Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst …  Sounds like someone who wants to dig into the brunch picture below.  Especially when we realize that the sentence ends with “for they will be filled”.  That’s filled, as in satisfied.  Hungry?  Eat, and be satisfied.  Thirsty?  Drink, and be satisfied.  But there’s more to it.  Two words in the middle.  Words I left out.  “For righteousness”.  Oops.  That’s not about food.  This begs a question.  Exactly what does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness is article #6 in the series: Beatitudes. Click button to view titles for entire series

Here’s a clue:

brunch - Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness

Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

But even now, do we really understand what hunger and thirst for righteousness means?  It could be a whole lot more than you think.  Maybe even more than you’re ready to hear?

Just on the off chance you still don’t recognize where that quote comes from, it’s Jesus, from Matthew’s Gospel.  There are various ways people tend to view what those words mean.  But the truth is, it doesn’t matter what we’d like them to mean.  What matters is what Jesus meant when He said these words.

One view of hunger and thirst for righteousness

The first commentary opened up by my software package says this:

In keeping with the preceding, the fourth beatitude names the literally hungry and thirsty, i.e., the downtrodden and oppressed, who especially hunger and thirst after the justice associated with the coming of God’s eschatological rule. There is, then, no significant difference between the Matthean and Lukan versions of the beatitude, despite the additional words καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, “and thirst for justice,” in Matthew. That δικαιοσύνη here means “justice” rather than “personal righteousness” is clear from the context.  [1]Hagner, D. A. (1993). Matthew 1–13 (Vol. 33A, p. 93). Dallas: Word, Incorporated.

I know – it’s got some big words and some Greek that isn’t explained all that completely.  So let me try to add some insight to it.

In keeping with the preceding

This means in keeping with the preceding Beatitudes.  If you’ve studied the previous Beatitudes from this site, you’ll soon see that I agree this one is in line with the previous three.  However, you’ll also see that I look at all four of them differently.

There’s the obvious interpretation – being hungry for food and drink.

Here’s another.  As the author implies, Luke’s telling of the beatitudes tends to be on more of a social justice level than Matthew’s.  Luke actually has two verses dealing with the topic of being hungry – or not.

Lk 6:21 Blessed are you who hunger now, for you will be satisfied.

Lk 6:25 Woe to you who are well fed now, for you will go hungry.

Whether Luke assumes the reader will see anything deeper than mere food and drink is impossible to say.  However, I feel that the additional words that Matthew has throughout the passage we call the Beatitudes is much more significant than the excerpt above expresses.  You may remember, from the very first one, Matthew shows a need for the Holy Spirit.  Not only that, but Jesus shows us a growth that comes with an ever-increasing role for the Holy Spirit in our lives.

despite the additional words καὶ διψῶντες τὴν δικαιοσύνην, “and thirst for justice,” in Matthew

The commentary author uses the word “justice”.  The thing is though, justice is only a small part of what the Greek word he translates as “justice” actually is meant to portray.  Here’s the full meaning behind it:

1343 δικαιοσύνη [dikaiosune /dik·ah·yos·oo·nay/] n f. From 1342; TDNT 2:192; TDNTA 168; GK 1466; 92 occurrences; AV translates as “righteousness” 92 times. 1 in a broad sense: state of him who is as he ought to be, righteousness, the condition acceptable to God. 1A the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God. 1B integrity, virtue, purity of life, rightness, correctness of thinking feeling, and acting. 2 in a narrower sense, justice or the virtue which gives each his due.  [2]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

So we see that justice comes from a narrow view of the original Greek word.  Given that this is Jesus speaking, something along the lines of the doctrine concerning the way in which man may attain a state approved of God seems so much more appropriate.  Justice isn’t the complete picture Jesus was trying to paint.

And then there’s those two words I left out.  “for righteousness“.  How can we conclude this is about food, or even justice, when Jesus said it was about a hunger and thirst for righteousness?

Another view of hunger and thirst for righteousness

We’re going to look at a number of possible ways to interpret what Jesus meant by Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

When looking at this beatitude, we should consider other things that Jesus said about hunger and thirst.  They come to mind for me.  And it’s hard to believe people in His own time would not have also thought about them.  Especially when literal hunger and thirst were issues.  Think about it.  People asked Jesus about food and water.  But look at how He responded to them.  In fact, even to Satan.

The Temptation of Jesus

4:1-11 pp — Mk 1:12, 13; Lk 4:1-13

Mt 4:1 Then Jesus was led by the Spirit into the desert to be tempted by the devil. 2 After fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 The tempter came to him and said, “If you are the Son of God, tell these stones to become bread.”

Mt 4:4 Jesus answered, “It is written: ‘Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.’’”

Satan knew Jesus was hungry, so he tempted Jesus by suggesting He turn the stones into bread to satisfy His hunger.  But Jesus tells him no.  He says that people need more than just literal bread.  We also need every word that comes from the mouth of God.  Hold onto that thought.  We’ll return to it shortly.

And then we have this exchange between Jesus and a Samaritan woman.

Jesus Talks With a Samaritan Woman

Jn 4:1 The Pharisees heard that Jesus was gaining and baptizing more disciples than John, 2 although in fact it was not Jesus who baptized, but his disciples. 3 When the Lord learned of this, he left Judea and went back once more to Galilee.

Jn 4:4 Now he had to go through Samaria. 5 So he came to a town in Samaria called Sychar, near the plot of ground Jacob had given to his son Joseph. 6 Jacob’s well was there, and Jesus, tired as he was from the journey, sat down by the well. It was about the sixth hour.

