Message: Happily Sanctified | Scripture: Matthew 5:7-9 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Up until this point, we’ve traversed up the unscalable mountain, and as we’ve gone up, we’ve found that we are wanting—that we are desperately sinful and helplessly doomed to an eternity of punishment because of it. As a result, we’ve mourned that sin and the separation it creates between us and the holy and righteous one who stands in judgment over us. And in our mourning—not our prideful, self-pity but an actual grief over how wicked we are and the defamation we’ve inflicted against the name and character of our Creator—we become defenceless and meek not only to the revelation of God’s anger but also to the accusations of the world that cannot truly condemn us as we know we deserve.
Thus, when we find ourselves so emptied in spiritual bankruptcy—so overwhelmed by the grievousness of our sin—there is only one proper response to it, and it is to hunger and thirst after something that might relieve us of that poverty, that might comfort us in our mourning, and that might raise our heads from looking at our feet as we’re sunken in our shame. We are driven desperately to that same God who stands over us in judgment as we plead with him to make us holy as he is holy, and because of his compassion and love towards those who are repentant and contrite in heart, he satisfies us by first giving us his Son to be the atonement for our sin and the fount of our righteousness, and then he sends us his Spirit to enable us not only to testify of his redeeming grace but also that we might be transformed into the image of that same Son from one degree of glory to the next.
This is the gift he gives us in the gospel—forgiveness from sin and freedom to worship as those generously and meritlessly reconciled to him through Christ. This is a Christian’s reality revealed from Heaven, and it is the most excellent reality of happiness for those whose primary desire is holiness—that we are both declared righteous and enabled for righteousness by God because only those who are righteous are acceptable to God. This is the mountain peak, and no one who has seen the mountain peak of God remains unaffected.
When he opens your eyes to his wisdom in the cross, and when he showers your life with the love of Christ, it’s not only that you are now able to live righteously, it’s that you must live righteously. Why? Because you know who and what you were before it, and now, you’ve been made something new in God. Now you have tasted what is good and cannot return to what is bad. Thus, displaying his character is simply a means of knowing and abiding in him.
And Christ tells us in Matthew 5:7-9 the three specific ways in which we are to exhibit this revealed righteousness from heaven (a righteousness that belongs to God and his character and not to the world). We do so by showing mercy, prioritizing purity, and sowing peace. That’s our outline this morning: Exhibit the revealed righteousness of heaven by showing mercy, prioritizing purity, and sowing peace. So, let’s attend to these manners of exhibiting righteousness in the moments that we have now with our first point:
1) By Reflecting Mercy
Follow along as I read Matthew 5:7. TWoL: Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.
First, let’s unpack the place from which our mercy originates. As I stated in my introduction, our realization of our spiritual bankruptcy leads to a desperate hungering and thirsting for spiritual wealth. We cry out for righteousness. And in our distress, God responds not with wrath, as we deserve, but with the gift of his own Son to justify us and his Spirit to sanctify us. This is divine mercy, or better stated, this is perfect mercy for in our infinite sorrow, we’ve been pardoned and given infinite satisfaction. Thus, mercy originates in God, and it is ultimately exhibited for us in Christ.
And in our reception of Christ—his blood as the payment of ransom for our sin and his imputation of righteousness as the fulfillment of the law—we respond in gratitude by becoming like him. In other words, because we have received great mercy at great cost, we are enabled and filled with desire to be similarly merciful to those around us because our eyes are opened to how they are like we were—slaves to sin and satan, and in our reception of mercy, we know how it changes our lives and makes us singularly happy, even in our saddest moments. At all times, we are able to show others mercy because of the mercy God has shown us through Jesus who suffered, upon a cross, the fate of our sin.
But, secondly, we must ask what is mercy so that we can know whether or not we are displaying it? And perhaps no illustration will ever give us a better example than what we’re told in the parable of the Good Samaritan. It’s there in Luke 10:33, as we read about the Jewish man who is beaten, robbed, and left for dead, after the priest and the Levite pass him, that a Samaritan man comes, “as he journeyed, to where the man was, and when he saw him, he had compassion. He went to him and bound up his wounds, brought him to an inn and promised the innkeeper to repay any of the man’s expenses when he returned.”
