In the story 'The Lord of the Rings,' there is a section where Froto and his friends are setting around a campfire during their journey to destroy the evil master ring. The dark riders came and Froto stepped into the dark side. There he was pierced by the knife of a dark rider. The point of the knife broke off in the wound and worked its way t2oward Froto's heart. Froto became very sick, but before the point could get to Froto's heart, the point was removed. Froto didn't realize the danger of the knife point. Once removed, Froto was able to continue his journey to destroy darkness.
I want to draw four points from that scene. 1. The Lord purposely places people around our lives with torches to protect us. However, we become invisible by stepping into our personal darkness - the areas that no one knows about but us. In that place those positioned to help us cannot and we become very vulnerable to attacks from the evil one. 2. We have all been pierced at some point in our lives. Someone or some situation wounded us. A piece of that knife broke off and worked its way toward our hearts. If it gets to the heart it will cause us to move in darkness - hate, anger, vengeance, violence, meanness, resentment, etc.
Matthew 15:19 For out of the heart come evil thoughts, murder, adultery, sexual immorality, theft, false testimony, slander.
We will become what we detest. The broken point will cause infection in our spiritual being. Our vision will be blurred. We will become cold to the things of God and our journey to destroy darkness will stop. 3. Not only have we been pierced, we have pierced others with our words and things we have done. Usually this is not intentional, but nonetheless it happens. We have caused others to hurt, blur, become cold, and stopped their journey and purpose. What we say and do have eternal consequences. 4. Once the point of the broken knife has been removed and the wound washed, we can resume our journey to destroy darkness.
Today's lesson will deal with our hearts. Jesus was big on our taking a look at our hearts. I pray today's lesson will cause us to check the attitudes in our hearts.
Matthew 5:7 Blessed are the merciful: for they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the merciful . . .The Greek word translated "merciful" is eleemon (Strong's #1655) and means "to help one afflicted or seeking aid, to bring help to the wretched." My being merciful is far more than my feeling sorry or expressing compassion. My being merciful is "to help one afflicted or seeking aid." My being merciful is bringing help to someone in a wretched situation. I read a true story once about a nineteenth century farmer whose horse had been accidentally killed. The horse was used to plow and for transportation. It was a serious loss and the farmer was in a wretched situation. People were standing around giving words of sorrow. A preacher passed by and said, "I'm sorry $20.00. How much are you sorry?" Being merciful is active compassion. It's bringing help. It's helping someone needing aid.
It is also active forgiveness. Joseph had been thrown in a pit and sold into slavery by his brothers. Years later, he became a ruler in Egypt. His brothers came to Egypt for food. They were literally at Joseph's mercy. Joseph not only forgave them. He acted to meet their needs. Mercy is more than compassion and forgiveness. It is the beautiful attitude of active compassion and active forgiveness.
During the adventure of life each of us will have an opportunity to forgive someone who has "stabbed" us. We must forgive. Unforgiveness is like the point of the knife working its way to the heart. It will not injure the person who did the stabbing. It will injure the person stabbed. Getting the broken point out is the difficulty part. Don't you imagine that Joseph fought with that knife point working its way to his heart?
I was once fishing alone in my boat and was doing very well at catching fish. A man who was a guide had three people in his boat and was not doing well catching fish. The guide became aggravated with me and ran his boat extremely close to my boat rocking me severely and waking water into my boat. He and I got into a verbal altercation with both of us yelling and challenging each another. I was angry and fighting mad and not a witness for Jesus at all. We decided to finish the matter later. That situation really bothered me. I wish I could say that it bothered me the most because of the way I had so un-Christlike responded. What really bothered me was I continued to be angry and found myself looking for him when I went fishing. I wanted to finish the matter. It was like a point of a broken knife working its way to my heart. If I didn't get it out, I would become like him. I prayed about the matter and not long afterwards I was fishing and he came riding in. I had caught my live bait early and was again catching fish. He could catch no bait and could catch no fish. It was as if the Lord said, "Here is your opportunity if you are serious about fixing the situation." A part of me was rejoicing because he could catch no bait, but I knew that was my flesh. I eased up to his boat in my boat. He had this "ready to war" look on his face. I offered him some bait, and watch that wonderful bewildered look come across his face. Of course, he accepted the bait and thanked me. It was then that the point of the knife was removed. When I think about that situation now, I smile instead of feeling anger.
. . . for they shall obtain mercy.
It is all too common to see bitter, unforgiving, and unmerciful people in church. Remember the story Jesus told that is titled "The Unmerciful Servant?" Jesus is teaching about forgiveness and links mercy with forgiveness. This servant was forgiven a massive dept that should have imprisoned him and put his family in bondage forever. However, after being forgiven, he would not forgive a small debt someone owed him? Here is what Jesus said.
Matthew 18:33 Shouldn't you have had mercy on your fellow servant just as I had on you?'
Matthew 18:34 In anger his master turned him over to the jailers to be tortured, until he should pay back all he owed.
Matthew 18:35 "This is how my heavenly Father will treat each of you unless you forgive your brother from your heart."
Notice the connection of mercy and forgiveness in the mind of Christ. If we want mercy from God, we must give mercy to people no matter what the debt. We have been forgiven by God. That mercy and forgiveness will affect our personal lives and our families. We are expected to now show mercy and forgiveness.
I want to make certain that I have not sounded as though mercy is only expressed when someone has wounded us. Mercy is actively helping people in needful and wretched situations. However, there will be opportunities to get the knife point away from our hearts. There will be opportunities to forgive and express mercy to someone who has seriously harmed us. The question is not "Can we do it?" We can because we have been forgiven and the Spirit of Christ lives within us. The question is "Will we do it?"
