“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
Do you hunger and thirst after it?
There are not very many people who do. What’s more, those who do are considered narrow minded, conceited do-gooders, non-conformists who think they are better than everyone else.
To be righteous, one has to be right, spiritually right.
Quite naturally there are conflicting views as to what this involves. If we cast about for an answer to the question what is spiritually right, we would surely become enmeshed in a labyrinth of human opinions. Strange as it may seem almost everyone claims to be an expert on religion. It makes no difference what his occupation may be, each has his own ideas. The philosopher, the scientist, the educator, the production worker, or the astronaut, each likes to dazzle his pride by imagining that he has the answer to the world’s ills. Each claims to know what man needs to get along well with his neighbor and that he has the secret code that will unlock the door of the “Great Society.”
They all lay claim to the “right” over against the “wrong.”
It’s time we look upward.
Do we not read in Scripture, “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness and His countenance doth behold the upright?”
If there is any righteousness to be found among men, it must have a divine origin. God Himself is righteous and He is the standard of all righteousness. As the highest and only good, He is perfectly consecrated to Himself. He is light and in Him is no darkness at all. His righteousness is rooted in His holiness, for by it He maintains His holiness at all times. His own covenant life is within the law of His holiness. The Father, Son, and Holy Spirit are consecrated to one another in perfect friendship. All His works are in harmony with His holiness; His decrees, creation, and providence all agree with His perfect Being, for in them He expresses hatred for that which is evil and delight for that which is good.
God is not double minded, rather all His Being and works are in perfect harmony. He does not have one standard for righteousness as it applies to Himself and another for the creature. On the contrary, the righteousness which forms the basis of His own covenant life in Himself also forms the basis for the covenant life with His people. For this reason we read, “The righteous Lord loveth righteousness and His countenance doth behold the upright!” The same note is sounded by Peter, “For the eyes of the Lord are over the righteous and his ears are open unto their prayers; but the face of the Lord is against them that do evil.”
Righteousness then, is to be right with God, to be in harmony with Him.
This involves in the first place a divine judgment by God. This would not be necessary had not our first parents fallen into sin. For them, righteousness was inherent in their creation. God made them after His own image by fashioning Adam out of the dust of the ground and breathing into His nostrils the breath of life so that he became a living soul. He caused a deep sleep to come upon Adam, and out of his rib He fashioned a woman and gave her unto the man and they became one flesh. By this creation, God filled them with His own love, so that in their whole life they reflected the Creator. Their heart was fried with holiness, their mind possessed the true knowledge of their Creator and their will was directed to do His will in complete righteousness. Adam and Eve did not have to be declared righteous by the Judge; they were made righteous and therefore enjoyed the perfect covenant life with God.
This is, however, different for us. We are conceived and born in sin. We have no righteousness in ourselves; we are corrupt and guilty. If we are to be brought into the harmony of the covenant with God, God must declare us to be righteous. He is the Judge of heaven and earth. His law determines the true state of any creature. His own righteousness demands that His friends must conform to His law for He is God.
In the second place, the righteous God also demands that His creatures must conform to His law spiritually. More is required than that the Judge declare them to be legally just; it is also necessary that they be freed from the dominion of sin and the devil and be conformed to His own image. Only then can the friendship of God once again be expressed in all its sublime beauty.
The reason for this is obvious. The righteous God demands that His friends forsake evil and walk in His truth. God would deny His own righteousness if He would enter into covenant communion with the wicked while they continue to live in their ungodly way. God has no covenant fellowship with the devil, he is His adversary; so it is with all those who are born of their father the devil and continue in his way.
Righteousness is the indispensable sphere for covenant life with God. Without it there can be no friendship, with it there is perfect communion.
Christ tells us, “Blessed are the ones who hunger and thirst after righteousness.” It is obvious that He draws an analogy between the physical body and the spiritual soul. Our bodies need food and drink. When this need is not supplied hunger and thirst results. Our physical bodies react to such a lack, a gnawing pain develops in the stomach and our throats become parched. If this becomes acute because of total lack, one experiences the most agonizing sufferings on this side of the grave. Such a one searches for food and drink and does not find rest until he has done all possible to obtain it.
Do you hunger and thirst after righteousness? Is your soul empty and parched, since you desire to be a friend of God but you recognize that you have nothing that can realize such a friendship? Do you long for the righteousness that you do not have in yourself?
