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Author:Rev. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
 frca.org.au/mountnasura/
 
Title:Blessed are the Pure in Heart
Text:Matthew 5:8 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Purity
 
Preached:2020
Added:2020-08-10
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 24:1,2                                                                                

Ps 73:1,9                                                                                            

Reading – Proverbs 4:20-27; Matthew 5:21-30

Hy 72:1,2,3,4,5

Sermon – Matthew 5:8

Ps 51:3,4

Hy 69:1,2,3

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved in Christ, the Beatitudes don’t take very long to read. If you were sitting at the dinner table, and you came to Matthew 5, you could read these verses out loud in just under one minute. The verses are short and compact and rhythmic. They’re also very familiar—it’s probably a passage that we’ve all read countless times. Unfortunately, all of this means that we might not pay close attention to how each of the Beatitudes exhorts and challenges and comforts us. We quickly read them through, then we’re done.

But when you slow down and you listen carefully, when you pause and meditate on each one, then you begin to feel their punch and power. In fact, you might discover that the Beatitudes can be rather uncomfortable. With these words, Jesus exposes our hearts, lays bare our sins and failings.

For instance, do we really live like we’re poor in spirit, or do we define ourselves by earthly success and prosperity? Do we properly confess our sins and mourn them, or do our sins get forgotten in the rush of our days? Are you known for meekness, quietly submissive before God and gently humble toward other people? Do I actually hunger and thirst for a relationship with God, or am I content with just a few drips and crumbs per day? And what about mercy? Are we willing to respond lovingly to the real needs of other people?

The Beatitudes are definitely familiar, and thoroughly challenging. They place a mirror before us which reveals what kind of people we are. And with this Beatitude, we arrive at what has been called the most demanding of them all! “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God” (Matt 5:8). Here Jesus pronounces a blessing on those who are devoted to God with their whole heart, who serve him with single-minded devotion, not tainted by selfishness or ruled by empty habit, but who love God sincerely.

This beatitude requires honest self-examination, some reflection that could well be painful. What’s moving in our hearts? As children of God, what really motivates us? Who are we trying to please, anyway? It’s challenging, yet God graciously promises his blessing to those who seek him truly. I preach God’s Word from Matthew 5:8 on this theme,  

Blessed are the pure in heart:

            1) the challenging requirement of purity

            2) the astonishing result of purity

 

1) the challenging requirement of purity: When Jesus in our text speaks about the “heart,” He’s not talking about the blood-pumping organ in the middle of our chest. We probably all know that, because we’re pretty familiar with the Old Testament, which often speaks of the heart as the centre of life, as the birthplace of all we think and do.

Certainly Jesus also knew the Old Testament. Turning to just one reference about importance of the heart, in Proverbs 4 we hear Solomon say to his son, “Keep your heart with all diligence, for out of it spring the issues of life” (4:23). In wisdom he wants his son to guard his heart—to have a pure heart—for this is the source of so much that goes on in our lives. It is within the heart that we make decisions about what’s important to us. Within the heart we set our goals and meditate on things both good and bad. In the heart are the origins of everything else we do: “the issues of life.” So we need to keep our heart and watch our spirit!

This is what Jesus will say in Matthew 6:21, “For where your treasure is, there your heart will be also.” It’s a vital question: What do we attach our heart to? What do we make our treasure, and where do we find our security?

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus has a lot to say about the heart. We read from a passage later in his chapter, where Jesus cuts open our hearts to expose what lives in there—even ugly things like murder. Jesus tells us that even if we’re angry without cause, or if we insult somebody with a contempt for who they are, we’ve murdered. Murder begins in the heart, and adultery does too: “I say to you that whoever looks at a woman to lust for her has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matt 5:28).

You can tell from Jesus’ words that He is diagnosing a severe heart condition in each of us. Our heart is a bustling factory of evil desires. Our heart is always drawn to depend on created things and to cling to idols—and here each of us can fill in the blank. What is that your heart treasures above all? What lends you a joy and confidence each morning?

