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Author:Dr. Reuben Bredenhof
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Congregation:Canadian Reformed Theological Seminary (CRTS)
 Hamilton, Ontario
Preached At:Free Reformed Church of Mt. Nasura
 Mt. Nasura, Western Australia
Title:Blessed are those who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
Text:Matthew 5:6 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Ps 63:1,3                                                                                      

Ps 143:4,5,6                                                                                                   

Reading – Isaiah 55:1-7; Matthew 6:25-34

Ps 34:1,3,4

Sermon – Matthew 5:6

Ps 107:1,3,4

Hy 61:1,2

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Beloved in Christ, are you hungry? Is your tummy rumbling? Probably not. Breakfast probably wasn’t that long ago. So you’re not hungry, and probably not thirsty either. But how about hungry in a different sense, or a thirst that has nothing to do with drink? Even if your stomach is full, is there some craving at work within you? What do you really want?

We long for many things. You’re hungry for love, and you just want someone to show you a little affection. You want recognition, people to respect and acknowledge you. Or you just wish to be happy, with good vibes and fun times. These can be deep longings within us.

The desires of our heart can be so strong. And because we’re sinful, our desires can be so wrong. Sometimes we can’t even say why we want something—we just do. And it can be endless pursuit, like there’s a hole inside us that can never be filled.   

To a people who are hungry and thirsty, Christ gives hope. He says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled” (Matt 5:6). He says that those who seek to know the Lord will enjoy perfect fullness—in him we will be satisfied completely. I preach God’s Word to you on this theme,

            Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness:

                        1) the meaning of righteousness

                        2) the longing of the hungry and thirsty

                        3) the filling that is promised


1) the meaning of righteousness: When you look at each of the beatitudes, you see that from a human point of view, these pronouncements of blessing make no sense! In this world, “the poor in spirit” only get charity. “Those who mourn” better stop crying or they’ll miss out on all the fun. Today, it’s not the meek who inherit the earth, but those who push themselves forward.

God’s “Kingdom Constitution” sounds naïve and foolish. That goes for verse 6 as well, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” If you told someone that a child of God leads a fulfilling or happy life, they probably wouldn’t believe you. Where’s the satisfaction in being self-disciplined and keeping a whole lot of rules? How can putting other people first and worshiping an unseen God bring any joy?

God says that to those who don’t have the Holy Spirit, gospel texts like Matthew 5 will always be foolish. We shouldn’t expect them to understand. Yet we have to make sure that we understand it ourselves. What does Jesus mean when He speaks of being filled through hunger and thirst?

Certainly the key to our verse this morning is that one word: righteousness. Those who hunger and thirst for it, who long for it, who desire and crave it—these are the blessed people who will be filled! So what is righteousness?

Like most big words in the Bible, “righteousness” gives us a helpful clue to its meaning. Notice the word “right” in righteousness—that’s not “right” simply in the sense of being correct, but that’s being properly ordered before the LORD, measuring up to his standard. To be righteous is to be in full and complete harmony with the revealed will of God.

God himself is righteous, of course—He always does the things that He said He would, He always acts in a way that’s consistent with his perfect wisdom. No bad days, no false steps. This is basic to God’s character and being, as Psalm 89:14 says, “Righteousness and justice are the foundation of your throne.”

And so this is also what God expects of all people. He expects that we conform to his way. Listen to what Psalm 9:8 declares of God, “He shall judge the world in righteousness, and He shall administer judgment for the peoples in uprightness.” Because God is the Creator and Lord and Judge of all, He requires of everyone that we live in his manner, according to his rule in all things.

Words of Jesus from the next chapter of the Sermon on the Mount shed light on this. Look at Matthew 6:33, “See first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.” Notice how those two ideas are placed in parallel to each other—God’s kingdom and God’s righteousness—for they are describing two things that are very closely related.

We can say that the kingdom of God is his dominion over all those who belong to him and do his will. God’s kingdom is the place where God has “the upper hand” as it were; it’s the realm where his authority is fully acknowledged and his commands are joyfully obeyed.

Doesn’t that sound a lot like righteousness? It is when a person—and when God’s people altogether—live in harmony with the will of God as He has taught it to us. When they are devoted to doing his Word, even when that is costly and difficult and requires great effort. “Seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness.”

In fact, our key word “righteousness” occurs again in the Beatitudes, just a few verses later, “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake…” (5:10). Because maintaining God’s way and doing God’s will goes against the grain of the human heart, there will always be people who persecute God’s children. Believers will often be oppressed for the sake of upholding God’s way.

This resistance to God’s way is something that’s always happening in the world. God has set a good pattern for all people to live by, and this pattern relates to every aspect of human life. There is a right way for governments to govern. There is a right way for marriage to function, and for home life to be ruled. There is a right way for people to behave in the public square and in their private places. It is God’s way—the way of righteousness—yet so many people choose their own path. Romans says that all people “suppress the truth in unrighteousness” (1:18).

