Read Matthew 5:6-12, Genesis 18:16-33 here
Who knows who this is? You may recognize him as the most interesting man in the world. According to the TV commercials for the beverage he helped sell:
- He lives vicariously through himself.
- He once had an awkward moment, just to see how it feels.
- He is left-handed and right-handed.
- If he were to mail a letter without postage, it would still get there.
- The police often question him just because they find him interesting.
As amazing as all that is, the message for which he’s most remembered are the words at the end of all of the commercials: “Stay thirsty, my friends.”
What makes this guy “the most interesting man in the world”? His experiences. His zest for life. His thirst. He’s always looking for his next adventure, always thirsty for life lived to its fullest.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
That’s not exactly what Jesus said, but it’s close. Jesus said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” (Mat 5:6)
Staying hungry and thirsty probably aren’t the top of our to-do list. We’re better at making sure we eat so we aren’t hungry and drinking so we aren’t thirsty. For most of us, that’s not hard. We’ve got food in the cupboards or right down the street at the market, and water is as close as the nearest faucet. But Jesus says, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…”
What does it feel like to hunger and thirst for righteousness?
What is righteousness?
- Righteousness is an inherent quality of God.
Psalm 7:17 says, “I will give thanks to the Lord because of his righteousness.”
And Psalm 9:8 tells us that “God rules the world in righteousness and judges the peoples with equity.”
One of the reasons we can trust God is that God is righteous. When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are hungering and thirsting for God. He is righteousness.
- When we trust God, when we put our faith in God, we gain righteousness.
When God spoke to Abraham way back in the book of Genesis, and told Abraham that even though he had no children God would give him descendants as numerous as the stars in the sky (Gen 15:5), Abraham believed God. “Abraham believed God, and his faith was credited to him as righteousness” (Romans 4:3).
On our own, we have trouble with that. As much as God is inherently righteous, we are inherently sinful (the opposite of righteousness), so God sent his son Jesus to take on our sin. So now, “This righteousness is given through faith in Jesus Christ to all who believe” (Romans 3:22).
“For He made Him who knew no sin to be sin for us, that we might become the righteousness of God in Him” (2 Corinthians 5:21).
We forget where that righteousness comes from, start to think of it as inherent to ourselves, and then instead of righteous we become self-righteous. Paul reminds us in Ephesians that righteousness is a gift that comes through faith in Jesus Christ, and even that faith is a gift:
God saved you by his grace when you believed. And you can’t take credit for this; it is a gift from God. Salvation is not a reward for the good things we have done, so none of us can boast about it. –Ephesians 2:8-9
None of us can earn it by being good enough, but once we have it, if we begin to think we’re better than others, we become self-righteous. This is what had happened with some of the religious people in Jesus’ time. They thought that if they followed the law perfectly, they were good. They thought so much of their own goodness that they despised those who they thought weren’t good. They looked down on those they considered less righteous.
Jesus challenged that because instead of staying away from those people, he went to their homes and had dinner with them. The religious leaders saw this and were appalled. They asked, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” Jesus answered, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners” (Mark 2:17).
Jesus wasn’t telling the religious leaders that they didn’t need salvation. He was telling them that they needed to change their perspective. We see this even more clearly in Luke’s gospel when a religious leader and a tax collector have both come to the temple to pray. The religious leader’s prayer is, “Thank God that I’m not like that sinner over there. I fast twice a week and give a tenth of all I get.” The tax collector’s prayer is, “Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Jesus said it was the tax collector who received righteousness that day, not the religious leader. “For all those who exalt themselves will be humbled, and those who humble themselves will be exalted” (Luke 18:14).
Comedian George Carlin gave us a great example of self-righteousness. He said, “Did you ever notice when you’re driving that anyone going slower than you is an idiot and anyone going faster than you is a maniac?”
Hungering and thirsting for righteousness helps us remember that our righteousness comes from God.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
If you ate pasta and antipasto, would you still be hungry? (George Carlin)
Are we still hungry and thirsty for righteousness?
If we are listening to the Holy Spirit and allowing him to stir us and renew us, then we are always working on course corrections. We are always reformed and reforming according to God’s will. Jesus encouraged us to keep on seeking. He said:
“Keep on asking, and you will receive what you ask for. Keep on seeking, and you will find” (Matt 7:7).
We keep on needing God’s righteousness more, for ourselves, and for the world around us. The more we find it, the more we see the need for it. We see Abraham being hungry and thirsty for righteousness in the story we read from Genesis 18. God tells Abraham about his plans to destroy Sodom, and Abraham intercedes on behalf of the people there. He says, “Hey, God, what if not everybody is evil. What if there are fifty righteous people there. Will you sweep away the righteous with the wicked?” And God says, “No, if there are fifty who are righteous, I won’t do it.”
Abraham could have left it at that. But he doesn’t. And he knows he’s pushing his luck asking again, so he’s very humble about the next question. He says, “Now that I have been so bold as to speak to the Lord, though I am nothing but dust and ashes, what if the number of the righteous is five less than fifty? Will you destroy the whole city for lack of five people?” (Gen 18:27-28)
And God says, “Ok, if there are 45, I won’t do it.”
So Abraham goes even further. “What about 40?”
And God says he’ll stop if there are 40.
What about 30?
Ok, I’ll stop if there are 30.
But what about 20?
I’ll stop if there are 20.
By now, God must have been getting annoyed, because then Abraham says:
“May the Lord not be angry, but let me speak just once more. What if only ten can be found there?”
The word used there for angry means literally to burn with anger. If I were Abraham, I think I’d be hiding behind something before I asked that last time. Don’t smite me, God, but I just have to ask one more time. Abraham is hungering and thirsting to see God’s righteousness.
