Blessed are the clean in heart
Part 6 of the series on the beatitudes.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
Matthew 5 verse 8 (NRSV).
This talk was given by Paul Wintle on .
The total length of the recording is .
The talk is prefaced with a series of Bible verses read by Dr Andrew Faraday.
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[Andrew Faraday:] The reading is a bit different today because it’s a lot of different verses from different parts of the Bible, but I think they fit together with one story that’s more than you can sometimes get just from one reading.
The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? [Jeremiah 17:9 NIVUK]
But the Lord said to Samuel, ‘Do not consider his appearance or his height, for I have rejected him. The Lord does not look at the things people look at. People look at the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.’ [1 Samuel 16:7 NIVUK]
How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word. [Psalm 119:9 NIVUK]
I have hidden your word in my heart that I might not sin against you. [Psalm 119:11 NIVUK]
Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
who does not trust an idol,
or swear by a false god.
[Psalm 24:3,4 NIVUK]
Blessed are the pure in heart,
for they will see God.
[Matthew 5:8 NIVUK]
Come near to God and he will come near to you. Wash your hands, you sinners, and purify your hearts, you double-minded. [James 4:8 NIVUK]
But Martha was distracted by all the preparations that had to be made. She came to him and asked, ‘Lord, don’t you care that my sister has left me to do the work by myself? Tell her to help me!’ ‘Martha, Martha,’ the Lord answered, ‘You are worried and upset about many things, but few things are needed – or indeed only one. Mary has chosen what is better, and it will not be taken away from her.’ [Luke 10:40, 41 NIVUK]
Brothers and sisters, I do not consider myself yet to have taken hold of it. But one thing I do: forgetting what is behind and straining towards what is ahead, I press on towards the goal to win the prize for which God has called me heavenwards in Christ Jesus. [Philippians 3:13, 14 NIVUK]
… being confident of this, that he who began a good work in you will carry it on to completion until the day of Christ Jesus. [Philippians 1:6 NIVUK]
[Paul W:] Andrew, thank you especially with your croaky voice this morning for delivering that. I don’t normally want to play Bible bingo, picking and choosing some Bible verses that seem to fit what I want to say. I’m pretty averse to that normally, but what Jesus had to say to his hearers in the Beatitudes on the mountain that day is so deep and so profound that I didn’t think that choosing just one portion of Scripture would do justice to what he said, because this particular beatitude is hugely transformative. It’s life-changing.
I want to begin by telling you about the most transformative experience I ever witnessed. As you know, I used to work for a Christian charity in schools and my role was to be a positive role model for the staff, for the students and for the wider community. When I would get involved in a people’s life because of their behaviour, their words or their actions, I’d often get the response, well, that’s just me. That’s how I am. I can’t change. I just say the things that they are. Get over it. T hat’s what they would say to me not what I’d say to them.
Then I would make a challenge back, “Who said you can’t change? Who said that you couldn’t because that’s just the way that you are”, because the way I see it is that you are the master or the mistress of who you are. You can make that choice. You can decide who you want to be and I know that you wouldn’t want to be treated in the way that you’ve treated that other person by the words or the actions.
Over a period of time and because of the relationship of trust that I think I built up, it was fantastic to see the changes that would occur. This was true of one particular young man, he was dirty, he was smelly. He would never turn up to school on time. He wasn’t particularly academically able and he was referred to me by the pastoral team for some socialization. Now, I think that that meant I had to have the, you smell, let’s do something about it talk.
He would turn up for school late every day. He would declare that he couldn’t change the way that he was, and that he certainly couldn’t smell what everybody else could smell. He couldn’t change until one day he heard a message from a youth charity based on Wirral actually, called Human Utopia. They’re not a Christian organization, but that day he discovered that not all people are the same and that everyone needs to have somebody that they can look up to.
He heard afresh that there was hope for every single person in that room. Something in his head switched and transformed his thinking that made him turn up to school every day on time and go to lessons and even start giving good advice to other pupils. I have never ever seen such a sudden transformation in anybody. The message wasn’t that Jesus loved him. It was the message that told every single pupil that day that they were worth something and that something more was happening if they believed in themselves. If they had somebody to look up to, if they had something to hang on to, it’s kind of the message of Jesus without Jesus. For me, the key that this young man was told this groundbreaking news by another person that was another young person. That was the key for me. It was a young person telling another young person that things didn’t have to be this way.
