WELCOME TO THEOLOGICAL PERSPECTIVES

 

SERMON ON THE MOUNT: PART SIX

PRESENTED ON 04-05-08

 

       We have discussed the first five Beatitudes and found them to be highly instructive as to the manner in which we are to respond to the grace of God.  You notice I said respond to the grace of God and not facilitate the grace of God.  Many look at the teaching found in the Sermon on the Mount and come away with the impression that these are the things we must do in order to please God so He will grant us salvation.  There is no doubt that God wants us to be Sermon on the Mount Christians.  There is no doubt that God is pleased when we behave according to the instruction Jesus gave to the crowds that gathered to here Him on that Galilean hill side nearly 2000 years ago.

       But, as I have explained as we have proceeded with our discussion of the Beatitudes, living our lives in harmony with what Jesus instructed does not give us brownie points with God so that God looks at how wonderful our behavior is and concludes that we deserve salvation and eternal life.  It is very apparent when we look at all the dynamics associated with salvation, we find that salvation is a free gift that comes to us through the sacrifice of Christ and there is nothing we do or can do that qualifies us for that gift.  The giving of the gift of salvation was determined by God before the world was made and human life was created.  The scriptures reveal that Jesus Christ was crucified before the foundation of the world.  In the mind of God it was a done deal before the world began.  Before man was created, God knew man would sin and a perfect sacrifice for sin would be necessary and that perfect sacrifice would be Jesus Christ. 

       We are drawn to God by His incredible grace manifested in the incredible sacrifice that His Son, Jesus the Christ was willing to provide.  It is because of that incredible grace and incredible sacrifice that we repent and continue to repent throughout our lives.  To repent is to change.  Change is our expression of thankfulness, our acknowledgement of the will of God for our lives and our heartfelt desire to be in harmony with that will.  The Beatitudes are all about change.  They are all about what our response should be to the grace of God

       I offer this overview of how salvation is accomplished because the next Beatitude we are going to discuss is one that is sometimes seen to suggest that unless we accomplish a certain level of purity, a certain level of holiness and sanctification, we will not see God and if we don’t see God we won’t be receiving eternal life.  The sixth beatitude is,  "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God."

       Pure is a word that is used frequently in our culture.  Advertisers hustle their products as pure, claiming pure pleasure, pure satisfaction and pure ingredients.  Animal breeders produce pure-bred animals from dogs and cats to cattle. We are all familiar with pure gold and silver having high value. We know a pure diamond is so much more valuable than one that has defects. Pure water is sought after and polluted water is avoided.  People often want to wear clothing of pure fabrics such as silk, cotton and wool because they are exquisite in appearance, comfort and enduring.

       The English dictionary definition of pure is something conforming to a standard of quality. When a thing is pure, it is unmixed, unalloyed, unadulterated, uncontaminated or undefiled by anything foreign to itself. Depending upon the context, it can take on such senses as clear, entire, true, perfect, sterling, chaste, immaculate, spotless, untainted, good, moral, impeccable, honorable, principled, ethical, guiltless, flawless, sincere and many more such adjectives.  The Greek word for pure found in this Beatitude is defined in about the same manner as the English.  This word appears 22 times in the NT and is translated as pure or clean. 

       Being pure or clean is not some new concept that Jesus was introducing.  Under the Old Covenant we find that to be pure and clean is to be holy before God.  There were many ritualistic regulations that had to be practiced in order to keep the Israelites ceremonially clean.  There were all kinds of washings and purification rituals that had to be performed regularly in order to keep the Israelites distinguished as separate form the nations around them.  These became known as holiness laws and God required adherence to these laws to keep Israel in a constant state of awareness as to their special status among the nations.  Being clean or pure became synonymous with being holy or separate which is how holiness is defined in scripture.  Jesus said the pure in heart will see God. The writer to the Hebrews said:

       Hebrews 12:14:  Make every effort to live in peace with all men and to be holy; without holiness no one will see the Lord.

       Jesus Christ and the writer to the Hebrews appear to be saying similar things. Jesus said the pure in heart will see God with the implication being that if you’re not pure in heart you won’t see God.  The writer to the Hebrews says without holiness you won’t see the Lord.

       When you see how the word holy appears in context in the numerous scriptures where it is found, it often gives the strong impression of something or someone that is separate from the ordinary or something dedicated to such separation.  God certainly wants us to separate from the ordinary.  Under the Old Covenant, being holy or clean before God involved a great deal of ceremonial ritual.  Under the New Covenant, being clean and holy before God is a matter of the heart.  Even under the Old Covenant, being of a clean heart was the goal. The Israelites, however, tended to focus more on the physical rituals than on the spiritual behavior that being clean represented.  By the time of Christ, the religious leaders in Israel had become so focused on the physical that they had added hundreds of additional legal requirements to the Law of Moses in an attempt to be pure before God.  Jesus took them to task for this in a big way. 

