1 Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. 2 Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labour on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. 3 Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live. I will make an everlasting covenant with you, my faithful love promised to David. 4 See, I have made him a witness to the peoples, a leader and commander of the peoples. 5 Surely you will summon nations you know not, and nations that do not know you will hasten to you, because of the Lord your God, the Holy One of Israel, for He has endowed you with splendour. 6 Seek the Lord while He may be found; call on Him while He is near. 7 Let the wicked forsake his way and the evil man his thoughts. Let him turn to the Lord, and He will have mercy on him, and to our God, for He will freely pardon. “For my thoughts are not your thoughts, neither are your ways my ways,” declares the Lord. 9 “As the heavens are higher than the earth, so are my ways higher than your ways and my thoughts than your thoughts. 10 As the rain and the snow come down from heaven, and do not return to it without watering the earth and making it bud and flourish, so that it yields seed for the sower and bread for the eater, 11 so is my word that goes out from my mouth: It will not return to me empty, but will accomplish what I desire and achieve the purpose for which I sent it. 12 You will go out in joy and be led forth in peace; the mountains and hills will burst into song before you, and all the trees of the field will clap their hands. 13 Instead of the thornbush will grow the pine tree, and instead of briers the myrtle will grow. This will be for the Lord’s renown, for an everlasting sign, which will not be destroyed.”
1 O Lord, hear my prayer, listen to my cry for mercy; in your faithfulness and righteousness come to my relief. 2 Do not bring your servant into judgment, for no one living is righteous before you. 3 The enemy pursues me, he crushes me to the ground; he makes me dwell in darkness like those long dead. 4 So my spirit grows faint within me; my heart within me is dismayed. 5 I remember the days of long ago; I meditate on all your works and consider what your hands have done. 6 I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Martyn Lloyd-Jones wrote, “This Beatitude follows logically from the previous ones. It is a statement to which all the others lead. It is the logical conclusion to which they come, and it is something for which we should all be profoundly thankful and grateful to God. I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this. If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you are a Christian. If it is not, then you had better examine the foundations again.”
I think we would all agree that the world could do with a good dose of righteousness, but if you had to ask people what the word means, most of them would struggle to give an accurate answer. One wholly inadequate dictionary definition of righteousness is “the quality of being morally right or justifiable.”
The world is in a mess. It has been ever since the fall in the Garden of Eden, but it just seems to be getting worse. As Christians, we understand that the problem with this world is not sickness but sin. There’s an old saying that we live in a sick society, but the truth is, we don’t. We don’t live in a sick society. We live in a sinful society. As Romans 3:23 tells us, “all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God.”
If you’ve spent any time on Facebook, you’ll know that there are all kinds of poems and feel-good sayings out there encouraging us to be better people and to treat each other with respect. The intention might be honourable, but without Jesus Christ as the foundation, these beautiful messages are nothing more than mere psycho-babble, designed to ease our pain and to make us feel better about ourselves. The track record of the human race has proven time and time again that we are simply incapable of fixing this messy world we live in on our own. And to make things worse, there is a movement afoot in the modern world to get rid of God in all aspects of society. How ridiculous. Do people really think that by ignoring God the world will be a better place?
Christians have a responsibility to show the world the truth by living righteous lives. Make no mistake – the moment you publicly proclaim you are a Christian, the world will be watching you. What an opportunity we have to show them the folly of living without Jesus.
Righteousness is another of those words you often hear in the Church, yet there is a lot of confusion that goes with it. It is one thing to define righteousness, but how we attain it and live it out is another matter completely.
So when we talk of righteousness as the Bible defines it, what do we really mean?
The fourth beatitude makes a statement that the previous three have been leading us to – that righteousness brings fulfillment.
The words and teachings of the Bible are not just a collection of arbitrary sayings. They exist against a background of human experience. When Jesus spoke about hunger and thirst to the people who were there, they knew exactly what He meant.
Hunger and thirst were two things the people of that time and place knew all too well. Our world today would be completely strange to them. We can open a tap whenever we want water. We have pantries and freezers full of all kinds of different foods, so the experience of real hunger and thirst is actually quite foreign to us. But in the ancient world, and in the Middle East in particular, many people lived constantly on the edge of starvation and they often had to travel through deserts without water.
We can only imagine what it must have been like, something similar to a scene from Lawrence of Arabia. Picture a man trudging through a sandy desert when suddenly the hot wind picks up and a sandstorm begins. All he can do is sit down and wrap a scarf around his head, turn his back to the wind and wait for the storm to stop, but even so the sand fills his ears, nose and throat.
