Part 2 of a series on The Sermon On The Mount by John Lavric
The beatitudes are not a multi-choice question, choose any 1 from 8, but the building blocks of the character of a citizen of the kingdom. As Jesus goes through the sermon He will build on these basic principles. Knowing our poverty of spirit, mourning because of it and being meek or humble enough to acknowledge it will do us no good at all unless we are prepared to do something about it. These first three beatitudes imply the next one
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they shall be filled.” (vs. 6)
A vicar noticed that many of his congregation went from church to the pub. He asked the curate why and was told, ‘They`re taking your advice to have a thirst after righteousness.’
The first thing we notice is this is no casual longing, no superficial desire. Jesus did not say it would be good if we would like to be a bit more righteous. He used words that His hearers would understand. They knew what it was like to be out in the desert with little water. The Psalmist had used this analogy before “As the deer pants after the water brooks, so my soul pants after You, O God. My soul thirsts for God, for the living God.” (Ps 42:1-2) David had cried in the desert wilderness, “O God, You are my God; I will seek You earnestly; my soul thirsts for You; my flesh longs for You, as in a dry and thirsty land, where no water is.” (Ps 63:1) I am not sure that we, in our materialistic over-indulgent western society, can fully appreciate what it is to hunger and thirst. We use the phrase “I`m starving!” when its is probably only a few hours since we have eaten or we complain if there is a hosepipe ban and we cannot water our gardens or wash the car. Perhaps the images we see from Africa, where crops have failed year upon year through lack of rain, of people walking miles for a few grains of rice or scooping up water from a filthy pool show us what true hunger and thirst is. Another definition of the word hunger is to have an earnest craving or intense desire for and this is nearer to what Jesus means here. It is really a combination of the two. Like the water which we know that without it we will die and like “the pearl of great price” which we will give up anything to possess. These first four beatitudes are about understanding our spiritual condition and knowing that God only can meet our need.
But what is this righteousness, which we are to hunger and thirst for, that Jesus is meaning here? We know it is not our righteousness because “all our righteous acts are as filthy rags.” (Isa 64:6) There are three aspects to this. First, legal – we have to be declared righteous by faith as Abraham was, “he believed the LORD, and he (God) counted it to him as righteousness.” (Gen 15:6) God has to put us right with Himself. Next, moral – we have to live in a right way before God. For that we have the Bible which is useful “for training in righteousness,” (Tim 3:16) But a deep desire to change is essential. Finally, social – so that the way we live before men honours and glorifies Him. We should do right before men as Jesus did. We know this is included because Jesus said we are to “let your light shine before others, so that they may see your good works and give glory to your Father who is in heaven.” (Matt 5:16) All this is from God who, in Christ, promises to feed the hungry and satisfy those who thirst. This is the gospel “For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith for faith, as it is written, “The righteous shall live by faith.” (Rom 1:17) This is also the mark of the Kingdom to which Peter refers, “We look for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.” (2 Pet 3:13)
If unrighteousness has no part in the kingdom and our righteousness is rubbish then it can only be the righteousness of God imputed to us that is of any value.
At this point we can see how Jesus has purposely given this order to the beatitudes. Having being set right with God and knowing that we don`t deserve it we are so grateful that we see others in a different light.
“Blessed are the merciful, for they shall obtain mercy.” (vs. 7)
I read this story about Gladstone when he was Chancellor of the Exchequer. He sent to the treasury for some statistics on which to base a speech. The statistician made a mistake but Gladstone was so sure of the man`s accuracy that he did not take the time to verify them. He gave the speech using the incorrect figures. Next day the papers were full of the glaring inaccuracies. Gladstone was embarrassed and sent for the man, who came in fearing that he would lose his job. This is what Gladstone said, ‘I know how much you must be disturbed over what has happened, and I have sent for you to put you at your ease. For a long time you have been engaged in handling the intricacies of the national accounts, and this is the first mistake that you have made. I want to congratulate you, and express to you my keen appreciation.’ Perhaps the politicians of today could learn from his example?
God said “I will show mercy on whom I will show mercy.” (Ex 33:19) Here we are looking at a characteristic of God who is perfect in all His ways, so His mercy is perfect. It can and should be displayed by citizens of the kingdom for God tells us to “act justly, love mercy, and walk humbly with your God.” (Mic 6:8) We can find this very difficult. There is a saying that ‘there is no such thing as a free lunch,’ someone has to pay. Micah doesn`t say we have to like to be merciful, occasionally, but rather that we should love to be merciful. This is an attitude of heart which is a complete change for humanity. Adam blamed Eve, and Eve blamed the serpent. Most of us look for signs that someone is deserving of our mercy but mercy by its very nature means that it is undeserved. Jesus told a parable of the unforgiving servant (Matt 18:23-35) to illustrate the principle of forgiveness and mercy. It also shows the scale of God`s mercy towards us in comparison to ours towards others. The Old Testament prophets warned the people about their un-merciful attitude. They were very good at sacrifices but poor on mercy “I desire mercy, and not sacrifice.” (Hos 6:6) Sacrifice makes us feel good but mercy relieves the undeserving.
There are warnings too for believers in the New Testament. “For judgment is without mercy to one who has shown no mercy. Mercy triumphs over judgment.” (Jam 2:13) We would dearly like this to be written for some of the horrible people we hear about each day, terrorists, paedophiles, and murderers but this is written to believers who are expected to be merciful. If we are not merciful to others then we have not truly understood our state before God, who so graciously in Christ, saved us. We were sinners deserving of His wrath and all we could do, like the tax-collector, was cry ‘God, be merciful to me, a sinner!’ (Luke 18:13) And God in his great mercy has – Praise His name!
In the light of this, how can we fail to extend mercy to others? “The more godly any man is, the more merciful, that man will be.” (Thomas Brooks)
Let me finish with these words, “Followers of Jesus must be men of mercy; for they have found mercy, and mercy has found them. As we look for ‘mercy of the Lord in that day,’ we must show mercy in this day.” (C H Spurgeon)