Blessed are The Pure in Heart

Though the modern man and woman no longer scales Mount Olympus looking for Zeus, both still yearn to experience the divine. When their plane flying thousands of feet above the mountains dives uncontrollably to the earth, the modern person still longs to know that the blackness of death will open to the glories of heaven. Despite the advancements of technology, philosophy, and political theory, the human condition remains the same. We long to see God.

While technology has not altered the soul’s yearning for something more, it has rechanneled it. Men such as Augustine, Luther, and others have repeatedly documented the follies of attempting to find God through animal sacrifices, ritualistic chants, and sacred pilgrimages. In his massive volume entitled, The City of God, Augustine chronicled the futility of paganism and concluded that the pagan sacrifices of Rome “do nothing to either injure those whom they hate or to benefit those whom they love.” Following the lead of Augustine, western men and women have stopped looking for the divine in nature and began searching for the divine within their souls.

As the platonic philosophers of old, people have begun to believe that each soul has been seeded by the universe with a spark of divinity. To connect with the divine, the modern soul thought it must immerse itself into its own thoughts, impulses, and emotions, believing such activities would lead the soul back down the pathway to god.

The lurch towards the god within has also infiltrated the church. Christians of all stripes and sizes frequently base their ministries, teachings, and decisions upon their own mystical thoughts, citing their personal encounters with the divine.

In the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus diverges from the preoccupation with self and directs his listeners to the path of purity, declaring, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God (Matt 5:8).” To see God, men and women must become pure.

Jesus and the Impure

Though direct, Jesus’s statement always proves troubling. In stark contrast to the pop song which proclaims our souls to be both broken and beautiful, Jesus asserts our souls to be broken and vile. A few chapters later in Matthew 15, Jesus defines the heart as being the source of all human trouble. He said, “For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a person. But to eat with unwashed hands does not defile anyone (Matt 15:19-20).” Jesus does not believe the human soul is a diamond mine to be carefully explored and excavated. He proclaims it to be a storehouse of manure that must be cleansed. In other words, Jesus requires his followers to be that which they naturally are not: pure.

Does Heart = Mind?

At this juncture, some theologians have found hope in a modernist understanding of the analogy of the heart. While they admit the things of the heart such as emotions and feelings are broken by sin, these theologians believe the human intellect has survived the brokenness of the world. If men and women will but think, they can find purity.

Sadly for them, Jesus did not equate the heart with children’s valentine’s day cards that say, “I love you. Be Mine.” When Jesus spoke of the heart, he spoke of the essence of a person. It contains all notions of thinking, reasoning, feeling, understanding, and interpreting. Jesus has implied that the very center of human personality is fallen. Even human thought is prone to error and mistakes (Rom 1-2). There is none righteous no not one. No man or woman can ascend to heaven for no mind is pure. No heart is pure.

From Sin to Purity

Thankfully, the God who calls his followers to do the impossible does the impossible for them. When Jesus died upon the cross, he offered his blood as the final purifying sacrifice. When men and women in ancient Jewish world committed sins or developed a significant skin disease, they had to offer sacrifices for their cleansing (Lev. 14-15). Through the blood of birds and sheep, the unclean were cleaned and allowed to commune with God’s people. Through Jesus’s sacrifice upon the cross, his blood cleanses us from all sin. As Jesus told Peter before he died, Jesus’s blood makes his children “completely clean (John 13:10).” Those who understand their spiritual poverty, mourn their sins, and embrace humility, pursuing righteousness will find the comfort of divine forgiveness and they will be cleansed from their sins.

What is Purity?

Though the believer must still pray for the kingdom to come and for God’s will to be done in his or her life, they know they will one day attain true perfection for they have been washed in the blood of the lamb. The hope of being perfectly like Jesus tomorrow propels the Christian to purity today. The apostle John writes, “We know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is. And everyone who thus hopes in him purifies himself as he is pure (1 John 3:2-3).” Those who have been washed in the blood of the lamb publicly follow God attending church, praying, and serving their brothers and sisters in Christ. But they do more. They welcome correction and confess sin. Instead of rationalizing their greed, lust, or anger, they confess those faults to God; they pray for deliverance, and welcome accountability and change.

The British pastor and friend of Billy Graham, John Stott, helpfully summed up the concept of the pure in heart writing,

The pure in heart are those whose life, public and private, is transparent before God and others. Their very heart – including their thoughts and motives – is pure, unmixed with anything devious, underhanded, or sordid. Hypocrisy and deceit are repugnant to them; they are without deceit.

Unlike the Pharisees and scribes who did great deeds to earn the applause of their neighbors while inwardly running amuck with covetousness, lust, and pride, the pure in heart are sincerely pure both without and within. As they sit in their easy chair or mindlessly stare at the shower wall as the water runs through their hair, their mind does not tolerate ungodly humor, provocative daydreams, or small amounts of deception. As theologian D.A. Carson noted even in neutral, the people of God pursue purity. Jesus produces purity.

