December 9, 2020
That’s Just Not Right! Have you heard yourself voice that refrain of late? That’s just not right. In the State I come from, Oregon; the Governor wrote a bill to fine people during thanksgiving if they had more than six people for dinner. That’s just not right. Then this same governor encouraged people to rat out their neighbors if they violated her mandate. That’s just not right. I mean, it’s now legal to possess cocaine and heroine in Oregon, but illegal to visit your family. That’s just not right!
But here’s the thing: wanting things to be right is part of what makes us human. We want things to be right, go right and to even look right. Think of this in just our everyday life: We go to the restaurant, we want our food to taste right. We go to the mechanic, we want our car to run right. We go to the gym, we want our bodies to work right. We want to have kids and have them grow up right. We vote for politicians and we want them to make things right. And after a while, with all our wanting things to be right, go right or look right, when things don’t go right, we can end up being pretty frustrated.
Then there’s our world: It’s just not right that abortion is still legal. Already this year over 40 million children were murdered in the womb. That’s just not right. Every 2.5 hours a child is abducted into sex-trafficking in the United States. That’s just not right. One out of six Americans live below the poverty line. And homelessness is still on the rise with 194,467 people who will sleep on the street tonight. That’s just not right.
And my guess is, that if I sat down with you, you could add to this list of things are just not right in our Country or the world… But let me ask you about what’s going on inside of you: Do you ever feel like something’s not quite right inside you? Do you ever get frustrated when you say something hurtful, think something evil, or do something that’s out of character for you? Do you ever beat yourself up for being selfish? Do you ever wish you were a better person, or a better Christian? Or let me ask it another way: Are you satisfied with where you’re at with God or do you hunger for something deeper, more tangible in your relationship with God?
Well if that’s you this morning: If you hunger for things to be right in your life, if you long to see things made right in our world – then God’s Word has good news for you today. For in Matthew 5:6, Jesus says: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled.” Matthew 5:6
Today as we return to the Good News of the Kingdom in the Gospel of Matthew, Jesus tells us once again who God blesses. If you struggle with a sense of “holy dissatisfaction” in life – the good news is that your desire for righteousness didn’t start with you. It started with God. Your longing reveals that God is and has been at work in your heart. Your sense of dissatisfaction with all that is wrong in life has been AWAKENED by God’s Spirit breaking into your life. Let me illustrate what I mean. In my early 20’s, prior to God awakening me to faith in Jesus, I had no desire to worship God, serve God or even care about what God cares about. I was happy to just go through life and do my own thing. Sure I was aware of some injustices in the world, but they didn’t bother me. I didn’t think about them. I wasn’t drawn to spiritual things and my mind was blind to spiritual realities. Then one day, a friend I worked with told me that one of his friends was going to get an abortion. Row verses Wade was just a few years old, and I’d never really thought about the implications of this law. But now a friend was going to get an abortion. I wasn’t sure if it was right or wrong and didn’t think about it one way or another. I was morally ambiguous without the Spirit of God working in my life. That’s the state of my inner being before meeting Jesus.
And yet that’s how it is with most of the world. People without the Spirit of God just don’t have the same sensitivity to wrongs in the world as those who have been awakened by God’s Spirit.
This is why, when Jesus says if we hunger and thirst for righteousness we are blessed! We are blessed because God is at work in our hearts to move us to want what He wants. We are blessed because the hunger and thirst in us is not just our own – it’s God’s. We long for what He longs for. We long for relationships to be right. We long for a way of life where we can live right. And we long for God to do something to help make our world right. So, I love this beatitude, this promise of God’s grace. Because if you have this longing – this inner hunger and thirst for righteousness – God promises to satisfy it. He will deliver. He will literally fill us full of righteousness, so that we may be satisfied.
But the question for us today is this: Just what is this “righteousness?” Well, I can tell you what it is not: It’s not self-righteousness. Someone who is self-righteous has little if any appetite for any genuine inner righteousness. They have no conscious awareness of their spiritual poverty before God. In fact, they rarely think there is anything wrong with them.
