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Author:Rev. John van Popta
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Congregation:Fellowship Canadian Reformed Church
 Burlington, Ontario
Preached At:
Title:Hungering and Thirsting
Text:Matthew 5:6 (View)

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Matthew 19:16-22
Psalm 81:1,9,14
Psalm 42:1,2,7
Hymn 13:1,4,5,6
Psalm 107:3,4,13
Hymn 65
* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

Brothers and Sisters of the Lord Jesus Christ

In the Song of Mary, we can read,—we sang—that the Lord has supplied the hungry with good things. And that he did not deny them his blessings. In the song of Mary, we have that reversal— that paradox —that reappears also in the beatitudes of the Lord Jesus Christ. Jesus speaks in ways similar to his mother.

She sang of how the Lord humbled the mighty: brought down rulers. And how he picks up those bowed down. How he has sent the rich away empty. But how he has filled the hungry with good things. Even as Hannah sang as she brought her son Samuel to the tabernacle. “Those who were hungry, hunger no more.” And now the Lord Jesus makes this clearer. It is not just material blessing that comes to people.

And then we are thankful on this Sunday before Thanksgiving Day. We are thankful for material blessing. For the harvest. For freedom in this country. For the blessing he has granted on the labour of our hands. But more than that: on Thanksgiving day we thank the Lord God that he has blessed us with all spiritual blessings in the heavenly realms. That he blesses those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.

God satisfies those who hunger and thirst after spiritual things. Whose supreme ambition does not focus on material things, but on the matters concerning the kingdom of God.

As Christians, we must not be like the pagans around us. Tomorrow the world will commemorate Thanksgiving Day. It is a national holiday. But whom will they thank for the riches of the land? More and more citizens of this land claim to be religionless. Canada is becoming an increasingly secular country. A country where God is ignored. Where Christ Jesus is pushed to the background. Where the only credit being given on Thanksgiving Day is to oneself.

So in light of all that this morning I proclaim the word of God as it comes to us in the 4th beatitude of the Lord Jesus Christ under this theme and these points.

The Lord Jesus Christ pronounces blessing on the hungry and thirsty.

1. what kind of righteousness?

2. what kind of hunger?

3. what kind of filling?

1. What kind of righteousness?

Before we can get a handle on this beatitude, before clarity can come, we need to understand that word, righteousness. Righteousness is a word that has three aspects in the Bible, especially in the New Testament. There is a legal aspect. A moral aspect, or we might say, an ethical aspect. And a social aspect.

Legal righteousness is justification. When we use the word this way we speak of the courtroom. The catechism students will remember that we say that this is a forensic word. This has to do with the law. It means that we have a right relationship with God. This is the righteousness of Christ that we have by faith in him. It is the righteousness that is accounted to us by God in the halls of royal justice. But that is not what is in view here, first of all.

There is also that social righteousness. A righteous treatment of the poor, the downtrodden, the oppressed. And then this is part of what is in view here. But also not first of all. The Old Testament is full of the prophets’ cries against the injustice inflicted upon God’s people. Isaiah speaks of the social justice that will come with the Messiah. But this also does not cover what the Lord Jesus is speaking of here.

Seven times the word righteousness occurs in the Sermon on the Mount. And when we look at these seven times, we come to understand that it has to do with doing righteousness. Of acting in righteous ways. Jesus is speaking of righteous living. Of an inner righteousness that works itself out in God’s people when they live in conformity to his will. When they live holy lives. Righteous living.

This is moral righteousness. A righteousness of character. A righteousness of conduct. A righteousness of the heart and mind. Of purpose and meaning. Of motive. This is an ethical righteousness. Later, the Lord Jesus contrasts this kind of righteousness with the righteousness of many of the Pharisees (5:20). Theirs was an outer righteousness. One which they wanted seen. Also one of action and doing. But theirs was outer conformity to rules and regulations. But the Lord Jesus wants not an outward religious attitude. No, he wants your heart.

2. So what kind of hunger is the Lord speaking of here? What kind of thirsting? The Lord Jesus is speaking here of those who desire above all things to live according to the will of God. Who want to know God’s commands, his decrees, and then live according to them. The Lord Jesus is speaking of someone for whom Psalm 119 is the song of his soul. I love your law O God. I desire to do your will O Lord. I have not forsaken your precepts. I obey your word. I have not strayed from your precepts.

This righteousness, for which the Christian should long, is something that is outside of oneself. This is an important point. When we hunger and thirst physically, our bodies are demanding that we receive something from outside to fill us. To satisfy our hunger. To slake our thirst.

To help illustrate this let us turn to our reading in Matthew 19. The rich young ruler (he is called ruler in Luke 18:18) of Matthew 19 had everything he ever thought he needed. He was young, rich, and powerful. He had youth, money and authority. A rich young ruler.

