“The Disciple’s Character: Spiritual Hunger” (Matthew 5:6 sermon)

Last week I was listening to the podcast of the Eric Metaxas show, and Eric had Bob Beckel on as his guest. Many of you know Bob Beckel as a Fox News contributor. He was sharing about his new book, and telling about his amazing testimony: he was a 4th-generation alcoholic, who almost died numerous times (in fact the name of his book is I Should Be Dead!) and he told of how he was involved in drinking, immorality, politics, labor causes — all these things — but there was something missing. He said, “I had a hole in my stomach and I didn’t know what it was.”

There are a lot of people who are just like Bob Beckel: they have “a hole in their stomach”, but they don’t know what it is they are hungry for. That hunger and thirst can be the greatest blessing of your life if you realize what it is you are hungry for, and let it lead you to the Lord.

This morning we are continuing our study of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, where we find “The Disciple’s Character.” The 8 character qualities found in these verses picture for us the character of Jesus Christ Himself, which is God’s goal to cause everything to work together to build into your life. Today we come to the 4th quality, found in verse 6,

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

For us to really be able to understand this character quality, we must know what it means to “hunger for righteousness.” The Bible word we translate “righteousness” here is a Greek word (“dikaiosune”) that basically means to be “right” with God. It was a word that was used in ancient literature to describe a person who kept the commands of God, and did the “right” thing both before God and man. He would be known as a “righteous” man; someone who was “right” with God and man. It is in our hearts to want to be in “right” standing before God and others.

Most of us (those of us who have a conscience!) know that feeling you have when “something is wrong” in a relationship: when there’s been a quarrel with your spouse and things just aren’t “right” between you; or there is someone with whom you are at odds; or maybe you’re in some kind of trouble at work, or with the government. There’s that certain sense that something is not “right” and you have a great desire just to make that thing right.

If you are an employee, you should have gotten your W-2 forms from your employer in the last few weeks, so you can begin to do your taxes. The other day, Bro. Jim waved his W-2’s at me, and talked about how excited he was to get started on his taxes. When I gave him a quizzical look, he said it is like a game to him, and when he gets it all done, it’s a great feeling, like he has “won.” (Now we all know for SURE that he’s crazy!) But really I kinda know what he is talking about. When those tax forms are not done, it is like you have something “hanging over your head”, and it’s a good feeling to get them done, to get it in, and to know that you have done your duty, and you are “right” with Uncle Sam, and there’s nothing “hanging over your head” any more.

Well as important as it is to be on good standing with the government, there’s Someone even more important to be right with — and that is God. To be “righteous” means to be in “right standing” with God. The problem is, left to ourselves, we are NOT. God made us to know and be satisfied with Him in His presence forever. But we have all sinned; Romans 3:10 says “There is none righteous, not even one.” Every one of us has broken God’s commands, and if you feel like there is something wrong; something “hanging over your head” in your relationship with God, you are RIGHT! Your sins have made you “unrighteous” before God, and unless you do something about it, you will be separated from God’s glory forever in hell.

The one who is “hungry for righteousness” is the person who has a hunger to get back right with God, so that there is nothing “hanging over your head” in your relationship with Him.
That person is “blessed”, Jesus says, because his hunger will lead him to do what it takes to get “right” with God again.
It’s just like Jim with his taxes. He didn’t want those taxes hanging over his head, so that hunger to be “right” with the government led him to get his taxes done, so he can be “satisfied” that he is in good standing.
You may be that way with God. If you have a kind of “hunger” in your life today, to be right with God, then you are blessed — because that hunger can lead you to the Lord, who will ultimately satisfy your hunger the way He originally intended to.

But that’s what a “hunger for righteousness” is; it is a hunger to be in right standing with God, (and then for fellowship with God) that leads you to the Lord, who will satisfy that hunger.

As we talked about before, you can see how these first 4 Beatitudes all relate to each other, and follow a kind of natural progression: First you realize that you have sinned against God and are a “spiritual beggar” before Him, so you are “poor in spirit.” When you realize that, then you “mourn” your lowly spiritual state. Then you stop trying to take things into your own hands for your salvation, you “take your hands off it” (which is meekness) and say “nothing in my hands I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” And finally your “hunger and thirst” for righteousness before God is satisfied because your hunger brings you to the Lord, who satisfies you and gives you what you are looking for (which is Himself!) Your “hunger & thirst” leads you to righteousness.

But here’s the thing: Everyone has this kind of spiritual hunger. There is a universal desire in man for something beyond himself that will complete him, and make him “right”. Even the renowned atheist Bertrand Russell wrote:

“The centre of me is always and eternally a terrible pain … a searching for something beyond what the world contains, something transfigured and infinite. The beatific vision — God. I do not find it, I do not think it is to be found — but the love of it is my life … It is the actual spring of life within me.”

