Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness

Sermon preached on Matthew 5:6 by Rev. W. Reid Hankins during the Morning Worship Service at Trinity Presbyterian Church (OPC) on 2/9/2014 in Novato, CA.

Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
Matthew 5:1-12

“Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst For Righteousness”

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled. You have to love the encouragement and perspective of Christ in these Beatitudes. So far, we’ve seen that people who are in spiritual states that can be described as poor, mourning, meek, and now hungry and thirsty, will find reversal. To the beggarly poor of spirit, they will own the kingdom of heaven. To the ones grieving over sin, they will be comforted. To the meek and humble, they shall receive the whole world as an inheritance. And now, for those who hunger and thirst, they will be filled. Filled. Filled with that righteousness which they’ve craved.

Now, on the one hand this idea should be easy for us. On the other hand, it may be difficult. On the one hand, we’ve all been hungry or thirsty before. These are things you experience every day and they lead you to go and eat a meal or get and get a drink. On the other hand, probably most of us have ever really known real hunger or thirst. In our area, famine even among the poorest, is virtually non-existent. Even in situations like how we are currently amidst a drought, it seems highly unlikely that any of us will experience any medical dehydration because of it. My assumption then is that probably none of us here have had to really know hunger and thirst in the full. But as a Christian, we learn here that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are blessed. Here again, we get a bit of a picture of what the typical Christian life looks like. Again, we are not saying that a Christian will perfectly embody the characteristics found here. But certainly Christians are those who have begun to find this at least in part descriptive of themselves. And that because the Holy Spirit has been at work in your life, beginning with your new birth. It’s the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that has left you poor in spirit, a beggar to Christ for help. It’s the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that has softened your heart and caused you to mourn over your sin and the sin in the world all around you. It’s the regeneration of the Holy Spirit that has instilled in you a sense of meekness that says that God doesn’t owe you anything and that you need God to lift you up. And it’s that same work of the Holy Spirit that now is developing in you a hunger and thirst for righteousness. You see, as a Christian, we have turned to Christ in faith and repentance. The repentance part of that includes mourning over our sin, but then a real desire to begin to live for the Lord. It’s that desire that we are talking about today. Every true Christian will have at least some real desire to be righteous. That’s what we want to observe today, and to see the blessedness of such.

Let’s begin then by thinking about this hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Let me start then by pointing out the obvious. The language of hungering and thirsting is being used in a figurative sense. The most literal way we think of hungering and thirsting is over physical food and drink, obviously. And so think of when you are hungry. It can pain you. The pangs of hunger. Or think about being thirsty. How dry and parched you might feel. Remember, how we saw Israel deal with this in the Old Testament, during their wilderness wandering. When they didn’t have water to drink or food to eat, it panicked them. It caused them to cry out to God. Unfortunately it also sparked in them grumbling and complaining against God. But you can see how important food and water were to them. People usually are very serious about their meals!

And so hunger and thirst is powerful language, and it’s used then in a more figurative sense to talk about our spiritual appetites. What hunger and thirst is physically, is descriptive of how we should spiritually crave righteousness. Think of how serious you are about making sure you don’t miss a meal or that you get a drink when you are really thirsty. Do we have a similar zeal and passion and craving for righteousness? The real Christian does have a real desire for this; not a perfect or sufficient desire; but a real genuine desire nonetheless. If you don’t have a real desire for righteousness, then that should concern you greatly. It should send you back to that state of mourning described in verse 4, and you should meekly seek this desire from God.

So what does it mean then to hunger and thirst specifically for righteousness? Well, obviously, you can’t eat or drink righteousness. It’s not something you can put your hands on and take into your mouth. It’s not something to put in your belly anyways. It’s something you want in your heart and to come forth from you. So, what is this righteousness? Well, there are two interrelated senses of this word. Two different ways this word can get used, but they are closely related. You could think about righteousness in terms of our standing before God. And you can think about righteousness in how we actually live, by what we think, say, and do. To put it another way, this word for righteousness can be used in describing our justification, and it can also be used in describing our sanctification.

In regards to justification, the word for righteousness here in the Greek has the same root as word for justification and justify in the Greek. In that usage of righteousness, we are talking about our legal standing before God. Does he deem us righteous? Does he count us righteous? Does he look at us and consider us guilty before the law? If so, then we would be seen as unrighteous. Or does he look at us and consider us having rightly fulfilled all the demands of the law? In which case we would be considered as righteous. This is righteousness in regards to our justification.

So then, in regards to our sanctification, the word for righteousness says that this is what our sanctification should look like. In other words, as we are looking to grow in holy living, righteousness is what the holy living looks like. That means that as a Christian seeks to live a holy life, we do that by trying to live according to the commands of God’s moral law. That’s also righteousness. Righteousness describes the conforming to that law. To the degree that your thoughts, words, and deeds, are acting in conformity to God’s law, then such are said to be righteous. To the degree that they not, then they are not righteous. A Christian going through the process of sanctification is then seeking — hungering — to have his thoughts, words, and deeds be righteous; to be in conformity to the standard of God’s law.

