As the Deer Pants for Water

The Lord's Day Evening

March 5, 2006
Matthew 5:6
“As the Deer Pants for Water”
The Reverend Mr. Mike Campbell

Good evening, everyone. It is a great joy and a privilege for me to have the opportunity of opening God's word with you tonight at First Pres.

Before I read the Scripture and pray, let me just say a few words of thanks. First of all, I thank Dr. Duncan and the Session for inviting me to be here and to have this opportunity, and then, secondly, I want to thank all of you at First Pres. I had an opportunity (I don't know — a couple of months ago) to speak at the Men of the Covenant Luncheon, and most of the folks that were there were First Pres folks, and I thank these men for your support and your commitment to Redeemer Church.

You have been a great blessing to us in many, many ways, and we have felt it and we know it. We really do feel that you are “family.” I appreciate your support, but I feel like I'm among family anyway, and that's how we view First Pres. You have been a great blessing to us. You have blessed us with your prayers. As a matter of fact, I was talking to a gentleman tonight. He was taking me down to Ligon's office, and he said that he had been praying for me years before I even arrived on the scene. And so I praise God for that. And I thank you for your financial support. I thank you for those individuals who I know Ligon has wholeheartedly sent who are now members of Redeemer Church, who have come out of First Presbyterian Church, and we praise God for that.

If you would, please open your Bibles with me this evening to the Book of Matthew, and I am going to be reading from Matthew, chapter five, verse six — one verse — which is the fourth Beatitude. And as you find your way to this Beatitude in Matthew's Gospel, let me just preface that by reading this statement from a sermon that Martyn Lloyd-Jones preached on this particular Beatitude. He said this:

“And 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.”

And then he goes on to say this (I'm paraphrasing a little bit now), ‘If this verse is significant to your heart, if this verse is most blessed to you and to your Christian life, then you can know that you are the Lord's.’

Now consider that as we read this Beatitude. Matthew 5:6. Jesus says,

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,

for they shall be satisfied.”

This is the word of our great God, holy, infallible, inspired, and true in all that it proclaims. May we submit our lives to it. Let's bow in prayer.

Father, as we bow this evening in Your presence, we do so with the greatest of thanksgiving and praise because of Jesus, our Savior and our Lord. We thank You, O Father, that You have sent Christ; that He has died on Calvary's cross for our sin; that You have called us to Yourself, and now we are beloved and accepted by the Father. We thank You for that. And we thank You, O Lord, that You have spoken to us infallibly in Your word. And Lord, we ask tonight as the word of God has now been read and now, O Lord, as it is about to be preached, that You would lead and guide and direct Your servant, that all that I say this evening would be true to Your word, honoring to You, and it would magnify Your holy name, that it would edify and comfort and bring conviction to Your people. And so, Lord, we ask tonight that we would not just hear from a man, but that, O Lord, we would hear from You and from Your word as Your Spirit teaches us tonight. Lead, guide, and direct, we pray. Open our ears. Open our hearts. Open us up for the truth of Your word, for it is in the name of Jesus, our Lord and our Savior that we pray. Amen.

Notice how Jesus begins this Beatitude. He begins by saying, “Blessed are those who hunger, and blessed are those who thirst....” Who hunger and who thirst. Now what He's doing here in this Beatitude is He's taking these physical realities, these things that any first-century Jew would have come to understand in their very lives, and He's applying these to a deeper spiritual truth: that even as we hunger and thirst physically, we are to hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God. And the fact of the matter is that most of us have not experienced actually what Jesus is talking about here in the physical sense, because most of us have such immediate access to food and to drink. If we're hungry, we open the refrigerator. If we're hungry, we go to the store. If we're hungry, we go to McDonald's® or Burger King® or a restaurant. If we're thirsty, we turn on the faucet. If we're thirsty, we get a bottle of water or Coke® or a soft drink or whatever it is that we like to drink, and we immediately satisfy those longings, that hunger and that thirst, so that we don't really get to what Jesus is actually saying here. A first-century Jew would have known, though.