Instead, they think quite the opposite: they think of themselves as morally superior. As a result they have a good way of making you feel morally inferior. This self-righteousness is what characterized the Pharisees. They were the religious elite, and they prided themselves in being the moral police! So they were quick to point out where you were morally deficient. Constantly judging your behavior, they were quick to condemn you for even the slightest of faults. As a result, their zeal for “the letter of the law” was suffocating to the common man or woman. There was no joy, no peace, no grace and especially NO MERCY in their form of righteousness. In fact, their demands of self-righteousness placed burdens on you that not only made your feel helpless, but hopeless. So then, the righteousness Jesus speaks of is not self-righteousness. It’s a completely different kind of righteousness.
So what is the righteousness Jesus speaks of? I would say it this way: 1) It is an intense hunger for God’s righteousness in your life and 2) It is an intense desire to see our world made right. Let’s look at each one of these separately:
First, An intense hunger for God’s righteousness in your life. This attitude flows out of the previous beatitudes: Those who hunger and thirst after righteousness are keenly aware of your spiritual poverty before God. It’s being aware that your moral character is flawed, and that you’re not right with God. This is why you mourn, because you’re aware of your unrighteousness. And your grief creates in you a broken and contrite spirit – a meekness. And out of this meekness arises AN APPETITE for the kind of righteousness only God can give.
This is an intense longing in you that wants to be right with God, that wants to obey God, and live the kind of life God intends for you to live. That’s what it means to hunger and thirst after righteousness. Ultimately it means you have an appetite for God that only God can fill. And the good news is this: When you hunger andthirst for this kind of righteousness, God promises to satisfy you.
So, let me ask you: How’s your appetite for God’s kind of righteousness in your life? How’s your hunger for His Word? Do you long for the life God wants for you?
You see, I am convinced, that one of the devil’s greatest schemes, is to try to get you to satisfy your appetite for righteousness by making you religious – just like the Pharisees: To get you to think: “If I pray the right kind of prayer, go church every Sunday, don’t yell at my spouse, don’t drink too much, don’t cuss out loud, and don’t bother my neighbors – then I can be satisfied that I am good enough.”
But let me ask you: Are you satisfied with that way of thinking? Are you satisfied with managing the sin in your life so you look good to others? Or do you long for something better, more satisfying? Do you long to be more like Jesus? For if you do – if you hunger and thirst after his righteousness, then Jesus says, YOU WILL BE FILLED!
God isn’t interested in our trying to look good. Man looks at the outside, but God looks at the heart. He looks at your brokenness and wants to heal it. He looks at your emptiness and wants to fill it. And He wants to fill it with His righteousness. Then you will be able live the way He created you to live: with His righteousness in you! And you won’t just want what God wants for your life – you’ll start living that way. Instead of resigning yourself to broken relationships, you’ll be able to mend those relationships. Instead of despising the person who hurt you, you’ll be able to forgive them. Instead of hating your enemy, you can make peace with your enemy.
This is where God wants to make the world right. It begins with your relationship with Him. For those who hunger to be right with God and do right by God are the very ones God is drawn to – and the good news, is that He wants to satisfy you. That’s why He sent Jesus to you to die for you. Here’s the good news – you can be made righteous once and for all by trusting in Jesus. For God’s Word declares: “God made him who had no sin to be sin for us, so that in Him we might become the righteousness of God.” 2 Corinthians 5:21.
So let me ask you: Do you hunger and thirst for the righteousness God wants to give you? Do you long for God to make you right so you can live right in this world? If you do, then Jesus promises: You WILL BE SATISFIED. Our part is to hunger. God’s part is to fill. That’s the good news of the kingdom.
But we’ve only looked at the first part of our hunger after righteousness. There IS another aspect of righteousness at play here. Whereas this first aspect of righteousness focuses on a hunger for God’s righteousness in our lives, this second aspect… Is an intense desire to see our world made right.
So this second aspect of righteousness has to do with what the Bible calls “restorative justice.” Delivering people from oppression and restoring them into community. Helping people find a place in this world where they can experience just an ordinary life – a life with a roof over their head, food on the table, and someone to love them. This kind of righteousness is JUSTICE that rescues and releases the oppressed, AND GIVES THEM A HAND UP IN THE WORLD. In other words, its seeing what is wrong in our world and making it right. So, here’s a few more facts of where there’s still much wrong in our world:
Some 1.1 billion people in developing countries have inadequate access to water, and 2.6 billion lack basic sanitation.
