“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled” (Matt. 5:6).
The June 19, 1989, issue of Time magazine told the story of the revolt against Communism in China. In particular there was one man who, for a brief shining moment, literally stood against an army in Tiananmen Square. The power of the people versed the power of the gun. Strobe Talbott wrote: “There he stood, implausibly resolute in his thin white shirt, an unknown Chinese man facing down a lumbering column of tanks. For a moment that will be long remembered, the lone man defined the struggle of China’s citizens. Why are you here? he shouted at the silent steel hulk. You have done nothing but create misery. My city is in chaos because of you.”
The brief encounter between the man and the tank captured an epochal event in the lives of more than one billion Chinese: the state clanking with menace, swiveling right and left with uncertainty, is halted in its tracks because the people got in its way, and because it got in theirs.
In the years to come children and even grandchildren will be born to the people who protested during the turbulent days of June 1989. The questions will be asked, “Why did you demonstrate? Why was there violence? Why were you willing to die?” And many a person will say simply enough, “We had a hunger for freedom. We had a thirst for democracy. What the government did to our people was not right. Communism is a repressive regime. We long for righteousness in an unjust society. Jesus was in China in 1989.”
The longing of the human soul to be set free from unrighteous tyranny is irrepressible. No matter how strong the dictatorship, no matter how ruthless the oppression, the cry for freedom will be heard as it was heard in June 1989. The cry for freedom was sounded by every dissident arrested who dared to speak out against cruelty. The cry for freedom was sounded in every broken bone and every jail cell door clanging shut to lock up those who will not be locked in by intolerance.
In another area, another battle is raging against tyranny. The Tyrant is Sin. Sin is just as real as the leaders of Communism. Sin is more evil. Sin demands immediate and complete obedience by its subjects. Sin has an agenda and screams out, “My will shall be done!” And, more often than not, the Tyrant has its way. Like the protesters in China’s Tiananmen Square, first one and then another brave soul longs to resist the ongoing corruption of Sin.
This resistance Sin will not tolerate. Sin is not easily defeated and resists having its rule in life overthrown. Sin knows how to fight any movement towards freedom. Sin begins to offer its own version of freedom saying that all things can be done without restraint. But, instead of promised liberation Sin enslaves its subjects. Millions upon millions could testify to the horrors of an addiction to alcohol, to substance abuse, to pornography, and to violence. There is a spiritual longing to be free.
The search to be free from the tyranny of Sin begins when there is an authentic spiritual hunger and thirst after righteousness. Jesus said that when this inner longing takes place, the soul would be blessed.
It is a happy day when the human heart begins to turn from self to a Saviour, from evil to the everlasting love of God, and from the passions of the flesh to the pursuit of holiness. To hunger and to thirst after righteousness will lead to what people desperately want, inner peace of mind. But what is this righteousness that is sought after like a starving man? What is this righteousness that is to be sought like a thirsty man desperately searches for water?
The Bible teaches that righteousness consists in perfect conformity with God’s holy law. To be righteous is to comply with God’s will. The will of God is summarized in the Ten Commandments. God says,
“Thou shalt have no other gods before me.
Thou shalt not make unto thee any graven image, or any likeness of any thing that is in heaven above, or that is in the earth beneath, or that is in the water under the earth:
Thou shalt not take the name of the LORD thy God in vain; for the LORD will not hold him guiltless that taketh his name in vain.
Remember the Sabbath day, to keep it holy.
Honor thy father and thy mother: that thy days may be long upon the land which the LORD thy God giveth thee.
Thou shalt not kill.
Thou shalt not commit adultery.
Thou shalt not steal.
Thou shalt not bear false witness against thy neighbor.
Thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbor’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that is thy neighbor’s.”
No one has ever perfectly kept the Law of God. On this point the Bible is crystal clear. By nature all men are born physically alive but spiritually dead. Man exists because of sin in a helpless, hopeless, lost condition. And no amount of personal good works will ever be able to atone for sin. Isaiah 64:6 declares, “All our righteousness are as a polluted garment.” No human cleansing of any kind as found in special ceremonies can ever wash away sin. Jeremiah 2:22 says, “For though you wash yourself with lye and use abundant soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord Jehovah.” No amount of personal sacrifices is able to wipe away human guilt. Psalms 40:6: “Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in…burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required.”
Furthermore, no mere human can atone for the sin of another. Psalms 49:7. “None of them can by any means redeem his brother, or give God a ransom for him.”All things considered it is a helpless, hopeless state that man stands in before His Creator. Man stands in need of grace if he is ever to become righteous in the sight of God and be restored to fellowship.
In a marvelous way, in grace, God did conceive of a Plan whereby man could be restored to fellowship with Himself without compromising holiness.
Grace found a way to redeem man. God decreed that He would send His only begotten Son, made in the likeness of sinful flesh to rescue sinners by way of a substitutionary death. His merit would be imputed, or charged to the account of those souls who would become the heirs of salvation, so that in righteousness they could stand before the holy God.
The Bible records that the Plan of God was executed. God’s Son entered into the world and spoke, “Then said I, Lo, I am come: in the roll of the book it is written of me; I delight to do thy will, O my God; thy law is within my heart” (Psalms 40:7-8).
