No sermon audio this week.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God. – Matt. 5:8
Think of the last time you saw something great. What was it? Maybe it was a great concert of one of your favorite musicians. Maybe it was sitting around the table with family and friends and you had a rare moment where you stood back and were just stunned at how great it was to have community like this. Maybe it was a quiet moment outside with your gaze upwards, looking at the night sky or a red and orange sunrise painted on the clouds.
We love seeing great things like that. Have you ever wondered why? Why do we love seeing awesome things? Why do we spend our time, money, energy, and emotions on filling our lives with opportunities to see greatness? We will cram our whole family into a car or a plane, sacrifice sleep and comfort, travel great lengths, and spend a ton of money just so we can see something great: the Grand Canyon, the beach, the Empire State Building, the Rockies. Why? This desire is strangely so familiar to us that we never question it –it just seems obvious that we love to see greatness. No one has to teach us to be amazed, we are naturally drawn towards it.
And while our desire for “awe” propels us to wonderful things in life, it also can lead us to some very destructive things. Like maybe seeing that high GPA is what we really think would be awesome, but we lack the ability to get it so we lie and cheat on the test. Or maybe winning that guy’s or that girl’s attention is ultimate, so we will compromise our convictions and do and say things that we know we shouldn’t. Here is the simple truth, friends: our entire life is shaped and formed by our desire to behold awesome things. So, we can’t just say don’t have sex, don’t lie, don’t cheat, don’t get drunk, and expect that in itself to create any serious change if you still deep down believe that sex, popularity, and drunkenness are really the greatest source of awe and greatness in life. At best, what we’ll end up doing is appealing to your pride and self-righteousness to motivate your morality. You’ll start saying stuff like Yes, maybe those things are enjoyable, but I have the will-power and self-control to say no to ‘happiness’, unlike other people. But all that is doing is using one sin, pride, to try and snuff out some other sin – which is ridiculous.
What do we need? We need to see that not only is the pleasure of sin wrong, but that it is inferior. We need to know that not only is sin wrong, but there is something better than sin. There is something greater, more awesome, more wonderful than breaking God’s commandments. And that is what our passage is talking about today. So let’s look at: The Fear of God, The Goodness of God, and the Pure in Heart.
The Fear of God
I wonder what “seeing God” sounds like to you? What image is conjured up in your mind? Perhaps you think of seeing a ball of light or being absorbed into a faceless ocean of energy. Or maybe a kindly looking grandpa on a rocking chairz with an impressive beard, or a cool hippie ready to go longboarding with you down the streets of gold. Well, none of these are accurate descriptions of what the Bible describes God as like, and they certainly aren’t accurate depictions of how people respond to seeing God in the Bible. When we imagine what it would be like to see God, we almost think of it exclusively as a pleasant, nice experience; something that warms our heart or sweetens our affections.
However, when we look at Scripture, it most commonly depicts a very different reality – something that R.C. Sproul calls the “trauma of holiness”. Many times in the Bible, to meet God is a traumatic, terrifying, and awesome experience. This is why when Jesus promises that those who are pure in heart will “see God”, it would have been a radical promise to make. Let’s look at why this is by taking a peek at God revealing Himself to the nation of Israel for the first time at Mt. Sinai,
On the morning of the third day there were thunders and lightnings and a thick cloud on the mountain and a very loud trumpet blast, so that all the people in the camp trembled. Then Moses brought the people out of the camp to meet God, and they took their stand at the foot of the mountain. Now Mount Sinai was wrapped in smoke because the Lord had descended on it in fire. The smoke of it went up like the smoke of a kiln, and the whole mountain trembled greatly. And as the sound of the trumpet grew louder and louder, Moses spoke, and God answered him in thunder. The Lord came down on Mount Sinai, to the top of the mountain. And the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. (Ex. 19:16-20)
Put yourself there; try to imagine what it would be like to be seeing this scene play out before you. You hear an incredible thunderstorm going on, and walk outside to see the mountain you are camping right next to covered in what looks like a tornado of fire and smoke. Suddenly there are blasts of trumpets so deep and powerful and growing in strength that your knees start shaking, and in fact, the whole mountain begins shaking. You hear the rocks chattering on the ground, your heart racing, palms sweating, and Moses announces that now is the time to meet your God. At the sight of that, suddenly all of the times we had treated God as unimportant, small, or had disobeyed and complained against Him, would come rushing to the forefront of our mind. He cannot be ignored now, He cannot be dismissed as unimportant or some vague concept or idea that our parents taught us. He is the living God who has come to meet us, and we must reckon ourselves with that reality.