The young man I was working with didn’t think that he had a problem, but everyone else had a problem with him and yes, some people did have a problem with his smell, or perhaps the way that he learned or didn’t learn but in spite of those things on that day, when he learned that he was somebody he became single-minded. He has something to live for. He was going to achieve his goal of becoming a mechanic because somebody believed in him.
It was a transforming moment for this lad and it stuck. There was something about this day’s activity that made it stick. You see, as human beings, we are often double-minded. Sometimes we lie to ourselves, “Oh, I’m brilliant at cooking a three-course meal for my family,” I say. Then the family dread coming around for dinner. Or maybe we feel that we are better at football than we really are because we never score goals or we blame the rest of the team or we go to a match and hurl abuse at the referee or say if I was the manager I would … Gillingham lost three-nil yesterday at home.
These things suggest that I know better. It makes me look and feel more important and better about myself, but it stops me from seeing things as they really are. Those double standards, those double minds, stop us from being the people that we really ought to be. We might believe one thing but act totally differently. We try to find excuses for what we’re doing when they don’t really stack up. Double standards, double-mindedness means that we’re not being truthful to ourselves or even to others.
If we’re being double-minded, this equates to wrongdoing or sin. Why am I saying all of this? Well, firstly because Jesus is talking about the heart. In the beatitude where Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they will see God.” The first thing we need to talk about is the heart. Then we need to talk about purity, and then we need to talk about seeing. It’s a good baptist three-point sermon this morning, heart, purity, seeing. When we talk about the heart, it’s not the thing that makes the blood pump around our body. It’s the thing that makes us human. It’s the centre of our emotion.
You might say, “I love her with all my heart,” when you fall in love, but it also acts as the seat of conscience. One thing you might not know about me is that I’m a big fan of The Simpsons, cartoon characters. There was one episode of The Simpsons where ten-year-old Bart destroys something very important belonging to his sister, Lisa. When she quietly asks him why he did it, she gets him to look deep inside to really consider what he’d done.
At first, he really doesn’t take the activity seriously. Until he says to himself, “Just because I ruined something that she worked really hard on and made her cry …” and then something happens, he stops in mid-sentence, realizing how deeply he’d hurt his sister. Then he apologizes. He knew he had done wrong, and had the courage to admit his guilt. The heart is to do with conscience. It’s to do with human motive. What we really believe, the roots of our desire.
It might also be to do with how we make decisions. You watch those TV programs, those house programs and they’ll often talk about the head and the heart when they are looking at somewhere to buy. When the Bible talks about the heart, it’s used in a very symbolic sense. It’s not just an organ that governs our emotions, but our thoughts, our desires, our motives our ambitions, our will, our words, and our actions. The heart stands for our entire personality.
What Jesus is talking about when he’s talking about the heart is a radical transformation of it. Which inevitably results in an equally radical transformation of our life. God the father, if you like, is the divine cardiologist. 1 Samuel 16 says that, he looks at the heart. Proverbs 23 verse 26 says, “My son, give me your heart and let your eyes keep to my ways.” God is totally concerned with the states of our hearts. He’s more concerned with the state of our hearts than he is about our health, or our bank balances, our business, our family, our church-going, even our giving. As Jesus said, “Where our treasure is, there is our heart.”
Our hearts, your heart, my heart, the very centre of who I am and who I am created to be is the very bit that God wants us to offer to him. It’s so important that one of the teachers of the law came to ask Jesus, what was the most important commandment. Jesus’ reply was most obviously, “Love the Lord your God with all your heart, and all your soul, with all your mind, and with all your strength. The second is this, love your neighbour as yourself.” Hang on to that last bit, because we’ll come back to that.
Purity is the second bit of this beatitude that we need to talk about. We need to talk about it, because Jesus talks about this being the state of one’s heart when God takes over. Our hearts needs to be pure, for then we shall see God. As humans, we can probably agree with Jeremiah when he exclaims that the heart is deceitful above all things. When we admit to ourselves that we have double standards. We can be double-minded, that our hearts are off-key. It means that we can’t be in direct relationship with our father, God.
