Read Mark 10:17-31.
We have started looking at what is called “The Sermon on the Mount” – the longest single sermon of Jesus’ recorded in the Bible. This sermon is often seen as the most profound of Jesus teaching. It is seen as being a manifesto of the Kingdom of God – a description of the nature of God’s Kingdom. We are looking at it as a guide to how to live like Jesus – how to live the Kingdom life.
The sermon starts with 8 statements (called the Beatitudes) about people who are blessed by God. Some translations, instead of saying, “Blessed are these people”, say, “Happy are these people”. This is Jesus’ teaching about how to find true happiness. Do you want to be happy?
We are up to number 4: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
We need to read that drawing out, and emphasising the words hunger and thirst. Can we do that together? Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
Think of what this meant in the Middle Eastern where people might have had enough food to survive day to day but then, if the crops failed or suddenly they had no income, they simply had no food. Think of the widow who said to Elijah, “My husband has died (therefore, no income). We are in debt. The creditor is coming to take my two sons to be his slaves and I have in my house nothing but a jar of oil.”
Think of the prodigal son who wasted all his inheritance and eventually was dying of hunger; who would have willingly eaten the dry husks given to the pigs.
Think of the images we have seen in recent times of besieged Syrians desperate for food.
This isn’t about missing one meal. That was normal. This is about not having had food for days or weeks so that you are utterly preoccupied by hunger – you can think of nothing else.
Think of a man in a desert in the midst of a sandstorm when his mouth and nose fill with sand and he is utterly parched and there is no water for many miles. Think of being so dry and thirsty that all of your thoughts are about water and your body cries out for water.
That’s what Jesus is talking about here – being consumed with a desperate desire for…
Sometimes, before a sports event the commentators might say that it is difficult to pick a result. The teams are evenly matched. It will come down to who is most hungry. A whole championship can be won or lost, not because of your ability, but depending on how hungry you are – how much you want it.
In this Beatitude, how much you want what? Righteousness.
What is righteousness? What is it we are to want so desperately? The word used here (dikaiosune) has three dimensions to it.
Firstly, it is about a right relationship with God. It can be translated justification – being made right with God. This is the righteousness that we can never achieve, we can only receive. We can never live such a pure life that we can claim to be friends with God. No one can say “God welcomes me because I am so righteous.” On the contrary, all of us, by nature, want to do what is wrong and are enemies of God.
This is where the previous beatitudes are so relevant.
- Blessed are the poor in spirit. Blessed are those who know they are spiritually bankrupt; who know that they can’t do it.
- Blessed are those who mourn. Blessed are those who are upset by their own sinfulness – who cry because of their natural tendency to disobey God and do wrong.
- Blessed are the meek. Blessed are those who have the strength to be gentle – have the strength to be humble and submissive and express their need.
But there is no point just being upset by our sin; we must want better. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – those who desperately want to be in a good relationship with God.
We can only receive this righteousness as a free gift when we put our faith in Jesus. We have no righteousness of our own but we can receive Jesus’ righteousness – the righteousness of Him who never sinned. This is our legal righteousness – when we are declared forgiven, as if we had never sinned!
How much do you hunger to be forgiven and to be in a close relationship with God?
Psalm 42:1 As the deer pants for streams of living water, so my soul pants for you, O God.
The second aspect of righteousness is our moral righteousness. This is about right behaviour. A right relationship with God requires that we want to behave rightly. Blessed is the person who desperately wants to please God by doing what is right.
For anyone to say, “I want to be set right with God but then I want to be able to live how I choose and I want to be able to sin” would be an absolute slap in the face for God. Imagine what it would be like for parents to have an adult child say, “I want you to provide for me. I want to receive my inheritance when you die. Don’t ever withhold anything from me but I also want to live a lifestyle that defied everything you taught me and all of the values you hold dear. Everything that is important to you, I want to treat with contempt – but I want you to pay for my lifestyle.”
In fact, isn’t that exactly what the prodigal son did – “I want the inheritance but I want to treat you with contempt”? …until he got to the point of being desperately hungry. His hunger was a physical hunger but it led him to hunger to be back in his father’s house. The extraordinary part of the story is that the father welcomed him back despite his behaviour. The father demonstrated the grace of God to forgive.
