In the Antarctic summer of 1908-9, Sir Ernest Shackleton and three companions attempted to travel to the South Pole from their winter quarters. They set off with four ponies to help carry the load. Weeks later, their ponies dead, rations all but exhausted, they turned back toward their base, their goal not accomplished. Altogether, they trekked 127 days. On the return journey, as Shackleton records in The Heart of the Antarctic, the time was spent talking about food -- elaborate feasts, gourmet delights, sumptuous menus. As they staggered along, suffering from abdominal pain, not knowing whether they would survive, every waking hour was occupied with thoughts of eating. Jesus, who also knew the ravages of food deprivation, says, "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for RIGHTEOUSNESS." As with Shackleton's obsession with food in the midst of circumstances of scarcity and possible death, it offers us a divine glimpse of the passion Christ intends for our quest toward righteousness.
The Sermon on the Mount is a masterful presentation of the conditions for entering the Kingdom of Christ and the characteristics of those who are Kingdom inheritors. In the first twelve verses of this sermonic discourse, Christ (the Life-Giver-King) tells His audience that He has come for the expressed interest of bringing them happiness. Immediately, it is clear, that this happiness is antithetical to the world’s definition of happiness. But, rather this is happiness, inner joy, from God’s perspective. It is joy that takes place on the inside irrespective of circumstances taking place on the outside. Any good preacher knows that you have to start a sermon with something that will capture and captivate your listeners. And as Christ—this Preacher par excellent—steps on the scene, He knows that the world is looking for happiness then, much as they are now. People want to know blessedness and find meaning in life. And consequently, He starts His sermon on the mount by saying, “I’m offering you happiness,” however, the audience did not expect what they heard next. In a real sense, Jesus comes and says to them that they could be happy in the way they least expect happiness to be found—in a paradox that calls for a declaration of dependence, a filing of spiritual bankruptcy, a self-inflicting garnishing of your own worldly wages, an awareness of spiritual destitution, a bent on mourning and a self-assessment of one’s weakness in the presence of a powerful God.
The fourth beatitude, in Matthew 5:6, is the peak and the pinnacle of the Beatitudes of our Lord. It is as if the citizen of the kingdom is climbing a proverbial mountain, and he or she is headed toward Beatitude four. Take note of the first three steps. First, there is the REALIZATION of need: blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Second, there is the REPENTANCE over the REALIZATION of that need: blessed are those who mourn, for they shall be comforted. And then, there is RECEPTIVITY toward finally doing it God’s way: blessed are the meek, for they shall inherit the earth. And it is then, and only then, that the Kingdom citizen attains the mountain of victory as his hunger and thirst is satisfied by his Sovereign Lord. From then on, the kingdom life is “downhill” as, instead of EXCERCISES of the heart, we behold the EVIDENCES of the heart. And, while, the final four beatitudes and ‘blesseds’ from our Lord illustrate the position of the heart toward one’s fellowman; indeed, the first four Beatitudes show one’s position with God. It is in leading us to the mountain peak of the Beatitudes that Jesus turns one of the plain, elemental human instincts toward spiritual use for our own understanding, “Hunger” and “Thirst,” the most demanding of the human appetites, are commonly used to express strong desire and need.
I. THE POSITION OF THE HUNGRY HEART
There's a story told about a proud young man who came to Socrates asking for knowledge. He walked up to the muscular philosopher and said, "O great Socrates, I come to you for knowledge." Socrates recognized a pompous numbskull when he saw one. He led the young man through the streets, to the sea, and chest deep into water. Then he asked, "What do you want?" "Knowledge, O wise Socrates," said the young man with a smile. Socrates put his strong hands on the man's shoulders and pushed him under. Thirty seconds later Socrates let him up. "What do you want?" he asked again. "Wisdom," the young man sputtered, "O great and wise Socrates." Socrates crunches him under again. Thirty seconds passed, thirty-five. Forty. Socrates lets him up. The man was gasping. "What do you want, young man?" Between heavy, heaving breaths the young man wheezed, "Knowledge, O wise and wonderful..." Socrates then jams him under again Forty seconds pass; fifty. "What do you want?" "Air!" he screamed. "I need air!" "When you want knowledge as you have just wanted air, then you will have knowledge."
Interestingly the word Jesus uses here for “hunger” is peinao; and it refers to the desperate craving that a starving person has for food to the point of suffering. This person is so desperately famished and gasping for food that he has moved to the point of desperation and despair. The word “thirst” is dipsao; and it means to painfully feel the need for water to the point of panting. This is more than just a sporadic desire for a drink of filtered spring water; rather, it means to be parched and dehydrated to the point of excruciating pain—where anything will do. In a real sense, Christ says that to hunger and thirst means to view our present condition with a dis-satisfied spirit to the point of despair. Jesus says that in order for our lives to change so that we can experience the spiritual satisfaction that only the Savior can provide, we must first admit that we are hungry and thirsty. This one verse is an exhortation of both desire and change. Jesus is saying, in a real sense, that in order for change to come, there must be desire for change. We all need to change; and change isn’t change until you’ve changed. This reminds me of the guy who pleaded with his psychiatrist for help: “Doc, you’ve got to help me! I can’t stop believing that I’m a dog.” The psychiatrist followed up with a question: “How long have you had this problem?” To which the man replied, “Ever since I was a puppy.” While that might not be our specific problem today, this Beatitude shows us we’re not who we’re supposed to be, and we realize that there’s more to life than this world can offer.