He must have been the envy of those around him. People would have said that the wished that they could be like him. “He had everything a man could want power grace and style…” (Paul Simon: Richard Cory) They would have said, he has everything. He must be fulfilled.

Within each one of us is the desire to be filled. There is a hunger. But what do we hunger for? Is there a hunger for happiness? Is there a hunger for blessedness? There are all sorts of people who seem to spend their whole life seeking something that which they will never find. They want happiness. They want blessedness. They want contentment. They want power, grace, style.

Some work hard, hard, hard and have many material things in life. It is as if life is a game. He who has the most toys in the end, wins. Others realize that what they need is spiritual happiness. Spiritual blessedness. Spiritual contentment. And they go through life trying to find that religious experience. Pentecostal, revivalist movements are like this. The people desire a spiritual experience. A religious one. And so they go out to seek it. And then there are great excesses in that. The vineyard movement of the 90’s is a good example. All sorts of manifestations of the Holy Spirit. People in ecstasy, fainting, falling. Miracles happening. But never a satisfaction. Always a hunger for more. Always thirsty for a new experience. But the Lord says do not hunger and thirst after religious experience. No, hunger and thirst for righteousness.

That young rich ruler had it all but he still had a hunger. He had an emptiness that he could not fill. He was not fulfilled. He was not filled. There was something missing. He had power grace and style. But he did not have eternal life. What was he to do? He knew that that was missing.

And what did Jesus tell him to do? “Believe in me and be justified.”? “Put your faith in me and you will be righteous.”? No, the Lord told him to obey the commandments. Obey the commandments. Does that mean that the Lord is preaching a works salvation? No, not at all! For we know he teaches us that salvation comes, not by our works, but by his. Yet, the rich young man is told to obey the commandments. To pursue righteous living. To love his neighbour.

The story of the rich young ruler is repeated 3 times in the gospels. Matt 19, Luke 18, Mark 10. It should drill into us that obedience to the commands is the road of righteousness. So often the Christian church has become bored with keeping the commands. There arises a desire for more. For experience, for ecstasy. For a road to an inner life. The radical reformation, the Anabaptists. The holiness movement, dispensationalist (really a form of sensationalism), the charismatics.

To many the biblical New Testament injunction (Jesus words even) “keep the commandments,” seems to be a Pharisaic teaching. A Roman Catholic teaching. But Jesus in all seriousness teaches this. “Keep the commandments.”

When the man said that he had done all that, then Jesus said. “Well son, if you think that you’ve done enough, then give all your wealth away. Give your position away. Give your life, your youth away. And follow me. For with me alone is there eternal life.”

The young wealthy ruler did not thirst after righteousness. No, he hungered and thirsted after blessedness. And he thought that in all his wealth, his power, his youth, that that was where his blessedness was to be found. He kept the commandments. He no longer thirsted for better obedience. He thought he was able to keep the law perfectly. He cherished the law, and so was rewarded with power and wealth.

It is Thanksgiving Day tomorrow. And we may thank the Lord that he has blessed us. Some years the harvest has been better. Some years the economic environment has been better. If you own some stocks or mutual funds then the last two months have not been pretty. And then we might say that 2002 has been a sort of middle year. Not bad, not good. We still have freedom. We still have plenty. We are not at war. And then we will be thankful.

Yet, if we hunger and thirst after material things. If we compare this year with others then we might not be satisfied. Not feel blessed. Oh, we say we are, but in our hearts, we would still be a little disappointed. But the Lord Jesus says, “Blessedness is found only in keeping the commandments and in following me.” Not “Blessed are the rich, the young, the powerful.” Not “Blessed are those who work hard.”

And as we saw a few moments ago it is not “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after spiritual experiences.” And then, we must really feel the pinch of this saying of the Lord Jesus Christ. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.”

Do we see past our own false righteousness? Or are we like that rich young ruler? When we see past our own false righteousness then we begin to truly hunger and thirst. Do we see past our own desire for success, for wealth, for power, for perpetual youth? When we see past that desire, then that is the first indication that we are truly beginning to hunger and thirst after righteousness. A righteousness not our own.

For we must hunger and thirst after righteousness. When we do hunger and thirst, we acknowledge that we are empty and need filling. The desire for righteousness, hungering and thirsting for it, means that there is a desire to be free from sin and sinfulness. For sin separates us from God.

Righteousness we know first of all means to be in a right relationship with God. Mankind’s problem is that our relationship with God is fractured; we are alienated from him. We are in our unredeemed state, in sin and misery.