Jn 4:7 When a Samaritan woman came to draw water, Jesus said to her, “Will you give me a drink?” 8 (His disciples had gone into the town to buy food.)

Jn 4:9 The Samaritan woman said to him, “You are a Jew and I am a Samaritan woman. How can you ask me for a drink?” (For Jews do not associate with Samaritans. )

Jn 4:10 Jesus answered her, “If you knew the gift of God and who it is that asks you for a drink, you would have asked him and he would have given you living water.”

Living water.  Sounds interesting.  Probably sounded crazy 2,000 years ago.  Water doesn’t “live”.  It’s the other way around – water is required so that other things may live.  Even so-called air plants actually live off the moisture they take out of the air.

Jn 4:11 “Sir,” the woman said, “you have nothing to draw with and the well is deep. Where can you get this living water? 12 Are you greater than our father Jacob, who gave us the well and drank from it himself, as did also his sons and his flocks and herds?”

Jn 4:13 Jesus answered, “Everyone who drinks this water will be thirsty again, 14 but whoever drinks the water I give him will never thirst. Indeed, the water I give him will become in him a spring of water welling up to eternal life.”

It’s sounding even more crazy.  And yet, look how the woman responds to Jesus.

Jn 4:15 The woman said to him, “Sir, give me this water so that I won’t get thirsty and have to keep coming here to draw water.”

She wants that water.  But at the same time, she doesn’t have a clue what Jesus is talking about.

Jn 4:16 He told her, “Go, call your husband and come back.”

Jn 4:17 “I have no husband,” she replied.
Jesus said to her, “You are right when you say you have no husband. 18 The fact is, you have had five husbands, and the man you now have is not your husband. What you have just said is quite true.”

Jn 4:19 “Sir,” the woman said, “I can see that you are a prophet. 20 Our fathers worshiped on this mountain, but you Jews claim that the place where we must worship is in Jerusalem.”

Jn 4:21 Jesus declared, “Believe me, woman, a time is coming when you will worship the Father neither on this mountain nor in Jerusalem. 22 You Samaritans worship what you do not know; we worship what we do know, for salvation is from the Jews. 23 Yet a time is coming and has now come when the true worshipers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for they are the kind of worshipers the Father seeks. 24 God is spirit, and his worshipers must worship in spirit and in truth.”

Jn 4:25 The woman said, “I know that Messiah” (called Christ) “is coming. When he comes, he will explain everything to us.”

Jn 4:26 Then Jesus declared, “I who speak to you am he.”

And now we can begin to realize why the woman was clueless about that living water.  She’s a Samaritan.  Hated by the Jews.  Sure, she heard things about Messiah.  But it’s not likely she was a regular attendee at a Synagogue.  She wouldn’t have been welcome there.

Seems like there’s got to be more to hunger and thirst than just bread and water.  One thing to consider here is that, even for many Christians, is that we don’t necessarily know what Jesus meant either.  We have our own day to day issues that keep us occupied.  Many have our own concerns about literal food and water.  Without a proper background and without time spent to learn, we won’t really understand the depth of what Jesus said either.

hunger and thirst – for justice?

Let’s go back to the concept of justice that we looked at from the initial commentary.  These days, justice has all sorts of connotations.  Everything from law enforcement and the courts serving justice on those who do wrong – to the idea of vigilante justice, where people take the law into their own hands and become police, judge, jury and executioner all by themselves.  And then there are different views of justice like being above the law and escaping justice for the rich people – to being targets of the law and having no justice for the poor.

But what about God?  Should we, as Christians, have God involved in this concept of justice?  As in:

JUSTICE OF GOD—that perfection of his nature whereby he is infinitely righteous in himself and in all he does, the righteousness of the divine nature exercised in his moral government. At first, God imposes righteous laws on his creatures and executes them righteously. Justice is not an optional product of his will, but an unchangeable principle of his very nature. His legislative justice is his requiring of his rational creatures conformity in all respects to the moral law. His rectoral (of or relating to God as governor or ruler of men) or distributive justice is his dealing with his accountable creatures according to the requirements of the law in rewarding or punishing them (Ps. 89:14). In remunerative justice he distributes rewards (James 1:12; 2 Tim. 4:8); in vindictive or punitive justice he inflicts punishment on account of transgression (2 Thess. 1:6). He cannot, as being infinitely righteous, do otherwise than regard and hate sin as intrinsically hateful and deserving of punishment. “He cannot deny himself” (2 Tim. 2:13). His essential and eternal righteousness immutably determines him to visit every sin as such with merited punishment.  [3]Easton, M. G. (1893). In Easton’s Bible dictionary. New York: Harper & Brothers.

Did you happen to notice the words righteous and righteousness in there?  They appear six times.  Justice is an integral part of the righteousness of God’s divine nature.

As was pointed out earlier, justice is part of what God requires.  But the basis for justice really comes from God’s righteousness.  A righteous God sets up righteous laws for people.  Justice is then dispensed in accord with those righteous laws.  It must be that way.  As Paul points out in his second letter to Timothy:

2Ti 2:8 Remember Jesus Christ, raised from the dead, descended from David. This is my gospel, 9 for which I am suffering even to the point of being chained like a criminal. But God’s word is not chained. 10 Therefore I endure everything for the sake of the elect, that they too may obtain the salvation that is in Christ Jesus, with eternal glory.

