Back in 1984, the Los Angeles Times carried the story of a woman named Anna Mae Pennica. Anna was a 62-year-old woman and she had been blind from birth. When she was 47 Anna married a man she met in a Braille class and for the first 15 years of their marriage he did the seeing for both of them. But, tragically at this point he lost his vision as well—to a rare degenerative eye disease called retinitis pigmentosa. Even today there is no cure. But neither of Anna nor her husband were bitter about their sightless situation.
And I think that is amazing—especially from Anna’s perspective. I mean, unlike her husband she had never seen the green of spring or the blue of a winter sky. Yet she never felt resentful about her handicap and always exuded a remarkably cheerful spirit.
Well, in October of 1983, Dr. Thomas Pettit of the Jules Stein Eye Institute of the University of California heard about their situation—examined Anna—and performed surgery to remove the rare congenital cataracts from the lens of her left eye—and after the procedure Anna was able to see for the first time ever. The newspaper account doesn’t record her initial response, but it does say she found that everything was “much bigger and brighter” than she ever imagined. Since that day Anna has hardly been able to wait to wake up in the morning, splash her eyes with water, put on her glasses, and enjoy the changing morning light. Her vision is 20/30—good enough for her to pass a driver’s test.
Think how wonderful it must have been for Anna when she looked for the first time at the faces she had only felt—like her husband—or when she first saw the kaleidoscope of a Pacific sunset—or a tree waving its branches—or a bird in flight. The gift of physical sight is wonderful indeed—but the miracle of seeing for the very first time AFTER A LIFETIME OF BLINDNESS—well it’s very hard to describe.
I share this story because—there is a seeing that surpasses even the miracle Anna experienced—and that is the focus of our next “flight lesson.” This miracle is described in verse 8 of Matthew 5 but let’s back up and start with verse 1. Take your Bibles and turn to this text we’ve been studying for a couple months now.
1 – Now when [Jesus] saw the crowds, He went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to Him,
2 – and He began to teach them, saying:
3 – “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven.
4 – Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 – Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 – Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS, for they will be filled.
7 – Blessed are the merciful for they will be shown mercy. And then our text for this morning:
8 – Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will SEE GOD.
Did you hear that? In this verse Jesus describes a kind of sight more wonderful than any other—the ability to SEE GOD. And since the goal of spiritual growth or “soaring” is to deepen our relationship with God—surely you would agree that to SEE HIM—wouldn’t you agree that this would be the BEST sight—the apex of spiritual flight?
Now—this flight lesson that describes this kind of vision is short—just 11 words—but it can still be confusing. I imagine several questions are floating through your heads right now. So—with that in mind I want us to seek to fully understand what Jesus says here by seeking the answer to four of them. Here’s the first.
(1) What exactly is the “HEART” Jesus refers to?
Well, if we did a thorough search of the Bible we would see that the word for “heart” appears more than 100 times. But the important thing for us to note is the fact that the vast majority of the times the word “heart” is used in Scripture—it does NOT refer to the organ that circulates blood throughout our body, but rather to our innermost being—and our text in Matthew 5 is one of those times. When Jesus used this word that day as He spoke to those people on the hillside He was talking about the PSYCHOLOGICAL CORE of a person. He was talking about the REAL PERSON.
And by the way, let me remind you that these bodies we walk around in AREN’T the real us. A person’s flesh is not his or her REAL person. In fact, look at the body of the person sitting next to you and say to them, “That’s not you!” Good! I for one am thankful that THIS is not me—because even though it looked pretty good my flesh is beginning to wear out. In a couple more decades I’ll lay this worn out “earth suit” aside. My children will bury it in a hole somewhere.
But that’s okay because these aging bones and muscles and veins and arteries aren’t the real me.
No—the real me is inside. The core of my being—the REAL of Mark Adams—is eternal. It doesn’t wear out. The same is true of each of YOU. And this is what Jesus was referring to when He used the word, “heart.” He was referring to the core of a person…the REAL person.