Such a hungering and thirsting is not a natural process. True it is that all men hunger and thirst from their inner being. By virtue of creation, every man possesses a heart and soul which produces inner appetites which demand fulfillment. The spiritual quality of these however is sinful. The natural man is enmity against God and is not subject to the law of God neither indeed can be. There rises out of the heart of every man an inner desire to be great in the eyes of men. Natural man hungers and thirsts after sinful pleasures, his god is his belly and he glories in his shame. To satisfy these appetites he builds vast palaces of sinful pleasure and spends billions of dollars in drinking and merrymaking.
Since every man knows in his deepest heart that God exists, and that God demands obedience, man also fabricates a synthetic form of righteousness. He desires to wallow in his spiritual filth while at the same time soothe his guilty conscience that God approves of it all. Hence, the natural man devises a clever scheme, he glosses his immoral life with a veneer of self-righteousness. He shows concern for his poor neighbor by organizing and supporting philanthropic organizations that alleviate his suffering and supply his natural needs. He clothes himself in an aura of dignity by outwardly conforming to the human code of ethics determined by a “religious” society. He recognizes that the church serves a good purpose in society, so he piously dons his black suit or pert dress on Sunday and parades to a place of worship. He returns home smugly complacent that after all, he is a pretty good person, surely not any worse than many others and a great deal better than some.
Jesus spoke these words in the hearing of the Pharisees who were of this caliber. He denounced them by calling them children of their father the devil.
Let’s place these words in their proper context. Three beatitudes precede this one, the poor in spirit, mourners, and meek. The significance of this order is obvious. The poor in spirit are the citizens of the kingdom of heaven who recognize that spiritually they are poor. They see themselves as God sees them. They recognize that God as the righteous Judge is not satisfied with our “best,” or our good intentions, or our neighborly concern. God requires of every man that He loves Him with all his heart, soul, mind, and strength. God demands perfect obedience t His divine law. The poor in spirit have the grace of God to see themselves as wholly undone, as having violated that law on every point, as being worthy of God’s righteous judgment.
This brings us to the next step, mourners. The fact of our spiritual poverty stirs us and brings us to deepest grief; we long for God’s friendship because we have tasted already how sweet communion with God really is. The knowledge of sin presses sorely upon our consciences, it separates us from God. In sin we reveal ourselves as unfaithful children worthy to be disciplined.
This grief brings one to humility, or meekness. We have nothing wherein to boast, we have no claim to any of God’s mercies. We hunger and thirst for righteousness that we cannot produce, that we cannot claim, we seek it out of ourselves in Jesus Christ our Lord.
All righteousness is in Christ. His suffering and death on our behalf fulfilled all the divine requisites for our being the friends of God. He passively bore the punishment due to His own elect on account of their sins and thereby satisfied the just demands of the perfect Judge. By His active obedience He fulfilled all the divine law for us by loving the Father even unto death.
The proof of this is God’s act of raising Christ from the dead. The righteous God declared that all those for whom Christ died are surely righteous, since He imputed to their account the benefits of Christ’s death.
Through the living Christ we are now filled with His righteousness.
This is true in two ways. First, we learn of our justification by the preaching of the gospel. As poor in spirit who mourn in the depth of meekness, we need not wait until the judgment day to learn of our righteousness in Christ. Christ comes to us and tells us this now. We learn of this great joy from His Word, and therefore by faith are filled with the assurance that our sins are forgiven. Secondly, neither do we have to wait until we arrive at the perfect manifestation of God’s friendship in the kingdom of heaven before we can enjoy the righteousness of Christ as a way of life. Principally this is also ours now by the preaching of the gospel. The living Christ imparts His righteousness to us by delivering us from the bondage of sin and death and renewing in us the image of God. By this mighty work of salvation, we receive the grace of the Holy Spirit to live righteously already now. To be sure this is a small beginning, yet it is a principle beginning that is as sure as God is righteous.
Our text tells us that the hungering and thirsting ones are blessed because they shall be filled. To be filled with the righteousness of our Lord Jesus Christ is indeed a reason for joy. By it we have what is necessary to be a friend of God.
Blessed—joyful, are such hungering ones.
God is the object of that joy. He makes us truly hungry and thirsty. He provides the menu of the righteousness of Jesus Christ. He fills us with the assurance that the benefits of Christ’s work are really ours. He liberates us from the tyranny of sin and death and causes us to seek our life out of ourselves in Jesus Christ.
We shall soon be more filled. Now we must yet struggle against our own sin and self-righteousness. Soon we shall stand before the Judge and He will clothe us with the white robes of the righteousness of Jesus Christ our Lord.
Then we shall see more clearly the mercy and the love of our God.
Then our joy shall be complete.