Summary: Deals with the first part of "Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God."
THE WAY OF THE KING
A Pure Heart
"Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God" (Mt. 5:8).
Religion majors on externals to the neglect of more important issues. It deals with rules, regulations and ceremonies.
This was condemned by God through the pen of Isaiah. He wrote: "The Lord says: ’These people come near to me with their mouth and honor me with their lips, but their hearts are far from me. Their worship of me is made up only of rules taught by men’" (Isaiah 29:13).
The teachers of the law were precise in their tithing of spices, but neglected justice, mercy and faithfulness. Jesus said of them, “You strain out a gnat and swallow a camel” (Mt. 23:23-24).
Luke tells us that the Pharisees chided Jesus because he did not go through the ceremonial washings before eating. (See Lu 11:37-38)
Although the priests were commanded to wash their hands before going into the presence of the Lord, lest they die, the Pharisees had taken it beyond God’s intent. They had instituted a hand washing ceremony that had no basis in the Law and had in fact become a substitute for heart purity.
In 1Timothy 2:8, Paul used the figure of clean hands when he wrote: "I want men in every place to pray, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and dissension." In his statement Paul rejects ritual that is void of reality. Hands that have been lifted against a brother in anger should not be lifted to God in prayer until they have been cleansed.
Paul’s statement to Timothy was probably borrowed from Isaiah, who declared:
Isaiah 1:15-16 (NASB)
15“So when you spread out your hands in prayer, I will hide My eyes from you; yes, even though you multiply prayers, I will not listen. Your hands are covered with blood. 16“Wash yourselves, make yourselves clean; Remove the evil of your deeds from My sight. Cease to do evil."
Hands speak of external observable actions. They are lifted in prayer and worship and extended in service, but it is the thoughts and intents of the heart that determine the value of those actions. Jesus said:
NIV Matthew 15:18 …the things that come out of the mouth come from the heart, and these make a man ’unclean.’ 19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
NIV Matthew 12:34 You brood of vipers, how can you who are evil say anything good? For out of the overflow of the heart the mouth speaks. 35 The good man brings good things out of the good stored up in him, and the evil man brings evil things out of the evil stored up in him.
The condition of our hands, whether they are clean or not, is determined by the condition of our heart, not ceremonial washing. If I hate my brother, no amount of washing my hands will make them clean . The outward sins that defile the hands are rooted in the inward sins that defile the heart. Jeremiah told the people of Israel, "Wash your heart from evil, O Jerusalem, that you may be delivered" (Jer. 4:14).
God exhorts us to do more than merely modify our behavior. He calls us to deal with the attitudes, intents and motivations of our hearts.
In Psalm 24:3, David asked, "Who may ascend into the hill of the Lord?" and goes on to ask, "Or who may stand in His holy place?" In simple terms David is asking, "Who can come into the presence of the Lord?"
In this liturgy, the worshipers would respond to the priests questions with, "He who has clean hands and a pure heart…" (Psalm 24:4).
Similar questions and answers are asked and given in Psalm 15. The Psalmist asks:
1Lord, who may abide in Your tabernacle? Who may dwell in Your holy hill?
A paraphrase of the Psalmist’s answer might read as follows:
The one who walks straight, acts right, and whose spoken word agrees with the thoughts of his heart [that is integrity]. The one who refuses to use his tongue as a weapon against others, who never harms his neighbor, and who is a friend through thick and thin. The individual who refuses to take sides with sinners, but honors those who fear the LORD. He is one who will keep his word even if it means his ruin. The man who does not crush his debtors with high interest rates, and refuses to take a bribe against the innocent. Such a man shall stand firm forever.
Those who come into the presence of the Lord cannot rely on religious ritual for their acceptance; not even when performed with excellence. They must come with a pure heart!
People with pure hearts and little talent are more effective ministers than those who have great talent and impure hearts, but we admire talent. We admire the expression, but God values the condition of the fountain from which that expression comes. Do you remember what He told Samuel concerning Eliab? He said, "Man looks at the outward appearance, but the LORD looks at the heart" (1Sam. 16:7).