Earlier this year I preached two sermons as part of our series on the Beatitudes. This one was on Matthew 5:6 “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness”
You can watch the video, download the audio or read notes below.
I remember well at the end of the first term of university how nervous I was when I faced my first examination. I knew that failure would lead to resists, but only if they allowed it, and definitely if I failed any re-sits that would mean the end of the career I had set my heart on. I was worried all term that somehow there had been a mistake in the marking of my A Level papers and I wasn’t really meant to be there. Now they would find me out and send me home! I felt like I knew nothing just days before the exam. I worked hard. I studied well. I even found a revision partner. And so I passed. It was a great feeling.
But there were many more exams, and each one I passed made me more confident for the next. A couple of years later I faced a whole new type of exam that the university had never set before. This time, I was confident. I knew how this went. It was a practical exam which those of you who know me would realize should have worried me, but it didn’t. I was so confident, I was over-confident. I was cocksure. This would be easy. I turned up at the exam, did all the practical stations and was certain I had passed easily. Imagine my shock when I went to the results board as I had several times before and saw my name in the “failed” section! I thought I knew what I was doing, but I didn’t.
There were some little things that I didn’t understand about that exam which I can tell you about over coffee. Those little things undid me…I thought I knew all about it but I had misunderstood at crucial points.
Sometimes we are so cocksure that we are right only to find out that we are wrong. Today’s subject can be a bit like that: righteousness. Many people talk about righteousness and they think they know but they don’t… …..Many people think they know what righteousness is but they don’t….that word comes from this Bible but you don’t know it…. This subject is critical for those of us who were like me going into that exam over-confident, but it is also critical for us if we are more like I was going into that first exam: terrified that we are going to fail to hit the mark.
Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be satisfied”
So far in the beatitudes we have spoken about an emptiness. Now we move to a desire to be filled. We recognize that we are spiritually poor, we mourn loss, and we are we are to be emptied of pride and become meek. Now we will begin to see over the next three weeks what we are meant to be full of: righteousness, mercy, peace.
1. The hunger and thirst we all share:
- Hunger and thirst are inate and natural impulse God built into everyone. Every living thing in the world has this. God put it there not because he wants you to suffer, he doesn’t want you to die. The instinct leads you to go and get food/water.
- Thirst in recent heat….can kill…agony etc etc…. land of the Bible knew frequent famines and droughts
- That hunger can get warped….people hunger after all sorts of things….money, good jobs, all sorts of things.
- There by nature an emptiness in all people…we don’t know what it is we long for sometimes
- Empty people long to be filled. The trouble is we don’t naturally know where to go to be filled.
- It is this that drives us. An inner restlessness, a nagging irritation, a sense that things are not as they should be, a longing for more, career, money, an ache for approval, for pleasure, for what we are not quite sure, but all we know it is never satisfied. NEVER REALLY CONTENT.
- When we are hungry for food and thirsty for drink we have agony that can be satisfied by nothing else. Playing nice music on our stereo wont wash! When we try and quench this hunger we have we cant because we don’t realize what the hunger was designed for.
- All have this hunger. Some of us are better at controlling it and others at hiding it. Hunger impulses. Drive. We have what the bible calls “lusts of the flesh.” Some of these drives the mentally ill find it harder to control.
- Advertising plays on our hunger, feeds it.
- Pornography massages the hunger for many
- With great effort we try to live our lives and yet never manage to feel content: “My people have committed two evils: They have forsaken me, the fountain of living waters, and hewed out cisterns for themselves, broken cisterns, that can hold no water.” Isaiah 2:12-13
- SIN is all about how this desire within us gets twisted….it is not the desire, nor the passion that is wrong, but rather the way we try to satisfy it.
- Can be GOOD Things that we long after too much or long after in the wrong context.
- “If I find in myself a desire which no experience in this world can satisfy, the most probable explanation is that I was made for another world.” CS Lewis
Today’s verse tells us that there is Nothing wrong with hunger and thirst, the issue is where is it directed.
- What is it that we really long for ?
- Jesus tells you want to hunger for: righteousness. Jesus tells us direct our hunger and thirst to righteousness and we will find we will be satisfied and contented.
2. What is Righteousness
- A DESIRE must FILL US for righteousness
- Righteousness consists of three things:
- right behavior = Bible calls this sanctification includes both the absence of sin and the presence of good acts such as justice
- right standing before God i.e. “declared righteous” a legal concept = “declared not guilty” or “justification”
- right relationship with God, others and ourselves.
