Turn with me in your Bibles to Matthew chapter 5 as we continue our study of the Sermon on the Mount together. We have said that in this great sermon, our Lord Jesus Christ tells us what it means to live as Christians in the world where He has placed us. In our case, in this pluralistic, secularized world. How do you live as a Christian? The Lord Jesus gives us our marching orders here in this Sermon on the Mount, and it is no mistake that He does not begin with method or technique or even laws and commands. He begins with character, for that’s what is described in the Beatitudes. And He describes a character that cannot be wrought by our own effort. He describes a character that can only be wrought by the work of the Spirit in the hearts of men and women. That’s where kingdom life in a fallen world begins. And so we begin hearing the Beatitudes beginning with verse 1 of Matthew 5. Hear the Word of the living God:
Our Father, this is your Word. Pierce our hearts by it and then bind us up again. Cause us by the Spirit to spiritually perceive and understand and be made willing to walk the way of life set forth by Christ. Work in us these graces which we here review and give us cause to be dependent upon you, trusting you and even to be pleasing to you. We ask these things in Jesus’ name. Amen.
We said last week when we began our study of the Beatitudes that the Beatitudes assume two questions and give us two answers to those two questions that virtually everybody asks. Everybody asks the question, “What is it to be blessed?” Everybody wants to be blessed. Everybody wants to be fulfilled. Everybody wants to be truly, deeply, lastingly happy and satisfied. The Lord Jesus Christ, in the Beatitude, gives us the heavenly answer to that question. What does it mean to be happy – to be truly and profoundly happy? I don’t mean superficially happy. I don’t mean temporarily happy but blessed in the deepest sense of that word. Here in the Beatitudes He gives us surprising answers to that question. These answers that He gives were no less surprising to the people that He originally spoke them to than they are to us today. We expect someone to say that the person who is truly “blessed” is to be successful in the business world, to be beautiful, to be attractive, to be influential, to be powerful.
And the Lord Jesus says, “What does it mean to be truly blessed?” Well, it means to have a right relationship with God and enjoyment of Him. That’s what true happiness is. And look friends, understand how radical this is for the Lord Jesus to say because it would have been just as radical in His own day. If we walked up to people today and told them to be truly happy, to be truly satisfied, to be truly blessed, to be truly fulfilled, they need to be in right relationship with God, their immediate reaction is going to be that they think that you’re a member of a cult. Because that is not anywhere high up on the list of what most people even in our land, the land which was once committed to Christian principles and values and committed to the God of the Scriptures, is not what most people in our land think. They think that true happiness is not found in right relationship with God and enjoyment of Him forever.
The second question that the Beatitudes deal with is the question of “Who are the blessed ones?” If everyone is asking what it means to be blessed, what it means to be satisfied, fulfilled, truly happy, they’re also asking who are the ones who have that, who are the ones who have found that. And again, the answer that Jesus gives is different from the answer that the world always gives. It is not the materially prosperous who are truly blessed. In fact, they are among the most miserable people on earth. It is not those who are seemingly carefree from difficult circumstances in their lives. It is not the one who is self confident. It is, in fact, the poor in spirit. The one who is grieved over sin. Those who have abdicated their rights and lived in meekness. Those are the ones who are blessed. See the irony in Jesus’ answers, and in every single one of the Beatitudes there is an irony. Jesus gives you an answer that you are not expecting. How could it be a blessing to be brokenhearted and humbled? How could it be a blessing to mourn? How could it be a blessing to grieve over sin, to abdicate one’s rights? And yet, the Lord Jesus is saying , “If you want the way of blessing, let Me show you this way.” The way of blessing is the way of the Beatitudes. Notice in our passage before us that in it we have two great beatitudes, the fourth and the fifth beatitude and I would like to point your attention to just these two things today.
I. Christians long for righteousness, and are called to a life of seeking after it.
The first truth I would like you to see in this passage is that Christians long for righteousness and they are called to a life of seeking after it. You see this principle in verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness for they shall be satisfied.” Here we see the cry of the kingdom citizen to God. “O Lord, I hunger, I thirst, I long for righteousness.” And we see the blessing that goes along with it. We notice immediately the irony. The Lord Jesus, in a day when people knew much better than our own what it meant to be hungry and thirsty – They did not have the conveniences and the twenty-four hour stores where food could be obtained at any time of day or night, any time of the week , any day of the year. They knew what it was if the crop did not come in to face starvation for a season – and the Lord Jesus says, “You know what it is to be truly blessed? It is truly blessed to hunger and thirst.” Of course, our Lord didn’t mean that simply bodily, physically. He meant that spiritually. The one is blessed who hungers and thirsts for God and for righteousness just like someone who was starving would hunger and thirst for material filling.
