Matthew 5:3-11 contains what we commonly call the Beatitudes. They are a series of short verses that express the blessedness of people in a variety of situations, and how they are blessed.
“Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, or theirs is the kingdom of heaven. “Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me.
This article will look at one of these beatitudes, the blessedness of those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
In order to properly understand the beatitudes, it is important to know to whom these words were spoken. Matthew 4:23-25 provides us with a quick summary of Jesus’ ministry.
He traveled throughout Galilee proclaiming the good news of the kingdom, healing the sick, and driving out demons. Large crowds from all the surrounding area followed him. And this is the initial audience for the Sermon on the Mount and Beatitudes.
Matthew 5:1 might lead one to believe that it was only his disciples who were addressed, but at the end of the sermon, Matthew said that the crowds who heard him were amazed because he taught as one having authority.
There were probably few in this crowd that were well off, had a comfortable living situation, and were students of the scriptures.
Instead, they were living from day-to-day, under physical and spiritual oppression, and with limited knowledge of the scriptures. Each of these beatitudes describes some aspect of their lives.
What Is Righteousness?
Righteousness has to do with doing what is right, doing what agrees with God’s standard. If a person lives according to God’s standard, then they are righteous.
But what is God’s standard? You might be inclined to find it in the 613 laws described in the Torah. Or in a shorter summary form in the 10 Commandments (Exodus 20:1-17).
An even more succinct version is found in Micah 6:8 where God says, “He has shown you, O mortal, what is good. And what does the LORD require of you? To act justly and to love mercy and to walk humbly with your God.” Micah has reduced the 613 commands in the Torah to just three.
A final summary of God’s standard for us is found in Jesus’ words.
In Matthew 22:37-40, he says, “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: ‘Love your neighbor as yourself.’ All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments.”
Everything that God expects of us is summarized in these two instructions.
But righteousness is more than strict adherence to the 613 commands of the Torah, the Ten Commandments, the three directives in Micah, or even the two that Jesus identifies as underlying all of the Old Testament.
In Matthew 5:20, Jesus expressed that our righteousness would need to exceed that of the Pharisees to enter the kingdom of heaven.
The Pharisees could rightly lay claim to being the people of their day who most rigidly followed the Law. Paul, as a Pharisee, claimed that before he came to Christ, he was faultless in his observance of the Law. Yet it was insufficient to give him a right standing before God.
To Hunger and Thirst for Righteousness
To hunger and thirst indicates a craving or desire for something. Typically, we use it to refer to times when our belly is empty, or our mouth is dry. But it can at times, as in this beatitude, refer to something other than a desire for food or drink.
In Psalm 42:1-2, the psalmist expressed something like this beatitude: “As the deer pants for streams of water, so my soul pants for you, my God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God. When can I go and meet with God?”
Like a deer who thirsts for water, so the psalmist had a thirst for God. He craved more of God.
And I believe that is what Jesus is expressing in this beatitude. Blessed are those who crave to know God in a personal way.
Not in the legalistic fashion of the Pharisees, but in a personal way. The righteousness of the Pharisees was, in the end, of no value to them. But the righteousness that God gives to those who seek him is beyond price.
They Will Be Filled
What Jesus has to say to those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is indeed good news. They will be filled. Their hunger and thirst will be satisfied.
Jesus was occasionally invited to dine in the home of Pharisees. I have always wondered why because it never seemed to end well for the Pharisee.
But on one of these occasions, another guest said to him, “Blessed is the one who will eat at the feast in the kingdom of God” (Luke 14:15). In response, Jesus told a parable of a great banquet that a man prepared.
He invited many people, but when it came time for the banquet, they all declined to come. So instead, the man brought in the poor, crippled, blind, and lame from the town to enjoy the feast, excluding the original guests.
What Does This Mean for Us Today?
This parable illustrates what Jesus is telling the audience for this beatitude. The Pharisees of Jesus’ day were fully expecting to be among those who would feast in the kingdom of God. While those gathered around Jesus probably had little hope of that honor.
But Jesus told them, it would be those who hungered and thirsted after righteousness who would sit with him at that feast. While those who were satisfied with their own righteousness would be on the outside looking in.
Blessed, or happy, are those with a hunger and thirst for righteousness. Because they will sit down with Jesus at the great feast in the kingdom of God and be filled.
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Photo Credit: ©iStock/Getty Images Plus/ALEKSEI BEZRUKOV
Ed Jarrett is a long-time follower of Jesus and a member of Sylvan Way Baptist Church. He has been a Bible teacher for over 40 years and regularly blogs at A Clay Jar. You can also follow him on Twitter or Facebook. Ed is married, the father of two, and grandfather of three. He is retired and currently enjoys his gardens and backpacking.
The views and opinions expressed in this podcast are those of the speakers and do not necessarily reflect the views or positions of Salem Web Network and Salem Media Group.
These verses serve as a source of renewal for the mind and restoration for the heart by reinforcing the notion that, while human weakness is inevitable, God's strength is always available to uplift, guide, and empower us.
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