To long to be filled with righteousness is to long for all these things, but our longings get distorted.
So we long to behave “right” but forget who defines that and so run around trying to please others and follow others. We think we are “free” but really we just copy those around us. A desire to live “right” when distorted becomes Peer pressure. We “let the world squeeze us into its mould” JB Phillips paraphrase of Romans 12
We long to have a right standing, and this when distorted becomes Phariseeism. Here we are proud of our own righteousness and look down on others. This distortion encourages us to personally reject and hate “sinners” who are worse than us. For centuries many “religious” people have not wanted to associate with those less “righteous” than themselves. It is so easy to conveniently forget our own sins, BUT, our own sins do come back to haunt us. The hunger remains.
We long to have right relationships, and when distorted this simply becomes a desire for significance for closeness, for any sort of relationship. This can lead to promiscuity as we are terrified of being left on the shelf of nobody loving us.
As we begin to be awakened spiritually, and we begin to understand that it is righteousness that we must long for, we naturally think that the order here is
- Right behavior which leads to
- Right standing before God which leads to
- Right relationship with God, ourselves and others.
In other words we think people (including God) will like us if we do the right thing.
BUT, we simply can’t seem to make it work this way…hence our hunger increases!
We long to behave right: “We cannot be truly happy and live in sin.” CHS Especially true of the believer who drifts away. Man who lived in sexual sin having been a believer who said that he felt a presence with him like a parrot on his shoulder: “I’m still here and I still love you.” Wasn’t a comforting voice really: it compounded his misery of knowing he was doing wrong: miserable as sin!
We long to be declared right ie have a right standing before God, but we are secretly terrified that he is angry with us, that we deserve his wrath, and that we are clearly not good enough for him. Like when you pass a police car, and slow down to below the speed limit and feel guilty even if you have done nothing wrong! WE KNOW WE ARE NOT RIGHT WITH GOD…
Jesus defines righteousness pretty clearly for us later in this same sermon v20 “unless your righteousness exceeds the Pharisees you won’t enter the kingdom of heaven” SHOCKING!
They were known for their showy righteousness….
- don’t kill “check!” But Jesus says anger is just as dangerous for our soul!
- don’t come to church unless you have done everything in your power to reconcile with someone who has things against you
- don’t commit adultery…in our age a bit harder perhaps, but still I am sure many of us can say “check!” but he says “if you look at a woman with lust you have already committed adultery with her in your heart” If he was speaking today he’d say “if your laptop causes you to sin install blocking software, and if that doesn’t work throw it away.”
- OT made allowances for divorce, Jesus says “no divorce!” unless the other partner commits adultery.
- Don’t swear falsely—Jesus: be the sort of trustworthy person who doesn’t even have to swear.
- OT limits retaliation to “an eye for an eye” Jesus says, turn the other cheek!
- Jesus says if someone sues you, you should give double what he asks for, that we should work twice as hard as we are expected to, and we should give to beggars, and loan people money.
- In summary he then says “love your enemy not just your friend”
A terrifying picture when we realize we can’t fulfil it in our own strength, and yet an enticing one. Who wouldn’t want to be like that?
3. How are we satisfied?
Righteousness is not just to do with behavior but location, standing….right if I behave right then I will right and live right and be accepted by God when you do your right sanding and living…he says it doesn’t work it is like filthy rags…compared to him, you don’t have any rightwousness hide it away only way get it if he gives it to ….gift of righteousness never earn it never let you insult him by buying it For our sake he made him to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become sthe righteousness of God. 2 Cor 5”21 only out of that everything else works out….can be a christian have still have things that are workling on because the standing is fixed….
>>>>>FILLED what does that look like?
REVERSE THE ORDER NOT BEHAVIOUR, STANDING, RELATIONSHIP other way round:
- In the desert the cry goes up “Sand! It’s all sand! GO TO WHERE THE WATER IS”
- “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless, until it rest in Thee. “ (Augustine)
- We have a longing that can only be satisfied by Jesus
- “He hath filled the hungry with good things; and. the rich he hath sent empty away.” FROM MARYS SONG….
THOSE WHO HUNGER: “God will fill them; and when he fills men with his fulness, they are full indeed.” -C. H. Spurgeon,
A relationship with Jesus: On •the last day of the feast, the great day, Jesus stood up and cried out, “If anyone thirsts, let him come to me and drink (John 7:37).
