Few of us really know the meaning of hunger and thirst. We are rarely more than a few hours from our next good meal, and often just steps away from the tap or fridge or pantry.
But in the time of Jesus, hunger and thirst were relentless companions. If your crops failed, or the winter rains didn’t come, your life was suddenly on the line and you had to do everything possible to find a new source of food and water. So when Jesus speaks of the longing of the hungry and thirsty in Matthew 5:6, we know He is describing a strong desire:
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be filled.
This is not a craving you can ignore. If you know that God is God, and that his will is good, and that there is only life through fellowship with him, this will be your one desire. You will hunger and thirst for his righteousness, even as much as a starving man wants a morsel of food, as much as a person dying of thirst craves water.
As He does with the other Beatitudes, Christ builds this one on the Old Testament. Think of Psalm 63:1, “O God, you are my God; early will I seek you. My soul thirsts for you; my flesh longs for you in a dry and weary land where there is no water.” In the desert, David isn’t even hoping for food and water, but simply longing for God, his God. This is whom he wants, because if he has the LORD, he has all.
Or consider Isaiah 55, God’s sparkling summons to his sinful nation, “Everyone who thirsts, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat. Yes, come, buy wine and milk without money and without price” (v. 1). God promises deepest satisfaction to all who believe in him. You don’t have to die in your sin, and you don’t have to be empty. If you thirst, you can come to the waters, and if you hunger, you can get this bread without cost.
Appreciate that God’s blessing is granted to those who hunger and thirst for him, to those who desire his grace because they know they need it. Christ says you are blessed when you know yourself to be empty and you want to be filled. You don’t have to be approaching perfection and to have everything figured out. If the Holy Spirit has worked in you a hunger for God, then you’re already traveling the road to happiness!
So do we hunger and thirst for righteousness? Put another way, do we long to have a good and living relationship with God? The ability isn’t within ourselves. In Isaiah 55, God knows that those who thirst “have no money.” They come to the well empty-handed and broke. We too, cannot do a single thing to solve our problem, for we have abandoned God’s pattern, suppressed his truth, and we stand guilty in his judgment.
But God allows sinners to draw near. Through Christ, our relationship with God can be put right. For Christ conformed flawlessly to God’s will, then accepted the punishment of all who have rebelled against God. Christ is the reason God can say to the hungry and thirsty, “You who have no money, come, buy and eat.” Through Christ, help is available, even “wine and milk without price.” And just because it is free doesn’t mean that it’s cheap: Jesus bought it with his precious blood.
This is what is freely available, and for it we must continually hunger and thirst. Compare it to how hunger and thirst are appetites that return to us frequently. Hunger and thirst always call for our attention and need to be satisfied afresh. In the same way, the person in whom God is working will seek a living connection with the Saviour.
Just because we prayed last night doesn’t mean we want to skip prayer this morning, for we’re still hungry.
Just because we went to church on Sunday doesn’t mean we keep our Bible closed all week, for we’re still thirsty.
We keep doing these things because we seek to live near the God who has saved us. This holy longing also means rejecting the things that will not satisfy. Desire always moves in our heart, like a desire for more friends, more money, less trouble, a better job, a nicer face. We are spiritually hungry, and sometimes we rush to satisfy our hunger with the nearest or easiest nutrition. But it will not last.
This is why God asks in Isaiah 55, “Why do you spend money for what is not bread, and your wages for what does not satisfy?” (v. 2). The Israelites habitually chased their comforting idols, and found refuge in international alliances. Like we all do, they chased after an elusive security, but ended up spending money on what is not bread. This was food that ‘did not satisfy.’
The danger remains. In Luke’s Gospel, we find a slightly different version of the Beatitudes, where Jesus also gives a warning against false comfort. After announcing, “Blessed are you who hunger now” (6:21), He declares in 6:25,
Woe to you that are full, for you shall hunger.
He warns that if you are “full” now, like you already have almost everything that you want—and God isn’t really a big part of that—then you might be missing out on the greatest thing of all. Christ points out the better way: hungering and thirsting for him, craving and yearning.
The life of faith isn’t for someone who is mildly intrigued or occasionally attracted. God is worthy of earnest desire, constant hunger! As one commentator puts it,
The Christian does not say, ‘I am interested in Christ.’
He says, ‘For me, to live is Christ.’
What about you? Are you ‘interested’ in Christ? Do you make time for him, now and again? Or is your life all about Christ? Are you driven by him, drawn to him, motivated by him in all you do? Do you hunger and thirst for his righteousness? Through Christ’s life and death, we are righteous, for his righteousness is given as a free gift. But then we also press on with a longing to know and love God more.
As Paul once said, “Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected, but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me” (Phil 3:12). This alone is the kind of longing that will be blessed, the hunger that only Jesus can satisfy.