Matthew 5:8 – Blessed Are the Pure in Heart

“Blessed are the pure in heart,
    for they will see God.” (NIV)

“You’re blessed when you get your inside world—your mind and heart—put right. Then you can see God in the outside world.” (MSG)

“What bliss you experience when your heart is pure. For then your eyes will open to see more and more of God.(TPT)

“A pure heart means a single heart, a heart in which only one desire lives: love.”

Peter Kreeft

An Impure Scenario

Suppose a young man courts a young woman. They get to know one another, fall in love, and get married. On their wedding day, as they leave the church building and speed away, the young couple reminisce about love and life.

But when the groom begins to speak about a future together, the bride, with a smile on her face says, “Okay, you can pull over now.” The groom, completely smitten with his new bride, does exactly what she asks. The young woman gets out of the car and, blowing a kiss, says, “This was fun. Maybe I’ll see you around sometime.”

“I don’t think this is funny,” says the groom. “Hey, we had a great time, right!?” the perky bride says. “Yes, responds the groom, “and it will last forever.” “Oh, you are such a darling,” the bride says, and with a wry smile, “but I’ll be in touch.”

“Huh, what!?” the confused groom says. “Yeah, I’ll call. We’ll get together,” says the bride without flinching. The groom, now also feeling heartsick says, “I don’t understand. What’s going on?”

“Dear, I just need my space. It’s not like I don’t care! I have other things to do. Other men to see….”

Yes, a ridiculous and improbable scenario. Yet one which is repeated every day, multiple times a day. For the groom is the Lord God almighty; and the bride is the church….

Purity and God

Purity is a big deal to God. The phrase, “pure in heart,” is Christ’s way of upholding the biblical call to holiness. To be pure is to have no mixed motives, no hidden agendas, and no side job of moonlighting with the world while being an upstanding kingdom citizen during the day. It isn’t letting Jesus court us and marry us, only to have us walk away and do whatever the heck we want. It’s not only impure and unholy. It’s plain wrong and messed up.

Through blessing the pure in heart, Jesus was connecting us to the Old Testament ethic of being holy. The book of Leviticus, rarely the focus of any preacher or parishioner alike, is completely given to the topic of holiness. The detailed laws about daily life, including what to wear and not wear, what to eat and not eat, even who to marry and not marry, were given for a reason.

God wanted the ancient Israelites to have daily reminders that they are a holy people. So, there was to be no mixing of fabrics, no meat and cheese together, no impurities introduced into any part of life. Everything about the Jewish lifestyle was to be holy, set apart to God, reminding the people that God is their husband, committed to them with responsibilities on the part of both. It was called a “covenant.”

Leviticus 19 leaves no stone unturned on the activities of life:

The Lord said to Moses, “Speak to the entire assembly of Israel and say to them: ‘Be holy because I, the Lord your God, am holy’….

Do not steal. Do not lie. Do not deceive one another. Do not swear falsely by my name and so profane the name of your God. I am the Lord. Do not defraud or rob your neighbor….

Do not pervert justice; do not show partiality to the poor or favoritism to the great but judge your neighbor fairly….

Do not go about spreading slander among your people. Do not do anything that endangers your neighbor’s life. I am the Lord. Do not hate a fellow Israelite in your heart. Rebuke your neighbor frankly so you will not share in their guilt. Do not seek revenge or bear a grudge against anyone among your people but love your neighbor as yourself. I am the Lord.

Do not mate different kinds of animals. Do not plant your field with two kinds of seed. Do not wear clothing woven of two kinds of material.” (Leviticus 19:1-2, 11-13, 15-19, NIV)

Yes, indeed, purity is a big deal to God. The “Holy” Spirit is the Divine Person completely devoted to doing only the will of the Father and Son – never going rogue. The Spirit is the One who effects sanctification, becoming holy, within the life of the believer. Each year we celebrate “Holy” Week, a stretch of days designed to be different than the rest – devoted to journeying with Jesus and not mixing with the fickle crowd who would scream at the end of the week, “Crucify him! Crucify him!”

