The Good Life, Part 3
I was talking to someone a few weeks ago and they said to me, “You know, everybody’s been complaining about 2020, but I can honestly say that this has been the best year of my life.”
How in the world does someone say that? Someone who lived through all the stuff in 2020 that the rest of us did, plus—without telling you too much—someone who suffered a significant amount of personal struggle on top of that which many of us didn’t.
How does someone look back at that and say, “2020 was the best year of my life”? The reason is that they had discovered the secret of the Beatitudes. They have found the good life. And they’ve realized that the good life is not about being healthy and rich and popular and mobile and free to take vacations wherever you want. The world is full of people who have those things and they’re miserable.
Instead, the good life is found in knowing Christ, and being satisfied with everything that He’s promised us in the future. That’s where the Beatitudes point us.
Two weeks ago we considered the first two Beatitudes—where Jesus said that those who are truly blessed are the poor in spirit and those who mourn.
Last week we considered the three Beatitudes which reference our attitudes and behaviour towards others. Blessed are the meek, the merciful, and the peacemakers.
Today we’re considering the three final Beatitudes. Two of them refer to inner realities—who we are on the inside—and the final speaks about how others often treat us as a result of that.
The Hungry and the Thirsty
So without further ado, lets jump in and consider verse 6: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied” (Matthew 5:6).
When’s the last time you’ve been really hungry or really thirsty? I don’t mean a slight grumble in your stomach but real, aching hunger?
I remember when I was planting trees out in Alberta, and one morning I slept clean through my alarm. And I was woken up by one of my crew members telling me that the truck was about to leave for the block, and was I coming?
So I pulled on my clothes and boots and jumped in the truck and headed off to a 10 or 11 or 12 hour day of some of the hardest work on planet earth with no breakfast in my stomach and no lunch in my backpack.
That was easily one of the toughest days of my life. I think some kind crew mates gave me a granola bar at one point in the day, but that was it. And while I don’t remember what I ate for supper that night, I do know that it was warm and that it tasted really good and that I ate until I was satisfied.
Nobody likes being hungry and thirsty. Nobody chooses to have an experience like I had that day. But when we do, it’s almost worth it for how good it is to be satisfied when we finally do get to eat and drink.
Jesus, in verse 6, says that those who are hungry and thirsty are blessed. But not just hungry and thirsty for anything. “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness” (Matt 5:6a).
Have you ever felt this kind of hunger or thirst?
In Matthew’s gospel, the word “righteousness” most often refers to doing what is right. “Wholly doing God’s will from the heart” as D.A. Carson says.1D. A. Carson, “Matthew,” in The Expositor’s Bible Commentary: Matthew, Mark, Luke, ed. Frank E. Gaebelein, vol. 8 (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1984), 134.
So someone who hungers and thirsts for righteousness is someone who longs for, desires, craves, to do what is right—to do God’s will—fully and from the heart.
But we shouldn’t limit this to just a personal hunger. Those who hunger and thirst for righteousness long to see righteousness everywhere. They desire that God’s will would be done, everywhere, on earth like it is in heaven.
There’s three things I want us to notice about this desire that Jesus speaks about here.
First, we should note if you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, you don’t have full and complete and perfect righteousness. You want it, you crave it like your next meal, you pursue it, but you’re not satisfied with what you have yet.
In other words, this is not describing a perfect person but someone who knows they are not perfect and longs to be everything God wants them to be.
Second, those who hunger and thirst for righteousness affirm that they cannot produce this righteousness themselves. Just think about that. We hunger and thirst for things outside of ourselves which we ourselves cannot produce.
There are some desires we can satisfy ourselves. If you are tired, you can sleep. If your nose it itchy, you can scratch it. But if you’re hungry or thirsty, you can’t fix that yourself. You need food and drink from outside of yourself to come and satisfy you.
So those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who understand their dependance upon God and their need for Him to satisfy them.
