Matthew 5:6, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.”
There’s a real sense in which the food and drink we consume each day serves as a sign of something bigger going on in the universe. Since as Christians we believe God is the Creator, and that we are not a product of time and chance acting on matter, we are convinced there is much more to life than mere consumption of things. Which is not to say that we shouldn’t eat healthy and drink plenty of water…
God has built within the fabric of the universe a sense of His justice. In fact, the word “righteousness” that our Lord uses here is the same word for justice. Jesus wants us to pursue justice, or, perhaps more broadly, the Law of God. Now, lest you get concerned with where this is going, hold on to your seats and kindly buckle your seatbelts. It’s a rough ride journeying to places off road.
Jesus is alluding to several passages in the Old Testament that speak of this idea of longing. To hunger and thirst is to long for something. For example, Psalm 42:2 says, “My soul thirst for God, for the living God.” Another popular passage is Isaiah 55:1-2 which reads:
Come, everyone who thirsts,
come to the waters;
and he who has no money,
come, buy and eat!
Come, buy wine and milk
without money and without price.
Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread,
and your labor for that which does not satisfy?
Digging a little further in the Prophet’s later prosecution of Israel, Isaiah speaks of God’s judgment on rebellious people, them and their iniquity. Isaiah 65:12-13 enlightens us,
I will destine you to the sword,
and all of you shall bow down to the slaughter,
because, when I called, you did not answer;
when I spoke, you did not listen,
but you did what was evil in my eyes
and chose what I did not delight in.”
Therefore thus says the Lord GOD:
“Behold, my servants shall eat,
but you shall be hungry;
behold, my servants shall drink,
but you shall be thirsty;
behold, my servants shall rejoice,
but you shall be put to shame.
What is Isaiah getting at, and what does it have to do with Jesus? People who do not revere the justice and Law of God and instead do those things out of self-interest are at risk of incurring the judgment of God. In fact, if cultures not only ignore God’s justice in the world and promote injustice, they are at severe risk of utter desolation. Was this not the case with Israel? Was this not the case with the soon coming collapse of Judah? And was this not the case with Jesus and His contemporaries when He would later warn them about their blood-guiltiness (Matt. 23:13-36)?
Jesus intends for us to take this blessing seriously: God commands men to seek and promote justice in the world. Where is justice to be found? The Holy Law of God. God is so serious about the issue of justice and righteousness in the world, that Isaiah warns the people of Israel at the start of his ongoing oracle: “…learn to do good; seek justice, correct oppression; bring justice to the fatherless, plead the widow’s cause” (Isaiah 1:17).
Solomon himself sees the same issue: “Moreover, I saw under the sun that in the place of justice, even there was wickedness, and in the place of righteousness, even there was wickedness” (Ecclesiastes 3:16). He goes on later, “Because the sentence against an evil dead is not executed speedily, the heart of the children of man is fully set to do evil” (Eccl. 8:11). In other words, people starve when justice is neglected.
When Jesus issued this blessing, it wasn’t a nice little saying to be packed up and set off along with a cute card. No, it was a blessing with a whole lot of important and serious context. In fact, this was so serious that He will later bring prophetic accusation against the Scribes and Pharisees for their severe lack of hunger and thirst for righteousness (Matthew 23-24).
The promise is true, and Jesus tells us: we shall be satisfied. When we long for righteousness and justice in the world, Jesus promises satisfaction. The reality is, we are to seek after God’s righteousness, and thanks be to Christ our Savior for imputing it to us! Instead of a hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, we oftentimes long for our own. We don’t always seek God but instead seek autonomy.
Let me illustrate for a moment. The natural propensity of the natural man is self-preservation fueled by self-law. Apart from Christ, the hunger we seek is our own understanding of what is true and right. That’s what Adam and Eve did, that’s what we do. To hunger and thirst, this longing deep inside us all is to chase after that which we value and prize most. If you value yourself over others, including God, what happens? You burn out. You’re exhausted. You’re literally working on your own righteousness. It’s like a burning desire deep within to strive for your own glory. But that’s not our task here according to Jesus. In everything we think, say, and do, we are called to long for Christ and His righteousness.
Let us repent from self-serving and by faith see the blessing and satisfaction in knowing Christ’s righteousness given to us freely at His expense. This is the grace of God.