The following is taken from a sermon series preached at The Southeast Project. You can listen to the audio of this teaching on our sermon audio page.
8 Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
If we are going to be honest with ourselves, we would say that being pure of heart probably isn’t something we feel comes natural to us. In fact, I feel like I wrestle with this in an incredible way. More often than not, I feel like my heart is full of anger, jealousy, and all sorts of other junk, and I have to guess that most of you feel the same. For some of us, we might have come to church today because we are hoping that somehow it rubs off on us and that maybe some of the purity of church will outweigh some of the rest of our week.
When I started to research and study for preaching this sermon, I really felt humbled and unsure of what to do. I feel like in some way, I could just say, “Okay, everyone, try harder this week, go home and be pure.” But I don’t think that would really be that helpful.
Having studied Jesus, I don’t think trying harder is the solution. I don’t think he is trying to give us something impossible. Whenever I study Jesus, I find that he is giving us something incredible if we would just look below the surface. The teaching of Jesus is never a burden to lift, it’s a gift that is given to us.
Let’s dig into this verse and see where it takes us, and find out what Jesus was trying to tell the people who were listening to him speak and what it means for us today.
First, we have to break this verse down into some parts. There is something about being pure or clean, something with our hearts, something about the way we will see, and finally something about God.
The first word Jesus uses here is the word καθαροὶ. It means clean or pure. So, let’s start with purity and cleanliness and to do that I have to talk about the flu.
This has been one of the worst seasons for the flu that we have seen in a long time. It seemed like every time our short circle tried to meet over the past couple weeks someone had a sick kid that turned into a sick household that ended with everyone holding onto a puke bucket. If you haven’t experienced the flu in your home, consider yourself lucky and blessed.
Now, I can’t really pull my kids out of the bins of germs that are also called preschool and elementary school for half the year, so we have to come up with other ways to try to combat it. Our home instituted a strict hand washing policy that included the pulling up of the sleeves, lots of soap and hot water, and a family sized bottle of hand sanitizer purchased in the middle of the night at Target just to be safe.
First century people also had rules about washing their hands but for very different reasons.
1Then some Pharisees and teachers of the law came to Jesus from Jerusalem and asked, 2“Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don’t wash their hands before they eat!”
The Jewish religion had all these rules and laws, and the Pharisees were obsessed with them. This hand washing thing becomes this debate about what is clean and unclean, what is pure and impure. It’s really a debate about what is kosher. In the Old Testament, you will find hundreds of laws about what you could eat or couldn’t eat and how you had to eat to keep it clean.
And I want you to understand, these people were just being good Biblically. They would have said, “But the Bible says”. There is a bit of a lesson here about what something says and what something actually means. Jesus is speaking into this so he leans into it and uses it to teach.
17“Don’t you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? 18But the things that come out of a person’s mouth come from the heart, and these defile them. 19For out of the heart come evil thoughts—murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. 20These are what defile a person; but eating with unwashed hands does not defile them.”
Just because you think you’re okay because you’ve eaten the right food or kept the right rituals, you need to stop and look within. You’re trying to avoid getting sick but you already are. You can wash your hands all you want but if you are already puking it’s too late.
Then he goes on a few chapters later.
25 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, [you are keeping the rituals] but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. 26 Blind Pharisee!…
There is a word we were looking for. He calls them “blind pharisees”. Jesus said that the pure in heart will see God. The Pharisees are obsessed with seeing God, they are super religious, but they are blind to what really matters because they have the wrong focus.
First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean. 27 “Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of the bones of the dead and everything unclean. 28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
So there were all these rules and regulations about what was clean and what wasn’t clean. What kept you spiritually okay and what would keep you at arms length.
One of these rules, as strange as it seems had to do with walking over a tomb or grave. If they did, the person would be unclean and they wouldn’t be able to take part in any of the temple festivities. It was your religious identity. It was a spiritual high point of the year.
A plan was devised to help travelers to Jerusalem avoid touching these graves. They would send out work crews with lime to paint over the tombs. These travelers would see these beautiful, bright, white, clean structures on their way into Jerusalem. The tombs were meant to be beautiful, but they were also warnings to admire them from a distance because inside these clean, beautiful, bright structures were the dead. Decaying flesh and bone. We would call this gross but they would call it unclean.
And so Jesus, in a brilliant moment, looks at the Pharisees. He had been talking about how they focused so much on what they did to stay unclean but they missed the point what really mattered. They missed what was in their hearts and what was their motivation.
The word Jesus uses here is καρδίᾳ. You can hear the English word cardiac in here. But we know Jesus meant more than your actual heart. The heart was the center of a person’s being. We use the same language when we say your heart was broken or crushed. It’s the way we feel at the deepest level.
Jesus is saying he wants the cleanliness to go down to the deepest level of who we are. That seems impossible until we remember that God is the one who restores and renews. We find this language in a song in the Old Testament by King David.
1Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love; according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions. 2Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin. 3For I know my transgressions, and my sin is always before me. 4Against you, you only, have I sinned and done what is evil in your sight; so you are right in your verdict and justified when you judge. 5Surely I was sinful at birth, sinful from the time my mother conceived me. 6Yet you desired faithfulness even in the womb; you taught me wisdom in that secret place. 7Cleanse me with hyssop, and I will be clean; wash me, and I will be whiter than snow. 8Let me hear joy and gladness; let the bones you have crushed rejoice. 9Hide your face from my sins and blot out all my iniquity. 10Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 11Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me. 12Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.
What David is saying is purity isn’t simply the removal of one thing, it is the addition of something else.
Our pool is about to be opened in a few weeks. It’s pretty gross right now because of leaves and stuff that got in it over the winter. All of that stuff has to come out but the only way to keep it clean and pure is to add chemicals to it like chlorine and stabilizers.
We work the same way. We can’t just take out the stuff in our hearts; we have to have something take its place, and that is why Jesus gives us the Holy Spirit. In a letter to a church of new Christians, this very idea is described.
19 The acts of the flesh are obvious: sexual immorality, impurity and debauchery; 20 idolatry and witchcraft; hatred, discord, jealousy, fits of rage, selfish ambition, dissensions, factions 21 and envy; drunkenness, orgies, and the like. I warn you, as I did before, that those who live like this will not inherit the kingdom of God.
Pay really close attention to that language. He says that living like this, living impure, means that you will not inherit the Kingdom of God. We saw Jesus using this language earlier in his teaching when he said, “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.” Jesus was talking about a very similar thing. When we look at the language, they are both talking about the way God wants things to be. He is talking about things being in their right place. He is talking about experiencing what God wants for our lives. He is talking about a better way to live.
22 But the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, forbearance, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, 23 gentleness and self-control. Against such things there is no law.
With all of that as our context, let’s look one more time at what Jesus said.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
What Jesus is saying is when we are alive inside, when our hearts are alive and producing the fruit of the Spirit, in that kind of living we will see God because the fruit of spirit defines God and defines the Kingdom of God. It isn’t about doing the right thing. It is about surrendering our lives to Jesus and allowing him to setup shop in our hearts. Allowing the Holy Spirit to work through us and live out of us.
As we change the world by the way we live, we will see God because we will see his love, joy, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self-control as God’s Kingdom spreads through our lives and into our world.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.