And so righteousness is about being in conformity to God’s laws. We can think about that in terms of our standing before God — we want to be deemed righteous. And we can think about that in our actual living — we want our thoughts, words, and deeds to be righteous. Realize, that theoretically those things would be describing one and the same thing. Under normal circumstances, someone is deemed by God to be righteous, only if their living is righteous. Of course as Christians, we’ve come to realize that such normal circumstances leave us condemned. That’s why we hunger and thirst for this righteousness; righteousness in both of these aspects. In both of our standing before God, and in our actual selves lived out. We’ll talk more about that as it pertains to the gospel and our salvation in a moment.

But for now, let’s focus a little further still on this standard of righteousness. Because if this is what we are to hunger and thirst for, I want to make sure we appreciate it properly. This standard of righteousness, of course, is described in part in this Sermon on the Mount. It’s a righteousness that is far greater than what the scribes and the Pharisees were living out in Jesus’ day, per verse 20. It’s a righteousness that is more than just something external or in keeping to just the bare letter of the law, as the rest of this chapter helps us to see. In next chapter, we see the warning about practicing your righteousness in order to be seen by men; that you would be praised by them; that teaches us that the end goal of all our righteousness must be to the glory of God. And in chapter 7, we learn that true righteousness is going to be something that starts from within: from a good tree bears good fruit. In all of this, the standard can be summarized with verse 48 of this chapter — be perfect; like God is perfect.

So then, we are to seek this righteousness. We are to have a spiritual appetite for this righteousness. Next chapter, verse 33, Jesus will say in this sermon, “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added to you” (emphasis mine). But, again, add this idea of seeking this righteousness to the other beatitudes we’ve studied so far. A human who is also poor in spirit and meek needs to realize they don’t on their own possess this righteousness. They should mourn over that fact. But that is why then in turn you should seek it.

Well, then, let’s turn to our second point. Jesus says that the one who seeks this righteousness is blessed because they shall be filled. Let’s think then about this filling. To be filled physically, of course, is about having your physical hunger and thirst satisfied. You were hungry, and so you ate a meal, and now you are full. You were thirsty, so you drank some water, and now you are not thirsty. Applied to righteousness: It means that we desire righteousness and receive it. Again, I’m talking again about a blessing that only the true Christian will actually experience. How is it then that the Christian who seeks righteousness will be filled? Well, as we’ve gone along the way in these blessings, we keep seeing ways in which we’ve already begun to experience the blessedness held out, but have not yet experienced it in its fullest. That is true yet again with this beatitude.

Most specifically then, we can think about how we have been filled, are being filled, and have not yet been filled. The part of our filling that has already taken place is covered under that topic of justification that we mentioned. Paul says in Romans 3:21, “But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ.” The Christian is one who hungers to be righteous in God’s sight, and in that aspect is immediately filled as he comes to this position in Christ.

So then, the part of our filling that is going on currently is covered under that topic of sanctification that we mentioned. Paul says in Romans 6:13, “Do not present your members as instruments of unrighteousness to sin, but present yourselves to God as being alive from the dead, and your members as instruments of righteousness to God.” Paul situates this in light of our union with Christ. He died on the cross to put to death sin. Because of this, we are to seek out righteousness here and now in what we think, speak, and do. To the degree we find this happening here and now, that’s God filling us. To the degree we find our thoughts, words, and deeds, being lived out in righteous ways, that’s a filling that we receive.

Of course, in this life, we don’t live perfectly righteous. So, that leaves us yet hungering and thirsting for more. And that’s the part that’s not yet been filled. So, that part of the filling that has not been filled is covered under what we can call glorification. John says in 1 John 3:2, “Beloved, now we are children of God; and it has not yet been revealed what we shall be, but we know that when he is revealed, we shall be like Him, for we shall see Him as He is.” We shall be like Christ, in his image, in his righteousness. Peter says of that day, in 2 Peter 3:13, that in the new heavens and the new earth that righteousness will dwell there. This is the state of glory. In the age to come, in glory, our hunger and thirst for righteousness will finally be satisfied in full. Then we will not just be righteous on paper, in terms of our standing before God. Then we won’t just be a people day by day struggling to live righteously. Then we will be righteous, and live and think and speak righteously. And so will everyone else who is there with us. We will be fully content in the righteousness we have come into at that point; satiated; satisfied; filled to the full.

As I’m sure is already clear to most, let us again look to Christ and see how this all comes together in him. Let us exalt Christ by seeing his hunger and thirst for righteousness lived out perfectly while he was on earth. And let us see how we find our righteousness filled in him. So, then, begin with how we see Christ himself hungering and thirsting for righteousness. Besides how he lived a perfectly righteous life, I like how we see this in John 4 with him ministering to the Samaritan woman at the well. There in John 4:32, he describes his work to his disciples in this way. When they are worried about his physical hunger, he tells them this, “I have food to eat of which you do not know.” When they are confused, he explains saying, “My food is to do the will of him who sent Me, and to finish His work. Jesus hungered and thirsted for righteousness. And he had it in the full.