Third, we should remember how important this hunger and thirst are in the big picture of the whole Bible. If you think back to our series in Proverbs this past summer, you’ll remember that our desires, the things we want and crave, are some of the most important things about us.
When we want and crave the wrong things, everything else goes wrong with that. That’s what James tells us in James chapter 4. “What causes quarrels and what causes fights among you? Is it not this, that your passions are at war within you? You desire and do not have, so you murder. You covet and cannot obtain, so you fight and quarrel…” (James 4:1–2).
That’s a passage I use almost every time I do relationship counselling with people. If you’re in a conflict with someone, it’s not just because they are doing something wrong. It’s because, as James says, you are craving something and they’re not giving it to you and so you’re willing to kill to get it.
And earlier in his book James tells us that all sin starts off with a craving (James 1:14-15). That’s what’s wrong with us. That’s what’s wrong with the world. Our wants are all mixed up.
And so what Jesus describes here in verse 6 is something major. Jesus is describing the fundamental shift that happens when God invades someone’s life: they get new desires. They start wanting things they didn’t want before—namely, righteousness. All of a sudden they want to obey God wholly from the heart. Just like Jesus out in the wilderness, obeying and trusting God becomes more important than their other cravings, like cravings for food.
Disciples of Jesus are, and are growing in, their hunger and thirst for righteousness.
And Jesus says that those who have this hunger and thirst are blessed. Why? Because they will be satisfied. They might not be satisfied now, but they will be.
This word for “satisfied” here is just the normal word that talks about that feeling you have when you’ve eaten your fill. Like when you push away the plate and say “No more, thanks, I’m good.”
And those who hunger and thirst for righteousness will be satisfied with righteousness. They’re going to start to taste this satisfaction here and now in this life as God, through His Holy Spirit, transforms us and begins to cause us to live righteously. They’re going to get samples and appetizers of righteousness in the church as they participate in a community increasingly shaped by righteousness because it is full of people who are increasingly doing God’s will, wholly, from the heart.
But will not our ultimate satisfaction be in the fullness of the kingdom when Jesus comes to reign on the earth once and for all?
“Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is” (1 John 3:2).
Or think of these words from 2 Peter 3:13: “But according to his promise we are waiting for new heavens and a new earth in which righteousness dwells.”
You know what being hungry and thirsty for righteousness is all about? It’s about being homesick. Homesick for the kingdom of Jesus where we will be righteous and righteousness will be all that there is.
So blessed are you who know that hunger and know that thirst. The kingdom is coming, and you’re going to be satisfied, full to the brim, at the banquet of righteousness waiting for us there.
Pure in Heart
Next, let’s turn to verse 8 and discover the blessing Jesus pronounces on those who are pure in heart.
This is an interesting phrase we need to try to understand, because what Jesus means by “the heart” is somewhat different from what we often mean in our culture.
Here in the west, we use “the heart” to describe our emotions. “I love you with all of my heart.” “She broke my heart.” In the language of the Bible, the heart includes the emotions but includes basically all that we are. Here’s what one scholar wrote: “For the biblical writers, the heart does not merely describe the emotional centre of human life but also the centre of human thinking and the human will—the core of one’s being.”2Wesley G. Olmstead, Matthew 1-14: A Handbook on the Greek Text, Baylor Handbook on the Greek New Testament (Waco, Texas: Baylor University Press, 2019), 78.
This should once again ring a bell for us from our time in the Proverbs last summer. There Solomon described “inclining your heart to understanding” (Proverbs 2:2). “My son, do not forget my teaching, but let your heart keep my commandments,” says (Proverbs 3:1). “Trust in the Lord with all your heart, and do not lean on your own understanding” (Proverbs 3:5). “Keep your heart with all vigilance, for from it flow the springs of life” (Proverbs 4:23).
The heart is the centre of who we are. And who we are and what we do begin here in the heart.