There's this great story that is told from World War I. It's a story about a combined group of forces — British forces, Australian forces, New Zealand forces, who are pursuing the Turks as a part of the liberation of Palestine. And they’re pursuing them up through the desert, and it was burning hot with heat. And in the pursuit of the Turks, what ended up happening is that they got so far ahead of the water trains that were lagging behind that were on camels, that they ran out of water. And as they ran out of water and they were experiencing all the realities of the heat of the desert, they were starting to become dehydrated.

They had one of two choices. They could turn around and go back, and hopefully meet up with the water train before they all died in the desert, or they could keep pushing forward, moving forward until they got to the Wells of Shirea. And if they were able to take the Wells of Shirea, they knew that they would have all the water that they would ever need. And so they decided to keep moving forward. And giving everything they had, they fought this battle at the Wells of Shirea and they took the wells, so that they had thousands upon thousands of gallons of fresh drinking water.

But here is the thing: they lost hundreds of soldiers in the heat of the desert from dehydration. There were some that were still in reasonably good condition, even though they were thirsty as anything you could possibly imagine. But what the commanders of the forces said is that those of you who are in the best condition, you stand guard. And only those in the worst of condition could go immediately and drink of the Wells of Shirea. It took a total of four hours before the last person was able to go to the wells and drink.

Now, I want you to consider that with me for a moment. All of the thirst of the desert, all of the heat of the desert, all of them were thirsty. All of them were dehydrated. And yet, some still had to wait four hours to drink of the water. It is reported that one of the soldiers, a Christian, in response to all this, after he had to wait for a long time, he responded by saying this:

“I believe that we all learned our first real Bible lesson on the march from Beersheba to the Shirea Wells. If such were our thirst for God, our thirst for righteousness, and for His will in our lives, a consuming, all-embracing pre-occupying desire, how rich would all of us be in the fruit of the Spirit.”

Now, when I even read these words and I think about the implications of what this man said, the only way that I can properly respond to that is in utter repentance because I immediately realize that when it comes to a longing for the righteousness of God, a longing for the holiness of God, there are so many times in my life — and I can imagine it's true for you — so many times in my life where the longing just isn't there, where I am desiring so many other things. All of us here know...if you've walked the Christian walk for any length of time, you know that the Christian life is a battle, that there's warfare, and that there are all of these things that are pulling us in one direction or the other so that our desires, our longing, is not ultimately at times for the righteousness of God Almighty.

But Jesus tells us here that even as the starving man, even as the man who is thirsting to the point of dehydration, will long for food and long for water, so must we long for the righteousness of God.

And what we have here in this fourth Beatitude, then, is this. It is both a reminder and the guidance and the empowerment to truly hunger and thirst for the righteousness of God each and every day in our lives. As a matter of fact, the parallel account of this is over in Luke 6:21. There Jesus says this: “Blessed are you who hunger now, for you shall be satisfied.” That we hunger now — not waiting till we're older, not waiting to the day of crisis, but that we hunger right now as we're sitting here in this church this evening, that we hunger for the righteousness of God even tonight.

Now how do we truly do that? How do we begin to see this hunger for the righteousness of God in our lives? I believe there are three things that we can look at as we think through this particular Beatitude, three things that I want us to examine as we think about what it means to long for His righteousness, what it means to hunger and to thirst for the righteousness of God. The three things are these: That we begin to understand what it means to long for happiness (that's one); secondly, that we understand what it means to long for holiness; and the third, what it means to long for heaven. A longing for happiness, a longing for holiness, and a longing for heaven.

I. A longing for happiness.

I have pastored long enough that in my experiences in dealing with people who are going through difficult times, I have had many a person come to me in my office and say something like this in the midst of a crisis or a family difficulty, or a husband who is unfaithful, all of these kinds of things. I've heard many a person say to me, “All I want to be is happy.” I can imagine that some of you here have said that or thought that.