Well, the people sitting there that day would have understood this because in their culture, the heart was considered the center of the personality—the source of every activity. I mean, they knew the HEART was the real person. Proverbs 23:7 reflects their thinking when it says, “As a man thinketh in his heart, so he is!”
In His book, The Applause of Heaven, Max Lucado writes, “To Jesus’ listeners, the heart was the totality of the inner person—the control tower—the cockpit. The heart was thought of as the seat of the character—the origin of the desires, affections, perceptions, thoughts, reasoning, imagination, conscience, intentions, purpose, will, and faith. To the Hebrew mind, the heart is a freeway cloverleaf where all emotions and prejudices and wisdom converge. It is a switch house that receives freight cars loaded with moods, ideas, emotions, and convictions and puts them on the right track.”
Well, to continue Lucado’s analogy—I would say that the Bible repeatedly tells us that most of the time our “inner switch houses” put our moods and ideas and emotions and convictions on the WRONG “track.” I mean, since we are fallen creatures, most of the time our heart’s first response is to sin. As Jeremiah 17:9 says, “The heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked.”
Some of you are old enough to remember back in the ‘90’s when comedian and filmmaker Woody Allen was an icon of the movie industry. But at this point his personal life began to unravel. His long-term affair with Mia Farrow came to an ugly end, just after they had a child together. A short time later, it was discovered that Allen was romantically involved with Mia’s 17-yr old adopted daughter, Soon-Yi. The inappropriateness of that quasi-incestuous relationship scandalized even the most liberal Hollywood observers—but 60-year-old Allen seemed to find nothing wrong with dating the teenaged daughter of his former girlfriend—a relationship that began when Soon-yi was a minor. When a reporter challenged him on the matter, Allen rationalized and defended his actions, then concluded the discussion by declaring, “The heart wants what it wants.” And it does—but we can’t trust our hearts—for they are deceitful—desperately wicked. It was Allen’s heart that led him to this sinful behavior.
Jesus’s statement later in Matthew’s gospel sums it up perfectly. Our Lord said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man unclean.” (Matthew 15:19) This leads to question #2.
(2) What does it mean to be PURE in heart?
I mean, why does Jesus say that a person is blessed if “pure” describes their heart—their control center? Well, in Greek this word “pure” is “katharos” and it is a word that is used 28 times in the New Testament. “Katharos” has two basic meanings. It could be used to describe something that was dirty but had been made clean—like a soiled cloak that had been washed such that the stain was removed. Or it could be used to describe something that was clean or PURE in the sense that it was not mixed with something else. For example:
- In Jesus’ day you would hear Greek farmers at the market using “katharos” to talk about wheat that had been picked and winnowed or sifted—and cleansed of all chaff. All you had left was PURE wheat.
- You might hear Greek generals using “katharos” to describe an army that had been purged or cleansed of all its cowardly or inefficient soldiers—so that it had become a force that was made up SOLELY—purely—of first-class fighting men.
Well, Jesus was COMBINING these meanings here in verse 8 by saying people are blessed if first they KNOW that their hearts are dirty—that they can’t clean them on their own. And they are because, as I said, we all have this “bent” toward sin. This is why the Bible says our hearts are deceitful above all things. Even our best efforts at goodness leave us spiritually bankrupt before our holy God. Jesus was no doubt referring to His prior “flight lessons” and saying that genuinely blessed people—believers who “soar” toward Christlikeness—know this and have mourned about it—and then in meekness they hunger for the true righteousness they know that ONLY God can give them—such that their single, pure, unadulterated desire is to know God and please Him. All other desires have been purged from their system so that their priority is to, “seek FIRST the Kingdom of God…and His righteousness.” (Matthew 6:33) Another way to put it would be to say people are genuinely blessed—they are to be congratulated—if they SINCERELY love God and SINCERELY seek to obey Him in life.
