Matthew 5:6 Blessed are Those who Hunger and Thirst
I grew up going to New York City a couple of times every year for things like Parades, and Broadway Plays, and going to the museum or some retail convention. Throughout my life New York City has gone through all kinds of changes. When I was a kid, it was dangerous. One time when we were at a Thanksgiving Day parade a homeless person pulled a knife on my dad in front of all of us. Later, on when I was in high school, if I was walking alone all kinds of people would come up to me out of the shadows and try to sell me stuff. They’d come up to me with a low tone and say: “Guns” or “Pot”. It was so common, you just got used to it. At the time, I wasn’t in Christ and I thought it was pretty cool that I had the “look” of someone they thought might buy what they were selling.
But here’s the thing: no one ever offered me what I really needed. Do you know what I really needed? Righteousness. I needed righteousness but no one ever offered to sell it to me!
Now, it’s obvious why. For one thing, no one has any righteousness to sell. Even if they did, no one would want it! Imagine walking the streets of downtown New York, or Denver or Los Angeles and some guy coming out of the shadows saying: “Hey man, I’ve got something that will put you on a path to a place where you’ll never being tempted by this stuff again! You’ll never want—and you’ll never buy—what these guys are selling. You’ll never be drunk again. You’ll never have anything that draws your heart from God. You’ll never be drawn to a woman who’s not your wife. You’ll never have impure thoughts and you can have all this for the low-low-price of: your life!”
How’s that for a deal? Most people would call that silly because they wouldn’t want it. For most people, if there was a button they could push that would completely remove their sin, most people wouldn’t push it. Most people want their sin. And if you told them all the things they wouldn’t do or say once they partook of righteousness, they wouldn’t want what you’re selling!
But God’s people would. In fact, that’s the message of the Gospel. People often think the message of the Gospel is how to get saved from Hell. It’s really, “How to get saved from our sin.” Hell is just the ultimate manifestation of God’s wrath on our rebellion. And so, God’s people would hear an offer for righteousness and deliverance from sin, and they’d stop you on the street and be like: “You mean, all I have to do is die to this crummy life, and be born-from-above by God, and the entire direction of my life will start heading towards righteousness? Yeah, I’ll take that! That’s what I’ve been looking for all along!”
God’s people long for righteousness and today we’ll talk about Christ’s promise that they will one day have it.
We’re continuing our study in Matthew 5 and the Sermon on the Mount. This Sermon is taking place on a hill in Northern Galilee. Jesus has a crowd of people before Him, waiting to hear from the King. And Jesus explains to them the terms of life in His kingdom. He starts with eight poetical statements about the blessings that come from being His people. We call these “blessings” the “Beatitudes” and they are statements of God’s blessings upon His kingdom people who manifest the character of the kingdom.
So far, we’ve gone through the first three beatitudes: Blessed are those who recognize their spiritual poverty. Blessed are those who mourn their sin and the state of sin that we’re in. Blessed are those who are gentle.
Today, we’re going to the fourth beatitude found in verse 6. If you look with me at Matthew 5:6 it says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Here, Jesus offers us “righteousness” and although people in the world would turn down this offer, it is a joyful promise to the soul of God’s people.
This fourth beatitude highlights a principle we’ve been seeing all along: These statements are totally counter-cultural and supernatural in origin. They are impossible without the work of God in a person’s life. No matter what the culture, no matter what the age, people do not naturally manifest any of these character traits!
People don’t naturally think they’re in spiritual poverty. They’ll say: “I’m spiritual, but not religious.” They’re literally saying, “I have all the spiritual ability I need within myself.”
People don’t naturally mourn over their sin. They may be ashamed of it. They may try to hide it. But they don’t naturally mourn the offense they bring to God. Most people don’t even care!
People aren’t naturally gentle—at least, not in the way we described last week where the “gentle” person walks with God and has a serene balance of strength under control. That may be a beautiful thing, but it is not natural. So, these “Beatitudes” are incredibly cross-cultural; especially the fourth: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.”
This beatitude offers us a glorious promise of an eternal life filled with righteousness in Christ’s Kingdom. And for God’s people this promise is what our soul longs for. So, let’s dive into this beatitude and go to our first point which is unpacking the “righteousness” that Jesus is talking about.
