THE TRUE BLESSINGS: A Study of the Sermon on the Mount (Part Six)
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God." Matthew 5:8 (NKJV)
Here again we have a two-fold promise. If we are pure in heart we will not only be blessed, but will also see God. Certainly we know that our fallen nature has precluded us from being pure in heart, so the question arises as to who can claim these promises. Nevertheless, knowing the character of Christ, we acknowledge that He would not preach this to the spiritually impoverished if no hope existed of attainment. He would not discourage us by holding out that which is unachievable. He is not the callous father who keeps raising the bar higher and higher until the child is exasperated and gives up. He understands our limitations, and will surely not press us beyond reasonable expectations.
It must be that somehow, in some way, this can be true for us. For Christ is clearly telling us that it is not vain to set our sights on this goal. His teaching is not for cynics; it is for believers who believe not in themselves, but in Him. It is for those whom the world would say wear "rose-colored glasses" in the spiritual sense, because they believe that there is nothing He cannot do. It is for those who think of the bravery of Shadrach, Meschach and Abednego when the fiery furnace of life is looming before them, without a physical indication of deliverance. It is for those who no matter how much age has crinkled their faces, and trials have tested them, still keep a child-like faith that is expectant of wonders and blessings Christ may give. It is for those who believe the principles of the Bible are greater and higher and more real than anything the material world offers. It is for those who, unlike doubting Thomas, believe without material evidence, and about whom Jesus has said, "Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." John 20:29a.
The Deeper Meanings
The Greek word for pure here is katharos, and it has several meanings. In the Greek vernacular used at the time Jesus preached, it generally meant something that was washed clean. However, it also had several other meanings, such as "purified by fire," "a vine cleansed by pruning and so fitted to bear fruit," and "free from every admixture of what is false; sincere and genuine." These definitions take into consideration the fact that we do not begin pure, but something must happen for us to reach that point. And that purity must not be just a portion of our lives, for by the use of the word "heart" we find that it must rather emanate from the center of our being. The Greek word used for heart here is kardia, and it not only means the organ that is the center for the circulation of blood, but also the center of all spiritual life. It is defined as "the fountain and seat of the thoughts, passions, desires, appetites, affections, purposes, and endeavors" of a person.
Purity and Fellowship
Seeking purity before God begins with wanting it. Under the Old Covenant, there was only one offering in which the believer might share a meal with God, and it was called the Fellowship Offering. Fellowship offerings were sometimes made voluntarily for thanksgiving for particular blessings. However, to fully understand the sanctity of this offering, it is important to grasp that a Jewish believer in biblical times was not allowed to eat with just anyone, and sharing a meal was considered an intimate matter. He could not share a meal with another believer who had a reputation for unfaithfulness or dishonesty. Now let us extend that to the thought of sharing a meal with God. We see that purity is a paramount requirement for fellowship, for sitting down and sharing a meal with God is a stupendous concept. It is, in fact, outlandish to a world devoid of spiritual reality, and even to believers who are superficial in their beliefs.
To some extent, Communion replaces the Fellowship Offering under the New Covenant. In Old Testament times, the Jews carefully guarded the temple, so that no one who was "unclean" or who was a Gentile (unbeliever) might enter in. Guards were in place, and those who did not belong were quickly dispatched. The Fellowship Offering was made with all reverence and the offerer had to meet stringent requirements just to be allowed access to the temple. Once there, he did not act in a frivolous manner, but made his offering with all solemnity and respect for the One who would condescend to share a meal with him.
