The Tragedy of Double Vision
February 25, 1996
“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”
This beatitude stands alone. It is unlike all the others. In many ways, this is the most unexpected thing Jesus ever said. It is not difficult to believe—like Blessed are the meek. It is not difficult to apply—like Blessed are the persecuted.
Instead, this beatitude is difficult to understand. Our problem is simple: We do not know precisely what it means. We know what it might mean. We know, for instance, that it speaks about purity. But we are not sure what the phrase “pure in heart” really means.
We know what it means to be merciful … to mourn … to be a peacemaker. We know all about persecution even if we have never experienced it ourselves. But this statement is a mystery wrapped inside an enigma inside a riddle.
Four Simple Words
To begin with, this verse has two parts and both parts are hard. The phrase “pure in heart” seems a vague idea. Then consider the words “they shall see God.” That suggests nothing in particular to us. Since we have nothing to compare with it, we can’t be sure what Jesus meant.
My study of this beatitude revealed much uncertainty among the commentators. Over the years I have consulted at least 20 different writers on this verse. There is less clarity here than elsewhere. I find much discussion and many different ideas.
Anyone who attempts to study the sixth beatitude must agree that it is not easy to understand. I certainty agree to that. I confess this morning that I join the ranks of those who wonder about this verse. I will tell you as much as I know about it. When I am through, there will be many things left unsaid.
Perhaps some will wonder about this introduction. After all, there are only four main words in this verse—and all of them familiar one-syllable words at that. Pure … heart … see … God. Yet put them together as Jesus has done, and you have one of the greatest statements in all the Bible.
We Want to See God
These words touch a nerve deep in the human heart. Jesus here promises that which all men desire—to see God. The Bible tells us that God has put eternity in the heart of every man. Pascal speaks of the “God-shaped vacuum” inside the human heart. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they find their rest in God. Seeing God is the goal of all religion, the end of all true science, the desire of every nation, and the aim of all philosophy.
A few days ago Lent began. That’s the 40-day period leading up to Easter. Millions of people have set aside certain things in an attempt to know God better during these days. Men want to see God. It is in them to see God. And they sense that God revealed himself in Jesus Christ. That is why our culture makes such a big deal about Christmas and to a lesser extent about Easter. Men and women long to see God but they don’t know where to find him. So they make noise and have parties and celebrate the Mardi Gras because they hope against hope that they will find out what it’s all about.
The Bible says, “No one has ever seen God, but God the One and Only, who is at the Father’s side, has made him known” (John 1:18). So just before Lent begins, the poor, blind world has a party and wonders where the guest of honor is.
So these words strike a deep chord inside us. We do not fully understand them, but we want what they promise—to see God, to know him deeply and intimately.
Dealing With Our Doubts
There is no one here without doubts. We all doubt sometimes. Even the stoutest among us wonders from time to time, Is it really true? We would like to have absolute certainty. We would like to see God like we see the Sears Tower on a clear day. To see Him with our own eyes so we could be sure.
To that end, many books have been written to prove the existence of God. But that does not satisfy the deepest longings of our hearts. After all the arguments are made, some believe, some do not.
Jesus promised his disciples that they all alone of all men would see God. And he said that privilege was reserved for those with a pure heart.
I. What does it mean to be pure in heart?
In answering that question, let’s begin with the second word. When we use the term “heart,” we usually refer to “the seat of the emotions.” Such expressions as “I love you with all my heart” illustrate that meaning. The Bible often uses the term “heart” in just this sense. Proverbs 4:23 says, “Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the wellspring of life.” In biblical terms, the heart is the master control center of your life. It is the center of your personality, the “real you” who makes the decisions of life. Thus, to be pure in heart is to be pure in the center of your life.
The Heart Is Our Problem
It’s important to remember that the heart is the source of all our troubles. Jeremiah 17:9 tells us that the heart is deceitful above all things and desperately wicked. In Matthew 15:19 Jesus said that out of the heart come evil thoughts, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, and slander. All these things come from within and defile a man.
To be pure in heart means being pure from the inside out.
The Pharisees liked the idea of “Blessed are the pure” as long as the statement stopped right there. They were experts at outward purity. They had innumerable rules and regulations covering what you ate, what you wore, how far you could walk in the Sabbath, and so on. They scored an A+ on being outwardly pure. But they flunked out on inward purity.
To be pure in body is good. To be pure in mind is better. But to be pure in heart is best of all because it includes all the rest. If you are pure there, you will be pure everywhere. To be pure in heart means being pure from the inside out.
The Unadulterated Heart
That brings us to the first word—pure. The Greek word is katharos, from which we get the English words cathartic and catheter, which is an instrument for removing impurities from the body. Scholars tell us that this word has two basic meaning. First, it means to be clean through the removal of contamination. The “pure heart” is one that is free from the contamination of sin. Second, the word “pure” also means “unmixed” or “unadulterated.” Pure gold is not clean gold but 100%. Pure bread is all bread and no leaven. Pure water means that all the harmful elements have been removed by filtration. Some of you will remember when Ivory Soap advertised itself as being “99 and 44/100ths percent pure.” But in truth, anything less than 100% is not really pure!
