“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst
after righteousness: for they shall be filled.”
The June 19, 1989, issue of Time magazine told the story of the revolt against Communism in China. There was one man who, for a brief shining moment, literally stood against an army. The power of the people versed the power of the gun. An American author, 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 1.1 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. Important questions will be asked,
“Why did you demonstrate?”
“Why was there violence?”
“Why were you willing to die?”
Any person there that monumental day in June 1989 will say simply enough,
“We had a hunger for freedom.”
“We had a thirst for righteousness.”
“What the government was doing to our people was not right. Communism is a repressive regime. We longed for righteousness in an unjust society.”
Jesus was in China in June, 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 lies deep in every heart. The voice of freedom can be found in every dissident arrested who dares to speak out against cruelty. The price of freedom is found 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, and just as cruel.
Sin demands immediate and complete obedience by its subjects.
Sin has an agenda and screams out, “My will shall be done!”
Often the Tyrant called Sin 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 one’s 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.
Satan comes to say, “The easiest way to get rid of temptation is to yield to it.” But instead of the promised liberation, Sin enslaves its subject with more guilt and shame. Millions upon millions could testify to the horrors and anguish of an addiction to alcohol, to substance abuse, to pornography, and to violence. There is a spiritual longing to be free.
The movement to be free from the Tyranny of Sin begins when there is a hungering and a thirsting after righteousness. Jesus said that when this inner longing takes place, the soul will be blessed.
God favors the man, the woman, the young person who wants to be free from sin, and live without shame and guilt.
It is a happy day when the 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.
“Oh happy day
When Jesus washed
My sins away!
He taught me how
to watch, and pray,
And live rejoicing every,
Oh, happy day,
Oh happy day,
When Jesus washed
My sins away.”
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 to be sought after, like a starving man who seeks for food?
What is this righteousness that is to be desired, like a thirsty man who longs for just a drop of water on his tongue?
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 anything 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.
Thou shalt not covet.”
No one has ever perfectly kept the Law of God.
On this point the Bible is crystal clear. By nature, every person is born physically alive, but spiritually dead. Because of sin, we are born into a helpless, hopeless, and lost condition. No amount of personal good works will ever be able to atone for sin. The Bibles says, “All our righteousness are as a polluted garment” (Isa. 64:6).
No human cleansing of any kind, as found in special ceremonies, or religious rituals, can ever wash away sin. “For though you wash yourself with lye and use abundant soap, the stain of your guilt is still before me, says the Lord Jehovah” (Jer. 2:22).
No amount of personal sacrifice can wipe away human guilt. “Sacrifice and offering thou hast no delight in… burnt offering and sin offering hast thou not required” (Psalms 40:6).
Furthermore, no mere human can atone for the sin of another.
“None of them can by any means redeem his brother, or give God a ransom for him” (Psalms 49:7).
All things considered; in the flesh, it is a helpless, hopeless state that we stand in sadness before our Creator. We stand in need of grace if we are 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 any person can be restored to fellowship with Himself without compromising divine holiness. Grace found a way to redeem individuals. 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. The merit of Christ would be imputed, or charged to the account of those who are the heirs of salvation, so that in an alien righteousness they can stand before the holy God.
The Bible records that the Plan of God was executed. God’s Son entered 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 way Jesus accomplished the will of the Father is declared by the prophet Isaiah.“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” (Isaiah 53).
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 human efforts 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” (Ex 12:13).
“Christ our Redeemer died on the cross,
Died for the sinner, paid all his due;
Sprinkle your soul with the
blood of the Lamb,
And I will pass, will pass over you.
When I see the blood,
When I see the blood,
When I see the blood,
I will pass, I will pass over you.”
~John G. Foote
Second, Jesus died as a substitute. It was for His own special people that Jesus poured out His life as an atonement for sin. The Bible teaches a definite redemptive work of Christ, for we read that on the night of the Passover, Jesus took bread and gave thanks, and broke it saying to the disciples,
“This is my body which is given for you”(Luke 22:19, 20).
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.”
The Bible reveals that the Church, and only the Church, enjoys redemption through the blood of Christ, and the forgiveness of sin. “In whom we have redemption through his blood, the forgiveness of sins, according to the riches of his grace” (Eph. 1:7).
Since it is true that individuals have no righteousness before God on their own, and need 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 (Phil. 2:12). It is possible to neglect salvation to the point of eternal ruin.
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 become 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 (Fr. “little mountain”), was redeemed from the trash heap of neglect. It was restored so that millions might enjoy its beauty, and learn 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 factors which will cause the home where Christ dwells to become neglected: 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 one’s personal happiness is superior to the commandments of holy Scripture.
The devil causes individuals 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 trying to fulfill the violent passions that rage in the body in an unauthorized way. One of the great burdens that any Christian must bear, is that of watching people turn back from following Christ.
It is always heartbreaking to look around and ask, “Where have the people gone? ”Where have the young people gone? “So many have left the Church. 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, and divine favor,
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. 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. Those who turn away from the Lord are not happier, for happiness is found by hungering and thirsting after God.
“Are we hungry?”
“Are we thirsty?”
“Can we say with the Psalmist:
As the hart panteth after the water brooks, so panteth my soul after Thee, O Lord?” (Psalms 42:1)
Let us not neglect the means of grace to our eternal ruin.
The Lord has shown us how to be happy.
Now, may God grant in grace that we be found among the favored ones, and we shall be, as we hunger and thirst after righteousness. If the question is asked, “How can I hunger after righteousness,” there is a twofold answer.
First, be regenerated.
Be born again.
Then, there will be a natural spiritual appetite.
The Bible calls this one’s, First Love.
Second, consume more of God’s Word. The more you eat, the more you will want to eat. Your spiritual appetite will grow. God wants His sheep to be spiritually chubby. To that end, we feed His sheep.