2Ti 2:11 Here is a trustworthy saying:
If we died with him,
we will also live with him;

2Ti 2:12 if we endure,
we will also reign with him.
If we disown him,
he will also disown us;

2Ti 2:13 if we are faithless,
he will remain faithful,
for he cannot disown himself.

To put in in more modern slang – we’re flaky.  Maybe we acknowledge God, maybe we don’t.  Even if we acknowledge God, maybe we follow Him, but maybe we don’t.  And even if we start to follow God, maybe we’ll lose faith and walk, or run, away from Him.  Flaky.  Undependable.  Not like God at all.

Somehow, we can rationalize that our actions are righteous.  We walk away from God because (fill in the blank here) and He’s just gonna have to live with it.  Sorry.  That’s not really righteous.  Not infinitely righteous.  It’s flaky.  Not trustworthy.

As Christians, we should want better.  We should want to stop being so flaky.  We should want to be more faithful.  To stop disowning God, even if only briefly, until we come to our senses and realize that whatever our reasons for running were, God was right all along.  God cannot disown Himself.  But we can – and do – disown both ourselves and God.

When we want better, when we want to be faithful, we are – are you ready? – in that group of people who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

However – we must realize that it’s God who defines righteousness for His followers.  As I’ve often pointed out – we are created in God’s image.  We do not get to redefine God in our image.  If we hunger and thirst for something other than God’s righteousness, then Jesus isn’t talking about us in this Beatitude.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

Now that we (hopefully) understand God’s view of righteousness, let’s keep going.

OK – we want to be better.  We really do start to want God’s righteousness in our life.  But how do we get it?  Can we get it?  Or do we have to wait for the next life?

First things first – how do we get it?  After all, as long as we get God’s righteousness, are we going to disown God if we have to wait for the next life?  Getting it at all – ever – is in itself a wonderful goal.

So let’s look at that hunger and thirst thing again.  In other words, now that we have some idea of what God’s righteousness is about, what are the “things” in our lives that we might hunger and thirst after?  And are those things likely to be what Jesus was talking about?  And don’t get me wrong here.  I’m not looking for a checklist to say yes, I want that.  I’m covered.  No – we must really truly, in our hearts, desire God’s righteousness.  The question is more one of, do I really want the things Jesus was talking about?

hunger and thirst for righteousness – Communion?

What about the Last Supper?  Jesus passed out bread and wine.  That’s hunger and thirst.  And the Last Supper is important.  Is Communion is what Jesus was talking about?  Did Jesus mean, blessed are those who hunger and thirst for Communion, for they will be filled?  Let’s look at that possibility.

The Last Supper

Lk 22:7 Then came the day of Unleavened Bread on which the Passover lamb had to be sacrificed. 8 Jesus sent Peter and John, saying, “Go and make preparations for us to eat the Passover.”

Lk 22:9 “Where do you want us to prepare for it?” they asked.

Lk 22:10 He replied, “As you enter the city, a man carrying a jar of water will meet you. Follow him to the house that he enters, 11 and say to the owner of the house, ‘The Teacher asks: Where is the guest room, where I may eat the Passover with my disciples?’ 12 He will show you a large upper room, all furnished. Make preparations there.”

Lk 22:13 They left and found things just as Jesus had told them. So they prepared the Passover.

Lk 22:14 When the hour came, Jesus and his apostles reclined at the table. 15 And he said to them, “I have eagerly desired to eat this Passover with you before I suffer. 16 For I tell you, I will not eat it again until it finds fulfillment in the kingdom of God.”

Lk 22:17 After taking the cup, he gave thanks and said, “Take this and divide it among you. 18 For I tell you I will not drink again of the fruit of the vine until the kingdom of God comes.”

Lk 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Lk 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you. 21 But the hand of him who is going to betray me is with mine on the table. 22 The Son of Man will go as it has been decreed, but woe to that man who betrays him.” 23 They began to question among themselves which of them it might be who would do this.

The model for what we now call Communion.  do this in remembrance of me  Was that what Jesus meant?

I don’t think so.  Not in the context of “blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness“.  What we’re supposed to remember here is Jesus’ sacrifice.  His suffering.  His death on the cross.  It’s not about our hunger or thirst.  It’s about Jesus paying the price for all the things we did that require some sort of payment based on the justice that God’s righteousness requires.  That’s what we are to remember from the Lord’s Supper.  Taking Communion is a chance to remember and contemplate that.

Honestly though, if you’re eating with other Christians, or with your family, and you happen to have bread and / or wine, that’s a chance to remember.  In a way, I feel sorry for Catholics on this point.  They believe the bread / wine must be blessed and be transformed into the body and blood of Christ.  Only then is it Communion.  But why shouldn’t we be able to commemorate and remember this event even with whatever bread or wine we have?  Sorry – I just had to say that.  It’s something my wife and I have done.  It’s memorable.

hunger and thirst for righteousness – cannibalism?

So it seems like Jesus didn’t mean to hunger and thirst after Communion.

But still, before we leave the topic, think back to the Last Supper again.  There’s something about the bread and the wine.

Lk 22:19 And he took bread, gave thanks and broke it, and gave it to them, saying, “This is my body given for you; do this in remembrance of me.”

Oh.  The bread was Jesus’ body.

Lk 22:20 In the same way, after the supper he took the cup, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood, which is poured out for you.

And the wine was Jesus’ blood.

