Friday, April 4, 2014

Blessed Acceptance (Matthew 5:8)

“Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8, NASB95)

Today there was big news as a top executive left the company he co-founded over an uproar concerning his support of a defense of marriage bill several years ago. Intolerance has grown so vicious in our country by groups that demand others be tolerant of their re-framed views. I do not know anything about the personal views of this chief executive, but the view on marriage which he supported is one which has long been the standard view of this country and the world. It is the one which was originated by God, established as the pattern for all mankind, and reinforced throughout Scripture. Yet over the years, a minority view has grown in its acceptance to the point that it has pushed those holding this biblical and worldwide traditional view into the outskirts of acceptability, and for that there is growing persecution.

Sure, the persecution may not be in the form of imprisonment, but when an individual can be forced to step down from a business over his rightly held views then it is persecution nonetheless. This even extends to those who have refused to participate in celebrating a same sex wedding by adding their artistic talents to the taking of pictures or the decorating of a cake. It extends even now to those who refuse to provide insurance which pays for abortive services or devices and who now are even waiting on our Supreme Court to determine if they will be further persecuted for their beliefs.

Jesus said blessed are the pure in heart. I can’t speak to the individual motives of these people mentioned above, but knowing that many of them have publicly professed belief in God and their commitment to walk right before Him and to properly handle His Word, I can reasonably assume that their motives are not hate or phobia but that of biblical conscience. And as a result all of them have suffered to some degree because of their conscience. I must reasonably assume that in walking these paths they have had to consider their motives and even the condition of their hearts. It would be very easy to become resentful of those who are persecuting them. But even in a media who has clearly stated its opposition to their stances, I see no evidence of anything other than them doing what they believe is the biblically right thing to do.

In Scripture we read a lot about our hearts and our minds. We read that we are to trust in the Lord with our whole hearts, such that we are not leaning on our own understanding, but acknowledging Him in all of our ways (Proverbs 3:5-6). We read that we are to watch over our hearts. And in watching over our hearts the Word of God is to perfectly inform our direction. In Psalm 119:9-11 we read, “How can a young man keep his way pure? By keeping it according to Your word. With all my heart I have sought You; do not let me wander from Your commandments. Your word I have treasured in my heart, that I may not sin against You.” (Psalm 119:9–11, NASB95) Later in verses 105 and 106 we read, “Your word is a lamp to my feet and a light to my path. I have sworn and I will confirm it, that I will keep Your righteous ordinances.” (Psalm 119:105–106, NASB95)

As we read the Bible we find that the direction of our hearts is never to diverge from the direction we receive from God’s Word, and in this it does not matter what level of resistance we might receive from those around us. There have been many who have even taken this stand to the point of death. After Christ Himself, I thought of Stephen who is recorded as the first Christian martyr. At the end of Acts chapter six Stephen is apprehended for the works God was doing through Him. Accusations were made against him, and at the beginning of Acts chapter seven he was asked if these things were so. What follows is his firm and lengthy response ending with, “You men who are stiff-necked and uncircumcised in heart and ears are always resisting the Holy Spirit; you are doing just as your fathers did. Which one of the prophets did your fathers not persecute? They killed those who had previously announced the coming of the Righteous One, whose betrayers and murderers you have now become; you who received the law as ordained by angels, and yet did not keep it.” (Acts 7:51–53, NASB95)

Stephen called them on account for their hard and ungodly hearts. In response to this we read, “Now when they heard this, they were cut to the quick, and they began gnashing their teeth at him. But being full of the Holy Spirit, he gazed intently into heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God; and he said, “Behold, I see the heavens opened up and the Son of Man standing at the right hand of God.” But they cried out with a loud voice, and covered their ears and rushed at him with one impulse. When they had driven him out of the city, they began stoning him; and the witnesses laid aside their robes at the feet of a young man named Saul. They went on stoning Stephen as he called on the Lord and said, “Lord Jesus, receive my spirit!” Then falling on his knees, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lord, do not hold this sin against them!” Having said this, he fell asleep.” (Acts 7:54–60, NASB95)

Jesus said, “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” Stephen knew where his great hope was, and even as they were stoning them he pleaded to God that they might see what they had done and turn. One of the bystanders, watching the coats of those who were doing the stoning, was Saul who we recognize as Paul—one who Jesus turned from a persecutor of the followers to a follower who was persecuted.

The apostle Paul was regularly brought before officials on charges, and as we read through the book of Acts we find the record of many of these encounters, especially in the last nine chapters. Going back to Acts 24 we read his heart behind his words and his belief in the emptiness of their charges.

“When the governor had nodded for him to speak, Paul responded: “Knowing that for many years you have been a judge to this nation, I cheerfully make my defense, since you can take note of the fact that no more than twelve days ago I went up to Jerusalem to worship. Neither in the temple, nor in the synagogues, nor in the city itself did they find me carrying on a discussion with anyone or causing a riot. “Nor can they prove to you the charges of which they now accuse me. But this I admit to you, that according to the Way which they call a sect I do serve the God of our fathers, believing everything that is in accordance with the Law and that is written in the Prophets; having a hope in God, which these men cherish themselves, that there shall certainly be a resurrection of both the righteous and the wicked. In view of this, I also do my best to maintain always a blameless conscience both before God and before men.” (Acts 24:10–16, NASB95)

All of us have choices that we regularly make in the course of our lives when we have to decide who we are going to listen to and how we are going to handle the truths of God’s Word.  In 1 Samuel 24 David had opportunity to take the life of King Saul who had been pursuing him. But he knew this would not be right, so he compromised and cut off the corner of his robe just to show what he could have done. But even in this compromise we read, “It came about afterward that David’s conscience bothered him because he had cut off the edge of Saul’s robe.” (1 Samuel 24:5, NASB95)

Regardless of what might happen to us in these lives, if we have trusted Christ for our salvation we know that we are children of God and that one day we will surely meet Him face to face. This is not conjecture, but a certain promise from our God who cannot lie. And when we fail in our walk and even in our dealings with man we know that our God will not turn on us as man does, but He is faithful to forgive those who He has called and accepted as His children and we will indeed see God.

Beatitude facet number 6: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.”

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