And let’s make this more personal. We too, all know God’s good way, but we refuse it. That’s our default mode: unrighteousness. For example, we’d rather dig into our position in a conflict than graciously forgive someone. We’d rather waste time on our digital device than do meaningful devotions. We’d rather take the easy way than the obedient way. If righteousness is about following the LORD’s good pattern, then we so often find ourselves wandering outside the lines.

So the truth is, we are perishing for lack of righteousness—we’re sinners who have snubbed God, and who are line for his holy wrath. As Paul would say, ‘We do not have a righteousness of our own.’ For the LORD God will judge us in uprightness, and on that day He’ll see how each of us have strayed from his good way. So our relationship with God needs to be put right. We need to find peace with God, somehow, anyhow!

Christ says that this is what we must desire, more than anything else: that we have a proper standing and healthy position before God our Creator. We must be completely sure that He loves us, and completely sure that we love and obey him! This is what has to drive a citizen of God’s Kingdom, every day. We long to be right with him!


2) the longing of the hungry and thirsty: Few of us know the meaning of hunger and thirst. We’re rarely more than a few hours from our next good meal, and we’re often just steps away from the tap or the fridge or pantry.

But in the time of Jesus, hunger and thirst were relentless companions. Most people lived far closer to starvation than we ever have. If your crops failed, or the winter rains didn’t come, your life and your family’s life was suddenly on the line and you had to do everything possible to find a new source of food and water.

Sometimes we get a glimpse of hunger and thirst when we read about what life is like in the wartime, or about how people try to survive during a time of famine. Hunger can be so severe that people resort to eating unthinkable things—sometimes even each other.

So when Jesus speaks of the longing of the hungry and thirsty, his audience knows that He is describing an immensely strong desire, even a desperate longing. This is not a craving that you can ignore. If you know that God is God, and you know that His will is good, and that there is only life through right fellowship with him, then this will be your one desire.

You will look for God, for his grace and power, and look with a real urgency. You will hunger and thirst for his righteousness, wanting to be close to the LORD, even as much as a starving man wants a morsel of food, as much as a person who’s dying of thirst craves a mouthful of water.

As He does with the other beatitudes, Christ builds this one on the Old Testament Scriptures. Think of Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; early will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” In the desert, David is not hoping for a renewed supply of food and water, but he’s simply longing for God, his God. This is whom he wants, because if he has the LORD, he has all.

This longing isn’t just in the Psalms, but it’s throughout Scripture. We read from Isaiah 55. It’s God’s beautiful invitation to his desperate nation, his covenant people who have been so lost. Indeed, it’s an invitation to all people and all sinners, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (v 1).

You can hear that God is promising the deepest satisfaction to those who believe in him. You don’t have to die in your sin. You don’t have to be empty. God is promising to give the one thing that you truly need. If you thirst, you can come to the waters. If you hunger, you can get this bread without cost.

In the next point we’ll get to the promise of filling, but for now let’s notice that God’s blessing is already on those who hunger and thirst for him. God’s blessing is not merely on those who have somehow attained it, but his blessing is even on those who desire it, who know they need it.

Remember, the Beatitudes describe a present reality. Christ says you are blessed when you’ve admitted your deep unrighteousness, and when you long for cleansing. You are blessed when you know yourself to be empty and you want to be filled. You don’t have to be approaching perfect and have it all figured out. If the Holy Spirit has worked in you a hunger for God, then you’re already standing on the road to happiness!

So that is the critical question: Do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Put another way, do we desire intensely to have a good and healthy and living relationship with God? Even in saying this, we acknowledge that the ability isn’t within ourselves to build a proper bond with the LORD. In Isaiah 55, God knows that those who thirst “have no money.” They come to the well empty-handed and broke. We too, can’t do a single thing to solve our problem. We’ve abandoned God’s pattern, suppressed the truth, and stand as guilty in his righteous judgment.

We could desire “the right life,” search for “our happy place,” chase after peace until the day we died—but we’d never attain it. Yet by his grace, God grants us the one thing that we so desperately need!

God, who is rich in mercy, makes it possible for sinners to draw near. Through Christ Jesus, our relationship with God can be put right. Righteousness will only be received from God through faith in Christ. For Christ conformed flawlessly to the will of God, and then He took the punishment of all those who rebelled against God.

Jesus Christ is why God can say to the hungry and thirsty, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat.” Through Christ, help is available: “wine and milk without price.” No, just because it’s free doesn’t mean it’s cheap. Jesus had to buy it, Jesus had to pay his precious blood, so that we could gain free access.

Beloved, this is what’s available to us. For this gift we must hunger and thirst! And let’s be clear that this is an ongoing activity. We have to keep going back to God. Just think about how hunger and thirst are appetites that return to us frequently. Just because you ate a good breakfast this morning doesn’t mean that you want to skip lunch. Hunger and thirst always call for our attention. They always need to be satisfied afresh.

