A Hungry People

A Hungry People

This morning, what does it mean to hunger and to thirst for righteousness? We will read the entire beatitudes once more. But before we do, if you join me in prayer for the reading of God’s word. Lord, you know that we are a dole of heart, prone to sin, prone to carelessness. We ask that you would open our eyes to the truths of your gospel, that you would unplug our ears, that we would hear Your word. And Father, that it please you to transform us by the power of Your Holy Spirit. Gracious God, we know we do not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from your mouth. So we ask you to make us hungry for this heavenly food that it would nourish us today in the ways of eternal life. And this we ask through Jesus Christ, the bread of heaven. Amen. Beginning in verse 1. Seeing the crowds, he went up on the mountain, and when he had sat down, his disciples came to him and he opened his mouth and he taught them saying, Blessed are the poor and 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 satisfied. Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy. Blessed are the pure and hard, 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’s sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. The word of the Lord, you please be seated. I’m sure you are all aware of Snickers, candy bars, long running ad. You’re not you when you’re hungry. People turn into various celebrities, divas, whining about things, and they are given a Snickers bar to turn back into themselves. You may not know that this has been a running ad successfully for 13 years. Thirteen years, because we can relate to being hungry and out of sorts. If you have done pre-marriage counseling with me, you have heard me tell you that you ought not to try to have a serious conversation, code for argument with your spouse when you are tired or when you’re hungry. Get some rest, get something to eat, and then sit down and try to talk.

When we’re hungry, we’re more irritable. We’re less willing to be patient to listen to others. It doesn’t matter if you’re a toddler, a teen, or a grandparent. Hunger drives us. And Jesus takes then this powerful human desire of hunger and thirst as a metaphor, and he directs them beyond a full belly or quenched thirst. Rather than food or drink as the object, he points us to righteousness. Beyond just food and drink, we hunger and thirst for many things. We thirst for recognition, reputation. We hunger for positions, possessions. And Jesus tells us we are to desire those things that should please the Father. To chase after the things that we think will satisfy us, it will leave us, in the end, empty. I’m sure you’ve all seen those movies and the comedy of the ghost trying to eat food where he takes it and he eats it and it just goes right through him. It falls to the ground. Inability to take food, something substantial, in a minute longer. Well, that’s a very good picture of what happens when you and I try to seek happiness in anything other than the Lord. It will just go through you.

It will fall to the ground. It doesn’t have the weight. To choose the gifts of creation over the giver and the maker of creation will only end in emptiness. The pursuit of our own happiness and self-satisfaction, it leaves us empty. And Jesus tells us then to set our desires on His righteousness, which will cause us then to be stuffed, to be filled to the full. Because the Lord alone is able to end all of our longings, we can only be satisfied in Him. And Jesus has begun by pointing out our great need to be poor in Spirit, to mourn, to be meek. And then we have the Lord meeting those needs. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied. God meets those needs. And all of us are confronted with our appetites. That question of what drives us? What do we seek after? What do I want to eat? What am I hungry for? And Jesus shows us the answer of what it should be. He said, Bless are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. And righteousness is one of those $10 words that can speak to so many different things. Now, it’s not because Greek is this amazing language that has all these layers of meaning for all these words.

It’s a language like any other language where there are some words that have ideas that are deeper than others. Now, you think of our word democracy, it carries a lot of nuance. Democratic, Democrat, democracy, a political party, a governance and ethos, a philosophy, social equality, mass appeal, voting procedures, all of that in that frame or reference. Righteousness. Well, righteousness and its various forms, it can speak to many things. Justice, uprightness, right standing, vindication, justification, victory. It carries a lot of weight. We look at this and go, Well, what element or nuance of righteousness is he talking about here in verse 6? Does righteousness refer to God’s gift of justification? Where we are put in right standing with God through the substitutionary work of Jesus? Does it refer to care for the downtrodden, the issue of righteousness and social justice? Could it speak of that final vindication of God’s people at the consummation of the end? Does it speak of right conduct, doing the things that please God to do what he wants? Well, the best way for us to think about it is to look to see how Matthew uses the word in his letter.

In Matthew 5, 10, just a few verses later, Jesus says, Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. This speaks of being persecuted for following after God. The actions that identify you with the cause of Christ, Jesus says at times will bring you persecution. Then in verse 20, For I tell you, unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and the Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven. Here again, righteousness as a personal conduct. Then later, Jesus says, Beware of practicing your righteousness before other people to be seen by them, for then you’ll have no reward for your father who is in heaven, see. Practicing your righteousness certainly refers to godly conduct, the things we do. Our hunger and our thirst is for godly action, godly behavior, godly conduct. That’s what it means to carry the marks of Christ. That we’re followers after Him, we look a certain way. But this righteousness, as we know, it flows from a changed heart, a new heart. Our right standing with God does not come from ourselves. We need Him to vindicate to justify us, that word righteousness again.

