“Hunger For Righteousness” (Matthew 5:6 sermon)

Bertrand Russell was one of the most famous atheists the world has ever known; he lived almost 100 years in Britain, from 1872 to 1970. But as much as he promoted atheism in his books and writings, Russell longed in his heart for something more than he had experienced in this earth. In one of his books he 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.”

For all his atheist assertions, Bertrand Russell had an inner hunger for something more. He just couldn’t find it — or maybe he just wouldn’t allow himself to find it — in the place where God said his hunger could be satisfied.

This morning we are continuing our study of the Beatitudes of Matthew 5:3-12, in which we find 8 qualities which define the character of Jesus Christ, which it is God’s goal to build into each of our lives. 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.”

Today’s message is simple: we’re going to look first of all at what it means to “hunger and thirst for righteousness,” and then look at 3 different ways it applies in our lives:

What does it mean to “hunger and thirst for righteousness”?

The Bible word we translate “righteousness” here is a Greek word (“dikaiosune”) which basically means to be “right” with God. This word was used in ancient literature to describe a person who did the “right” thing before both God and other people. That kind of person would be known as a “righteous” man; someone who was in “right” standing with both God and man. Abel in the Old Testament, and Joseph the earthly father of Jesus, and John the Baptist, in the New Testament, were all called “righteous” men. They did right in relation to God and others. It is in our hearts to want be like that; to be “righteous.” And we are troubled when we aren’t.

Most of us (at least those of us who have a conscience!) know that feeling you have when “something is not quite right” in a relationship with someone else. You know what I’m talking about, right? You’re sitting in a room with someone, and maybe nothing is being “said” about it a such, but you just KNOW that something is wrong.

I know all of you married guys have had this feeling right? You’re sitting there in the living room with your wife, but you just have this “feeling”: something is not good here. (Some of you guys have “no clue” about this — and that’s exactly your problem: YOU HAVE NO CLUE! There’s something not quite right, and you need to get your “radar” up and figure out what it is!). But most of us can tell: something is not quite right. Whenever I feel that way, I begin to review in my mind: “What did I do? I know I didn’t forget a birthday or an anniversary — I made those mistakes long ago; never to be repeated again! What else could it be? Did I say something stupid? Did I leave the closet door open again and she ran into it? Did I not put the trash bag back into the kitchen trash can after I emptied it? Did I not put the cover over my food in the microwave? (See, I’m getting these things — I still fall short, but I’m working on them!) But the thing is, I KNOW when there’s “something wrong,” and I want it to be right. I have a hunger to have peace in my home. I have a hunger for “right-ness” in my relationship with my wife.

And that is what this word means: “righteousness” means to be right with someone — and more than anyone else it means to be right with God, as well as other people. And to “hunger and thirst” for this righteousness, means that you REALLY desire it; that you desire this “right-ness” with God and others as much as you desire your daily food and water. It is a strong desire for that righteousness.

THAT is what this Beatitude basically means: to have a strong desire to be “right,” especially with God. Jesus says this attitude is blessed, because when you hunger and thirst for it, it will cause you to seek that “rightness” with God, which will ultimately lead you to find satisfaction in Him.

So, having seen what “hunger and thirst for righteousness” IS, let’s see how this Beatitude applies to us in several ways:

II. 3 Ways the 4th Beatitude applies to us:

A. To our salvation.

As we have seen, to be “righteous” means to be in “right standing” with God. That’s what we all want. We have an innate desire to want to be “right” with God. The problem is, left to ourselves, we are NOT in right standing with God – NONE of us are. God originally made us to know Him and be satisfied with Him in His presence forever. But the problem is, we became unrighteous with God though our sin. Romans 3:10 says “There is none righteous, not even one.” Every one of us was born with an inclination to sin, and when it came time to make our own choices, we all chose to sin. So as a result, NONE of us are “righteous” before God. If you have felt like there is something wrong in your relationship with God; something “hanging over your head” between you & Him, you are RIGHT! Your sins have have caused this — and unless you do something about your sin, it will continue to be that way forever!

The person who is “hungry for righteousness” is the one who is not satisfied leaving it the way it is between them and God. They have a hunger to get back right with God. Jesus says the person with that kind of hunger is “blessed”, because it will lead them to do whatever it takes to get back “right” with God again.