In this context being “pure in heart” means to have no double allegiance. Later on in the Sermon on the Mount Jesus warned against serving God and mammon (Matthew 6:24). No one can serve two masters at the same time. You will always love one and hate the other. And James 1 teaches us that the double-minded man is unstable in all his ways.
A Man Without Guile
To be pure in heart means that you are sincere, transparent and without guile. What you see is what you get. No fakery, no trickery, no hypocrisy. I still remember hearing one of my Greek professors in seminary speak about Dr. John Walvoord, who was then the president of Dallas Seminary. He said, “You never have to wonder what Dr. Walvoord really means or if he’s trying to send you a double message. He is a man without guile.” That statement has stayed with me across all these years because he’s the only man I’ve ever heard described in those terms.
That statement reminds me of something I heard many years ago. A counselor said that he often tells his counselees, “You’re only as sick as your secrets.” The more you have to hide, the sicker you are. And if you’ve got a lot of secrets, you’re really sick.
Is your life an open book? Or do you have things that you hide from your best friends and from your loved ones? Is there anyone in your life who knows the truth about who you really are?
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they have nothing to hide.
II. What does it means to see God?
Admittedly, these are difficult words to understand. Three summary statements may help us.
1. No one may see God in his essence.
Many verses teach this. John 1:18 tells us that no one has seen God at any time. 1 Timothy 6:16 says that God dwells in unapproachable light. Even Moses who talked with God face to face (Numbers 12:8) never God saw in his essence but only saw the “back side” of God. Seeing God’s essence is like looking directly into the sun. The light is too bright, it destroys your eyesight.
Some of you may remember the widely reported comments of the Soviet cosmonaut who orbited the earth in the early years of space exploration and upon his return said that he looked outside he capsule and didn’t see God anywhere. To which Dr. W. A. Criswell replied, “Let him step out of his space suit for just one second and he’ll see God quick enough.”
No one has ever seen God in his essence. No one could ever see God that way and live to tell the story. Thus “seeing God” does not mean seeing him in his essence.
2. You only see what you are able to see.
This is a fundamental principle of life. When I look at the stars, I see stars and nothing more. But an astronomer sees the constellations, the galaxies, the orderly expanse of the universe. When I look at Chinese writing I see strange shapes on a paper, but someone else sees a poem, a speech or the words of Confucius.
In my life I have only attended the opera two or three times—all of them in Russia on my missions trips. I am double handicapped because I don’t speak Russian and I don’t understand the opera. I know about Luciano Pavarotti and Placido Domingo and that other guy. I also know that the opera ain’t over till the fat lady sings. But that’s about it. The rest is a mystery to me.
Or imagine a man from Mars watching a professional football game at Soldier Field one cold December afternoon. How would you explain what it happening to someone from another world?
To the Filthy All Things Are Filthy
But take an example closer to home. All of us have known people with dirty minds. These are the people who seem to live in the gutter of life. They can take the simplest statement and turn it into something ugly. Even the most innocent remark becomes the basis for a crude joke. Why is that? To the filthy all things are filthy. To the jaundiced eye everything is yellow. To the angry man every word is a provocation. To the perpetual victim, everything that happens proves that someone is out to get him.
In life we only see what we are able to see.
3. You only see what you are looking for.
This principle explains so many things that happen to us. A few years ago someone on staff said they were going to walk down to Starbucks to get a cup of coffee. I looked at them and said, “Where is Starbucks?” I had no idea where it was even though it’s only located two blocks from here on Lake Street and I had passed it at least 100 times. But I don’t drink coffee so I have no need to go to Starbucks. Even though I had passed by the store many times, I never saw it.
That explains why many of us never “see” God. We aren’t looking for him so we miss him. That, by the way, answers an interesting Bible question. If Jesus really was the Son of God, how could so many people have missed his true identity? The answer is, most people weren’t looking for the Son of God so they never saw him. He lived on this earth for 33 years but most people never knew it.3
In the spiritual realm, as in all of life, you only see what you are looking for.
What We Are Determines What We See
Listen to these words from Psalm 18:20-26.
The Lord has dealt with me according to my righteousness;
According to the cleanness of my hands he has rewarded me.
For I have kept the ways of the Lord;
I have not done evil by; turning from my God.
All his laws are before me;
I have not turned away from his decrees.
I have been blameless before him
And have kept myself from sin.
The Lord has rewarded me according to my righteousness,
According to the cleanness of my hands in his sight.
To the faithful you show yourself faithful,
To the blameless you show yourself blameless,
To the pure you show yourself pure,
But to the crooked you show yourself shrewd.
What we are determines we see! The kind of people we are determines the kind of revelation we receive.
