Message: Happily Satisfied | Scripture: Matthew 5:6 | Speaker: Pastor Stephen Choy
Perhaps one of the most honest conversations I’ve ever had with an unbeliever came during a 15-minute break in civil litigation class with the guy sitting next to me. It was my one of my first classes of my second year in law school. So, we started talking about the kind of TV we enjoyed, and when I asked what he watched, he listed all these shows I had never seen, and some that I’d never heard about, which led me to my second question, “what made him get into those shows particularly?” He told me without even flinching, “honestly, I just need to watch shows and movies that have a lot of nudity in them. I’m so bored at night and with all the normal stuff on TV and in theatres these days, that this is all that satisfies me.”
And where the conversation ended up going was his description to me of what sounded like a restlessness or an inconsolable longing. He wanted what he didn’t have in his life. He wanted excitement. He wanted intrigue. He wanted to feel alive. He wanted lust and attraction. He wanted to be satisfied with his boring, unsatisfying life, and the only way he could do that was by seeking out the progressively perverse—the increasingly visceral and shocking thing, even if the satisfaction from such things was only momentary.
The fact of the matter is that it’s possible some of us, here this morning, are like this. Perhaps not with this particular sin, but in our hearts and our souls—we’re restless and inconsolable in our longing for something, and we’ll chase after satisfying that restlessness and longing in all sorts of things—in mindless entertainment, in addiction to work, in carnal pleasures, in gossip, in drugs or alcohol, in our vanity, in new toys, in our reputation, etc.
We look for answers for our longing in things that are not only empty, and often dangerous to us, but that lead us to greater longing and deeper unhappiness, which leads me to implore you, with our text this morning, to stop looking for answers to your restlessness, your longing in all the wrong places—places that do not satisfy. Instead, hear Jesus’ words as he tells us, in Matthew 5:6, where to look—he tells us where to fixate our attention. TWoL: Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.
In other words, if we were to restate this most important beatitude in our own words, I’d word it like this: Desperately Desire Righteousness for Your Satisfaction (to your restlessness and longing). And I’m going to go so far as to say that you cannot be satisfied unless this is your desire. You will always have an unsatisfied restlessness and a longing if your desire falls short of the righteousness that Jesus requires of you here. And you may ask, what, then, does it mean to be righteous? That’s what our first point is about, so let’s look to it now: in the pursuit for your satisfaction . . .
1) Make It All About Righteousness
I want to say, right off the bat, that this is an incredibly peculiar and perplexing verse because have you noticed that the instruction that Jesus gives us here in order to be happy isn’t to hunger and thirst after happiness? Christ offers no assurance or reward for those who make being happy their preoccupation. And this is absolutely perplexing because we live in a day and age that only ever encourages that you do or pursue that thing that makes you happy. Right? How many self-help books, TV shows, movies, articles—how many mediums do we have these days telling us that in order to be happy—we have to forsake those things that rob us of happiness.
Just think for a moment about how pervasive this message is in our lives—this idea of pursuing happiness to be happy. There was a movement not too long ago started by a woman named Marie Kondo where she encouraged her followers to find happiness by tidying up the things in their life—your clothes, your books, your papers, your miscellaneous items, and your sentimental things, and the way to do that is by keeping only those things that provide you with what she calls a spark of joy or happiness.
Now, I’m all for cleaning out the clutter—trust me, if you look at my desk at home, you’d know that I need to declutter. But when we look for happiness in things, especially when we’re talking about happiness that transcends how we feel moment-by-moment, we have to realize the most troubling thing about this Marie Kondo effect or method—this pursuit of happiness in order to be happy simply makes you glorify and sentimentalize yourself. It makes you self-centered because it becomes all about how you do and keep what makes you feel good. And when the saviour to your unhappiness is yourself, there’s no wonder why so many people are increasingly deeply and desperately unhappy today. Because we’re not nearly as good at problem spotting as we think, and thus terribly inadequate at problem solving as well.
What do I mean by this? Well, I mean two things. The first is that by seeking out our happiness as a means to undo our unhappiness, we miss that the problem isn’t in what surrounds us or in what we have; it is us. It’s what’s in us, namely, that we are sinful and wholly the authors of our own dissatisfaction. See, as sinners—as those who seek to satisfy ourselves instead of worshipping and glorifying the God who made us—we cover up from our own eyes the fact that we cannot be happy because we aren’t doing what we were made to do. By seeking to be happy before dealing with the problem—before dealing with ourselves and our sin—we block ourselves from ever truly having happiness.