Does that sound like cannibalism?  Not really.  It’s substitution.  Unless you’re Catholic, and then there’s the transformation from bread and wine into flesh and blood.  Either way though – not cannibalism.

hunger and thirst for righteousness – cannibalism? – take 2

However – we also should remember another event where Jesus said something about His flesh and His blood.  An event where cannibalism, although the word isn’t in the text, is certainly implied.  Here it is:

Jesus the Bread of Life

Jn 6:25 When they (the crowd from the previous day) found him on the other side of the lake, they asked him, “Rabbi, when did you get here?”

Jn 6:26 Jesus answered, “I tell you the truth, you are looking for me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. 27 Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On him God the Father has placed his seal of approval.”

Uh oh.  Jesus us letting the people know they’re only looking for Him because of the show (miracles) and the free food.  Then He talks about how bread and water are different from food that endures to eternal life – whatever that is.

But then Jesus throws in what we’d call a tease in today’s language.  He’s going to give the people some of that special food.

If you hunger and thirst – maybe you’re in the right place.  But if they hunger and thirst for food and water that will momentarily satisfy them, disappointment is on the way.

Jn 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

It seems the people figure there must be some sort of “work” they’ll have to do in order to get this special food.  And so they want to know what it is.  What are God’s requirements to get it?  If that’s where they were coming from, they didn’t get yesterday’s message.  Part of what Jesus said the day before was this:

Jn 5:24 “I tell you the truth, whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life. 25 I tell you the truth, a time is coming and has now come when the dead will hear the voice of the Son of God and those who hear will live. 26 For as the Father has life in himself, so he has granted the Son to have life in himself. 27 And he has given him authority to judge because he is the Son of Man.”

Since yesterday’s lesson didn’t get the point across, on this day Jesus gives pretty much the same answer, but with different words.

Jn 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

So Jesus repeats yesterday’s lesson, but with more direct words.  Instead of whoever hears my word and believes him who sent me has eternal life and will not be condemned; he has crossed over from death to life it’s The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.

Jn 6:30 So they asked him, “What miraculous sign then will you give that we may see it and believe you? What will you do? 31 Our forefathers ate the manna in the desert; as it is written: ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat.’’”

Oops.  In one ear – out the other.  Back to the show and the free food.  They want more miracles and free “bread”.

Jn 6:32 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, it is not Moses who has given you the bread from heaven, but it is my Father who gives you the true bread from heaven. 

Jesus has knowledge of something here that’s maybe not so obvious.  In English, we read verse 31 as He gave them bread from heaven to eat.  When we read verse 32, we assume that “he” refers to Moses.  Then, we logically assume that the people actually used some word that Jesus picked up on – and corrects them.

But that’s not the case.  There’s no Hebrew word corresponding to “he”.  A literal translation, corrected for English speaking, would be “gave them bread from Heaven to eat”.

I was surprised to find that even Young’s Literal Translation says, our fathers the manna did eat in the wilderness, according as it is having been written, Bread out of the heaven He gave them to eat.  [4]Young, R. (1997). Young’s Literal Translation (Jn 6:31). Bellingham, WA: Logos Bible Software. They even go so far as to capitalize the word “He”, which people today would read as referring to God.

And yet, that’s not possible.  Jesus’ response makes no sense if the people said the bread from Heaven came from God.

 33 For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.”

But then Jesus goes even further and says that the true bread of God wasn’t the manna from Heaven.  No, the true bread from God is Jesus Himself.  Cannibalism could be sneaking in here, right?

Jn 6:34 “Sir,” they said, “from now on give us this bread.”

This goes under the category of “be careful what you ask for”.  It also sounds a lot like yet another failure to get the message.  We’ll see that clearly after just a few more verses.

Jn 6:35 Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry, and he who believes in me will never be thirsty. 36 But as I told you, you have seen me and still you do not believe. 37 All that the Father gives me will come to me, and whoever comes to me I will never drive away. 38 For I have come down from heaven not to do my will but to do the will of him who sent me. 39 And this is the will of him who sent me, that I shall lose none of all that he has given me, but raise them up at the last day. 40 For my Father’s will is that everyone who looks to the Son and believes in him shall have eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day.”

Jesus now goes over yesterday’s lesson in even more detail.  Again, He says He is the bread of life.  Anyone who hungers or thirsts and goes to Jesus will never be hungry or thirsty again.  Have the people caught on yet?

Jn 6:41 At this the Jews began to grumble about him because he said, “I am the bread that came down from heaven.” 42 They said, “Is this not Jesus, the son of Joseph, whose father and mother we know? How can he now say, ‘I came down from heaven’?”

Talk about missing the point.  The whole thing about Jesus being the bread of life, satisfying both hunger and thirst – it’s all lost.  All they can focus on is the impossibility of Jesus, who’s parents were Joseph and Mary, could have come down from Heaven.

Jn 6:43 “Stop grumbling among yourselves,” Jesus answered. 44 “No one can come to me unless the Father who sent me draws him, and I will raise him up at the last day. 45 It is written in the Prophets: ‘They will all be taught by God.’ Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from him comes to me. 46 No one has seen the Father except the one who is from God; only he has seen the Father. 47 I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. 48 I am the bread of life. 49 Your forefathers ate the manna in the desert, yet they died. 50 But here is the bread that comes down from heaven, which a man may eat and not die. 51 I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is my flesh, which I will give for the life of the world.”

Jesus repeats the message yet again.  He tries new words.  That part about Him being the bread of life is still in there.  But now, it’s gone beyond not being hungry or thirsty again.  Now the message includes living forever.  And just in case it wasn’t clear before, Jesus ends by telling them, in no uncertain terms, that this special bread is His flesh.