God answers as we would expect: “For the sake of ten, I will not destroy it.” (Gen. 18:32)
God is inherently righteous. God’s goodness is who he is. It’s why God is light and why in him there is no darkness. It’s why if we will turn even just the least little bit away from our sin and toward his goodness, we are drawn to him, and we find ourselves hungering and thirsting for God’s righteousness.
When we hunger and thirst for God’s righteousness, Jesus says we will be filled. If we can admit our emptiness, we will be filled. Filled with what?
Filled with the Holy Spirit.
Ephesians 4:22-24 says we are called to “put off your old self, which belongs to your former manner of life and is corrupt through deceitful desires, and to be renewed in the spirit of your minds, and to put on the new self, created after the likeness of God in true righteousness and holiness.”
When we hunger and thirst for righteousness, we are filled with the Holy Spirit, and we become more and more like Jesus, and we begin to exhibit the traits in the next few beatitudes:
- Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy.
- Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
- Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
We see this in Abraham when he is talking to God about Sodom. He’s pleading for mercy. He’s working for peace. But he’s also being humble about it. He’s not saying, “Hey, God, I’m a righteous guy, so you should do this for me because I’m so good.” If Abraham had said it that way, he would have been being self-righteous. We cannot stand on our own righteousness. Instead we stand on the righteousness that we have in Jesus. We have to keep reorienting so that we don’t forget. We have to stay thirsty so that we keep on seeking Jesus and his righteousness, and stay focused on him.
How many recognize this famous painting? It’s The Last Supper by Leonardo Da Vinci. Duke Ludovinco of Milan asked Da Vinci to paint this dramatic scene of Jesus’ last supper with his disciples. Da Vinci spent three years working on the painting, giving meticulous care to details. He grouped the disciples into threes, two groups on either side of the central figure of Christ. Jesus’ arms are outstretched. In his right hand, Jesus holds a cup, painted beautifully with marvelous realism.
When the masterpiece was finished, the artist said to a friend, “Look at it and give me your opinion of it!” “It’s wonderful!” exclaimed the friend. “The cup is so real I cannot divert my eyes from it!” Immediately Leonardo took a brush and drew it across the sparkling cup so that it was no longer the focus. He exclaimed as he did so: “Nothing shall detract from the figure of Christ!”
We are so easily distracted. But if we stay thirsty, if we keep seeking God, keep asking questions, keep repenting and returning to Jesus, we become more and more like him.
More and more we reflect the glory of the one on whom we are focused (2 Cor 3:18).
The answer to the question, “Who are you?” comes through continuing to seek God and his guidance. That’s our great and never-ending quest. St. Augustine said that our hearts are restless until they find rest in Jesus, and that’s true, but it doesn’t mean we stop moving forward.
Being guided by God is a bit like walking. If you stand still on one leg at any one point you will probably fall over. But if you keep moving, over the course of time you’ll make progress in the right direction.
Keep moving forward. Keep seeking. Keep asking. Keep repenting. Stay thirsty, my friends.
This great quest to answer the question, “Who are you?” is answered in trusting in Jesus, but it’s not a static once-and-done thing. It’s an ongoing, dynamic, growing thing. The end of the journey only comes at the end of our lives.
Continue to work out your salvation with fear and trembling, for it is God who works in you to will and to act in order to fulfill his good purpose. —Philippians 2:12-13
When I was two years old, I flew with my mom from Sacramento to Los Angeles. The stewardesses were very nice to me, and I loved the bright colors in their outfits. From then on I wanted to be a stewardess. Then in 6th grade I found out that stewardesses can’t wear glasses, and I was devastated because I had been wearing glasses since I was four. So I decided I wanted to be a dancer, but I got teased for being clumsy and gave up that idea. As I got older, I decided I wanted to be an architect, but along the way I learned that my struggles with math were going to make that difficult. What was I to do? Who was I going to be?
Psalm 37:4 says, “Delight yourself in the Lord, and he will give you the desires of your heart.”
I have to be honest. The first time I remember somebody telling me about this verse as the answer to my questions about what to do with my life, I thought they were bonkers. Problem number one was that I was still trying to figure out what the desires of my heart were. Career counselors tell you to find your passion. In my young adult life the passions that were clear to me weren’t going to be all that helpful. What are you passionate about? Depending on when you asked me, I might say,
- Music with a deep pocket and nice edgy guitar
- Doing things that made me comfortable, or happy
I was pretty frustrated that the more I sought to be comfortable and happy, the more I was uncomfortable and unhappy. I was hungry and thirsty for the blessings, instead of the blesser.
This is also what happened to Robert Robinson. You may recognize his name. He wrote the hymn we’re going to sing at the close of our service, Come Thou Fount of Every Blessing. He first became a Christian after hearing George Whitfield preach. Whitfield was the Billy Graham of his time. Robinson went on to become a pastor and hymn writer, but over time he drifted away from God and fell back into old habits. One day as he was travelling he sat beside a woman who was humming the hymn he had written. One of the verses of the hymn says, “Prone to wander, Lord, I feel it, prone to leave the God I love.” As he listened to the woman humming, Robinson realized that he had indeed wandered far from God, and he longed to know again the joy that had inspired him to write that hymn.
What about us? Are we still hungry and thirsty for God’s righteousness? Or have we gotten comfortable with our blessings? Have we wandered into satisfying our hunger and thirst with other things? Are we willing to keep on asking and seeking so that all might know God’s mercy and peace?
Let us continually seek first the Lord and his righteousness. Let us keep our eyes on Jesus.
Stay thirsty, my friends.
 Encyclopedia of Illustrations #1344 as found at http://www.family-times.net/illustration/Righteousness/201177/
 Jones, Milton. 10 Second Sermons: … and even quicker illustrations (Kindle Locations 145-146). Darton, Longman & Todd LTD. Kindle Edition.