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Pure in Heart

November 8, 2011 by Jong Park

Preaching through Matthew has been exhilarating and excruciating; I find myself vacillating between these two extremes regularly. It’s been exhilarating discovering firsthand Matthew’s intent to show Jesus as the true King, who recapitulates the history of Israel and proves to be the True Israel for us. It’s also been nothing short of excruciating as I’ve come face to face with the superficiality of my faith, when I hear words like, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8) and know how painfully far I am from it.

The nuance of the word purity is unmixed devotion, singular affection, and free from defilement. In a desensitized generation where we yawn, and not gasp, at some of the improprieties around us, what does it mean to be pure in heart?

 

Matthew’s regularly reaches back into the Old Testament to scratch his Jewish audience where their faith itched. He shows Jesus to be the true King from the line of King David (Matthew 1). There are different places where I see David’s heart shine but there is one story that stands out to me concerning the purity of his heart. In 2 Samuel 6:14, David “danced before the Lord with all his might”. For the first time, he is not the underdog here. He’s not the baby brother who’s nearly overlooked for kingship. He’s no longer the ruddy-faced teen with a slingshot in his hand getting ceremoniously dissed by Goliath. He’s neither being overlooked nor dissed; he is King David here. Kings usually sit on the throne looking regal but David was neither defined by his throne nor his crown; his fundamental identity was a graced sinner-worshiper. He rarely fell under an illusion that his current circumstance, whether underdog or topdog, was an eternal statement of who he was. He was clear: I’m a sinner saved by the grace of God, so I will never cease to worship.

Sad to say, his wife Michal didn’t share her husband’s joy. Kings don’t dance and they certainly don’t dance out of control! Rather than supporting him, she despised him in her heart (1 Samuel 6:16). She couldn’t bear to see David leap and dance like a wild man. So she stood there at the window peering coldly at the uncouth king. Michal was prim and proper with a dead heart; David was undignified and embarrassing but alive. Michal couldn’t dance because there was no song inside of her, no salvation song.

Here’s my struggle: I know I should dance with David but often feel the bitter wind of Michal blowing me back inside the ivory tower from where she judged her husband. I want to be pure but I crave impure things. Jesus was speaking the truth about my heart when he said “out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false witness, slander” (Matthew 15:19). So what is the answer? “Blessed are those who mourn” (5:3) at the sin-marred world around them and the sin-craving heart in them. The more we mourn, i.e. repent, the purer our hearts get. Purity is not an absence of sins; it is an honest awareness of your sins. It is vulnerably coming to the Lord with all our pride, lust, jealousy, and impurity and asking him to forgive us and change us. Remarkably, the more we repent, the more we hate our sins and the more we love God. And, the more we dance freely for his glory.

In the 90′s, when acid wash jeans roamed the earth, something special was happening at my college church – a cluster of Filipino-Americans were getting blessed left and right. It was predominantly a Korean/Chinese-American church back then (now it’s quite a different story with over thirty ethnic groups) and the sudden appearance of a new group of people was a nice shot in the arm for our rather homogenous church. At the tail end of that year, we had a “praise night” which consisted of your standard fare of songs and skits. (Again, it was over twenty years ago; it’s very different now.) After one of the skits, a group of Filipino-Americans took the stage and it was a sight to behold: Kangols on their heads, clock necklaces like Flava Flav, and rather than doing a skit or a song, they danced. Step-danced to be precise. I’ll be honest, the only dancing I’d seen at church were in skits where the main character is “falling away” and dancing miserably at a party. After getting over my personal myopic hangup, I was able to really see what they were doing. They were straining every muscle, moving their whole body, and steppin for the glory of God, the God who had saved them from darkness to light. They didn’t care what people thought. This was their faith in action. They wanted to express the new song God had put in their hearts. It saw purity and worship. I saw Davids dancing with all their might before the Lord.

 

I nearly lost it when they added syncopated words to the rhythm of their bodies:

“PRAISE GOD / FOR WHAT / HE’S DONE / IN OUR LIVES!”

“PRAISE GOD / FOR WHAT / HE’S DONE / IN OUR LIVES!”

“PRAISE GOD / FOR WHAT / HE’S DONE / IN OUR LIVES!”

What is purity of heart? Looking to the only One who was perfectly pure, repenting honestly for our impurity, receiving His forgiveness and strength to fight our impurity, then becoming more and more like Him until we see him without veiled faces.

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