Now, on the one hand, I know how we respond to something like that. That seems so worldly; that seems so trite; that seems so insignificant...“All that we want is happiness.” And the reason why we respond that way is because of the way the world says that. But the fact of the matter is there is something deeper that this expression actually speaks to. Do you realize that? As a matter of fact, I will go back with you to the very founding of our nation. I will remind you of something. The very framers of the Declaration of Independence, what did they say? “That we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal; that they are endowed by their Creator with certain inalienable rights, that among these are life,” “liberty,” “The pursuit of happiness.” Life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness...that in the very establishment of our nation this thought was there: that there is a longing in all men for happiness.

Now, you probably know this already, but as you run through the Beatitudes the word that is translated in most of our modern versions blessed can also be translated either fortunate or it can be translated happy. And so as you look at the Beatitudes, you can see “Happy are the poor in spirit...happy are those who mourn...happy are the meek...happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness...happy are the merciful...happy are the pure in heart...happy are the peacemakers...happy are those who are persecuted for righteousness...happy are you when others revile you and persecute you.”

And immediately, though, when I translate it that way, you begin to realize what the problem is. The problem in translating it that way is the way that we typically understand the English word happy. How do we understand it? The English word happy to us is an emotional state, and it is an emotional state that is opposite to the emotional state of sadness. And so when we talk about happy, what we are generally thinking about is this: We are thinking about those things that would make us laugh, or those things that would make us giddy — those good things. And when we understand happiness generally, we're talking about circumstances creating an emotional state. And so, you've just got a new job — you’re happy. You've just got a huge promotion and a raise — you’re happy. You just had a beautiful, healthy baby or grandbaby — you’re happy. But...I mean...how many of us would say “Happy are you when you’re downtrodden in spirit”? Or, “Happy are you when you mourn”? That sounds like a contradiction, right? Or, “Happy are you when you’re persecuted”? We’re not masochists, right? We wouldn't say that.

As a matter of fact, this idea of blessed is a deeper reality. It's deeper than that. It speaks of the state of blessedness that doesn't come from just circumstances, but it comes from relationship, it comes from God, so that we know — because God Almighty loves us, has called us, is with us, providentially takes care of us, guides and leads us — that we are blessed regardless of circumstances, that we are blessed even in the most difficult of realities, even in the most difficult of life's experiences–that we are blessed!

The Apostle Paul knew something about this, didn't he, so that from prison he could write the joy letter; from prison he could say, “Rejoice in the Lord always; I say again, rejoice.” Now how in the world can he from prison say that? It is because Paul knew of this deeper reality of being blessed. He understood that. So this is the best translation, but ....

One of the things I did in preparation for this message is I picked up my New Collegiate English Dictionary and I looked up the word happiness. And here is how that word is defined:

“Happiness:” (this is one of the definitions) “...a state of well-being; a state of contentment.”

Happiness is satisfaction. Look at the Beatitude:

“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”

Happiness is being satisfied. Now, the Greek word for bless and the Greek word for be satisfied are two different Greek words. But in order for you to get the sense of what's being communicated here, I want to paraphrase this Beatitude this way and it will be very clear to you: ‘Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be happy’...’Happy are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be happy.’

Now what does this speak to? I think there are two things that we need to see immediately in this Beatitude. One, Jesus is reminding all of us of the longing that is in all of our hearts. And it's there. It is placed there by God; it is an eternal longing for satisfaction, and God has given it to us. But at the same time we acknowledge that, what this also makes clear is if satisfaction, if happiness can only come to us by a hunger and a thirst for the righteousness of God, then what we know for sure is this: That all of those other things that we would pursue, that we would attempt to find happiness, satisfaction, contentment in — that none of those things can actually give it to us. What he's saying is the longing is real. The longing is there and it's in all of us. But there's only one way to find it filled, and that's in the righteousness of God Almighty.

You know, Jeremiah talked about this when he said this of the people of God: that they had forsaken the fountains of living water, and they had hewed out cisterns that were cracked and broken and could not hold water. I mean, just consider that image with me for a moment, that here is this mighty living water and it's for the people of God, and what the people of God actually did, instead of just drinking of the fountain of living water, the source of all satisfaction, instead of that we turn over and what we do is we are digging these broken, cracked cisterns that will not satisfy, and we're lapping up that, and it brings no satisfaction!