In this context, “seeing God” means to have a deep experience of God, to know him intimately and personally. All successful marriages discover this truth on a human level. The longer you live with another person, the more you get to know them as they really are. Transparency begets intimacy. In a good marriage, there is nothing hidden because there is nothing to hide.
That is why, as the years pass, you will be thinking about a question and she will answer it before you ask it. Or you will be thinking about a song and she will begin singing it. Or you will begin a sentence … and she will finish it for you! Sometimes you even think that she can hold both sides of the conversation and all you have to do is smile and nod. (When I mentioned this to Marlene, she grinned and said, “It’s true, and it’s also easier that way because when I handle both sides of the conversation, we never have any arguments.”)
Something like that happens in every good marriage. In the end, you know each other so well that nothing important is hidden from the other person. You are free to be completely honest with each other. This is the true meaning of Genesis 2:25, “And they were naked and not ashamed.”
Seeing Him Who Is Invisible
Let me summarize this beatitude in a two short statements:
1. In this life a pure heart means a deep walk with God.
2. In eternity a pure heart means a new experience of God.
This is what Psalm 24 means when it asks “Who may ascend the hill of the Lord? Who may stand in his holy place?” The answer is simple: “He who has clean hands and a pure heart.” He will receive a blessing from the Lord. He will be vindicated by God himself.
That leads me to one final passage that has always intrigued me. Hebrews 11:27 says (speaking of Moses), “By faith he left Egypt, not fearing the king’s anger; he persevered because he saw him who is invisible.” What an amazing phrase! Moses saw “him who is invisible.” But according to II Corinthians 3:11-18 we have an even greater privilege than Moses had. When he saw God the glory eventually faded from his face, but in Christ the veil has been taken away and now in Christ we have seen God face to face and his glory has been revealed to us. More than that, by the Holy Spirit we are daily being transformed into his likeness with “ever-increasing glory.”
As I scan this beatitude and think about what it really means, I want to take off my shoes. Surely we are standing on holy ground.
III. How can I cultivate this purity of heart?
In the Bible there were two means of purifying things–fire and water. They are suggestive of certain attitudes that point us in the right direction.
Fire speaks of the trials of life. Job 23:10 says, “He knows the way that I take. When he has tried me, I shall come forth as gold.” Some of you know all about the fiery furnace. Perhaps you’ve spent some time there this week. Maybe you’re living there right now. Just remember that God never sends fire to destroy you but only to purify you. If you submit to God in your trials without complaining, you will begin to develop the purity of heart that will produce the gold of a Christlike character.
Water is a common symbol for the Word of God. Psalm 12:6 tells us that the words of the Lord are pure. Psalm 119:9 says, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By living according to your word.” In John 15:3 Jesus told his disciples, “You are already clean because of the word I have spoken to you.” Ephesians 5:26 tells us that God plans to make his church holy by the washing with water through the word.
God’s word will make you pure and holy. But water can’t make you clean until you get in the bathtub. In the same way the word of God can purify your heart but you’ve got to take a bath daily in the water of the word. Someone said it works like this. Take a five gallon jug and pour it out on a wicker basket every day. You won’t have much water in the basket … but you will have a clean basket. So it is with the Word of God. Take a bath in the Bible every day and you will soon have a pure heart.
From Purity to Certainty
One final word and I am done. I spoke earlier of the doubts many of us have about God. We don’t often speak of these things in church but all of us wonder in our private moments if what we believe is really true. Let me ask a simple question. When is it that we feel most strongly convinced that our faith must be true? Is it not when we are kind … when we are forgiving … when we have spoken up for the Lord at work … when we did the things we are supposed to do? Is it not in the hour of doing right and living right that we believed most firmly in God and felt that he was near?
Why is that so? Because the nearer we approach to purity of heart … the surer we become of God.
The Sight Struck Him Pure
Some of you know the story of John Newton. He was a slave trader who made a profit by picking up captured Africans and transporting them to America to be sold as slaves. By his own testimony, he was a vile, profane man. After he came to Christ, he wrote the hymn Amazing Grace to describe his conversion. But he also wrote another song you may not know:
In evil I long took delight
Unawed by shame or fear
Till a new object struck my sight,
And stopped my wild career
I saw one hanging on the tree
In agony and blood
He fixed his lanquid eyes on me
As near the cross I stood.
John Newton, slave trader, vile sinner … looked at the cross. And the sight struck him pure! The cross of Jesus Christ still has that same purifying power today. Those who look to Jesus are struck pure.
Those who look to Jesus are struck pure.
Rock of Ages, cleft for me
Let me hide myself in Thee
Let the water and the blood
From Thy wounded side which flowed
Be of sin the double cure
Save from wrath and make me pure.
That is the power of Jesus. He can save from wrath and he can make you pure.
We’ve just started Lent which means that Easter is just around the corner. What will you see this year? Will you see Jesus?
Blessed are the pure in heart … for they shall see God.