Monday, March 18, 2013

The Longing for Righteousness

Matthew 5:6

10 March 2013

"Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied. (Matthew 5:6 ESV)


We pick back up this week with the Beatitudes. We have discussed humility, mourning for sin, and meekness.


Last year 70 atheists engaged in a prayer experiment where they pledged to pray for several minutes each day for 40 days that any god who might be listening would reveal his existence to them individually. One of them blogged that it was a "hello, is anybody out there" test. And while many of them reported strange coincidences of natural phenomena like rainbows and floating leaves, right after prayer; in the end only one of the 70 began to believe in god during the test.


Now most atheists claim to be intellectual, so an experiment of this nature is not surprising. In reality most of them had no desire for a god in their lives, but rather a curiosity, that if something was "out there" they would like to know about it. And of course some of them just wanted to do it for the sake of argument, perhaps to silence some well-intentioned believer in their lives.


What does it Mean to Hunger and Thirst?


When is the last time you were truly famished, or so water deprived that you thought you would die? When my eldest son, Austin, was about 16 we took a backpacking trip with the Boy Scouts to the Double H high adventure base near Datil, New Mexico. This wilderness area had no permanent facilities, and each camping area was only called such because there was a source of water nearby. So each day we filled our water bottles and hiked to the next camp area, usually with our water supply exhausted when we got there. After 7 days on the trail, we reached our final camp-site marked by a windmill pump fed stock tank. Only the pump had stopped working sometime in the past, and the stock tank was stagnant and green. First we tried to repair the pump, then we tried to use all of our gear to purify the green slime to the point where it would be safe to drink. When all that failed we decided to use our last bit of clean water to make dinner, then use our cook stoves to hard boil the bad water until it was potable. After the boiled water cooled a bit, it was a somewhat clear broth that tasted like the water in a bowl of cooked Ramen noodles, before you add the flavor packet. We gave each person one quart of the boiled water, and the next day we made a short hike to the pickup spot, and were transported back to base camp and I arrived with my water bottle still full, and went straight for the water tap, and that is probably as thirsty as I have ever been going about 16 hours with no desirable water.


The words for hunger and thirst here refers to those who have gone weeks without food and days without drink. In Richard Foster's Celebration of Discipline he discusses 40 days of fasting and points out, "Anywhere between twenty-one and forty days or longer, depending on the individual, hunger pains will return. This is the first stage of starvation and the pains signal that the body has used up its reserves and is beginning to draw on the living tissue. The fast should be broken at this time." (Foster, 59) Few of us have been here where our body is turning on itself. This is deep hunger. Genuine thirst is similar to it. In an account of true thirst from the crusades it was stated, "our tongues began to swell…our lips turned to purplish black and burst." Though many of us have not been here, we can imagine and we must for this is the way we are to hunger and thirst.


The word for "filled" or satisfied refers to animals fed with grass. The 23rd Psalm paints this word picture perfectly.


    The LORD is my shepherd; I shall not want.

        He makes me lie down in green pastures.

    He leads me beside still waters.

        He restores my soul. (Psalm 23:1-2)


    As a deer pants for flowing streams,

        so pants my soul for you, O God.

    My soul thirsts for God,

        for the living God.

    When shall I come and appear before God?

    My tears have been my food

        day and night,

    while they say to me all the day long,

        "Where is your God?" (Psalm 42:1-3)


It is the words of Paul who also had seen Jesus, done marvelous works for Him, planted many churches and said, "For this reason I also suffer these things; nevertheless I am not ashamed, for I know whom I have believed and am persuaded that He is able to keep what I have committed to Him until that Day." (2 Tim 1:12) and then still could say, "that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection, and the fellowship of His sufferings, being conformed to His death,"
(Philippians 3:10). This longing must be deep and wide. It must be a longing that is greater than any other desire in our lives. But it must be a longing for a specific thing.


What is Righteousness?


The object of this hungering and thirsting is the word Righteousness.


It should be obvious that we are here commanded to hunger after something greater than this world. It is apparent that this world is striving for something; it is longing for a need that it has not found. We know that ultimately this longing is found in Jesus, but there are still dangers in the way that Christians approach this longing. We must see that this longing for righteousness is not a longing for an experience. Some are seeking lesser, though good, things. These people run from church to church wanting to hear a certain teaching. They take seminars and conference in hopes of finding a deeper meaning in their Christianity. They go from worship service to worship service looking for a greater "feeling" of the Spirit. This is not what it means to long for righteousness. Though seeking more from God in these ways is not bad, they should not replace the deepest meaning of this longing. So what it is?


