FROM THE SERIES: “SERMON ON THE MOUNT – AND BEYOND !!!”
By Jeremy Stopford, Semi-Retired Pastor
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.”(Matt. 5:6)
Hungry and thirsty. Are those terms with which you are familiar? Even in the midst of this pandemic, and many of our local restaurants are either closed or in limited capacity for dining, one can still go through the McD’s “drive-thru window” and order beaucoup dollars worth of food! Do we really understand in our US of A what hunger and thirst are?
Funny what one remembers when thinking of “hunger” and “thirst”. I have 2 most vivid images. The first was at a boys camp in Wentworth, New Hampshire where I spent 3 summers (8 weeks each!) as a camper and one summer as an assistant counselor. Seems like every night there was something going on in the auditorium. Without fail, there would always be a skit night!
One of the classics was a simple one, yet it has huge meaning! A boy was crawling on his stomach across the stage. Slowly. Panting. Crying out “Water! Water!” With bated breaths. As he crawls for seemingly a LONGGGG time, up ahead he sees what initially he thinks is a mirage. But it is not! It is another camper with a glass of water! In kindness, the camper with the water gives the crawling camper the glass of water. With water in hand, the crawling camper shouts “THANK YOU! THANK YOU! THANK YOU!” His life has been spared. He then…reaches into his back pocket, pulls out a comb, puts it in the glass, and with wetted comb he parts and puts his hair back into its original beautiful style. Hmmm.
The second was a few years later. When as a freshman at my first and only year at St. Lawrence U (before the Lord called me to Bible College!), one of the highlights of each day was the evening meal in the cafeteria. Mind you, the year was 1971. We must have been experiencing a food surplus. And several friends of mine and I always looked forward to one meal in particular: cube steaks! 1/4 inch thick. 3 inches wide. 5 inches (or more) long. And…we could eat as many as we wanted! So my dining buddies and I would have a contest. And I need to remind you that THOSE WERE THE DAYS when I could eat and eat and NOT gain weight. Oh, those WERE the days. (Not so any more!). I don’t think I ever won the contest – I usually ended at around…you bet, 10 cube steaks. My friends easily ate 11 or more. Hungry? I don’t think so.
But for the listeners of the Sermon on the Mount, they knew exactly what our Savior meant when He alluded to “hunger”. In Jesus’ day, a working man’s wage was the equivalent – NOT of $15 an hour – but of our 3 to 5 CENTS a day. So after pushing away from the dinner table after one of his wife’s good meals, he certainly wasn’t what we would call today “stuffed”. He was not full. But at least he had eaten. And when the Savior said “thirst”, the picture was even more vivid than that! Immediately most of them would remember those tragic days when they were caught out in the desert areas during one of those sand storms. They were just trying to get home at a decent hour. But not that day. When the wind started blowing HARD, and the sand started a-whipping, all they could do was wrap themselves in their outer coats and hope for the best. It wasn’t too long before their eyes were caked shut, their ears were plugged, and worst of all their mouths were full of the dreaded hot sand. Death might have been considered a blessing rather than suffer the fulness of a Middle Eastern desert storm. Jesus’ listeners understood “thirst”.
Jesus’ hearers understood very well both hunger and thirst.
Yet Jesus was saying that His listeners are to hunger and thirst for…righteousness. Perhaps that was a foreign term to them. Perhaps it is a foreign practical term for you. “Righteousness”, in technical terms, means “the establishment of God’s will among men so that justice, honesty, and right dealings will prevail.” Huh? Like I said, “technical” terms. In practical terms, it means that we are conforming to the pattern of living which has been demonstrated to us by the Son.
Romans 3:23-26 says:
23 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,
24 being justified freely by His grace through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,
25 whom God set forth as a propitiation by His blood, through faith, to demonstrate His righteousness, because in His forbearance God had passed over the sins that were previously committed,
26 to demonstrate at the present time His righteousness, that He might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus. [my emphasis]
My hunger and thirst for righteousness is possible ONLY because the One for Whom I hunger and thirst IS altogether righteous! Even though I am not sinless, I can conform to His image because, well, HE is righteous, HE is sinless, HE is my Pattern!
So I need to ask myself at least 4 questions:
#1 Am I blessed? Am I truly happy? Do I have a GOD JOY which is dependent upon GOD HIMSELF? IF I have that kind of happiness, that kind of blessedness, then and only then I can fully appreciate the BE-attitudes (as Warren Wiersbe would write) given to us by the Savior!
#2 Do I recognize my true needs? Jesus said the truly blessed – the truly God-happy – person is the one who has a hunger and thirst. We should be reminded of the words our Savior used shortly after the feeding of the 5,000 (men PLUS women and children, or perhaps closer to 20,000 people!). He said,
“Do not labor for the food which perishes, but for the food which endures to everlasting life, which the Son of Man will give you, because God the Father has set His seal on Him.” John 6:27
Shortly afterwards, He followed this up with an amazing dissertation of one of His great I AM statements. He said:
“…’I am the bread of life. He who comes to Me shall never hunger, and he who believes in Me shall never thirst.’ “ John 6:35 [my emphasis]
#3 Do I have eternal goals? Some one wisely observed, “if you aim at nothing, you surely will hit it!” It is good to admit that we are hungry and thirsty. AND it is good to admit that we hunger and thirst for substance, for truth in application in our lives. Jesus said that the one who is blessed is the one who hungers and thirsts for…righteousness. This is substance. [for a longer discussion on this subject, I would encourage you to read Proverbs 8, where the Lord tells us that the true things of eternal substance have been in existence since the creation]. Do I hunger and thirst to follow the Pattern of living that our Savior showed? Is His Word a Lamp unto my feet and a Light unto my path? (Psalm 119:105).
Mark 8:34 says, “When He had called the people to Himself, with His disciples also, He said to them, “Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” The ones hearing Jesus’ message immediately knew what He was saying. All along the roads to Jerusalem were Roman crosses standing – some with their condemned victims in various stages between life and ultimate death. And they knew that those crosses were dragged by their victims to their final place of death. Jesus is saying that my eternal goals need to rest around His Word and His glory. Paul said, “I die daily” (1 Corinthians 15:31). We need to have eternal goals.
#4 Am I really satisfied? Jesus said that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be filled or “satisfied”. How will I know that I am filled with God? I will want to please God in every way: in thought, in word, in deed, in action! I will be filled! And when I am filled, I will be really satisfied with God alone!
In 1875, Clara Teare Williams wrote a song which wonderfully describes the hunger and thirst of which our Savior speaks in Matthew 5:6:
All my life I had a longing
For a drink from some clear spring,
That I hoped would quench the burning
Of the thirst I felt within.
Hallelujah! I have found Him
Whom my soul so long has craved!
Jesus satisfies my longings,
Through His blood I now am saved.
Well of water, ever springing,
Bread of life so rich and free,
Untold wealth that never faileth,
My Redeemer is to me. Refrain