Dear friends of Jesus Christ,
There is a logic to the order of the beatitudes that is beginning to become clear.
The first two beatitudes are introspective. When the gospel takes hold of us, we realize that we are like paupers in the relation to the Kingdom of God. And we see ourselves as being in need of amazing grace.
And who we are, and what the world has become makes us sad and causes us to mourn. Once you’ve caught a vision of God’s Kingdom and its Righteousness, its hard not to cry. Our lives fall short of the glory of God, this world falls short of God’s vision for it.
The third beatitude is all about coming under the leadership of a new master. The meek are aware that they should not be leading their own life. Having been captivated by God and his kingdom, they receive with gratitude the gentle and light yoke of Christ.
Basically, what we find in the first three beatitudes, is what the Apostles would call “repentance and faith”.
When Peter preached on the Pentecost morning, those who heard were cut to the heart. They saw their poverty. They mourned over their sin. “What must we do to be saved?” They asked.
“Repent, believe, and be baptized” Peter said. In other words. Acknowledge the poverty of your old life, turn away from it, and come under the leadership of Jesus, the risen and ascended King.
And on that day in Jerusalem, many who were poor in spirit received the Kingdom, the mourners were comforted in the waters of baptism, and a few thousand people left their pride behind and came under the leadership of Jesus Christ.
Now what? What’s next? What’s a person who has been transformed by Jesus do? Go back to your old life? How now shall we live?
Well, in Acts, we read that, after Pentecost, the believers came together in a radical new way. They still went to work, but their work was engaged with new focus. They returned to their families, but family life would never be the same. Having entered Jesus Kingdom through faith, they now devoted themselves to the apostles teaching, to prayer, to breaking bread with each other. And they held things in common. Whenever there was need, that need was met.
In other words, those who had been transformed by God’s Kingdom, began to actively seek first God’s Kingdom and its righteousness.
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.
Do you see the logical progression here?
The Kingdom of God breaks us down and then builds us back up again. When Jesus gets ahold of your life, he not only brings you into a saving relationship with the Father, but he gives you new hungers and thirsts.
Righteousness is one of those we find over and over again in the scriptures. It’s everywhere. And it is a recurring theme in the sermon on the mount, too.
Dikaiosune is the greek word.
- state of him who is as he ought to be… the condition acceptable to God
- integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking, feeling, and acting
To be Dikaiosune involves so much more than avoiding sin. A righteous man is just and true. A righteous woman knows the difference between the good path and bad path, and actively is choosing the good path.
A little while later in the sermon on the mount, Jesus will say that our righteousness must exceed that of the Religious Leaders. What he means here, I think, is that true righteousness must be more than skin deep. Its one thing to refrain from murdering your neighbour. That’s not so hard. But its a whole other things to refrain from hating your neighbour. And its even harder to love your neighbour, if that neighbour happens to be acting like an enemy.
A truly righteous person is not only refraining from murder, but is hungering and thirsting for hate to be eradicated from their heart.
God is described as Righteous. His righteousness endures forever, says the Psalmist. What this means is that God can always be counted on to act in a right and faithful way towards his people and creation. God can’t be bribed or bought out. He’s impartial. He sees. He judges what is wrong, and actively seeks to make things right again.
Righteousness is a relational term. Its not fundamentally about living up to some abstract standard. Its about rightness in relationships.
Think about the 10 commandments. They were never meant to be an abstract judicial code. Rather, they were given to protect and facilitate Israel’s covenant relationship with the Lord.
“I am the Lord your God who brought you out of Egypt.” I am yours. You are mine. Therefore, have no other lovers before me or beside me.
To break God’s law, its personal. Its hurts the relationship.
To be human, you see, is to be embedded within a complex web of relationships. And righteousness is about doing right by those relationships.
When you came into this world, you were received by your mother. She welcomed you into your family. This is ground zero. Your first relational web. But you were also born into a particular country in a particular city. So, not only do you have relationships with your family, but you also have relationships with your fellow citizens, and neighbours.
And when you go to school or get a job, your relational network grows.
And now, since our world is totally interconnected, you are literally in relationship with people all over the world. The shirt you are wearing was probably made in Bangledesh or Vietnam. Someone over there, pieced your shirt together. How were they paid? How were they treated?
And of course, all of us are in relationship with the earth. We breathe oxygen that is produced by plants. We are dependent on the food that grows. That steak on your plate, it used to be a part of a living, breathing cow. By eating that steak, you are now in a relationship with that cow. You are also now in a relationship with everything that that cow ate, with the farmers who grew the cow’s food, and with the butcher who butchered the cow, and with the grocer, who sold you the steak.
And since the earth is the Lord’s and everything in it, that means that all of us are in relationship with the Lord of life too. We’re renters in his creation. He knit us together in our mother’s womb.
What does it look like to live righteously in all these spheres of life.
Here’s a diagram that I hope will simplify things this morning.
These are our primary relationships: We are in relationship with God, with neighbour, with self, and with the world.
In the beginning, all these relationships were in-tact and good. God walked with Adam and Eve in the garden. The earth produced nothing but good food. And Adam and Eve were naked and felt no shame. The world was a rightly related place.