And purity leads to unhindered access to God. Though men such as Moses and Peter have caught glimpses of God’s glory, no human being has fully encountered the glory of God on earth. God told Moses in Exodus 33:20, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live.” The apostle John describes Jesus as the full manifestation of God’s Truth and Grace. Still those who beheld Jesus did not see the full glory of God. When Jesus did pull back the curtain in Matthew 17:2, the gospel writer said Jesus’s “face shone like the sun and his clothes become white as light.” No one has seen God, but the pure will see him soon. Those who are washed in the Jesus’s blood and who have pure hearts will behold that which Moses could not behold, the glory of God. When the soul feels tempted to sin, we do not simply gamble human relationships or earthly gains. We risk the most exclusive ticket in the universe which grants accesses to the presence of God.

As we cling to that ticket, we experience God daily through the Scriptures and prayer. We also get glimpse of Jesus when we watch our church sung of our savior on Sunday mornings and when our sister in Christ extends mercy to her mother-in-law. Those who obediently follow God regularly see him as they live out their faith eagerly looking forward to the day with then will see God in all his glory.

Final Thoughts

To discover God, the soul must not look within but without to the Scriptures. Their as it encounters Jesus, it will find the pathway to heaven. In the text of the Bible, the heart will find the blood of Christ which cleanses the heart making all things pure, securing our accesses to heaven. As Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

Blessed Are the Merciful

Mercy. We don’t use the word much. But we should.

The men and women of Jesus’s day were well acquainted with the word. When the sick needed healing, they cried, “Have mercy on us, Son of David (Matt 9:7).” The apostle Paul regularly spoke of mercy, opening his letters to his protégé in the faith, Timothy, with these words, “Mercy, and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Lord (1 Tim 1:2; 2 Tim 1:2).” Moreover, Jesus made mercy one of the characteristics of kingdom membership when he said, “Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.” To know Jesus one must know mercy.

Wayne Grudem succinctly and helpful defines mercy as “God’s goodness to those in misery or distress.” In other words, the merciful are souls who demonstrate the love of God to those suffering misery or distress. To do this well, we must understand how the mercy of God has remedied the human condition.

Why Everybody Needs Mercy?

Though the average person tends to assume the recent displays of evil seen in the news are a new phenomenon, the world’s problems began in Genesis 3 long before industrialization, the sexual revolution, or race riots were a thing. In Genesis 1-2, God created the world in perfect goodness and installed Adam and Eve as the rulers of earth. Shortly into their reign, the first couple decided to rebel against God, cutting off both themselves and the universe from communing with the Divine. Brokenness replaced the goodness of God. Everything from Adam and Eve’s souls to the blades of grass that they walked upon fell under the curse of sin. God told Eve “I will surely multiply you pain in childbearing (Gen 3).” To Adam God said, “cursed is the ground because of you…By the seat of your face you shall eat bread, till you return to the ground, for out of it you were taken; for you were dust, and to dust you shall return.” Death had settled upon the earth.

For this reason, children come into the world stillborn. Summer breezes get blown into tornados that destroy lives. And unthreatening cells mutate into cancerous tumors that kill our loved ones. The whole world longs for redemption (8:20-23).

The human mind is also cursed. Since the Fall, men and women have been unable to access the light of divine truth. Rather as the apostle Paul wrote in Ephesians 4:18 all men and women have a “darkened…understanding, [and are] alienated from the life of God because of the ignorance that is in them, due to their hardness of heart.” The hardness of the heart propels every soul towards selfishness. Marriages break apart, crooks have their wages garnished by the IRS, and churches split over the color of the carpet because men and women commit sins. In other words, the brokenness of this world affects everything from our healthcare to how we approach relationships.

Though men and women correctly work against the effects of Fall, creating new drugs and advocating for governmental reforms, they cannot finally overcome the consequences associated with the cursing of the ground and the corruption of the soul. The church father Athanasius astutely pointed out over a thousand years ago,

“You cannot put straight in others what is warped in yourself.”

The recent failed marriage of two billionaire philanthropist brings this reality to home. On its own, the fallen soul cannot escape sin and its disposition to sins.

The consequence for both is Death.

How Does God Save us?

