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Jesus painted the picture of hunger and thirst for people who had actually experienced the desperation of lacking life’s basic necessities. He was saying, “When you are as desperate for righteousness as you would be if you were starving and expiring in a wasteland, God will satiate your hunger and quench your thirst, flooding your life with the righteousness for which you long.”

But what is this soul-satisfying food and drink called “righteousness”? The Bible speaks of righteousness in four related ways, all of which should make our spiritual mouths water: (1) justice, (2) character, (3) rightness with God, and (4) the Lord our righteousness.

Justice

Two word families in English reflect a single word family in Greek. On the one hand, we have “right,” “righteous,” and “righteousness.” On the other, we have “judge,” “justice,” “justify,” and “justification.” Behind both of these families is a group of Greek words that share a single root that encompasses both justice and righteousness. So Israel’s judges must follow “justice, and only justice” (Deut. 16:20). By faith, says Hebrews 11:33, some of Israel’s leaders “enforced justice” (translated “righteousness” in our beatitude).

So, Jesus is pronouncing blessing on those who “hunger and thirst for justice.” Today we hunger for justice, as we watch whole neighborhoods, communities, and societies ripped apart by injustice. Jesus expected His followers specifically to hunger for justice, for they would be persecuted for justice’s sake and for Jesus’ sake (Matt. 5:10–11). As the souls of martyrs await the last judgment, they cry, “How long before you will judge and avenge our blood?” (Rev. 6:9–10). They hunger for justice. Our hunger for a world freed from injustice will be satisfied only in the new heavens and earth, in which justice dwells (2 Peter 3:13).

Righteous Character

If we identify with victims of injustice, we thirst to see God put wrongs right. If we are consistent, then, we hunger to become people characterized by righteousness. In this same sermon, Jesus says, “Unless your righteousness exceeds that of the scribes and Pharisees, you will never enter the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:20). Then He shows how deep real righteousness goes: it excludes not only murder but also sullen anger and insulting words; not only adultery but also lustful fantasies. It entails costly promise keeping and truth telling.

God’s gifts of rightness with Himself and growing character-righteousness come embodied in His Son.

God summons us to “pursue righteousness” (1 Tim. 6:11; 2 Tim. 2:22). We are to “practice righteousness” because our Lord is righteous and because righteous character and conduct flow from our new birth (1 John 2:29; 3:7, 10). Such justice of heart is the fruit of God’s grace (Phil. 1:10–11) and cultivated by His fatherly discipline (Heb. 12:11).

Rightness with God

As we face our own failures to practice what is right, our righteousness-hungry hearts are far from satiated. Knowing that He is the righteous Judge who will not acquit the wicked (Ex. 23:7), we thirst for a rightness with God that we cannot achieve. This rightness with God is the free gift of His grace, which we receive through faith alone. This gift of right standing with God—our sins forgiven, Christ’s righteousness credited to us (Isa. 53:5–6, 11–12; 61:10; Zech. 3:1–5)—is the heart of the good news: “For our sake [God] made [Christ] to be sin who knew no sin, so that in him we might become the righteousness of God” (2 Cor. 5:21). We long to “be found in [Christ], not having a righteousness of [our] own that comes from the law, but that which comes through faith in Christ, the righteousness from God that depends on faith” (Phil. 3:8–9).

In Jesus, our hunger and thirst for rightness with God are immediately, completely satisfied when God’s Spirit draws us to trust His Son. This justification assures us of God’s love, arousing our hunger for the righteousness of character that reflects Jesus the righteous One.

The Lord Our Righteousness

God’s gifts of rightness with Himself (justification) and growing character-righteousness (sanctification) come in the great gift of His Son. Jeremiah predicted that God would raise up a righteous Branch, whose name would be “the LORD is our righteousness” (Jer. 23:5–6). When the Lord our righteousness arrived in person, the Apostle Paul declared: “Christ Jesus, who became to us wisdom from God, righteousness and sanctification and redemption” (1 Cor. 1:30).

Psalmists thirsted for the God who is our righteousness: “As a deer pants for flowing streams, so pants my soul for you, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God” (Ps. 42:1–2). Their thirst for justice in society, for personal righteousness, and for merciful acquittal could be satisfied only in communion with God Himself. As God’s gracious Spirit sets our hearts aflame, we too taste the blessedness of resting in the gift of rightness with God, leaning on His righteousness-producing strength and longing for the new heavens and earth, the home of righteousness.

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From the January 2021 Issue
Jan 2021 Issue