       Matthew 23:24-26: You blind guides! You strain out a gnat but swallow a camel. "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also 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 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 was simply saying that they were totally missing the point of the Law.  While the Old Covenant law did require ceremonial washings and regulations to keep Israel separate and distinct from the rest of the world, what God really wanted of them was a pure heart expressing the law of love and thus facilitating proper human conduct. This was the focus right from the start.  David understood this after his sin of adultery and murder made him realize what God really wants of us humans.

       Psalm 51:10: Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me. 

       Psalm 51:16-17: You do not delight in sacrifice, or I would bring it; you do not take pleasure in burnt offerings. The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart,

       The entire focus of Christ’s teachings in the Sermon on the Mount and in His many other teachings was that God's will for man is to development the ability to express the law of love and that such expression is a matter of the heart.

       We saw last time in our discussion of the >eatitude dealing with mercy how mercy is an expression of great empathy toward others and in the example of the Good Samaritan we saw a demonstration of what it means to be merciful.  It all boils down to the condition of the heart which relates to the kind of spirit we have within us. 

       The word heart is used in scripture to designate the innermost consciousness of a person.  It is a term used to define the very seat of thought and will.  It is the seat of emotion and therefore the ground from which fear, anger, pride, mercy, compassion, and love is generated. It is designated as distinct from soul.  Moses instructed the Israelites to Love the LORD your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your strength.  He then followed up this admonition by saying; these commandments that I give you today are to be upon your hearts.  The heart appears to be a deeper and more foundational characteristic than the mind as distinction is made between heart and mind. Moses said, “Fix these words of mine in your hearts and minds; tie them as symbols on your hands and bind them on your foreheads.”  Jesus also made this same distinction. “Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength” (Mark 12:30).    The heart is seen as the center of understanding.

       Proverbs 3:5-6:  Trust in the LORD with all your heart and lean not on your own understanding; in all your ways acknowledge him, and he will make your paths straight.

       And then there is that scripture in Jeremiah that we have all memorized over the years which tells us a lot about the human condition and why we need the sacrifice of Jesus Christ. 

       Jeremiah 17:9: The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked: who can know it? (KJV). 

       The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure. Who can understand it? (NIV).

       Who can understand it?  God understands it.  God is our creator.  He not only created our physiology but our psychology as well.  That psychology includes out nature and temperament which is grounded in the very heart of what we are.  We have all asked why God created us the way He did.  I will certainly not pretend to have the complete answer to that question but when you look at the history of human activity on planet earth one can envision it as one huge experiential training ground wherein we have opportunity to learn the right way and the wrong way of doing things.  I don’t know what God has in store for us beyond this physical life but one thing is certain, humanity will have learned the consequences of doing things contrary to the law of love.

       The condition of our heart is all about having the law of love become our very consciousness, the very essence of our being and foundation of our thoughts and emotions.  When Jesus spoke of the pure in heart seeing God he was speaking about behaving according to the law of love.  Jesus was speaking about the purity or cleanness that comes from having the right thoughts lead to the right actions. 

       The religious leaders of Jesus day were much more concerned about the physical dynamics of being clean than about cleanness of the heart. At one point during Christ’s ministry they came up to him and expressed concern that the disciples of Jesus were not washing there hands before they eat.

       Matthew 15:2-8: "Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders? They don't wash their hands before they eat!" Jesus replied, "And why do you break the command of God for the sake of your tradition? For God said, `Honor your father and mother’ and `Anyone who curses his father or mother must be put to death.' But you say that if a man says to his father or mother, `Whatever help you might otherwise have received from me is a gift devoted to God,' he is not to `honor his father ' with it. Thus you nullify the word of God for the sake of your tradition. You hypocrites! Isaiah was right when he prophesied about you: "`These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.

       Matthew 15:17-20: "Don't you see that whatever enters the mouth goes into the stomach and then out of the body? But the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man `unclean.' For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander. These are what make a man `unclean'; but eating with unwashed hands does not make him `unclean.'"