OK – now it’s sounding like cannibalism.  For anyone who may be thinking the Bible is always to be taken literally, this has got to raise some questions.  As a Christian, do you honestly believe Jesus meant for the people then, or us today, to literally eat His flesh?

No!  We’ll see more shortly.  But no – this is not about literally eating Jesus’ flesh.  This is not literal.  And in the same way, there are other things in the Bible that aren’t to be taken literally either.

Jn 6:52 Then the Jews began to argue sharply among themselves, “How can this man give us his flesh to eat?”

OK – they got at least that part of what Jesus said.  Finally, they’re beyond the show and the free bread.  And beyond worrying about whether Jesus’ parents could somehow be in the way of what He was promising them.  Not that they really got the full message.  Just the part that sounded like cannibalism.  So even what they did get wasn’t what Jesus was telling them.

Jn 6:53 Jesus said to them, “I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you. 54 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood has eternal life, and I will raise him up at the last day. 55 For my flesh is real food and my blood is real drink. 56 Whoever eats my flesh and drinks my blood remains in me, and I in him. 57 Just as the living Father sent me and I live because of the Father, so the one who feeds on me will live because of me. 58 This is the bread that came down from heaven. Your forefathers ate manna and died, but he who feeds on this bread will live forever.” 59 He said this while teaching in the synagogue in Capernaum.

Oh no.  Now the stakes got even higher.  I tell you the truth, unless you eat the flesh of the Son of Man and drink his blood, you have no life in you.  Flesh and blood.  Hunger and thirst.  Blessed are those who hunger and thirst – for Jesus’ flesh and blood.  Did the message finally get across?  He spoke words about eating flesh and blood five times in that one paragraph.  So, maybe?

Many Disciples Desert Jesus

Jn 6:60 On hearing it, many of his disciples said, “This is a hard teaching. Who can accept it?”

Nope.  No maybe about it.  They didn’t get it.  They didn’t get Jesus’ actual message.  They did wrongly pick up on the cannibalism thing though.

The thing is, what about us today?  It’s easy to say, at least for us who don’t insist the Bible is always to be taken literally, that Jesus wasn’t talking cannibalism.  Jesus never meant for anyone, then or today, to actually eat His flesh or drink His blood.

But what do we think He did mean?

Jn 6:61 Aware that his disciples were grumbling about this, Jesus said to them, “Does this offend you? 62 What if you see the Son of Man ascend to where he was before! 63 The Spirit gives life; the flesh counts for nothing. The words I have spoken to you are spirit and they are life. 64 Yet there are some of you who do not believe.” For Jesus had known from the beginning which of them did not believe and who would betray him. 65 He went on to say, “This is why I told you that no one can come to me unless the Father has enabled him.”

Jn 6:66 From this time many of his disciples turned back and no longer followed him.  (This does not include the twelve.)

In these last six verses, it’s difficult, if not impossible, to know for sure who Jesus is speaking to at any given point.  Clearly, the reference to who would betray Him meant Judas.  We also know that none of the twelve left Jesus at this time.

However, many, if not most, of the large crowd who were following Jesus did stop following after that speech on flesh and blood.  Obviously, they weren’t feeling too much like people who were blessed because they hungered and thirsted for anything other than the show and the free bread.

hunger and thirst for righteousness – for Jesus flesh and blood – why?

Some of you may be thinking, that was kind of gross.  Maybe TMI – too much information.  But look how often Jesus repeated Himself, just in the part we read.  And He said similar things the previous day.  People didn’t leave Him at first.  But once they thought they understood – they fled.

This must lead us to question, why was it so important that Jesus get His message across about eating His flesh and drinking His blood.  And what happened to the water?  And what happened to “every word that comes from the mouth of God“?  Remember that from way back towards the beginning of all this?

And what does all this have to do with righteousness?  Isn’t that part of this beatitude?  You know – blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness?

It seems like I’ve created more questions and haven’t really answered any.  Hang in there.  Much like Blessed are the meek, this is very much a scenic route.  Eventually, it should all tie together.  We’re going to go through some Old Testament history first, in order to understand things that Jesus’ listeners already knew.  Unfortunately, they were also things this crowd allowed to get overshadowed by a lack of understanding.

But don’t be too hard on them.  They didn’t have the Holy Spirit.  As Christians, we do.  In that light, remember this:

Jn 14:25 “All this I have spoken while still with you. 26 But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, whom the Father will send in my name, will teach you all things and will remind you of everything I have said to you. 27 Peace I leave with you; my peace I give you. I do not give to you as the world gives. Do not let your hearts be troubled and do not be afraid.”

Ask the Holy Spirit to teach you, remind you, and help you understand.

For unto us a child is born – not just a Christmas story

Let’s step back in time.  Back to Isaiah.  Back to something the Jewish people would have heard often in the Synagogues.  Something that will help us understand the background behind what Jesus said.

Isa 9:6 For to us a child is born,
to us a son is given,
and the government will be on his shoulders.
And he will be called
Wonderful Counselor, Mighty God,
Everlasting Father, Prince of Peace.

Isa 9:7 Of the increase of his government and peace
there will be no end.
He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.
The zeal of the LORD Almighty
will accomplish this.

So – the prophecy.  Messiah – Jesus will be born.

And the government will be on His shoulders.  You know – government, as in that unit responsible for handing out justice?  A part of righteousness.

And look at that list of names.  It includes Mighty God and Everlasting Father.  Wow.  That’s something to remember if you ever thought, or heard, that Christians don’t believe in One God.  We talk about One God, three “persons”, whatever that means.  In this prophecy, it’s made abundantly clear that Jesus and the Father will be, and are, One God.

