This sermon is part of the sermon series "Change of Heart". See series.
Have you ever used an image to help motivate you? To help you clarify what and who you
want to become? An image can be an object or can come from a song, poem, or picture. A well placed, often considered image can nurture within us something about ourselves that we want to cultivate. I know a mother who ripped a picture out of a magazine and placed it in her work space. It was a picture of a mom and a daughter talking together with affection and warmth. She put it there to remind her of the kind of mom she wants to become for her daughter. My father-in-law is a pastor, and above his desk are hung two images: John Calvin and Martin Luther—two men that have shaped his view of faith and his understanding of what it means to be apastor. There they sit, beckoning him forward. I’ve been to a chemist’s lab at Harvard, and the research group had a picture of Einstein hanging up, calling them forward in their intellectual pursuit. Do you have an image like this hanging somewhere around you?
The thing about images like these is that none of them tell us what to do. None of them provide a roadmap for success. They don’t prescribe the steps we should take. What they do is remind us of who we want to become. We know the person we want to be resides somewhere deep within us. Those images reach in and summon that person to life.
I want to suggest that what Jesus is doing here with these eight lines of poetic prose, the Beatitudes, is painting an image for us. It’s a word picture that we can carry around with us, think about, put in a prominent place. It’s an image that paints a picture of what our life can be like.
It’s not an image that reminds us of some external accomplishment or tangible pursuit with tangible results. This picture describes qualities of the heart. It is a picture of internal realities—of an internal condition. The Beatitudes paint a picture of a life that is blessed—a life we can have when the attitudes of our hearts are fully aligned with God’s purpose. We are made to be in keeping with God’s original design. The Beatitudes create an image that beckons us forward.
So far, we’ve looked at the first three beatitudes and have been shown a heart that is poor in spirit, a heart that mourns, and a heart of meekness. Have you noticed that all three of these beatitudes are descriptions of emptiness? Jesus says blessed are those who embrace their poverty, their brokenness, and their need for surrender.
Jesus now makes a very natural transition. From describing a life that is intentionally empty, he moves on to talk about what it is that fills that life up.
Making room for hunger
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” What does it mean to hunger and thirst for righteousness? I’d like us to look to Jesus’ life for a bit of clarity.
If you remember, Jesus’ public ministry didn’t begin until he was about 30 years old. We know very little about his life from the time of his birth and early childhood up until this point. What we do know is that for 30 years, Jesus did what we all do—he grew up. Jesus transitioned from infancy to childhood through adolescence and into adulthood, all in a small rural town outside of the bustling city life. Jesus worked his family’s trade of carpentry and studied Torah just like the other Jewish boys in his village did. Then, finally, he stepped out onto the stage: his public ministry began at the Jordan River when he was baptized by John and confirmed by the voice of God who announced to every onlooker that Jesus’ moment was here. You can imagine the sense of anticipation and excitement. Years of preparation were finally about to pay off.
So what does Jesus do? What is his first act as Messiah? What does he do on his first day on the job? He didn’t perform a miracle; he didn’t preach a sermon; he didn’t raise anyone from the dead. Instead, he went into the wilderness and for 40 days he stopped eating. For 40 Days Jesus emptied himself and made himself hungry.
Have you ever wondered why he chose this among all the other possibilities? I think Jesus did this in order to make a clear and definitive statement about the central question of humanity. The most important question any person asks is, “What is it that will fill my hungry heart?”
The greatest quest of life is the quest for satisfaction. We live our lives pursuing hard after it. We search for something to satiate the pangs of our human appetites—something to quench the dull ache of our unfulfilled cravings. Human beings are hungry creatures. We look for food in all kinds of places: money or possessions, strings of relationships or nonstop activity, sex or power, fame or approval.
You know what Jesus was doing in the wilderness during his fast? He was checking those appetites. Jesus was living out what he preached when he said, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” He was making sure his human appetites didn’t gain control of him. When fed, unrestrained appetites only get bigger and bigger while leaving us less and less satisfied. Do you know how we know this? Because of McDonald’s.
In 1955, the largest soda McDonald's offered was seven ounces. In a little over 50 years, it has swelled six times that size to 42 ounces. In a recent international marketing campaign, McDonald's was pushing their super-sized drink more than ever, lovingly naming it "Hugo" to entice customers. Should someone choose to grab a Hugo, he or she will be taking in over 400 calories and nearly no nutritional value. Unrestrained appetites grow larger and larger and satisfy us less and less.
The struggle we have in our context isn’t just the struggle of individual appetites growing out of control. We also struggle against of the sheer number of appetites that our consumer culture tries to awaken inside of us.
In Hank Ketcham’s comic strip "Dennis the Menace," Dennis is looking through a catalog saying, "This catalog’s got a lot of toys I didn’t even know I wanted." The primary role of an advertiser is to create hunger we never knew we had in pockets of our lives that we never knew were lacking! We find ourselves with more appetites than we could ever hope to satisfy in one lifetime.
