then you can be assured that your heart is absolutely “clean” before God, and that one day you will “see God”, just as Jesus promised. And if you’ve never done that yet, you need to do it today. Ask God to GIVE you a pure heart, through what Jesus did on the cross for you — and you can know for sure that you will indeed “see God.”

III.  “It’s what’s inside that counts” in the Christian life.

This verse applies to more than just getting our hearts clean for heaven. We are also to seek purity of heart as Christians, so that we can see God more clearly. We are not to focus, as followers of Jesus, on “external” appearances, but on our heart attitudes. Especially as Christians now, “it’s what’s inside that counts.” 

Several years ago I was at a high school track meet in Louisiana. As I sat in the bleachers before one race began, I noticed this one particular runner warming up, and he just looked very impressive. He had a nice high school uniform, of course, but he also sported some custom socks and golden shoes, and the “coolest” sunglasses — he had all the most fashionable accessories. He went through his warm-ups in such a confident and professional manner, that I thought, I can’t wait to see this guy run — he must really be top notch. But when the starting pistol went off, I had to keep myself from busting out laughing: this “impressive looking runner” was the slowest guy on the track! He LOOKED so good — but he WAS so bad!!  

After that race I thought, you know, this is typical America, right here: we care about appearance. It doesn’t matter how good you really are, just so long as you look good doing it! And it’s not only athletic events, either: we see it in politics, and media — and too often, even in the church.  

Quite honestly, many people in churches all across our country care more about what they “look like” than anything else. And I don’t mean just what they wear on Sunday morning either (though that may be a part of it). I mean, they are mostly concerned with how they “come across” to others.  

— Do I “look spiritual’?

— Do I look humble?

— Do I look worshipful?

— Do I look repentant?

— Do I look good praying like this?

— Do I look good holding up my hands like this (or do I look better if I do this … ?)

— Do I look like I care about people? (Let me take a picture of myself helping someone)

It’s like that runner” it’s all about what we LOOK like. Appearance over reality is typical, shallow, superficial America — and unfortunately it’s  become typical superficial American Christianity too: all about what we LOOK like.

But Jesus shatters that here. He says, NO, Christian; it is NOT about what you LOOK like; it is not about your appearance: “Blessed are the pure in HEART”. He doesn’t want you to just “look good;” He wants you to BE good INSIDE.

AND THAT IS WHAT THIS WHOLE BEATITUDE STUDY IS ABOUT! 

It’s about us BEING the kind of people, in our hearts, that God wants us to BE. If you think about it, all these Beatitudes are all “heart” things, aren’t they; not outward “acts”: 

— It’s not “Blessed are those who go to church so many times,” or “Blessed is the one who gives so much money,” or “Blessed is the one who reads so many chapters in the Bible” — see, those are all outward activities we could perform with or without a sincere heart. 

But instead, if you look at the Beatitudes, Jesus says the qualities He is looking for in His disciples are INWARD qualities: 

— “poor in SPIRIT” — a heart that depends on Him; 

— “mourning” over sin — that’s an inward, heart quality; 

— “meekness” is a heart trust in God, that respond by doing what is good; 

— “hunger for righteousness”; that’s something in your heart

— even “merciful” begins in your heart before it extends to others

All these goals Jesus has for us are HEART qualities.  He’s not looking as much at the the “numbers of things we ‘do’” as much as He is the kind of PERSON we are becoming in our HEART. THAT’s what matters to Him. “It’s what’s inside that counts” as a follower of Jesus.

IV. “It’s what’s inside that counts” for the greatest reward.

What is the greatest reward? Jesus says here: “they shall see God.”

This is what theologians call “the Beatific vision” — the vision of God in His glory, that is the ultimate reward and pleasure for mankind. 

Tim Keller writes that “the beatific vision … describes the direct sight of the glory of God. This is what the redeemed will have in heaven fully, by sight, and what believers have now on earth partially, by faith and not yet with our literal eyes.”  (Timothy Keller, Prayer, p. 176)

“The direct sight of the glory of God.” Scripture repeatedly teaches us that is the ultimate reward:

— Psalm 17:15 “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.”  David says that seeing God’s face; His likeness is his great reward.

— He says in Psalm 63: “My soul thirst for You; my flesh yearns for You”; then he says, “Thus have I SEEN You in the sanctuary” and then “My soul is satisfied.” His greatest desire is satisfied by seeing God. 

— In Psalm 27:4 he says: “ONE THING have I desired … to behold the beauty of YHWH”. SEEING GOD is the great reward

— John says the same thing in I John 3:2, “we will SEE HIM just as He is.”

— Revelation 22:4 says the glory of heaven for the servants of God is “and they will see His face.” 

THAT is the ultimate pleasure and joy for mankind: the “beatific vision;” seeing God — the One we were created to behold and enjoy forever.

Blaise Pascal lived in France in the 1600’s. He was a prodigy as a young man, excelling at math and science. He invented several machines, including one of the first mechanical calculators. He also did a lot of scientific work on the nature of pressure, and vacuum. That led him to do a lot of thinking also about his spiritual life. He famously wrote not only about scientific “vacuums”, but also about the “vacuum” or “void” in the human heart:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him … though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God Himself.” 

This great scientist and mathematician Pascal came to the same conclusion the Bible comes to: seeing God Himself is the ultimate reward and joy and pleasure for man. We were created to be fulfilled by that Beatific vision. 

BUT WHO is it who shall receive this “beatific vision”? WHO IS IT who will see Him face to face? Jesus says here it is only “the pure in heart”:

— only the one whose sins have been made white as snow through faith in Jesus. 

— only the one who shows that his heart really IS pure, by living a life that is not just an outward “show,” but who makes what’s INSIDE  what really counts!

THAT is what God is looking for. That is the person to whom He will ultimately show Himself. Do you want the ultimate experience? Do you want the “Beatific vision”? Do you want to see God? This is the only way to get it: 

— “It’s what’s inside that counts.”

— “Blessed are the pure in heart, for THEY shall see God”!  

INVITATION:

— Jesus’ words here ought to bring some of us to our knees today, because if we’re honest, we’ll admit we’ve just been “going through the motions”; trying to do all the “right things” for everybody to see — but you know you’re not pure in heart. God’s showing you today, that it’s time to get real with Him, and say, God, make me the person You want me to be in my HEART:

— Maybe for the very first time you need to say, “God ‘create in me a clean heart;’ forgive all my sins in Jesus name and wash me and make my sins as white as snow!” Ask Him to save you right now and give you a pure heart ..

— Others of us need to get real with God today and say, “I really am a Christian, but I’ve gotten into the bad habit of making things more about the outward ‘show’ than being real in my heart.” Ask God to forgive you for that — and ask Him to help you walk with Him every day in your HEART.

Ask Him to make changes in your HEART; to build these Beatitudes in your HEART.

— Some of you may need to be baptized; or need a church home; or need to spend some time just praying for someone or something on your heart …

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, provides brief devotions from own personal daily Bible reading, as well as some of my sermons, book reviews, and family life experiences.
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