It’s in this parable that we’re given a vivid definition as to what mercy looks like in practice. First, a merciful man recognizes when someone is desperate and in need. Secondly, it moves him to a heartfelt compassion—he sees this manifestation of sin either in the person or being inflicted on the person, and from it comes a great sorrow in him. Thirdly, so great is this compassion that it moves him to action in the form of help—even if such help is costly. And fourthly, a merciful man acts mercifully even if the person who is desperate is his greatest enemy, as Jews are with Samaritans. Thus, to be merciful is to be able to recognize desperation, to have compassion upon what you see, to provide help in their need, and to do so even for those who might hate you.
And we might ask in this instance if such a thing is even possible for us to do, and I would say no—it’s impossible if it comes from us because we live in a world that tells us mercy is useless—that it does us no good. In fact, we all still have hearts to some degree that tell us every day to choose to be vicious over being merciful, and we hope that in those moments that we choose, against our human nature, to be merciful that God is watching. Why? Because we think our mercy merits our salvation. Right? That’s how many unorthodox commentators interpret our passage. They say that the Bible, here, proves that the happy person is a merciful person because he or she will receive mercy.
It sounds like the reward is dependent upon our action—as if our works have an effect upon God and his favour or disfavour over us. But to read the beatitude this way is to disregard all the ones that have come before it, namely, that our works—our poverty—our bankruptcy—has no effect on a God who is infinitely righteous and rich. Our works have no effect on God, but his mercy in satisfying our deepest longing to be free from the shackles of our sin with his own righteousness ought to have every effect upon us, so that as we go out we do not act in the world as if we are the merciful ones—as if we have the right in our shame to be vicious sometimes and merciful at other times.
No, we do not act in the world as if we are the merciful ones. Rather, we live in the world as those who merely reflect the Merciful One. We are reflectors of mercy not originators, and that ought to humble us not to aim at being merciful by our own strength but to aim at knowing Jesus—him crucified for our depravity.
It’s when we know and reflect him—the joy that we have in him—that the reward of the beatitude becomes vibrantly coherent—those who are merciful, as Christ was and is merciful to you, they shall receive the fullness of his mercy—a fullness we do not yet know—on that last day—a mercy that shall wash every stain of sin away as you walk freely and holy into God’s kingdom. But implicit in this is also a warning, parallel with the ‘Woe’ in Matt 23:23-24—that those who do not reflect a mercy that comes from heaven and that took upon itself the hell of your sin, it matters not what you say you are in this life, for by your viciousness, hypocrisy, and arrogance you show that you never really saw its light.
So, then, dear Christian, take every precaution to exhibit the revealed righteousness of God by reflecting the mercy of Jesus, for in so doing, you shall receive mercy.
2) By Prioritizing Purity
Follow along as I read Matthew 5:8. TWoL: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.
What happens to a man who has received and reflects divine mercy? It changes his very constitution. See, the satisfaction of our longing and the provision of God’s mercy in our lives happen simultaneously. As we long for redemption, God comes to us instantly. In fact, God is in charge of the whole process—from the moment that we recognize our poverty in spirit, God reveals our sin to us, God shows us the pain it causes him, God humbles us to make us meek, and God creates within us a hunger, which he mercifully satisfies with the gift of his Son and the indwelt presence of the Holy Spirit. This, brothers and sisters, is called regeneration leading to conversion. You are regenerated in your spirit and converted from sinfulness to do what is righteous in God’s sight.
So, when we come to this beatitude, it rightly provides us with the other side of the coin. Where mercy is something that we exhibit externally as a result of God’s satisfaction of our longing to be free of sin’s bondage, a pure heart speaks to what’s going on internally (1 Sam 16:7 – Man looks on the outward appearance, but the Lord looks on the heart). This reference to the heart is a reference to one’s core identity. Mercy is what we do, the heart is who we are, and for those whose lives have been plumbed first by the mercy of God, the doing is always and only reflective of who we are.
This is why prior to our hungering and thirsting for righteousness all we can do is see our poverty in sin and mourn over it. It’s because as God reveals the true nature of our hearts to us, we see that all we are, and thus all we do, is impure. Right? Rom 1:21, Paul is speaking of men who are without God saying, “For although they knew God (in their minds), they did not honour him as God or give thanks to him, but they became futile in their thinking, and their foolish hearts were darkened.” Or Matt 15:18-19, “what comes out of the mouth proceeds from the heart [. . .] For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, fornication, theft, false witness, slander. These are what defile a man.” In other words, because the heart is defiled, so too are man’s works defiled.