This kind of mind set is manifested in pure lives. It is seen in people who are SINCERE in their desire that their walk matches their talk—their desires match their actions—their insides match their outsides—their Monday’s match their Sundays.
And, let me stop and ask—would you say that you are blessed in this sense?
While you think about that let me point out that the Pharisees of Jesus’ day were experts at OUTWARD purity. They had all sorts of rules on what to eat, what to wear, how far you could travel on the Sabbath, and so on. This rule-making and rule-keeping was what they lived for.
But tragically, self-righteously, SINFULLY—they spent all their time trying to make the OUTSIDE look good—to the point of blatantly ignoring the INSIDE. They acted like God came first on the outside but on the inside, well, they could care less. So—you see they didn’t have pure hearts because they were double-minded. They had mixed motives. And—Jesus reserved some of His harshest words for these religious leaders. He was the hardest on these people who were experts in masking their dirty hearts with their external obedience to man-made laws. Do you remember His words in Matthew 23:25-28? Jesus said, “Woe to you teachers of the law and Pharisees—you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside you are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish and then the outside will be clean. 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 dead men’s bones and everything is unclean. In the same way on the outside you appear to people as righteous…but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.” Jesus saw through their pretense and looked right in their hearts as He quoted Isaiah and said, “These people honor Me with their lips but their hearts are far from Me!” (Matthew 15:8) The MESSAGE puts it well when it paraphrases Jesus’ words to say, “These people make a big show of saying the right thing, but their heart isn’t in it.”
And—to be honest we’d have to say that our culture is very similar to theirs. I mean, sadly, things haven’t changed much in 2000 years. These Pharisees remind me of many people in our day and age—in that they tend to focus on the outside rather than the inside. And when I say “they,” I include US. So often our hearts aren’t pure because the lives we live out there don’t match up with the statements we make in here. Our behavior doesn’t match our belief.
This week I read about a cartoon that showed a pastor and his wife deep in conversation. The wife says, “Today let’s do something different. Why don’t you be charming at home and grouchy at church?” Of course, this happened at another church! But you know what I mean because we’re all like that. So often our day to day lives indicate that our devotion to God is not pure—in that it’s not single-minded. Our vows and commitments to do God’s will are weakened by our own selfish pursuits and because of this, time and time again our lives just don’t match the faith we profess. Bruce Hamsher has written a poem that illustrates this sad truth.
“If Jesus came to your home today to spend a day or two.
If He came unexpectedly, I wonder what you’d do?
I know you’d give your nicest room to such an honored Guest,
And all the food you’d serve to Him would be the very best.
And you’d keep assuring Him you’re glad to have Him there,
That serving Him in your own home is joy beyond compare.
But when you saw Him standing there, could you go to the door,
with arms outstretched to welcome Him? Would your heart begin to soar?
Or would you have to change some things before you let Him in,
Or hide some sinful things and place the Bible where they’d been?
Would family conversation be continued at its current pace?
I wonder, what would have to change if you saw Him face to face?
Would you be glad to introduce Him to your closest friends,
Or would you wish they’d stay away until His visit ends?
Would it cause embarrassment, these crazy things you do
If Jesus came to your own house to spend some time with you?”
Does Hamsler’s poem strike a chord? Does it hit close to home? I know it does with me because many days my attitudes and actions aren’t pleasing to God. And I’m not alone in this hypocrisy. So many times we don’t soar—we “crash and burn” because our devotion to God isn’t pure—it isn’t single-minded. Anyone feel like hanging their head and saying, “amen?” You know, our study of this verse touches on the central problem of our culture. You see, all of our world’s troubles can be traced to once source—one cause—DIRTY HEARTS.