Yet, in spite of this, we know that God wants our hearts. He wants us to be pure, so that we can be in relationship with one another and with him. There was a Danish philosopher, Søren Kierkegaard. He said this, “Purity of heart is to will one thing.” This is why I was talking about being double-minded a moment ago because something that is pure can’t be double minded. For example, let’s talk about whiskey. I don’t know much about whiskey, so forgive me if I’m wrong.
What I do know, is that the best most expensive kind of whiskey is the single malt. The cheaper stuff is the blended malt. That’s pretty much all I know about whiskey. I guess the point I’m making is that, to be pure we need to be single-minded upon one thing. It can’t just be any old thing. Impurities in the making of the whiskey, of the distilling process, or impurities in food makes it bad and they need to be taken out if it’s to be sold as pure.
If the best whiskey is single malt, it can’t be diluted, even if it isn’t another type of whiskey. The impure stuff isn’t as good. I think that’s what the Bible talks about when it talks about sin. Our hearts can’t be pure if we’re sinful. When we talk about ourselves and our hearts, we need to talk about the purity of our heart. The word “pure” in the New Testament translates from the Greek, katharos. See, you’re learning a bit of Greek each week. It’s a word that is used a number of times in the New Testament. For example, of clothing that has been washed clean.
Matthew’s Gospel tells us that after Joseph of Arimathea had taken Jesus’ body down from the cross, it was wrapped in katharos linen, clean linen. In his vision of the new Jerusalem, John saw the city was pure , katharos, pure gold, In Revelation 21. When Paul was leaving Ephesus in Acts chapter 20, he told them that he was not innocent, he was not katharos, of the blood of you all, for I didn’t shrink from sharing the whole counsel of God, he says.
Mark records some teaching that Jesus gave concerning the right application of the Jewish ceremonial laws. About washing and eating, and then added, “Thus he declared all food clean.” That word again, katharos. By saying what he did, Jesus not only abolished the ancient ceremonial laws and declared them obsolete, he focused his hearer’s attention on the need for inner cleanliness. We know from our reading of the beatitudes thus far that the Pharisees were scrupulous. They were scrupulous in observing the purity laws of the Old Testament.
They even added their own laws to make sure that they didn’t transgress. In time those laws somehow superseded God’s laws, and eventually became a substitute for them. What makes this approach to purity so appealing is that it focuses on the externals, on the most accessible stuff. It’s quantifiable. I can count the laws, they would say. I can keep the score. It’s easy to compare myself with others, to make it easy to delude myself that if I look holy to others, then I am holy to others. Keeping up appearances. The outside looks good, but the inside hasn’t changed.
When Jesus said, “Blessed are the poor in spirit, ”those who know what it takes to come before God, it’s not easy for us to say, “Yes, that’s me, ”but when Jesus said, “Blessed are those who mourn, ”it’s easy to think of our sin, and our shortcomings and say, “Well, yes, that’s me.” When Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart, ”I don’t find myself saying, that’s me. Then seeing God seems an equally impossible task. Yet, these are words of promise. T hey show me my need. They motivate me to call out to Christ for cleansing, but they also show me my destiny. They points to the day when the struggle will be over, and the transformation will be complete. Seeing God is our third and our final point.
The thing about the Pharisees is that Jesus knew their hearts, and knew they were keeping up appearances. He called them hypocrites because they didn’t practice what they preached. Later on, in Acts, Peter accuses Ananias and Sapphira of pretending that they gave all the money that they sold a field for and gave all the money to the church, but they kept some back from themselves. They were hypocrites.
This word in the Greek literally means play actors, the essence of hypocrisy. Jesus also knew the hearts of those around them, who desperately wanted to know God, but felt that this was an impossibility because the Pharisees deliberately kept them at arm’s length, because they were disabled, because they were unclean, because they were sinful, because they had something wrong with them, because they were women, all of these things that kept them apart from God, and God dearly wanted them to be close.
It must be perhaps a little bit like that young man that I was talking about earlier, how he felt his peers: lost and alone, not knowing how to be part of the in-crowd, and putting up those barriers, keeping himself away from them becoming more and more isolated. Seeing God is not seeing with our own eyes, in a literal sense, 1 John tells us that nobody has ever seen God, even Elijah, one of God’s closest allies in the Old Testament, wasn’t able to see him. On the mountain, God says, I’m going to pass by and he was in, but he didn’t see him, kind of saw the back of his glory.