That is an amazing things for one of history’s most prominent atheists to admit: that he has a longing, a searching, for God. There is what Jesus calls here a “hunger and thirst for righteousness”, in every human heart. Unfortunately, MOST people seek to satisfy their spiritual hunger in the WRONG way. God designed us to find our satisfaction in HIM, but we have tried to fill that “gap” in our hearts with other things instead.

It’s like the person who is very thirsty, and their body wants some water — but maybe they see a commercial for a Pepsi, or a nearby cold can of Coke, so they get that instead. They drink it, but it doesn’t really satisfy them like water would. It’s that way with all kinds of “junk food”; it is a cheap substitute that does not really satisfy. And it’s the same way with us spiritually. God made us to find our satisfaction in Him, but instead we go for all kinds of “junk food” substitutes for Him.

Romans 1 tells us that part of “the unrighteousness of men” (:18) is that they “exchanged the glory of the incorruptible God for an image in the form of corruptible man and of birds and four-footed animals and crawling creatures.” In other words, we have tried to put other things in God’s place. Some people, like those in Romans 1, exchanged the true God for idols; others try to put other people or other things in His place. But all we find when we look for satisfaction outside of God is a never-ending quest of frustration. Only God can satisfy us.

Blaise Pascal lived in France in the 1600’s. He was a prodigy as a young man, excelling at math and science, and he invented several machines, including one of the first mechanical calculators. He also did much scientific work on the nature of pressure, and vacuum. His scientific work led him to do much thinking also about his spiritual life. He famously wrote not only about scientific “vacuums”, but also about the “vacuum” or “void” in the human heart:

“What else does this craving, and this helplessness, proclaim but that there was once in man a true happiness, of which all that now remains is the empty print and trace? This he tries in vain to fill with everything around him, seeking in things that are not there the help he cannot find in those that are, though none can help, since this infinite abyss can be filled only with an infinite and immutable object; in other words by God Himself.” (Pascal, Pensees #425)

What Pascal was describing is how people try to fill the “abyss” in their hearts with all kinds of things around them, but they can’t adequately fill that place; only GOD can fill that place in your heart.

This perfectly describes the state of most people’s lives today. There know they have a “hunger” for something; that “void” or “abyss” that Pascal spoke about — the “hole in the stomach” that Bob Beckel talked about — and so they are looking for that “something” to fill that hole or that void: they try alcohol, like Beckel did, or money or accumulating possessions or sex or food, or success at their job, or a hobby or the excitement of their favorite ball team or whatever. But the problem is, none of these things ultimately satisfy us. Like junk food, they don’t really fulfill the craving we have. The problem is, we are looking for satisfaction in the wrong things.

Let me just say, by the way, that this is one of the biggest problems that plague many relationships and many marriages today. What happens is that a person has this “hunger” in their heart, and they think that if they can find just the “right person” that this person will satisfy them, and cause them to live “happily ever after.” The problem is, that is NOT the Biblical view or purpose of marriage! God did not give you that person so that they can give you ultimate satisfaction. HE is the only one who can give you ultimate satisfaction. And if you try to put all those expectations on another person — ANY person — to cause you to live “happily ever after”, they WILL disappoint you. And so people in these relationships think: “Well, I just didn’t find my ‘soul mate’ in this person, so I will leave them — but if I can find just the right one, THEN I will truly be happy.” And what happens is they end up going from relationship to relationship looking for “the one” who will truly complete them. But what they don’t understand is that they will NEVER find another person who can do that for them. You cannot find in any human being what can only be found in GOD! Don’t burden and destroy your marriage with unrealistic expectations. That other person was never meant to ultimately fulfill you; only God can do that!
HE is the only one who can satisfy the “hunger” in your heart, that “abyss” that Pascal spoke of.

C.S. Lewis wrote in his book Mere Christianity:
“God made us: invented us as a man invents an engine. A car is made to run on petrol, and it would not run properly on anything else. Now God designed the human machine to run on Himself. He Himself is the fuel our spirits were designed to burn, or the food our spirits were designed to feed on. There is no other. That is why it is just no good asking God to make us happy in our own way without bothering about religion. God cannot give us a happiness and peace apart from Himself, because it is not there.”

God made us to be fulfilled by Him, and only those who turn their hunger to God will ever be truly satisfied. But you’ve got to realize what that “hunger” in your heart is for, and take it to the right Person to fulfill it.

Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be SATISFIED.” If you will bring your spiritual hunger to God, HE will satisfy it. He made you to be satisfied in Him, and as C.S. Lewis wrote, nothing else will really do.

But we need to see there are several aspects to this “satisfaction” we can find in God for our spiritual hunger:


A. The satisfaction of justification with God.

You may have a spiritual hunger that you want to be made right with God. If you let this hunger drive you to find Jesus as your Savior, He will satisfy that hunger and make you “right” with God.