Note again the context. Our Lord is speaking to people who know what it is to be oppressed. They know what it is to have righteousness denied to them. Jesus is speaking to a people whose land is occupied by force. These people long for the righteousness of God to be re-established in their land, and there is an alien and invading force. The Romans are in their land and they keenly sense what it is to be oppressed and they cry out in the very depths of their being for relief from that oppression, and the Lord Jesus takes them a step deeper. For the righteousness with which they long to be blessed is not simply the righteousness which attains in the government or national or political arena. It is a righteousness which attains at the level of our relationships and ultimately in our own relationship with the Father.
I’d like you to look at three things about this beatitude. First, the desire. Then the thing which is desired itself. And then the blessing that goes along with that thing which is desired.
The desire. Isn’t it interesting that the Lord Jesus says, “Blessed are those who desire – they long for righteousness. Doesn’t that entail at least two things, that blessing? Doesn’t it mean that those who are blessed with this blessing sense that they lack something that they need? I mean, how can you long for something that you already have? The Lord Jesus says that those are blessed are those who realize that they lack righteousness and long for it. You see, spiritual riches and the road to spiritual riches begins when we say, “Lord, nothing in my hand I bring, simply to Thy cross I cling.” The road to spiritual wealth and riches is a road which begins by declaring ourselves before God to be bankrupt and saying, “Oh Lord, we lack this righteousness, and I crave it more than anything else.” Jesus says this blessing cannot be had by those who think they are fat and full and happy and wealthy. My friends, that message is so radical and so different from the message which is heralded in many pulpits in the land, the message which says that the better that you feel about your own resources and your own standing before God, the better off you are spiritually. The Lord Jesus says that your spiritual welfare begins with you recognizing that you are in need of something that only God can provide. That is righteousness.
And of course, this spiritual welfare continues and this is the second thing we see in the desire. It continues as we seek the right thing. There are many people who admit that there is something missing in their lives. There is a hole in their experience and they try and fill it up with all sorts of things. Perhaps they seek out some sort of fame or seek out business success or relational triumphs or whatever else, but they find no satisfaction. And the Lord Jesus reminds us again in this beatitude that blessedness is when we seek the right thing. The blessing which comes to those who hunger and thirst comes when they hunger and thirst for righteousness. And so we see the desire of this beatitude.
Notice also the thing itself which is desired. It is righteousness which is desired. What is righteousness? Well, there are many good definitions of righteousness. One says that righteousness means perfect conformity to God’s law. Perfect conformity to God’s will. Perfect conformity to God’s character. It’s to be like God. That’s what a person is who is righteous. To be morally like Him. To call the right, right, the wrong, wrong, and to do the right and to choose the right over the wrong. But another good definition of righteousness is when we recognize that things are as they ought to be. When things are as they were intended to be by God, then we can say that a state of righteousness has attained.
What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? Well, it means at least four things. It means first of all to long for a relationship with God. To long for a right relationship to God. To hunger and thirst for righteousness means to long, to desire above all things, to be in right relationship with the heavenly Father. That’s the first thing that hungering and thirsting for righteousness means.
It also means to long to be righteous before God. That is, to long to be considered, to be accounted righteous before Him. There was a Roman Catholic monk who was born in the fifteenth century in Germany. His name was Martin Luther, and he spent many years of his life in a monastery of Augustinians. He spent hours and hours of his day praying the cycle of prayers and doing the acts of mercy and of penance, and he found no relief of his soul, because he kept coming back to Romans 1 and reading that in the gospel the righteousness of God was revealed – in his Latin Bible it actually translated that “the justice of God was revealed” – and he was terrified by that. Because when he heard that in the gospel the justice of God was revealed, he thought one thing and one thing only: I am condemned, because not matter how hard I try my thoughts go after wrong things, my words go after wrong things, my deeds are unclean in the sight of the Lord, and if the gospel is the revelation of the justice of God weighing the accounts my life, then I am lost. I am under the condemnation of God and God only relates to me as my Judge. Not simply as my Judge, but as my Judge who is going to rightly condemn me to hell.
And Luther trembled and then finally, by the work of the Spirit, he understood the glorious truth that Paul was setting forth there: that in the gospel, yes, the righteousness of God, the justice of God is revealed, but it is revealed not by ourselves making ourselves just before God, but by God causing His just condemnation to fall upon His Son so that we might receive it freely, and so have standing before Him as if we had never sinned, and have standing before Him where He accounts us, acquits us, and considers us as righteous. This is the glorious truth that Luther found.