Of course, he is then the one who after teaching about hungering and thirsting for righteousness, points people as well to himself. To that Samaritan woman, he told her he had water that he could give her from which if she drank it, she would never thirst again! Or in John 6:35, Jesus told people this; he said, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.” You see, this is how we need to keep approaching these beatitudes. We can’t remove Christ from the picture. We made this point with the other ones, and we make it again today. The hungering that’s talked about here is not some bare desire for moral living. It’s about coming to Christ for him to fill you and feed you. And he’s able to fill you and feed you because he himself possesses all righteousness, and he himself has died for your unrighteousness.

I’ve made this point several times before, and I will make it again. I think this comes out especially when Jesus on the cross cried out, “I thirst.” John’s gospel is the one that has all the repeated references that Jesus can permanently quench your thirst. And John’s gospel is the only one that records how Jesus cried out that he was thirsty on the cross. Taken together, it seems ironic at first glance that the one who is repeatedly claiming the ability to completely quench thirst, cries out about his thirst. I can’t help but see a deeper spiritual lesson there. Don’t get me wrong, I’m sure Jesus was physically thirsty too as he hung there. But we also know that while Jesus hung there on the cross he was paying for our sins. In other gospel accounts, he’s recorded as crying out during that experience, “My God, My God, why have you forsaken me?” You see, as Jesus hung there, he was bearing the punishment for our unrighteousness. Our unrighteousness left unresolved means we hunger and thirst spiritually. It means we are famished and parched to have a relationship with our creator, but instead are under his wrath and curse. We are famished and parched to live out the image we were created in, but instead we are feeble and out of strength in sickness and disease from our spiritual malnutrition. There’s nothing good about our unrighteousness before God. So Jesus experienced it on the cross, in that he took on our unrighteousness as he hung there. There he surely did hunger and thirst spiritually speaking, unfilled, parched, as he bore God’s wrath in our place.

Why? So we could be filled. So that we now, having the Spirit of God making us alive, and realizing our hunger and thirst for righteousness, can find that appetite satisfied. That’s what 2 Corinthians 5:21 says. “For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him.” Believe and trust then in Christ. Acknowledge your need for this. Mourn over your unrighteousness. Hunger and thirst for righteousness — a righteousness that comes in Christ. And so hunger and thirst for him — for Jesus. To take him into your heart and life. Hunger for him, taste and see, that he is good.

Of course, I speak first and foremost to any here that have never put your trust in Christ before. Do so today. Be filled with the righteousness that comes by being put in a right standing before God. But then I speak to the rest. After receiving that justification, keep then hungering and thirsting for more and more righteousness. To set your heart on this each day. Christ, his kingdom, and his righteousness — this all is to be our chief desire. They all come together. They are all inter-related. And so as you see yourself hungering like this, recognize the Spirit’s work in you. And as you see that work of the Spirit, realize you are blessed. Blessed even in how he has filled you, in how he is filling you, and how he will fill you.

I’ll end with some final application. As those in Christ, this beatitude has begun to describe us. Realize that our old self was not described in this way. In our old man, we hungered and thirsted for many other things besides righteousness. We loved and lusted after the things of the world; after sinful things. It’s that old man that still wants to raise his ugly head in our lives. And so John warns us of this battle when he tells this to the Christian in 1 John 2:15, “Do not love the world or the things in the world. If anyone loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world — the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life — is not of the Father but is of the world. And the world is passing away, and the lust of it; but he who does the will of God abides forever.” That’s the blessedness talked about in this sermon on the mount. The sinful things of this world that cry out to our hearts, won’t truly fill. They won’t truly satisfy. They claim they will. But they won’t ultimately. As you live for Christ, be aware then of the deceitfulness of desire. Keep examining yourself in that regard. Let us look to love and seek after what Christ calls us to set our hearts on. To see the blessedness of seeking God’s will. Righteousness is at the heart of where our heart’s desire should be.

So, then if we hunger and thirst in this way, let us really hunger and thirst in this way. Read your Bibles. Pray. Be faithful to attend the assemblies of the saints where God is worshipped and the Word is preached. Really hunger. Really thirst. This is your identity in Christ. One who is blessed because they hunger and thirst. Let us live as such.

One final closing thought. I’ve said from the beginning that these beatitudes are not put in the form of commands. They are really descriptive and encouragements. Yes, there are implications in these that bring out commands by way of application. We’ve surely seen that. But these are especially meant to encourage those who are described in this way — that they are blessed. As you see God’s work in you to bring out a genuine craving for righteousness, realize how blessed you are. As you’ve desired to be justified before him — know that you have been in Christ. As you want to live more godly here and now, see that he’s at work to grow you in this. As you long to be done with sinning, realize that’s where this all will end up. Be encouraged. Recognize your blessedness. Find joy and contentment as you find that to hunger and thirst in Christ for righteousness doesn’t mean you are missing out on something. It means you really will have it all, all that’s truly good and lasting and of value; and you will have it in the full. Amen.

Copyright © 2014 Rev. W. Reid Hankins, M.Div.
All Rights Reserved.


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