24 March 2013
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." (Matthew 5:8 ESV)
This week we move to one of the most powerful of all the beatitudes. Though it too is built upon the previous beatitudes, by itself we could spend hours discussing its necessary application in our lives. The title of this lesson is "Happy Holiness" for that is really what this beatitude means: happy are the holy (as MacArthur writes). True blessedness only comes out of a life of holiness.
If this last sentence is true, then, one should ask, why is this beatitude not the first one, to begin the series, or the last, to end on a high note? It is not even the middle beatitude, rather is it number six. If it is so important why is relegated to this spot? It is important to answer this question for it shows this beatitudes relationship to the others. You could look at the eight beatitudes in this way: the first three work to approach the fourth (humility, mourning sin, and meekness are prerequisites for a life of righteousness), the fourth sits on its own as the central quality of life with God—righteousness, the next three flow out of the fourth (the righteous are merciful, holy, and peaceful), finally the eighth depicts the life that lives all seven.
1—Poor in Spirit
4—Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
6—Pure in Heart
With this movement to and from the fourth beatitude we see correlations between the beatitudes. 1, 2, and 3, correspond to 5, 6, and 7, respectively. This means there is a close connection between being poor in spirit and being merciful, between mourning sin and being pure in heart, between being meek and being a peacemaker. All of these work closely together and one is not more important than another. For our purposes, we need to remind our classes that being pure in heart has a direct correlation to mourning our sin. So take a few moments to review the second beatitude.
The Pattern of Holiness
When you approach this beatitude one of the first questions that needs to be answered is: what does "pure" mean? Most of what will follow is dependent upon our conceptions, or misconceptions, of purity. The word pure has several definitions to it:
- free from anything of a different, inferior, or contaminating kind; free from extraneous matter: pure gold; pure water.
- unmodified by an admixture; simple or homogeneous.
- of unmixed descent or ancestry: a pure breed of dog.
- free from foreign or inappropriate elements: pure Attic Greek.
- clear; free from blemishes: pure skin.
We use it often in certain contexts. When we think of gold or water we long for something that is close to pure as possible. We think of it in a negative connotation when we see reports of genocide in atrocities like the Holocaust wherein a pure breed of man was sought. What all these thought have in common is the element of simplicity. Something that is pure is something that is single, there are no additives, no mixtures, there is just one thing in it.
In the spiritual life this purity comes about in our relationship to God and our involvement in sin. Contemporary Christianity often only uses this term in relationship to sexuality. Someone who is pure is someone who is a virgin, impure thoughts are often those of a sexual nature. Though we may say that much more needs to be presented upon purity in the Christian life we get the idea: purity is the absence of sin.
When we allow sin to enter into our lives we are staining ourselves before God. Sin puts blemishes upon us and makes us impure. This impurity also means that we are not holy. When we try to understand what it means to be pure we need to correlate it to the attribute of holiness, for that is what this beatitude is about.
In the Bible we find this in many places. In Isaiah we find:
but your iniquities have made a separation
between you and your God,
and your sins have hidden his face from you
so that he does not hear.
For your hands are defiled with blood
and your fingers with iniquity;
your lips have spoken lies;
your tongue mutters wickedness. (Isa 59:2-3)
In Jeremiah we see the condemnation of the Lord for the sin of His people:
They have turned to me their back and not their face. And though I have taught them persistently, they have not listened to receive instruction. They set up their abominations in the house that is called by my name, to defile it. They built the high places of Baal in the Valley of the Son of Hinnom, to offer up their sons and daughters to Molech, though I did not command them, nor did it enter into my mind, that they should do this abomination, to cause Judah to sin. (Jer 32:33-35)
Notice that the sin is a defilement, it is a blemish, it is unholy. The judgment upon the nation of Israel came because of their sin and their disobedience to God. In the New Testament this does not go away. God still demands purity from us:
Put to death therefore what is earthly in you: sexual immorality, impurity, passion, evil desire, and covetousness, which is idolatry. (Col 3:5)
Or do you not know that the unrighteous will not inherit the kingdom of God? Do not be deceived: neither the sexually immoral, nor idolaters, nor adulterers, nor men who practice homosexuality, nor thieves, nor the greedy, nor drunkards, nor revilers, nor swindlers will inherit the kingdom of God. (1 Cor 6:9-10)
Beloved, I urge you as sojourners and exiles to abstain from the passions of the flesh, which wage war against your soul. (1 Pet 2:11)
Remember the steps; we don't earn a pure heart, this holiness is an outflow of walking in the righteousness provided with our redemption.
The Placement of Holiness
The second aspect of this verse is the "heart." The phrase is the "pure in heart." With the definition of purity above we now should turn to see what it means to have purity in our hearts.