Point #1 God’s Righteousness
Jesus says in verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” The idea of being “righteous” gets a bad rap in our society. People hear about righteousness and think it means being “strange”, “stuffy”, “self-righteous”, and “judgmental”. That’s nothing of what Jesus is talking about here. This “righteousness” in verse 5 means to walk with God according to His standard and His design. It is moral holiness that comes from obedience to the Lord.
This word “righteousness” is an important word in the New Testament. The root word is “dikaios” and it occurs throughout the New Testament. The word in verse 6 is “dikaiosune.” “dikaios” (on its own) means a moral holiness that conforms to God’s standard and design. It’s not just the occasional good deed, it is a total righteousness that comes from a transformed life in Christ. In verse 6, the word “dikaiosunu” is “dikaios” with the suffix “sunee” smooshed on the end. The “sunee” is a Greek way of turning this word into a “abstract concept” so Jesus is not talking about specific acts of righteousness, but an entire category of righteousness. He’s not saying, “Blessed are those who pay their taxes, so they don’t get audited by the IRS…” Or “Blessed are those who pay their water bill so that it doesn’t get shut off…” He’s not saying, “Blessed are those who are righteous in some things and disregard it in other things…” He is saying, “Blessed are those who are hungering and thirsting for the entire category of righteousness.”
Not only that, in the Greek, the word “righteousness” has the word “the” in front of it so it’s “the righteousness.” The word “the” is a definite article and it defines what we’re talking about. So, Jesus is talking about “the righteousness” as in the only right and perfect standard of God! Jesus is not talking about the righteousness of the world, or the righteousness of what we consider right and wrong. He’s talking about the only standard of righteousness that matters: The standard that God established.
This is further underscored by the grammar of this term back in Matthew 5:6. In both English and Greek certain words tend to have certain grammatical constructs. This is especially true of words like “hunger and thirst;” they usually have the word “of” associated with them. We say things like: “I am going to eat a piece of pizza”. And by implication, we’re only going to eat part of a pizza. And so, in English and Greek, words like eat and drink usually have the word “of” in their construction. But Jesus doesn’t use the word “of”. He uses the word “the.” It’s like saying “I’m going to eat the pizza”. If you said that, you’re telling people you’re going to eat the whole thing not just a couple pieces. That’s what Jesus does in verse 6. He says, “Blessed are who hunger and thirst for “the righteousness of God”— not just for a slice of righteousness or a sip of righteousness, they are hungering and thirsting all of the righteousness they can have! Not just bits and pieces of righteousness here and there. Not just fixing some crack in their character. Not just freedom from an addiction or calming of their temper. They want every part of their life to completely conform to God’s standard of righteous in every part of their life!
Now to understand why this matters so much, we need to understand that both God and the world have standards of righteousness. Someone might hear this talk about “God’s righteousness” and say, “I don’t want that! I’ve got my own standard of righteousness and by it I’m doing just fine!” People make up their own standard of righteousness based on their own opinion and the ways of the world. The world has its own code of morality. We see it all around us. The world has its own code of morality when it comes to sexuality, and self-esteem, and child-centered parenting, and entertainment, and the pursuit of self-fulfillment. People who follow the world’s morality don’t think they’re being evil; they think they’re being righteous! They have their own standard of righteousness. They do whatever they think is good and right! I’ve hardly ever met a person who thinks they have done anything that was intentionally evil. That’s why they think they are righteous. They always believe that given their situation, and given what they knew at the time, they were acting “righteously.” They’re like the people in the book of Judges where everyone did what was right in their own eyes.
God’s people don’t do this! God’s people don’t look to society for their standard of right and wrong! They don’t look to popular opinion. They don’t even look to their own conscience! They look to the Word of God! And when they compare their life to God’s standard—in their heart of hearts— they know they have not maintained a consistent course of righteousness and holiness and therefore their righteousness is inadequate to gain them any standing with God.