Solomon knew that his son was going to have work hard to keep his heart from idols. We’re going to have to work at it too. And to exhort us, Jesus announces the blessing, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”

We’ve spoken about the heart—now purity. If something is pure, it’s without blemish, like how some people aspire to have “pure skin,” no pimples or lines. Or if something is pure, it hasn’t been mixed with anything, like how you can buy “pure olive oil.” When Christ speaks of purity, He’s describing how our motives should be free of the blemish of sin, how our hearts ought to be fully devoted to God—unmixed in love.

Once more, Scripture tells us much about purity. For God has always delighted in the pure hearts of his people. Abraham and Job, for instance, were men who were considered “blameless”—pure of heart—because they served God with integrity. These men lived by a daily trust and obedience to God.

So in Psalm 24, David asks, “Who may ascend into the hill of the LORD? Or who may stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to an idol, nor sworn deceitfully” (vv 3-4). God desires single-mindedness in devotion, untainted worship—exclusive loyalty. In fact, Psalm 24 says it’s even a prerequisite for being joined to God: only those who are of pure heart may stand in the presence of God.

This high requirement collides with the reality of our sin. God is holy, and we are most unholy. Of ourselves, no one may ascend the hill of the LORD and stand in his holy place! So already in the Old Testament, God set up a way for people to be pure, so that they might come near to him and not perish.

In the book of Leviticus, for example, God told the people which things were allowed to be eaten. These were the clean foods and animals, fitting for a holy people. At the same time, God showed his people how they could be cleansed from their sins through the rituals of sprinkled blood and clean water.

The rituals of the Old Testament law helped to make a person clean. They purified the Israelites as a people devoted to the LORD—and that was a gift! But the trouble was that purity was externalized. That is to say, people came to think that the only thing God wanted was that you ate the proper kind of meat along with your dinner, and that you washed your hands before and after, and that your garments weren’t made from blended cloth. If you did all that, you could consider yourself pure.

By the time of Jesus, the emphasis on outward purity had become absurd, to the point that the only thing many cared about was the appearance of purity. As our Lord says in Matthew 23:25, “Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you cleanse the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of extortion and self-indulgence.” For God who knows the heart, who sees into the deepest place of our motives and aims, purity is firstly an inward matter. What He wants is a genuine love in heart and mind and soul.

This is why Jesus repeatedly rebukes the Jewish leaders. He even calls them “white-washed graves,” OK on the outside but dead within. Even if a person’s outward actions are flawless, and the person has observed every detail of the law, he might be utterly impure.

Beloved, let’s realise that this is not just a Jewish problem. It still happens that we measure our holiness by outward observance. Do we conform to expectations? Do we keep up appearances? Do we uphold the unwritten rules of a church member? Namely, in worship every Sunday. Respectable clothing. Bible-reading at meal-times. Clean language—sometimes even pious language, like at a homevisit or at Bible study. Sound opinions and conservative views. By external standards, we consider a person to be holy, to be pure.

And more dangerously, we might consider ourselves to be holy and pure. Here is where the words of Jesus call us to examine ourselves: “Blessed are the pure in heart.” When we look within our heart, what do we find? Do we find a pure devotion to God?

Let’s be reminded here about the meaning of purity. It doesn’t mean sinless or perfect. Jesus isn’t calling us to the impossible. But “pure of heart” means an authentic and committed service of Christ. It’s when the motives of our heart are unmixed—when what we’re doing, or we’re saying, or we’re planning, we’re doing firstly for the Lord.

Here is the great challenge, for it’s so difficult not to have mixed motives, particularly in the life of faith. Why do we do what we do? As Christians, what is our motivation and purpose? The reality is that an action which looks good or generous may have some residue of pride, or self-satisfaction, or malice, even when we’re hardly conscious of it.