It’s like a patient who goes into see his doctor because he is suffering from a disease that is quite painful. Now, the patient doesn’t know about the disease, rather he goes to his doctor so that he might receive simple medication to rid himself of the pain. Yet, if the doctor listens to his patient and does only that, then he’s quite a bad doctor, isn’t he? Not just because he’s failed to do his job but because he consigns the patient to greater, future suffering that will not be curable at some point. And a person who hungers and thirsts for happiness as a priority is like a patient who merely desires to be rid of the pain rather than to allow the doctor to discover and remove its more malignant source.
This is why Jesus tells us that in order to be happy your hungering and thirsting isn’t to be for happiness, but for righteousness. Because, in order to be happy, you’ve got to be rid of that thing that binds you and pulls you into an eternity of unhappiness. You’ve got to be rid of sin. You have to be rid of its and the devil’s power over your life. And you have to be rid of the desire for it—the trickery it has over you that it’s good to desire.
But in order to do that, you need that second thing that I meant when I said we’re not nearly as good at spotting the problem of our unhappiness as we think we are, and thus terribly inadequate at problem solving for it as well. The first thing was that in our attempt to define the problem, we don’t see that we and our sin are the problem, which leads to the second thing, namely, that when we finally see that we and our sin are the problem, we realize that the solution cannot come from ourselves. We cannot be our own operating physician. No, one must come from without to fix what is within.
What’s more is that this physician must be one who is greater than all the things and pursuits that we’ve already sought out. These things that we have made saviours but are only shadows of the one who is our Saviour. In other words, the reason why we must desire righteousness above all in order to be happy is because true happiness belongs only to those who are not subject to the guilt of their sin and the coming wrath of God. And the only ones who are not subject to the wrath of God are those who are righteous in his sight.
See, happiness is a good thing to desire, but the problem is that the world teaches us to desire it as the primary thing when it is supposed to be secondary. Happiness is supposed to be the result and not the prize. The prize is being in right standing with God. The prize is the ability to glorify God. The prize is being with God, and only when we are able to be with him without the threat of not being with him are we truly happy—are we truly blessed.
It’s the man or woman who sees the depth of his or her sinfulness, yearns to be free from it and its shackles, and to be set right with God by living a life that is pleasing to Him—that man or woman whose supreme desire is to be holy as God is holy, he, the evangelist tells us, is and shall, forevermore, be happy. Because he or she hasn’t set their eyes on themselves, but on him who made us and calls us to himself, and in so doing, he or she realizes that unless we have him—nothing will ever be good enough.
The pursuit of happiness will never result in happiness, but the pursuit of righteousness—the abandonment of sin and the glorification of God and his character—that is the prize that yields a thousand rewards, and happiness is just one of them. So, dear sinner, make it all about righteousness so that in your obedience to God you might know his happiness—one that does not fade or falter but shall be with you forever.
2) Realign Your Appetites
Now that we’ve determined what righteousness means and why we are to desire it, let us consider to what degree we ought to desire it as Christ commands us to hunger and thirst after it. I’ve said before that these beatitudes are like climbing a mountain where the pinnacle of the mountain is this fourth beatitude. The first three are all about emptying, and they get progressively harder.
We are poor in spirit because as we’re confronted with the perfection of Jesus, we are also confronted with our own sinfulness and helplessness, which leads us to mourning over our sinful nature and the penalty that inevitably awaits us in hell, which, then, leads to the most difficult realization, namely, that we have no reason to be upset or defensive with anyone who condemns us for our sin—because what others have to say about us is never going to be as bad as what is actually true. And this disinterestedness in ourselves and humble willingness to lay down our rights, even when others revile us, is called meekness.
It is when we see the depth of our sin, that we also see the extent to which we are condemned, and that ought to have a monumental and increasingly painful effect upon our lives. That is why these first three beatitudes are like the ascent up towards the mountain peak where each step we are emptied more and more of our former selves, and as we let God do that work upon us, as he’s confronts us with his Son and our sin, it results in us a deep longing to see what it’s all been for.
See, this hungering and thirsting is not equivalent to what you feel after a morning of not eating at church. It’s not that tinge of stomach pain that you get when you skip a meal or two or even three. It’s what manifests in you when your condition has been so impoverished that another moment without sustenance or a drop of water is to taste death.
