Blessed are the Pure in Heart… (part 8 of 9) – Matthew 15:1-20


Together we have been doing the challenging work of attempting to understand and apply Jesus’ beatitudes.  These statements take us beyond the 10 commandments and ritual laws of the Old Covenant.  These statements are about citizenship in the kingdom of God.  They go beyond rule-righteousness to heart-exposure that opens our most private attitudes and motives to the transparent scrutiny of God.  We can create a façade that looks good for the people around us.  We can look religious, talk and act pious, even rationalize to ourselves the duplicity of our motives, attitudes and feelings, but God sees through it all.  Jesus was so threatening because his insight and words cut through to a person’s core – tax collectors, disciples, sinners, and religious leaders alike.  Then, like now, so many people depended on cosmetic surface changes or ceremonial ritual, which changes nothing unless the heart, the center of a person is cleansed and transformed.   The difficulty with the beatitudes is that if we take them seriously and let them scour our spirituality we find ourselves standing fearfully naked before the Lord.  Suddenly our defenses seem silly, our hypocrisy shallow, our game-playing pointless, and our facades transparent.



Jesus said, “Blessed” (happy, content with a real sense of emotional, spiritual and physical well-being unlike any security we can buy) “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  In modern science the heart is a very sophisticated pump in our chest we cannot get along without.  I can remember my oldest son struggling with his newest learnings about the human body and the words of his Sunday School teacher who told him that God wanted to live in his heart.  He would look down at his small chest and wonder how there would be room for all of that.  In biblical Hebrew thought the heart is the core of the human person, the control center, the center of our personality that reveals who we truly are and where the Spirit of God lives in us.  That idea carries over into the way we use the term.  If you tell someone that you love them with all your heart, you are probably not talking about a pump in your chest.

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart.”   Purity means unmixed, as with a metal – without alloy.  It refers to a person with unmixed motives and a heart not contaminated with impurity.  It also means that it is the same through and through.  The Bible talks a lot about the human heart and its need for purity.  In 1 Samuel 16:7 God reminds the prophet Samuel as they were looking for David to be the next king of Israel: “Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks at the heart.”  Proverbs 3:5 says, “Trust in the Lord with all your heart” meaning all your personhood.  In Jeremiah 29:13 God calls to his people, “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart.”  Romans 10:10 says, “for it is with your heart that you believe and are justified.”    The heart is more than our mind, more than our emotions, more than our choices – it is the place where all these come together to shape our life and faith.  The pure in heart are people who are free from impurities and the same through and through.  What you see is the same on the outside as on the inside.  That would be the opposite of a divided heart in which there are compartments – one for God and Sundays, one for career, another for family, and maybe another for pleasure.  But, if you have an undivided heart, your thoughts and feelings and will are not in conflict with each other.  It is all one – all influencing each other.  Then one lives one life – from the inside out and our faith is significant in every part.



In Matthew 15 the Pharisees came to Jesus because they were upset with the behavior of his disciples.  They were a little like my grandmother who used to say that cleanliness is next to godliness.  If you’re Dutch you have probably heard that before.  By the way, that is not biblical – just the truth according to Grandma.  The Pharisees asked (15:2), “Why do your disciples break the tradition of the elders?  They don’t wash their hands before they eat.”  They were not really so concerned about good hygiene.  (By the way kids, this is one time you are not to follow the example of Jesus’ disciples.)  The Pharisees where concerned about defilement.  A person who was “defiled” was ceremonially unclean.  They could not enter the holy place in the temple.  They couldn’t celebrate festivals with the rest of the congregation.  A person could be defiled in a number of ways: by coming in contact with a dead body or a diseased person, by eating unclean foods, or by contact with a Gentile, or just not properly washing their hands before eating.  Incidentally, they had developed a whole ritual about hand washing several times a day (one that went way beyond anything in the Bible).  It was done with fingers outstretched and held up in the air with water poured over them.  For them it had become a public display of spirituality: the more you washed and the better you washed the godlier your were.

Wilkerson pictures (tongue in cheek) a member of the nominating committee for elders standing up to say: “I’d like to nominate Ben.  That guy can wash!”  “I second the nomination” says another, “I understand he gets up at 5:30 every morning to wash.”  “And his children are very clean as well!”  Jesus sees through it all, and is obviously angry with their hypocrisy.  He points out that while they do all this ceremonial cleaning, all this religious stuff on the outside, on the inside they are creating loop holes in the law so they do not even have to take care of their own parents.  He quotes the prophet Isaiah about them: “These people honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me.  They worship me in vain; their teachings are but rules taught by men.”  This is so important that their hypocrisy means they worship in vain.  God isn’t listening.  This is the impure heart.

Jesus confronts everyone who is religious, but hypocritical in their attitudes and behaviors.    It is not the stuff on the outside that counts, not the stuff we take in, but what comes out in our talk and behaviors that makes us unclean.  Later when Peter asks him to explain Jesus said:

“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 do not make him ‘unclean.’