The word for righteousness here is basic to all Christianity. Though scholars deeply define it, it is understood by the simplest of children. The word in Greek is dikaiosune. This means: righteousness or justification, but a literal translation means "as it should be". We long to be as we should be, for the purpose we were made but Romans 3:10 reminds us "None is righteous, no, not one." We are not as we should be, but we desire it still.


We can understand this Righteousness through Jesus Christ in two ways: salvation and sanctification. Justification is intimately tied to our salvation. Simply stated it means, just as if I have never sinned. When we are saved this is how God looks at us in Jesus: sinless. John MacArthur says this well,


In fact, we can insert salvation as a substitute word in the Beatitude: "Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for salvation." Do you want to be happy? Hunger for salvation. Hunger to be saved. Hunger to have the blood of Christ cleanse your sin. Hunger to have the righteousness of Christ applied to you. When a man abandons all hope of saving himself and beings to hunger for a salvation that he can receive only at the hands of God, then he is going to know this blessed happiness. (MacArthur, Kingdom Living, 96)


Though righteousness means justification and is the way in which God looks upon us as sinners in Jesus Christ, this also has a continual aspect to it, it relates to our sanctification. This is another important word for Christians and it is the continual process of being made holy. Daily we are being sanctified as we are repenting of our sin and humbling coming to Jesus Christ; when we do so we grow in our faith and find spiritual maturity. This hunger and thirst for righteousness, is a longing for Jesus.


Ultimately, what we must understand is that we need to seek to be holy and to put away all sin. To be righteous is to live "a pattern of life in conformity to God's Will" (Carson). We must choose to live this way. Not as a way of earning salvation, but as a way of living as a saved person. It is what Matthew 6:33 is really about, "But seek first the kingdom of God and his righteousness, and all these things will be added to you."


What is Satisfaction?


Finally, we ask the question, "What does it mean to be filled, or satisfied?" This is probably the most interesting aspect of this verse. Remember again Psalm 23, with green pastures and still water God restores the souls of His sheep. Matthew 15 uses the same word for filled when Jesus feeds the 5,000 and they were all filled. Luke 9:17 telling the same story uses the word twice literally "filled, all filled".


To be satisfied or filled means that your longing is fulfilled, "I shall not want". Your hunger and thirst will be met. This great need in your life will find its fulfillment in Jesus Christ. However, in the references above we see that David, and Paul, all had experiences with God. Yet, they wanted more. Their understanding of what it means to be "satisfied" is quite different. It exists with a longing for more. We could say it like this, "Though we are full we still want more." It is like the Psalmist says,


    Some wandered in desert wastes,

        finding no way to a city to dwell in;

    hungry and thirsty,

        their soul fainted within them.

    Then they cried to the LORD in their trouble,

        and he delivered them from their distress.

    He led them by a straight way

        till they reached a city to dwell in.

    Let them thank the LORD for his steadfast love,

        for his wondrous works to the children of man!

    For he satisfies the longing soul,

        and the hungry soul he fills with good things. (Psalm 107:4-9)


    Oh, taste and see that the LORD is good!

        Blessed is the man who takes refuge in him!

    Oh, fear the LORD, you his saints,

        for those who fear him have no lack!

    The young lions suffer want and hunger;

        but those who seek the LORD lack no good thing. (Psalm 34:8-10)


We find our fulfillment in God alone, not just at one time, but continually, perpetually. We are not saved so that we no longer want God, but so that we will always want God. That means we are moved to be in a relationship with Him. We are filled when we hunger and thirst because we have found Him and being with Him leads us to want Him more. You see we were saved at the start, are being sanctified in this life, but one day we will be with him face to face in glory. Only then can we be fully satisfied by His eternal presence.


    But whatever gain I had, I counted as loss for the sake of Christ. Indeed, I count everything as loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord. For his sake I have suffered the loss of all things and count them as rubbish, in order that I may gain Christ and be found in him, not having a righteousness of my own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith—that I may know him and the power of his resurrection, and may share his sufferings, becoming like him in his death, that by any means possible I may attain the resurrection from the dead. (Phil 3:7-11)


Righteousness comes from God and our desire for it can be satisfied only by Jesus, and in Him we are "as we should be", "filled all filled".

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