Blessed are they who Hunger and Thirst after Righteousness

February 27, 2005 / No. 3243

Dear radio friends,

          Today we come to the fourth of the Beatitudes, the words of blessing that Jesus pronounces upon the citizens of the kingdom of heaven.  They are found in the words ofMatthew 5.   We come today to verse 6, where we read, “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:  for they shall be filled.”

          We remember that in these Beatitudes, or words of blessing, Jesus is giving the marks of His children from a spiritual point of view.  He is describing the citizens of the kingdom of heaven as they are from the inward point of view, the work of the Holy Spirit.  Jesus says that all who are brought into His kingdom by the wonderful love and grace of God are made inwardly to be poor in spirit, they mourn, they are meek.  And now, today, He tells us that they hunger and thirst after righteousness.  Do you find yourself being described?

          Note with me that these Beatitudes, and these spiritual characteristics, follow one another in a logical sense.  That is, they build upon each other, each one follows from the one that is before.  Fundamentally we saw that a child of God entering the kingdom of heaven has been made to be poor in spirit, that is, “I am nothing, I can do nothing, I deserve nothing.  God is everything.”  Then we saw that they mourn.  They mourn over themselves and over their sins and, therefore, as a result of being poor in spirit, they are meek.  They are stripped of all self-boasting, pride, and vanity.  They are humble, teachable before God.

          Now, as we come to the fourth Beatitude, we look out of ourselves for salvation for the deliverance for which we long.  In the fourth Beatitude, the eye of our soul is turned away from ourselves and to another.  We hunger and thirst after righteousness.  The mark of a child of God will be that there is now created a craving, a longing, a starving after something that God alone can give to us.  There shall be a hunger and thirst for something that we do not have, cannot attain, and do not deserve.  Something that we desperately need:  righteousness from God.

          Let us pay careful attention to our Lord’s words.  “Blessed [or happy] are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness:  for they shall be filled.”  The supreme object of our desire, then, is righteousness.  They who hunger and thirst after righteousness, says Jesus, are truly happy people.  Everyone, of course, wants to be happy.  This is the great object of mankind.  Christians want to be blessed.  Everything in  this present life is geared to the pursuit of happiness.  People ask the question:  What will make me happy?  What will make me blessed?  How will I get rid of these troubles, these feelings, these problems?  I need happiness!

          But here the Lord is teaching us that we must not long after happiness, but we must long for something that will bring blessedness.  We are not to say, “Lord, I want happiness,” for then we will miss it.  We must not make happiness the object in itself.  But we must understand that happiness and blessedness are by-products of that which God alone can give.  Our supreme need is righteousness.

          We must not put our feelings and happiness before righteousness, or we are doomed to misery.  We must not put happiness in the place of righteousness, or we will never get it.  Let me illustrate.  Think of a man who is suffering a painful disease.  He wants to be relieved of his pain.  That is understandable.  He wants anything to take it away.  He comes to the doctor.  That would be a very bad doctor if he were to treat only the pain and did not look for the cause or for the reason for the pain.  Now the world says, “Get rid of my pain!”  So the world gives you pleasure, psychology, drink, and all the rest.  Yet the pain remains.  Why?  Because the cause has not been dealt with — the cause of sin.  But the need is righteousness.  If we are ever to be happy, we must be made righteous.  If we are not made righteous before God, we cannot be happy, we will never be happy.

          What is righteousness?  Jesus does not speak of it in the mere human sense.  The idea here is deeper than just mere decency.  In the news we hear of righteousness, of politicians who are very eloquent in condemning prejudice and things that society would condemn and that we must learn to be righteous.  But Christ is not talking about righteousness in that sense.  He is not referring to anything that is shallow.  He is not referring to a general improvement of morality among men.  He is not saying, “What man needs is that he simply learns to be a better person, to be a little more righteous, to make himself a little better.”  No, the Lord is speaking here of something profound.  He is talking of the fact that He is the Savior.  He is referring to the desperate need that the child of God has to be made righteous before God.

          Righteousness here is to be understood in the full sense that the Scriptures give to it.  It means to be made right with God.  It begins with the truth of justification, the forgiveness of our sins.  This is what the apostle Paul so wonderfully explains in Romans 3 and 4, where he speaks to us of a righteousness from God, a righteousness that God has earned for His children, for His elect in Christ.  This righteousness, now, is in Christ and is imputed, that is, reckoned legally, unto the account of everyone that God has given to Jesus Christ.  The Lord Jesus is saying that we have a supreme need.  That supreme need is that our legal state, our standing before God, be changed, be changed from that of guilt as a sinner to that of innocence.  I need someone to lift the burden of guilt from off my shoulders and to open the skies of heaven before me.  I need to be made righteous.

