11. Hungering and Thirsting after Righteousness (Matthew 5:6)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled (Matthew 5:6).154
We begin our study of this great beatitude with a quote from Martyn Lloyd-Jones:
This Beatitude again follows logically from the previous ones; it is a statement to which all the others lead. It is the logical conclusion to which they come, and it is something for which we should all be profoundly thankful and grateful to God. I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this. If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you are a Christian. If it is not, then you had better examine the foundations again.155
This one short verse of Scripture brings to us an incredible message of hope, and a message that should spark a deep sense of joy in all of us who are believers and those who may be seeking Christ. Satisfaction is available, but only through Christ.
In one sense, we can all relate to this passage of Scripture – we all hunger. We may not be able to know the depth of hunger the people of this time were going through, but we experience a daily hunger that comes back and needs to be satisfied. I can remember times in my life where I longed for certain foods and hungered and thirsted to a great degree. I remember times in other countries such as Indonesia where I went on a six-day trek through the jungles of Irian Jaya. All we had to eat was bland Indo-Mi, which is a type of ramen noodle; after six days of that, I had many visions of hamburgers and steak and other such foods. I literally longed and hungered for those foods. On our way back from Russia two summers ago, our missions team had a 24-hour layover in Seoul, Korea; we asked the students with us what they wanted to eat for lunch, assuming they might want to try some authentic Korean food. But they insisted on having McDonald’s or Baskin-Robbins because they had not had American food in six whole weeks. They were tired of eating things they were not used to, and they hungered after things they had not had in a while. We can all relate to this concept of hunger; that is why this is such a great illustration that Jesus uses here in the Sermon on the Mount.
Let’s read this verse in the context of Matthew 5:1-12.
And seeing the multitudes, He went up on a mountain, and when He was seated His disciples came to Him.Then He opened His mouth and taught them, saying:
“Blessed are the poor in spirit,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
Blessed are those who mourn,
For they shall be comforted.
Blessed are the meek,
For they shall inherit the earth.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
For they shall be filled.
Blessed are the merciful,
For they shall obtain mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart,
For they shall see God.
Blessed are the peacemakers,
For they shall be called sons of God.
Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake,
For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
“Blessed are you when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My sake.Rejoice and be exceedingly glad, for great is your reward in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:1-12).
Evangelistic Message of Hope!
Why is hungering and thirsting such a good illustration? Because as water and food is to the body, so righteousness is to the spiritual life. We as humans hunger and thirst not only for food but for satisfaction in life. We search in all kinds of different areas to be filled, to be satisfied, but we always end up falling short.
He has made everything beautiful in its time. Also He has put eternity in their hearts, except that no one can find out the work that God does from beginning to end (Ecclesiastes 3:11).
John Piper states: “God has put eternity in our hearts and we have an inconsolable longing.”156 Blaise Pascal said that we all have a “God-shaped void” in our lives. All men are hungry and thirsty; the problem is that we try to fill that emptiness, that hunger, with things other than the righteousness of God. Some of you reading this message are empty; you have not been satisfied. You are trying to fill that “God-shaped void” in your life with all kinds of things, but you are left empty, unsatisfied. There is an incredible message of hope for you if you are searching for the answer.
Ho! Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes come, buy wine and milk without money and without price. Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy? Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance (Isaiah 55:1-2).
Has a nation changed its gods, which are not gods? But my people have changed their glory for what does not profit. Be astonished, O heavens, at this, and be horribly afraid; Be very desolate, says the Lord. For My people have committed two evils. They have forsaken Me, the fountain of living waters, and hewn for themselves cisterns – broken cisterns that can hold no water (Jeremiah 2:11- 13).
