The Beatitudes: Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

Sermon by David Felker on February 9

Matthew 5:6

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Please turn with me in your Bible to Matthew chapter 5; Matthew chapter 5. We’ll be looking at Matthew chapter 5, verse 6 tonight. We’re in the middle of a Sunday night series, a spring series. We’re looking at the beatitudes; these eight statements that Jesus makes as the prologue, at the very beginning of the most famous sermon that He ever preached, the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew chapters 5 to 7. And tonight, we’ll be in Matthew chapter 5, verse 6. 

And just before we read, something to consider. We have three children; many of you know this. Marshall is five, Finley is three, and Jane is about six months old. And here around the church and in town, but especially when we travel and we go to see family and friends that maybe haven’t seen our children in a little while, we will often hear about how much they have grown, how much they have changed; they’ll hopefully say how much they look like Lauren! Right? But sometimes they’ll say how much they look like me, how much they look like our family. And when you are around a family – you know this game – you look at the kids and you look at the parents and you can immediately see the DNA. You can trace the dots. You can connect the child with the parent and there are so many common traits. 

For example, sometimes I’ll look at Marshall and he will smile a smile and he’s smiling a David Felker smile. And it is a sarcastic, no-tooth, kind of half-smile. And when I was a child and my mom would see that smile on my face, she would say, “Give me a real smile.” And I’ll look at Marshall and he often has that same expression. I didn’t teach him that, and it will stop me dead in my tracks – exact same expression. And you can see this even in this room as you see the children come down for the children’s catechism and they’re not even sitting with their parents but you know who they belong to. You know who they’re connected to. You immediately know whose children they are because they look just like their parents. The kids don’t have to do anything to look like their parents. It is just who they are. 

The beatitudes, these words from Jesus, they describe the kind of posture, the kind of people in Jesus’ family. And Jesus here is not talking about your Myers-Briggs. He’s not talking about your natural temperament, but this is the type of life that can only happen by being His, by being close to Him, by being in His family. And so these are not eight different types of people that some people are meek but other people hunger and thirst for righteousness. These are not eight different types of people but His family members, His adopted sons and daughters. They manifest all of these characteristics, all of these beatitudes. And so Jesus tells us who we are and who we will be as those in God’s family. These are the family characteristics of God.

And just to provide some context, in the first few chapters of Matthew’s gospel we have seen Jesus, we have seen His lineage, we have seen His birth, we have seen His baptism. We have seen His temptation in the wilderness, we have seen the beginning of His ministry in Galilee and the surrounding areas, performing miracles, ministering to great crowds. But we haven’t been told much, we haven’t been told much about the kinds of things Jesus is saying, the kinds of things He is teaching. And any time a new leader steps onto the public stage and into the public limelight, they do something similar to what Jesus is doing here. Football coaches do this. We’ve seen this with Mike Leach. We’ve seen this with Lane Kiffin. New political leaders and new CEOs, they do this. Jesus comes with His twelve and with crowds listening on as well, and He gets up on this mountain in verse 1- and Cory said this a few weeks ago – He gets up on the mountain like Moses and we are meant to remember Israel’s story; that He gets up on the mountain that Moses ascended the mountain, Mount Sinai, and on that mountain Moses not only received but then he delivered the very voice and Law of God to the people. And so Jesus ascends this mountain, He gets up on this mountain, and He starts to speak about a new kingdom. 

And look at how the beatitudes are bookended. You see this in verse 3. “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” And He says again at the end in verse 10, “For theirs is the kingdom of heaven.” In other words, Jesus is describing life in His kingdom. “This is what it’s supposed to look like if you’re Mine, if you live near to Me, if you are in My family. And this is what you will look like.” And so let’s look with me at Matthew chapter 5. We’ll read verses 1, 2, and 6. And before we do, let’s pray and ask for God’s help. Let’s pray.

God of all grace, we do pray that Your Word would be given success tonight, that You would come and give Your Word success. We confess as we sang earlier that Your compassion is our story, and so we pray that You would give the words of my mouth and the meditations of all of our hearts, that You would make them acceptable, pleasing to You, O Lord, our strength and our Redeemer. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

Matthew chapter 5, beginning in verse 1. This is God’s Word:

“Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he sat down, his disciples came to him.

And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying:” (and then verse 6)

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

Amen. This is God’s Word.

