The heart of the matter - Luke 6:43-49
An audio recording of this sermon is available.
In his book, 'Lest Innocent Blood Be Shed', Philip Hallie relates the story of the citizens of Le Chambon a small town of 3,000 people nestling in the mountains of southern France. What was so special about these folk? Well, it was that they managed to save 5,000 Jewish children from extermination. One reader of the book commented: "The Holocaust was storm, lightening, thunder, wind, rain, yes. And Le Chambon was the rainbow." What emerges from the book is the strand of stubborn courage of the Chambonnais. You see they were Huguenots, French Protestants fired by their faith in Christ which had been forged in the furnace of 300 years of persecution. They were led and taught by their heroic minister, Andre Trocme and his equally heroic wife, Magda. But what comes over time and time again, is the down to earth no-nonsense quality of their Christian faith. They did what they felt simply had to be done, what they had been taught to do, what Christ would have expected them to do-they sheltered and saved their neighbours, the Jews, who were in mortal danger.
The evening the minister Andre Trocme was arrested illustrates the whole story. The minister and his wife had been invited to dinner by church members who, knowing how often they forgot such invitations sent their daughter to remind them. But when she entered the house, she saw the police arresting them. Soon word got round the town that the minister was about to be taken to jail. Typically, however, Magda Trocme invited the two policemen to have dinner with them. Friends were incredulous: 'How could you bring yourself to sit down and eat with the men who were to take away your husband and maybe even lead him to his death? How could you be so decent and forgiving to them?' Madame Trocme always gave the same answer: 'What are you talking about? It was dinner time, they were standing in my way; we were all hungry. The food was ready. What do you mean by such foolish words as 'decent' and 'forgiving'?' Now that response was typical. They were simply doing what had to be done. What Christ had called them to do. For them it was the most natural thing in the world to help such people whatever the risk.
So why was it so 'natural' for them when it would be so 'unnatural' for others? Well, because these were some of the blessed people of Jesus, his kingdom people who had simply taken at face value the words of Jesus, when he said: 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.' Their actions were nothing more than an expression of a pure heart- a single minded devotion to the Lord Jesus Christ. So tonight I want us to work through what it means to have this particular 'beatitude attitude' being 'pure in heart' and it consequence, 'seeing God.'
First of all let's take a look at the heart of the matter which is a matter of the heart. Now we tend to think of the heart as the seat of the emotions. So we speak of 'heartthrobs', of 'heartaches' and 'broken hearts'. That is not what the Bible means by heart. You see, for the Hebrew it was the kidney's which were thought of as being the location of the emotions. I would guess it might not have the same desired romantic effect if, instead of saying to the girlfriend or boyfriend, 'I give my heart to you', we say, 'I give my kidneys to you.' But that was the picturesque way things were thought of then. You see, for Jesus' listeners, the heart was the totality of the inner person, the very centre of the personality. It was the cockpit of the soul if you like. And as such it was the origin of desires, affections, perceptions, thoughts, reasoning, imagination, purpose, will and faith. That is the heart. And so the book of Proverbs understandably admonishes us: 'Above all else, guard your heart, for it is the well spring of life.'
And so for the members of Christ's kingdom, the heart is a motorway cloverleaf where all the emotions and prejudices and wisdom converge. It is the switch point whereby the freight wagons loaded with moods, ideas, emotions and convictions arrive and are put on the right track. Now can you see why Jesus target's the heart? Everything which determines our direction and action flows from there.
All of which brings us to our next heading- the heart of the problem which is the problem of the heart. The plain fact is, there are two ways of looking at the cause of the world's problems. The first is to say that all of our difficulties are really institutional, that is, they arise outside of man-they are external to him. And so you have the celebrated statement of the French Philosopher and architect of modern educational theory, Jean Jacques Rousseau: 'Man is born free but everywhere he is in chains.' This is the view that man is essential good, but he becomes stymied by his environment made up of the family, state and especially religion, which restricts man's potential and if only we can throw off such constraints, improve our education, our standard of living and working conditions then we can build 'Jerusalem in England's green and pleasant land'. Well, we have been following that philosophy in the West now for nearly four centuries and where has it got us? I will tell you- 2 World Wars and Auschwitz.
