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Dr. Rick Mandl - July 11, 2020
What Does Jesus Say About Justice?
Sermon Manuscript: Upside Down Message 4- Blessed Are Those Who Hunger & Thirst For Righteousness
Sermon preached by Dr. Rick Mandl, Eagle Rock Baptist Church, July 11 & 12, 2020
Hey church family, it’s great to welcome you today we continue our study through the first portion of the Sermon on the Mount. That section known as “The Beatitudes.” Speaking of the Sermon on the Mount... Pastor James Montgomery Boice once said, “Show me a man that claims he is living up to the standards of the Sermon on the Mount, and I will show you a man who has either never read it, does not understand what it’s teaching, or is lying.” This is especially true of the Beatitude we are looking at today. Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
But before we get into the specifics of this verse, let’s remember that when we look at this list of eight beatitudes, we shouldn’t look at it as a menu from which we are going to choose one or two of the characteristics and concentrate on perfecting those. Instead, we need to understand that all eight of these traits are describing one person, and all eight need to be present in us in order for us to be spiritually healthy. Even though we separate these eight characteristics, for the purpose of study, we really can’t divide them in our lives. They are inextricably bound to one another.
As we look at verse 6 we are at the halfway point of the list of these 8 beatitudes, and we can see the progression of thought. We can see how each one relates to the others. How each one flows into the others. And how each one builds upon the others.
In the first Beatitude, we saw that the person who comes to God must be poor in spirit, recognizing that they are spiritually bankrupt before God, and left to themselves totally helpless to improve their standing before God. In the second beatitude we saw that when we are conscious of our sin, when we’re aware of our guilt, and our spiritual poverty, we will mourn and will come to God for comfort. In the third Beatitude, we saw that when we become aware of our spiritual bankruptcy, and mourn over our sin, we will humble ourselves before God. We will be content with meekness, knowing that humility before God allows us to experience all the blessings of His Kingdom. This fourth beatitude, the one we’re looking at today… “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” follows in that same progression but with a slight change.
The previous three beatitudes all focused on man’s need, but here in the fourth, we are presented with God’s solution. The first three, saw us looking at our self, our helplessness, our weakness. In this fourth beatitude, the eye of our soul is turned toward God. Here, we’re told that if we will hunger and thirst after righteousness - after that perfect righteousness that we realize we urgently need, but don’t possess.. Then God will both declare us righteous, and fill us with righteousness. So, let’s break down the verse a little.
What does it mean to hunger and thirst?
Hunger and thirst are words that require more than a dictionary to define them, because they are words of human experience. My guess is, there are few of us here today who’ve ever known real hunger or real thirst. To us, hunger is something we feel when we watch a Burger King commercial. Or we say that “We’re starving” because it’s 1:30 and we’re used to eating lunch at noon. For most of us, thirst has probably never been more than a momentary experience.
The reality of our lives is that we can turn on a faucet and get clean water, but we’d rather pay extra, and get it in little plastic bottles. And for some of us, it’s not really water, if it’s not our brand. But in Palestine in the time of Jesus, things were much different. Christ spoke to a crowd of people to whom hunger and thirst were familiar companions. They knew the meaning of famine, of life-threatening hunger, of the kind of starvation in which a person had to eat or die. For them, hunger and thirst weren’t just passing feelings, but something deep, painful, and abiding that continued until it was satisfied.
The two Greek verbs that Jesus used here are words that convey intense desire. A deep hunger. The hunger of a starving man, the thirst of a man who would die without water.
A good picture of this comes from a book called The Romance Of The Last Crusade. It’s the story of British Major Vivian Gilbert and his troops who were traveling through the Palestinian desert during World War One in pursuit of the Turkish army. In His book, he describes the thirst they suffered. Here’s what he wrote:
Our heads ached, and our eyes became bloodshot and dim in the blinding glare, our tongues began to swell, our lips turned a purplish black and burst open. Those who dropped out of the column were never seen again, but we desperately battled on toward Sherea.
There were wells at Sherea, and we knew if we were unable to take that place by nightfall, thousands of us would have died of thirst.
So, we fought that day as men fight for their lives.
We entered Sherea on the heels of the retreating Turks and the first objects which met our view were the great stone cisterns full of cold, clear, drinking water.