Purity and Us

To follow Jesus in true righteousness is to be pure in heart, that is, set apart wholly and completely for him. Purity of heart is a fruit from the trunk of righteousness, which grew up in the soil of God’s grace, with roots of humility and meekness – all watered by the tears of godly mourning.

The pure in heart are those who acknowledge their sin, deal with it, and live with a clear and clean conscience before God and the world. They have an awareness of their wrongs and shortcomings without succumbing to self-criticism because of an equal awareness of God’s grace. They keep short accounts with others concerning what they have done or what they should have done. They are holy. They are sanctified. They are pure in heart.

The pure in heart will see God. They know they cannot make themselves pure, so they keep looking to Jesus for their forgiveness because they hunger for righteousness.

One cannot whitewash a wishy-washy commitment with Jesus and be pure. This blessed Beatitude has to do with our motives and what takes place in our thinking and in our hearts.  What do you think about when your mind slips into neutral?  Is it coveting after things or people, or does thinking go toward what is true, noble, right, pure, lovely, and admirable?  Sometimes we struggle with purity of heart because we are focused not on Jesus, but on our own performance and perfection instead of letting God fill our hungry hearts.

Purity results from true righteousness.  A stalk of corn might look good, but if you shuck it and it’s filled with worms, it isn’t going to be worth much. Legalistic righteousness and empty promises of doing better are concerned to look good, not to mention they are obsessed with performance, perfection, and possessions. 

But the righteousness of God fills our hungry hearts and makes us pure and holy, set apart for divine use and divine purposes. How, then, shall we live? What will we do?

The earth is the Lord’s, and everything in it,
    the world, and all who live in it;
for he founded it on the seas
    and established it on the waters.

Who may ascend the mountain of the Lord?
    Who may stand in his holy place?
The one who has clean hands and a pure heart,
    who does not trust in an idol
    or swear by a false god.

They will receive blessing from the Lord
    and vindication from God their Savior.
Such is the generation of those who seek him,
    who seek your face, God of Jacob. (Psalm 24:1-6, NIV)

The person with integrity shall see God. Those made pure with the cleansing blood of Jesus Christ will someday stand before God at the Last Judgment and there find mercy and acceptance.

So, for now, until that time, we daily have the opportunity to focus on our one true love with loyalty and commitment, enjoying God’s presence continually. Because the Lord will never leave us, nor forsake us, even when we sometimes forsake him.

Almighty God, to you all hearts are open, all desires known, and from you no secrets are hidden. Cleanse the thoughts of our hearts by the inspiration of your Holy Spirit, that we may perfectly love you, and worthily magnify your holy name, through Christ our Lord. Amen.

Amos 9:7-15 – A Promise of Restoration

“Are you Israelites more important to me
    than the Ethiopians?” asks the Lord.
“I brought Israel out of Egypt,
    but I also brought the Philistines from Crete
    and led the Arameans out of Kir.

“I, the Sovereign Lord,
    am watching this sinful nation of Israel.
I will destroy it
    from the face of the earth.
But I will never completely destroy the family of Israel,”
    says the Lord.
“For I will give the command
    and will shake Israel along with the other nations
as grain is shaken in a sieve,
    yet not one true kernel will be lost.
But all the sinners will die by the sword—
    all those who say, ‘Nothing bad will happen to us.’

“In that day I will restore the fallen house of David.
    I will repair its damaged walls.
From the ruins I will rebuild it
    and restore its former glory.
And Israel will possess what is left of Edom
    and all the nations I have called to be mine.”
The Lord has spoken,
    and he will do these things.

