Jean’s Gospel: Blessed Are the Pure in Heart
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matt 5:8)
If the physical heart, the critical organ and the center of the circulation of the blood, is seen as the center of the physical life, then we can see how Jesus uses the heart as a metaphor for the center and seat of the spiritual life: the will, character and conscience of a man or woman.
God in Christ became fully man to save man fully, the internal and the external, the spiritual and the physical. The good news of the sixth Beatitude is that disciples of Jesus are pure in heart. The pure in heart shall see God!
What is a pure heart?
A pure heart gives an undivided (or whole) “yes” and devotion to God alone: “For it is written, ‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.’ ” (Matt 4:10b). A pure heart does not serve two masters (Matt 6:24).
A pure heart has a will that is one with the will of God, who “makes his sun rise on the evil and on the good, and sends rain on the just and on the unjust.” (Matt 5:45b) Thus, a pure heart loves his enemies and prays for those persecute him (Matt 5:44) just as Jesus loved his enemies and prayed for those who persecuted him.
A pure heart practices his piety in secret, to his “Father who sees in secret” (Matt 6:4, 6, 18). He gives to the needy without sounding a trumpet; in fact, his left hand does not know what the right hand is doing (Matt 6:2-3). He prays not to be seen by others, or with many words in a vain attempt to manipulate God, but unself-consciously to his Father in heaven, who knows what he needs before being asked (Matt 6:7-8).
A pure heart takes every “iota” and “dot” of God’s Law seriously (Matt 5:18), whereas a hypocrite haggles with God and by compromise creates room and scope under the Law for man’s sin.
Who then has a pure heart?
The temptation when reading the Beatitudes is to look in the mirror to see how we (do not) measure up; to chafe at, admit or deny what we see: “My heart is most impure; therefore, I must not be blessed.” Or like the disciples on another occasion who asked Jesus: “ ‘Who then can be saved? But Jesus looked at them and said, ‘With man this is impossible, but with God all things are possible.’ ” (Matt 19:25-26) Unbelief judges what it sees in the mirror; faith judges by what it hears from the Word of God.
The Beatitudes are not located at the beginning of the Sermon to give the disciples a giant kick in their moral rear end, or to drive them to despair, or to offer them a quid pro quo. The Beatitudes are placed at the beginning of the Sermon to introduce us to Jesus and his kingdom.
The Beatitudes first of all describe Jesus, who came to “save his people from their sins” (Matt 1:21), “to fulfill all righteousness” (Matt 3:15), and to fulfill the entire Law and the Prophets (Matt 5:17). Jesus is the blessed pure in heart. The Beatitudes are who we are in Christ by virtue of our union and communion with him. They are not our personal possessions, but are the perpetually renewed gifts from our Father in heaven.
Secondarily, the Beatitudes show us the image of God, into which Jesus molds his disciples. Jesus says to all: “Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me, for I am gentle and lowly of heart, and you will find rest for your souls.” (Matt 11:29) Thus, the Beatitudes show us who we are by faith, and who we are becoming as disciples on a journey to the age to come.
How are our hearts purified?
Only God is pure. Fallen man and all of creation are corrupted by sin and therefore are impure. Therefore, only God, through His Word, can make or declare any man or woman pure.
Disciples of Jesus have hearts that have been purified (or cleansed) by the blood of Jesus. This was the prayer of David: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow” (Ps 51:7); and again: “Create in me a clean heart, O God, and renew a right spirit within me” (Ps 51:10). David sang of his answered prayer: “Blessed is the one whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Blessed is the man against whom the Lord counts no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit.” (Ps 32:1-2)
Speaking through the prophet, the Holy Spirit prophesied of the purification of the heart that would come through the work of Christ: “Behold, my servant shall act wisely; he shall be high and lifted up, and shall be exalted. As many were astonished at you— his appearance was so marred, beyond human semblance, and his form beyond that of the children of mankind— so shall he sprinkle many nations” (Isa 52:13-15a); and again: “because he poured out his soul to death and was numbered with the transgressors; yet he bore the sin of many, and makes intercession for the transgressors.” (Isa 53:12b)
Speaking of his own impending death as a sacrifice of atonement, Jesus said: “this is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins.” (Matt 26:28) It is faith in the forgiveness of sins, which Jesus accomplished for all mankind by his cross and resurrection, which alone purifies the heart and cleanses the conscience before God.
What are the means of purification?
Jesus does not want us looking in the mirror for our purity, but looking only to him and his Word. As is customary throughout Scripture, Jesus has provided external means of grace to deliver his forgiveness, by which we may rest assured that our sins are forgiven and our hearts are pure in the sight of God.
Space does not permit full elaboration, but the three means of grace that Jesus explicitly institutes in the Gospel According to Matthew are Holy Baptism (Matt 28:19), The Lord’s Supper (Matt 26:26-29), and Absolution (Matt 18:15-20). Jesus commands by His Word that his Church deliver the grace of God according to these three rites, and attaches the promises of his eternal kingdom to those who receive his grace through these rites with faith.
By these means, as well as through the preaching and teaching of the Word and prayer, Jesus, our Immanuel, is with us to the end of the age (Matt 28:20), forgiving our sins, purifying our hearts, cleansing our consciences, and molding us into his indelible image. Amen.