The manner in which Jesus accomplished the will of the Father is declared in Isaiah 53, “He was wounded for our transgressions; He was bruised for our iniquities; the chastisement of our peace was upon Him; and with His stripes we are healed. All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned everyone to his own way; and Jehovah has laid on Him the iniquity of us all.” From the prophet Isaiah comes three critical truths.
First, the righteousness of man, in as far as he is saved, is not his own but is imputed from the perfect righteousness of another, even the Lord Jesus Christ. God is not impressed with the work of sinners trying to appease Him with good works. God is pleased only with the work of Calvary. The divine decree is that without the shedding of blood there is no remission of sin. “When I see the blood I will pass over you.”
Second, Jesus died as a substitute. It was for His own special people that Jesus poured out His life as atonement for sin. Luke 22:19-20 teaches of the definite redemptive work of Christ, for we read that on the night of the Passover, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, and brake it saying to the disciples, “This is my body which is given for you.” In like manner Jesus took the cup of wine saying, “This cup is the New Testament in my blood which is shed for you.”
At Calvary Jesus Christ accomplished a real salvation for a real group of people. Today, His people can hear Him say, “My body…for you; My blood for you.” Ephesians 1:7 reveals that the Church, and only the Church enjoys redemption through the blood of Christ and the forgiveness of sin. Since it is true that man has no righteousness before God on His own and is in need of a righteous Substitute, then the third truth unfolds that man’s imputed righteousness is based upon God’s mercy and not upon human merit or works.
The Apostle Paul taught this truth in Romans 9:16 when he wrote, “So then it is not of him that willeth nor of him that runneth, but of God that sheweth mercy.” To understand these gospel truths is to humble the pride of man. It is to exalt the grace of God in salvation, and it is to promote real holiness in heart and life.
As the righteousness of God is something imputed to man on a legal basis, it is also imparted to him for the purpose of ethical conduct. Dr. William Hendriksen correctly observes, “Though it is impossible for good works to justify anybody, it is just as impossible for a justified person to live without doing good works.” Augustus Toplady, who wrote many Christian hymns declared, “That opinion that personal holiness is unnecessary to final glorification is in direct opposition to every dictate of reason, to every declaration of scripture.”
Because this is true personal holiness must not be neglected. The command is given in the book of Philippians to work out your own salvation with fear and trembling. It is possible to neglect salvation to the point of eternal ruin. An incident from American history helps to illustrate this concept.
In 1862, an old house on a hill was bequeathed to the American people, and Congress turned it down. Pre-occupied with the Civil War, Congress decided that it had no time to take care of real estate. By 1879, the old house on the hill was in complete disarray. The basement had became a cattle barn. Grain was sometimes milled and stored on the floors of the drawing room which had once been the gathering place for distinguished guests. What did it matter that the designer and builder of the house was also the designer and author of our Declaration of Independence.
Fortunately, the house of Thomas Jefferson, Monticello, was redeemed from the trash heap of neglect. It was restored so that millions might enjoy its beauty and learn of American history. Of more infinite value is the heart of man, the home where Christ dwells. It must not be neglected to the point of eternal ruin. It must be rescued from spiritual decay. There are three things which will cause the home where Christ dwells to become neglected. Those three things are the world, the flesh, and the devil.
The world calls the heart to depart from cultivating a personal relationship with the living Lord. Precious time that could be and should be spent in worship and study and meditation is given to the pursuit of pleasures that pass away like the morning mist.
The flesh encourages neglect of spiritual fellowship by being too demanding, by becoming intentionally disillusioned with others and by insisting that personal opinion is superior to the commandments of holy Scripture.
The devil causes souls to neglect their so great salvation by promising rewards for those who labor according to his directions. Only too late is it realized that the wages of sin is death. The devil is a liar. There is no lasting pleasure in sin.
One of the great burdens that any Christian has to bear is that of watching people turn back from following Christ. It is always heartbreaking to look around and wonder where have the people gone. Some have gone fishing, like Peter, who despaired after the death of Christ. Unlike Peter, they have never come back. Others are like Alexander the Coppersmith who did Paul much harm. Still others are like Ananias and Sapphira who neglected their soul by seeking for gold and glory.
The Lord has promised happiness, not to those who forsake the assembly, not to those who refuse the ordinances of grace, not to those who hold the church in contempt, not to those who neglect to pray, but for those who have an inner hunger and thirst for righteousness.
If there is no hunger and thirsting for righteousness then the cry can be made to the Lord to give spiritual health. One sign of physical health is a good appetite. And one sign of spiritual health is a desire for more knowledge of God, more fellowship with the saints, and a longing for more personal holiness.
Since I started preaching at the age of fourteen in Dallas, Texas, I have seen individuals turn away from the church and turn away from the Lord. These people are not happy for happiness is found by hungering and thirsting after God. Are you hungry? Are you thirsty? Can you say with the Psalmist: “As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O Lord?” (Psalms 42:1) Do not neglect the means of grace to your eternal ruin. Come. The Lord has shown us how to be happy.
Now, may God grant in grace that we be found among the blessed and we shall be as we hunger and thirst after righteousness.