“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” (Mt. 5:6)
This verse is the fourth of nine statements of blessing pronounced by the Lord Jesus Christ in what is perhaps the most famous sermon ever, the Sermon on the Mount. They can even be read as a set of progressive statements of increasing blessing. They are referred to as the “beatitudes” by most people, and the term comes from the verb “to beatify,” meaning to make blessedly happy. We should not confuse it with “beautify,” to make or become beautiful, because these words do more than just attract people with esthetic, they bless and make spiritually prosperous. As with most things in Scripture, there is more than one level at which this statement can be viewed, and I saw three:
- The Gospel (Justification)
- Beyond the Gospel (Sanctification)
- To the Kingdom (Glorification)
To begin, we need to understand what this verse is saying. It is pronouncing blessing on those that hunger and thirst for righteousness, and informing us that those who do will be able somehow to satisfy those needs. I say needs because hunger and thirst are survival-critical whereas the desire for a better seat, a better car, a better house, like that, are not necessarily critical to your survival. Believe it or not, you could survive without a house. You might have to camp in doorways or under bridges when it rains, but there are many people who have to do that to survive, and they seem to survive. You can survive without a car, especially in the city. I have actually done this, and fairly recently. And your current seat is just fine, because this is a small room, and no matter where you sit, you can both see me and hear me. But have you ever actually gone hungry or thirsty? Scientists (and I used to be one of these) tell us that you can survive about 2-3 weeks without food. You can survive 2-3 days without water. There are actual physical cues that tell you when you need to eat or drink, and if you follow those cues, you are satisfied.
These cues are more than biological cues, however. These statements are spiritual in nature, as are all of these statements. Blessed are those that hunger and thirst FOR RIGHTEOUSNESS. Last I checked, that isn’t food or drink, but is rather a spiritual principle based on what God has codified for us in His Word. And this brings me to my first thought, which I simply called:
The Gospel (Justification)
There is a large number of people that think these statements are all there is to living the Christian life. They view these beatitudes as a list of works to perform in order to be a Christian, when nothing could be further from the truth. Ephesian 2:8-9 say, “For by grace you have been saved through faith; and that not of yourselves, it is the gift of God; not as a result of works, so that no one may boast.” The Apostle Paul informs us all that we are saved by faith alone, by grace alone, in Christ alone, and that our works do not even enter into this salvation that God accomplishes. That is the short version of what theologians call the gospel, an Elizabethan English word that means “good news.”
We want to talk about that, but before I can, I have to tell you the BAD news. The bad news is that every single one of us without the salvation that Paul spoke of in Ephesians is under the wrath of God. Okay, I hear the objections to that, “Well, that’s what you say what Paul says.” Fine, let’s look at the words of Jesus, the God-man who is teaching the Sermon on the Mount. John 3:18-20 reads, “He who believes in Him is not judged; he who does not believe has been judged already, because he has not believed in the name of the only begotten Son of God. This is the judgment, that the Light has come into the world, and men loved the darkness rather than the Light, for their deeds were evil. For everyone who does evil hates the Light, and does not come to the Light for fear that his deeds will be exposed.” Look again at v.18. He who believes in Him [Christ] is not judged, but the one that does not believe [in Christ] has been judged already because he does not believe in the name of the only begotten Son of God [Christ]. Beloved, that is the default natural state of every person on the planet. We start as those who are lost. We must first believe before this can be otherwise. That lost standing means that without repentance, a turning from our sins and forsaking them, and a believing that Christ paid for our personal sins when He died in our place on the cross, we are under the wrath of a wrathful, all-powerful, and HOLY God, and if I read the end of the story right, all those that would not believe suffer conscious and eternal suffering in a very real place called hell. Revelation 20:154 says, “And if anyone’s name was not found written in the book of life, he was thrown into the lake of fire.” Beloved, that’s VERY bad news, and I stand here today to appeal to you: would you escape that fate if you could? Then stand by, because here is the good news in detail.
God knew this was going to happen before it did, and had already devised a plan for when it did, and that plan has now successfully been engaged! God the Son, who was fully God, became fully man, and He did so with one purpose in mind: To live the life that God commanded us to live but are unable, and then to willingly and knowingly give up that life of the flesh to die in our place as our personal sacrifice to atone for all of OUR wrongdoings and to wipe the record clean so that we could belong to Him as brothers and sisters! The verse I think says this best is 2 Corinthians 5:21, which reads, “He made Him who knew no sin to become sin on our behalf, so that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.”