When God looks down upon the human race, he feels compassion for his creation. He descends from heaven not to consume sinful souls with the fires of his righteous judgement but to rescue them from their sorrow and misery. He comes as an infant in a stable to be the fulfillment of all righteousness. He encounters sin and sins and overcomes both. When men and women cried out to Jesus for healing from their physical ailments, Jesus healed them. The blind saw, the lame walked, and the lepers became clean. Though Jesus never sinned, the sins of others led him to the cross and to death. But death does not win. Jesus burst out of the grave alive, conquering both sin and sins. Paul beautifully sums up the mercy of God in Ephesians 2:4-5 writing, “But God, being rich in mercy, because of the great love with which he loved us, even when we were dead in our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ—by grace you have been saved.” Through his mercy which is closely tied to his love and grace, God delivers sinners from their misery and distress.

He also does it freely without condition. His mercy is not dependent upon our mercy. Paul writes, “he saved us not because of works done by us in righteousness but according to his mercy, by the washing of regeneration and renewal of the Holy Spirit (Titus 3:5).” As the soldiers drove the nails through his hands, Jesus prayed, “Father forgive them, for they know not what they do (Lk 23:34).” Jesus came not to save the nice, the gentle, and those disposed to signing autographs for young fans. In Matthew 9:13, Jesus said, “I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.” God dispenses his mercy freely without consideration of our past failures. God holds no grudges. The moment we approach him, he runs to us. The God of the Bible is forever merciful. Come to him.

Keep coming to Jesus

The soul that has found forgiveness through the mercy, love, and grace of God should never stop seeking mercy. Though the human heart proves fickle, uniting itself to almost anything that catches its eye, God’s character and passions remain fixed. If we fall into gross sin, stumble away from the church, or feel far away from God, we need only to join David who pleaded in Psalm 51:1: “Have mercy on me, O God, according to your steadfast love; according to your abundant mercy blot out my transgressions.” God’s mercy last well beyond our conversion.

While God’s mercy certainly deals with our sin, it also applies to our physical bodies. The Jesus who healed lepers still heals. Though healing often comes through medicine, the success of that medicine depends upon the mercy of God. All good things come from the lord, including physical healing.


What About Unanswered Prayers

Hearts who have lost a loved one could be tempted to object and question God’s mercy for it would have seemed to have failed. The question is not one of failure but of manifestation. In Matthew 6, Jesus implores his listeners to pray for the kingdom of God to come. In other words, God’s kingdom is not fully manifested. Though God saves sinners, the redeemed still sin. After Jesus’s death, Paul had to rebuke Peter for showing ungodly favoritism. In the same way, sickness and illness remain after Christ’s ascension. Just as believers still sin, they still get sick and die. Though we do not understand the limited display of God’s mercy in this earth, we do know that his mercy will be fully revealed one day soon. Isaiah writes of that day, “I will rejoice in Jerusalem and be glad in my people; no more shall be heard in it the sound of weeping and the cry of distress. No more shall there be in it an infant who lives but a few days, or an old man who does not fill out his days, for the young man shall die a hundred years old, and the sinner a hundred years old shall be accursed (Is 65:19-20).” The God who triumphed over the tomb will one day wipe out all sin and every evidence of sin. Our God is merciful.

How God’s Mercy Informs Our Mercy

The soul that has experience God’s mercy through the deliverance from sin and sins will readily seek to deliver others from the miseries of sin and sins. In the parable of the unjust steward who refuses to show, Jesus offers these words of condemnation, “You wicked servant! I forgave you all that debt because you pleaded with me. And should not have mercy on your fellow servant as I had mercy on you?” The answer is unquestionably, “yes.”

To be merciful, souls must extend forgiveness and help to others irrespective of their circumstances. The Pharisees who attained a level of false righteousness refused to do this. Though they faithfully attended church, they refused to help the hungry or the sick on the Sabbath (Matt 12:7). They could quickly point to the commonsense notion that the hungry and the sick should have planned better. Had the hungry worked harder, invested better, and spent less, their life would not be in state of disarray. Similarly, if the sick had just followed their doctors advice, moved in with their children, or simply eaten better, they would not be in a state of crisis. Instead of mercy, they offered condemnation and anger. “Why did you do that?” As the famed reformer Martin Luther noted,

True holiness is merciful and sympathetic, but all that false holiness can do is rage and fume.

Those who know the mercy of God, stop fuming and help those in distress and sorrow. This is the grand sign of salvation as Jesus notes in Matthew 24:34-36. The righteous are not those who lead political movements, preach crusades, or gain 10K followers on Twitter. The righteous are defined by simple acts of mercy: “Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” When Christians encounter needs, they should meet those needs.

Christians should also address the needs of the soul. Paul described his ministry as a ministry of grace and mercy (2 Cor. 4:1). The merciful preaching of the cross causes men and women “to be born again to a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the cross.” The gospel alone saves. Those who have encountered the mercy of Christ will share the saving mercy with those who are suffering.

Blessed are the merciful for they shall receive mercy.

Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness

Those thoughts that keep us tossing and turning long after the kids of gone to bed and after the smartphones have dimmed are not insignificant. They possess a profound power to shape and direct our lives for years if not decades. For this reason, the wise king Solomon charged his son to “Keep your heart with all diligence, for from it flow the springs of life (Prv. 4:23).”

The question then becomes, “how do we keep our heart with all diligence.” What should serve as the guiding star of life? Or to say it another way, to what desire should all other desires bend?

According to Jesus, the soul’s primary desire should be for righteousness. Matthew 5:6 records, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”

Hungering and Thirsting

By associating righteousness with human survival, Jesus reminds us that we are more than material beings. We have primal needs that extend beyond the bounds of coffee and steaks. As Jesus told the devil in Matthew 4:4, “Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.” Even if we can secure large, comfortable houses and pipelines to the healthiest of foods, our bodies will still die. Soul satisfying contentment cannot be found in earthly pursuits regardless of one’s nobility or essential qualities. As Jesus reminds us, “Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life (Jn 6:27).” Human beings were designed for more than food and water. They were designed to glorify God through the pursuit of righteousness.

By righteousness, Matthew implies right or holy living. This proves problematic for us because we are by nature sinners. We die because our physical and spiritual natures are broken.

But Jesus does not intend to convey the idea that sinners must pursue righteousness to gain their salvation. We are not to work our way to heaven.

Matthew claims that Jesus has fulfilled all righteousness, pleasing the Father through paying the penalty for our sin (Mt 3:15, 17). The apostle Peter affirms the Matthew narrative writing, “He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds we have been healed (1 Pet 2:24).” The one who has mourned his or her sin and found comfort in Christ finds eternal comfort. Jesus pays the penalty for all of our sins and clothes us in his righteousness. Those who drink of the waters of salvation “will never be thirsty again.” There is nothing left for us to pay off.

The ability to hunger and thirst after righteousness comes only after we repent of our sins and place our trust in the work of Jesus’s death and resurrection. The famed Welsh expositor, Martyn Lloyd-Jones, beautifully summed up the sentiment of this beatitude when he wrote, “It means that one’s supreme desire in life is to know God and to be in fellowship with Him, to walk with God the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit in the light.”

What Should We Eat?

The question then becomes how does one find such righteousness? The context of Jesus’s sermon proves helpful. A few verses later in Matthew 5:17-20, Jesus affirms the centrality of the Bible, declaring that those who teach and do his commandments “will be called great in the kingdom of heaven.” Such a love of God’s law goes beyond the performance driven righteousness of the Pharisees who washed their hands while they held bitterness in their hearts. Those who love the laws of God do not dismiss them as too hard. Nor do they regulate them to something that happens once or twice a week. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness long to know and obey God’s Word. As the Psalmist writes in Psalm 119:93, “I will never forget your precepts for by them you have given me life.” Those who know the comfort of Christ will reside in the Bible.

When the righteousness have to make decisions about careers, schools, churches, homes, and how to handle depression, they look to the Word of God for wisdom. so that they may do what God would have them do. The righteousness of God as found in the Law of God should be the believer’s shining star whose gravitational pull shapes the soul’s universe.

Satisfaction

Those who genuinely hunger and thirst after righteousness find satisfaction. Just as the crowd of 5000 ate Jesus’s miraculous meal “and were satisfied,” those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will always leave the spiritual table full (Matt 14:20). Souls that find themselves forever aching with hunger pains have either intentionally or unintentionally ceased to feed on righteousness of Jesus. Instead of pursuing Christ, they have begun to eat from the garbage of sinful desires. Christians who live for money can lose their investments. Those of us who live for sex and relationships, can discover the displeasures of age and loneliness. But those who live for righteousness find satisfaction today and tomorrow. As the psalmist noted, young lions, “suffer want and hunger,” but those who seek the Lord lack no good thing (Ps 34:11).

The pursuit of righteousness also results in collateral blessings. Jesus notes in Matthew 6:33 “But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” The soul needs food and clothing. Hearts need meaningful relationships. The pursuit of righteousness does not exclude us from all earthly blessings. Rather, it is the source of all earthly blessing for it keeps us from making God’s good gifts into idols. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness need not hunger for anything, finding hope and contentment in Christ.

The discovery of satisfaction leads to an increased appetite for the things of God. Just as a football player on a championship caliber team would long for more and more wins after winning the first two games on his schedule, the believer should continually hunger and thirst righteousness. As the apostle Paul notes, “Not that I have already obtained this or am already perfect, but I press on to make it my own, because Christ Jesus has made me his own (Phil 3:12).” The Christian who has had his or her sins paid in full by the blood of Christ will long for the righteousness of Jesus with more and more intensity. And the experience of righteousness will lead to an even greater desire for purity which will in-turn be satisfied and producing an even great longing for God.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.