The Fellowship Offering speaks to us of sharing a meal with God. However, Communion represents something more profound and personal. We know that God no longer dwells in the temple ? but do we know where He is now? If He is absent from the Mercy Seat and not in unapproachable light between the cherubim, where shall we find Him? The veil that kept the Jews out of the Holy of Holies, noted by the historian Josephus to be four inches thick, ripped when Jesus was crucified, exemplifying our new access to the King of kings. However, is He only in heaven now? No, He is not just there ? He is also in our hearts. We are now the temple of the Holy Spirit. And we must guard our hearts as carefully and vigilantly as the Jews guarded the temple in Jerusalem. For unlike the Fellowship Offering, when we take Communion it speaks to us not only of sharing a meal with God, but internalizing Him ? renewing our relationship of His presence in our being. For Jesus tells us:
"Whoever eats My flesh and drinks My blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. For My flesh is food indeed, and My blood is drink indeed. He who eats My flesh and drinks My blood abides in Me, and I in him." John 6:54-56 (NKJV)
The new relationship under the New Covenant requires a deeper purity. Behavior controlled not by the Law but by the guidance of the Holy Spirit writing in our hearts is more specific and precise. It allows us day by day, hour by hour, minute by minute guidance, and this supernatural phenomena ? this new standing and prestige in our relationship with Christ, requires unprecedented concern for how we live. As we walk this fallen earth, which is destined for judgment and destruction, we carry with us the imprimatur of a Holy God. We become representatives of the only chance this world has ? the only cure for its ills. We represent a new reason for living, and the only resource for life beyond that given to frail bodies quickly disintegrating back to dust. Yes, a magnificent and incomprehensible manifestation of God exists in our own persona. The Israelite under the Old Covenant would tremble in fear lest he should find himself in the Holy of Holies, because the presence of the Almighty and the greatness of His purity would mean instant death. Only the High Priest was allowed into that place once a year on the Day of Atonement in order to make the proper sacrifice. A rope was tied around the High Priest’s ankle in case he disobeyed the commands of the ceremony, was struck dead, and had to be pulled out. How much more should we tremble in fear and awe at the understanding that He resides in us?
Yes, this is weighty, indeed. So much so that we read that there are extreme consequences for taking Communion while we are impure:
"But let a man examine himself, and so let him eat of the bread and drink of the cup. For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgment to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body. For this reason many are weak and sick among you, and many sleep. For if we would judge ourselves, we would not be judged. But when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, that we may not be condemned with the world." 1 Corinthians 11:28-32 (NKJV)
It is such a solemn matter that one must carefully examine himself for purity before partaking of the Lord’s Supper. We cannot internalize that blessed representation of Him if we are harboring sin, without dreadful results. These results may not always be apparent in the physical realm, but let us not doubt that they are betokened spiritually. If we shrug and take communion though we are unworthy, our physical bodies may not always reveal it, but our spiritual health will be in jeopardy. Let us not doubt there is grave danger in ignoring this warning, but there is also a wonderful promise for heeding it:
"He who covers his sins will not prosper, but whoever confesses and forsakes them will have mercy." Proverbs 28:13 (NKJV)
Let a Man Examine Himself
Interestingly, the word used here for examine is from the Greek word, dokimos. In the ancient world, there was no banking system such as we have today. All money was made from metal, and its worth was based on the value of that metal. In other words, the money itself had the value; it did not stand for something else, as our paper money does today. Consequently, it was quite important that the money had the correct weight that the offerer claimed it to have.
Human nature being what it is, many people began to shave metal from the money, which was especially easy to do with gold, since it is a very soft metal. In one century in Athens more than eighty laws were passed against shaving money, but it continued nevertheless. Eventually it got to the point where very few people could be trusted, so widespread was this deception. However, there were some men of honor who would only put full weighted money into circulation. These men were called "dokimos" or "approved." They were the minority, as such men generally are, but they stood out because of their integrity.
Search the Whole House
"Seven days you shall eat unleavened bread. On the first day you shall remove leaven from your houses. For whoever eats leavened bread from the first day until the seventh day, that person shall be cut off from Israel." Exodus 12:15 (NKJV)
Another way of understanding this is to look at its representation in the Old Testament. The Jews were admonished to keep the Feast of Unleavened Bread for seven days after the Passover Feast. The leaven stood for sin, and there was a ceremony in which they searched their houses to make certain there was no leaven in it. Today, orthodox Jews sometimes hide some leaven (yeast) in their houses and then tell their children to search for it. The children are pleased when they find the leaven so that the feast may be kept.
The concept for us is that we must search our own house. In fact, the word used here for "houses" is the Hebrew word bayith, and it also means human body and temple. We are to search our hearts and cleanse the temple. However, the command to remove the leaven means that we must have some ? it is axiomatic that it exists. And if we are to find all the leaven, it will take some time to complete our quest for it. For we read:
"The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?" Jeremiah 17:9
The number seven, which typically speaks to us of earthly completeness or perfection, herewith connotes the understanding that the search must be thorough. It must also be with sincerity and in truth ? not superficially, for we read:
"Therefore let us keep the feast, not with old leaven, nor with the leaven of malice and wickedness, but with the unleavened bread of sincerity and truth." 1 Corinthians 5:8
Understanding this deep truth is of immense importance. We may see some of our sins, but we are blinded to many of them. It takes the light of the Holy Spirit to reveal our iniquity to us, and seeking such knowledge is generally not our favorite pastime. We need to understand that through our devious self-rationalization processes, we always seem correct to ourselves, even as the Scripture says:
"Every way of a man is right in his own eyes, but the Lord weighs the hearts." Proverbs 21:2 (NKJV)
It’s the Culture, Saint
We do not reach purity by "covering" our sins, but by exposing them. And understanding that they are not all evident is the first step. One of the major reasons we miss them is that we are greatly influenced by the culture we have been brought up in. We tend to be blind to things that are commonly done in our society, wrong as they may be, because they have gained a stronghold among a majority. For example, when Gladys Alyward went to China as a missionary in the 1930’s, the Chinese practiced foot binding. Foot binding entailed wrapping the feet with cloth so tightly that they would not grow or develop normally with the rest of the body. It was done to young girls, who became virtual cripples as they matured. This practice was completely absurd, but it was steeped in long tradition. Only after Gladys pointed out the harm of this to the Chinese authorities (and with the intervention of God) was it finally stopped.