To show you what I mean, let me remind you once again of Jesus’ words in Matthew 15:19. He said, “Out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.” In other words all the evil thinking in this world, all the murders, all the adultery, all the sexual sins, all the lies, all the slander, all the robberies and burglaries, all the social injustice—all the problems of our culture can be traced to the heart. Billy Graham once referred to this and said, “We’re suffering from only one disease in the world. Our basic problem is not a race problem. Our basic problem is not a poverty problem. Our basic problem is not a war problem. Our basic problem is a heart problem.”
And of course, he’s right! And one thing I want to make sure you understand this morning is that the state of your heart is the most important thing in your life. Everything is built on “heart health.” So—the state of your heart—the state of your inner being—is more important than the state of your marriage, the state of your business, the state of our country, the state of our economy—or the state of anything else. This is why Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart because it affects everything you do.”
Have you ever seen an echocardiogram–a picture of a human heart–up on the screen? Here’s what they look like. It doesn’t look like much of anything to most us, but a trained eye could look at an echocardiogram like this one and see if anything was wrong. Well, suppose we were to put our hearts in the Biblical sense—suppose were to put the CORE of each of us—up on the screen this morning, would it reveal any impurities?
- How about “murder?”
Before you dismiss that one, remember that Jesus said anyone who harbors anger against a brother or calls someone a fool is guilty of sin—subject to the same penalty. Have any hurtful words come out of your mouth this week? Have you been nursing anger or bitterness toward someone?
- How about “adultery” or “sexual immorality?”
Most of us aren’t about to run off with someone else’s spouse. Most of us wouldn’t follow in Woody Allen’s footsteps—but one of the words Jesus uses here is “porneia,” — it’s the Greek word from which we get pornography. It refers to any sexual behavior or thought that exploits another person or perverts the beautiful gift of sexuality. Do you have anything like that in the secret places of your life?
- What about “theft?”
It’s not too likely that any of us are breaking into people’s homes or shoplifting at the mall. But is it possible you’re stealing time from your boss or your clients, or holding onto money that properly belongs to the government, or to God?
- “False testimony.”
Surely, you would never lie under oath, but do you ever massage the truth to give someone a false impression? Have you lied on a resume or cheated on an exam? When someone asks, “How are you doing?” do you pretend to be doing better than you are?
There are probably no gossip columnists here, but have you ever spoken poorly about another person just to make yourself look better? Ever shared a bit of unsavory news under the guise of a prayer request, or passed judgment on a person’s spirituality because of the way they dressed or the way they worshiped? I mean, how’s the “echo-cardiagram” of the TRUE YOU look? How healthy is your “heart”—your inner core—the REAL you?
This flight lesson reveals the fact that we all have the capacity to live a double life–to be one thing on the outside and another on the inside—to act one way at church and another way at home or the office or at school. We convince ourselves that as long as we’re going to church and reading our Bibles and putting our 10% in the offering plate, then our abusive words, our ugly thoughts—and our selfish spending habits don’t matter. But they do. Jesus is reminding us that our outward behavior flows from our inner condition.
We can fill our heads with Bible knowledge, we can behave like good church people, we can even profess faith in Christ as Savior and Lord—but until our hearts are pure, we can never truly SOAR. Listen—if we are to grow to be like Jesus—grow to experience that abundant caliber of life—we have to treat the heart. Let me put it this way. If the fruit of the tree is bad you don’t try to fix the fruit, you treat the roots. And if a person’s actions are evil it’s not enough to change their habits. You have to go deeper. As Lucado puts it, “You have to go to the heart of the problem, which is the problem of the heart!” Okay—let’s move on to question 3.
(3) What does it mean to SEE GOD?
Well, Jesus is referring to two things. First of all, He’s telling us that the pure in heart will see God IN THE LIFE TO COME. When that day dawns when we put aside our earth suits—and our hearts have been cleansed and changed through faith in Christ, we know that we will spend eternity with Him. When that happens, we will no longer see through a glass darkly, as Paul puts it, but face to face. So—one thing Jesus is talking about is that wonderful day when our faith will be sight—that day when we will see God in all His glory. But, Jesus is also telling us that when our hearts are pure—when we are focused on seeking first the Kingdom of God we will begin to see God IN THIS LIFE—not just in rare and splendid moments, but in everyday life–in ordinary moments.