After Moses goes up the mountain, God sends him back down and then God, out of the fire and cloud, pronounces the famous Ten Commandments to the entire gathering of Israel. Here is the people’s response,
Now when all the people saw the thunder and the flashes of lightning and the sound of the trumpet and the mountain smoking, the people were afraid and trembled, and they stood far off and said to Moses, “You speak to us, and we will listen; but do not let God speak to us, lest we die.” (Ex. 20:18-19)
Our God is “awesome” – He isn’t cute, He isn’t sweet, He isn’t a “Precious Memories” chubby baby angel kind of God. He is awesome. You know what “awesome” means? “Awesome” means powerful, incredible, glorious. Its literal definition is, “extremely impressive or daunting; inspiring great admiration, apprehension, or fear.” We are going to get into the goodness of God in just a second, but I want to emphasize this point because I think we tend to have a very small concept of God in our minds, so much so that the promise that we can “see God” doesn’t really sound that amazing. God doesn’t carry much weightiness in our lives. This is evident even in the language we use to describe our conversion – we say that we ‘gave our lives to God’, and then feel pretty smug about it afterwards, as if God just got some incredible bargain, as if God is some needy loner in heaven, whimpering for our attention and approval. No, our God is the living God, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, the God who descends in fire and thunder, the God who will judge the living and the dead, the great Sovereign of Creation, and King of the Cosmos. Brothers and sisters, if we have gotten to a point where we have so domesticated God, so softened the sharp edges off of God that we can pat Him on the head, appreciate Him, and then mostly ignore Him – then we have not met the real God. If your concept of God cannot square with Hebrews 10:31, “It is a fearful thing to fall into the hands of the living God,” then your god is small, safe, and fabricated.
The Goodness of God
The question we must ask ourselves now is this: what makes God so awesome? Why does everyone fall down in fear when they meet God? That could be confusing – why does God seem so scary? Monsters are scary, villains are scary, criminals are scary – but they are scary because they are bad, and that is why we fear them. So why do we fear God? Is he bad? Well, let’s look again back at God appearing on Mount Sinai, this time though let’s look at a conversation God has with just Moses,
Moses said, “Please show me your glory,” (Ex. 33:18). The “glory” of God is His awesomeness – it is His radiance, His power, His magnificence, His beauty. It is what was causing everyone else to be so afraid. What is Moses doing? He is asking to “see God”, and God responds.
And he said, “I will make all my goodness pass before you and will proclaim before you my name ‘The Lord. ’ And I will be gracious to whom I will be gracious, and will show mercy on whom I will show mercy,” (Ex. 33:19). You notice that? God’s glory is His “goodness”. We do not fear God because He is a tyrant or evil, but because He is so good. Why would we fear that? Well,
“But,” he said, “you cannot see my face, for man shall not see me and live,” (Ex. 33:20). Moses, like every other person in the Bible, is forbidden from seeing God’s face. Why? Because God is so holy and so perfect, that if a sinner looks upon God it would overwhelm him and he would die. This is why meeting God is such an intense experience and why everyone is so afraid – it isn’t because God is bad, but it is because He is so good, and we are so bad. We are the bad guys, God is the good guy. When a bank robber is on the run, and the sheriff walks into his hideout, the robber is filled with fear – not because the sheriff is a wicked man, but because the robber is a wicked man, and the sheriff is a righteous man. So it is with us and God. When we meet God we meet the one against whom we have sinned and offended and ignored, and we know that He has the right and power to serve us justice. So how can Moses be communing with God right now? Why isn’t he incinerated by the glory of God already? Well, remember, God’s glory isn’t just in His justice, but also in His mercy.