If you’ve ever taken on a home remodeling project of any size, you quickly discover that there is this amazing previously undiscovered world called the home improvement industry. Before owning a home, I never really knew it existed, but once we decided to do a serious project, it was like we had stumbled through the back of the wardrobe into Narnia and into the waiting arms of many people--people ready and waiting to make us feel deeply and utterly passionate about all kinds of things we had never given a moments thought to before. At every turn there was another choice to make: faucets and floors, tubs and tile, paint color and door trim, windows and decking. If you’re not careful, you learn to become a “shopper with discriminating tastes.” What this means is that your appetite is getting bigger for things that—in the grand scope of things—really don’t matter that much.
I remember one day during our project I was having a conversation with a salesman about the kind of skylight I wanted on my roof. He said to me, “Now do you want a skylight that isfixed, or do you want an electric skylight that opens with a remote?” Interesting question—I hadn’t considered it. But I had a sneaking suspicion that the electric one with the remote probably would cost about 50% more than the simple fixed one. My wife and I talked and decided we were fine with just the standard window.
But he came back to it again—and here’s where it gets interesting. I said, “Well, what do most people usually do for these?” “If we’re in Lexington,” he said, “most of them are electric. Here in the suburbs people might usually go with the standard skylight.” Now that’s pretty sneaky!
In the desert, Jesus gave us a phrase to use at a moment like that: away from me, Satan. It wasn’t that this salesman was Satan, but the levers that were being tugged in my heart represented a very real spiritual struggle about what I believed it meant to be blessed—to be filled.
We need to be very wary in this life, because there will always be a voice in our heads that whispers to us that we need far more than we really do to be satisfied: we need a fancier skylight, an updated kitchen, a faster car, whiter teeth, smother skin, nicer clothes, a better school for the kids, a warmer vacation. We can keep these desires contained for a while, but then another desire pops up, then another and another and another. Before we know it, we’re flailing away--spending the energy of our lives on desires that mean very little in light of eternity. In the wilderness, Jesus simply and firmly said: I’m not playing this game. I choose to hunger after something that really satisfies.
There is a passage from the book of Isaiah that would have been very familiar to Jesus, and I wonder if it wasn’t one of the scriptures that he considered during his fast: “Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not
bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good,
and your soul will delight in the riches of fare” (Isaiah 55:1-2).
An appetite for righteousness
To hunger and thirst for righteousness means living a life in close proximity to a God who beckons us towards himself—a God who is eager to provide for us everything that we need; a God who wants us to learn to love him and wants to show us how to live rightly in relationship with others; a God who wants us to live our lives for him.
The actions of Andrew and Peter in the New Testament provide an image of right hunger and thirst. The moment they decided to follow Jesus was the pivotal moment they decided they did not need to be filled with the comfort of their stuff, their work, their status, or anything else in their lives. They simply dropped their nets, left their boat—perhaps even a catch of fish—and followed after a hunger and thirst for what pours out of God, rather than the things or behaviors of this world.
Imagine what would happen if each one of us came to fully embrace this reality. Imagine if each one of us increased our appetite for righteousness? What if we became consumers with a discriminating taste for the riches of God? What might happen if, at the heart of our being, we began to demonstrate an internal and undeniable desire for God—a desire to act with compassion to those around us, a desire to live whole and good lives, a desire that allowed us to filter out the noise and recognize unimportant appetites?
A mother in our small group told us how her son’s kindergarten teacher had him draw a picture of himself that the teacher would hold onto until the end of the year. She said, “I know what she’s going to do with it. She’s going to have him draw another one at the end of the year to show how much he’s progressed in such a short time. I was thinking about that,” she said, “and I thought, What if I were to draw a picture of myself at the beginning of this year?”
I want to share part of an email I received about transformation from a member of our church:
[After God had entered my life and taken away my hunger for
alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes] I still had a great problem with
coveting many things … I wanted to feel and look better than I did
on the inside, and before I knew it, I was buried in debt. I believed
God’s word when he says he will always show a way out of sin
and temptation … I asked God to take these parts of me that I
couldn’t control and to help me give them to him.
So God moved me from my little house I was renting to a little
basement apartment. I threw out a lot of stuff … I began giving it
away, selling it, sending it to people, and I am still selling and
giving away all that I covet. The stuff I desired most, when given
away, brings healing and a sense of freedom that I never received
when I bought it …
I have learned how to trust God and love God, how it feels to hurt
God and how it feels to be forgiven. I’ve also learned how to love
what God loves—I have learned to walk in joy and to appreciate
the beautiful things I already have. And I have learned to let go of
things. I now live with the desire to please God and not myself. I
am learning God’s voice in my heart and I am becoming obedient
to it. And God, in his amazing and quiet way, has begun to change
my heart from a coveter to a giver.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.”
Tom VanAntwerp serves as Pastor of Community Life at Grace Chapel in Lexington, Massachusetts.