Which is the first aspect again – the forgiveness; the right relationship. But could that son receive the father’s forgiveness and welcome and then continue to have wild parties, to waste his father’s money and to be immoral under his father’s roof? No. The right response would be to live to please his father.
We need to desperately want to live to please the Father who has welcomed us back home.
Hunger how much? Desperate; thinking of nothing else. Blessed are those who want to please God.
The third dimension of righteousness is social righteousness, or what we might translate as justice. This is a desperation to see people not being hurt by other people. The suffering of the Syrians at the hands of their own leader rightly arouses the indignation of other nations. This is not right! Nobody should be treated like this.
If a pilot of flight MH370 committed suicide taking hundreds of people with him, would you feel anger?
You know there are more people in slavery now than at any other time in history – largely sex slavery. We think of slavery in the Roman Empire in New Testament times or the awful slave trade from Africa to America but there are more slaves now than there were in either of those two periods.
We could name many things that are wrong – abortion, corruption, greed, domestic violence, abuse of children… Do you hunger and thirst for justice; for right to be done; for people to be treated with dignity?
In other words, do you hunger for the Kingdom of God to come? Do you hunger for that day when there will be no more injustice, no more pain? But it is not just a case of hungering for that future day. Do you hunger to see it now?
Only a short while later, in the Sermon on the Mount, Jesus taught people to pray, “Your Kingdom come. Your will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”
Jesus said, “Seek first His Kingdom and His righteousness.” Seek first; hunger for this above all else – His Kingdom and His righteousness.
You know what? This is not just about your relationship with God. Do you prioritise above everything else other people’s relationship with God? Christians in this country have just about completely given up on evangelism and have justified why they don’t have to be concerned about other people’s salvation. Very soon we are going to have 14 African evangelists in Dunedin and one in this church. Can I challenge you to decide now that you will be involved? You will learn all you can from them. You will invite people to events. You will risk talking about Jesus to some other people. You will work alongside them actually evangelising. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness includes being desperate for other people to be forgiven and declared righteous before God.
Why did we read the story of the rich young ruler? Because he wasn’t hungry enough. He came to Jesus asking about eternal life. What could be more important than eternal life; his own salvation? Isn’t that worth sacrificing everything like the man who found the precious pearl and sold everything to obtain it? He had kept the commandments – or so he felt. That required some sacrifice. Jesus looked at him and He loved him. Jesus cared about this man. Jesus wanted him to have eternal life.
Jesus said he lacked only one thing; he was to sell all his possessions and give the proceeds to the poor. Then he would have treasure in heaven and he was to follow Jesus. Would it be the end of the world selling your possessions and giving the money to the poor? Lots of people do choose to have few possessions so as to help the poor. If your eternal life depended on it, could you do it?
This man’s face fell. He went away sad, because he had great wealth. He wasn’t hungry enough. The main cause of failure in the Christian life is that we are not hungry enough.
In Luke 6:25, Jesus turns it around the other way.
Luke 6:25 Woe to you who are well-fed now, for you will go hungry
Is this hunger Christ-like? Would we say that Jesus desperately wanted a right relationship with His Father; that He was utterly committed to doing what was right and He cared about people suffering? Did Jesus care about other people’s salvation? His whole mission was to seek and to save the lost. He laid down His life so that others could be saved. Righteousness, in all its dimensions, was Jesus’ passion.
William Barclay says that this is the most demanding of the Beatitudes. It is demanding because it says that the Christian life is not for the half-hearted or the lazy or the vaguely interested. It is for those who desire righteousness – in all its dimensions – as a matter of life and death.
But Barclay says it is also the kindest Beatitude. It promises fullness, satisfaction. But note very carefully that Jesus didn’t require that we achieve righteousness only that we want it; we desperately want it. God sees the desire of our hearts. If we truly want righteousness, that is all that God asks for. Of course that is no excuse for bad behaviour. If we truly want righteousness we cannot deliberately be unrighteous. But God forgives our failures when we truly want to do what is right.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.