The other way of looking at the cause of the world's problems is to say they are constitutional- the problems come from within man, in other words they are internal to us. And this is precisely what Jesus says is the case, Luke 6:43, "No good tree bears bad fruit, nor does a bad tree bear good fruit. Each tree is recognized by its own fruit. People do not pick figs from thorn bushes, or grapes from briers. The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in his heart, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in his heart. For out of the overflow of his heart his mouth speaks.' Similarly in Matthew 15:19, Jesus is equally uncomplimentary about human nature, 'For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.' Do you see what Jesus is saying? The heart is the centre of our spiritual life. If the fruit of the tree is bad, you don't try and fix the fruit, you treat the roots. If a person's actions are wrong, it isn't enough to change the habits, you have to go deeper and deal with the heart of the problem which is the problem of the heart. That is why the state of the heart is critical and what is actually going on in the inside shows itself by what comes out on the outside-the sort of things we say and the sort of things we do.
So when someone barks at you do you bark back or bite your tongue? That depends on the state of your heart. When you are offered a morsel of gossip marinated in slander, do you turn it down or pass it on? That depends upon the state of your heart. When your schedule is too tight and you to do list too long, do you keep your cool or lose it? That depends upon the state of your heart. When your mind slips into neutral what do you think about? The answer depends upon the state of your heart. You see, the state of your heart dictates whether you harbour a grudge or give grace, seek self-pity or search for Christ, drink human misery or taste God's mercy.
No wonder the wise man begs, 'Above all else guard your heart.' Little surprise then that King David's prayer should be, 'Create in me a pure heart O God.' But there is even more at stake than our quality of living in this life, our eternal well being in the next life is also dependent upon having a right heart. And so the Psalmist asks this question, listen: 'Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? Who shall stand in his holy place?' the answer? 'He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who has not lifted up his soul to vanity, nor sworn deceitfully.' (Psalm 24:3f). That is a pretty tall order isn't it? It is not possible to stand in God's presence without having this quality of heart which Jesus is describing. Which brings us to our next point: the change of heart.
When Jesus speaks about having a pure heart, what does he mean exactly? Well, he could be speaking of one of two things. He could be referring to moral purity. That is at least in part hinted at in Psalm 24, so having clean hands and pure hearts are more or less synonymous. Clean hands are undefiled hands. They are not stained by murder or shady dealing. What is more, clean hands are the result of a clean heart. Now this seems to be a theme which Jesus develops in the rest of the Sermon on the Mount. And so we find Jesus contrasting the righteousness of his followers, the disciples, with the religious elite of his day, the Pharisees. They were concerned with external ceremonial- appearing to do the right things, following the principle of minimum requirement- 'what is the least that can be got away with?' So they were preoccupied with questions like these: How much money do I have to give away? How long do I have to pray? What counts as murder or adultery? With the unspoken plea- make it easy for me. And it is sad to say there are professing Christians who are taken up with similar questions. That is legalism. But Jesus says the righteousness of his disciples have to surpass the religious elite, Matthew 5: 20. So, Jesus is concerned with internal desires too- the inner hatred which leads to the outward act of murder, the all consuming lust which breaks out in adultery. Jesus underscores the principle of maximum application. Not asking, 'what can I get away with?', but 'what more is God looking for?' 'He is to have my heart.'
But others think that when Jesus talks about having a 'pure heart' he is mainly thinking of having an undivided heart, one which is wholly fixed upon God and his kingdom rather than trying to face both ways at once, seeking the best a rebellious world can offer and still hoping for heaven when you die. Well, it is certainly the case that later on in chapter 6, Jesus in warning against greed does say, 'Store up for yourselves treasures in heavenwhere your treasure is there your heart will be alsoNo one can serve two masters. Either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will be devoted to the one and despise the other. You cannot serve God and mammon.' (6:20ff). So here Jesus is concerned with the orientation of our heart, what we are living for, what gets us out of bed in the morning- is it God or is it money? Are we busy cultivating a divine relationship or paddling a dreary routine? Do you see?
Those are the two ideas of what it means to have a pure heart. But when you think about it- you cannot have one without the other. If you are single-minded for God and his kingdom then you will also be concerned about being godly. And if you are not that bothered about godliness then that is simply an indication that you are not devoted to God. In fact James, the half brother of Jesus, in his letter puts the two together, 'Wash your hands, you sinners ( moral purity), and purify your hearts, you double minded ( total devotion).' (4:8).
And so this raises the question: How do we move from an undivided heart to a united heart? Changing from having a polluted heart to a purified heart? Well, to answer that we need to recognise that there is in fact a progression in these beatitudes. They are not random blessings thoughtlessly strung together like beads on a thread. The first three beatitudes concern our need: Step one: admit your poverty-'Blessed are the pure in spirit.' Step two: express your sorrow, 'Blessed are those who mourn'. Joy comes to those who are sorry for their sin. Sorrow is then followed by meekness, step three, 'Blessed are the meek.' The meek person is the person amazed that God would save them and surprised that God would use them. You have never seen anything like this! You admit sin, you get saved. You confess weakness- you get strength. You say sorry and you receive forgiveness. But then we come to the watershed in the beatitudes-v6 they hunger and thirst for righteousness- the result? They are filled. And so you become a righteousness addict, addicted to something positive- something which instead of ruining your life starts to run your life -you want more and more. From then on we are looking at the results of that satisfaction. We become merciful, pure in heart, peacemakers. Do you see that?