I must admit, I’ve never been that hungry or thirsty before, but I’ve seen it to a certain degree in my brother. For those of you who remember him, he’s stick-thin. He’s the skinniest person I know. I often joke that if and when he turns sideways, he disappears. But another way I like to describe him is that he has an insatiable hunger and thirst for evangelism and missions. So great is his hunger and thirst that one summer he volunteered to go on a mission trip to a rural city in India. And it was in India where he was exposed to conditions so poor that no matter what they ate, all you could taste was the heat of the spice that they had to put in it in order to kill the bacteria.
Yet, even with all that spice, every time my brother partook of a meal, he’d throw up or have violent gastrointestinal attacks followed by blurred vision and intense hallucinations. He became so sick that he actually had to come back early from his trip after about a month. I remember when he got off that plane, and we took him to eat. He couldn’t eat more than a few bites because his body—his stomach—didn’t know how to respond to it. And I remember in the morning, after his first night of sleep, I walked into his room, and he was lying there on his bed without his shirt. And my first thought was, “this man has tasted death” because he might have been skinny before, but I could now see the entire outline, bone-for-bone, of his skeleton, and I know he was suffering for it.
This, then, is a semi-apt description of what it means to hunger and thirst for righteousness—not only to be so destitute that you’re hardly recognizable when you look at yourself in the mirror—so amorphous and repulsive from your sin, but as you taste of righteousness, your natural inclination is to flinch and struggle because it is a goodness that your brokenness cannot comprehend, but you know you need it because if you do not partake of it—if you do not feast on it, the very flesh on your bones might melt away.
To hunger and thirst is to be this desperate. It is to be the prodigal son who in his hunger eats the filth of the pigs, but in his desperation—in his starving, he has no other recourse but to turn and run to his father, begging him, “Father! I know my sin, I am not worthy of being called your son, but please let me in as a hired servant if only I might partake of the scraps of your court.”
See, the repugnancy of our sin—sinfulness that only begets wrath—requires us to realign our appetites. It causes us to take ourselves off from that high place that we’ve wrongly imagined we belong, and to rightly and realistically see ourselves not only as those who need to be fed, but who will take anything that is offered to us. Because if we do not eat, we will die. And in our lowliness, we plead, “if only I could have a bit of that righteousness, if only I might know in small measure the peace of God over my sin, if only God would show me a glimpse of his face and not strike me down in its radiance, that would be enough.”
This, brothers and sisters, is what it means to be Christian, and we have to ask ourselves if we hunger and thirst for righteousness this way, or if there are things in our lives that we hunger and thirst for more. Is righteousness—holiness before God—the absolute and desperate desire of your life, or is happiness without the need for righteousness your pursuit?
Perhaps this is too difficult a question to ask summarily, so let me parse it into a few other, practical questions: are you actively hungering and thirsting for righteousness by separating yourselves from those things that are harmful to your soul and opposed to God? If this is too easy of a question for you to answer, let me move onto the next. Are you actively hungering and thirsting for righteousness to the extent that you’re avoiding things that dull and distract your spiritual appetite? Things that, if we look objectively, are not necessarily sin to be around or to partake in, but we know if we permit them into our lives, somehow, the more I partake, the more my desire for God and his righteousness decreases.
Now, these are negative tests, so let me ask the next question positively, “do you surround yourself with all the things that might remind you and increase your desire for righteousness?” Is the law of God ever before you so that upon it you meditate day and night? Do you think regularly about the danger that surrounds you and tempts you, once again, into enslaving patters of sin? And do you surround yourself with and confide in sisters and brothers who will do whatever it takes to protect you?
Then, do you put yourself in a position to actually obtain righteousness when the opportunity arises? For example, do your friends and family know that you are Christian, and that when they do something morally abhorrent or tempt you to do those things with them, you can stand firm and defend your faith because you’ve made a concerted effort to honour God more than find acceptance with your friends?
This is what it means to be a spiritual, Christian man or woman—to have righteousness be the greatest desire and deepest longing of your life. Dr. Martyn Lloyd Jones puts it this way, “the Christian person is someone who can say quite honestly and truly that I desire above everything else in this world to know God and to be like the Lord Jesus Christ, to be rid of self in every shape and form, and to live only, always, and entirely to His glory and His honour.”
Does it make you happy to glorify God in your life, in your homes, and in all the earth? Because if it doesn’t then it’s possible that you do not desire righteousness, and thus equally possible that yours is not the kingdom of heaven. And I implore you before it is too late, let your appetites be realigned to the revelation of God who requires righteousness and who stands in judgment over those who do not desire it—for only those who truly, desperately hunger and thirst to be holy as he is holy are those who can profess to be happy.