One of my favorite restaurants is a little steak and seafood restaurant in West Point, Mississippi called Anthony’s. And it is about a fifteen minute drive from Starkville. And I have great family memories at Anthony’s. And almost any time we are in Starkville for a birthday or an anniversary or a big game, we try to get over to Anthony’s for a night. And it’s one of those places that is almost always packed and so you’re going to have to wait. And it’s also one of those places that you want to show up hungry because the food is so good. And so you show up hungry and you get hungrier and hungrier and hungrier as you wait. And finally, you’ll get a table, you’ll get inside, and you get in and one of the amazing things about Anthony’s is the bread. And every time we’re heading there it’s like you need to look at yourself in the mirror and give yourself a pep talk, “I’m not going to get full on the bread again,” and then you do! And it’s like you’ll need to ask your friends and family with you to cut you off on the bread, to hold you accountable, but that doesn’t work either! Because as you get to your table, the table is full of bread! It’s full of bread and you’re excited about the menu, you’re excited about the steak and the seafood. You place your order, but like I said, you can’t help but to completely fill yourself to the brim so that by the time the main meal gets there, you’ll have to get a to-go box and take almost a full steak. You’re getting it to go. You have no space to eat the very meal that you’ve been waiting for, the very meal that you’ve been longing for. 

And that is like our story. That is our spiritual journey. We are hungry, and yet in the midst of our hunger, we oftentimes can’t wait for the meal that is really meant to nourish us. We end up feeding ourselves on things that might even be really good things, but things that are not ultimate, things that are not meant to really, deeply satisfy us. 

And that’s what we’re talking about tonight. And so we are in the fourth beatitude this evening; it’s the beginning of a turning point in the beatitudes. There is a definite order. You can see here in the beatitudes the first three are passive. So, “Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who mourn.” And, “Blessed are the meek.” Each of these three are the emptying of self, the acknowledgment of our dependence, the acknowledgment of our desperation, an expression of our need. But the fourth beatitude, the fourth beatitude, there’s a sense in which it stands at the heart of the beatitudes. Martyn Lloyd-Jones, in his famous commentary on the Sermon on the Mount, he writes on this beatitude and says it is “the statement to which all the others lead,” because this fourth beatitude tells us how God will meet us, how He will fill us, and how He will satisfy us. The first three speaking primarily to who we are dispositionally, and this fourth one speaking about what it is we are driven towards. 

And so we’ll work this evening just section by section looking at this single verse, verse 6, and we’ll look first at our appetites, our spiritual appetites – that we are hungry and we are thirsty. Second, we’ll consider the righteousness that Jesus has in view here. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” What is Jesus talking about? And then third, we’ll close and consider what it means to be satisfied in Him. What it means to be satisfied in Him. 

Our Spiritual Appetites 

And so first, we are hungry, we are thirsty; we have spiritual appetites. We have to begin admitting that we are hungry and that we are thirsty. Ever since Adam and Eve hungered and thirst for something other than righteousness and had to leave the Garden, Genesis chapter 3, there is this longing, there is this ache, this hunger and this thirst because we are banished from His presence. We are cut off from our dad. We are orphans. And it doesn’t feel right; it shouldn’t be this way. We are made for a relationship with our Dad and we have been cut off ever since. We are cut off from the bread of life. We are cut off from the living water, our source of water, and we are hungry for our Dad. We are hungry for His love, for His face, for His smile. So we are born hungry and thirsty. We are born wanting the bread of life, wanting the living water, longing to stand in the presence of God, longing to stand before His face without shame. 

The psalmist says, “As the deer” – what? “Pants.” As the deer longs for water, longs to get to the stream and drink, so our souls crave God – Psalm 42. We left God. We left home. We left His smile and we are hungry and thirsty to get it back. “God has made us for Himself,” Augustine said, “and our hearts are restless until they rest in Him.” Bruce Springsteen said it right – Augustine to Bruce Springsteen – he said, “Everybody has a hungry heart.” So we often settle, don’t we, for the appetizer. We forgo the real feast. We are looking for something to satisfy this deep, human longing. 

So what is the bread? What is the water for you? What is the bread and the water that is nourishment for your soul tonight? There is something in this life that you are pursuing, there is some end that you are after, there is some desire that gets you up in the morning and moves you towards what you believe to be the thing that will satisfy. So what is nourishing you? What is nourishing you tonight? There is a bread for which you will labor and you have to choose and you will choose. I think we could say it like this. What do you think that you need for you to be satisfied? What would have to happen for that to take place? Maybe a dollar figure. Maybe a promotion or a new status at work, an achievement by a child. “If only I had this. If only this were different. If this life circumstance changed.” Where do you feel this hunger? Where do you feel this thirst in your life? The lack of progress in your career, in your relationships, in your appearance. The things that you carry, the things that we carry into this room, if we were honest, if we would dare voice them. I’m talking about the real questions that we have. “Can I trust anyone? Does anyone really love me? Do I matter? Will I be found worthy? Why can’t I rest? Why can’t I be still?” I’m talking about the real questions. 