“The time will come,” says the Lord,
“when the grain and grapes will grow faster
    than they can be harvested.
Then the terraced vineyards on the hills of Israel
    will drip with sweet wine!
I will bring my exiled people of Israel
    back from distant lands,
and they will rebuild their ruined cities
    and live in them again.
They will plant vineyards and gardens;
    they will eat their crops and drink their wine.
I will firmly plant them there
    in their own land.
They will never again be uprooted
    from the land I have given them,”
    says the Lord your God.
(New Living Translation)

Guilt

Doom and hope, judgment and grace, suffering and glory. These are the movements and rhythms of the Old Testament prophets. The great sin of Israel which warranted divine wrath was not only that they trampled on the poor and needy. On top of it all, they saw nothing wrong with their way of life. 

This profound lack of awareness, rooted in the spiritual blindness of greed, is what led to judgment. It would take the form of having the Assyrian Empire come, seize the land, and take the people away to a place where they would have no chance to oppress others. Sadly, death would come to many.

“The work of restoration cannot begin until a problem is fully faced.”

Dan Allender

The sin of oppressing others and believing there’s nothing wrong with it comes with severe consequences. The people relied too much on their ethnicity. The ancient Israelites wrongly assumed that because they were the people of the covenant, this somehow inoculated them from disaster. Their belief in Jewish exceptionalism was their downfall.

Grace

Yet, all would not be an endless gloom. The Lord will not destroy completely. God’s anger lasts for a moment. However, God’s grace lasts forever. Restoration, renewal, and fruitful times will come because of God’s mercy. 

Yes, God pronounces judgment when it is warranted. But God also makes and keeps promises to people. In our lesson for today, the Lord promises to restore the fortunes of the people through rebuilding ruined cities and letting them inhabit them once again.

God steps in and graciously acts on behalf of all people because that is what God does. We might get the notion in our heads that God executes judgment to teach people a lesson or to make a point. In my line of work, it is common to hear people express the idea they are under divine punishment because of personal illness or hard circumstances. 

God, however, acts independently out of a vast storehouse of righteousness and mercy. The Lord maintains holy decrees while showing grace to the undeserving. The nation of Israel, in the days of the prophet Amos, deserved only judgment, not grace. 

It seems to me God would have been completely justified to never restore or renew a recalcitrant people. Yet, God’s grace overwhelms and swallows human sin. Try as you might to understand grace, you will end up befuddled. That’s because grace is wildly illogical, nonsensical, and unconditionally free. Grace shows radical acceptance where there ought to be only the punishing fire of hell.

Gratitude

The height of grace and the pinnacle of restoring the fortunes of Israel (from a Christian perspective) came through a baby and a humble birth in the small village of Bethlehem. Jesus came to save the people from their sins. God acted by entering humanity with divine free love so that there could be new life and fresh hope. 

So, let grace wash you clean. Allow mercy to renew your life. Receive the gift of gracious forgiveness, merciful love, and divine peace. Look ahead and see there is hope on the horizon. Give thanks for God’s indescribable kindness.

Merciful God, although you are careful to uphold your great holiness, your mercy extends from everlasting to everlasting. May the gospel of grace form all my words and actions so that true righteousness reigns in my life through Jesus, my Lord, in the power of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Ephesians 1:3-6 – Blessed with Every Spiritual Blessing

Praise be to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who has blessed us in the heavenly realms with every spiritual blessing in Christ. For he chose us in him before the creation of the world to be holy and blameless in his sight. In love he predestined us for adoption to sonship through Jesus Christ, in accordance with his pleasure and will— to the praise of his glorious grace, which he has freely given us in the One he loves. (NIV)

We tend to live up to how we view ourselves.

If we see ourselves as never getting ahead and needing to lie, cheat, and steal to obtain anything in this life, then we will view ourselves as common thieves. If we think the only way to have love and security in this life is to hustle for it – to make ourselves as presentable as we possibly can, then we will view ourselves as basically unlovely and search for love in all the wrong places by trying to keep up appearances. If we look at ourselves as stupid, then we will tend to make poor decisions even when it’s in our ability to make good choices because we see ourselves as unable to compete with those smarter than us. 