Jesus accuses them of pretending to honor God, when in reality they were serving themselves and advancing their own status in the community.  The Message translates this verse this way: “These people make a big show of saying the right things, but their heart isn’t in it.  They act like they are worshiping me, but they don’t mean it.”  They have their hearts and lives compartmentalized.  This was very radical for the Pharisees and for the disciples to hear.  Jesus was challenging one of the most fundamental and widely accepted spiritual practices of the day.  He saw their hearts were not in it.  It would be like questioning the validity of Sunday School or Bible studies.

Some of us have had echocardiograms and angiograms of our hearts.  There they are on the screen.  If there are blockages the white spots show up in the arteries. Let’s let Jesus speak into our lives at this point!  This beatitude is like an echocardiogram of our spiritual heart, of the very center of our being.  If you have been listening at all, then with me you feel like the further we get into this the more uncomfortable it becomes.  The prophet Jeremiah said, (17:9) “The heart is deceitful above all things and beyond cure.  Who can understand it?”  Beyond cure?  Who of us is ready to say there are no compartments in our hearts?  Who of us will claim purity, even as Jesus points out all the hypocrisy of evil thoughts, ugly feelings, and bad choices?  I doubt that any of us would volunteer to have our spiritual echocardiogram put up on the overhead screen this morning.  The heart is a place where anger is nursed, where thoughts of adultery, sexual immorality, and experiences with pornography hide. It is a place where gossip is at home and destructive thoughts of comparison and superior judgments of others flow out.  It is where our self-centeredness and defensiveness lives.  We have listened to Jesus accuse the Pharisees of being dirty dishes that are clean on the outside and full of filth on the inside.  He said they were like whitened tombs – pretty on the outside and full of rot.  With any honest introspection our condescension of them disappears.   It is too much like us.  Jeremiah said the heart is beyond cure.   Who can understand it?  Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”  How will we ever see God? No hypocrisy?  No impurity?  Totally consistent?  How will we ever see God?  Is it impossible?  No hope?



There are at least two responses to all of this.  For some people this is way too much exposure, way too much truth, way too much vulnerability.  They will run from the truth with denial, telling themselves they are, after all, really pretty good people.  The second response is to acknowledge that our only hope is to have our hearts cleansed, purified, and transformed.  The only hope is to have God give us a new heart.  Psalm 51 reassures us: “The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.”  Again David calls out in Psalm 51:

(1-3) Have mercy on me, O God, according to your unfailing love;

according to your great compassion blot out my transgressions.

Wash away all my iniquity and cleanse me from my sin.


Again: (10-12)

Create in me a pure heart, O God, and renew a steadfast spirit within me.

Do not cast me from your presence or take your Holy Spirit from me.

Restore to me the joy of your salvation and grant me a willing spirit, to sustain me.


The only real answer for the “hearts beyond cure” as yours and mine are is the cleansing of the atonement of Jesus Christ.  As we begin to grasp this the accusing words “blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” become the words of promise.  It is only in trusting his atonement, in the grace that recreates soft hearts with God’s love written on them, in the transformation of God’s work within us, in the adoption to be God’s daughters and sons, in the sanctification work of the Holy Spirit again today to make us see our total dependence on the grace of God – it is only in this salvation that we will see God.  And Jesus’ promise is that in him we indeed will see God.

We will see God because the blinders are lifted off our eyes and we will see him at work all around us.  We will see his hand at work in his church, in our community of churches, in each other’s lives.  When our hearts are single and focused we will see his plan moving in our lives.  And the promise is that we will indeed see him again when we claim the place Christ has prepared for us.

Again this morning we face the choice.  Our pride maintains a divided heart.  A hard look at our reality, at our spiritual echocardiogram, leaves us grasping the promise of 1 John 1:9: “If we confess our sins, he is faithful and just and will forgive our sins, and cleanse us from all unrighteousness.”  God’s promise comes to you and me through the prophet Ezekiel: “I will give them an undivided heart and put a new spirit in them; I will remove from them their heart of stone, and give them a heart of flesh.”  God promised us a heart transplant.



As we walk away from the beatitude this morning, we are called to introspection, but not to hopelessness.  We are called to faith and the transformation of God.  And we are called to action in a world that constantly attacks our hearts.  2 Corinthians 7:1 says, “Since we have these promises, dear friends, let us purify ourselves from everything that contaminates body and spirit, perfecting holiness out of reverence for God.”  It is not easy, but gratitude and the desire to see God calls us to partner with him to turn away from those sins that bring impurity to our new hearts.  Every one of us has some special temptation or addiction or weakness that wants to pull us back from seeing God.  We battle in his love and power, and we are promised that those who have pure hearts in Christ will see God.  “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.”