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Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness

We come now to Matthew 5:6 of the Sermon on the Mount, in which our Lord is speaking about life in the kingdom of heaven. What does it look like to belong to this coming age? And what is the hope of the coming kingdom for those that belong to it? There is a great disparity between life in this present age and life in the coming kingdom. The qualitative difference between them is exacerbated by sin. For, life in this world is a struggle. Yet there is hope in Christ. Those who trust in him will be blessed: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied (v. 6).” By this, Jesus teaches us that he alone satisfies our fundamental need as humans created in the image of God.

Fundamental Desire

Jesus’s words are based on Psalm 107:5, 9: “5 hungry and thirsty, their soul fainted within them. . . . For he satisfies the longing soul, and the hungry soul he fills with good things.” Hunger and thirst are powerful, because they are the expression of a lack of a fundamental need. We need to eat and drink. There is variability but—generally speaking—we can last three weeks without food and only about three days without any water. But we have an even deeper need than that. Our most fundamental need is union and communion with God. We would not exist apart from his sustaining word of power.

Nevertheless, this world seeks to live apart from God. It’s the great irony of sin. We reject God all the while depending on him while we issue our rejection. Van Til was fond of the analogy of a little girl, who slaps her father while being held in his arms. The only reason she can strike out is because she is supported by the very one she slaps. This is unrighteousness. It is anti-God.

Righteousness is a recurring theme of the Sermon on the Mount. It is an attribute of God. Indeed, righteousness is identical with God. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we ultimately desire a right relationship with God. This involves becoming like him by being conformed to the image of Christ.

We can recognize that Jesus’s teaching in Matthew finds great similarity with the teaching of James in his epistle. This is a matter of emphasis, for all of Scripture is unified. The emphasis on righteousness here and in James is justice and the upholding of all that is right in creation. It’s different from Paul’s frequent use of the word righteousness, which is largely a legal term having to do with our standing before God. That is a main feature of Romans 5, for example: “so that, as sin reigned in death, grace also might reign through righteousness leading to eternal life through Jesus Christ our Lord (Rom. 5:21).”

These two conceptions of righteousness are not competitive; they sweetly comply. Nonetheless, we should acknowledge the proper contours of this statement. When our Lord says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,” I do not believe he is saying, for example, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for the imputed righteousness of Christ that they may be justified and pardoned of their sins.” Something larger is in view, which includes justification by grace through faith, but also the effects of Christ’s righteousness coming into the world in all spheres. All aspects of this age are affected by sin. We live under a curse. This is unsettling to the citizen of Christ’s kingdom. But he will respond and provide ultimate satisfaction.

Ultimate Satisfaction

The word, “satisfied” in verse six means “to eat one’s fill” or “to be content with.” It’s a future passive, which the English renders well. They will not satisfy themselves; they will be satisfied. What does it mean to be satisfied or satiated? I’m sure many of you have enjoyed a large Thanksgiving dinner. There are so many great things to eat: turkey, stuffing, potatoes and gravy, cranberry sauce, pumpkin and pecan pie—you name it. But after sampling hefty portions of each, you’re not left satisfied, you’re left stuffed and in pain. Jesus offers true satisfaction, not another problem.

The satisfaction we desire fulfills in all aspects. Citizens of the kingdom desire to see things made right. That will occur ultimately when Christ returns. The coming of Christ to consummate his kingdom will satisfy his people. We have a longing, a desire within us. It’s like a hole in your life that needs to be filled. People try to fill that hole with all sorts of things: money, sex, power, social status, and products. But these will never satisfy, because they cannot fill a God-shaped hole. Augustine understood this as he wrote in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[1]

Man’s chief end is to glorify God and to enjoy him forever. We were created in the image of God to worship. Unless we worship and serve our Creator and Lord, then by definition, we will not be fulfilled. There are many ways to consider lesser forms of fulfillment. One, for example, may be professional fulfillment. There’s an adage that if you find a job you love, you’ll never work another day in your life. There’s a joy and satisfaction in doing what you love. There’s a beautiful harmony when your abilities, desires, and purpose align with your actions. It’s even better when society supports this alignment. On a big scale, “society” here could be our national government or even the world economy. On a small scale, “society” could be our family or workplace. When we do what we’re made to do and love to do and a community supports us in this alignment, we are satisfied.

To be sure, this cannot be understood in terms of secular psychology. We know this through revelation. As we established, human beings are created in God’s image with the specific capacity and calling to worship him. To put it positively, we find the greatest joy by worshiping and serving the Lord. To put it negatively, we will never be satisfied truly apart from worshiping and serving the Lord. And as we live in a cursed world, in which there is a difference between people’s created purpose and their lives (an obedience/worship gap), we will experience a lack of righteousness in society.

But we have a great promise: blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. Christ will resolve all the injustice in the world. He will establish righteousness in all spheres of life. He will judge the world and sanctify his people. He will align our obedience with our renewed capacities according to his perfect will.

Isaiah 51:1, 4–5—1 “Listen to me, you who pursue righteousness, you who seek the Lord: look to the rock from which you were hewn, and to the quarry from which you were dug. . . . 4 “Give attention to me, my people, and give ear to me, my nation; for a law will go out from me, and I will set my justice for a light to the peoples. 5 My righteousness draws near, my salvation has gone out, and my arms will judge the peoples; the coastlands hope for me, and for my arm they wait.

[1] St. Augustine’s Confessions (Lib 1,1–2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1–5)


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