The common theme in all these scenarios are people living apart from God. Without the Lord Jesus, we are like lost street children trying to survive from day to day. What we need, what we search for, is to have a good, blessed life in a loving home, a place to belong in a world of disconnection.

To be “blessed,” to have “blessing” in the Holy Scriptures, is to have God’s stamp of approval on your life – to know, experience, and feel Divine favor resting upon you.

The picture being painted at the very beginning of Paul’s letter to the church at Ephesus is of wayward children roaming the streets as orphans. The Ephesians were ensconced in their idol worship of Artemis, the fertility cult goddess. They were going about life without a whim about the true and living God. In sheer grace God plucked them from their worthless condition and adopted them. God placed blessing upon them because of love and gave them a reason to rejoice and praise.

What’s more, the Ephesians were chosen and predestined for holiness and purity. God set them apart for divine blessing. It’s as if God brought them into the kingly palace, provided lavishly for them, and let them have the run of the place. They get to enjoy every privilege that comes with being children of the king.

The focus and orientation of today’s New Testament lesson is about how tremendously special the believer in Jesus really is. And it has nothing to do with how presentable we are to a holy God. Instead, out of the vast storehouse of blessed grace, God chose and adopted. On top of all that, God did it out of pleasure. Yes, that’s right.

God chooses, predestines, and adopts with a willing heart because it brings great pleasure and divine joy to do so!

There was no arm-twisting from the Father to the Son in securing redemption for lost humanity. And there was no persuasion necessary for the Father and Son to send the Spirit for our ongoing benefit and help in this life. Each redemptive event of Jesus was done out of the grace and love of God in Christ.

My friend, do you see how God views you? Do you know how special you truly are?  Have you an understanding of the incredible position and majesty you have as a human being in God’s image and likeness?

As a child of the king, you live up to the position you know you possess. Freedom from worry and anxiety don’t come from willpower but from an understanding that God owns all things, and we will never be in need. 

Deliverance from the power of darkness doesn’t come by trying to do better; it comes through the knowledge that God has redeemed us and chosen us to live in the gracious realm of divine love forever.

There is no need to hustle for love with God because you and I already have it.

The believer has every spiritual blessing in Christ. God has your back. We belong to God. And to belong to Jesus Christ is to be blessed. It makes all the difference in the world. It is our reason for gratitude and praise.

Gracious God, your loving activity has snatched me from the barren streets of sin and brought me into a realm of incredible blessing.  Thank you for blessing me and giving me a place to belong forever; through Jesus Christ, my Lord and Savior, who with you and the Holy Spirit reign forever and ever in a celebration of redeeming love.  Amen.

1 Corinthians 3:10-23 – The Ultimate Sacred Space

According to the grace of God given to me, like a skilled master builder I laid a foundation, and someone else is building on it. Each builder must choose with care how to build on it. For no one can lay any foundation other than the one that has been laid; that foundation is Jesus Christ. Now if anyone builds on the foundation with gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, straw—the work of each builder will become visible, for the Day will disclose it, because it will be revealed with fire, and the fire will test what sort of work each has done. If what has been built on the foundation survives, the builder will receive a reward. If the work is burned up, the builder will suffer loss; the builder will be saved, but only as through fire.

Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you? If anyone destroys God’s temple, God will destroy that person. For God’s temple is holy, and you are that temple.

Do not deceive yourselves. If you think that you are wise in this age, you should become fools so that you may become wise. For the wisdom of this world is foolishness with God. For it is written, “He catches the wise in their craftiness,” and again, “The Lord knows the thoughts of the wise, that they are futile.”

So, let no one boast about human leaders. For all things are yours, whether Paul or Apollos or Cephas or the world or life or death or the present or the future—all belong to you, and you belong to Christ, and Christ belongs to God. (NRSV)

You have an incredibly special position and status which no one can ever take away.

We were made by and for God. In the beginning, the creative activity of God achieved its pinnacle in the formation of a man and a woman. Only humanity carries within them the image and likeness of God. People are unique, special, and set apart as the creatures who can enjoy a close relational fellowship with their Creator.