By God’s grace, none of us will ever really experience true hunger and thirst, but for those who were there when Jesus preached His Sermon on the Mount, they could immediately identify with the intensity of hunger and thirst that Jesus was talking about.
And so when He spoke about hungering and thirsting after righteousness, nothing would better express this strong desire.
What Jesus is speaking about in the fourth beatitude is an intense longing after righteousness, and that is what we should be striving for. Everyone now and then does what is right, but Jesus is calling us not to occasional acts of righteousness, but a complete change in our lifestyles.
The focus of Jesus’ teaching in Matthew 5:6 is on those who hunger and thirst after God’s righteousness. It’s interesting that Jesus doesn’t say that the righteous will be blessed – instead He says that those who hunger and thirst after it will be blessed. That’s grace, because we have no righteousness of our own.
We have offended God, but once we realise that and turn to Him in repentance, He is the one who offers forgiveness and the opportunity of being made righteous again – not by what we do, but by what Jesus has done.
And it is that truth which makes it possible for God to bless us.
If God’s blessings were only given to those who are righteous, we’d be in serious trouble.
It’s when we understand our desperate need for Him that we come under His blessing and protection.
In the parable of the Pharisee and tax collector in Luke 18, the tax collector was too ashamed to even look up when he prayed. Instead he cried out “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This is what Jesus told His disciples: “I tell you that this man, rather than the other, went home justified before God. For everyone who exalts himself will be humbled, and he who humbles himself will be exalted.”
That man was still a sinner, but because of his hunger and thirst for righteousness, God blessed Him.
So the focus of this teaching of Jesus is on those who long to live a life which pleases God. It’s about the desire – not the level of success or failure, and it’s important that we understand the difference here.
It’s a hunger and thirst which is a desperate, yearning desire to move closer to Him. And it’s not something casual. As Psalm 42:1-2 says, “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.”
And as we receive the righteousness of God, we’re able to then reflect the work of the Spirit in our hearts.
But as we’ve seen in recent weeks, there needs to be an emptying of self, and true repentance before God can begin turning our lives around. As John Piper wrote, “The weakness of our hunger for God is not because He is unsavoury, but because we keep ourselves stuffed with other things.”
We need to have the same attitude of brokenness and shame as the prodigal son when he returned home. He’d made a mess of his life. He knew he had forfeited his right to be called a son – he’d squandered his entire inheritance. He had nothing to bargain with, and was in no position to make any demands, but he understood that. He’d experienced physical hunger and thirst, and it had now begun to take over his whole life. It takes the heart and attitude of the prodigal son – it takes a real hunger and thirst in order to return to our Father.
His desire is for us to make Him the central focus of our lives.
Is your desire in line with God’s?
Do you desperately want to be righteous, and to live a life which pleases Him?
If you have that hunger and thirst, then the promise of Matthew 5:6 is for you – “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
It is when we take the focus off of ourselves and put it onto Christ that God can really start working in our lives.
The closer you move to God, the more He will begin to change your desires and priorities in life – Paul puts it like this in Philippians 3, and this is from the New Living Translation: “I once thought all these things were so very important, but now I consider them worthless because of what Christ has done. Yes, everything else is worthless when compared with the priceless gain of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. I have discarded everything else, counting it all as garbage, so that I may have Christ and become one with Him. I no longer count on my own goodness or my ability to obey God’s law, but I trust Christ to save me. For God’s way of making us right with Himself depends on faith.”
The book of Revelation is filled with some wonderful promises – this is from chapter 7:16-17: “Never again will they hunger; never again will they thirst. The sun will not beat upon them, nor any scorching heat. For the Lamb at the centre of the throne will be their shepherd; He will lead them to springs of living water.
And God will wipe away every tear from their eyes.”
We might only catch the occasional glimpse of that peace during this life, because the fulfilment will really only be in Heaven. That is why as Christians we need to hold on and persevere.
The writer to the Hebrews says in chapter 12, “Let us throw off everything that hinders and the sin that so easily entangles, and let us run with perseverance the race marked out for us. Let us fix our eyes on Jesus, the author and perfecter of our faith.”
Today we celebrate Holy Communion, so these words of Jesus should have an even deeper significance today as we make the connection between the fourth beatitude and His saving work on the Cross: “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. If anyone is thirsty, let him come to me and drink. Whoever believes in me, as the Scripture has said, streams of living water will flow from within him.”