That's the point. The longing is real, the longing is there; God has given it. There's only one way for it to be satisfied, and so what the Beatitude offers us is an invitation to come, an invitation to drink, an invitation to feast. The prophet Isaiah in Isaiah 55 said, “Come, all of you who are thirsty, come to the waters. Listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare.” Jesus to the woman at the well said this (John 4): “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst.”

Many of you know this statement of Augustine where he said this: “Thou madest us for Thyself, and our heart is restless until it finds rest in...” Who? “...Thee.” And we know how the world misses this, don't we? And we look at the world and we see their pursuit of all of this destructive behavior that can never satisfy, and we look at our world and its pursuit of addictions and pursuit of alcoholism and sexual promiscuity and all of these things, and we look at the world and we say and we shout “That will not satisfy!” Well, brothers and sisters in Christ, don't think that we can't be guilty of this as well in the church of God! Don't think in the church of God there are not people who profess Christ who are even genuine believers in Christ, and instead of them going to the genuine source of satisfaction, they’re trying to find it in the same ways the world finds it, even in all those bad things that the world tries to find satisfaction in.

But not only that, here's what we're guilty about. Us nice-looking Presbyterian folk, here's what we're guilty of. We try to find it in even those good things, and those matters of indifference...doesn't really matter. We try to find our satisfaction in our spouse, and you can see it when you become angry with your wife or your husband because they are not meeting your need. We try to find it in our accomplishments. We try to find it in our work. We try to find it in sports and recreation, in all of those things. Jesus is reminding us to look to the right place, and longing for happiness.

II. A longing for holiness.

The second thing we see here is a hunger and a longing for holiness...for holiness. Notice what He says here: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness... righteousness.” How are we to understand this word? There are several ways biblically you can understand the word righteousness, all important, all Scriptural.

One aspect of righteousness is legal — legal righteousness, forensic righteousness, the imputation of Christ's righteousness, justification by faith; declarative righteousness in the very courtrooms of heaven, that we have been declared righteous before God solely based upon the righteousness of Christ alone. Legal righteousness is one way.

Another way of understanding this aspect of righteousness is moral righteousness, or sanctification — the progressive living out, being conformed to the image of Christ as His Holy Spirit works in and through the word to grow us in Christ.

A third way to understand righteousness which you often see in the Old Testament is social righteousness. It is an expression of justice in the world.

Now those are three aspects of righteousness. I would submit to you this evening that you cannot understand moral righteousness rightly, nor can you understand social righteousness and live it out rightly unless you first understand legal righteousness: unless you first understand what it means to live in the reality of the imputation of Christ's righteousness to us, to understand that we have been declared righteous by God in Christ alone, and that we have trusted in Christ alone. That is foundational to all other understandings of righteousness.

Now, in saying that, what is Jesus talking about here when He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness....”? Well, I think there's something important to understand behind this even as we begin to look at it.

First of all, in order to get it right, you have to go back and look at verse 1 where it says, “Seeing the crowds, He went up on the mountain, and when He sat down, His disciples came to Him.” Not the crowd, His disciples, His followers, those who knew Christ. That reality is behind everything you read in the Beatitudes, and so as you begin to look at the Beatitudes, it is inappropriate in applying these (as many have made)–to apply them to the whole of society. These are kingdom values here! Kingdom values!

But even when you look at the Beatitude itself, where it says “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” there is a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Where does that come from? If there is a longing, it had to have been put there. We don't just make up a desire for genuine righteousness. As a matter of fact, if you look at the Pharisees one of the things that you see in them is that Jesus is constantly condemning them because they are not that which they proclaim to be! They’re not righteous, even though they think they are!

People don't...Scripture is clear on this...people don't just seek God. Scripture describes the unbelieving man or woman as “dead in transgressions and sins.” Therefore, if there is a longing for righteousness, the longing has to be a result of the work of God Almighty by His grace before it's even there in the first place.