Add in the Wonderful Counselor, and the trinity is complete.  Father, Son, Holy Spirit.

(Sorry – I digress.  Just felt like I had to put that in here.)

Keep reading, and notice

He will reign on David’s throne
and over his kingdom,
establishing and upholding it
with justice and righteousness
from that time on and forever.

Justice and righteousness.  Both.  Obviously, it’s important for us to realize that both justice and righteousness are important.  But from other passages we read, there’s also an understanding that justice is part of God’s righteousness.  And we need to keep in mind, Jesus said Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.

And with all that, we have a kingdom that lasts forever.

Like I said – this isn’t just about Christmas.  It’s about the birth of a King.  One who’ll have a Kingdom that lasts forever.  And one that will be based on righteousness.  Surely, you remember JUSTICE OF GOD—that perfection of his nature whereby he is infinitely righteous in himself and in all he does, the righteousness of the divine nature exercised in his moral government.

Yes, we’re talking about the eternal life.  The next life.  The one all who call themselves Christians hope for.

I think we’re getting closer to understanding Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

But we’re not there yet.  Let’s keep going.

What is it about flesh and blood?

For this one, let’s go back even further than Isaiah.  All the way back to one of those books we love to skip over.  Leviticus.

Lev 17:10 “ ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among them who eats any blood—I will set my face against that person who eats blood and will cut him off from his people. 11 For the life of a creature is in the blood, and I have given it to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life. 12 Therefore I say to the Israelites, “None of you may eat blood, nor may an alien living among you eat blood.”

Lev 17:13 “ ‘Any Israelite or any alien living among you who hunts any animal or bird that may be eaten must drain out the blood and cover it with earth, 14 because the life of every creature is its blood. That is why I have said to the Israelites, “You must not eat the blood of any creature, because the life of every creature is its blood; anyone who eats it must be cut off.”

So – the Israelites were told way back at the time of the Exodus – don’t eat blood.  Blood is the life of every creature.  And blood is for sacrifices.  It even went so far as:

Lev 19:26 “ ‘Do not eat any meat with the blood still in it.’ “

Flesh and blood.  Previously forbidden.  Now, with the New Covenant, required.  Why?  Because the sacrifice changed.  From an animal for every sin, to Jesus for all sins.  Remember, from Matthew’s Gospel –

Mt 26:27 Then he took the cup, gave thanks and offered it to them, saying, “Drink from it, all of you. 28 This is my blood of the covenant, which is poured out for many for the forgiveness of sins. 29 I tell you, I will not drink of this fruit of the vine from now on until that day when I drink it anew with you in my Father’s kingdom.”

Jesus’ blood.  The New Covenant.  Jesus’ blood shed for many.  For their salvation.  Salvation for those who believe in the one he (God, the Father) has sent.

Or, as the author of Hebrews put it:

The Blood of Christ

Heb 9:11 When Christ came as high priest of the good things that are already here, he went through the greater and more perfect tabernacle that is not man-made, that is to say, not a part of this creation. 12 He did not enter by means of the blood of goats and calves; but he entered the Most Holy Place once for all by his own blood, having obtained eternal redemption. 13 The blood of goats and bulls and the ashes of a heifer sprinkled on those who are ceremonially unclean sanctify them so that they are outwardly clean. 14 How much more, then, will the blood of Christ, who through the eternal Spirit offered himself unblemished to God, cleanse our consciences from acts that lead to death, so that we may serve the living God!

Heb 9:15 For this reason Christ is the mediator of a new covenant, that those who are called may receive the promised eternal inheritance—now that he has died as a ransom to set them free from the sins committed under the first covenant.

Cleansing blood.  How often do we sing about the cleansing blood of Jesus during Sunday worship?  That’s where part of the tie to water comes in.  Going back to Leviticus, from the annual feast the Israelites called the Day of Atonement, we read:

Lev 16:18 “Then he shall come out to the altar that is before the LORD and make atonement for it. He shall take some of the bull’s blood and some of the goat’s blood and put it on all the horns of the altar. 19 He shall sprinkle some of the blood on it with his finger seven times to cleanse it and to consecrate it from the uncleanness of the Israelites.”

This cleansing by blood was performed by the Priest.  In this first instance, that was Aaron.

But what of the people?  There were many instances where people had to make themselves ceremonially clean.  This was done by washing, bathing, with water. For instance,

Lev 14:8 “The person to be cleansed must wash his clothes, shave off all his hair and bathe with water; then he will be ceremonially clean. After this he may come into the camp, but he must stay outside his tent for seven days. 9 On the seventh day he must shave off all his hair; he must shave his head, his beard, his eyebrows and the rest of his hair. He must wash his clothes and bathe himself with water, and he will be clean.”

And of course, water has always been required for life.  The first instance where we read about that goes even further back.  Back to Genesis.

Hagar and Ishmael Sent Away

Ge 21:8 The child grew and was weaned, and on the day Isaac was weaned Abraham held a great feast. 9 But Sarah saw that the son whom Hagar the Egyptian had borne to Abraham was mocking, 10 and she said to Abraham, “Get rid of that slave woman and her son, for that slave woman’s son will never share in the inheritance with my son Isaac.”

Ge 21:11 The matter distressed Abraham greatly because it concerned his son. 12 But God said to him, “Do not be so distressed about the boy and your maidservant. Listen to whatever Sarah tells you, because it is through Isaac that your offspring will be reckoned. 13 I will make the son of the maidservant into a nation also, because he is your offspring.”