Back in the mid 1800’s, a young man in England was burdened down with his sins. He later said, I was just miserable; I wanted to know how I could be rid of my sins and be saved. He said “I was willing to do anything and be anything if God would only forgive me.” His desperation made him determined to go around to every church and chapel in his area, until he found out how to be saved. He said he went to one church, and the pastor preached the Sovereignty of God, but not how to be saved; he went to another church, and that pastor preached the keeping of the Law, but not the gospel. Another preached a very practical message, but not how to be saved. Finally, one Sunday morning, he set off to go to yet another church, but a snowstorm came, and it forced him to change his plan and turn into a little Primitive Methodist Chapel – not even a church per se, just a chapel. He said especially with the snowstorm, there were only a few people there, and the minister got up (he later said the man was “really stupid” – he could only preach for about 10 minutes, and could not even pronounce all the words right!) But this unimpressive man preached from Isaiah 45:22 “Look to Me and be saved, all the ends of the earth.” The lowly preacher said, this is a simple text: It doesn’t take a lot of effort on your part; it is not lifting your hand or foot – it is just “look to Me!” He said you don’t have to BE anybody: a rich or great man – just “look to Me!” And he said, it is not looking to YOURSELF, for how bad your sins are, or how good you are – “Look to ME!” “Look to Christ!” The young man said, I began to feel there was a glimmer of hope here for me – and then the poor preacher said, “Young man, I perceive that you are miserable – LOOK TO JESUS!” And He said at that moment, I DID “look to Jesus” and the clouds of my sin rolled away! And Charles Spurgeon — Possibly the greatest preacher in the history of this world was saved that day.

But notice this: Spurgeon was saved because he was hungry to be made right with God. It was his spiritual hunger that caused him to go to all those churches, one after another – and even to that little chapel when there was a snowstorm. It shows how hungry he was to be forgiven of his sins and be made right with God. He was blessed for having that kind of hunger and thirst, because it drove him to look to Jesus Christ as his Savior, and he was satisfied.

Some of you today may be like him: you know you have sinned against God, and you have a hunger to be made right with Him. You want to be “right-wise” with God. Maybe like Spurgeon it was your “hunger” for righteousness with God that brought you to this church today! That is a “blessed” hunger and thirst, for God has used it to bring you to the right place! Like Spurgeon, Look to Jesus – right now in your heart; you don’t have to wait for the invitation — look to Jesus right now in your heart and ask Him to save you: your “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will “be satisfied” as you are made “right” with God through faith in Jesus Christ.
B. The satisfaction of daily time with God

Someone may say, “Well, I have trusted Jesus as my Savior, but I still have a kind of ‘spiritual thirst’ in my life.” That is because you have been made right with God by the death of Jesus on the cross, but now that you have been reconciled with Him, you have to actually take the time to build that fellowship with Him that you were made for.

That happens as we walk with God in His word, and prayer, and learn to worship Him on a daily basis. We need to understand this: Christianity is not just about making a decision to “get saved” and going to church one day a week. If that is all you are doing, you are missing what Christianity is really all about (in fact you may not even BE a genuine Christian!). Real Christianity is about re-establishing the relationship with God that He designed for us to have with Him.

And doing that takes time. It takes time to read His word — because that is how He speaks to us; that’s how He teaches us about Himself. It takes time to pray — because that is how we talk to Him. It takes time to learn to worship, and sing to Him. We don’t just come to church to sing songs to each other; we come to sing to GOD! And the songs we learn here, we should take back home with us, and sing them to God in our own prayer times, and in our cars, and wherever we are. As we do that, there is a feeling of satisfaction we can get because this is how God made us to be satisfied, by spending time with Him in worship.

Psalm 17:15 is one of my favorite verses. It says: “As for me, I shall behold Your face in righteousness; I shall be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” One of our sweet ladies (Norine Miller) quoted this verse on Facebook the other day and then added: “Lord, thank You that nothing this world offers can compare with the satisfaction of seeing “Your face” when I awake each day!” You can tell that Norine has a taste of what it is to be satisfied with the Lord by walking with Him in worship and His word each day.

This is what God wants for us. This is what He designed us for. This is why SO many Christians are MISSING IT when it comes to the Christian life, because they are not looking to be fulfilled by worshipping God every day. We get so caught up in doing so many things in life, that we miss the thing God really made us for: to worship Him.

It’s just like the story of Mary & Martha in Luke 10. Jesus came to their home, and the Bible says that Mary just sat at the feet of Jesus, “But Martha was distracted with all her preparations.” She got frustrated and told Jesus to tell Mary to help her, and Jesus said, “Martha, Martha, you are worried and bothered about so many things; but only one thing is necessary, for Mary has chosen the good part, which shall not be taken away from her.” Jesus was saying, listen, there is nothing more important — NOTHING — that you have going in your life that is more important than sitting at My feet, and having your spiritual hunger fulfilled in My presence. That is what He made us for!