We are living in a world that literally calls good “evil” and Evil “good”. People of the world will hear about God’s righteousness and call it harsh, and judgmental, and hateful and even evil. But what’s so amazing is that the world thinks they are so liberated, but they’re actually so much harsher than the Lord! Society is constantly pouring out new rules and new laws. Schools are filled with all kinds of written and unwritten rules. There are all kinds of policies in the workplace. HOA’s have 30-page covenants. When I began working for a Fortune 500 company 20 years ago, we started off in a classroom to teach us about all the codes of conduct for that organization. Compared to all these rules, the Lord’s standards of righteousness are easy and light. I’m not saying we can live them out perfectly, but God’s standards are laid out in His Word and they don’t change from society to society or region to region.
Not only that, but God’s Law is the path towards righteousness and that journey is filled with His grace and strength and peace and joy. It is a blessing to pursue righteousness and have fellowship with God in the process. It is joyful to crucify our flesh and have victory over sin. It is fun to be part of Christ’s work that lasts for eternity. It’s a gift to have meaningful, life-long friendships with fellow believers. And it is a comfort to know that when we stumble, there is an abundant well of grace and forgiveness for everyone who repents. So, although we won’t have total righteousness until we’re in heaven, it’s a blessing to be on this journey.
And yet, the world’s path is nothing like this. Their standards are harsh and unforgiving. They’re always shifting and changing. They change from age to age and region to region. What’s okay “here” may not be okay “there”. What’s okay today is not okay tomorrow. The world leaves you alone on this journey. You’ve got to figure it out for yourself. And if you don’t walk according to its shifting-standards it heaps shame and condemnation on you. It will destroy you. There is no mercy or grace or forgiveness.
A couple of weeks ago, my TV antenna stopped working so I contacted the company where I bought it. I mentioned being willing to do some troubleshooting, but I was hoping to get it working as soon as possible for football. You know what they did? Without any troubleshooting at all, they immediately sent me a replacement. And last week a huge box arrived, and I look in it, it had two new antennas! They would rather send me two antennas then have me leave a one-star review. On the one hand, that’s great customer service. On the other hand, that reflects the harsh taskmaster of the world. If you’ve done something wrong, you’ve got to pay me back twice to make it up to me.
But that’s not how it is with the Lord. God’s standard of righteousness does not change, and the pursuit of righteousness always brings soul-edifying joy and when we fail, there is abundant grace because Jesus has already paid the penalty for our sin. And that brings us to our second point which is the satisfaction that Jesus is talking about here.
Point #2 Our Satisfaction
This whole verse is a promise: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they will be satisfied.” The Greek word for “satisfy” was used to describe having all that you need or want. It was used of animals who were being fed all that they needed. In the context of verse 6, Jesus is saying that if we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we will have all the righteousness that we need!
Now, that’s a pretty challenging statement to wrap our minds around, but what does it even mean? I think the answer centers around the three ways that the New Testament describes our righteousness. The New Testament describes righteousness in terms of: Justification, Sanctification, and Glorification. Let’s unpack these terms and see how they satisfy our hunger and thirst for righteousness.
The first term speaks of how we enter into righteousness. We enter into God’s righteousness through “Justification.” Romans 4 & 5 explains how justification works. Turn over to Romans 4…and let’s look at what God’s Word has to say about “justification.” Look at Romans 4:5. Romans 4:5 says “But to the one who does not work, but believes in Him who justifies the ungodly, his faith is credited as righteousness…” This verse tells us five key things: First, we are ungodly. Second, we can be justified. Third, God is the one who justifies us. Fourth, our faith is key, and Fifth, when we are justified, we are credited as righteous. Theologians describe this “justification” as God’s declaration that we are righteous. It is the judicial act where God declares that the believer is righteous as having properly fulfilled His law and conforming to His design.
Yet, we know we are sinners and so we need to understand how God could legitimately make this declaration about us and that’s found in the next chapter, over in Romans 5:8. Let’s turn to Romans 5:8. Romans 5:8 says, “But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Much more then, having now been justified by His blood, we shall be saved from the wrath of God through Him.” Here we see that we are not justified by our own righteousness, but a righteousness that’s been given to us. This righteousness comes in the form of the blood of Jesus. Jesus’ blood is His life. He made the payment for our sin with the blood of His perfect life. And so, since our penalty has been fully paid for, the offense of our sin has been fully removed. Not only that, Christ’s blood also covers us with His perfection. It is not our righteousness that we are bringing into the presence of God, but the righteousness of His Son that clothes us.