Listen to what Jesus said to the Pharisees in Matthew 12: “You brood of vipers! How can you speak good, when you are evil? For out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks. The good person out of his good treasure brings forth good, and the evil person out of his evil treasure brings forth evil” (Matthew 12:34-35).
What shows up on the outside begins on the inside, in the heart. This is another key principle that I talk about when I do counselling with people. I’ll sometimes word it this way: nobody else can makes us sin. When people provoke us or annoy us or challenge us or threaten us or surprise us, they are only giving us the opportunity to show what was already inside of our hearts.
Have you ever reacted really poorly to someone and you gave the excuse that you were unprepared or caught off guard by what they had done or said to you? The uncomfortable truth is that who you are when you are caught off guard is the real you. Anyone can act godly with a little preparation. How you react is the real you.
And that’s why a big concern in Scripture is that our heart—who we are on the inside—would be pure and clean. “Who shall ascend the hill of the Lord? And who shall stand in his holy place? He who has clean hands and a pure heart” (Psalm 24:3–4).
This was one of Jesus’ big challenges to the Pharisees. They worked hard to make their outsides look good—to have hands that looked clean—but their hearts were awful. Listen to these words of Jesus in Matthew 23:25-28:
“Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you clean the outside of the cup and the plate, but inside they are full of greed and self-indulgence. You blind Pharisee! First clean the inside of the cup and the plate, that the outside also may be clean. Woe to you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For you are like whitewashed tombs, which outwardly appear beautiful, but within are full of dead people’s bones and all uncleanness. So you also outwardly appear righteous to others, but within you are full of hypocrisy and lawlessness” (Matthew 23:25–28).
Genuine disciples of Jesus are not like this. Genuine disciples of Jesus are not one thing on the outside and another thing on the inside. Their motives, their character, their desires, are pure, and from that inner purity flows a life of purity.
This pure heart was one of the key promises of the New Covenant. “And I will give you a new heart, and a new spirit I will put within you. And I will remove the heart of stone from your flesh and give you a heart of flesh,” promised God in Ezekiel 36:26.
That’s what genuine disciples of Jesus have. And Jesus says here in verse 8 that the pure in heart, are blessed. Why? Because they shall see God.
The pure in heart, and only the pure in heart, shall see God. I don’t know what happens to you when you hear those words “see God.” These words stir something deep in my heart. One of the most emotionally compelling verses in all of Scripture to me is in Revelation 22, which describes the citizens of the New Jerusalem. And it says, “They will see his face, and his name will be on their foreheads” (Revelation 22:4).
The thought of seeing God’s face fills me with longing and desire. This I want more than anything else. And Jesus says that those who are pure in heart will see God. They will see God because they have been saved by God and rescued from their sin and brought into His kingdom now and forever.
And therefore, they are blessed today regardless of what sacrifices or losses they sustain in the cause of purity.
I remember reading a testimony of a man who had been in deep, for years, with an ugly pornography habit. And the verse in Scripture that finally broke the chain for him was Matthew 5:8. “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God.” He realized that he wanted to see God more than he wanted to see all these other images he had been filling his eyes with. And the hope of this promise gave him the power that he needed to overcome his sinful desires.
The pure in heart are blessed because their eyes shall behold their God. This is a promise to cherish, and this is a promise to remember the next time you are tempted to cast your eyes in impure directions.
So let’s review briefly what we’ve seen so far in the Beatitudes. We’ve seen a number of statements that describe the inner condition of disciples of Jesus—poor in spirit, mourning, hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and pure in heart. This is who disciples of Jesus are in the inside.
And then we’ve seen some statements that describe what this inner condition looks like as it relates to others. Disciples of Jesus are meek, merciful, and makers of peace.
These inner conditions and outer conditions can’t be separated from each other. You won’t be meek unless you are poor in spirit. You won’t be merciful unless you are hungry and thirsty for righteousness. Who we are and how we relate to others are totally tied together.