Maybe there’s a bit of pride when we make our monthly gift to the church—pride, because we can give so much. Are we giving with a pure heart? Or we sing the Psalms and Hymns—it looks like we’re genuine, but the entire time, our hearts are busy with our plans for next week. We pray, but there’s a dash of bitterness in our prayers, or a tinge of doubt, because God hasn’t been answering. Or perhaps we’re praying, because that’s just what we have to do at the end of the meal or the end of the class. Our heart’s not in it.

Yes, do we serve God out of a pure heart? We put up our hand to volunteer, or we accept a position as elder (or minister), because we know that we’re sure to gain the approval and respect of other people. We meet expectations, because we’re eager for the favour of our parents, or our spouse, or the congregation. There’s always something in it for us.

And then there is this. Perhaps we’re doing many of the right outward things, while we’re still holding onto our sin in private, and we’ve got a bad habit that consumes our thoughts and energy. If you’re coming to church, and looking like you’re busy with Scripture, but you’re cherishing a secret sin, then your heart isn’t pure. You’re washing the outside of the cup, but inside is dirty. This means that your devotion is divided.

In all this, we hear the truth of 1 Samuel 16:7, “The LORD does not see as man sees; for man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart.” When God looks at your heart, what does He see?

This beatitude sets before us a most challenging requirement. Beloved, can we ever escape being double-minded, divided in loyalty? Putting aside any hypocrisy, can we ever serve God purely for God? Like Solomon asks in Proverbs, “Who can say, “I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin”? (20:9). Just like the Old Testament people discovered, we must rely on God to make us pure. We join David’s Psalm 51 prayer: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me” (v 10).

God has now done this graciously through the precious blood of his Son and the power of his Holy Spirit. God helping us, we can serve him truly. We pray for renewal. We pray for a clean, pure heart.

And when Almighty God works in us, we see this happening. We begin to love God with more and more of our heart, soul, mind, and strength. We begin to seek his glory, not our own. We begin to be motivated by a delight in God’s will, and we long to walk more closely with Christ. We awake in the morning, and it’s our prayer to live another day for God. Our hearts are being changed, and we see the effects.

Then we press on in the pursuit of holiness. For we can’t avoid this beatitude, and how Jesus again lays bare our hearts—cuts them open so we can ask the question rightly: Are we doing our daily work to serve the LORD? Are we trusting and obeying Christ with singleness of heart? Jesus says, “Let your motives in the Kingdom be holy. Let your intentions be pure. Whatever you say and do, do it all for me.” This is the challenging requirement of purity, and now for…

 

2) the astonishing result of purity: If this beatitude is the most demanding, then it’s also the most rewarding. For Jesus says that when we love God with our whole heart, when we serve him with our devotion, then we are heirs to a marvelous promise: the pure in heart get to “see God.” This is an astonishing result.

In the Scriptures, the expression “to see the face” of a person, or to be allowed into the presence of someone important, was a high privilege. For instance, it was a notable honour to be allowed into the presence of kings and princes. In 2 Kings 25:19, there’s a group of the king’s counsellors and friends, and they are described as “men of the king’s presence.” Literally, the text says that these were the “men who saw the king’s face.” They were greatly privileged, for they could be with the mighty king, to speak with him directly, to ask for his help and receive his protection.

So who is allowed to see God? Who are the people of “the King’s presence?” The pure in heart! They see God. And there are some examples of this in Scripture. After Job’s many struggles and God’s powerful responses, Job says, “I have heard of you by the hearing of the ear, but now my eye sees you” (42:5).

Moses once asked to see God’s glory. Because Moses was a devoted servant, God was willing; He said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you, and I will proclaim the name of the LORD before you” (Exod 33:19). And Moses saw his glory.

Now, before getting any further, we need to clear something up. Can a person actually see God? Scripture says it’s impossible. When Moses in Exodus 33 asked to see the LORD, God was willing to show his goodness, but He also said this, “You cannot see my face; for no man shall see me, and live” (Exod 33:20). God is Spirit, and so it’s not possible to literally see God with the physical eye.

