Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God
– I see through you.
– My eyes are open.
– I long to see the world.
If a person has experienced their fair share of impurity we might say they’ve “seen it all.” On the other hand, we call the naive person “blinkered”: “Those innocents – bless ’em – they’re blind to real life.” We imagine that the person with a chequered past is someone who sees. Their eyes are wide-open, we think.
Jesus thinks differently. He says that the innocents are the ones who really see. It’s purity that gives you true perception.
Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God. (Matthew 5:8)
Let’s ask some questions about this beatitude.
What does it mean to have a pure heart?
In the bible, the word for pure is most often translated as “clean”. And in the great majority of cases it refers to the priestly verdict of “clean.” While certain animals, actions and people are pronounced “Unclean! Unclean!“, others are pronounced clean. And so Leviticus makes many judgements on the status of our externals – calling them clean or unclean. But just as the external act of circumcision testified to an internal circumcision of the heart, so the priestly verdict of “clean” testifies to the internal reality of a clean heart.
Who has a clean heart?
Well Solomon asks that question:
Who can say, I have made my heart clean, I am pure from my sin? (Proverbs 20:9)
He assumes that the answer is: no-one. No-one can lay claim to a pure heart.
Psalm 24 also puts “pure heart” into a category beyond us:
3 Who shall ascend into the hill of the LORD? or who shall stand in his holy place? 4 He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart; who hath not lifted up his soul unto vanity, nor sworn deceitfully. 5 He shall receive the blessing from the LORD, and righteousness from the God of his salvation. (Psalm 24:3-5)
To be at the heart of heaven one must have a heaven;y heart. A pure heart is the qualification for man to ascend to the Most Holy Place – to receive the Father’s blessings and righteousness.
Notice that Psalm 24 teaches this crucial link between purity and perception. Purity gets you proximity to God and therefore true perception. But who has a pure heart?
Only Christ. He is the divine King of Glory who ascends the hill of the LORD (Psalm 24:7-10). He is the Great High Priest who goes from earth to heaven. Only He is clean on the inside. Therefore Jesus alone gets to see the Father.
And yet here in the sermon on the mount, Jesus speaks to His followers who are poor in spirit, mournful, meek, etc, etc. And yet – like the true High Priest that He is – He declares them clean of heart. And suddenly we get to share in His unique status and privileges. Just as the true Light of the world declares us to be the light of the world (John 8:12; Matthew 5:14), so the true Pure of heart declares us to be pure of heart.
And just as Jesus has seen God (John 6:46), so will His disciples. His priestly verdict brings us in to the communion He shares with His Father. One day we will see God, and even now we know and experience fellowship with the Father in the name of His pure-hearted Son.
We await the fullness of this promise. We await the time when our hearts will be in fact what Christ pronounces them by grace. We await the visio dei – the vision of God which Jesus here guarantees.
What should we do while we await the fulfilment?
Let us marvel at the wonder of Christ’s priestly declaration. He hasn’t just cleansed a leper out there – He has pronounced me clean, in the depths of my being. I know that much darkness still pours forth from my heart (Mark 7: 20-23). But I must remind myself of the heavenly voice that spoke to Peter:
What God hath cleansed, that call not thou common. (Acts 10:15)
And as I seek to live out my cleansed status in the world, I must remember that the link between purity and perception still holds. To the degree that I see the glory of God in the face of Christ, I will enjoy the purity of heart which Jesus has secured for me.
All the while, I cry out with David for my Father to recreate in me what Christ has declared for me:
10 Create in me a clean heart, O God; and renew a right spirit within me. 11 Cast me not away from thy presence; and take not thy holy spirit from me. 12 Restore unto me the joy of thy salvation; and uphold me with thy free spirit. (Psalm 51:10-12)
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