Back in the mid 1800’s, there was a young man in England who was just like that. He later wrote, 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.” (Do you see how that is “hunger and thirst for righteousness?!). So in his desperation he went around to every church in his area, to try to find 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 how to be forgiven if you broke it. Another pastor preached a very practical message about how to live, but didn’t tell him how to be saved. So this young man continued, desperately going to every church he could, to find out how to be made right with God.
Finally, one Sunday morning, he set off to go to yet another church, but a snowstorm came, which closed the church he intended to go to, but in his spiritual hunger he kept looking for a church that might be open, and he stopped at a little Primitive Methodist Chapel – it wasn’t even a church per se, just a chapel. He said because of the snowstorm, there were only a few people there, and when it came time for the message, the man who preached wasn’t even a minister; he could only preach for about 10 minutes, and he couldn’t 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 effort on your part; – it is just “look to Me!” He said you don’t have to be 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!” — to what He did on the cross for you! The young man said, I began to feel there was a glimmer of hope here for me – and then the preacher said, “Young man, I perceive that you are miserable – LOOK TO JESUS!” And Charles Spurgeon said at that moment, I DID “look to Jesus” and the clouds of my sin rolled away, and he knew instantly that he was right with God. And possibly the greatest preacher in the history of this world — Charles Haddon Spurgeon — was saved that day.

But what we see here is that Spurgeon was saved because his spiritual hunger drove him from one church to another – and finally to that little chapel in the midst of a snowstorm! It shows how hungry he was to be forgiven of his sins and made right with God. His spiritual hunger was blessed, because it drove him to find Jesus Christ as his Savior, and as a result, he was finally satisfied, just like the Beatitude says.

Maybe you’re like Charles Spurgeon today. You know you have sinned against God, and you have a hunger to be made right with Him. And maybe like Spurgeon it was your “hunger” for “right-ness” with God that brought you in to this church today! If so, your ‘hunger and thirst” is “blessed” because you’ve come to the right place, where you can hear that Jesus died on the cross, and paid for your sins, so that like Charles Spurgeon, if you will 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, He will forgive you; He will make you right with God, and your “hunger and thirst for righteousness” will “be satisfied” today, just as Jesus said.

B. To our Christian life.

Blessed are those CHRISTIANS who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for THEY — even as Christians — will be satisfied! These words speak not only of our initial “hunger and thirst” for God, but about the continuing hunger and thirst that we have in our lives every day as His followers.

We see this kind of hunger expressed in Psalm 63:1-5, where David, who already knew the Lord, was expressing his desire to to be satisfied with God. He wrote:

“O God, You are my God; I will seek You early.
My soul thirsts for You; my flesh yearns for You,
As in a dry and weary land where there is no water.”

You see how he expresses his longing for God there: He says “my soul thirsts for You; my flesh yearns for You” It’s just like what Jesus is talking about in Matthew 5:6, the hunger and “thirst” for righteousness.

But then David goes on to say in :2, “Thus have I SEEN You in the sanctuary, to see Your power and glory …” He says in :3, “My lips will praise You, so will I bless You as long as I live. I will lift up my hands in Your name” — he’s talking about WORSHIP here.

And THEN he says in :5 “My soul is SATISFIED as with marrow and fatness.”

So we see here in Psalm 63 that:
— David hungers and thirsts for the presence of God;
— so he then goes worships God in the sanctuary, sings and lifts his hands, etc.
— and when he does, he is “satisfied,” he says, with God.

This is just what Jesus is talking about here in Matthew 5:6: the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, is satisfied! David’s “hunger and thirst” for God was blessed, because it drove him to meet God in worship, where he was satisfied with His presence.

This is a pattern for us as Christians as we walk with the Lord. We have that initial “hunger” for God that brings us to Him to be saved. But then we still have a kind of “ongoing hunger” to worship Him every day, every week. See, we were originally created with a desire to be with God, to worship Him, and to be satisfied with Him. I know I’ve shared this quote from C.S. Lewis before, but it fits this point so well:

“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 designed us to “run on Him.” HE is what we were originally created to be fulfilled by — just like David showed us in Psalm 63. So what he did in Psalm 63 should be our experience every day. But instead, what often happens is that we try to fill that “void” in our lives with all kinds of “junk food” instead of God — but it doesn’t work. That’s why so many people are frustrated and unfulfilled. They have a built-in “hunger for righteousness” with God, but they aren’t fulfilling it with God — and nothing else works!

Sadly, even many CHRISTIANS are not “filling up” on God every day. We’ve come to know Him as our Lord & Savior like we’ve talked about the past few weeks, and as a result we will be satisfied with Him forever — but they are MISSING the fact that they can take their hunger to Him every day like David did in Psalm 63, and “be satisfied” with Him.

I have to say that Cheryl has made several, really, really good meals lately. Sadly, these meals have just “wreaked havoc” with any hope I had of losing weight so far this year. First it was “saucy little meat loaves;” then it was sour cream chicken enchiladas; and pot roast; and cowboy stew. And I pull away from those meals just patting my stomach, and saying, “Wow; I am satisfied!” A great meal — it was all I wanted! I was “satisfied.”