You see—when you are single-minded about something—when your life is about one thing, you see that one thing everywhere. I know you guys are tired of me telling you but I love my grandkids—all three of them. I look forward to being with them—and doing things with them that make them happy. That’s where my mental focus is much of the time. So—I’m always scanning to find things they might enjoy. Here’s a few examples. I was in Sam’s a few months ago—and when we got to the fruit section—I saw BLUEBERRIES—and I thought, “Joel LOVES blueberries. We should buy some!” I saw a kiddy pool—it was about five feet by ten—inflatable—and about 10 inches deep and I thought, “Lydia and Joel would love playing in that pool! We should buy it!” When we passed through the clothes section—my eyes immediately went to the children’s clothes. I saw some Batman Pjs and some Wonder Woman Pj’s and thought, “Those would look great on my grandkids! Do they have any in Nathan’s size?”When I’m on Amazon—I’m constantly looking for toys that will make memories. A couple weeks ago my eyes saw some balloon toys and I thought, “Those would bring some grins to the face of my grandkids—I’m going to buy them.”
Do you get my point? When your heart is focused on one thing—you see it! Well, that’s the way it is with the pure of heart. When your life is all about God, you see God everywhere.
- You see His love and grace in the gift of grandchildren.
- You see His handiwork in the summer sunsets.
- You see His providence every time you sit down to enjoy a meal.
- You see your job as an opportunity to glorify Him by working hard and well.
- You see your paycheck as an opportunity to give to God’s work. You see your marriage through the lens of Christ and the church.
- You see trials and hardships as opportunities to know Him better.
- You see the poor as objects of His special affection.
- You see every human being as an individual created in the image of God and in need of a Savior.
When you have an undivided heart such that you are focused on God, you see Him in everything, because everything is about Him. It’s like you were blind—but now you can see! It is just as God says in Jeremiah 29:13, “You will seek Me and you will find Me when you seek Me with ALL your heart.” What a way to live! I mean, is that soaring or what!? No wonder Jesus says, “Blessed are the pure in heart,” because they will see God—not just someday, but every day!
The Message translation puts it this way: “You’re blessed when you get your inside world put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” The pure in heart are people who live one life, from the inside out, and live it for God.
Okay—one more question and we’re done.
(4) HOW can we be pure in heart?
How can we get our hearts cleansed so that we can see God—KNOW God? Well, in his ignorance man has tried various ways—various philosophical approaches to solve this problem.
Max Lucado has come up with a very humorous illustration of some of the man-made attempts at heart purity—in a very creative story about a freezer full of food that had been left unplugged for several months with the inevitable ROTTEN results. He writes:
“What is the best way to clean out my freezer’s rotten interior? I knew exactly what to do. I got a rag and a bucket of soapy water and began cleaning the outside of the appliance. I was so sure the odor would disappear with a good shine, so I polished and buffed and wiped. When I was through, the freezer could have passed a Marine boot-camp inspection. It was sparkling. But when I opened the door, that freezer was revolting. No problem, I thought. I knew what to do. This freezer needs some friends. I’d stink too, if I had the social life of a machine in a utility room. So I threw a party. I invited all the appliances from the neighborhood kitchens. It was hard work, but we filled our apartment with refrigerators, stoves, microwaves, and washing machines. It was a great party. A couple of toasters recognized each other from the appliance store. Everyone played pin the plug on the socket and had a few laughs about limited warranties. The blenders were the hit though; they really mixed well. I was sure the social interaction would cure the inside of my freezer, but I was wrong. I opened it up and the stink was even worse! Now what? I had another idea. If a polish job wouldn’t do it and a social life didn’t help, I’d give the freezer some status! I bought a Mercedes sticker and stuck it on the door. I installed a cellular phone on the side. I hung a ROLEX on the other side. That freezer was classy. It was stylish. It was cool. I splashed it with expensive cologne and gave it a credit card for clout. Then I backed away and admired the high-class freezer. ‘You just might make the cover of POPULAR MECHANICS’ I told it. It blushed. Then I opened the door, expecting to see a clean inside, but what I saw was putrid—a stinky and repulsive interior. I could think of only one other option. My freezer needed some high-voltage pleasure. I immediately bought it some copies of PLAY-FRIDGE magazine—the publication that displays freezers with their doors open. I rented some films about foxy appliances. My favorite was THE BIG CHILL. I even tried to get my freezer a date with the Westinghouse next door, but she gave him the cold shoulder. But after a few days of supercharged, after-hours entertainment, I opened the door. And I nearly got sick.”