We must keep that in mind of what we’ve already heard, blessed are those who know their need, who mourn for their sin, who are not grabbing for power, who are not self-asserting. Blessedness, happiness, it starts with a recognition of our spiritual poverty. That we have no resources in ourselves to change our condition. A Christian will see his or her own sinful heart and will loathe themselves for it. There should be a hatred of that sin, a desperation that drives us to the Father. And all of this is internal. What has happened on the inside before it ever becomes external? The problem with external righteousness that it can very easily mask an inner corruption of the heart. Jesus gives the Pharisees scathing remarks about this Matthew 23. He says, Woe to you, you scribes and PhariseesPharisees, Hippocrates. For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside you’re full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisees. First clean the outside of the cup and the plate, and then the outside, or clean the inside, then from the outside will also be clean. Woe to you, scribes and pharisees, Hippocrates, for you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness.

So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness. Those are gating remarks. Those are hard words that Jesus speaks because you can have an external righteousness that mask an inner corruption. That is what religious hypocrisy is. What the Pharisees, what they were hungering for was public recognition of how good they were. And self-righteousness, it makes God your debtor. God will owe you for your behavior. Just the opposite of what Jesus is speaking of. That question then comes to us, What is it you want to eat? What makes you thirsty? To know this will know what you have put your heart on, where you have set your focus. French mathematician and philosopher, Blaise Pascal, he definitively answered this question. He said, All men seek happiness. This is without exception. Whatever different means they employ, they all tend to this end. The cause of some going to war and others of avoiding it, it’s the same desire in both attended with different views. They will never take the least step but to this object of happiness. This is the motive of every action of every man, even of those who hang themselves.

But Jesus did not say happy or blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts for happiness. There’s somewhat of a universal law of this. We all know it. If you set your sights on seeking happiness, you’ll never find it. Because happiness is a byproduct, not a goal in itself. Now, I’m sure growing up, you all remember that middle school kid who wanted so desperately for you to be their friend. Will you be my friend? Please, please be my friend. Be my friend. Be my friend. Will you want to be my friend? You may want to be my friend. And nobody wants to be their friend. Because friendship is a by-product and not a goal. It’s a byproduct, just like happiness is. Later in the sermon on the Mount, Jesus says this in a different way. He says in Matthew 6:33, But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness. And all these things will be added to you. Seek first His kingdom, His righteousness, and all these other things that people seek after will be given to you. Seek the righteousness of God, hunger for Him, and then you will be blessed. To hunger after to seek after anything else in the end will just be filled with dissatisfaction and empty heart.

And so that question then comes, Well, how is it that Jesus will satisfy my soul if I am the hunger for this righteousness? We’re looking back in the Bible to understand our longings and the satisfaction in Christ. We see in Psalm 42, the Psalmist declares, As the deer pants for flowing water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul, thirst for the living God. Or David in Psalm 63, O God, you are my God. Ernestly, I seek you. My soul, thirst for you. My flesh faints for you as in a dry and weary land where there’s no water. Psalm 143, I stretch out my hands to you. My soul, thirst for you like a parched land. Notice these longings, these searchings, they’re not passive, they’re active. Just like you and I, when we’re hungry for food, we go looking for it. And this is what the Psalmist is saying, I’m panting, I’m searching for you. My soul is a desert. And I need you to come to me like fresh rain to fill me. Think about what happens when you move to Boothman for school and your girlfriend stays here at the community college.

You get real acquainted with I-90, with a four and a half hour drive. It doesn’t seem like four and a half hours when she’s here and you’re there. It’s hardly an effort because you long to be with her. There’s a searching, a longing. This is what takes place with the Lord, that the longing of our heart, the desires that we have are for Him. We later read in the Prophet Amos 8:11, there he says, Behold, the days are coming, declares the Lord, when I will send a famine in the land. Not a famine of bread nor a thirst for water, but of hearing the word of the Lord. Now, the Lord, as you all know, if you’ve lived long enough, will often bring you and I to times of dryness and hunger to help train us in our hearts of where we’ve set them and what we’re longing for. A famine of hearing the word of the Lord that he prophesied to his people. And in the fullness of time, after 400 years of seeming silence, the Lord breaks that great spiritual fast. He sends His son to satisfy souls to put us in right standing, righteousness with him.

We hear the very prolog of John’s Gospel. In the beginning was the word, and the word was with God, and the Word was God, and the Word became flesh and dwelled among us. And we have seen His glory, glory as the only son from the Father for the grace and truth. Because Jesus himself is the very sign and assurance that the Father is establishing a new relationship with his people and he’s supplying all of our needs. Jesus is that sign. In John 4, Jesus told his disciples, My food is to do the will of him who sent me to accomplish his work. Jesus hungered and thirsted after righteousness. He points us to the Father. He comes to proclaim that he has brought in God’s kingdom. He has called men and women to himself. That’s the role that he has been given. In doing so, he has forgiven our sins. He has cast out demons. He has healed diseases. Jesus is the pearl of great price that when you see its value, you will sell everything you have in order to possess Him. Through faith, followers of Jesus belong now to a new creation, to a new covenant, to a new kingdom.