The number of children in the world: 2.2 billion. The number of children living in poverty: 1 billion.
15 million children are currently orphaned due to HIV/AIDS
Here in Arizona, 55% of children are on free or reduced lunch in our local schools.
The poverty rate in Eloy is at 27% and the Covid Crisis is just making things worse.
Now what I’ve just shared is a drop in the bucket. So let me give you an example of righteousness as restorative justice. I want to tell you a bit about a ministry Becky and I participated in for a number of years when we pastored in Tacoma, Washington. The ministry is called: Remember Nhu. Nhu is the name of a little girl who shortly after becoming a Christian, was sold by her grandmother into the sex trade. A few years later, her story was told to a man by the name of Carl Ralston. Upon hearing her story, Carl knew God wanted him to do something about it. So he did. Rather than get into a ministry of rescue, he determined he would do a ministry of prevention. Most of young girls who were being sold into the sex trade were being sold out of desperation, out of poverty. So Carl started Remember Nhu, by establishing what is called a Prevention Home in Nhu’s village in Cambodia. These homes take in children of poverty who might be sold into slavery. Here they are given a home, clothing, food, schooling and taught the gospel. The first home was started in 2006. Now there are 109 homes in 16 countries, where over 1650 children are currently being protected from being sold into the sex trade. Because Carl Ralston hungered and thirsted after righteousness for what was wrong in the world, now over 2200 children have been spared the horrors of sex trafficking. This is how God fulfills our hunger to make things right in the world today.
God wants to make the world right. But God doesn’t use politics to do it. He uses people like Carl who hunger and thirst after righteousness. For this is precisely what Isaiah spoke about and what Jesus fulfills in the Sermon on the Mount. Listen to these words from Isaiah 61, The Spirit of the Sovereign Lord is on me, because the Lord has anointed me to proclaim good news to the poor. He has sent me to bind up the brokenhearted, to proclaim freedom for the captives and release from darkness for the prisoners, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor and the day of vengeance of our God, to comfort all who mourn, and provide for those who grieve in Zion— to bestow on them a crown of beauty instead of ashes, the oil of joy instead of mourning, and a garment of praise instead of a spirit of despair. Isaiah 61:1-3a
What has Jesus come to do? He has come to proclaim the good news of the kingdom to the poor. He heals the broken-hearted. He sets the sinner free. He gives the mourner comfort. And He makes us right. He gives us a crown of beauty – His beauty – He makes us people full of grace and mercy to bring healing and hope to our world. And He gives us the oil of joy: the Holy Spirit. He takes away our misery and replaces it with joy. And then we are given a new name. At the conclusion of verse 3, this is what is said of us: They will be called oaks of righteousness, a planting of the Lord for the display of His splendor. Isaiah 61:3b
The way God wants to make the world right is through those of us who hunger and thirst after righteousness. That’s why God doesn’t just take us to heaven when we become Christ Followers. God plants us here in the world, to show the world what He is like as we live righteous lives and do these works of restorative justice! God uses those who hunger and thirst after righteousness to make the world right! Of us He says: They will rebuild the ancient ruins and restore the places long devastated; they will renew the ruined cities that have been devastated for generations. Isaiah 61:4
God makes us Oaks of righteousness so we might restore places of community. This is how God satisfies our hunger and thirst for righteousness. And He’s planted us right next to a community, He wants to make right. You see, there are a lot of things that are not right in our world. But God wants us to begin right where He has planted us.
So, if you are frustrated with so much that is not right in the world; if you hunger and thirst to see our country made right again – then where God wants us to start is right here where we live. And all I can say, is that right now, we are investigating with the City of Eloy, what we might do to take a next step in helping the community. But until then, there is plenty you can do. You might start by giving to the Eloy Police Department’s Christmas gift drive. You can help by volunteering with our Eloy Food Bank Team. And you can help by praying for our leadership team as we investigate ways we can serve this community. The way God wants to make the world right is through those who hunger and thirst after righteousness.
Do you have this intense desire to see our world made right? Then let’s take on the identity God has for us as Oaks of Righteousness, and let’s let Him lead us to make a difference where we are planted in this next year! For as Jesus says, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness, for they will be filled. That’s the good news of the kingdom.