The Biblical usage of the word "heart" refers to the innermost being. Whereas the Pharisees were "whitewashed tombs" clean on the outside but filled with decay and corruption, our purity must flow from the depths of the soul. Loving the purity and holiness we see in Jesus, we begin to value and desire this in our own lives.
Keep your heart with all vigilance,
for from it flow the springs of life. (Prov 4:23)
Now, we can have either a good heart or a bad heart. The Bible is full of people with both characteristics. In Jeremiah 17:9 we see the base statement of man's hearts:
The heart is deceitful above all things,
and desperately sick;
who can understand it?
Matthew builds upon this thought:
For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. (Matt 15:19)
Romans shows us that it is because of our bad hearts that judgment is coming:
But because of your hard and impenitent heart you are storing up wrath for yourself on the day of wrath when God's righteous judgment will be revealed. (Rom 2:5)
From these passages then we are left asking: How can we have a good heart? The Bible provides us the answer completely. In Ezekiel 36 God says,
And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh. (Ezek 36:26)
The cure for our wicked hearts is for God to give us a new one. Because it is God alone who can provide us this new heart we must pray like David for repentance:
Create in me a clean heart, O God,
and renew a right spirit within me. (Ps 51:10)
When we seek the Lord in the purity of our hearts that is when we find Him. Many commentators believe that this beatitude has a direct relationship to Psalm 24, which asks who can go see God?
Who shall ascend the hill of the LORD?
And who shall stand in his holy place?
He who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not lift up his soul to what is false
and does not swear deceitfully.
He will receive blessing from the LORD
and righteousness from the God of his salvation.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
who seek the face of the God of Jacob. Selah (Ps 24:3-6)
The answer to the question is: those with clean hands and pure hearts. The whole being of the man who wants to see God must be holy, undefiled, in order to see Him. We must not only live lives that are patterned after being holy, but we must live lives that are completely holy. The heart that God desires from us is one that is steadfast and set on Him. To set our hearts outside of God is to invite sin into our lives. Our whole beings must be holy.
The Promise of Holiness
Finally we need to see the promise that comes along with the holy life: "they shall see God." In Psalm 24 that we studied above we see that only those who are clean and pure are able to ascend to heaven to "see" God. Now seeing does not merely mean to be able to have a glimpse, a picture, of God. Seeing implies a more intimate relationship. There is a connection of sight, knowledge, and relationship in this term.
Because of this connection, the Bible, at times, showed strong prohibition to seeing God. As the Israelites are traveling in the wilderness God sets up barriers to protect the people from Him. "And the LORD said to Moses, 'Go down and warn the people, lest they break through to the LORD to look and many of them perish.'" (Exod 19:21). In Exodus 33:20 God tells Moses, "you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live." The being of God Himself is so great that it is too much for man to behold. Moses was provided a glimpse of God's back and then he glowed for years after so much that he had to wear a veil over his face. It was dangerous to see God.
However, the Bible also tells of many who have seen God, though in slightly different ways. Even though the account in Exodus 33 shows that God prohibited Moses from seeing Him, in Deuteronomy 34 it is said, "And there has not arisen a prophet since in Israel like Moses, whom the LORD knew face to face." (Deut 34:10). In Isaiah 6:1-7 we have a depiction of the LORD in His thrown room and Isaiah is able to see Him,
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw the Lord sitting upon a throne, high and lifted up; and the train of his robe filled the temple. Above him stood the seraphim. Each had six wings: with two he covered his face, and with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one called to another and said:
"Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts; the whole earth is full of his glory!"
And the foundations of the thresholds shook at the voice of him who called, and the house was filled with smoke. And I said: "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips; for my eyes have seen the King, the LORD of hosts!"
Then one of the seraphim flew to me, having in his hand a burning coal that he had taken with tongs from the altar. And he touched my mouth and said:
"Behold, this has touched your lips; your guilt is taken away, and your sin atoned for." (Isa 6:1-7)
Here it is only through the atonement of sin that Isaiah is able to see God and live. This is the core of the beatitude. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. The promise here is that when we mourn our sin and live in repentance we then will live holy lives. When we live holy lives we will be able to live in the presence of God, now from a distance, but with God for all eternity. For those of us who still strive on the earth we must seek holiness. This is the command of Hebrews 12:14 which is an echo of our beatitude, "Strive for peace with everyone, and for the holiness without which no one will see the Lord." (Heb 12:14). The sight of the Lord is connected to the way in which we live.
We also know that this is a future promise. In I John 3:2 we see, "Beloved, we are God's children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is." (1 John 3:2). This is the hope of us all, that the way in which we live (based from and out of our salvation) helps us to be able to see God as He is. It is what Revelation 22 depicts for us all, "They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads." (Rev 22:4).
Seeing God as He is causes us to reflect His holiness in our lives today.