These two sets of verses are very powerful. We are spending our money on things that do not satisfy; we are drinking from cisterns that can hold no water. Our satisfaction is not being met in the things of this world. We try to satisfy ourselves with money and power, education, sex, pornography, boyfriends and girlfriends, toys and earthly possessions that allow us fun and entertainment for a time, but yet all these things lead to a deeper sense of need, a deeper longing for satisfaction, because they do not fill that need. C.S. Lewis states:
We are half hearted creatures, fooling around with drink and sex and ambition, when infinite joy is offered us, like an ignorant child who wants to go on making mud pies in a slum because he cannot imagine what is meant by the offer of a holiday at the sea, we are far too easily pleased.157
What a powerful quote by C.S. Lewis! We as human beings are far too easily pleased. We fool around with so many things that do not satisfy, things that do not, and cannot, fill that void and emptiness, all because we are far too easily pleased. We think so often that the things of this world will satisfy, when we always end up falling short of what we desire, and a lot of it is because we are not seeking the right things. The joy that is offered to us, the peace that is offered to us, the satisfaction that is offered to us, is unbelievable if we would only grab hold of Jesus and His offer to be our satisfaction.
A great illustration of this is the story of the prodigal son in Luke 15:11-32. He took the inheritance his father had given him, left home, and went to a far-off country where he squandered his inheritance money on riotous living, on things that would not satisfy. He was far too easily pleased and fooled into thinking that this was what life was all about, only to fall short. When he had a lot of money, he had a lot of friends and parties. But when the money was gone, so were his friends. At this point in time, he begins to “go down hill” in a major way, to the point of living with pigs and eating the slop they ate. Martyn Lloyd-Jones quotes J.N. Darby:
To be hungry is not enough; I must be really starving to know what is in His heart towards me. When the prodigal son was hungry he went to feed upon husks, but when he was starving, he turned to his father.158
In Matthew 5:6, Jesus is not just talking about mere hunger, but about starving after righteousness.
Picture the audience listening to Jesus. They were Galileans, not well liked by the rest of the Jewish community; they were lower class citizens; they were viewed similarly to the way the Jews looked at the Samaritans. Weeks ago, you may recall Bob Deffinbaugh’s reference in his lesson in this series to what he calls the “I.P.,” the “Inversion Principle.” 159 I challenge you to take a look at his notes on this subject to see who exactly the Galileans were.
Looking at the crowd surrounding Jesus, what do you think their view of righteousness was? I can guarantee you their view of righteousness was a skewed view, a wrong view, due to the portrayal of righteousness by the religious leaders. When reading and studying Matthew 5:6, you must look over to Matthew 5:20 to see the connection Jesus is making. The view these people had of righteousness was an incorrect view; Jesus was correcting that view and showing them that it was an issue of the heart.
For I say to you, that unless your righteousness exceeds the righteousness of the Pharisees, you will by no means enter the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:20).
I can see this as being the picture of righteousness the audience has, a picture of the religious leaders who are outwardly righteous and pious but inwardly sinful, corrupt men. They look and see the judgmental attitude of the Pharisees, the hypocritical nature of these men. They may in some way look good on the outside, but inwardly they are missing the point of doing the things they are doing. The Pharisees are feeling as though by their actions they are gaining righteousness and doing right in the eyes of God. Here in this passage Jesus is lengthening the distance between God and man and addressing the self-righteousness of the Pharisees, as well as the issue of the heart of the people in the crowd. Here Jesus is raising the bar and addressing the issues of the heart. Jesus is presenting to the crowd that He is that true Righteousness; He is the One they have been hungering and thirsting after, and the only One who can fill that emptiness inside them. He is saying He is the good news, the gospel. The gospel has come, and it has come in Him. He is presenting Himself as the means to satisfaction.
If we look at other passages, we see Him making this same point. Jesus is the only way to righteousness, and His righteousness satisfies.
The Woman at the Well – Jesus answered and said unto her, whoever drinks of this water will thirst again, but whoever drinks of the water that I shall give him will never thirst. But the water that I shall give him will become in him a fountain of water springing up into everlasting life (John 14:13-14).
Feeding the 5000 – Jesus answered them and said, most assuredly, I say to you, you seek Me, not because you saw the signs, but because you ate of the loaves and were filled. Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him (John 6:26-27).