But the Fall threw a wrench into these relationships. After biting the forbidden fruit, Adam and Eve hid from God and each other. They were ashamed at their nakedness. And then they blamed each other and the serpent for what had happened.
The impact of the fall is felt everywhere in our lives.
Our relationship with the world has been impacted. I mean, you don’t have to be a climatologist to know that this world is groaning under the tyranny of man’s domination. There are continent sized islands of plastic floating around in the pacific ocean. But so long as people need to be elected and the money keeps rolling in, nothing is going to change.
And our relationships with others. Read through the comments section on twitter sometime. Or go and attend a strata council meeting where some tough financial decisions need to be made. You feel relational brokenness at work. There is unforgiveness and jealousy within our marriages and families. Its hard for things to be right in our relationships with neighbours. No wonder loneliness is a growing problem.
And what about the relationship we have with ourselves. We are quite a medicated society. We hurt our bodies with drugs and alcohol. We cover ourselves with Tattoos. We change our voice, our opinions, our identity, to try to fit in with the crowd. We feel so ashamed at who we’ve become that don’t risk the authenticity needed for genuine relationship.
And what about our relationship with God. Well it seems that humans are inclined to either try to use God for their own ends, or try to discard him on the rubble pile of history.
What is to be done about all these strained relationships? And more to the point for today… How should one who belongs to Christ and Christ’s Kingdom respond to this unrighteous situation?
Well… Jesus says: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness. In sync are those who long for these little red lines to be erased..
These are God’s kind of people. They get the mission of Jesus, and the Kingdom of God.
We sing a song at Christmas that beautifully describes Christ’s mission. In verse 3 of Joy to the world, we sing: No more let sin, and sorrow grow, nor thorns infest the ground; he comes to make, his blessings flow, far as the curse is found, far as the course is found, far as… far as… the curse is found.
In other words, Jesus mission is to restore righteousness in all these relationships. His passion is to eradicate all those red lines
All throughout his ministry, Jesus hungered and thirsted for things to be made right. Broken people were healed in his presence. The ashamed were forgiven and restored to community. His passion for righteousness caused him to endure the cross, so that we the unrighteous, could become rightly related to God once again. And through his broken body and poured out blood, he formed a new kind of community. People groups that used to be separate, at war with each other, became brothers and sisters in his name.
And one of the surest signs we have that someone is in a right relationship with God, and part of Christ’s Kingdom, is if that person shares something of God’s passion for righteousness.
I mean…. If you never experience hunger pains for things to be made right, then you are far from the Lord. If all you hunger for is nicer things, warm vacations, personal security, the weekend, then you are far from the Lord. Because your hungers and thirsts reveal you god. And if you never hunger and thirst for righteousness, then the Lord God is not your god.
One of the reasons that I think Cannabis should probably be avoided by Christians—and I’m talking about recreational use here, not medicinal—is because while getting high will make you hungry and thirsty, chances are it will not make you hungry and thirsty for righteousness. People get high for all kinds of reasons, and I know its complex. But one of the main reasons to get high, is to check out for a few hours. To forget about the problems of the world.
But God’s people don’t desire to check out. His people are the people who cry, pray, and ache for things to be made right.
The other day, I attended a classis meeting on the mainland. I met someone there who works for A Rocha in Telkwa. A Rocha is a Christian organization that does environmental advocacy and creation care. This woman was wearing a Tee-Shirt. On it in big print, were the words, “I Love My Watershed.”
I talked to this woman for 5 minutes, and you can tell that she cares deeply for the Buckley River and God’s creation. She was asked to be on a committee, by classis, and she had to think about it for a bit, because she wanted to make sure that joining the committee would compliment her passion for the environment and not interfere with it.
This woman desperately desires righteousness in our relationship with the earth. She is on the right path.
In 1999, a man named Gary Haugen started an organization named International Justice Mission. Gary was on the ground in Rwanda after the genocide. That experience, among many experiences, had a profound impact on him.
For just about 20 years, International Justice Mission has worked tirelessly to liberate girls from the sex industry, and fight corruption in many countries. Gary Haugen has given his life to fight for righteousness in this area. He is on the right path.
In 1989 a pastor named Tim Keller was called to start a church in Mid Town New York City. He didn’t know what he was doing, but he had a hunger to help urban New Yorkers make sense of God.
Redeemer Presbyterian now has over 5000 members. But that’s not what gets Keller excited. What gets him excited is that his church has started a church planting organization that is dedicated to bringing the gospel to urban centres all over the world. In the past 15 years, City to City, has helped to launch 495 Churches in 74 global and growing cities.
Keller’s ache is for people know God and be in a life giving relationship with him. He is on the right path.
These are just a few people. And they are the successful ones. But the point of this beatitude is not success. The point is the hunger and the thirst.
Blessed are those who ache for the world to be whole. Righteous. They are in sync with the reign of God.
I wonder. What causes you to ache? What primary relationship, when broken, causes you to cry? Pay attention to your hungers and thirsts. I believe that God has given them to you. And I believe he is inviting you to spend your life working to restore righteousness to some area of the world.
Only those who ache for the new day, will be satisfied when it comes. And it will come. When Jesus returns, they will fill up at the table of the Lord, and drink deeply from the river of life. They will feast. And weep and hunger no more.