Summary: Sermon 5 in a study in the Sermon on the Mount
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
As we come to examine this fourth beatitude I make two fundamental observations. One is that it is the first one that is not focused on us, but focused on God. The first three have to do with the condition of the Christian in approaching God, where this one is about desiring God and Godliness. The focus changes from the Christian character to wanting what God wants.
Secondly, the very wording of this beatitude proves once more and possibly more strongly than before that this has to do with the spiritual condition, not the physical.
No person has to be convinced that speaking in purely physical terms there is no happiness to be found in being hungry or thirsty. Both are uncomfortable even at their earliest onset.
If Jesus was speaking in physical terms when He said, “Happy are those who hunger and thirst…” He would have been written off as a raving lunatic. He was, after all, addressing a culture of people in a time when daily rationings of food and water were something they had to work hard for. The rich and elite may have had people waiting on them hand and foot and never had to miss a meal or go thirsty for longer than it took to order someone to bring them water. But these folks gathered around to hear Him speak knew what it was like to be hungry. They knew what it was like in a time of drought to go long without water.
So there is no double meaning here. It can not be said that He meant it on one level in the physical sphere, and another level in the spiritual realm.
I would like to make this third observation though, and we will use it to vault ourselves into the study.
We don’t make ourselves hungry. We are creatures sustained on food and drink and the need engenders the desire. The greater the need, the more acute the desire. Let’s remember that as we discuss this beatitude.
The first thing we need to be clear on is what Jesus was referring to when He said ‘for righteousness’.
If I asked you on a chilly day, as you’re coming in out of the cold and removing your gloves and heavy coat, ‘how would you like some quidil guy?’ you would look at me funny and maybe just shrug your shoulders, unless you’re from Thailand or have been there. The question would excite nothing in you except maybe your curiosity about whether you heard me correctly.
But if on that chilly day I asked, ‘how would you like a bowl of hot homemade chicken noodle soup?’, it would be much more likely to stir your appetite, especially if you hadn’t eaten for 5 or 6 hours, and you might be likely to say, ‘hey, that would hit the spot!’
So we need to understand this word, ‘righteousness’, before we can be clear on why it is important to hunger and thirst for it and why we are blessed in that manner of desiring.
The same Greek word is used throughout the New Testament from which we get ‘righteousness’, with the only exception being in Romans 10:5 where Paul is quoting Moses and referring to a righteousness that is worked for by self; a self-sought righteousness.
In that case it would be referring to someone who is trusting in his faithful keeping of the Law or of a moral/social standard in order to attain to right standing before God.
In every other case it is used as a reference to being right with God, as in the doctrine of justification and/or living life in such a way that is pleasing to God, which only the regenerated man or woman can do because it is done with the help of the Holy Spirit in them.
We’re going to go on to explain that more, but I want you to understand fundamentally something that the language guys will tell you. Words of scripture can have varied application within the framework of their basic meaning.
“Righteousness” is an example of that. In Romans Paul uses the word almost exclusively with regard to the doctrine of justification; of right standing with God through faith in the shed blood and resurrection of Christ, alone.
Here in Matthew 5 just the context in which it is used and the things that are said in relation to it by Jesus tells us that His application of it is broader, referring not only to initial justification, but also sanctification.
The man who is poor in spirit, sorry for sin and surrendered to God is declared by God to be right with Him through faith in the shed blood of Christ alone.