Jesus Christ is the only one who can satisfy, and here in this verse in Matthew, He is presenting this point to the audience before Him. To some, this message brings refreshment because they see the Pharisees and the self-righteousness of the Pharisees and are “turned off;” now they are given a new perspective in Christ, an offer of satisfaction through Him, the true Righteousness. Others in the audience are radically “turned off;” I am sure there were religious leaders in the crowd who were angered and bothered because they were being told they could not achieve favor with God through the law and through their own righteousness. God’s favor could only be met in Christ’s righteousness.
This truly is a message of hope to those who are lost and perishing, to those in Jesus’ day and in our day. The emptiness that fills their lives, and ours, can only be satisfied in Christ, the true Righteousness. Only by hungering and thirsting after Christ can that void, that emptiness, be filled. The things of this world will not satisfy; only Jesus Christ satisfies. This is the message, then and now, to those who do not already have a relationship with Jesus, a message of hope. So why keep “messing around” with things that will only cause more pain and emptiness? An offer of joy, peace, and satisfaction among many other things is made to you in Christ – and in Christ alone.
This message is one of hope to unbelievers, but what is this saying to believers? I truly believe there is a big, important message to us as believers. The first question is simple: In your life right now, what are you hungering and thirsting after? Where is your heart? In one sense, it is easy for us as believers to see that we are filled and satisfied when we accept the free gift of salvation, but too often that is where hungering and thirsting stops. Many believers struggle with big areas of sin, and they try to fill a hole with something other than Jesus Christ. Many pastors have fallen to the tragedy of pornography; many families have been destroyed through not hungering and thirsting after righteousness only to end up in divorce. Some of us sit week after week in the pews at church longing for a day in and day out satisfaction. Do we as believers hunger and thirst after righteousness?
Hungering and thirsting is continual. Every day I get hungry; around 11:00 a.m. or sometimes earlier, my stomach starts to growl, and I feel like I am going to digest myself if I don’t get food. This is a daily pattern we go through, each one of us, because our body needs food; it is the same with thirst. This is the same in the spiritual realm of life. We need to hunger and thirst, actually starve, for righteousness in our lives; it is a day-by-day thing that is a continual part of our lives. It is like going to a nice steak restaurant and eating a big steak and baked potato or French fries with a side salad. You eat dinner and are full that night, but you long for the same meal again the next day, and the next. With righteousness, once we get a taste of it and hunger for it, that hunger for righteousness grows, and we should want to keep feeding that desire to satisfy our lives with righteousness. We are called to holy living as believers. We are called to live lives of holiness to our God, which is a sweet smelling aroma to Him.
Let’s look at a couple of Old Testament examples of those who hungered after righteousness.
O God, You are my God;
Early will I seek You;
My soul thirsts for You;
My flesh longs for You
In a dry and thirsty land
Where there is no water.
So I have looked for You in the sanctuary,
To see Your power and Your glory.
Because Your loving-kindness is better than life,
My lips shall praise You.
Thus I will bless You while I live;
I will lift up my hands in Your name.
My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness,
And my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips.
When I remember You on my bed,
I meditate on You in the night watches.
Because You have been my help,
Therefore in the shadow of Your wings I will rejoice.
My soul follows close behind You;
Your right hand upholds me.
But those who seek my life, to destroy it,
Shall go into the lower parts of the earth.
They shall fall by the sword;
They shall be a portion for jackals.
But the king shall rejoice in God;
Everyone who swears by Him shall glory;
But the mouth of those who speak lies shall be stopped.
As the deer pants for the water brooks,
So pants my soul for You, O God.
My soul thirsts for God, for the living God
When shall I come and appear before God?
My tears have been my food day and night,
While they continually say to me,
“Where is your God?”
When I remember these things,
I pour out my soul within me
For I used to go with the multitude;
I went with them to the house of God,
With the voice of joy and praise,
With a multitude that kept a pilgrim feast.
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God, for I shall yet praise Him
For the help of His countenance.