We feel that hunger and we feel that thirst, but what do we do with it? We exhaust ourselves with our relentless efforts or we mutilate ourselves with shame, with contempt to try to satisfy it, to try to fill it. Many of you have heard of the interview, the “60-Minutes” interview with Tom Brady, the quarterback of the New England Patriots. And he was interviewed at the height of his career after winning three Super Bowls. The sky is the limit for him. He had probably already made hundreds of millions playing football and in endorsement deals. He’s married to a supermodel. He is a supermodel – Tom Brady. And he said in that interview, he sits down and says, “Why do I have three Super Bowl rings and still think that there’s something greater out there for me? It’s got to be more than this. I mean, this isn’t it. This can’t be what it’s all cracked up to be.” And the journalist, the “60-Minutes” journalist asked, “What’s the answer?” And Brady answers, “I wish I knew.” 

And of course there are hundreds of stories out there like that and I’m saying what he’s saying. He’s saying what Matthew chapter 5 verse 6 is saying – is that everyone has a spiritual appetite and we look to things that are a myth, that vanish, and they won’t satisfy. Money, power, beauty, professional success. Where do you feel this hunger and thirst in your life? What are you pursuing to try to satisfy it? Jesus is saying in Matthew chapter 5 verse 6, “I am worthy of your investment. I will give you life.” So we see first that we so often settle for the appetizer we forgo the real feast. And if that is where you are tonight, into that world Jesus walks and He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.”

The Righteousness That Jesus Has In View 

So let’s second consider the righteousness that Jesus has in view here. Jesus is teaching us that it is normal to have longings. It is normal to have these desires. Jesus recognizes that the longings within you, the push toward being satisfied is something that is a clue to the nature of the way that you have been made and it doesn’t need to be stamped out. In fact, it can’t be. It needs to be channeled. It needs to be redirected. Our drives have a finish line, an end in view. In the end, Jesus says, “Here is righteousness.” So it’s important that we understand what the word “righteousness” means. Righteousness means a life pleasing to God, a life in right-standing with the Lord. And so Jesus is saying, “Do you hunger and thirst for that – for a life pleasing to the Lord?” Righteousness is used in many ways in the Bible. Paul tells us that, “None are righteous, no, not even one.” And so how are you righteous before the Lord? You can’t buy it. You can’t bargain for it. You can’t pay for it. You cannot produce it? How are you righteous before the Lord?

Jesus Christ’s righteousness is credited to you by faith if you will but run to Him with all of your hunger and all of your thirst. You are declared righteous not by virtue of the fact that you are righteous, but by virtue of the fact that Christ is righteous and all that He accomplished – His work, His performance, His merit – has been credited to you. And so by virtue of what Christ has done for us, we are positionally righteous. We are in a position of righteous before Almighty God. That is our justification. And so we could say, “Blessed are all those who hunger and thirst to be right with God, for they shall be satisfied in and through Jesus Christ.” They shall be satisfied in and through His performance and His work on their behalf. And so you who have no money, you who are beggars to the feast, come, buy and eat. 

But it doesn’t stop there. When we grow in Christ, we are asking the Lord to change and to cleanse our spiritual taste buds. After gaining from Christ the righteousness that is His, after being wrapped in His beautiful, righteous robes and being declared righteous, by being declared righteous by Almighty God, little by little by little by little, your taste buds change and you begin to acquire a taste for righteousness. You begin to love the things that He loves. You begin to long to do the things that He has called you to do. And you desire to be free from the hunger and thirst for unrighteousness that remains. You grieve the old man, the disease marks, the old patterns that still govern you. So this is, of course, sanctification.

I think it’s important to say one more thing about righteousness. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” And it’s at the heart of it – to hunger and thirst for righteousness is to hunger and thirst for God Himself. He is the righteous One. He is the only One who can satisfy you forever, who can fill you forever. So blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Him. Do you long for Him? Do you hunger for Him? Do you thirst for Him?

I told this story a number of years ago. When Marshall was a little younger and I would be getting ready to go to work in the morning and when I would get home from work at night, Marshall would say to me often, he would say, “You can take your shoes off, Dad. You can take your shoes off.” And it took me a little while to figure out what Marshall was saying. And what Marshall was asking was, he was asking me not to leave. “You can take your shoes off, Dad. Don’t leave. Be home. Don’t go. You can take your shoes off, Dad.”