But when God turns the sight of our sin into a longing for righteousness, he not only affects the way we interact with others, but how we know ourselves. And the word that Christ uses is that we’re given pure hearts. What does this mean? Well, it’s a phrase that comes from Psalm 24:3-6, which reads, “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart, who does not lift up his soul to what is false and does not swear deceitfully. He will receive blessing from the Lord and righteousness from the God of his salvation. Such is the generation of those who seek him, who seek the face of the God of Jacob.”
In other words, according to David, to be pure in heart and clean of hands does not mean merely to be passively cleansed and forgiven of sin. This idea of being made undefiled is implied—God does the work. Yet, what’s more than our passive disposition of being cleansed is the active component that the King of Israel introduces here, namely, to be pure of heart is to not lift up our soul to falsehood—to refrain from lying. Because to be deceptive is to say one thing while veiling the true desire of your heart. It is, as James 4:8 tells us, to have two wills or two minds, and purity that comes from God who is pure cannot be doubleminded.
If we were to say this positively from the negative don’t partake in deceit or don’t be double-minded, we might say: Purity of Heart is to Will One Thing (Soren Kierkegaard). King David, in the 24th Psalm, goes a necessary step further by telling us that purity of heart is to will one thing, that is, to seek the face of God. Jesus, himself, puts it this way in Matt 22:37: You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart.
You shall make him your highest and deepest treasure. Why? Because he alone satisfies you—he alone provides you with the mercy that you need. He alone purifies you from what you were. Who can say, ‘I have made my heart clean; I am pure from my sin?’ ‘Who is the one who can save?” “With men it is impossible, but with God all things are possible.” It is God who purifies us with his own purity so that we might live in and fight for purity—that we might fight to be single-minded, undistracted by the deception of the world and the lusts of our flesh in our devotion to him.
And what is promised to those who have this singular, all-heart encompassing love for God? Christ says, “you shall see God.” What does that mean? In one respect, it means that you’ll be brought into his presence. Think of Moses after the plague of darkness in Exodus 10, Pharaoh says to him, “Get away from me; take care never to see my face again, for on the day you see my face you shall die.” On that day, Moses was cast out from Pharaoh’s presence. In another respect, it means that he hears when you cry out for help and that he answers with his grace. Psalm 27:7 and 9 tell us this, “Hear, O Lord, when I cry aloud; be gracious to me and answer me! . . . Hide not your face from me.” To see the face of God means that God shows up when we need him, and he faithfully delivers us.
But above both these things, to see the face of God is to be incomparably and exceedingly happy because to have this promise is to know all of it won’t be in vain. It’s to know that one day the fullness of his glory and love shall become visible and tangible in our midst—that all of this insecurity over the inescapability of our sin will not end in misery because God shall bring the escape! God shall bring the relief! And the way he shall bring it is in himself.
The promise of seeing God is a promise of infinite, joyful, wondrous salvation—a promise that we get to experience fulfilled now—for it is God who said, “Let light shine out of darkness,” and he has shone it into our hearts to give us the light of the knowledge of his own glory in the face of his own Son. But for now, our experience of this is a dim, incomplete experience. We know that this life—all the incredible things that we get to experience in it because of the graciousness of our God—it is all but a shadow and reflection. The day is still coming when we shall know it—when we shall know the glory and love of our Saviour—face-to-face.
And this confidence ought to make a radical difference in our lives—that we are meant, as one pastor says, “for the audience chamber of God; you and I are being prepared to enter into the presence of the King of kings.” And not just to enter into his presence, but to know him as he truly is—no longer hindered by our besetting sin, but to be perfect as he is perfect—to be satisfied in righteousness as he is righteous.
“This is what we will have—in part now, and fully in the age to come—if we are pure in heart.” Therefore, exhibit the revealed righteousness of heaven by pursuing a singular devotion to him. “Will this one thing. And you will see God.”
3) By Sowing Peace
Follow along as I read Matthew 5:9. TWoL: Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called sons of God.
What, then, results from a man or woman who receives such great mercy and who has been made pure enough to see the radiance of the living God? What results from a man or woman so acquainted with their own sorrow and grief that he might be desperately driven to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Let me tell you that he or she is someone who has long forgotten about his or her own well-being. No, so deep and ugly was their sin, and so lavish is the gift of God to satisfy them with pity and single-minded devotion to their deliverance, that they cannot help but grow in their longing and desire to not only be rid of their own sin, but to see others saved from it as well at any cost.