The very gospel is hidden in this beatitude, my friend. Those who long to be accounted righteous before God, and know that they cannot do it themselves, they are not far from the Kingdom. Many of you have come to the point where you have come to the end of yourself and you realize that you cannot meet the standards of God, then you are but a step away from embracing the One who has already met them for you, and finding in Him, the One who will stand you before God in righteousness. Sad it is, the people who think that they will stand themselves before God. What a dread thing on that last day to say, “I can stand on my own merit before Your scrutiny.” Better to be wrapped in the justice and in the perfection and in the atonement of Christ than so be stood before God by Him.
The third thing we see is that those who hunger and thirst for righteousness long to live rightly before God. They not only long to be accounted as righteous, they not only long to be justified, in other words, they long to be sanctified. They long to live rightly before God. Every Christian knows exactly what Eric Liddel was talking about when he said, “When I run, I feel His pleasure.” Because every Christian wants to please his heavenly Father. There is no joy greater than knowing that in our actions, in our thoughts, and in our attitudes, we’ve done what is right and it has brought pleasure to the heavenly Father.
I am a first-born child. I am told that first-born children have particular vulnerability to desiring to please their parents. And I must say that there was no punishment greater that could be meted out to me than for my father or my mother to say to me, “Son, you have disappointed me.” I would take ten thousand spankings over those words, for they were not said simply to manipulate. They were said in truthfulness and they were heart breaking to hear because I wanted to please my mother and my father because they loved me, and I wanted to love them and I wanted them to be proud of me. And every Christian longs to please the heavenly Father, longs to live rightly, so that we bring pleasure to the heavenly Father and so we hunger and thirst for that righteousness.
There’s a fourth thing that it means to long for, to hunger and thirst for this righteousness. And that is to long to see right relationships restored with others. You cannot hunger and thirst for righteousness and be selfish in that longing at the same time. Your heart has to overflow for sinners who are being broken down by their own sin and by others sins. You have to have that desire worked in you that longs to see them restored and in right relationship with God and with one another. Hungering and thirsting for righteousness about which Jesus speaks is a longing for righteousness which leads you to a desire to get down on your knees to help restore the broken relationships, the broken lives of others who are living under the effects of sin and all its attendant misery. All these things are involved in longing and hungering and thirsting for righteousness.
And there are of course, three dimensions to the righteousness that you seek. There is first of all the dimension of that righteousness which is pardon. We seek pardon as we hunger and we thirst for righteousness. We seek that pardon which is provided only by Christ. That is, we seek justification. We seek a justifying righteousness; a righteousness that will bring us out from under the condemnation of sin. Every sinner in whom the Spirit is working a work of conviction knows how odious his or her sin is and knows what that sin ought to be given in terms of a punishment. Every sinner seeks for a righteousness – a declared righteousness, an accounted righteousness, a justifying righteousness which causes us to be considered and forgiven and spared a punishment we know is due for our sin. And that is found only in Christ.
The second aspect of the righteousness that you seek is, of course, that sanctifying aspect of righteousness. That righteousness that is entailed in right living. For we not only desire the forgiveness of sins, we desire conformity to Christ. We not only want to be forgiven for what we’ve done against Him; we want to be like Him. And so the one who hungers and thirsts for righteousness, hungers and thirsts not only for justification but for sanctification, not only to be accounted righteous before God, but eventually one day to be made right and to be stood before Him in glorified righteousness.
And, then of course, the person who hungers and thirsts after righteousness not only desires justifying and sanctifying righteousness but they desire to see that righteousness established everywhere – not just in their own relationships. They desire to see that righteousness flowing forth in the lives of other men and women who don’t know Christ. Men and women who are under the bondage of sin and it’s condemnation. A desire to help those who have been both the victims and the perpetrators of wickedness.
What is the blessing which attends this hungering and thirsting? The sworn promise of God that if you hunger and thirst for righteousness, you will be satisfied. Is there any other promise that can be given to men and women in the world that comes with that guarantee from God Almighty? Satisfaction. I want to say today that if there are any unbelieving brethren with us or watching us from outside and you think that the Christian life is an unsatisfying life and you think that the life of wanton pleasure that you are living is a satisfying life, I want to tell you that you don’t have the slightest idea of what satisfaction is. It’s only those who have embraced Christ by faith that know what it means to be satisfied in this life, and only they will know what it is to be fully satisfied in the day to come. If you want satisfaction it is found all-hidden in Christ; if you want it, you must embrace Him.