And the Lord said, “Behold, there is a place by me where you shall stand on the rock, and while my glory passes by I will put you in a cleft of the rock, and I will cover you with my hand until I have passed by. Then I will take away my hand, and you shall see my back, but my face shall not be seen,” (Ex. 33:21-23). God makes a way for Moses to experience the glory of God by shielding him in a rock that was split open. What a powerful image – God’s glory passes by like an inferno, and Moses is spared simply because God has graciously hidden him in a split open rock. Friends, don’t you see that this is a clear depiction of the gospel?
Christ is the True Rock, cleft and smitten for our sins so that we could be hidden in Him and so be spared from the wrath of the God. Jesus tells us, “Abide in me,” (John 15:3), and Paul tells us, “There is therefore now no condemnation for those who are in Christ Jesus,” (Rom. 8:1). And again, “For as many of you as were baptized into Christ have put on Christ,” (Gal. 3:27). We are saved because we have been hidden in Christ, and therefore can now behold the glory of God and it not consume us. Like Moses, we can pray, “God show me your glory,” and He can cause His goodness to pass before us now. But like Moses only being allowed to see God’s back, we too are only allowed to see God partially – for now we see God now with the eyes of faith, in reading His Word, prayer, gathering and worshipping with other Christians. But there will be a day where we will see Him fully, unveiled in all of His splendor (1 Cor. 13:12; 1 John 3:2).
The Pure in Heart
So what does this mean for you today? How does this affect what you do tonight when you go home? Let’s go back to the beginning, where we stated that we are wired for awe – we naturally crave and long to behold awesome and wonderful things. And that craving can often lead us to indulge in sin, rather than behold our God. This is what Jesus is saying – if it is a pure heart that sees God, than that means an impure heart won’t see God. When we are drawn to sin, to impurity, our hearts in that moment are saying, “this is more glorious and awesome than God.” I know that isn’t what you are consciously thinking while you are sinning, but that is what your heart believes at that moment. This sexual pleasure, the gratification of looking good, this lie, this outburst of anger is more glorious and more satisfying to my soul than God is. If you didn’t believe that, you wouldn’t sin. And I know, when we are in the throws of temptation, it really feels like obeying God is the opposite of joy. God really doesn’t seem worth it compared to indulging my flesh.
If you are standing in front of a large, beautiful mountain, full of gold and precious jewels, and you hold a penny up to your eye close enough, it will look like the penny is actually bigger than the mountain. And we may be duped into thinking the penny is more valuable than the mountain – which of course is ridiculous. We would be fools to think that! This is what Jesus is saying: our sins, our impure heart, crowd out our vision of God and make God look inferior to the pleasures of sin. Now, of course the penny isn’t bigger or more valuable than the mountain – all you have to do is see the mountain clearly to realize that the penny is a penny, and isn’t anywhere near the majesty and value of the mountain! We need to see that the awe and glory that come from our sin is a cheap counterfeit compared to the awe and wonder of seeing our God.
When we see that our God is not only awesome, and powerful, and mighty, and glorious, but also tells us that He is our loving Father, and closest Friend, and our true Spouse – that changes everything. When we see that He is bending all of His sovereign power towards our good because He loves us to the depths of our being, than a deeper intimacy and closeness with Him will seem so clearly superior than the deceitful promises of sin. C.S. Lewis describes the problem for Christians as not being too “awe, glory, and satisfaction” focused, but not enough!
“It would seem that Our Lord finds our desires not too strong, but too weak. We are half-hearted creatures, fooling about with drink and sex and ambition when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea. We are far too easily pleased.” – C.S. Lewis, “The Weight of Glory”