The man who longs for righteousness, longs to be in a right relationship with God. He wants to be done with sin. Because sin is what stands between him and God. And that means that he also longs to be free from the power of sin. He has realized with the first beatitude what it means to be poor in spirit. With the second, what it means to mourn because of sin. With the third what true meekness is. And now recognizing his poverty, and in grief because of sin, he in all humility seeks is life outside himself. There is no food and drink for him other than doing the will of God. Even as Jesus said: “My food and drink is to do the will of my heavenly father. That is my food and drink. That is what I hunger for. That is what I thirst for. That is what I long for. For that is what will fill me.”

Doing the will of God. Simple things. All the great things are simple, and many can be expressed in a single word: freedom; justice; honour; duty; mercy; hope (Winston Churchill). To do the will of my heavenly father. We know that it is impossible for deeds and obedience to make men righteous; but we also here learn that it is impossible for justified sinners not to long for doing deeds of righteousness. Later, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Sermon on the Mount will say, seek first the kingdom and its righteousness and all these other things (food, clothing, life) will be added to you. Seek first righteousness.

Now, as we said some weeks ago, the beatitudes are not commands. The Sermon on the Mount is not a new set of rules. No it describes the Christian man, the Christian woman, the Christian young person. This is what a follower of Jesus looks like. This man, this woman sees that the world in which we live is under the power of sin and ruled by the prince of the power of the air, by Satan. He sees that the ‘god of this world’ is blinding him. He wants to be done with that.

And when we are truly honest with ourselves then we see that we are still by nature inclined to hate God and neighbour. The man who hungers and thirsts after righteousness desires to be free from the desire to sin. He longs for deliverance. He longs for cleansing from the pollution of sin. He longs for the removal of the burden of sin. He yearns for the lifting of the judgment on sin. Sin is a pollution of the soul and a burden of guilt. He who longs to be free from that, who longs for righteousness, who hungers and thirsts for it, will be blessed.

To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to be free from that. From the pollution and the guilt of sin. The meek person, we saw last time is a man who wants to be free from self-concern, from pride and boasting. From self-protection and self-glorification. From wanting ones own way. That is meekness. Lack of meekness among brothers causes quarrelling. The man, the woman who seeks righteousness is the one who is freed completely from self-concern.

To hunger and thirst after righteousness is to hunger and thirst after holiness. This is the character of a person who is poor in spirit, who mourns for sin, who is truly meek. He wants to, he desires more than anything else in his life, to bring forth the fruit of the Holy Spirit. In every action, every word, every thought, every deed. In all of life, every activity.

To hunger and thirst after righteousness, is to long to be the New Testament man. That new man in Jesus Christ. It is that desire to know God and have fellowship with him. To walk in the light of life. To walk with Jesus Christ.

It is to say with John, “Our fellowship is with God and with his son Jesus Christ.” To be in fellowship with God is that desire to be like Jesus. It is that desire to be perfect like his heavenly Father is perfect. And to hunger and to thirst, means that we acknowledge that we cannot do this on our own. Our own efforts are feeble. We cannot strengthen our selves. We are like Israel in the desert.

We need manna each morning. Water from the rock. We need to be fed. We need our thirst to be satisfied. But we cannot do that ourselves. Nor can we satisfy hunger and thirst by eating or drinking only once. No, hunger and thirst return. Day by day. Hour by hour. Always we need an outside source of food and drink. We cannot do this on our own. Nor can we satisfy by going back to Egypt. To the stew pots and vegetables of Egypt. No, we need the manna from heaven, the bread from heaven, and the living waters that Jesus Christ provides.

We must be like that deer in Psalm 42. As the deer pants for water, so my soul pants for God. My soul thirsts for God, the living God. In Israel, there were deer and gazelles. Gazelles are able to live in arid wastelands. But the deer, the hart of Psalm 42, needs water. If it is far from water, it begins to pant from the heat. It needs water several times per day or it will die. So it is with us. A thirsting for God, which cannot be satisfied.

This is not just having an appetite; but starving for God. It not just having a drink; but being parched and dry for God. The prodigal son, when he was hungry, desired the husks the pigs were eating: when he was starving, he went to his father. Blessed are they who hunger and thirst after righteousness even as the deer pants for streams of flowing water.

3. But what is that? What kind of filling? The prophet Isaiah in 55:1 brings the word of God, Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; And you who have no money, come buy and eat. Come to me, hear me, that your soul may live. Jesus himself says that he is the living water. Whoever drinks the water I will give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water, welling up to eternal life. (John 4:14) He is the bread from heaven. I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty (John 6:35)

Hunger and thirst for him and his righteousness and you will be filled. The Lord says in Psalm 81: Open your mouth and I will fill it. You will be fed with finest wheat, with honey from the rock. He satisfies the thirsty and fills the hungry with good things (Psalm 107:9). The world offers empty cups. Empty plates. Or cups with bitter stagnant stinking water; plates loaded with refuse. It is those who hunger, not after the things of this world, but those and only those who hunger and thirst after righteousness that will be filled.