II. Christians are merciful, and are called to a life of compassion.
Now we see the second beatitude before us today in verse 7. This is the second truth that I would leave you with. That Christians not only long for righteousness, but Christians are merciful and they are called to a life of compassion. We read in verse 7: “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Notice the shift from the fourth to the fifth beatitude. In those first four beatitudes Christ describes those initial works that the Holy Spirit does in our heart. What does the Spirit do to a new Christian? The Spirit causes that Christian to be spiritually humble, to be poor in spirit, to recognize that we have a need that cannot be fulfilled by ourselves or our activities. And then, what else does the Spirit do? The Spirit causes that person to mourn over sin. No longer can sin be taken flippantly as something dismissed, as something actually reveled in but it becomes a vexation to our souls and we mourn over that sin and the Spirit changes our hearts so that no longer are we prideful but we are humbled. No longer do we revel in sin but we hate it. We hate it not simply for its consequences and its misery, but we hate it for what it is. And then what does He cause us to do? He causes us to be meek, that is, to abdicate our rights. We’ve stood before God. We’ve seen Him as He is and we realized – “I have no right, but punishment before this God. He ought to destroy me because of who I am, and yet, He is gracious to me. How can I dare speak of “rights” before Him? I must abdicate my rights for Him, because his Son abdicated His rights for me to save me from what I deserve.”
And then, in the fourth beatitude, we see that the Lord implants in that person a desire, a longing, for righteousness and you know those longings. What results from that kind of heart being created? Well, beatitudes five, six, and seven tell you. We begin on the fifth one today. What results from that? What are the fruits of the Spirit’s work in our hearts? Well, the first fruit is this: we become merciful. We’ve been forgiven much. We realize that we’ve been forgiven much so we become merciful people.
Do you realize the irony of this beatitude? The Lord Jesus says, “Who is blessed?” Not those who have no trouble in this life. Not those who know no one who has any trouble in this life, but those who are merciful to those in the midst of trouble. Those are the people who are blessed. Calvin noted this irony long ago. He said, “The world reckons those are blessed who are free of outside troubles to attend to their own peace. But Christ here says they are blessed who are not only prepared to put up with their own troubles, but also to take on other people’s – to help them in distress. To freely join them in their time of trial and, as it were, to get right into their situation that they may gladly expend themselves in their assistance.” That’s what the work of the Spirit in the heart of a person does. It makes that person merciful.
Why are Christians merciful? Because we know what it is to have mercy shown to us. Those who love little have been not in the realization of the forgiveness of Christ, but those who have been forgiven much, love much.
What is Christian mercy? Well, mercy is love for those in misery and a forgiving spirit toward the sinner. It embraces both kindly feelings, and kindly actions. Mercy relieves the consequences of sin. Mercy doesn’t hide behind scruples to escape costly service. The great example of mercy which our Lord gave us was the story of the good Samaritan in Luke 10:30-37. The good Samaritan was one who sought to relieve the consequences of sin upon that poor traveler who had been beaten and left for dead. And the good Samaritan did not come up with scruples or excuses as to why he couldn’t help in that instance. He overcame those obstacles and he ministered. No wonder the early Church in the first three or four centuries, whenever that parable was expounded, they always said that the good Samaritan was Jesus because He is extremely compassionate, and He will not break the bruised reed and He will not extinguish the smoking flax. He is compassionate, and He comes and ministers to us in the midst of our needs.
Do we have that type of compassion? Do we have that compassion on the souls of others? Those who are ignorant and they don’t know the way of life, those who are living lives which are wanton – seemingly carefree, but on the road to destruction. The careless. Are we compassionate to them? Do we show them compassion? Are we compassionate to those who are in sorrow? Do we minister to them? Are we compassionate to those who are depressed? Those who are in want? Those who face the hour of need? Are we tangibly compassionate to them? Are we compassionate to those who are our subordinates and are we compassionate to those who hurt us? Who brutalize us? Only when we show mercy and compassion have we begun to walk in the way of the compassion of our Lord.
What is the blessing of the compassionate? They will receive mercy. Note closely, my friends, that their mercy is not the cause of God's mercy. It does say, “Blessed are the merciful, for they shall receive mercy.” Their mercy is not the cause of God’s mercy. But God’s mercy implanted in their hearts by the Holy Spirit has made them to be merciful. They have tasted of the mercy of the Lord and they cannot help but be merciful. The merciful, this beatitude tells us, fall into the arms of mercy. They find mercy at last because mercy found them first, and they have lived mercy in the meantime.
Has God given you a merciful heart? A thirst for righteousness? Then I can say that God has done a spiritual work of grace. But if righteousness is not your great hunger, and if Christian mercy is not your heart, them go to the only one who can provide a heart of righteousness and mercy and embrace Him and He will give you all your desire. Let us pray.
Our Lord and our God, we are not merciful and we do not naturally thirst after righteousness. So work these things in us by Your Spirit so that all the praise and all the glory must be given to Jesus Christ. We ask these things in His name. Amen.