It took four hours before the last man was able to drink.
Standing there at attention in that blazing heat all that time we could hear the water, smell it.
Major Gilbert concludes by saying,
“I believe that we all learned our first real Bible lesson on that march from Beersheba to the Sherea wells. If such were our thirst for God, and for righteousness, and for His will in our lives - a consuming, all-embracing preoccupying desire, how rich the fruits of the Spirit would be.”
Did you notice how he described this thirst as “an all-embracing preoccupying desire”? Jesus said, “Blessed is that man who longs for righteousness as a starving man longs for food, and as a man dying of thirst longs for water. It’s not enough just to be a little bit hungry, we need to be starving.
Remember the story of the Prodigal Son? When he was hungry, he went to feed on the slop that was given to the pigs. It wasn’t until he was starving, that He turned to the Father. Not until we desire the righteousness of God that much will we find it.
Saint Augustine said it this way, “Thou hast made us for Thyself, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” If we haven’t known the spiritual longing that can only be satisfied by God through the Lord Jesus Christ, then we are yet to experience the hunger and the thirst that this Beatitude speaks of.
Jesus said, Blessed (or happy) is the person who knows that kind of hunger and thirst, but what Happiness is there in Hunger? The answer to that question is two-fold. First of all, hunger is a good thing, because... Hunger is a sign of life. That’s true physically and it’s true spiritually. Physically, dead men need no food, and they crave no water. Spiritually, those who have no cravings for God, no longings for Christ, no thirst for the things of the Spirit are, according to the Bible, “dead in their trespasses and sin.” As long as they remain insensitive to the voice of God’s spirit, and ignore His promptings, they remain dead. But the slightest bit of hunger in our heart for God and His righteousness is a sign of life, a sign that it’s not too late to be receptive to God’s voice and to respond to His call.
Happy are the hungry, for hunger is a sign of life. There’s a second blessing in hunger, and that is that... Hunger is a sign of health. Once again this is true physically and it’s true spiritually. Physically speaking, one of the first signs of sickness is the loss of appetite. And one of the first indicators that health has been restored is the return of appetite. A hungry person is a healthy person. In this case, what’s true physically is also true spiritually. The healthy person is one who has a spiritual hunger. The psalmist describes it this way in Psalm 42…As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?" And then again in Psalm 63... “You, God, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”
What these verses are describing, should be the normal spiritual experience, the hunger of a healthy believer. Unfortunately, instead of being the rule, the Psalmist’s experience is all too often the exception. And the reason is, that people hunger and thirst for the wrong things.
This is true of those who don’t know Jesus Christ as their Savior as well as many of those who do. Among those who don’t know Christ, they make the mistake of putting the cart before the horse. They’re hungering and thirsting after happiness, without realizing that lasting happiness is a byproduct of hungering and thirsting after righteousness. The world is looking for happiness, but they’re looking in all the wrong places, and trying to satisfy their hunger for God with all the wrong things. The world is hungry! Jesus offers Himself as the bread of life, and yet people instead settle for “What is not bread” as Isaiah puts it. The world is thirsty! Jesus offers Himself as living water and yet Jeremiah describes the reaction. “They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.” The world is trying to eliminate the pain, rather than to acknowledge the disease, and so they hunger for the wrong things.
And what is true of the world has a parallel within the church. Many Christians spend their lives seeking something they can never find, looking for a special kind of happiness or blessedness which they hope to gain through an experience. They seek it, they covet it, they hunger and thirst for it but they never get it because they fail to realize that what they’re looking for can never be found when it is sought as an end in itself - it only comes as byproduct when we hunger and thirst for something higher.
Just what is it that we should be hungering for? Our text answers that question. It is righteousness. The Greek word means justification or to be right with God. It is a two-fold experience. First of all it speaks of salvation. The initial hungering and thirsting that occurs within a person before they turn to Christ in faith. This aspect of righteousness is talking about a right relationship with God, a freedom from the penalty of sin. When we abandon all hope of saving ourselves and start to hunger for a salvation that we can only receive at the hands of God, it’s then that we’ll have experienced this righteousness and the blessing or happiness comes with it.