O my God, my soul is cast down within me;
Therefore I will remember You from the land of the Jordan,
And from the heights of Hermon,
From the Hill Mizar.
Deep calls unto deep at the noise of Your waterfalls;
All Your waves and billows have gone over me.
The LORD will command His lovingkindness in the daytime,
And in the night His song shall be with me—
A prayer to the God of my life.
I will say to God my Rock,
“Why have You forgotten me?
Why do I go mourning because of the oppression of the enemy?”
As with a breaking of my bones,
My enemies reproach me,
While they say to me all day long,
“Where is your God?”
Why are you cast down, O my soul?
And why are you disquieted within me?
Hope in God;
For I shall yet praise Him,
The help of my countenance and my God.
In these passages, the psalmist exemplifies what it means to long for and hunger and thirst for righteousness. “Early will I seek You; My soul thirsts for You; My flesh longs for You.” “As the deer pants for the water brooks, so pants my soul for You, O God.” Do you have this longing, this passion, this deep sense of need for hungering and thirsting after righteousness? Is this something you cannot live without? I tell you that this is what we as believers ought to be hungering after. We need to hunger after God on a daily basis, every second of every day. Hungering and thirsting need to be vital parts of our lives, such that we cannot live without satisfying that hunger and thirst. So many things that we do we think will not affect our relationship with Christ, but they do. Why do we find enjoyment as believers in going to movies that are geared toward and based upon adultery, divorce, violence, cursing the Lord’s name, mockery, the degrading of human life? Why do we put into our minds those images, those lyrics to songs, those television shows that are based upon trickery and lies? These things hinder our walk with the Lord; they distract us from true righteousness. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness is not easy; in fact, in a lot of ways it is extremely difficult, because we have to make the tough decision, the decisions to be different, to not always do what other people are doing, to be willing as Daniel was to stand alone in the midst of our peers both old and young. There is no doubt that we in our lifetimes will always battle against the flesh and against sin, but as the writer of Hebrews states in 12:3-4:
For consider Him who endured such hostility from sinners against Himself, lest you become weary and discouraged in your souls. You have not yet resisted to bloodshed, striving against sin.
This does not mean that we take ourselves out of the world – it means that we live in the world, and that we live righteous lives amongst our co-workers, friends, peers, and enemies whose lives may not be characterized by righteousness. It means that we are that salt and light who show the love of Christ both through our actions and through our words. Is this a passion of your life? The men who wrote these psalms truly had a passion for Christ and that is what captivated their lives, that is what they longed for, because He is the only thing that satisfied.
In the New Testament, the Apostle Paul exemplifies this in Philippians 3:1-21, as we see in verses 8-12 of this passage:
Yet indeed I also count all things loss for the excellence of the knowledge of Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them as rubbish, that I may gain Christand be found in Him, not having my own righteousness, which is from the law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which is from God by faith;that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,if, by any means, I may attain to the resurrection from the dead. Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me.
Here the Apostle Paul is showing that it is: (a) not a righteousness of His own, but of faith in Jesus Christ, and (b) that he is pressing on to lay hold of that which Christ has laid hold of him. He lays all the cares of the world aside and strives after righteousness in His walk with the Lord. He desires above all else to know Christ and the power of His resurrection. Do we count the things of this world as rubbish that we may know Christ? Are we striving to live lives that are godly and righteous? We are not talking here about the outward appearance of righteousness, but about the heart. What things does your heart long after? For what things does your heart hunger? Lord willing, it is as Paul says, “that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection” (Philippians 3:10).
Matthew 5:6 is a powerful passage, a passage that exudes hope all through it. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness for they shall be filled.” We are blessed if we hunger and thirst after righteousness. How? Because we are filled; we don’t hunger any longer as the world hungers because our satisfaction has been met in Christ. Hungering and thirsting after righteousness has both an evangelistic message for those who do not know Christ, as well as a message to those who are in Christ. I conclude with a simple question: What are you hungering and thirsting after in your life? I pray that all of us can answer, “Righteousness.”