We know from passages like 2nd Corinthians 5:21 that this transaction came about when God placed our sins on Christ while He was on the cross and He died as the substitute for our sins. When we call upon Christ in faith, God places Christ’s righteousness into our account so that we can be declared “righteous”! And since that declaration is based on a righteousness we have received from Christ, it is permanent and unchanging and eternal.
So, to be justified is to be declared righteous because we have received Christ’s righteousness. He paid for our sin and He gives us His perfection. And so, this is the fundamental way our hunger and thirst for righteousness is satisfied because we find it in Christ.
Justification will also produce a change in us. In Victor Hugo’s book Les Misérables, a religious leader named Bishop Myriel declares a criminal named Jean Valjean to be “God’s man.” Jean Valjean is set free under this declaration and the rest of the book is the outworking of the change this declaration produced in his life.
Theologically, we call this process of change “Sanctification”. Justification is a one-time act; sanctification is the lifelong transformation as we live out who we have been declared to be. In other words, sanctification is the “holification” of our lives as we conform to the righteousness we have in Christ. It is the process where, over time, we look less and less like our old self, and more and more like our new self in Christ. This process of transformation begins on the day we call upon Christ and it continues throughout our lives until He calls us home.
When He does, we enter the third stage of righteousness called “glorification.” Glorification is when our body of sin is finally gone and we’re rid of our flesh and our sin nature, and we enter into heaven with the full righteousness of sinless moral perfection.
That’s the essence of salvation. Salvation is the salvation from ourselves. We are the problem! We were created in a sin-cursed realm! We sin because we are sinners! So, there needs to be a fundamental change in our entire constitution. That change includes erasing our personal history so that there is no record of our sin. It includes transforming how we live so that we align with God’s standard. It includes freeing us from this body of sin and this world of sin that produces unrighteousness. And I believe that together, these three aspects of righteousness (justification, sanctification and glorification) speak to Jesus’ promise that “those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be satisfied.” So, there is a tremendous blessing in being satisfied in Christ’s righteousness.
Let’s finish up by looking at how these pieces come together. Our third point is going to focus on our hunger and thirst.
Point #3 Our Hunger and Thirst
Jesus promises a “blessing” upon those who hunger and thirst for righteousness and I think there is more we can unpack about what this blessing means in the life of a believer.
Let’s start with the words “hunger” and “thirst”. The Greek Word for hunger is “Peinao”. “Peinao” simply means to be hungry or wanting food. Sometimes preachers will describe this “hunger” as intense hunger, even a kind of starvation. And there’s some basis for this because this word was sometimes used for God’s judgment upon a people who had nothing to eat. And yet, when I compared the word “peinao” to other biblical words for hunger, I was surprised that “peinao” is not the strongest word for hunger. In fact, there is at least one word that is an even stronger description of the deep, yearning of starvation. So, Jesus isn’t saying we have to have the strongest “hunger” you can imagine, He’s just saying we need to hunger for righteousness.
Now, why does He use this lesser word for “hunger”? I can’t say why for sure, but perhaps it has something to do with protecting us from the temptation to make this verse say more than Jesus is saying. If a pastor describe this “hunger” as “starvation” they put the focus on the act of starving: where you have to be miserable until you have it, and it’s all you can think about, and it totally dominates your heart, mind and will.
While that might be a good orientation in pursuing righteousness, that’s not what Jesus is saying. The words “hunger” and “thirst” are both participles. Participles focus on the person doing the action. So, the “blessing” in verse 6 is not because we hunger and thirst for righteousness, but because we are people who hunger and thirst for righteousness. The blessing is being a person who knows you don’t have righteousness, and you’re hungry for it. If we think the blessing is because of our hunger, we’ll starve ourselves! But if we understand that the blessing is because we are people who hunger; we’ll praise God for the gift He has given to us.
