“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” – Matt. 5:6
When was the last time you remember being incredibly hungry or incredibly thirsty? Once, back in Washington, some friends and I were planning on floating down the Yakima River on a Sunday afternoon. We parked some cars a few miles down the river, and drove up to the spot where you put in and all hopped on our pool floaties and inner-tubes. The float itself took about two hours if you stayed on your tube the entire time, but we would stop every now and then and wrestle each other or try and force one another off of our tubes – typical teenage guy stuff. However, what we didn’t pay attention to was how remarkably slow the current of the river was – it was nearly at a standstill. We started floating at 2PM, figuring we would easily be finished before dinner time, but eventually we noticed that it was beginning to get dark and we hadn’t even finished half of the float by then. We didn’t get to the pick-up spot till 10PM – eight whole hours on a little floatie, with no water and no food. We drove to the first fast-food restaurant we could find and ordered a preposterous amount of food and just inhaled it. Ravenous, exhausted, sun-burnt, and dehydrated, I don’t know if a McChicken and a cup of water ever tasted and felt so good.
We all are familiar with what it is like to be hungry and to be thirsty, to varying degrees. In this beatitude, Jesus plays off of the most basic, and powerful craving every human experiences to describe what a Christian is to long for most: righteousness. Our three questions we will ask today are: What does it mean to Hunger and Thirst? What does Jesus mean by Righteousness? How do We Become Righteous People?
Hunger and Thirst
If we could, I’d like to draw our attention to how peculiar this sentence is, ““Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Jesus is saying that there is a blessing (lit. “happy”) for the person who hungers and thirsts. If you are hungry, what does that mean? It means that you are lacking food. If you are thirsty, what does it mean? You are lacking water. To hunger and thirst means that you lack something, but long for it. So why is Jesus saying that it is a blessing to lack something? Do you feel happy when you are starving? So what does this mean?
The current blessing is rooted in the future promise, “for they shall be satisfied.” The hunger pains we experience now are transformed into blessing and joy when we see the satisfaction of God coming on the horizon. You may not feel particularly happy when you are hungry, but doesn’t that entirely change when you know you are about to eat dinner? When you know that the craving is about to be satisfied, doesn’t it completely transform the craving from something negative to something positive? I bet some of the best meals you have ever experienced are when you worked up a hearty appetite. The longing made the satisfaction of it more enjoyable than if you didn’t long for it at all.
Now, Jesus is speaking specifically about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, but I think this principle of hungering and thirsting for God actually is behind all of Christian life. We hunger and thirst after righteousness because we fundamentally hunger and thirst after God, and God is a righteous God. Look with me for a moment at Psalm 63.
“O God, you are my God; earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you; my flesh faints for you, as in a dry and weary land where there is no water,” (Ps. 63:1). The psalmist here obviously finds himself in an interesting debacle: he has had God, but not enough to satiate his desire for God. He is lacking, but longing for more of God – but he is confident that one day, it will not be so, “My soul will be satisfied as with fat and rich food, and my mouth will praise you with joyful lips,” (Ps. 63:5). He will be satisfied, one day, but for now he pines after God, which leads him to commune with and rejoice in God as much as he can, “So I have looked upon you in the sanctuary, beholding your power and glory. Because your steadfast love is better than life, my lips will praise you. So I will bless you as long as I live; in your name I will lift up my hands,” (Ps. 63:2-4).
O God, I have tasted Thy goodness, and it has both satisfied me and made me thirsty for more. I am painfully conscious of my need for further grace. I am ashamed of my lack of desire. O God, the Triune God, I want to want Thee; I long to be filled with longing; I thirst to be made more thirsty still. Show me Thy glory, I pray Thee, so that I may know Thee indeed. – A.W. Tozer “The Pursuit of God”.
What is “Righteousness”?
Zooming back into the text here, let’s look specifically on what Jesus says we should hunger and thirst for: righteousness. What does Jesus mean by “righteousness”? Righteousness simply means being morally right, living and conforming to God’s law, or acting justly. So, in the beginning God made us in His image, meaning that we were made to reflect His character and nature. To be “righteous” is to reflect that character and nature perfectly – to follow God’s commandments and image His moral purity. That was how God designed us, to be righteous, but in the Garden of Eden the serpent deceived Adam and Eve and convinced them that it was actually better to deviate from the design and sin, to be unrighteous. And from that moment on, humanity has suffered under the weight of a broken world, shattered by the effects of sin.
This explains why Jesus says we “hunger and thirst” for righteousness – we lack, but long for it to come.
A Christian is someone who is both aware of their lack of righteousness, but also eagerly longing to become more righteous. And in that longing, they begin to live more righteously, because they long to see and know more of God. In other words, we long to live holy lives, free from sin, pleasing to God, because our God is holy. We don’t want to make peace with sin, we want it to be gone in our lives, and we lament its continuing presence. The promise is that when we hunger and thirst, we will be satisfied – so if we see a true hunger for God and His righteousness in our hearts, then Jesus has promised that fulfillment will replace lack, and what we desire will be given to us!