What Jesus is speaking of now is not this huge and heavy burden to religiously outperform the scribes and the Pharisees. This is not the Olympics of faith where only the spiritually elite have a chance of entering. Jesus is speaking to those who were lost, who have now been found by the Father. As one scholar put it, he says to his disciples, You may now live in the time of salvation. Because that time is now and you are free to live in it. The giving of God’s forgiveness and the acceptance of God includes his claim on those who have been forgiven. They are now the signs of the coming of the kingdom. Just as you and I now are signs of the coming of the kingdom, signs that something has really happened, that his grace precedes his demand. Paul reminds us in 1 Corinthians, You’re not your own. You were bought with a price. You and I have been purchased. Grace precedes the demand. You were made for God. Love St. Augustine’s autobiographical prayer that he declares and so familiar to us, where he says to Lord, you have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our hearts are restless until they find their rest in you.

Restless hearts of how we have been made that will only be satisfied if God is the object, the rest. How do I know that I hunger for Him? Because if there’s a felt absence, it will drive me towards Him even more. We are driven towards Him when we feel an absence. How do we cultivate these desires? Well, we recognize first our need of Him. No need, no desire, plain and simple. There are lots of people sitting out there in their homes right now have no need of God, so therefore no desire. The problem is that we often fall into the trap of lesser desires. We can have a lifetime of trying to fill that empty pit of our souls through all the things: sex, booze, drugs, eating, shopping, recreation, Netflix, binging. They are lesser goods, things that we actually need to repent of because they are obstacles that get in the way of our pursuit of a greater desire. You see, you can’t just tell people, Well, don’t do these things. Because not doing something isn’t a great motivation for very long. Do something greater, go towards something better. That’s a wonderful motivation. These things are paltry in themselves.

They bring no sustained joy, only just a temporary flash. Because we were made for the greatest good, the greatest desire, which is God Himself. In other words, and everything else will have to pale in comparison because you will not be doing what you were made to do, to be a worshiper, to be a lover of God and His people. Even religion, as we all know, can be a block and a hindrance because it can be an external practice that hides an inner corruption if we’re not careful. I had a conversation with a dying person in her 90s, and she was trying so hard to use external righteousness to mask her hard heart to fill that void, even up to the end, 96 years old and would have nothing to do with anything other than a surface relationship to God. I’ve done these good things that should be good enough for Him. That’s the heart. That’s trying so hard to keep God at a distance. You see, a Christian is one who not only mourns their sin, but also mourns their righteousness. We hear Isaiah 64, Romans 3, Our righteousness is as filthy rags. See, as a believer, you not only are aware of the terrible things that you’ve done, you’re also aware that your good things don’t measure up, they’re tainted.

We need something more. It’s like all the fruit of the kingdom, we cultivate an others-focused way of life. Our own self-centeredness, it keeps us constantly looking to ourselves, our needs, our hungers, our desires. How does that often get expressed? Why doesn’t anyone come to me? Why doesn’t anyone connect with me? Why don’t others know that I’m hurting or I have these needs? It’s all self-focused. It’s really just that middle school way of saying, Will you be my friend? Be my friend, be my friend. Me, me, me, me. I need a friend. I need a friend. But when we look to Jesus, we look up and then we look out to other people, we initiate. Well, what if they’re not doing? It doesn’t matter. Because God has initiated with you. He found you who were lost. You can go to those who are lost and not waiting for them to figure out that you’re sitting in the corner and you’re unwilling to engage. Why? Because the Lord of the universe has called you by name. He knows you. He loves you. He’s given his son for you, therefore, go and love others in the same way.

That righteousness, that vindication is not an empty one. It is a right standing with the Lord of glory that frees us to be released into the world. As those who see the needs of others who look beyond ourselves. Jesus did not come so that we could live a godly life. He came so that we would have our relationship to the Father restored. A godly life flows from that relationship. It is antichrist to reverse that. It is antichrist to reverse that. He has restored relationship to the Father. We have been set free. He is that pearl of great price. Nothing compares to it. And yes, at times God is going to take you through the valley of the shadow of death. He’s going to take you through death valley and dryness and heat in order to teach us to train our hearts to thirst for Him, to hunger for Him. Because the end goal, if not, He doesn’t like us. The end goal is He loves us so much he wants us to set our affections on Him and not the creative things that He’s made for our enjoyment. That can mask an empty heart to be filled, to overflow, to be satisfied in Him alone.

You see, only in Christ can we both hunger and be satisfied. Pray with me. Father, indeed, we are so grateful that you have come to to those who have been lost. You’ve found us. Father, you have called us to yourself by name. And Lord, we would ask that you would forgive us where we continually set up other trivial things in place of you to find our satisfaction, our happiness, Lord, in things. Forgive us, please. And Father, we ask, too, by Your Spirit that you would set us free, that he would continue to just to fill us with such a longing and a desire for you, for your son. Father, that our satisfaction would be in you alone. And Lord, we also would ask that you would set us free to be the sign of Your kingdom to the world around us. That we have been set free by you. We love you, we bless you this day through Jesus, our Lord. Amen. Please stand together as we sing, O guide, the great.

Disclaimer: Automated Sermon Transcription