This righteousness that God gives to us, differs from the righteousness that we try to work up on our own effort, in that God’s righteousness is internal and man’s righteousness is external. The Pharisees were experts in external righteousness. Their life was one long list of do’s and don’ts. The result was neither holiness or happiness. Jesus warns us about following their example. In Matthew 5:20 he said... “But I warn you—unless your righteousness is better than the righteousness of the teachers of religious law and the Pharisees, you will never enter the Kingdom of Heaven!” (Matthew 5:20) The Pharisees represented the height of human holiness, and yet Jesus says, “Not good enough!” God’s standard is higher. It’s a holiness you achieve only when you realize that YOU can’t achieve it. God has to give it? Why? Because He alone possesses it. It begins when we see His holiness, together with our sinfulness.
Our reaction should be like that of Isaiah. We should cry out, “Woe is me, for I am ruined!” We see the holiness of God... We confess our own helplessness... And out of that experience we find happiness. We realize that all of our righteousness falls far short of God’s standard, and so we abandon any hope of becoming holy through our own effort, and instead cling to the effort God has made for us through the saving work of Christ. When we come to Him hungering for salvation, it’s then that He clothes us with His righteousness. This is the teaching of 1 Corinthians 5:21, God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God. That is the righteousness of salvation. I suspect that many of us have experienced that great exchange of our sin for the righteousness of Jesus. But that is not the full, or the only meaning of this beatitude.
There is a second aspect to this righteousness... And that is that the one who has longed to be saved BY Christ, now longs to be made LIKE Christ. It’s what theologians call SANCTIFICATION. SALVATION is something that occurs at a point in time. The time when we are born again, when we became a new creation. SANCTIFICATION, on the other hand is an ongoing activity, an increasing holiness, a hunger that never stops.
A.W. Pink, who was described as one of the most influential evangelical authors and teachers of the 20th century, explained it this way. “This Beatitude refers to the initial hungering and thirsting that occurs before a sinner turns to Christ by faith. But it also refers to the continual longing in the heart of every saved sinner until his dying day...it refers to a panting of the renewed heart after God, a yearning for a closer walk with Him.”
Again... “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” Notice, it does NOT say, blessed are those who HAVE hungered and HAVE thirsted... But rather blessed are those who hunger - present tense. We never get to the place where we can say, “I’ve arrived.” But instead, like the Apostle Paul we say, I don’t mean to say that I have already achieved these things or that I have already reached perfection. But I press on to possess that perfection for which Christ Jesus first possessed me. No, dear brothers and sisters, I have not achieved it, but I focus on this one thing: Forgetting the past and looking forward to what lies ahead, I press on to reach the end of the race and receive the heavenly prize for which God, through Christ Jesus, is calling us.”
I press on... I continue to grow... I move toward Christlikeness. Listen to Paul’s instructions to the Colossian church. In Colossians chapter 2 he writes, “And now, just as you accepted Christ Jesus as your Lord, you must continue to follow him. Let your roots grow down into him, and let your lives be built on him. Then your faith will grow strong in the truth you were taught, and you will overflow with thankfulness." It’s as if Paul is saying... “Accepting Jesus as your Lord is not the end of a journey, it is the beginning. Follow Him! Now isn’t the time to rest, it’s the time to grow.”
Peter said the same thing in his second letter: In 2 Peter 3:18, he wrote... “Grow in the grace and knowledge of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.” The expectation of the Bible is that we will grow in our faith. We do this as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit who is transforming us into the image of Christ. This transformation happens as we are obedient to the commands of the Bible. But there is something unusual about Christian growth. And that is that... The more we grow, the more we will understand how far we still have to go.
J.I. Packer put it this way:
“It is, in fact, a law of the spiritual life that the further you go, the more you are aware of the distance still to be covered. Your growing desire for God makes you increasingly conscious, not so much of where you are in your relationship with Him, as of where as yet you are not.”
Through those words, Packer is reminding us of the fact that as we grow in our faith, we experience a holy dissatisfaction. But here is the paradox – This holy dissatisfaction creates in us a hunger and thirst for righteousness... And the end result of hungering and thirsting for righteousness is that we will be satisfied - -We will be filled, and yet the filling is so sweet, and so rich, and so full that we hunger for more.