          But righteousness is more than that.  It is, first of all, the free gift of God of declaring us righteous.  But it is also, as the Holy Spirit continues to work, something that is within us.  It is when God makes us holy, which follows justification.  When God justifies us He removes, by grace, the guilt and the burden of our sin only for the sake of the merits and work of Jesus Christ.  But then, upon the basis of that act of God of justifying us, of making us free of our guilt, on that basis God comes and, by the Holy Spirit, He works within us.  He begins to work within us to make us holy.  He gives to us a sorrow for sin, He frees us from the bondage of willingly serving sin.  He gives to us repentance, He gives to us a desire to be like Christ.

          Righteousness is the desire to be free from sin.  Righteousness is, first of all, realizing that Christ alone can take away my guilt.  It is the desire that I be free from my sins and that I be made repentant.  The supreme desire is that we be right with God.  All of our troubles and all of our problems are due to this:  that we have turned away from God, our sin separates us from God, and we have turned every one to his own way.  Righteousness is the great good of being brought back to God in my life, in my thinking, my willing, my desiring.  That is my need.  It means that we want to be freed from the power of sin.  God gives us to know that the world of sin is living according to the power of the devil, the spirit, says the apostle, that now worketh in the children of disobedience.

          To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to desire to be made like unto Christ, to want to do that which is pleasing to God.  We want emancipation from our own sinful way.  And we want, rather, to glorify God in our lives.

          The great desire that has been created in us as children of God is, “Father, by grace alone, remove from me the guilt of my sin.  No work that I do can ever remove that guilt.  Make me, account me, legally righteous.  But, Father, on the basis of that work of Jesus Christ, go on and make me righteous within.  Work within me by the Holy Spirit so that I know my sin and my pride.  Take away the pollution of sin as well from my heart.  Make me clean within.”  We hunger and thirst after righteousness, after an imputed righteousness given freely of grace, and after a righteousness infused within our hearts, the work of the Holy Spirit to deliver us from the willing service of sin.

          That is a vehement desire.  Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.

          What does it mean to hunger and thirst after righteousness?  It means, first of all, that we feel, that we know, that we cannot attain to this righteousness in any sense by ourselves.  Hunger and thirst are the opposite of being satisfied and full.  It is the awareness of being empty, of a lack.  Salvation is entirely by grace.  To hunger and thirst is the opposite of the pride of the Pharisee.  The Pharisee says, “I’m full.  I can do it.  I’m better.  I’m superior.  I can lick it.”  But the first Beatitude was, “Blessed are the poor in spirit.”  That is the removal of our self-sufficiency.  And now we have the knowledge that we lack righteousness and we cannot supply that righteousness and we cannot manufacture it.

          That is the first indication of hunger and thirst — the painful awareness of our lack.  You and I are not hungering and thirsting after righteousness if we are holding in any sense to anything that we have done as being the basis of our salvation.  If we still put ourselves and our work and what we have done as the basis, as the ground, of our salvation, we shall not be blessed.  If we think we are superior because of who we are, if we hold unto self-righteousness, then we deceive ourselves.  Hunger and thirst means, I realize I have nothing, I cannot attain.  It means that God creates in us a vehement desire for a righteousness from God.

          Hunger and thirst, after all, are pains.  God produces pain, deep pain, of the consciousness of our need.  I’m starving!  It is pain that keeps on until it is satisfied.  Not a passing feeling.  Not a passing desire.  But a deep pain.  The prophet Hosea says to Israel that she was always coming forward to God in repentance when there was distress, but when distress lifted, they went back to their sin.  In Hosea 6:4 we read, “O Ephraim, what shall I do unto thee?  O Judah, … for your goodness is as a morning cloud, and as the early dew it goeth away.”  Here one moment and gone the next, says the prophet.  Hunger and thirst are not passing feelings.  They go on until satisfied.

          Let me use this comparison.  It is a longing that does not stop until filled.  As love must desire to be with its object and says, “I must be with her (him),” so also those who hunger and thirst after righteousness desire that God pronounce them righteous in Christ.  It means that I am starving to know what God has in His heart toward me.  I must be assured in the gospel that my sins have been washed away in the blood of Jesus Christ.  I must be assured that God, by a marvelous grace, has imputed to me the righteousness of His Son.  I hunger and I thirst.  I need to know the gospel that, by grace alone, Christ has made me righteous.  Do you hunger and do you thirst in this way?

          Do you approach God as a starving man, as one who knows that all of his deeds are as a stinking garment in God’s presence and that you cannot, of yourselves, attain to eternal life?  Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

          God must give us this righteousness.  God creates within us the knowledge that we are unrighteous and that Christ alone can be our righteousness.  He gives us faith whereby we receive this gift of God that in Christ alone we have been made righteous.