Much of American culture revolves around entertainment that is abhorrent to God and antithetical to Christian principles. God destroyed the world because of violence (Genesis 6:11), and yet it is acted out in increasingly gory detail on screens around the country. The Bible is clear about modesty (1 Timothy 2:9), and yet women have been brainwashed to desire attention rather than shun it; consequently, we find tight and revealing clothing in the church. The Bible tells us we should not look on the nakedness of others and yet many Christians regularly watch movies in which people are unclothed (Leviticus 18, Habakkuk 2:15, etc.). We are told not to lust; however, entertainment today is filled with love stories that reek with lust and impure relationships. We are taught to be generous and take up the cross and deny ourselves, but the culture invites us to indulge ourselves in every way.
Will the culture steal our purity? The answer is that for many it already has. When our minds are filled with sinful images and thoughts from perverted entertainment, and we live "in the manner of the gentiles;" that is, in selfish hedonism rather than service for God, how can we then expect intimate fellowship with the One to whom the angels cry, "holy, holy, holy"? As we noted in the first teaching in this series, our minds need to be renewed by the word of God, for this is how Jesus desires to cleanse the Church:
"…that He might sanctify and cleanse her with the washing of water by the word," Ephesians 5:26 (NKJV)
Moreover, He clearly tells us:
"If I do not wash you, you have no part with Me." John 13:8
The Plumb Line
Before remodeling an old house, we walk through it and nothing looks particularly crooked, even though we have been informed that the structure is sagging and has unevenly subsided over the years. We are satisfied that the house is fairly straight until we come to the day that a new door must be installed. The new one is perfectly straight and square, and as we attempt to install it, we find that it cannot be hung because the opening left from the old one is not square. Our eyes did not perceive this before, but now that we have something perfectly straight, we realize how crooked the walls in the house are.
In the same manner, we do not realize how far we are from the truth of the Bible until we read it literally and seriously. A plumb line is a string with a weight on the end of it, that can be used to determine if a wall is straight or not. In Israel, thousands of years ago, the country was divided between Judah in the south and Israel in the north. At the time of the Book of Amos, the Northern Kingdom was seriously immoral. God called the prophet Amos, who had been a farmer, to prophesy to the Northern Kingdom. We read in Amos 7:8:
"And the Lord said to me, "Amos, what do you see?" And I said, ?A plumb line.? Then the Lord said: ?Behold, I am setting a plumb line in the midst of My people Israel; I will not pass by them anymore.?"
When God says He will no longer "pass by," this is a reference to The Passover. When God executed judgment on Pharaoh, the Hebrews were "passed over" for judgment because of their relationship with God, represented by the forgiveness given due to the sacrifice of the Passover Lamb, who would ultimately be Jesus Christ. The plumb line measures where we are in reference to God’s commands. The purer we are, the closer to that line we come. And the closer we come to His purity, the greater the revelation we have of Him.
The promise is that with purity we will "see God," and the Greek word is optanomai, which also means "to behold" and "to appear" or "allow oneself to appear." David referenced this when he said:
"My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When shall I come and appear before God?" Psalms 42:2
The double meaning of Him appearing to us, and us appearing before Him, speaks to us of becoming transparent before Him ? admitting all of our shortcomings. The forthcoming purity He gives us is not due to our lack of sin ? if that were the case, none of us would have hope. Rather it is because we have looked at our soiled hearts and desire change and cleansing. That desire elicits His forgiveness and purification. The dirt must be spied to be cleaned. We must "appear before Him," meaning come without pretense or hypocrisy, and when we are cleansed and clothed with His righteousness, we will behold Him to a greater extent.