In these last Beatitudes in verses 10-12, which are really one beatitude with some explanations attached to it, we get a new layer added on to the discussion. Here, Jesus describes the way that people treat us based on who we are as His disciples.
“Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matthew 5:10).
Does that surprise you? Does it surprise you that the one time the Beatitudes speak about the way we’re treated by others, it talks about being persecuted?
It shouldn’t surprise us. Because this is what happens to disciples of Jesus. They get persecuted. We’ve seen this already in Matthew’s gospel, where we read about John being arrested (Matthew 4:12). In chapter 9 we get the first episode of Jesus’ persecution by the religious leaders, a persecution that simmered for three years until it boiled over at the cross.
In John 15:20 Jesus told us “Remember the word that I said to you: ‘A servant is not greater than his master.’ If they persecuted me, they will also persecute you…”
And Paul wrote in 2 Timothy 3:12, “Indeed, all who desire to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted.”
Genuine disciples of Jesus will be hungry and thirsty for righteousness, and genuine disciples of Jesus will be persecuted for that righteousness’ sake. Genuine disciples of Jesus will be reviled, like verse 11 says, which means we’ll be mocked and treated terribly. Genuine disciples of Jesus will have evil uttered about them falsely.
This is how the world treated John, this is how the world treated Jesus, this is how the world treated Paul, and this is how the world will treat you if you are a genuine disciple of Jesus who is living a righteous life like Jesus.
This beatitude, these three verses, are wonderfully good news to so many Christians around the world today. Millions of our brothers and sisters around the world today live in environments where coming to faith in Jesus and being His disciple is incredibly costly. It costs your family, your job, your freedom, and often your very life.
And to these people, these words of Jesus are good news indeed. To hear that, even though you’re being mistreated like this, even though you’ve lost so much, you are actually blessed, you are actually living the good life, because the kingdom of heaven is yours, is such good news.
And instead of being sad about this persecution, like verse 12 says, you can rejoice and be glad because your reward is great in heaven. You will share the reward that the persecuted prophets before you shared. When you arrive in the fullness of the kingdom you will stand with Isaiah and Jeremiah and Ezekiel, and in their mighty company you will not be ashamed but you will be rewarded along with them.
And if that’s your future, you are blessed today no matter what is happening to you.
This passage is incredibly good news to disciples of Jesus all over the world today. But I wonder how good this news is to you this morning. I wonder if this passage seems like good news to you today.
Here in the Western world, especially here in North America, we seem to have forgotten that those who want to live a godly life in Christ Jesus will be persecuted. We seem to have missed 1 Peter 4:12, which says “Beloved, do not be surprised at the fiery trial when it comes upon you to test you, as though something strange were happening to you.”
Here in the West we are on the tail end of a period of time where there wasn’t much persecution, and Christians did enjoy a fair amount of freedom and cultural influence. And we got used to that. We assumed it was normal.
We got so used to it that any time things get just a little bit tough here for us in North America, we assume that Jesus must be coming back. The government is putting pressure on churches? We’re in the end times. Some political leader speaks poorly about Christians? They must be the antichrist.
I think this is a big reason why so many of us love the idea of the pre-tribulational rapture. The idea that the Jesus will come and rapture his church away from the earth before they have to go through anything difficult in the end times.
If you believe in the pre-tribulational rapture because you believe that it’s taught in the Bible, then great. But don’t do what so many missionaries in China did last century. They made disciples all over China and they told the Chinese Christians that Jesus will come and rapture His people away before they need to face any difficulty in this life.
And then the communists took over, and Christians were shot and killed and sent to prison camps and fathers watched their sons have their fingers chopped off with machetes one inch at a time until they renounced their faith in Jesus.
Talk about great tribulation. And many of them weren’t ready for it because they’d been told that they’d just be raptured away before anything hard like that would happen.
Praise God that the church in China survived, and in many respects actually thrived through that persecution. But what’s going to happen to us here in the West?