So let me ask you today: What are you hungry for? What makes your thirsty? What gives you the munchies in the middle of the night? The scripture reveals to us very clearly and succinctly that desire and ambition can be used in either a good sense or in a bad sense.
First there is PERVERTED DESIRE. One example of perverted desire is seen in Isaiah 14. Lucifer was God’s glorious creation. He was intelligent, powerful, musically gifted and beautiful. However, he had a consuming, resolute passion, which is described in Isaiah 14:13-14, that he says in his heart, ‘…I will ascend into heaven, I will exalt my throne above the stars of God; I will sit also upon the mount of the congregation, in the sides of the north, I will ascend above the heights of the clouds, I will be like the Most High.’ Lucifer was hungry for POWER. And then there is the report of the perverted ambitions of Nebuchadnezzar, the Babylonian king, who led the greatest of all the world’s empires. Daniel 4:30 says that he begins to praise himself and all of his accomplishments to the point where he desires and eventually forces others to praise him for his human ingenuity and power. Lucifer was hungry for POWER; Nebuchadnezzar was hungry for PRAISE. And then, Luke 12:17-19 gives us another glimpse of perverted ambition in The Rich Fool. This one man says, ‘…I have no place to bestow all of my crops. Yes, this is what I’ll do. I’ll pull down my barns, and build bigger barns. Yes, I’ll bestow all my crops and my goods. And I will say to my soul, ‘Soul, you have much goods laid up for yourself. Take thine ease: eat, drink and be merry.’ Lucifer was hungry for power. Nebuchadnezzar was hungry for praise. But this man was hungry for POSSESSIONS. Jesus says in Luke 12:20, ‘You fool, this night your soul shall be required of you…’
Lucifer, Nebuchadnezzar and the man in Luke 12, the Bible reveals, were all fools. They were hungry for the wrong things. There is nothing wrong with hunger and desire; but Jesus says to us that our hunger and thirst must be for the right thing. In contrast, to give the position of the hungry heart, Jesus introduces us to PROPER DESIRE. He says, “Blessed are they who do hunger and thirst after righteousness; for they shall be filled.” Jesus says that—just as our physical life depends on food and water; so it is that our spiritual life depends on righteousness. You can’t life physically without food and water, and you will never live spiritually without righteousness. In a real sense, Jesus says to you and me that kingdom inheritors who are filled must develop an appetite for the Almighty.
Let me offer three guidelines that will help us design a diet that will cause us to hunger and thirst for the right things.
First, watch what you eat.
Some of us have been consuming things that will not satisfy because they were never designed by the Creator to bring us fulfillment. One reason you may not be hungering for holiness today is because frankly you feel pretty full. Proverbs 27:7: “He who is full loathes honey, but to the hungry even what is bitter tastes sweet.” Maybe it is time to do spiritual inventory and ask ourselves if we are spiritual junk food addicts. Some of you may remember Morgan Spurlock. This was a very fit filmmaker who decides to film a documentary of himself eating at a fast food restaurant three times a day for 30 days. In this documentary, Spurlock puts on 25 pounds. He says, in describing his experience, his body just falls apart. Constant headaches; blood sugar begins to skyrocket, cholesterol goes off the charts. Spurlock said something very interesting. He said that he would eat and feel good after feeling the high of the sugar and caffeine and fat…and an hour later, he would hit the wall and be angry, depressed, upset and disillusioned by his external reality. I ask you today, what have you been eating? Perhaps you’re ingesting things that feel good at first, but later on they leave you disillusioned and depressed. Or, maybe you feel pretty full today, but it may be because you’re just feeding your appetite with things that will never satisfy. The sooner we realize that our longings can only be filled by the Lover of our souls, the sooner we will be motivated to change.
Listen to the words from Isaiah 55:2-3 as God wonders why we fill our lives with things that were never designed to be fulfilling: “Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and your soul will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; hear me, that your soul may live.” And in Jeremiah 2:12-13, the Holy One is not pleased when He observes people looking to other sources for refreshment: “Be appalled at this, O heavens, and shudder with great horror,’ declares the LORD. ‘My people have committed two sins: They have forsaken me, the spring of living water, and have dug their own cisterns, broken cisterns that cannot hold water.’”
In order to grow spiritually, we must crave the milk and the meat of God’s Word, like a famished man seeks food and water. 1 Peter 2:2-3: “Like newborn babies, crave pure spiritual milk, so that by it you may grow up in your salvation, now that you have tasted that the Lord is good.”
Second, you have to weigh what you eat.