This is the paradox. Who ever heard of this? It is only those who are always hungry, always thirsty, that will be filled. But how can this be? How can we be hungry and full at the same time? How can we be thirsty and satisfied at the same time? Who ever heard of that? How can someone be contented and experience hunger and thirst simultaneously? Full yet empty.

Well, we can use real human examples to illustrate this. It kind of like a box of chocolates. Not that you don’t know what you’ll get, but when you eat one, it sets you up to have another. It is almost impossible to have only one. Like a potato chip in the commercial. You cannot have only one. The experience of one, demands another. So it is with knowing Christ Jesus. So it is with righteous living. There is a desire for more. This is a spiritual cycle. The more we conform to God’s will, the more fulfilled and content life is. But that only spurs us on to want more. Our hunger increases. Eating hones the appetite.

The word anorexia comes from the Greek. Literally, it just means, no appetite. No desire to eat. No brain or body signals that say, “Your body needs food, or it will die.” Well, many Christians today suffer from spiritual anorexia. From righteousness anorexia. There is no hunger or thirst for this. No desire, no spiritual drive, for righteous living. And even as an anorexic cannot be filled, so the spiritual anorexic also will not be filled. There will be no nourishment. There will be no fine wheat, no honey from the rock.

So what then is this being filled? Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness shall be given what they desire. This is grace: mere grace, pure unadulterated grace. Open your mouth and God will fill it. Those who hunger, hunger no more. My soul longs, pants for living water.

We cannot fill ourselves with righteousness. We cannot bless ourselves. We cannot find blessedness apart from God in Christ. To obtain all this there is only one way. To find all that he demands of us, in Christ. We need to see our need of him. When we know our need, our sin and misery, that death itself is in us. When we have that hunger for him and his righteousness, then he will fill us.

Don’t seek blessedness. Seek righteousness. Don’t seek happiness. Seek righteousness. Don’t seek contentment or fulfillment. Seek righteousness! And you shall be filled! A promise guaranteed by the Lord Jesus Christ. And when will this happen? Tomorrow? Next week? Next year? When we die? On judgment day? Oh no! Immediately! Immediately! They shall be filled. At once. Now. And yet it is a continuing process. It goes on. For acts of righteousness are things we do, we learn, we love. We will learn righteousness. We will love righteousness. And then we will live righteousness. Not because we are so good but because we long for it in Christ. And he then by his Holy Spirit will dwell in you. Sanctifying you. Moving you from glory to glory. From one glory to another.

We will resist the evil one. He will flee from us. He will leave us alone. He and his cohorts have no power over church, a congregation, a family, a person who seeks righteousness. There is a day coming when all who are in Christ will be presented before him in the assembly of God’s elect in life eternal. And you can say, “I will be there. It has been promised to me!”

Looking back the first four beatitudes give us a stairway so to say. A spiritual ladder. Each rung leads us to the next. Each needs the one before. We are spiritually bankrupt. Destitute beggars. And so we mourn, grieve, over sin. These two describe us. Poverty is not something that we wilfully create. No, it is our natural sinful condition. Mourning is not something we practice. It is a spiritual condition that overwhelms us when we acknowledge our spiritual poverty. Even as we do not need to try to mourn when someone dies.

And so recognizing our poverty, grieving for sin, we are meek, humble and gentle towards others. Meekness is our attitude towards others. And this fourth beatitude concerns our attitude to God. One of emptiness that needs filling. One of hunger that needs satisfying. One of thirst that needs quenching. Confession of sin and sinfulness, must needs lead to spiritual hunger.

“Lord,” we say, “Lord, we know our bankruptcy. You know our sorrow. Grant us your spirit that we might be meek and gentle. Grant us your Holy Spirit that we might have an appetite for righteousness. For good works. For social justice. Grant us your grace that we might have that true righteousness that comes only when we know Christ and his resurrection. Grant us to know the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self-control: all righteous deeds. Grant us to hunger and thirst for these. Help us to seek first your kingdom and your righteousness. Help us to trust that all the other things will be added.”

And then we reflect on this Thanksgiving Eve, let’s call it. On this Thanksgiving Eve. We thank the Lord for his blessings on the harvest of the land. We thank the Lord for blessings on our labour of our hand. We thank the Lord for blessings on our home and hearth and family. But mostly and firstly, we thank the Lord for blessing us with acknowledgement of spiritual poverty. For the blessing of grace to mourn for sin. For the gift of meekness and gentleness toward others. We thank the Lord for the blessing that comes when we as his people hunger and thirst after righteousness. After the grace of his Holy Spirit. After the power of the blood of Christ. We thank the Lord that he has promised that he will fill us. Thank you Lord, you are so good to us. Yes, let us raise a song of thanksgiving for he has filled us with his blessing.


* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rev. John van Popta, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
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(c) Copyright 2002, Rev. John van Popta

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