          Hear the glorious promise, one of the most glorious statements in all of the Bible:  “they shall be filled.”  “Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness:  for they shall be filled.”  God does not create a need and then not fill that need.  God does not work a pain or a yearning of heart and not supply that need.  Rather, we read in the psalms that the longing soul that cries to Him He fully satisfies.  He fills with good each hungering one that for His mercy cries.  The child of God will be given what he desires.  He will not go away empty.  He will not be given dust.  He will not be given sand.  But he will be given food and drink.  He will be given Christ!

          That is an absolute promise:  They shall be filled.  God will fill us.  God will supply our need.  Abundantly, by grace alone, God will supply our need.  Do you hunger and thirst?  Do you know yourself as an undone sinner?  Look to Christ.  By grace, through faith, you shall be filled.  There is no doubt about this.  There is no question about it.  Do you come today hungering and thirsting and starving?  Then God will supply all your wants.  Every one of them.  He will fill you with righteousness.

          How does that happen?  First of all, it happens, thank God, immediately, at once.  For the truth of justification in Christ is that by faith I am assured that the full Christ is mine, that the perfect and spotless righteousness of Jesus Christ is accredited to me in God’s sight.  The barrier of my sin has been removed.  The boulder of my guilt has been lifted from my shoulders.  There is forgiveness with God ( Ps. 130).   Through faith, God’s gift worked within us, we look unto Christ.  We see Him dying on the cross for our sins.  We see that He dies not for His own sins but He dies in the place of all those given to Him of the Father.  He makes a substitutionary death, so we might be forgiven.  We read (Eph. 1:7), “In whom we have redemption…the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace.”  God looks on us in the righteousness of His own Son.  He imputes that righteousness to us.  We are forgiven.  We have the right to His presence, and He will never cast us out nor forsake us.

          So, how are we filled?  By faith.  Immediately.  Thank God.  We receive the knowledge that Jesus Christ is our full righteousness.

          But we are also given the righteousness of sanctification.  This is not a righteousness that makes us a child of God.  This is not a righteousness that improves our standing with God.  That is all in Christ.  But we have the burden of sin within us.  We desire now to put away our sin and to be a holy people.  So the Holy Spirit fills us.  By the power of grace He works within us so that we know our sins and we turn from the pollution of our sins in the way of repentance.  He creates within us a hatred of sin and more and more a joy of God in Christ.  He gives us strength so that we see the fiery darts of the evil one.  We understand the devil’s temptations.  We depend upon Christ and desire to live a life that is pleasing to Him.

          Still more.  We shall be filled perfectly in heavenly glory.  We shall one day stand in God’s presence.  And we will hunger no more, neither thirst.  We shall not weep and cry.  We shall not sigh or have sorrow.  There shall be a tree of life.  The Lamb of God shall feed us, and He shall lead us beside cool streams of water.  We shall stand before Him and serve Him day and night.  We shall be glorified like as Jesus Christ.  Our hearts shall rejoice and our souls will be full and satisfied.  Our hearts will overflow in praise.  There will be food there, pleasant things, good things.  We will be perfect.  We have not yet attained unto this.  But, by grace, we have this sure and heavenly hope, and one day we will be filled with perfect glory.  We shall have no lack.  We shall know no hunger.  Already now we have been made righteous, legally, in Jesus Christ.  Already now the Holy Spirit works within us that we repent and desire to live a righteous life.  One day we shall be filled perfectly with perfect righteousness.  We shall be holy then.

          Are you hungering and thirsting?  Are you desperate?  Do you know that sin separates you from God?  Do you desire to be freed from the power of sin?  “Lord, help me.”  “Lord, assure me first that my sins are forgiven.  Then, Lord, go on and deliver me from the horrible bondage of sin.”  Is that your cry?  Listen.  Jesus Christ is our righteousness.  He has made us righteous with God.  And He is also the grace of God worked within us so that we begin to live a holy and a righteous life.  He fills us.  Here is His promise:  “Blessed are they which hunger and thirst after righteousness:  for they shall be filled.”

          May God bless His Word to our hearts.  Let us pray.

          Father in heaven, we do thank Thee for Thy Word this day.  We pray that Thou wilt ever create within us that hungering and thirsting — first of all that we may see our desperate need of a righteousness to stand before Thee and that we cannot attain to this righteousness of ourselves.  Give us to see that by faith Christ alone is our righteousness.  But, Lord, we also hunger and thirst that we may be delivered from our sins, that we may be made more holy, that Christ would work in us more and more by the power of His cross.  So, heavenly Father, fill us with righteousness, the removal of our guilt.  Fill us, heavenly Father, with a righteousness that is the power to deliver us from the dominion of our sins.  Fill us, Lord, with Him, the complete Savior.  In His name do we pray, Amen.