Well, have you tried any of these cover-up treatments: possessions, popularity, pleasure, or status? Did it help? Did it make you feel clean inside? All heads should be shaking left to right because all man’s attempts at dealing with heart problems fail for two reasons. First. they tend to focus on the OUTSIDE and as we’ve already said this morning, our problem is on the INSIDE. And the other reason our attempts don’t work is because since our sin taints every part of us, it is impossible for us to clean our hearts on our own. As Proverbs 20:9 puts it, “Who can say, ‘I have kept my heart pure; I am clean and without sin?’” NO ONE! Man’s attempts at righteousness are like doing heart surgery with dirty surgical instruments. It only spreads infection! Man’s attempts are like finding someone who’s just spent the day inside a dirty chimney and asking them to clean a white sheet with his bare hands. All of man’s attempts fail miserably! They leave our hearts dirtier than before!
No—only the power of our HOLY, PURE God can cleanse our impure hearts. The only way to be pure at heart is to do it His way—through faith in Jesus Christ. You see, this is why He came. On the cross of Calvary, God in the flesh literally opened up His heart so that His blood could pour out and cleanse us from iniquity. Jesus’ promised coming is what God was talking about through His prophet Ezekiel when he said, “You will be clean; I will cleanse you from all your impurities. I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove from you your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh” (Ezekiel 36:25-27) This heart cleansing treatment is what God was referring to through Jeremiah when He said, “I will give them a heart TO KNOW ME, that I am the Lord.” (Jeremiah 24:7) You see, our hearts are made pure when we admit our sin to God and believe in faith that Jesus died for us—claiming the forgiveness and cleansing that is only possible through His blood. As Acts 15:9 says, our hearts are “purified by faith.” This is the only way to GET a pure heart…by becoming a Christian. As Romans 10:9-10 says, “If you confess with your mouth, “Jesus is Lord,” and believe IN YOUR HEART that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. For it is with your HEART that you believe and are justified, and it is with your mouth that you confess and are saved.” But you know…once we make this all-important decision, we still need God’s power. We need His help because we still live in an impure world and we still have a bent for sin. So daily we need to pray as King David did, confessing our sin and saying, “Create in me a clean heart and renew a right spirit in me.” (Psalm 51:10) We need God to give us regular HEART CHECKUPS—times when we pray, “Search me and know my heart. See if there is any wicked way in me and lead me in the way everlasting.” (Psalm 139) We need to read His Word and live by its teaching. Remember Psalm 119:9? It says, “How can a young man keep his way—HIS HEART—pure? By living according to Your Word. I have hidden Your word in MY HEART that I might not sin against You.” We need to have our hearts regularly washed by the water of the Word of God.
You see time with God in prayer and time with God in His Word is like putting our lives through a refinery….it cleanses our thoughts and attitudes helping us to stay pure…single-minded. As someone has put it, “Jesus came to reformat our heart drives.” and as Christians we need that reformatting daily as a way of dealing with all the viruses the world throws at us.
LET US PRAY