So, the blessing is being a person who is hungry. These people have three fundamental traits: First, they want something. Second, they don’t have the thing they want. Third, they’re pursuing it. If you want something but you already have it, then you’re not hungry for it. If you don’t have it and you don’t want it, you’re also not hungry for it. Or, if you don’t have it and you do want it, but you’re not pursuing it, well you’re still not hungry for it. So, being “hungry and thirsty” for something means you don’t have it and you deeply want it, and you’re actually pursuing it!
And to tie this into verse 6: God’s people have a spiritual hunger because they know they need righteousness and don’t have it. The person who has this mindset receives God’s blessing, not because of the mindset but because this mindset points to their nature”. It’s not natural to hunger and thirst after righteousness. So, the presence of a hunger and thirst for righteousness shows that there has been a change in a person’s spiritual nature. Just as wolves want meat and cows want grass because it’s their nature, the nature of born-of-God people is that we hunger and thirst for righteousness. That is what differentiates God’s people from the world. You can command a person to stop a certain behavior, but you can’t command that person to want the right behavior. The wanting of “righteousness” has to be put there by God. And so, God’s people hunger and thirst for righteousness.
1st John 2:29 makes this point by saying: “everyone also who practices righteousness is born of Him.” Those born of God practice righteousness. A few verses later it says in 1st John 3:10: "By this the children of God and the children of the devil are obvious: anyone who does not practice righteousness is not of God, nor the one who does not love his brother.” So, a person who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is a miracle child of God. They didn’t have that hunger and thirst originally. They may have had a guilty conscience, but it wasn’t a hunger and thirst for righteousness. That hunger has been placed there by God so that they can find it in Him.
Now, in the setting of the Sermon on the Mount, this hunger and thirst is not the same and the self-righteous morality of the Pharisees. The Pharisees didn’t hunger and thirst for righteousness because they already were righteous by their law. They had an entire system of man-made laws that were designed to protect them from ever breaking one of God’s holy laws. To their credit, they knew the penalty of breaking God’s law was severe. So, to keep them from breaking any law, they established a series of other laws that wrapped around the original law of God. And so, the thinking was if they never broke one of these other laws, they would never break the true law of God either. And so, the Pharisees walked around convinced that they were righteous before God. They were so righteous they didn’t need God’s forgiveness! They hadn’t done anything wrong! So, they didn’t need to hunger and thirst for righteousness because they already had it!
Jesus sweeps this religious system aside by highlighting that the blessing is not for those who think they are righteous or claim to be righteous. The blessing is for those who don’t think they are and don’t claim to have it. These are the ones who are blessed.
That may be some of us this morning. Maybe some of us here have a sense of guilt in our heart. We did something we feel guilty about and all this talk about righteousness is killing our soul. If that’s you, you need to know that the guilt you feel might be evidence of God’s work in your life. Rather than it being a sign of what a horrible Christian you are, it might be a sign of God’s grace as He shows you just how much you need Christ as your Lord and Savior. The Pharisees were “good” and didn’t need Christ’s righteousness because they had their own. But if you know you need Christ’s righteousness, and if the sting of guilt brings you to the cross, you are blessed.
So, we constantly battle our flesh in the here and now and yet, Jesus tells us that those people who hunger and thirst are the one who will be satisfied. Now, how is this a blessing? I’d like to run through several practical reasons that satisfaction is a blessing and I hope these ideas encourage us in our walk this week.
For one thing… being made righteous in Christ satisfies our need to be righteous. The pursuit of righteousness can be a daunting rat-race. Corinne and I have a friend who came to Christ late in life. She was always a Catholic and believed she had to be in church every Sunday to make God happy. And so, even on vacations—out of fear— before she even left her home, she’d line up churches to attend so that she would never miss a week. Now, it’s great to go to church when you’re on vacation, but not as a law, but as an opportunity to worship with fellow believers around the world. When we finally embrace the righteousness we have in Christ, we recognize our need to earn God’s pleasure has been satisfied by Christ.