Now, I say that to you to make this point. Legal righteousness, justification by faith, forensic righteousness is all over this. But at the same time, that's not the primary application of what Jesus is saying. As a matter of fact, as you continue on in looking at the Sermon on the Mount, you can see many times that Jesus talks about righteousness, and it becomes clear that He's talking about holiness. He's talking about the growth of holiness and righteousness in the life of a believer. Look down at verse 10, where He says “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake.” They’re persecuted. Why? Because they’re living for Jesus. Or, over at 5:20 where it says “I tell you that unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven.” Now that is saying two things. On the one hand, it is saying that the believer's righteousness is qualitatively different from that of the Pharisees. It is different because of what? We have believed in Jesus! But at the same time it is manifested so that it is different in degree from that of the Pharisees. It is from the inside out, but it is an expression of holiness, genuine holiness, in life.

Or, you look at chapter six, verse one: “Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people in order to be seen by them, for then you will have no reward from your Father who is in heaven.” Beware of practicing it....or 6:33, where it says “But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things will be added unto you.” It is the expression of righteousness, the expression of genuine holiness, and what Jesus is saying here (understanding that behind this is justification by faith, understanding that behind this is surrendering our lives to Jesus Christ as Savior and Lord), what this is meaning is this: That we are to hunger and thirst for the holiness of God to be expressed in our lives and to be expressed in our churches.

I would say to you this: I honestly do believe in my heart of hearts that part of the reason why there is not more of an expression of the holiness and the righteousness of God Almighty in Bible-believing evangelical churches in America today is simply because of this: We do not genuinely desire it. We don't want it. We’re not longing for it.

I have a group of men that I work with at our church. They’re coming out of different churches, and these are a group of men that love Jesus. I mean, they love Jesus, and I'm discipling these brothers and they are just feeding on the word of God, loving the word of God, eating it up, growing in our church. One brother one evening said this — that as he's growing and as he's reading the word and he's talking about Jesus all the time, that his friends — those from churches, those from work who profess Christ — they are seeing his eagerness for the word of God, and they’re actually responding in this way: “Do you want to be a minister or something? Do you want to be a preacher? ” Did you catch that? What they’re actually saying is this: A genuine desire for holiness, a genuine desire for growth, must mean that you’re not a normal Christian; you must want to be a preacher!

I grew up in a church like that. I became a Christian at 16. I was so excited about the things of the Lord, and I remember the first year of faith I read through the whole Bible twice. People saw that and my zeal for the Lord, and immediately — 16 years old! — “You must be called to be a preacher, because you like reading the Bible.”

Now...that sounds like...that's those “other” folk...that's those Pentecostal folk...those Baptist folk...them folk, not us! They’re not us Presbyterians! Certainly not Redeemer Church and First Presbyterian Church — no!

I’ll tell you how we do it. We make much (rightfully so) of the Lord's Day. We make much (rightfully so) of the Sabbath. We talk about the significance of worship and being in God's presence. We are one of the few denominations that still has worship on Sunday morning and Sunday evening. We talk about the importance of biblical elements of worship and guarding the worship. We talk about all of this. But let me ask you, Christians, is your righteousness, your longing for righteousness, your longing for holiness, is it a Lord's Day thing only? Is the longing for holiness in your life a Monday thing, and a Tuesday thing, and a Wednesday thing, and a Thursday and a Friday and a Saturday and a Sunday? Or is it like this: We gather in the house of the Lord, we love all that's happening in the house of the Lord, and we love preaching and we love singing, and we love being righteous here, but the real world is altogether something different. The real world is about me needing to get my hands dirty, me needing to take care of business. And in order to take care of business and in order to exist and to function and to be respected in the world, I have to act like the world. Don't think we don't do this.

Someone has said, “How much do you want righteousness? Do you want it as much as a starving man wants food, and as much as a man dying of thirst wants water?” How intense is our desire for righteousness?