With that said, let me now ask you a question. Is that something you want? Sitting there, beside all of the Christians in this place, have you been pretending even to yourself that you sing and understand the same hymns and spiritual songs that we sing every Sunday, week after week, month after month, year after year? It’s okay if you’re just realizing this! God is calling you now to His Son Jesus! Answer that call. You don’t have to bow your head, you don’t have to raise your hand, you don’t have to walk the aisle, because we don’t do altar calls. [Here altar, here, altar…good boy…hahaha] Simply REPENT. The Greek word is metanoia. It simply means change your mind and turn around. Turn 180 degrees from your sin…admit that it’s sin…and ask God forgive those sins. Also believe in your heart that God was so pleased with Jesus sacrifice to atone for your sins on the cross that He raised Him from the dead! That’s the proof that your sins were paid for and that their power in your life is now broken. Do that, and you will be saved from that coming wrath of God that is coming to the entire planet. We’ve actually been looking at this as we’ve been studying our way through 1 Peter, and we talked about some of this on Thursday night! You should come! Learn what it means to “hunger and thirst after (His) righteousness” and be satisfied. And that brings me to my second thought on this subject:
Beyond the Gospel (Sanctification)
Just as we need to be justified before God to be saved from His coming wrath, we also need to be “sanctified” or if you like, “made holy” so that we may see the Lord. I know I have said this before, but our salvation may be broken down into three…stages if you will. Justification, which we just spoke of, and Sanctification, which we are considering now, and Glorification, which I’ll say a little about later. All three are a necessary part of our salvation from sin, and this being made holy is important. Hebrews 12:14 says, “Pursue peace with all men, and the sanctification without which no one will see the Lord.” That word for “sanctification” is in fact the same word translated as “holiness” in the New Testament, hagiasmos. It is pretty clear just from this verse, and I could spend a fair bit of time to show it further that this holiness, the setting apart for God that Jesus died to enable and provide, is a prerequisite to see the Lord! What does that say about our justification? Nothing, theologically. This is a separate subject entirely. When we believe, our hearts are renewed and we are satisfied in our hunger and thirst for righteousness! When we PURSUE the Lord, that is walk with Him daily, our minds are renewed, as Paul tells us in Romans 12:2—“And do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind, so that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.”
In the gospel, the Lord justifies us and for the first time satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness, and beyond the gospel, God gives us opportunities to walk with Him through struggles and trials and yet remain holy, allowing us to find renewed and continued satisfaction for our hunger and thirst for righteousness. And beloved, we cannot do this alone. Not entirely. We need each other, and that’s where the church comes in—discipling—and there is a distinct connection between the discipline of walking daily with Christ and the sanctification we should be seeking. If we are NOT seeking that sanctification, we should be questioning if we need to go back a step and start with the gospel.
The discipline of discipleship is how we continually and daily seek to satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness. We learn not only the basic gospel, but all of the standards by which the Lord would have us walk by. If you want a place to start, consider what Paul calls “the fruit of the Spirit” in Galatians 5:22-23. Love, joy, peace, kindness, longsuffering, all the way through self-control. If we are walking in those things daily and increasing, then we are allowing the Lord to sanctify us! Also, a daily plan of prayer, of reading God’s Word, of fellowshipping with God and likeminded believers, and of worshipping Him helps us to be disciplined in our approach. There are other things like keeping a journal of thoughts about what you have read or things you want to pray about…all these are useful tools to discipline ourselves for that sanctification.
I have been a little imprecise on this on purpose, because there are multiple ways of doing this, but if you want to know more specifics, speak with me later. I should also say that all of this discipleship activity has a reason, and that brings me to my final thought for this consideration.
The Kingdom (Glorification)
If the gospel makes disciples, then disciples make the coming kingdom of Christ. We don’t have a full picture of what this will look like in Scripture, but this is the end of all the hungering and thirsting for righteousness that the Lord was talking about in this statement. Paul says that we don’t really understand what we see in 1 Corinthians 13:12—“For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face; now I know in part, but then I will know fully just as I also have been fully known.” John says it like this—“Beloved, now we are children of God, and it has not appeared as yet what we will be. We know that when He appears, we will be like Him, because we will see Him just as He is.”
The entire point of today’s hungering and thirsting after His righteousness is for a future kingdom that will be after this current age on earth. We have an incomplete picture of what that will be like, but we know this—it IS coming, and in that kingdom, we will be like Christ. What that means is anyone’s guess, but we CAN see the required character for it. This is what it means to be glorified—we will be like Him.
This does not magically happen overnight, beloved. Otherwise why would God allow trials? Did Job have trouble that resulted in HIM learning how better to walk with God in responsible humility and self-control? Yes, he did.
My thoughts turn to a study done in the late 1960s and early 1970s on school children. The thought behind the experiment was to remove restrictions from the children to see them blossom into strong individuals, or at least that was the psychobabble they used to justify the experiment. What the experimenters did was remove the fence from around a school playground and observe the reactions of the children. What they noted was not what they expected. After the fence was removed, the children became sullen, and clustered in observably lethargic groups in the center of the playground. When the fence was replaced, the children became happier and more energetic, even running up to the hard boundary of the fence. This puzzled the psychologists.
What was eventually realized is that the children were unhappy and overcautious without knowing where the boundaries were, so they knew how far they could go. When they had the perceived hard boundary, they knew their limits and just how far they could go in a literal sense. We as Christians are like those school children. Galatians 3:23-24 reads, “But before faith came, we were kept in custody under the law, being shut up to the faith which was later to be revealed. Therefore the Law has become our tutor to lead us to Christ, so that we may be justified by faith.” The rules that our Lord has set down through His Apostles and teachers of their doctrines are our guides until we come to Christ, and at the right time, all of those restrictions will be taken away, because we will have internalized them and can regulate ourselves as those who are mature in Christ. Paul goes on in Galatians to explain that we are no longer in fact under the Mosaic Law to make that point, because we have already come to Christ by faith.
I will conclude with this comment. Although we will never get beyond Christ, when we stand before him, having been justified by grace alone, through faith alone, in Christ alone, and having been sanctified by suffering as He suffered in the flesh, He will glorify us, and we will finally be able to see Him, as free men in a world without fences. Soli Deo Gloria, Beloved. Amen.