When we seek Him in this manner, we need to be ready to "gird up our loins" and listen to what the Holy Spirit is telling us, even if we do not like it. We must learn to bear the horrible truth of our failures, for in doing so we are delivered from guilt and shame. The Israelites shunned this in the wilderness. God attempted to speak to them earnestly about their sin, and their reaction was:
"Then they said to Moses, ?You speak with us, and we will hear; but let not God speak with us, lest we die.?" Exodus 20:19 (NKJV)
Amos faced the same problem, as the servant anointed to rebuke an entire kingdom and warn them:
"Then Amaziah the priest of Bethel sent to Jeroboam king of Israel, saying, "Amos has conspired against you in the midst of the house of Israel. The land is not able to bear all his words.?" Amos 7:10
Yes, the land certainly could not bear his words, for they were not the words of Amos, but of God, Almighty. Amos was simply God’s mouthpiece. Amaziah reacted because he was never supposed to be a priest in the first place. Beginning with Jeroboam’s apostasy, Israel made men priests who were not from the priestly line ? men who were not qualified for ministry (see Kings 13:33), but were appointed for political reasons. Amos counted for nothing politically, but his spiritual power was overwhelming. He knew he was preaching dangerously, but the job had to be done, and he made the sacrifice to be obedient, regardless of the circumstances. Perhaps now the time has come for us also to preach dangerously ? for the threat from heaven for holding back God’s words is of greater concern than the threats from false ministers and a lukewarm church. Moreover, if we are truly His servants, can we hold back and keep our integrity? Jeremiah could not, even facing tremendous persecution:
"Then I said, ?I will not make mention of Him, nor speak anymore in His name.? But His word was in my heart like a burning fire shut up in my bones; I was weary of holding it back, and I could not." Jeremiah 20:9 (NKJV)
Preach it, Pastor!
When the Passover lamb was prepared, which speaks to us of Jesus, the command was:
"Eat not of it raw, nor sodden at all with water, but roast with fire; his head with his legs, and with the purtenance thereof." Exodus 12:9 (KJV)
Jesus is the Word that became flesh. And here we see that we are to serve the Word not "sodden at all with water," meaning not watered down at all. It is not to be diluted even a slight amount ? but with the full original strength. To get others to see the truth, to purify them, the Bible must be taught without compromise. Every Christian is to some extent a preacher ? parents are to their children, and times occur for everyone to proclaim the truth. However, pastors have the greatest responsibility. Pastors, in similitude to priests under the Old Covenant, are still vested with the duty of standing between the congregation and God. Not in the sense that one cannot go directly to God through Jesus Christ ? there is no need for a pastor in this regard, and there should be no misunderstanding in this matter. Rather, it is in the sense that the pastor is endowed with the gifts to bring revelation to those under his care. Many more will "see God" if they hear His pure words from the pulpit.
Not Wanted: John the Baptist
The following is a true story. In a large evangelical denomination, a man was applying for preaching credentials. This man excelled in his understanding of the Bible, and was gifted in many ways. However, references were required for his ordination, and one spoke of him as a "John the Baptist."
One might consider that a fine compliment, considering that Jesus said John was the best of men born to women. However, that was not how this group took it. There was much concern that this potential pastor would not be "seeker sensitive" enough. Discussions ensued, and although the credentials were reluctantly granted, many thought he might be "too strong" to preach in our modern day.
We have come far indeed ? far from where we should be, when a man who is compared to John the Baptist is considered possibly unfit for ministry. However, each of us should also ask ourselves ? would we sit under John the Baptist? Would we want to hear the truth of our shortcomings, if he communicated them in a manner that most would consider insensitive? Would we consider his manner insulting, and walk away with our feathers ruffled, because we no longer felt as holy as we did when he began speaking? John was kept out of the synagogues and instead preached in the wilderness in his day. Only those who were willing to face the truth about themselves traveled out to meet him. Do we want purity as much as they did? "John" is once again out of favor in many churches today, and we have to seek him much as the Israelites did in the 1st Century. However, if the thought of hearing him repels us, then we cannot expect to reach the ideal Christ is teaching in this Beatitude.
The Search for Purity
Counterfeits who shave the truth from God’s word will not bask in the full revelation of who He is. Only deep, true repentance prepares us for an encounter with the Holy One. Looking deep hurts, and this is why Christ said:
"And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffers violence, and the violent take it by force." Matthew 11:12 (NKJV)
However, with true repentance there is always joy in the morning. Moreover, we cement a friendship that is the greatest relationship we can ever have:
"He who loves purity of heart and has grace on his lips, the king will be his friend." Proverbs 22:11 (NKJV)