In the same way, the person in whom God’s Spirit is working will seek a constant conformity to God and a living connection with him. Just because we prayed last night doesn’t mean we want to skip prayer this morning. For we’re still hungry for him! Just because we went to church on Sunday doesn’t mean we keep our Bible closed all week. For we’re still thirsty for him! We want to keep doing these things because we seek to live near the God who has saved us.

Part of this longing means rejecting the things that will not satisfy. Earlier we spoke about the desires of our heart: more friends, more money, less trouble, a better job, a nicer face, a happier family. Each of us has a struggle not to cling to things that we think are the key to happiness. We’re spiritually hungry, and sometimes we rush to satisfy our hunger with the nearest or easiest nutrition. But it won’t last.

This is why God asks in Isaiah 55, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?” (v 2). The Israelites devoted themselves to their idols, and they found temporary refuge in alliances with other nations. They chased after security, like we all do, but they ended up spending money on what is not bread. Like eating McDonald’s, this was food that just did not satisfy.

The danger remains for all of us. In Luke’s Gospel, we find a slightly different version of the Beatitudes, and there Jesus also gives a warning against false comfort. After announcing, “Blessed are you who hunger now” (6:21), He declares, “Woe to you that are full, for you shall hunger” (6:25).

He warns those who are satisfied today, warns those who are content with things just as they are. If you are “full” now, if you feel like you already have almost everything that you want—and God isn’t really a big part of that—then you might be missing out on the greatest thing of all. “Woe to you that are full…”

When things are good for us, it’s so easy to lose our longing for the LORD. For we’ve spent our money on what is not bread. But Christ points out the better way: hungering and thirsting for him, craving and yearning.

The life of faith is not for someone who is mildly intrigued or occasionally attracted. Serving God is not a Sunday hobby, a religious diversion from our regular life of making plans and fulfilling them. God is worthy of an earnest desire, a constant hunger! As one commentator puts it, “The Christian does not say, ‘I am interested in Christ.’ He says, ‘For me, to live is Christ.’”

What about you, beloved? Are you “interested” in Christ? Do you make some time for him now and again? Or is life all about Christ? Are you driven by him, drawn to him, motivated by him in all you do? Do you hunger and thirst for his righteousness?

Even though God promises that we’ll be satisfied in him, we have to stay hungry. Pursuing a right and healthy relationship with God takes energy, and sacrifice, and toil, and patience—and not just yesterday, but today, and tomorrow too. Through Christ, we are righteous, for we have his righteousness as a free gift. But then we’ll also press on with a longing to know God more, and to love God more.

As Paul said in Philippians, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (3:12). That’s the longing within us that will be blessed, the desire that will be satisfied.


3) the filling that is promised: If you hunger and thirst for righteousness, if the Holy Spirit has given you the desire to be right with God, then you will be filled.

Once more, Jesus loves to use vivid language. The word for “filled” is the same word as describes a hungry man who has been richly supplied with food, or a thirsty man with drink. Picture a person leaning back from the dinner table, patting his belly, maybe adjusting his belt. He has been filled to completion.

This is God’s promise: He will fill us. In the truest sense of the word, Jesus Christ brings us “fulfillment.” Christ gives the one thing we could never find on our own. He sets before us the one life that’s worth living, the one life that doesn’t end in death. He tells us that his grace is sufficient!

Scripture often speaks about this grace of God as a lavish feast, an amazing meal. There is Psalm 63, “My soul shall be satisfied as with the richest of foods” (v 5). Or in Isaiah 55, after God’s invitation for us to eat and drink freely, He says, “Listen carefully to me, and eat what is good, and let your soul delight itself in abundance” (v 2).

Unlike anything else here on earth, knowing God and loving God brings satisfaction. We are filled with his greatness. We are impressed by his glory. We are enriched by his favour and wisdom. We are strengthened with his power and encouraged by his love, as with the best of meals and the finest of foods.

So it is fitting that we get to celebrate God’s free gift with a holy meal. From time to time, we get to celebrate Holy Supper, and with bread and wine we celebrate how Jesus Christ has taken away all our hopeless longing and our empty desire. Jesus promises that if we go to him in faith, He will fill us forever with heavenly food and drink.

Earlier we referred to Jesus’ words, “Seek first God’s kingdom and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you as well” (6:33). When we seek righteousness, when our life is truly God-centered, Jesus promises that we’ll have all that we need.

Yes, if we seek God, He’ll take care of whatever it is that we’re worried about. He promises that those who go to God through him will never return empty-handed. Those who truly seek his face won’t be disappointed. God will fill. God will bless.

And so to a hungry people without money, to a people without a righteousness of their own, Isaiah declares in chapter 55, “Seek the Lord while He may be found, call upon Him while He is near” (v 6). Seek him, and “eat what is good” (v 2). Let your soul delight itself in the abundance of the LORD!

Brothers and sisters, is this what you hunger for? Is this what you thirst for? Do you crave the love of God, the truth of God, the power of God? Do you long to be right with God through Christ Jesus? In him, God will fill us forever!  Amen.

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Reuben Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2020, Dr. Reuben Bredenhof

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