What is happening to us here in the West today? What damage is being done by this ridiculous idea that following Jesus should be easy? I wonder if this is why we don’t evangelize and tell other people about Jesus. Because it might makes things awkward in our relationships and we’re not willing to lose anything for Jesus.
I wonder if this is why so many people who say they follow Jesus live such worldly lives. Because living a truly righteous life is uncomfortable at times and will cost us and that’s not something we signed up for.
I wonder if this is why so many Christians in recent decades have gone soft on controversial Christian doctrines, and have been agreeing more and more with our world instead of with God on things like evolution and sexuality. Is it because we’ve been raised to be snowflakes who can’t take the heat of the world’s disapproval, let alone persecution.
I hope you know that things are changing here in Canada. They are coming for us. It’s going to get harder and harder for us to hide.
And if you are not willing to suffer for the sake of Jesus, if you are not willing to be persecuted for righteousness’ sake, then now is the time to get out. I mean that. If feeling safe and comfortable and accepted by the world is important to you, then now is the time to make make up your mind that this Jesus business isn’t for you.
But if you are a disciple of Jesus, if you love Jesus more than your comfortable life and your hobbies and your freedoms, then buckle up. The ride is going to get bumpy in the next few years. We must be willing to lose a lot for Jesus.
And if you’re willing to lose a lot for Jesus, then maybe you’ll be a bit more willing for some awkwardness around the break room table when you tell your co-workers that you’re a disciple of Jesus. If you’re willing to die for Jesus, then maybe you’ll be a bit more willing for people to think you’re crazy because you’re not following them into the latest idea our culture is shoving down our throat.
And you’ll do all of this gladly because you will believe the words of Jesus here in Matthew 5. “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when others revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for so they persecuted the prophets who were before you” (Matthew 5:10–12).
Listen to Luke’s version of this beatitude: “Blessed are you when people hate you and when they exclude you and revile you and spurn your name as evil, on account of the Son of Man! Rejoice in that day, and leap for joy, for behold, your reward is great in heaven; for so their fathers did to the prophets. But…woe to you, when all people speak well of you, for so their fathers did to the false prophets.” (Luke 6:23-24, 26).
What would you rather have? The world’s approval now, or God’s approval forever? You can’t have both. You must choose. And if you choose Jesus, you will be blessed indeed. You can know that you’ve chosen the good life.
And with that, we come to the end of the Beatitudes. There is so much more we could say. There is so much deeper we could dig. But in many ways, the whole rest of the Sermon on the Mount does that for us. The Beatitudes almost function like thesis statements for the rest of the sermon, introducing and setting up the big ideas for us. And we’re going to see many of those connections in the weeks ahead.
But let me sum up here with the big idea that’s been at the core of each of these Beatitudes Jesus has spoken: if you are a genuine disciple of Jesus, if you’ve attached yourself to Him as a believer and a student and follower, then the way that you should evaluate your life today is not based off of what you see with your eyes but rather what Jesus has promised to you for the future.
And so even if you are poor in spirit, even if you’re mourning, even if you’re hungry and thirsty and give yourselves to others in a sacrificial way and even if you are persecuted and lied about by the world, you are blessed. You have found the good life.
Because the kingdom of heaven is yours. You will be comforted. You’re going to inherit the earth. You will be satisfied. You will receive mercy. You will see God and be called one of His sons, and your reward will be great in heaven.
And as you begin to think that way, as you begin to feel that way, as you begin to really believe and apply those promises in your life, it makes a million changes here and now today. You’ll find that you really are living the good life today. Just like that guy I talked about at the beginning of the sermon. Joy and satisfaction and fellowship with Jesus will replace everything that you loose.
And so we end here today by asking the Lord to do for us what we can’t do for ourselves. By asking Him to come and make us hungry and thirsty for righteousness, to make us pure in heart, and to make us willing to stand up for Jesus regardless of the cost. We need His grace to do this in our lives and He is ready and willing to answer our prayers today. So let’s offer them now.