       From where does all this lawlessness come?  From the heart.  From an impure heart.  From a heart that has not been converted and isn’t repenting.  Isn’t changing. One of Israel's great tragedies was that so few perceived the spiritual intent beyond the external washings. To them, the external symbol was the reality, permitting them to conceive all kinds of evil in their hearts and then perform a physical cleansing and think themselves free and clear of sin. Jesus confronts this thinking on a number of occasions during His ministry.

       Not much has changed.  In many Christian communities there are all kinds of man made prohibitions which are seen as promoting righteousness and therefore spiritual purity.  I grew up in a religious denomination that forbid playing cards, going to movies, dancing, drinking alcoholic beverages and even playing pool.  Somehow all these thing became associated with unrighteousness.   Now I know that some of these prohibitions came to be as a result of believing that the environment where some of these activities take place is not conducive to righteousness and therefore it was best to avoid the activity all together.  So the baby was thrown out with the bath water. 

       Being pure in heart is all about the condition of our heart. It is interesting that in modern society the problems we face are often blamed on the environment rather than the behavior of individuals who create the environment.  How much verbiage has been spewed forth about how if we could only change the environment crime would be reduced, violence would subside and peace and prosperity would ensue. it is believed by some that if you could only change the environment you could change the man. 

       Those that take such an approach have forgotten the Garden of Eden.  What more idyllic environment than the Garden of Eden.  All the beauty one could imagine.  Trees and flowers. Animals of all kinds. No concrete or asphalt.  No nose from cars, trucks or trains.  Pure water and pure air.  An unlimited food supply.   Yet, what do we see happening in this perfect environment.  You know the rest of the story. 

       Its been noted that in the early years of our country when the population was largely made up of immigrants that although people struggled to make a living and put bread on the table, there was little crime.  Homes and neighborhoods were kept clean and neat despite poverty.  Families played together, prayed together and stayed together.  Divorce was rare and children out of wedlock were even more rare.  The reason was simple.  People had a heart to be loyal to there mates, raise their children according to moral standards and above all take personable responsibility for their behavior.    

       Being pure in heart is all about taking personal responsible for our behavior.  That seems to have become a lost art in much of the world but especially so in the Western World and more particularly in America. We see the lack of taking responsibility for our behavior at every level of society.  Everything from abortion to littering is an example of our failure to be responsible.  I was watching the news the other evening and they were showing flooding going on in certain parts of the city and showed the mounds of debris clogging sewers preventing proper drainage.  Department of Public Works representatives were virtually begging people to go out and unclog sewers drains to relieve the flooding.  Of course if people were responsible in properly disposing of soda cans, paper wrappers and all the other throw-aways, we would not have the problem in the first place.  As I said earlier, I think God created us the way He did to show us the difference between doing things responsibly and irresponsibly. 

        And yet despite our nature being what it is, God gave us a power that is able to overrule that nature.  It is called the power of choice.  Adam and Eve had the ability to choose.  Israel had the ability to choose. 

       Deuteronomy 30:19-20: This day I call heaven and earth as witnesses against you that I have set before you life and death, blessings and curses. Now choose life, so that you and your children may live and that you may love the LORD your God, listen to his voice, and hold fast to him. For the LORD is your life, and he will give you many years in the land he swore to give to your fathers, Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.

       God gave us the power of choice and therefore the ability to choose life over death, righteousness over unrighteousness, responsibility over irresponsibility.  But we also have a heart characterized by pride and self centeredness.  After giving the Ten Commandments to the people and the people saying we will do all that God commands, what did God say?

       Deuteronomy 5:2: The LORD heard you when you spoke to me and the LORD said to me, "I have heard what this people said to you. Everything they said was good. Oh, that their hearts would be inclined to fear me and keep all my commands always, so that it might go well with them and their children forever!

       It is apparent from the experience of Israel and the history of the human race that while  man has the ability to choose good over evil, right over wrong and life over death, the heart of man is not programmed to consistently make those choices.  The heart of man needs to be reprogrammed.  That is why we need circumcision of the heart.  Physical circumcision introduced to Israel was an outward sign of separation from the ordinary.  While such circumcision, along with all the other physical things Israel was commanded to do, kept them in a state of awareness as to their behavioral obligations to God, it did not purify their heart.  Such purification can come only through the spiritual circumcision that God performs through the Christ event.   

       Ultimate purity of heart comes from God creating a pure heart within us.  Our daily prayer should be the same as that of David.   "Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me."  This should be our daily focus.  This should be our response to the knowledge that we have been forgiven. This should be our response to the love God has bestowed upon us through Jesus Christ.  The Beatitudes are all about responding to the love of God by expressing that love in our behavior.  Yes, the pure in heart will see God.   

SERMON SEVEN