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Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God

Apr 13, 2017

Passage: Matthew 5:8

Preacher: Rev. Dr. Alfonso Espinosa

Category: Holy Week, Lent, Maundy Thursday

Detail:

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ. Amen. There exists a lively tension in our approach to the wonderful, life-giving Word of Christ! On the one hand, we celebrate the perspicuity of Scripture: the fact that it is so clear that even a child can receive and know the core Good News of the Lord Jesus Christ. The most important details include the facts that God loves you and that He is merciful towards you. You don’t even need a high school diploma to get that straight. On the other hand, the Holy Scriptures are also profound and fantastically rich. There are nuances and range of meanings that should be considered when mining certain texts. One of those texts that is a little more challenging is the one we have tonight, Matthew 5:8: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

This is a text that at first glance is capable – I think if we’re honest – of generating a certain level of intimidation and concern. If we stare at the words long enough, we might feel some anxiety coming on. “Blessed are the pure in heart…,” the pure in heart, the PURE in heart!

Why might this be a concern? Well, consider the Word of God in Jeremiah 17:9: “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” And this condition of the heart is never to be understood as ONLY a pre-conversion state, so that the Christian reasons, “Oh yeah, so BEFORE I became a Christian, my heart was deceitful above all things, but NOW that I am a Christian, my heart is no longer deceitful above all things! NOW, my heart is pure!” This kind of thinking is more than dangerous. It is the sort of thinking that has led many Christians to severe internal turmoil in respect to their confidence (or lack thereof) about salvation quite simply because they know deep down that they – like all of us – are still stuck with a heart that is deceitful above all things!

The difference by the way between our pre-converted state and our converted state is that now we ALSO have a NEW heart, but the NEW heart does not mean that the OLD heart is eradicated. When St. Paul says “the old has passed away (2nd Corinthians 5),” he does not mean eradication, but means that we are no longer defined by or live without repentance towards the OLD heart (that is, God does not count us according to the old heart), but having said that, the OLD heart is STILL THERE!

This is humbling, but true. The best Christians deal with all the bad and disgusting stuff that they still have swirling around inside. Christians with a living faith, still have that despicable heart: they hate, they judge, they despise, they lust, they curse, they imagine what is the unimaginable; and they still desire what should never be desired. The old sinful heart is still a cesspool of sin.

The great shame is not that you still have this heart (because the Lord is gracious and keeps you in His grace in-spite of having such a heart), but rather the great shame is when we secretly believe that having this heart means that we really aren’t Christians and that we have to go through (or we permit ourselves to go through) a façade, behaving as though we are something we are not.

How many Christians live in such a way as to always doubt their standing before God precisely because they still have this deceitful heart above all things?

It is humbling to consider that a Christian is capable of feeling the sinful things any unbeliever can feel; is capable of thinking the sinful things any unbeliever can think; and is capable of imagining the despicable things that any unbeliever can imagine. In fact, not only is the Christian “capable” of these things; Christians do these things. That’s us. But the teaching here is, “Don’t let this reality trick you into thinking that you are not really in God’s love and mercy! You are!”

Christ came for sinners! Only sinners qualify for the saving Gospel! And I’m not talking about “just barely sinners,” or “better than average sinners,” or “not really really bad sinners” (these categories aren’t in Scripture), but those who are sinful are those with hearts that are deceitful above all things.

But imagine what would happen if a Christian approached Matthew 5:8 while suspecting that they are really defined by their deceitful heart! So in having this basic confusion and THEN approaching Matthew 5:8 that says, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” well I don’t know about you, but I’m starting to get a little nervous! I’m not quite sure that I qualify! If these are the only ones who are going to see God in eternal glory, then “Houston, we’ve got a problem,” a big problem, and I’m unable to be rest assured that Jesus is talking about me (or you) in this beatitude.

