Stewarding the Beatitudes – #3 Blessed Are Those Who Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
January 26, 2024
We are in a six-part series looking at the Beatitudes through the lens of our steward theology. Our premise is that the blessed or happy life Jesus is announcing comes through the fully surrendered life of the steward. Each Beatitude depicts an aspect of this stewarded life. To help us, we are considering the correlates to the Beatitudes – what we might call the Bad-Attitudes. This week we will look at verses 6 and 7.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Miserable are those who hunger and thirst for self-advancement, for they will be left empty.
Miserable are those who judge and condemn, for they will be shown no mercy.
Verse six confronts us with a paradox that must be unraveled for this teaching to make sense. Jesus uses the metaphors of hunger and being filled. If ‘happy are those who are hungry’ for righteousness, then to remain happy one needs to remain hungry. He does not say ‘happy are those who are filled’ but he directly ties blessedness to hunger. Here’s the paradox. If the hungry are blessed, then when they are filled – as promised in the second half of verse six – they will cease to be happy. The fulfillment of their need disqualifies them from the blessing.
Somehow Jesus wants his followers to remain hungry and thirsty for righteousness. He also promises to fill them which, by its very definition, satisfies hungering and thirsting.
Jesus told the woman at the well, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, but whoever drinks the water I give them will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give them will become in them a spring of water welling up to eternal life” (John 4:13-14).
A person who is filled is no longer hungry. A person whose thirst is slaked is no longer thirsty. So, is our ‘filling’ the end of our happiness as it is the end of our hunger and thirst? Hmmm.
We must consider that the discipleship journey with Jesus engenders a continual longing for righteousness on two levels. First, Jesus is our righteousness. We hunger and thirst to be made right in Him.
Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, the new creation has come: The old has gone, the new is here! All this is from God, who reconciled us to himself through Christ and gave us the ministry of reconciliation: that God was reconciling the world to himself in Christ, not counting people’s sins against them. And he has committed to us the message of reconciliation. We are therefore Christ’s ambassadors, as though God were making his appeal through us. We implore you on Christ’s behalf: Be reconciled to God. God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Corinthians 5:17-21).
We long for, thirst for, hunger for the daily reminder of our reconciliation with God in Jesus Christ. We live to be assured that in Him we have ‘become the righteousness of God’. He can both fulfill this hunger and call us to passionately desire it each new day.
The second is a hunger for the coming of the kingdom of God in which all things will be made right. We thirst for God’s justice in the world. We hunger for the fulfillment of the promise Amos proclaimed,
But let justice roll on like a river, righteousness like a never-failing stream! (Amos 5:24).
We hunger and thirst for the day when everything will be made right.
Then I saw “a new heaven and a new earth, ”for the first heaven and the first earth had passed away, and there was no longer any sea. I saw the Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride beautifully dressed for her husband. And I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Look! God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God. ‘He will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” He who was seated on the throne said, “I am making everything new!” (Revelation 21:1-5).
As stewards we are called to hunger for righteousness in both senses. The daily regeneration work of the Spirit within us, and our stewardship of the responsibility to the One who committed to us the message of reconciliation. Righteousness both changes us and charges us, and for that we hunger and thirst.
Our Bad-Attitude reminds us that the enemy works in us the very opposite of this longing. Our sinful nature will attempt a ‘work-around’ where we can appreciate what Jesus has done for us ‘back then’ while happily pursuing life on our terms. We can seek to advance our station in life based on our skills and intelligence, and quite apart from the life-giving encounter of the righteousness of God poured out for us. In our culture of expressive individualism, this lie has won the day. When we believe we own our life, we will cease to be hungry for a righteousness that comes from outside us. The cross and resurrection become guarantors of a better future but today is up to us. And we are entitled to live however we want without judgement or consequences. We define our gender, our values, our interpretation of history, our rights, and our means of expressing them. Read through our current cultural lens, this righteousness can only be external. We hunger that the word will be made right, not by an outpouring of the Holy Spirit, but by the right politics, right social engineering, right ideology and so forth. When we live as owners of our lives, we will be constantly hungry in our search for meaning and never satisfied. It is not righteousness we are seeking, but self-advancement. And we will forever be empty.
Verse seven seems much more straightforward. Like verse four, where those who mourn will be comforted, so here those who are merciful will be shown mercy. Makes sense, so what’s the big deal?
Let’s start with a simple definition. To be merciful is to show forgiveness and compassion to those in need. And herein lies the key. Mercy is an act of selflessness. Mercy is other-focused. It is a consideration of the needs of another and acting on them. It almost always requires some form of self-sacrifice. To be merciful requires us to give time and money, relinquish a need for retribution, release a grudge, or deny our penchant for self-justification. We truly love our neighbor when we are moved to acts of mercy on their behalf. We can only do this if we hold our lives loosely as stewards of the grace of God. (1 Peter 4:10)
John Piper said, “mercy comes from a heart that has first felt its spiritual bankruptcy.”
Full surrender is the first step to a merciful spirit.
Miserable are those who judge and condemn. Owners need to be right and protect their rightness. They justify their bigotry and defend their right to retribution. And owners hate the idea of being shown mercy. In the demonic desire to defend our right to ourselves, we abhor the extension of mercy because it indicates that we actually need mercy. That means vulnerability, the recognition that we have been wrong or that perhaps our utopian vision of our self-absorbed world is really a façade. The person who is convinced of their rightness and their entitlement does not need, nor want mercy, let alone grace. Owners cannot show mercy, and they reject the notion that they may ever need for it to be show to them. Such is the collateral damage of the expressive individualism of our day.
Jesus was calling his followers to live a fully surrendered life. That is the theme of the entire Sermon on the Mount. When we are spiritually bankrupt, to use Piper’s words, we can receive the kingdom of God, be comforted, trust God for all things, be filled up with the Holy Spirit and give and receive mercy.
Are you an empty vessel, hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness and ready for him to pour you out in acts of mercy? May we be so blessed.