This beatitude says the only the pure in heart can see God. Only those whose lives have been transformed can be pure in heart, the poor in spirit, those who mourn, the meek, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, the merciful, these are the ones who love God and love as God loves. These are the ones who can see God. How do we see God? Let’s look in our minds again, at the parable of the Good Samaritan that’s come up so many times in the last few weeks.
The one who had mercy on the person who couldn’t look after himself. Even though he was from a clan of people who hated the other tribe, he stooped down, he saw the humanity of the situation and did something about it. He saw, he acted. Mother Teresa of Calcutta, I don’t know if she’s a saint yet, saw God in every person that she spent time with, and she spoke about this all the time, and with the greatest of urgency. At the end of life she says, we will not be judged with how many diplomas we’ve got, how much money we have, how many great things we’ve done, we will be judged by: I was hungry, you gave me something to eat, I was naked, and you clothed me, I was homeless, and you took me in.
The pure in heart see God through acting compassionately to their neighbour. That’s why our Community Church doesn’t exist for itself. That’s why our Sunday services are perhaps only a tiny parts of the ministry to those around us. That’s why the word community is integral to how we love those around us, and it’s very not really about me, or about you, so much more about those around us, those that we love, at home, at work, how we bring up our families, and how we act to those that we rub shoulders with day by day.
The pure in heart, love Jesus. They want to be near him, they stick close to the poor, and those in need, that Jesus blessed, and so they see him. Jeremiah says, the heart is deceitful above all things, but it doesn’t have to stay that way. The way we see ourselves needs to be clear and clean and true. Sin needs to have no space in our hearts because we need to be pure. Only Jesus’ love and light in our lives can take away that sin. Only Jesus’ light and love in our lives can transform us.
Our transformed lives means that we want to will only one thing, to see God clearly. Seeing God clearly means that we love him with every fibre, and by loving him with every fibre means that we love one another and those around us without hesitation. We sang earlier take my life and let it be consecrated Lord to thee, take my moments of my days, let them flow in ceaseless praise. Let’s take a moment to consider where we are with God in this moment, where the Holy Spirit makes us aware of anything that gets in the way of Jesus having our whole hearts, and let him take care of the things that we can’t deal with. Let him fill your hearts and invade your life.
To close I’m going to read the Psalm 51, which is a Psalm of King David, after he was confronted by Nathan about his affair with Bathsheba:
Generous in love—God, give grace!
Huge in mercy—wipe out my bad record.
Scrub away my guilt,
soak out my sins in your laundry.
I know how bad I’ve been;
my sins are staring me down.
You’re the One I’ve violated, and you’ve seen
it all, seen the full extent of my evil.
You have all the facts before you;
whatever you decide about me is fair.
I’ve been out of step with you for a long time,
in the wrong since before I was born.
What you’re after is truth from the inside out.
Enter me, then; conceive a new, true life.
Soak me in your laundry and I’ll come out clean,
scrub me and I’ll have a snow-white life.
Tune me in to foot-tapping songs,
set these once-broken bones to dancing.
Don’t look too close for blemishes,
give me a clean bill of health.
God, make a fresh start in me,
shape a Genesis week from the chaos of my life.
Don’t throw me out with the [rubbish] [ MSG has trash,]
or fail to breathe holiness in me.
Bring me back from gray exile,
put a fresh wind in my sails!
Give me a job teaching rebels your ways
so the lost can find their way home.
Commute my death sentence, God, my salvation God,
and I’ll sing anthems to your life-giving ways.
Unbutton my lips, dear God;
I’ll let loose with your praise.
Going through the motions doesn’t please you,
a flawless performance is nothing to you.
I learned God-worship
when my pride was shattered.
Heart-shattered lives ready for love
don’t for a moment escape God’s notice.
(Psalm 51:1–17, The Message}
Father God, would you help us to be clean? Would you help us to love you and our neighbour? Amen.
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Scripture quotations marked NIV or NIVUK are from the Holy Bible, New International Version® Anglicized, NIV® Copyright © 1979, 1984, 2011 by Biblica, Inc.® Used by permission. All rights reserved worldwide.
Scripture quotations marked The Message are from The Message. Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H Peterson. Used by permission of NavPress Publishing Group.