I think the question for us tonight is this. Do you know something of this language? Maybe tonight, maybe you want to change. Maybe you are longing for righteousness and you want to change. Maybe you’re so tired of yourself and you are exhausted from your movements away from God, your travels away from Him, and you long to be embraced by God. You long for God not to leave. You long for God not to let you slip through His fingers. Do you remember the prodigal son? Do you remember he came to such a point of hunger and desperation that he looked at the food that the pigs were eating and the text says that he came to his senses, that he came to himself, and he went back home. He went to his father. Do you know what it is to hunger and thirst for God? Do you know what it is to say, “Don’t leave, God”? Do you know what it is to say, “I don’t want what the broken cisterns have to offer. I don’t want to spend money for that which is not bread. I don’t want to labor for that which does not satisfy. Give me Jesus. In the morning when I rise, give me Him”? 

What It Means to Be Satisfied in Jesus 

And if that is your prayer tonight, I have good news. Because you see the end of the verse – and we’ll close with this – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” The 17th century Scottish pastor, Samuel Rutherford, said – I love this – he said, “Christ is as full a feast as you can have hunger. Christ is as full a feast as you can have hunger. There is as much in our Lord’s pantry as will satisfy all His children, and as much wine in His cellar as will quench all their thirst, and so hunger and thirst until He fills you.” “Christ is as full a feast as you can have hunger.”

I don’t know about you, but if you are like me, I can read the end of the verse, I read the end of that verse sometimes – “they shall be satisfied” – and I read that and I wonder, “Have I done something wrong? Is there something I am missing?” “They shall be satisfied” – am I not eating and drinking the right way, for “they shall be satisfied”? And what I’m saying is, there is a gap between the satisfaction that Jesus promises and the life that I live. And so I’m grateful that Jesus, He has one condition in this beatitude – you have to be radical enough? No. You have to be rooted enough? No. You have to be committed enough or cleaned up enough? No. Here is Jesus’ condition – anyone who is hungry, anyone who is thirsty – that is the one condition. And so few of us are willing to live in that place. And so blessed are you if you have nothing to bring to God but empty hands. So few of us are willing to live in that place. Blessed are those who are hungry and thirsty. You see, God makes you a promise – if you come, you will be satisfied. And that is good news no matter how fickle we are, no matter how flimsy we are. His promise is true. You will be satisfied in Him. 

And let me close with a story. This is from a book written a number of years ago and it reads, “In March 1986, I was privileged to spend an afternoon with an Amish family in Lancaster, Pennsylvania. Jonas Zook is an eighty-two-year-old widower. He and his children raise piglets for their livelihood. The oldest, Barbara, fifty-seven, manages the household. The three younger children, Rachel, fifty-three, Elam, forty-seven, and Sam, forty-five, are all severely mentally disabled. When I arrived at noon, little Elam, four feet tall – forty-seven-years-old – four feet tall, heavy set, thickly bearded and wearing the black, Amish outfit with the circular hat, was coming out of the barn some fifty yards away, pitchfork in hand. He had never laid eyes on me in his life, yet when he saw me step out of the car, this little man ran, lickety split, in my direction, still holding his pitchfork. Two feet away from me, he dropped the pitchfork, he flung himself at me, he wrapped his arms around my neck and legs around my waist, and he embraced me with fierce intensity, for a full thirty seconds. I was stunned and terribly self-conscious. And then Elam jumped down and led me on a tour of the farm. A half-hour later, Elam sat next to me at lunch. Midway through the meal, I turned around to say something and inadvertently my right elbow slammed into Elam’s rib cage. Elam didn’t wince. He didn’t groan. He wept like a two-year-old child. But his next move undid me. Elam came to my chair, planted himself on my lap, and then he kissed my cheeks. And there I was, dazed, dumbstruck, weeping, and suddenly seized by the power of a great affection for me.”

You see, that is a beautiful picture, but it’s still a dim comparison of the great love and forgiveness of Jesus Christ for His people – that we are preciously loved and He forgives, even the day by day and moment by moment spending money for that which is not bread and laboring for that which does not satisfy. And so if you’re here tonight and you still feel that gap, the gap between the satisfaction that Jesus promises and the life that you live, then what do you do? You have to look to the righteous One, Jesus Christ. You have to see Him. And on the cross He said, Jesus, the righteous One, He said, “I thirst,” so that you never have to be thirsty again, so that you can come and you can eat and you can drink and He invites the hungry and He invites the thirsty to come to Him. Christ is as full a feast as you can have hunger. And so come, run to Him, believe Him, cling to Him. Come, everyone who thirsts, and he who has no money come, buy and eat, and you will be satisfied.

And “Amen” means, “this is true.” And amen. Let’s pray together.

God of all grace, we confess that we spend money on that which is not bread, we do labor for that which does not satisfy. And so come, tonight, and meet with us. Give us Your grace and satisfy us tonight in You. We pray this in Jesus’ name, amen.

© 2019 First Presbyterian Church.

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