Matthew 5:8 Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God.
Jesus told us how to have 20/20 spiritual vision. That will only happen when we have a pure heart. My seeing God is not because I one day prayed a prayer or attend church. It will be because I have a pure heart.
Blessed are the pure in heart . . .
The theology of Jesus is that God wants the inward man cleansed. Externalizing religion alone means nothing to Jesus. Actually Jesus condemns a religion that only externalizes its belief with no inward cleansing.
Matthew 23:25 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You clean the outside of the cup and dish, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence.
Matthew 23:26 Blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and dish, and then the outside also will be clean.
Matthew 23:27 "Woe to you, teachers of the law and Pharisees, you hypocrites! You are like whitewashed tombs, which look beautiful on the outside but on the inside are full of dead men's bones and everything unclean.
Matthew 23:28 In the same way, on the outside you appear to people as righteous but on the inside you are full of hypocrisy and wickedness.
Jesus is not thrilled with an external religion that does nothing for the inside. What happens if we take a dish with food on it, wash the outside and bottom, but leave the food on the plate? Awhile back I had come home for a weekend from vacation. I cooked some fish while I was home. I ran some water in the pan that I cooked the fish and left it in the sink. Two weeks later, we came home from vacation. Do you have any idea of the smell that had filled our house? Jesus said this is what external religion is like. The truth is that each of us has darkness in our hearts (Mat 15:19). None of us are as clean on the inside as we appear to be on the outside. We each know the darkness in our own hearts and that if we do not clean our hearts, we become defiled and stink up the whole person.
Have you ever become odious to yourself? You could smell your own body and it was not a pleasing aroma. I don't know of any smell that I dislike more than smelling myself. The worst part about that is most likely if I can smell myself, someone else has already noticed my smell. I remember once when I had mowed my front yard and had come into the house and set down in my chair. My wife walked past me. She turned up her nose, waved her hand in front of her nose, and said, "You stink!" Well, I knew that I was sweaty and hot. I knew I needed to take a shower shortly, but I didn't think I stunk. Even if I did stink, I suppose I thought she would understand.
Isn't it that way in the spiritual with our hearts? We know we need to clean our hearts, but we don't think we stink, right? The truth is that people "smell" our hearts. The "churchese" word for that is discernment. It simply means we pick up the aroma of someone's heart or spirit with our spirit. If the heart has been cleansed, the aroma is pleasing. If the heart is defiled and filthy, the aroma is repulsive.
Have you ever experienced a smell that you didn't know exactly what it was, but you knew you didn't like it? In fact, if you continued to smell it, it would make you nauseous? It's that way with people. We have all been around people and something just wasn't right. We didn't know what it was or why we felt that way. We just knew we didn't like something and being around that person became nauseating. We were smelling their heart. People with this keen sense of smell in the kingdom have the gift of discernment (1Co 12:8-10). My wife has this keen sense of smell. I remember our children bringing friends home or us meeting their friends at different places. My wife would "smell" - discern - something wrong. She was always right.
When Jesus said, "Blessed are the pure in heart . . . ," he is talking about a heart that is receiving regular washings. We must bathe regularly in the natural. We must bathe regularly in the spiritual. If I don't, I get this crud in my heart. If not washed, it becomes hard and dried and difficult to get out. It becomes obvious to me there is a problem. When that happens, church becomes a job rather than a joy. Prayer becomes and intrusion rather than an inspiration. Reading becomes a chore rather than a charge. Praise becomes a duty rather than a delight. I must correct my attitude and get my priorities properly aligned. I need to clean my heart before I begin to stink to people and to God.
. . . for they shall see God.
How is it possible to see God? We see God with our hearts. When my heart is right, I can see God at church. When my heart is right, I see God in prayer. When my heart is right, I see God in the pages of the Bible. When my heart is right, I see God in praise. When my heart is right, I see God in everything. David saw God in a thunder storm (Psa 29) and in the leaves of Mulberry trees. I can see God in life's events both good and bad when my heart is clean. Job did this.
Job 42:5 My ears had heard of you but now my eyes have seen you.
If you know the story about Job, you know that Job had to cleanse his heart and then he could see God. It wasn't that he saw God literally. He saw God in his bad and his good times. The cleaner our hearts, the more we are able to see God.
There is a wonderfully true story about a woman named Anna Mae Pennica who was blind from birth. At age 62 she had surgery by Dr. Thomas Pettit at Jules Stein Eye Institute to remove rare congenital cataracts from her eyes in 1981. The operation was a success and she could see for the first time in 62 years. She was amazed at how much bigger and brighter everything was. She saw birds fly and green grass and the sunset and the faces of people. She had 20/30 vision. The sad part is that the surgical technique was available in 1940. She lived 20 years needlessly blind. Our cure for a blind heart has been available for 2,000 years.
I was on my yearly break this past September. I had come to town to mow my lawn, pay bills, etc. I was here for Sunday and set on the back row for service. I didn't want to say anything or do anything. I simply wanted to observe and see if there was anything we could do better. It was in that service that the Lord spoke to me about this pure in heart thing. Why is it that people can't enter into praise and worship? The answer is because something is clogging their hearts. It could be some situation or some doctrine or any number of things, but something has become unclean in the heart and they can't see God. Why do people not pray and read the word of God? It's because something needs cleaning in the heart. Why do people not serve or give as they know they should? Something has gotten in the heart and unless it is cleansed, we will become like the very thing that stabbed us.
Living in the kingdom requires constantly cleaning the attitudes of our heart. That is what the Sermon on the Mount is about.