But the righteous can see God with the eyes of faith! To see God is to enter into a true knowledge of God. It is to know God in the depths of his character—to know his goodness, his mercy, his truth, his holiness. Though God is invisible and lives in unapproachable light, we can be the people of his presence. Through Christ, we can enjoy a true fellowship with God, an intimate friendship, and it is a great joy! This is the God we love, we long for, we live for. For a child of God, it is so good to be near the LORD!

And why is that only the pure in heart get to see God? “I am holy,” the LORD says, “therefore you also be holy.” He requires purity from those who will approach him. And this purity is both a gift—in Christ Jesus—and it is a calling. To see God, you must be ready to see him! Your heart needs to be prepared.

Think of how what we see depends not only on what’s in front of our eyes, but also what’s in our hearts. A true knowledge makes a huge difference in seeing. For example, if we know nothing about the stars and planets and constellations, we’ll look up into the night sky and see only a big mess of lights. No meaning, no order, nothing to which we can give a name. But with a bit of knowledge and skill, we can see the stars and know them, and we can identify the constellations. Knowledge shapes our vision.

The same is true for God. What we know determines what we see. If we fill our mind with the things of God, and we seek to serve him truly, then God will not be a stranger to us. We will see him! His marvelous character will be real to us, and his great works will be obvious all around us. We will see God working in the church, and in creation, and we will hear his living words in Scripture. The pure in heart see God!

But if our mind is impure, and our motives are twisted, and we take delight in wicked things, then we shouldn’t be surprised that God seems very distant from us. If we’re not seeking God sincerely, how can we expect to find him? If we’re not deliberately living in the presence of God each day, drawing near to God, then we won’t see him. For what pleasure can a polluted soul have in seeing God?

This is why God says in Hebrews 12:14, “Pursue holiness, without which no one will see the Lord.” That’s another way of putting our beatitude: Pursue purity of heart, so that you might see God and be with God. Each day in life, we are either preparing ourselves to see God better, or we are clouding our vision.

Let’s underline one more time that it’s only in Christ that we are purified. It is only through his Spirit that we are sanctified. And when we know Christ, He produces new desires within us. We begin to long for whole-hearted service and a genuine trust. And God in his grace blesses our desire. We find that more and more, we are satisfied in him.

In this life, we have a beginning of the joy of seeing God. And we look forward to its completion. For instance, this is what David in Psalm 17 looks forward to at the end of his earthly life, “As for me, I will see your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied when I awake in your likeness” (v 15).

In the New Testament this promise is repeated and strengthened. In the present time, we don’t know God as fully as we might. We’re still limited by our sin and ignorance, and we are often distracted. But one day, every shortcoming of our vision will be removed.

Says Paul in 1 Corinthians 13:12, “For now we see in a mirror, dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part, but then I shall know fully, just as I also am known.” The time will come when we will see God, and we will know God! The time will come when there will be a full knowledge of the truth of God.

This is God’s rich grace toward those who are pure in heart. John writes about it in his first letter, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when He is revealed, we shall be like him, for we shall see him as He is” (3:2). The pure in heart shall see him as He is!

The most astonishing version of this promise comes in Revelation 22, describing that beautiful day when the New Jerusalem will descend from the heavens, “And there shall be no more curse, but the throne of God and of the Lamb shall be in it, and his servants shall serve Him. They shall see his face, and his name shall be on their foreheads” (vv 3-4). Forever, we shall see his face!

Beloved, if we will see God’s face forever, then we must seek his face today. Seek him truly, and serve him wholeheartedly and with joy! If we will know God forever, then we must draw near to him today with a pure heart. There is no question, it’s a challenging beatitude. But in it, Christ holds out an incredible gift: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Amen.




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Rev. Reuben Bredenhof

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