However, humanity fell into disobedience, which introduced sin and death into God’s good world. Ever since that time, God has been on a rescue mission. The Holy Scriptures are an unfolding drama of redemption in which a heart-stricken God goes out of the way to make and keep promises to a sinful people. The Israelites, a people set apart from all other people, were meant to be devoted to God in such a way that the world would be drawn to their relationship with the Lord and with the created order.

Yet again, even with an impressive temple where people met God in sacred rituals and activities, the people went astray and followed their ancestors into worshiping other gods. God, ever the gracious Lord who does not forget the divine covenant of love, sent his Son, Jesus, as the ultimate fulfillment of all the good promises made.  Through the redemptive events of Christ’s cross, resurrection, and ascension the deliverance from all that is wrong and broken in this world is reversed. We are blessed with pardon and redemption from the slavery of sin.  We are given a renewed status as God’s people.

If this were not enough, God has given us the Spirit to help us. Christians, followers of Jesus Christ, are never alone. A merciful God makes us a holy people and the temple where the Lord dwells by means of the Spirit. In the Old Testament, the sacred space of worship was a physical building. Approaching the holy God meant entering a holy temple, set apart for connection between the divine and the human. The midpoint of history in which all events hinge is the cross of Christ. His redeeming work has transformed the world. 

Now, we are the temple of God, the sacred place where God meets with us. The glory of God is to be found, once again, in human beings. It is in this rich understanding of God’s activity and humanity’s new status that the Apostle Paul appealed to with a pointed rhetorical question: “Do you not know that you are God’s temple and that God’s Spirit dwells in you?”

“The church is not a religious community of worshippers of Christ but is Christ himself who has taken form among people.”

Dietrich Bonhoeffer

The Corinthian church was in grave danger of doing the thing that all lost humanity had done through the ages.  They were breaking down into divisions and conflicts and were not thinking of others as God’s special people.  Paul named them collectively as God’s temple. They were not individual temples but one holy sacred temple together. This theology and anthropology were meant to teach, persuade, chastise, and encourage the Christians that there was no place for special-interest groups in the church; no room for following pet teachers and preachers; and no reason to ostracize others who didn’t agree exactly as you do.

Believers in Jesus Christ are collectively the people of God, the temple in which God dwells. This makes them a holy people, set apart for the exclusive worship of the triune God. We are to live up, not down, to who we are in Christ, in the Spirit, in the realm of God’s kingdom.

We are meant to return to the foundation of the temple. If the foundational works of this great temple of God are the redemptive events of Jesus, with Christ himself as the chief cornerstone of the structure, then we are meant to return in this great season of Lent to Jesus. With meekness and humility, we are to come to God in Christ by the Spirit and confess our many sins, repent of them all, and return to God as the special, holy, and loved people we are.

For far too long Paul’s letter to the Corinthians has been used to poke at people for smoking or drinking too much or generally not caring for our physical bodies. This was not so much Paul’s understanding. He was thinking much more along the lines of church unity, harmony, mutual love, grace, encouragement, and making decisions which are best for the common good of all. To break down Paul’s instruction to individual habits which harm the body is a woefully truncated view of his teaching. 

Instead, we are to have a high view of one another. We, together, are the people of God. We, together, are meant for holy worship of the triune God. We, together, are the complex expression of God’s creative action – a temple set in the middle of a watching world. 

Therefore, we are to be concerned for one another. We are to act as one holy people of God. We are to reflect the love, unity, and fellowship of the Holy Trinity in our life together. Let us then encourage each other toward love and good deeds; upholding the common good; and extending grace in all circumstances. For this is what temple living looks like.

Holy God, you have set us apart together as your holy people. Help so to live up to our status as your beloved creatures that we are continually mindful of you, one another, and the grace you give for all circumstances.  May our foundation be strong in the person and work of Jesus Christ, your Son, our Savior, as the Spirit dwells in us together. Amen.