But my question for you is: is that happening for you SPIRITUALLY? See, I’m afraid that one of the biggest problems that many of us Christians have is that we are not really getting “satisfied” in our time with God like we should be. We need a big “6-course meal” in a sense, as we follow the outline of the Model Prayer Jesus gave us: and praise God, and pray for His kingdom, and His will, and our daily requests, and confess our sins, and pray for spiritual protection — remember all those things? When you use all 6 of those elements in prayer, it is like a big 6-course meal spiritually. And then you spend time “feasting” on His word, so when you walk away from your time with God, you come away SATISFIED spiritually!

That is what SHOULD be happening. But I am afraid instead that what often happens for many, is that we are not really getting “filled up” like that every day. Like Greg Frizzell talked about when he was with us in 2019, we just “grab a verse” real quick, or read a page of a devotional, and whisper a 2-minute prayer — and like he said, doing that is better than nothing — don’t stop doing that! But a verse or a devotional page and a couple of minutes of prayer is not a “satisfying meal” spiritually. You’re not going to “push yourself away from the table” and say like David did in Psalm 63 “My soul is satisfied as with marrow and fatness.” The problem with many of us Christians, is we’re malnourished. Not physically — but spiritually.

But see, if you’ve got a hunger and thirst for God like David had, Jesus says you are BLESSED: because that hunger will drive you to worship God and praise Him and spend time in His word every day and get a full “meal” from Him, so that you are “satisfied” like David was. That’s God’s plan for every one of us, every day: to have our spiritual “hunger and thirst,” “satisfied” in our time with Him every day. Ask yourself: is that what’s happening to you every day? Are you “feasting” with God and walking away “satisfied” — or are you basically getting by spiritually on a “starvation diet”?

This is where this Beatitude is a character quality of Christ, as all of these Beatitudes are. Jesus always had a deep spiritual hunger to be with His Father. He showed that in Mark 1:35, when He was so busy, that people were lined outside his door all night to get in to see Him, and probably didn’t leave till well after midnight — and yet with all that busy-ness, Jesus was up before sunrise because He just HAD to have His time with God! THAT is “hunger and thirst for righteousness.” That’s what Jesus had.

As we imitate Jesus in this, and hunger and thirst for God like that, we WILL be satisfied. We WILL experience a peace, and a satisfaction, and a joy, that those who don’t make the sacrifices it takes to be with God, will never know on this earth. Because it is only the one who “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” in their daily Christian walk, who will be satisfied!

C. To eternity:

As much as we devote ourselves to worshiping God in this life, all that we experience with God here is just a foretaste of what we will enjoy perfectly with Him in heaven. All of the “hunger and thirst” we have, will be totally and fully satisfied in heaven forever!

Just before the end of Revelation, in chapter 19, the angel says to John: “Write, blessed are those who are invited to the marriage supper of the Lamb.” That angel called what we will experience with God in heaven, “the marriage supper of the Lamb.” What a feast it will be! The Bible goes on to tell us in Revelation 21 that “God Himself will be among them”, “and He will wipe away every tear from their eyes …”. We will have a great feast with Him, and we will be SATISFIED in His presence — just the way we were designed to in the first place.

Psalm 16:11 tells us: “In Your presence is fullness of joy; in Your right hand there are pleasures forever.” The Bible says there that in the presence of God, our joy will be totally fulfilled by Him, and He will give us pleasures from His right hand forever. All the “hunger and thirst” we had for “something” all of our lives — and tried to fill it with other things — will be perfectly and totally satisfied in the presence of God in heaven forever.

Psalm 17:15 is one of my favorite verses. It says: “But as for me, I will behold Your face in righteousness; I will be satisfied with Your likeness when I awake.” There the Bible tells us that the moment we awake in heaven, we will be satisfied — and what we will be satisfied WITH, is the glory of the face of God: “Your face … Your likeness” he says here. In His face we will experience the pleasure and glory we were always designed to be fulfilled by.

Many of us know the name of John Newton, the former slave trader who was saved, and became a minister, and wrote the great hymn, “Amazing Grace.” Newton wrote to a friend of his who was going through a difficult time in this life, and he said to him: “When we get safe home (to heaven), we shall not complain that we have suffered too much in the way. We shall not say, Is this all I must expect after so much trouble? No, when we awake into that glorious world, we shall in an instant be satisfied with His likeness. One sight of Jesus as He is, will fill our hearts, and dry all our tears.” (Letters of Newton, Josiah Bull, ed., p. 59)

THAT will be our ultimate satisfaction: the pleasures of the glory of the Lord, in heaven.

But all this satisfaction, Jesus says, is ONLY for the person who “hungers and thirsts for righteousness” — the person who’s not satisfied with the things of this world; who looks around and says, Things are not the way they ought to be. I am not the way I ought to be. I am hungering and thirsting for something more — and I believe that “something more,” is with Jesus, in heaven. THAT is the person, Jesus says, who will enjoy total satisfaction and joy in heaven forever.

“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’re doing that today, 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; God is calling you today to begin satisfying your soul with Him every day in worship and His word.

— Maybe you need to pray for someone you know, 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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