I am told that one of the best ways to improve one’s diet is to weigh your portions before eating. Nutritionists and Dietitians tell us that not only must we watch what we eat, we must also make sure that we’re eating the right amount of what is best for us. Unfortunately, in a spiritual sense, most of us don’t “super-size” our spiritual meals. Our problem may be that we don’t take enough food in as we just nibble and snack on spiritual appetizers. Franky Schaeffer identified this in his book called, “Addicted to Mediocrity.” Schaeffer says that too often we’re willing to settle for far too less. Some of us might be apathetic toward God because we’re spiritually anemic. Too often, we believe that a Sunday morning fill up from the preacher is enough for us. But Proverbs 16:26 reveals that “The laborer’s appetite works for him; his hunger drives him on.” In God’s diet plan, He wants for us to take the whole, not just the part.
David says, in Psalm 63, ‘…early in the morning will I seek thee.’ Isaiah 26:9 says, ‘…my soul yearns for you in the night; in the morning my spirit longs for you.’
Third, you must welcome what you eat.
This third element of the divine diet plan is the best of all – eat and drink when you’re hungry, and enjoy it. In the Greek grammar this is in the present tense, meaning that we should continuously hunger and thirst. This is not something we just do once and then we’re satisfied.
We must continually crave God, every day, at all times during the day. Listen to the desperate sense of longing in these verses:
Psalm 42:1-2: “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. When can I go and meet with God?” Psalm 63:1: “O God, you are my God, earnestly I seek you; my soul thirsts for you, my body longs for you.” Psalm 84:2: “My soul yearns, even faints, for the courts of the LORD; my heart and my flesh cry out for the living God.” Psalm 143:6: “I spread out my hands to you; my soul thirsts for you like a parched land.”
II. THE PRODUCTION OF THE HUNGRY HEART
When one looks at the production of the hungry heart, there are several ways by which we can develop a healthy spiritual appetite for righteousness.
The first way is through WORSHIP. You can never develop the appetite to DO right if you do not worship right. Show me a man who isn’t in worship, I’ll show you a man who isn’t hungry. When one spends time in worship, we elevate ourselves above the mundane aspects of our every day life. You keep skipping church and tipping out on God when it comes to worship, don’t be surprised if you lose your appetite for righteousness and your spiritual hunger. (i.e. – woman at the well)
The second way we cultivate our spiritual appetite is through the WORD. The Psalmist says in Psalm 119:11, ‘Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.’ John Butler has said that getting into the Word of God is liking hanging around the kitchen when good food is cooking. It will inspire appetite and hunger!
Not only do we sense a spiritual filling through our Worship and the Word, but another way we cultivate a spiritual hunger for righteousness is in our WORK. Ephesians 4:28 encourages us to “do something useful with our own hands, that we may have something to share with those in need.” Matthew 9:37 says, ‘…the harvest is plentiful, but the laborers are few.’ Verse 38 says, ‘Therefore, pray to the Lord of the harvest to send forth laborers into His harvest.’ Interestingly, the very next verse in Matthew 10:1 says that Jesus, ‘…calls his 12 disciples, and gives them authority to cast our devils, evil spirits and all manner of disease.’ Some of us are unemployed in the Kingdom. There are some of us who are never found doing. There are some who specialize in sitting on their own blessed assurance. But it is Paul who says to us, in Philippians chapter 2, ‘It is God which works in us both to will and do of His good pleasure.’ "The hardest thing about milking cows," observed a farmer, " is that they never stay milked."
And there are will always be someone in the world who’s trying to fill an emptiness that only God can fill, your job is to remind them, ‘there is a fountain filled with blood….’ There will always be others trying to fill their empty soul with things and possessions and money and fame and sensual thrills, but it is you who must stand and declare, ‘I’ve been crucified with Christ….’
III. THE PROMISE OF THE HUNGRY HEART
The result of hunger and thirst, Jesus says, is that ‘they shall be filled.’ The word for ‘filled’ is a term used to describe the fattening or feeding of cattle. Chortas-thes-ontai comes from a word for fodder or grass. The picture here is of cattle feeding until perfectly satisfied. The one hungering and thirsting for righteousness will be perfectly satisfied by all that Jesus Christ will mean to him.
I’ve find many people who could easily find fault with the local body of believers, the church. No church is perfect. And if you find a perfect church, please don’t join, you’ll mess it up. Likewise, I have seen a large number complain about the pastor. No earthly leader is perfect. And if you find one who says that he is, he is a liar, and the truth is not in him. But I have never heard a true Christian leader express dissatisfaction with the Lord Jesus Christ! When you come to Jesus, He will thrill you and fill you beyond anyone’s ability to describe.
John 4:14 lets us know that Jesus will completely satisfy your thirst: he who drinks of the eternal, living water that I shall give him, shall never thirst again.
John 6:35 says that Jesus will be your heavenly bread: I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never thirst.
Philippians 4:7 reminds us that Jesus will give you peace beyond human understanding: And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.
Psalm 23:1: “The LORD is my shepherd, I shall not be in want.”
Psalm 34:10: “The lions may grow weak and hungry, but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing.”
Psalm 107:9: “For he satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things.”
Jeremiah 31:14, 25: “I will satisfy the priests with abundance, and my people will be filled with my bounty…I will refresh the weary and satisfy the faint.”