Come, everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and he who has no money, ecome, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not •satisfy? Listen diligently to me, and eat what is good, and delight yourselves in •rich food. (Isaiah 55:1-2)
Rivers of Living Water HE IS OUR RIGHTEOUSNESS! HE IS THE BREAD OF HEAVEN!!! FEED ON HIM!
It is in our relationship of faith and trust in him that our need is satisfied. We have a God-shaped hole in us.
JESUS DIDN’T COME FOR THOSE WHO THINK THEY ARE RIGHTEOUS BUT FOR SINNERS LIKE YOU AND ME! REF…. COME TO HIM EMPTY WITH NOTHING TO OFFER.
This relationship is the key to everything: The Sermon on the Mount ends in 7:22–23 with these words of Jesus: “On that day many will say to me, “Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, and cast out demons in your name, and do many mighty works in your name?” And then will I declare to them, “I never knew you; depart from me, you evildoers.”
The final exam question it turns out is not about right behavior, not even about right sanding, but rather about a right relationship.
A RIGHT STANDING that comes by faith in Jesus i.e. our relationship of trust with Jesus
Through this relationship, through being IN CHRIST we receive the GIFT of righteousness
“If we confess with our mouth that Jesus is Lord and believe in our heart God raised him from the dead we will be saved” Rom 10
HE is our Righteousness. He DECLARES US TO BE RIGHTEOUS! He loves us and sees us as righteous already—we …so we can do anything and he will
“There is therefore now no condemnation to them which are in Christ Jesus.” “Therefore being justified by faith, we have peace with God through our Lord Jesus Christ.”
“I am not ashamed of the gospel, because it is the power of God for the salvation of everyone who believes: first for the Jew, then for the Gentile. For in the gospel a righteousness from God is revealed, a righteousness that is by faith from first to last, just as it is written: ‘The righteous will live by faith’ ” (Rom. 1:16–17)
BUNYAN: One day as I was passing into the field . . . this sentence fell upon my soul. Thy righteousness is in heaven. And methought, withal, I saw with the eyes of my soul Jesus Christ at God’s right hand; there, I say, was my righteousness; so that wherever I was, or whatever I was doing, God could not say of me, he wants [lacks] my righteousness, for that was just before [in front of] him. I also saw, moreover, that it was not my good frame of heart that made my righteousness better, nor yet my bad frame that made my righteousness worse, for my righteousness was Jesus Christ himself, “The same yesterday, today and, and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
Our identity is no longer sinner but saint. No longer rebel but righteous!
Sometimes we think may think that nothing has really changed, or that we are no different but the Bible says we are born again! God has changed us already on the inside. There is a new seed within us, a new desire for God.
Over time this leads to our right behavior
ONCE SAVED THE HUNGER TAKES ANOTHER FORM…NOW the true Christian really WANTS to be righteous….
It is through our relationship with Jesus that this desire for righteousness grows because HE IS RIGHTEOUSNESS SEEING HIM inspires us and enables us to be transformed from one degree of glory into another and the behavior begins to follow. We behold the face of God….”Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. And we all, with unveiled face, beholding the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another. For this comes from the Lord who is the Spirit.” (2 Corinthians 3:17-18, ESV)
We are willing to do ANYTHING to learn how to be righteous….It is not that our sinful desires disappear, they are still there but are abhorrent to us. Where the world would say “as long as you aren’t hurting anyone else” we feel “but that behaviour stinks!” We want to please our new master, but even more than that he changes our desires to match his.
- There is a continual hunger and a continual satisfaction!
- We are urged to “put on the new man, which after God is created in righteousness and true holiness.” He thirsts to be “renewed in knowledge, after the image of him that created him.”
“Little children, let no one deceive you. Whoever practices righteousness is righteous, as he is righteous” (1 John 3:7). Our identity impacts on our behavior
We don’t defeat sin by merely running from it, we defeat it by running towards God. Our desire for HIM is what gradually defeats the power of sin in us.
So flee youthful passions and pursue righteousness, faith, love, and peace, along with those who call on the Lord from a pure heart (2 Timothy 2:22).
Matthew 6:33 says, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God and his righteousness….” EVERYTHING ELSE GOOD IS ADDED TO US we no longer have to be passionate for other things. Doesn’t hunger for money, even for health, but to be righteous in every u way…. In the presence of the ONE hunger, all other hungers die out….He will provide all our needs…maybe not all our WANTS but all our needs!
CONCLUSION: DON’T start with the desire to behave well. Start with the desire to BE in a relationship with him and let that work from the inside out, not the outside in.