Ge 21:14 Early the next morning Abraham took some food and a skin of water and gave them to Hagar. He set them on her shoulders and then sent her off with the boy. She went on her way and wandered in the desert of Beersheba.

Food and water.  Not for eternal life.  Just to stay alive.

Ge 21:15 When the water in the skin was gone, she put the boy under one of the bushes. 16 Then she went off and sat down nearby, about a bowshot away, for she thought, “I cannot watch the boy die.” And as she sat there nearby, she began to sob.

Without water, hope is lost.

Ge 21:17 God heard the boy crying, and the angel of God called to Hagar from heaven and said to her, “What is the matter, Hagar? Do not be afraid; God has heard the boy crying as he lies there. 18 Lift the boy up and take him by the hand, for I will make him into a great nation.”

Ge 21:19 Then God opened her eyes and she saw a well of water. So she went and filled the skin with water and gave the boy a drink.

But even without water, hope wasn’t lost in this case, because Hagar called out to God.  And God provided life-sustaining water.

Of course, the Jewish people probably thought back to the Exodus and Moses again.  Not only remembering the bread from Heaven, but also the water from when Moses struck the rock.  Actually, two occasions.  Two rocks.  Although that second one wasn’t one of Moses’ better moments.

hunger and thirst for bread and water – for Jesus’ flesh and blood, and for living water

So now we have it all.  The only remaining question is how it works.

How do we get that living water from Jesus?  I mean – He’s in Heaven.  He’s not on earth anymore.

And how does this eating / drinking of Jesus’ flesh and blood actually work?  Again – He’s not here anymore.

Well, let’s think back to how Jesus answered one of the people’s questions in that passage about His flesh and blood.

Jn 6:28 Then they asked him, “What must we do to do the works God requires?”

Jn 6:29 Jesus answered, “The work of God is this: to believe in the one he has sent.”

If you’re Christian, you believe the Bible is the inspired word of God.  Therefore, the fact that these two verses are included in the Bible is significant.  So is the fact that this question and its answer came in the middle of Jesus telling the people about the need to eat His flesh and drink His blood.  Again – not literally!

So how does it work?  Honestly, before we could even think that we have the answer to that question – God knows we just put Him in a box.  He knows that we think we’re at least as great as He is.  We don’t know how it works.  For me, I can’t even fathom having my son, if I had one, dying to save us sinful people in this fallen world.  It’s just beyond us.

But the people in Jesus’ time looked at blood as the source of life.  They knew water was essential for life.  They were taught that their sacrifice of blood would atone for their sins against God and each other (where sins against each other were also sins against God, since we are all part of God’s creation.)  Why?  Because that’s the way God said it would be.  Justice was in there.  So was righteousness.

What may seem savage to us today wasn’t back then.  It was a step along the way of God teaching His creation to be righteous.  It was part of a journey.  A journey we’re still on today.  In fact, we’re still not righteous in and of ourselves.  Our righteousness comes from Jesus – not from anything we did.

With Jesus coming to earth, the Old Covenant gave way to the New Covenant.  That changed some things, but by no means everything.  Jesus was the final, once for all time, sacrifice.  What we have to do now, under that New Covenant, is to believe in the one he has sent.  Believe in Jesus.  Which means a whole lot more than just “believe”.  It’s believe in Jesus to the point that we actually learn and follow His commands to us.  You can read much more on that in Are we supposed to Believe God, Believe in God or Follow God?

Where does that leave us?

We’ve looked at the Old Covenant.  We’ve also looked at the New Covenant.  How some things are different.  There must be some resultant changes from those differences.  Like this:

The Glory of the New Covenant

2Co 3:7 Now if the ministry that brought death, which was engraved in letters on stone, came with glory, so that the Israelites could not look steadily at the face of Moses because of its glory, fading though it was, 8 will not the ministry of the Spirit be even more glorious? 9 If the ministry that condemns men is glorious, how much more glorious is the ministry that brings righteousness! 10 For what was glorious has no glory now in comparison with the surpassing glory. 11 And if what was fading away came with glory, how much greater is the glory of that which lasts!

2Co 3:12 Therefore, since we have such a hope, we are very bold. 13 We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to keep the Israelites from gazing at it while the radiance was fading away. 14 But their minds were made dull, for to this day the same veil remains when the old covenant is read. It has not been removed, because only in Christ is it taken away. 15 Even to this day when Moses is read, a veil covers their hearts. 16 But whenever anyone turns to the Lord, the veil is taken away. 17 Now the Lord is the Spirit, and where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom. 18 And we, who with unveiled faces all reflect the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his likeness with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

At the end of that, did you notice – are being transformed into his likeness?  You know – become Christ-like.  How many times have you heard that in a Sermon?  Lots of times, I’m sure.

But have you ever actually searched the Bible for any words like “Christ-like”?  They aren’t there.  I’ve got more than 30 different translations on my computer.  Not even one of them has the word(s) Christ-like.  None.

For those of you who think you can read the Bible and “do Christianity” without going to church, you may be missing something really important.  Yes, God loves us as we are.  But He loves us too much to leave us the way we are.  We are to be transformed.  Transformed to be more Christ-like.  More righteous.  Not self-righteous.  More Christ-like righteous.

hunger and thirst for righteousness – conclusion

So here we are.  We have a much better idea of what Jesus meant.

Hunger and thirst to be more Christ-like.

Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.