For years I have made “lists” of daily things to get done, and I still do. I think it’s important to be organized, and it helps you not to forget important things. But recently I have come to understand that the most important thing on my “list” for the day is spending time with God. And if I start the day in His word and prayer, and worship Him, then when I look back at the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what else I did or did not do that day, I have done THE single most important thing there was to be done: I worshipped God, and had my spiritual hunger fulfilled by Him. And the same thing is true for you. Bring your “spiritual hunger” to God every day, and He will satisfy it — but you have to be committed to meet Him every day, and learn to walk with Him.
(That’s what we’re learning in our MasterLife class; if you did not get in on this one, we will be starting another group in about 4 weeks, so be looking for that, and be sure to join in!)
C. The satisfaction of eternity with God

But as much as we devote ourselves to worship here and now, it is only a foretaste of what we will experience perfectly in heaven forever. As I Corinthians 13:12 says, “For now see see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” When we get to heaven we will be face to face with the Lord, the way we were meant to be before we sinned, and we will be satisfied in God’s presence for eternity.

Another of my favorite verses is Psalm 16:11, “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” The Bible tells us there that in the presence of God, our joy will be fulfilled totally fulfilled by Him, and He will give us pleasures from His right hand forever. That “hunger and thirst” we have had for “something” all of our lives will be perfectly and totally satisfied in the presence of God in heaven.

Now that’s hard for many people to understand — even many “religious” people. There’s one very well-known preacher who said that God is going to have to give him a job to do in heaven, or he will be “bored” up there just worshipping. That kind of statement just shows an ignorance, I think, of the nature and glory of God. We were MADE for Him; our greatest pleasures here on earth — even though they are tainted by sin — are found when we worship Him. And when all sin is removed, and we see Him and fellowship with Him perfectly, He will be all we need in heaven. We won’t need a “job” or anything else except HIM!

I know a lot of people are skeptical about that. I had a church member one time, when he was asked what he was going to do in heaven, who answered: “Well, my PASTOR tells me I’m not going to do anything but worship …” — but you could definitely sense the doubt in his voice.

But think of it this way. Just after the Civil War, Mark Twain took a steamship cruise to Europe and the Holy Land, and he chronicled the trip in what has become one of my favorite books, The Innocents Abroad. In his usual style, Twain made fun of most of the passengers, people, and sights he encountered, but occasionally he was genuinely impressed by something. One of those things was the majestic Cathedral of Milan, in Italy. Of it he wrote:

“Whenever you stand in Milan or within seven miles of Milan, it is visible and when it is visible, no other object can chain your whole attention. Leave your eyes unfettered by your will but a single instant and they will surely turn to seek it. It is the first thing you look for when you rise in the morning, and the last your lingering gaze rests upon at night. Surely it must be the princeliest creation that ever brain of man conceived.”

My point is this: if such a building “conceived of the brain of man” and made by human hands can, as Twain wrote, “chain your whole attention” in such a way, then is it beyond credulity that the glory of God Almighty Himself might hold our attention forever, as He gives us pleasures and joys we cannot here even imagine? No. Our “hunger and thirst” will be fully “satisfied” forever, in the presence of God who created us for Himself.
But the thing is, before you can have any of that, you’ve got to realize that you have a hunger for it. You may be looking to satisfy it in other ways — most people do — but what you are really looking for is God: to be satisfied that you are “right” with Him; to experience joy as you learn to worship Him every day; and ultimately to be totally fulfilled with joy and pleasure in His presence forever.

Let your spiritual hunger take you to the Lord today, and let this fourth Beatitude become true for you: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
— if some of you are honest, you will admit that you have been looking for something — maybe in the wrong places — but God has shown you today that what you are looking for is Him. Come to Him; today, like Charles Spurgeon did all those years ago, “look to Jesus” as your Savior. Ask Him to forgive your sins and come into your life. If you need to talk with someone about that, come and share your decision with me. (Baptism …)

— others of us would say, I am a Christian, but I have not been seeking the Lord every day in worship; I’ve been wasting my life on the wrong things, just like a lot of lost people do. And God is calling you today to begin meeting with Him every day in worship and His word. Any of our staff, or our people in MasterLife, would be glad to visit with you about how to do that.

— Maybe you need to pray for someone who is trying to fill their spiritual hunger in the wrong ways. Let’s make this invitation time a time of intercession for people we love.

About Shawn Thomas

My blog, shawnethomas.com, features the text of my sermons, book reviews, family life experiences -- as well as a brief overview of the Lifeway "Explore the Bible" lesson for Southern Baptist Sunday School teachers.
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