And as we hunger He fills us… And we hunger again… And he fills us again, and on and on and on…. The wonderful thing is, we can never exhaust His supply. The only time we’ll be permanently satisfied is when we see Jesus face-to-face and we will be like Him. I think Jesus had that time in view on at least two occasions during His teaching. Once in a conversation with the woman at the well and another time in a conversation with His disciples. In John chapter 4 and verse 14 Jesus told the woman at the well, “But those who drink the water I give will never be thirsty again.” And in John 6:35 he said to his disciples, “I am the bread of life. Whoever comes to me will never be hungry again.” For the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, the filling will be Christ Himself. That is our inheritance, our birthright as believers, and we shouldn’t settle for anything less.
A few weeks ago, we looked at the account of Jacob and Esau from Genesis 25. Jacob and Esau were the twin sons of Isaac and Rebekah, and the Bible tells us that Isaac loved Esau, but Rebekah loved Jacob. Esau was the older son, and as such, he was entitled to the birthright - a double portion of the inheritance. However, one day after working out in the field, he was very hungry. He came in from the field, and discovered that his brother Jacob had cooked a stew, so he said to Jacob. “I’m starving. Please let me have some of your stew.” Jacob said, “Sure you can have some stew, all you have to do is trade me your birthright for it.” Esau said, “I’m about to starve to death and what good is my birthright if I am dead. You can have it, just give me some stew.” So the exchange took place. Jacob received Esau’s birthright, and Esau filled his stomach with the stew. Unfortunately, Esau’s desire to quickly, but temporarily, fill his hunger, led him to give up what was truly valuable and long lasting.
We need to make sure we don’t do the same thing. We dare not try to fill that God-given hunger and thirst for righteousness, with anything less than Jesus. Doing so may provide temporary satisfaction... It may take the edge off our hunger, but ultimately it will be detrimental to us and to our relationship with the Father. Just as Esau’s stew, while temporarily satisfying his hunger, ultimately hurt him and impacted his relationship with his father.
Remember Augustine’s words? “Thou hast made us for Thyself and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in Thee.” We will only truly be satisfied as we cooperate with the Holy Spirit's work to grow Christ’s righteousness in us. But, if I’m honest, I don’t always hunger and thirst after righteousness. I don’t always long to grow in my faith. So, what do it do?
A.W. Tozer came to know Christ as a teenager, five years later he became a pastor, and filled that role for over 40 years. He was considered by many to be a modern-day prophet, calling the church to faithfulness in the pursuit of Christ Among the more than forty books Tozer authored, at least two are regarded as Christian classics: The Pursuit of God and The Knowledge of the Holy. His writings impress on the reader the necessity to abandon worldly comforts in favor of the deeper life that comes from following Christ. Living out this simple and non-materialistic lifestyle, Tozer and his wife never owned a car, preferring instead to travel by bus and train travel. Even after becoming a well-known Christian author, Tozer signed away much of his royalties to those who were in need. Yet even A. W. Tozer, knew what it was to sense that he lacked the hunger that he needed for God. Tozer prayed this prayer, which many others in the years since, have found helpful. Tozer prayed... “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." I believe God answered Tozer’s prayer, as evidenced by the words that were chosen for his gravestone at his death. The marker on his grave simply reads... “A. W. Tozer - A Man of God.”
Do you desire to be a person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness? First we pray, we ask God to help us grow in our desire for Him and His righteousness. Second, we obey the simple command of Psalm 37:3 “Trust in the Lord and do good.” Trust God and do the next good and right thing that He puts in front of you, and then do the next one. There are no shortcuts to righteousness. We grow step by step, day by day, as we make right decisions and take right actions with a desire to do the things that please God as we learn them from His Word. Step by step, day by day, seeking His kingdom and His righteousness, we can be confident that we will be filled, and satisfied, as only God can fill and satisfy, and we will experience the truth that
Paul shared with the church at Philippi: “God, who began the good work within you, will continue his work until it is finally finished on the day when Christ Jesus returns.” Which, is just another way of saying... Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Let’s thank God for that promise as we turn to Him in prayer.
Lord, “Righteousness” in not a word that a lot of us use today. One of the reasons may be because we know it’s something that none of us has. We thank that what we don’t have is available to us in Jesus. It’s ours free, if we’ll accept it. May none of us be trusting in a righteousness of our own, or in the things we’re doing, but only in what Jesus has already done for us. We ask it in His name Amen.