Already, Not Yet
That has an already application in the sense that if we truly desire to live holy lives, we will slowly and gradually see ourselves start to live more righteously, and thus will have joy and satisfaction. But the main weight of the promise is the future not yet aspect, where we will one day see our God and upon seeing Him will be transformed into a perfectly righteous person. Look at 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.” That is stunning. One day, you shall see God, and you shall be made like Him! Perfectly resplendent in holiness and righteousness. That is the day we long for, that is what electrifies our souls. It is as the old hymn Come Thou Fount tells us, “Oh that day when freed from sinning, I shall see Thy lovely face.”
This weekend we saw Beauty and the Beast at the school and I couldn’t help but think of this at the end. That play is so powerful because it taps into something that we all feel deeply: a desire to have the One who is beautiful and lovely look at our beastliness and still say “I love you”, and it transform us into a handsome prince. That is not Disney fantasy my friends, if you are in Christ, that is your destiny. And that future fulfillment and satisfaction bleeds back into our present reality and mingles our sorrow over our current state with a deep joy, and helps fuel our fight to live righteously now.
How to be Righteous?
Acting righteously is a tricky thing in the Bible. Sometimes it is talked about positively, and other times very negatively. God calls Israel’s righteous deeds “filthy rags” in Isaiah (64:6), and Paul calls his righteous deeds “rubbish” (Phil. 3:5-8). In Romans, Paul describes his fellow Jews who passionately were trying to live righteously, but were failing, “For, being ignorant of the righteousness of God, and seeking to establish their own, they did not submit to God’s righteousness,” (Rom. 10:3). This gives us a clue as to the wrong way to pursue righteousness, seeking to establish their own….
Now, these Jews most likely were not Biblically ignorant – they probably knew the Old Testament better than all of us. That isn’t what Paul means by “being ignorant of the righteousness of God” – rather, what Paul means by this is that the Jews believed that they could themselves fulfill all of the righteous demands of the Law, that through their religious rituals and extra rules they created, they could make themselves good enough for God. And Paul plainly says that by this attempt to establish their righteousness, they have actually not submitted to God’s righteousness.
So how do we live righteously? If it is an impossibly high standard, then what is the point? Here is the key: righteousness is first a gift that is given, before it is an action that is performed. How could that be? Well, God Himself came down, humbling Himself, and took the form of a man, a servant, Jesus Christ. And while we all have failed to measure up to God’s standard, Jesus simply did not – He perfectly obeyed it. The book of Hebrews describes Jesus, “For we do not have a high priest who is unable to sympathize with our weaknesses, but [Jesus] who in every respect has been tempted as we are, yet without sin,” (Heb. 4:15). Jesus, though attacked and tempted just as we all are, never sinned, never failed to uphold God’s righteousness. But at the end of Jesus’ perfect life, He received a death, penalty, and condemnation that He did not deserve. Paul explains, “For our sake God made him to be sin who knew now sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God,” (2 Cor. 5:21). When Christ died, His death forgives us of our sins, but it is His Law-keeping life, His righteous record, that is now given to us who have put their faith in Him. So we can join Paul in saying, “And to the one who does not work but believes in him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is counted as righteousness,” (Rom. 4:5). This is why Paul finishes his critique of his Jewish brothers’ ignorance of God’s righteousness with, “For Christ is the end of the law of righteousness to everyone who believes,” (Rom. 10:4).
That is the gift of righteousness, given to us freely by God and received with faith alone – this righteousness that we receive vertically from God, then leads us to live horizontally righteous lives on earth. How? It gives us the right motivation to obey. We don’t obey God to try and prove to Him that we are worth accepting. We obey God because when we were at our lowest, He gave up His pure, perfect, costly, spotless robes of righteousness, and draped them over the filthy, ragged shoulders of spiritual beggars like you and me. We obey God because we love Him. We love God, because He loved us.
“For the grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self- controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age, waiting for our blessed hope, the appearing of the glory of our great God and Savior Jesus Christ,” (Titus 2:11-13). This is so helpful, it is God’s grace that trains us to be godly, to act righteously – not His anger, or His judgment, but His kind, undeserved grace. In light of what is to come, the eager expectation of seeing God, we live self-controlled lives. It is His love that compels us. Love, so amazing, so divine, Demands my soul, my life, my all.
We hunger and thirst for righteousness because our God is righteous. We are satisfied now in that we begin to act righteously because we are clothed in Christ’s righteousness, but one day we will be ultimately satisfied in that the robes will no longer simply cover our unrighteousness, but we will fully be made righteous.