But here's what I want you to see, because it is so powerful and so precious if you understand this. Notice what Jesus says and what He doesn't say. He says “Blessed are those who hunger for righteousness...blessed are those who thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Do you know what He's saying to us? He's saying that all He is asking from us is that we long for — genuinely long for — the holiness of God to take hold of our lives. Do you understand, brothers and sisters in Christ, that when we Presbyterians talk about the means of grace we are talking about that which God uses to grow us? We are simply availing ourselves to that which God Almighty has established to grow His people. We long to read the word because God satisfies. He's not calling us to be Pharisees. He's not calling us to think that you enter into the kingdom by believing, but then the rest of it is all about cleaning ourselves up. What He's saying is ‘Desire Me. Long for Me. Seek and knock, and I will open the door. I’ll grow you.’ A longing for holiness.

III. A longing for heaven.

Briefly, third thing. You can test this with this last thing. Do you have a longing for heaven? For heaven.... If there is in us a real, genuine, longing for the righteousness of God, that will by necessity mean that we long for the day of glory. It will by necessity mean that there is, there must be (if you’re longing and hungering for the righteousness of God) a sense of dis-satisfaction in the things of this earth.

Now don't misunderstand me here. I'm not saying to you don't enjoy the blessings of your life. I'm not saying that. I'm not saying to you don't enjoy your wife or your husband or your children, or your grandchildren or all that God has blessed you with. We of all people understand that every good thing comes from Him. We too often take these things for granted. We need to be praising God for the blessings in our lives. But at the same time, brothers and sisters in Christ, we need to understand that this is not it, that all we have to do is look around a little bit and we realize that this world is broken and fallen and corrupt. And you know how far you have to look? Go in your bathroom, look in your mirror. That’ll make it easy.

You know what Peter says in II Peter 3:13? He says, “But in keeping with His promise we are looking forward to a new heaven and a new earth, the home of righteousness.” Can you say that tonight? That in keeping with His promise that we are looking forward to this because we know that that is the home of righteousness? If we are hungering for righteousness, if we are thirsting for righteousness, how can we not thirst and hunger for the home of righteousness?

C.S. Lewis nailed it when he put it this way:

“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.”

We fill ourselves up. And if you’re sitting there tonight and you’re going, “I'm not longing for heaven,” I'm not saying to you that you’re not a Christian, but what I am saying to you is this — and you don't have to invite me back if you’re offended by this. You’re in sin. It's as clear as that. We’re in sin. We’re feeding to such an extent on the things of the world that we're not even seeing the brokenness and the sinfulness of our world.

I love John Piper's book A Hunger for God. It's a book on fasting. I love that! It's my favorite book on fasting. In that book he makes a statement. . Piper says this — that if you don't feel strong desires for the manifestation of the glory of God...let me rephrase that to match this passage, because it all fits together. He could also say if you don't feel strong desires for the reality of heaven, the home of righteousness...he goes on, and this is a quote: “...it is not because you have drunk deeply and are satisfied. It is because you have nibbled so long at the table of the world your soul is stuffed with small things, and there is no room for the good.”

As much as all of us, I pray, as I look out on this congregation, I pray that all of us are being blessed mightily by the Lord. At the same time, brothers and sisters in Christ, don't let that ever stop you from knowing, believing, what Paul knew and believed, and it's this: That that is better. It's better.

A longing for happiness, a longing for holiness, a longing for heaven. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” Let us pray.

Father, once again we give You thanks. And we pray, O Lord, tonight that You would take

this word and all that I have said that is honoring to You and to Your word and that You would apply it to our lives. May we long for the expression of the holiness of God in our individual lives, in our families, and in our churches. May we fall in love with You again, fall in love with the word of God, fall in love with the worship of God, fall in love with turning to You in prayer. Lord, work in us, we ask. In the name of Jesus we pray, Amen.

Let us stand as I pronounce the benediction.

May the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God and the sweet fellowship of His Holy Spirit rest, rule, and abide with you now and forevermore. Amen.



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