I hope you see it—that each of these beatitudes, especially these three that we’re discussing today, have all been perfectly fulfilled in Jesus. Jesus is the merciful one whose compassion and pity for the lost drove him to the lowest depths of condescension not only in taking upon himself our flesh but our transgressions against him. He became acquainted with our sorrow and our grief intimately—in a way that none of us have ever been truly acquainted or sorrowed by our poverty. And in his identification with us, he became perfectly pure in heart for he had a singular mind and devotion to carry out the will of God in saving us so that we might see his glory.
Here, then, we also are meant to remember that he is the ultimate maker of peace for he is not only peaceable and unquarrelsome in his character, but he actively came into the world when we hated him most—when the war of our treachery and treason was at its height. And instead of condemning us and slaughtering us as any righteous King would have done, he sees the requirement of the law for perfection as well as the punishment of the law for disobedience, and he gives himself up in satisfaction for both. He restores the peace. But he doesn’t do so merely between man and man or group with group. He brings peace, first and foremost, to the enmity that exists between God and man.
And I bring up Christ as the fulfillment of these beatitudes because this is what he is telling us in these first seven statements to be. Want to be happy in an immovable, transcendent way? Then long to bring salvation into the world—a longing and desire not born from your own natural righteousness or from your own ability to save it, but from God’s supernatural work in our lives and the revelation he gives us in Jesus. This is what I mean when I say that the man or woman who has gone through these beatitudes is someone who has long forgotten about his or her own well-being, because just as Christ did for us, we wade willingly into the war for man’s heart, seek to confront them with God’s heart, have pity on them over their sin, and call them to an undivided devotion for the glory of God as they taste the satisfying sweetness of the gospel.
We are to be frontline sowers of peace in a world divided and unhinged by its own corruption, and we’re to do it even if it costs us our own life because going to war is never without its risks, and following Jesus, while a desperately happy thing, is never devoid of sacrifice. In fact, it is something we ought to expect when we put ourselves between man and the devil—for not only will the devil claw at us and attempt to thwart us, but man will think of us as obstacles that need to be removed in order to get to that thing that he thinks is most worthy of his attention and affection. Our job—though it is not our outcome to decide—is to be immovable so long as we have life and breath—to not only desire peace, but to make it with the power and help of the Spirit of God.
And how is it that we know we can persevere? Because as the passage tells us—those who make peace shall be called sons of God. Now, I know the title ‘sons of God’ seems to tell us about our inheritance—that as we wade out to make peace—to declare the gospel, if it costs us our lives, we need not be afraid because waiting in eternity is a prize that far outweighs any reward we deserve on earth—God himself longs to give it to us—that marvelous crown of life. But, brothers and sisters, I want to make sure that we do not sell ourselves short because while the promise of inheritance is true, it is not the only promise being made here.
A few days ago, my wife brought a mini movie to my attention, and in it were a number of children holding crayons over a piece of paper. And each of the children were asked to draw something—draw the first thing that comes to your mind when you think of the word, “safe.” And without having to think of it almost at all, nearly every single child proceeded to draw a picture of their family—their father and mother holding onto to them and their siblings as if that was enough to protect them from the greatest, most awful threats in world.
Dear church, this task of going out into the midst of utter rebellion—in proclaiming the gospel to people who believe with absolute conviction that they do not need saving—is an incredible, awful, and nearly impossible thing to do. But in the midst of our going out, we have to remember what it means to be called the sons and daughters of God—for he is no mere, weak, or indefensible father. No, he is the God whose greatness and power and glory and victory and majesty is beheld not only in our own salvation, but in all that is in the heavens and in the earth. By his hand all things were created—every ruler, every dominion, and every authority, and all of it is for him.
And in those deepest, darkest nights of the soul, when all seems insurmountable, and the world waits to crush you, he says, “fear not, for I am with you; be not dismayed, for I am your God; I will strengthen you, I will help you, I will uphold you with my righteous right hand.” So, go and make peace and exhibit my righteousness given to you in my Son through the present power of my Spirit in all the land for, surely, I am with you always, even till the very end of the age.