It’s when we begin to understand what Jesus has done and what He offers us that the reality of righteous living will begin to make sense to us.
In Jesus’ day, and to a large extent in our world too, righteousness is mistakenly understood to be something that is measured by outward expressions and displays, and not on inner holiness. The Pharisees in Jesus’ time loved to put their righteousness on display.
Clarence Jordan, in his book on the Sermon on the Mount, wrote “We can understand the Beatitudes better if we recall the prevailing standards of righteousness of Jesus’ day. The religious life of the people had become pretty much centred within the temple and the synagogue. It was measured in terms of attendance, contributions, and obedience to the myriad of rules, precepts, traditions, and laws handed down and added to by generations of priests. It was quite professional, cold and dignified. Nobody enjoyed it. Like wearing a suit and tie to church on a hot summer’s day, it was considered an uncomfortable but necessary thing if you wanted to get along with respectable people. People kept the rules because they knew they were expected to, not because they really believed in them. Their righteousness was something like perfume - it wasn’t a part of you but if you had it on, it made you smell good. Of course, everybody recognised the odour, but that didn’t matter, because they used it too.”
In contrast, the righteousness that Jesus spoke about is an attribute or quality from within, motivated by love for God and a fervent desire to please Him.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” And what will those who have been hungering and thirsting after righteousness be filled with?
They will be filled with righteousness! They will receive what they have been striving for. Not that we would have reached a level of righteousness on our own, because we can’t. But rather, the pure righteousness of God is then given to us. In fact, His righteousness will fill us.
I’ve quoted from John Stott’s book throughout this series, and he writes this about the fourth beatitude: “There is perhaps no greater secret of progress in Christian living than a healthy, hearty spiritual appetite. Again and again Scripture addresses its promises to the hungry. God ‘satisfies him who is thirsty, and the hungry he fills with good things.’ If we are conscious of slow growth, is the reason that we have a jaded appetite? It is not enough to mourn over past sin; we must also hunger for future righteousness.”
Isaiah 59:1-2 says, “Surely the arm of the Lord is not too short to save, nor His ear too dull to hear. But your iniquities have separated you from your God; your sins have hidden his face from you, so that He will not hear.” That’s where we start this journey of faith from, but because of His great love for us, God does not leave us in that place of despair.
This is one of the things we’re reminded of each time we share in Holy Communion. At the Table we’re reminded of His undeserved mercy and grace. The righteousness of Jesus becomes ours as we accept His gift of forgiveness. When we truly hunger and thirst for righteousness, we know that our sin has separated us from God, but we know where to go and to whom we go in order to be filled with righteousness. Someone once said, “Show me a man who is hungering and thirsting after righteousness and I will show you a man who doesn’t need to be begged to worship God.”
John MacArthur wrote, “This beatitude speaks of strong desire, of driving pursuit, of a passionate force inside the soul. It has to do with ambition - ambition of the right sort - whose object is to honour, obey, and glorify God by partaking of His righteousness. This holy ambition is in great contrast to the common ambitions of men to gratify their own lusts, accomplish their own goals, and satisfy their own egos.”
We are blessed if we hunger and thirst for righteousness. And not only that, but as we are blessed we will be filled with the things of God, and as a result we no longer hunger or thirst for the things of the world because our satisfaction has been met in Jesus.
Homegroup Study Notes
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Righteousness is a word we are familiar with, yet there is much confusion about what it really means.
Read Philippians 3:9-11
Discuss the Biblical definition of righteousness.
One of the mistakes we often make as Christians is thinking we need to strive for things in order to please God. Matthew 5:6 says we should hunger and thirst for righteousness, so how do we become righteous without “working” for it in our own strength?
How have you tried to earn God’s blessings through your own efforts at pleasing Him?
Jesus says in the fourth beatitude that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be blessed and filled. He does NOT say that the righteous will be blessed and filled.
It is important that we see the differences here.
Discuss them in your group.
Discuss this statement by Martyn Lloyd-Jones: “This Beatitude follows logically from the previous ones. It is a statement to which all the others lead. It is the logical conclusion to which they come, and it is something for which we should all be profoundly thankful and grateful to God. I do not know of a better test that anyone can apply to himself or herself in this whole matter of the Christian profession than a verse like this. If this verse is to you one of the most blessed statements of the whole of Scripture, you can be quite certain you are a Christian. If it is not, then you had better examine the foundations again.”
Next week: “Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.”