To be sure the Scriptures do have a range of meaning when it comes to the word we translate in English as “pure.” For example, “[it] signifies ‘moral purity and sincerity,’ as in relation to Christ in 1 John 3:3. It is demanded especially of those who bear office in the community (1 Timothy 5:22; Titus 2:5)…of the pious wisdom which avoids all self-seeking (James 3:17).” The concept is connected to the idea of being blameless. Furthermore – in this range of meaning – the word has the meaning of “innocence” and implies “chastity” along the lines of “wholehearted inward dedication to Christ.” (Kittel, Theological Dictionary of the New Testament, Volume I, 122)

So imagine our Lord saying, “I will only call you blessed if you have all moral purity and sincerity; when you avoid all self-seeking; are blameless; are innocent, chaste and wholehearted in your inward dedication to Christ!” Wow! How’s your confidence level about now? And if this is the meaning, will you ever see God?

The better interpretation of the word “pure” at Matthew 5:8 is altogether different. There is just one other place in the entire Bible that presents these words like Matthew 5:8 does, namely Psalm 24:4 that also states, “a pure heart.” But the context in Psalm 24:4 is not about being pure because of anything in us, but on account of the true God who is worshipped. We are pure because by the grace of God we do not worship false gods, but by the grace of God we worship the One, True God, the Lord. To have Him before you is to be made pure. His light, His righteousness, His goodness, His love, His mercy, His grace, His holiness…to have these before you Christian is what makes you the “pure in heart.” The purity of the True God, the Lord, is what reflects upon you and makes you pure!

You’ve all heard about the importance of considering the company you keep. If you have friends that do bad things, then you will be led to do bad things; but if you have good friends, then good will pervade your life.

How much more is this true of God? To have the true God, the Lord who is full of love and compassion, grace and mercy, is to have the true God who saves us…the Lord who makes us pure.

In Psalm 24:4, that informs us of Matthew 5:8, the Lord says, “He who has clean hands and a pure heart, [emphasis mine] who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully.” These are words that describe being in the presence of God in Divine Service; in worship where God comes to bless the sinner. That is:

  1. As the believer worships they do not lift up their soul [in faith] to false gods, but only to the True God.
  2. And, as a result, God strengthens their faith so that they confess the true God to the rest of the world.

In other words, the pure in heart are those who receive God’s grace in worship and then they share what they have received: they confess that they are people of grace. And when we apply this to us today, it is even more focused: the pure in heart are those who remain in the presence of Jesus who comes to them through His Word and Holy Sacrament; and then they go forth confessing the saving Name of Jesus. These are the ones counted as having pure hearts and in keeping with our overall series on the “Blessed Statements”: all of this is the gracious work of God.

This is God’s gift; God’s doing. We don’t make ourselves blessed by doing “x, y, z,” but rather by grace God’s Word and Sacrament in worship generates hearts and lips that confess the Savior Jesus, but this you see already demonstrates that God has been there. God has already blessed you by coming to you and pouring out His grace.

And this leads us to this Sacred day called “Holy Thursday” or “Maundy Thursday”: the day that Jesus commanded His Church to “do this in remembrance of me.” Do what? Receive the Supper. Receive His Body and His Blood! Receive His new covenant that keeps our sins washed away! Receive His Holy Gift that keeps us united to Jesus! Receive what is the single greatest gift in worship of the true God! Receive Jesus in this Sacrament so that you are blessed by God and given a new heart, mind and mouth to confess His saving Name. Receive His body which bore your sin to remove your sin from you! Receive His blood which covers your sin and covers you with life!

In this Holy Sacrament given the night in which He was betrayed the Lord guaranteed your blessedness! On this Holy Night He gave you the gift that makes you pure in heart! On this Holy Night He ensured that you would see God. Tonight you see Him with eyes of faith in the Sacrament, and in being blessed once again, the Lord promises you will also see Him face-to-face in glory! Blessed are the pure in heart…that’s you, and yes, you will see God, full of love and full of life! In Jesus’ Name!