Paul described a similar shift in his own thinking in Philippians 3 when he finally rejected his own righteousness and clung to the righteousness he has in Christ. Turn over to Philippians 3:7. This passage starts in verse 4 with Paul reviewing his qualifications for righteousness: Circumcised on the 8th day, a national Jew, of the tribe of Benjamin, a Hebrew of Hebrews, a Pharisee (himself), in his zeal he persecuted the church, and as far as he could see, he was blameless according to the law. Yet he said in Philippians 3:7 “But whatever things were gain to me, those things I have counted as loss for the sake of Christ.” In verse 8: “More than that, I count all things to be loss in view of the surpassing value of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whom I have suffered the loss of all things, and count them but rubbish so that I may gain Christ…” The word “rubbish” is the idea of filthy trash. The key comes in verse 9: (that I) “may be found in Him, not having a righteousness of my own derived from the Law, but that which is through faith in Christ, the righteousness which comes from God on the basis of faith…” When we are so hungry for righteous like Paul, and when we completely forsake our own righteousness and cling to the righteousness we have in Christ, we will be satisfied.
Along those lines our fear of God is satisfied. When we fully rest in the reality that we are accepted by God and are pleasing to Him because Christ has chosen us to be in His family, we will rest in His love and we will not fear His wrath when we sin. This peace is not haughtiness or indifference about our sin. We will always mourn over our sin. We will always hate it. We will always be grieved that is still part of our life. But we no longer fear that our relationship with God is in jeopardy every time we sin. We trust that every sin is completely paid for by Christ and cleansed by Christ. So, our fear of God’s wrath is satisfied.
On the flip side, when we are made righteous in Christ our fear of man is satisfied too. One of the greatest hungers of people in the world is to be accepted in society. We want people to like us. We want people to respect us. We want to get along well with others. And because of our fear of man, before we came to Christ, we made all kinds of moral compromises so that we could have peace with people. But once we are in Christ, and once we are accepted by God, our need to be accepted by people drops way down and our fear of man will begin to diminish and hopefully will go away altogether. We are accepted by God, what can man do to us? We know that we are accepted by God. We know that we are righteous in Him. We have the confidence that we are on a good and right and holy path. When people ridicule us for being Jesus freaks, or out of touch, or call as all kinds of names we won’t like it, but it won’t have the same devastating impact it once did.
Another way that we are satisfied in Christ’s righteousness is our desire to be righteous in other people’s eyes is satisfied. If you’ve ever confronted a person about something, it’s very common for them to want to justify themselves and explain how their actions were not wrong. By and large, when we are clothed in Christ and have given up our need for our own righteousness the anxiety, we feel about how others view us drops way down and is replaced by a serenity because we’re done trying to be righteous in other people’s eyes.
Along those lines our anxieties are satisfied. So much pain in life comes from us experiencing the consequences of our own sin. We sin with our words and hurt the people we love. We sin with our actions and hurt our reputation. We sin with our thoughts and fill our minds with all kinds of anxieties. Although we will never be fully free from our own sin in this life, a soul that hungers and thirsts after righteousness produces a life of greater and greater peace and tranquility.
So, WCC… The world is not selling righteousness, but if you want it, it’s yours for the asking. True righteousness is conforming to God’s standard and His design. This righteousness must come from God through Christ by faith. But when you receive Christ’s righteousness by faith our Lord, He justifies you instantly and He’ll work in your life, for the rest of your earthly life, sanctifying you to be like Him. And one day, He will bring you into His presence with the full glory He designed you to have.
And so, this righteousness is a gift that keeps on giving and satisfies the deepest longing of our soul. It satisfies our need to be righteous. It satisfies our fear of God’s wrath. It satisfies our fear of Man and our fear that other people won’t think well of us. It even satisfies the anxieties of our heart. God’s righteousness is the stuff our soul hungers for, and this hunger for righteousness will only be satisfied in Christ.
If you have not embraced God’s offer of righteousness, you can do that right now. It’s a simple as A-B-C… Acknowledge God’s perfect standard and your sin against Him. Believe that Jesus died on the cross for your sins and offers you His righteousness. Call upon Jesus as your Lord and God and Savior and King. And then live your new life in Christ.
May you—and may all of us—be people who abide in His righteousness that we might be satisfied in Him.