verse VII – the beatitudes – matthew 5:1-12
Imitation of God in our everyday life, demonstrating “God-like-ness,” particularly in the form of mercy, is the first challenging test for a disciple of Yeshua/Jesus. We must learn to extend mercy, even as difficult as it might be, because it has been extended to us; and we all know what it feels like to be in need of, and to long for, the comfort of others.
We now take another step, and consider these words of Yeshua, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God” (Matt. 5:8).
Over the last decade or so, I’ve come to regard the New Testament translation of Professor Franz Delitzsch from the original Greek into Hebrew rather highly, as have many scholars. As I read his rendering of Matthew 5:8, I find that it can be expressed in English in this way, “O the happiness of the pure in heart! For they will behold God.”
Our first question.
What does Yeshua mean by “pure”? In his Hebrew New Testament, Professor Delitzsch translates the Greek καθαρός (katharos) to the Hebrew בָּר. The adjective בָּר is from the verb root בָּרַר which means “to purify, or to select.” Some scholars explain that בָּר has an additional meaning of “grain,” which helps to explain “pure/clean.” How is this? Well, grain is used to fatten livestock; the fat was then used to make soap that is used to make one “clean.” The purity comes from the scrubbing of what has dirtied us – and “dirt” metaphorically was understood to be “guilt.”
Consider Psalm 24:3-4, “Who does go up into the mountain of the Lord? And who does stand in His Holy place? He who has clean hands and a clean (bar) heart, who did not bring his life to naught, and did not swear deceivingly” (emphasis added).
So by using the adjective בָּר, Yeshua is describing the condition of His disciples – they are made “clean, pure, innocent.” However, this purity is not the result of a cleansing of our natural condition or disposition, by right behavior – it is the result of faith in Yeshua. Remember He is speaking to those who are following Him, His disciples. The difficulty is reconciling our old nature, and its echoing effect in our lives, with the reality of the new creation we are in Him.
So, at this point, it might be a relief to read that Yeshua, speaking of the heart, is not addressing our physical heart health – He is not speaking of cholesterol, blockages or high blood pressure.
He is also not speaking of we, as His followers, being in some type of sinless perfection while here living here on the earth, as He will teach us to pray, “forgive us our trespasses, as we forgive those who have trespassed against us” (Matt. 6:12).
Heart – Mind – Total us.
Hebraically, when the Bible speaks of the heart, it is understood to be speaking of the entirety of our personality – our mind, our emotions, our will. In short: who we are as individuals. The mind refers to our intellect or our understanding; emotions are our feelings; and will is our decision-making and commitment center – all of this, the entirety of what makes us “us,” has been cleansed by faith.
Dr. John Frame explains, “Both the Old Testament and the New Testament emphasize that true obedience to God is from the heart. As we have seen, God intends for his law to be written, not only on stone and paper, but also on the human heart. The hearts is the center of human existence, the whole person as God sees him, the true self when all its masks are removed. So the heart is the motive of motives, the fundamental disposition of every person. The heart is the source of our most fundamental commitments, either to serve God or to serve an idol. It governs our actions, words, and thoughts.”
The heart is also the seat of faith and salvation; as the apostle Paul writes, “If you confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God has raised Him from the dead, you will be saved. For with the heart one believes unto righteousness, and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation” (Ro. 10:9-10).
Belief in the heart, the combination of knowledge, experience and feeling, leads to confession with the mouth. But it is also that heart-mouth connection that often gets us into trouble, as Yeshua said, “But what comes out of the mouth comes from the heart, and these defile man. For out of the heart comes forth wicked reasonings, murders, adulteries, whorings, thefts, false witnessings, slanders” (Matt. 16:19-20).
On my first trip to Kenya, I was shocked by the amount of illness that I seemed to face in every village I visited: HIV/AIDS, malaria, dysentery, etc. A common sight is the daily walks of mothers and children going to draw water. Open water sources that people bath in, animals drink from, and vehicles are washed in. The water is then collected and used in the home for washing, drinking and cooking. I still remember the sight of children collecting water from mud puddles on the dirt roads and then carried back home for use. Without clean water people continually get sick and in severe cases die – from what they put in themselves. I use this illustration to bring us to this point.
Few of us had the perfect childhood, or were able to live a perfect life absent of hurt, frustration, anger, or bitterness. When I referenced the heart above, I stated that it was understood to be the sum total of who we are: our experiences, our habits, our tolerance and our reactions. How we respond in any given situation is informed by our history and experience. Personally, I know exactly where particular reactions I have to situations in life come from; and it demonstrates to me areas in life that I must still yield to Messiah by the Holy Spirit.
We often continue to make ourselves sick by what we continue to mull over, collect, nurture, consume and share.
Yeshua warned us that the heart-mouth connection can make us impure. He warns us that out of “the abundance of the heart” the mouth speaks – what would we like the abundance of our hearts to be?
What do we do?
Are we doomed to be slaves to the bitterness, the anger, or the pain stored in our hearts forever? No, the apostle Paul tells us that Messiah has “redeemed the time,” the life before faith. He takes the good and the bad and begins to use it for His purpose as we minister and speak to others about Yeshua – it is the substance of our testimony.
How do we keep our hearts clean? Life exposes us to so much that is challenging to purity of heart. We cannot always help our learned disposition, until we unlearn and renew, but we can arrest the outward expression of that disposition. We cannot always help what we feel or think in the moment, but we can arrest the thought, take it captive in Messiah, and refresh what we might do or say. As you may have noted, it’s a process.
Remember, by faith we are made clean before the Lord – positional sanctification. Yet, Messiah is not specifically referencing that positional perspective. This is part of the daily or progressive sanctification that we undergo as we mature in the life of faith. As we grow in grace, both trusting in it and giving it, we will notice that our hearts are stayed in Him. This means that we must make a regular personal assessment: are we broken and contrite before the Lord, do we maintain an awareness of the influence of sin in and around us, do we diminish our own self-importance, are we hungry and thirsty for His righteousness, and do we continue to grow in mercy? This is evidence of not only the presence of the Holy Spirit in our lives, but also His convicting and instructional presence as we await eternal sanctification.
Applying all that we have learned in the Beatitudes thus far, we see that Yeshua is reshaping us – our character, our nature, our responses, our attitude, and our faith. The reward is this, keeping our hearts pure by His active grace, allows us to see God. Not only in the Kingdom glory that is to come, but right here and now. We can see His presence all around us.
Bitterness blinds us to the Presence of the Lord around us and in the world. It keeps us locked in sorrow and anger; and does not glorify or give honor to our Father in Heaven. Seeing the Lord in everyday life allows us to admire the beauty of creation, endure the pain of tragedy and rejoice in times of blessing – but it also catapults us to act in order to see lives changed. Overcoming life circumstances and history by faith opens our hearts and eyes to God – and, equally as important, it allows others to see God through us.
Shalom. Be well.