How about, blessed are those who want to be more Christ-like that the desire for His righteousness is so strong that it feels like hunger and thirst?  As in the kind of hunger and thirst that is life saving?  That’s second-life saving.  From the Blood of Jesus, which cleanses us.  From the Flesh of Jesus, the life-saving bread, that sustains us in this life?

And while we’re on the topic of bread, let’s not forget about, Man does not live on bread alone, but on every word that comes from the mouth of God.

The Word Became Flesh

Jn 1:1 In the beginning was the Word, and the Word was with God, and the Word was God. 2 He was with God in the beginning.

Jn 1:3 Through him all things were made; without him nothing was made that has been made. 4 In him was life, and that life was the light of men. 5 The light shines in the darkness, but the darkness has not understood it.

Oh yeah – Jesus was, is and always will be the Word.

The Word that allows us to have some degree of understanding.  Enough understanding to realize we’re in the darkness – and to want to move into the light.  Transformation of our lives from dark to light.

And all of this is only possible because of – the Holy Spirit.

Sounds familiar?

Mt 5:3Blessed are the poor in spirit,
for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.

We realize that we have too much of our own sinful nature.  We need the Holy Spirit.  The Mind of Christ.  There’s the Word yet again.  And so we allow the Holy Spirit to guide parts of our life.

Mt 5:4 Blessed are those who mourn,
for they will be comforted.

As the Holy Spirit becomes more and more of our personal life guide, we mourn.  Not the usual stuff we mourn over though, like our parked car being destroyed when a tree fell on it.  No – this is over the effects of sin.  On ourselves.  On people we know.  Even on people we’ve never met.

Mt 5:5 Blessed are the meek,
for they will inherit the earth.

Where we yield our will, not to other people, but to God.

Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Have you noticed the progression?  We let the Holy Spirit into our lives.  And it’s got to be willingly.  He won’t just come barging in and do a mind-takeover.  But, as we allow the Holy Spirit access into more portions of our life, He changes our perspective on things.  We see life more from God’s point of view and less from our own selfish point of view.  Strange as it may seem to anyone who hasn’t experienced this, we like it.  It brings love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness and self-control.  Yes, those are the fruits of the Holy Spirit that Paul talks about in Galatians 5:22.

Weirder still, at least to some (many?) people, it’s not enough.  We want more.  We hunger and thirst for more.  More of the mind of Jesus, the Holy Spirit.  More righteousness, as in Jesus’ kind of righteousness.  We can’t imagine living without it.  We’ve experienced the cleansing of His blood.  We’ve experienced the life-giving “bread” of His flesh.  Both were voluntarily given up by Jesus, so that we may have life to the full.

Remember that?  Something about life to the full?

Jn 10:7 Therefore Jesus said again, “I tell you the truth, I am the gate for the sheep. 8 All who ever came before me were thieves and robbers, but the sheep did not listen to them. 9 I am the gate; whoever enters through me will be saved. He will come in and go out, and find pasture. 10 The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy; I have come that they may have life, and have it to the full.”

And then

Mt 5:6 Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness,
for they will be filled.

Full.  Filled.

Full is …  Well, full isn’t actually full.  It’s:

4053 περισσός [perissos /per·is·sos/] adj. From 4012 (in the sense of beyond); TDNT 6:61; TDNTA 828; GK 4356; 10 occurrences; AV translates as “more” twice, “beyond measure” once, “vehemently + 1537” once, “more abundantly” once, “advantage” once, “superfluous” once, “very highly + 5228 + 1537” once, “exceeding abundantly above + 5228 + 1537” once, and “exceeding + 5228 + 1537” once. 1 exceeding some number or measure or rank or need. 1A over and above, more than is necessary, superadded. 1A1 exceeding abundantly, supremely. 1A2 something further, more, much more than all, more plainly. 1B superior, extraordinary, surpassing, uncommon. 1B1 pre-eminence, superiority, advantage, more eminent, more remarkable, more excellent.  [5]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

Filled is

5526 χορτάζω [chortazo /khor·tad·zo/] v. From 5528; GK 5963; 15 occurrences; AV translates as “fill” 12 times, “be full” once, “satisfy” once, and “feed” once. 1 to feed with herbs, grass, hay, to fill, satisfy with food, to fatten. 1A of animals. 2 to fill or satisfy men. 3 to fulfil or satisfy the desire of any one.  [6]Strong, J. (1995). Enhanced Strong’s Lexicon. Woodside Bible Fellowship.

It’s interesting.

Jesus came, according to John 10:10, so that we can have something like an exceedingly abundant life.

Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, according to Matthew 5:6, will have our desires satisfied.

Do you see the difference?

Jesus came so that we can have an exceedingly abundant life.  So that we can do God’s will in everything we do.

But while we hunger and thirst for Jesus’ kind of righteousness, we are only getting our desires satisfied.  Not abundantly.  Certainly not exceedingly.  We get what we desire.

Sound to me like we don’t desire enough.  We’re not taking full advantage of what’s offered.  Jesus died for us. Gave us His blood, His flesh and living water.  And we’re happy with, well, something less than what we could be.

I invite you to stay with this series.  See if / how we can maybe want even more.  How a hunger and thirst for righteousness isn’t the end goal.  There’s more.  Becoming Christ-like is a journey.  A transformational journey.  We’re not pop-tart-like.  We don’t just say a prayer, get dipped and voila, instant Christian.

We’re only on the fourth beatitude.  There are more.  The journey’s not over.  Don’t stop now.  Keep going.  Continue to be ever more Christ-like.


Image by amway6712426 from Pixabay

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