And so the miracle has begun; the miracle promised centuries earlier through the prophets like Ezekiel and Jeremiah: Ezekiel 36: 26, God says, 'I will give you a new heart and put a new spirit in you; I will remove your heart of stone and give you a heart of flesh.'; Jeremiah 31:33, 'I will put my law in their minds and write it on their hearts.' Notice that 'I will'? Not 'I might' a definite promise. And Jesus in this sermon is saying that he is the one who fulfils the promise. It is to those followers of his who have been through the makeover process from the inside he performs a heart transplant, something wholly supernatural which occurs when the message of the Gospel is planted inside of us. In short, he is talking about what happens when a person becomes a Christian. That is when God places his Spirit within all those who have had the humility to recognise their need, that they cannot change themselves, that trying to keep the rules leads only to pride and despair. This person then discovers they have a new set of values- God's law is written in their hearts, as well as a new orientation- living in this world in the light of the next. And although they know their heart isn't perfect it is no longer rotten, good things are now starting to flow from it which at one time they would never have dreamt of. How else do you explain them wanting to spend time in prayer to a God who for most of their lives they ignored? What other explanation can you give for them spending an inordinate amount of energy attending an ancient book like this which is thousands of years old? What other possible reason can be given for them mixing with a wide range of people in a church they would not normally have much to do with in the ordinary run of life, but more than that actually loving them? That takes an amazing amount of supernatural power doesn't it? The answer is that they have a pure heart. Sure it has to be kept pure which means feeding it with the goodness which comes from the Word of God. It has to be exercised by putting what our Lord says here into practice in the rough and tumble of everyday living. But at least the miracle has started. Or has it? Maybe for you it hasn't. Perhaps you have been coming along here for some time now and yet it still feels a little strange to you. You know you are dissatisfied with your life. You know you have an inner longing but you are not quite sure what for. Deep down you even know there is a God, but, well, your heart is hard. If that is so, then to be frank there is nothing that I or anyone else can do for you. You will be stuck with the heart you have until the day you die and then it will all be too late. The heart full of hate, remorse and unfulfilled longing is the one you will take with you to your grave into the darkness of eternity. Is that what you want? Of course not. And that is why you must come to the only one who can give you a new heart, the one who stands on this hill teaching and who later will go to another hill-Calvary- to die for you bearing away your sin and rising from the dead so as the Living One he offers to come into your life and perform the heart swap as he gives you his heart so that slowly you become more and more like him. And you can do that here tonight by simply confessing your guilt and asking him to come in- but you have to do it for no one else can do it for you.
And when you do then you will fulfil the desire of your heart- what is that? 'they shall see God.' What was it the great Christian thinker Augustine said? 'Lord our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.' We were made to know God and to have that relationship with him we see Adam had in the Garden of Eden, that open face to face encounter which was lost because of our sin. Now the Bible is adamant about our inability to see God: In Exodus 33:20 God says quite categorically, 'No one may see me and live'; In 1 Timothy 6: 16 Paul speaks of 'God who alone is immortal and lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen or can see.' And the reason is obvious. For us to approach God in our state would be like standing before the open door of a blast furnace or looking at a nuclear flash with the naked eye- we would evaporate in the presence of his pure holiness. That is the true God who exits not the feeble god of the imagination. And yet here, Jesus is also adamant, those who have a pure heart will see God. How? Is the Bible contradicting itself?
If we cannot approach God in his naked purity then what if he approaches us clothed in a form which would protect us? What if he were to come to us veiled so that we could truly see him and yet not wither away before him? In other words, what if he were to become one of us?
Now from one point of view those standing on that Palestinian hillside already had their hearts desire, though they did not realise it- they were seeing the face of God as they looked upon the face of Jesus. But from another point of view it is something yet to come, that seeing God with total clarity, un-obscured by the mist of sin, embraced by a heart which beats with his heart- namely when the Lord Jesus returns or we are called home to be with him. Isn't that an amazing prospect? That one day we shall see God. What is the sight of the Grand Canyon compared to this sight? What will be the gazing into a star studded night compare to gazing into the holy face of God which is a face radiant with love? But friends, that is exactly what Jesus is guaranteeing when he says 'Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.' Let us pray.
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