3) Rest in Satisfaction Given
What is risky in sermons like this is that it’s possible for you to only hear part of what’s being said. You may have listened to all I’ve said up to this point and think to yourself, “well, Pastor Stephen is talking about works-righteousness—salvation by merit. It sounds like only those who do what is good in the sight of the Lord are those whom he makes happy and saves, and because I don’t believe in that, I’m not going to listen to the rest.” That’s the first danger—that you mishear me and cast off my words as heresy.
Conversely, the second danger is that in what I’m about to say, you’ll forget everything I’ve just said, cling onto the promises that I’m about to describe, and think that there is no work left for you to be done. But what I need you to hear is both the requirement for obedience and the grace. One cannot be separated from the other. Yes, grace precedes, but the desperate desire for obedience and a willingness to submit your life in every respect to the will of God must follow. That’s the Christian life. That’s the happy life.
And I want to make sure you hear me rightly and read the text precisely because what’s being described here isn’t the requirement for perfection nor salvation through works. Those who are happy—those who are counted as citizens in the kingdom of heaven are not those who have followed without fault the entirety of the law. Read the verse. It says those who are happy—those who belong in the kingdom are those who desire to be righteous.
Notice the language—it’s focus is not upon your action or inaction but upon your heart. It’s a command that you have a heart to do what is right in the eyes of the Lord because he is God, you are not. He saves, you cannot. You sin, he does not. And because of who he is, and because of who you are, you need to see that unless his standard becomes your standard, all that he has to offer you apart from himself will be meaningless, vain, empty, and momentary in its happiness. Unless he is the prize, happiness will not come.
But for those who possess the heart to know and love him by being like him in his holiness, for those who want to be holy, he makes them holy. The language uses a divine passive—God does the work. You long and you desire, but he satisfies and fulfills. The righteousness doesn’t come from your desire—the righteousness comes from him, but you’ve got to have the desire. You’ve got to see not only your need in him, but he wants you to want him because without him, there is nothing. And he desires to give you everything.
And what’s more is that he doesn’t merely respond to your longing. He doesn’t only provide you with a part of his righteousness—as if all he can spare you is a taste of who he is. No, the word that Matthew uses here is meant to provide us with the image that for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness—for those who, in their sin, want relief from their depravity and to partake in whatever life-giving nectar that God is willing to give them—to them, Jesus says, God shall give and give until they are fat. To them, they shall be supplied beyond what they could ever need or want. This is, by definition, what satisfaction means. It doesn’t mean getting merely what you want but getting so much of it that you never have want again.
Yet, we must ask, how exactly will we be satisfied—how exactly will we be made righteous? Notice how all the beatitudes, except this one, give you definitive rewards—heaven, comfort, earth, mercy, seeing God, sons of God, but this one leaves it wide open. It doesn’t answer how or what? And the reason for this is because the time has not yet come for this audience to hear it from the one who is speaking.
But we know the answer, don’t we? For while we were still weak, at the right time Christ died for the ungodly. For one will scarcely die for a righteous person—though perhaps for a good person one would dare even to die—but God shows his love for us in that while we were still sinners, Christ died for us (Rom 5:6-8). He became sin who knew no sin so that in and through him we might become the righteousness of God (2 Cor 5:21)
Jesus comes to satisfy our penalty and our longing. Jesus comes to both show us and give us the righteousness that our depraved natures could never possess. And for those who have this righteousness—for those whose hearts have been mortified to their wickedness and made alive to God’s restoration of us in his Son—they are the happiest, most awe-filled people in the world. To be happy is to be amazed, content, and at rest in the righteousness of Christ given to us.
All of this isn’t just to give you good theology, it’s to satisfy you in amazement. That for all your longing, you couldn’t do it yourself, so God does it for you, and he does it by giving up his own Son to die upon a cross, to take on your sin, to suffer your wrath, and to be raised from your death. This is how you are satisfied—not from within but from without. Jesus is how you are satisfied, and then he keeps you satisfied not only by giving you his own righteousness, but by giving you the gift of his own Spirit so that you might joyfully persist in righteous works and thereby find yourself infinitely and confidently happy in him.
This is the heart of the beatitudes, the pinnacle of the mountain top, and the very core of the Christian message—that we are to desperately desire righteousness for our happiness because in so doing, God has already provided us with our satisfaction in Jesus. Therefore, Church, find your happiness in our righteous Christ who also enables you to pursue it yourself. Long for him. Seek after him, and, surely, he shall give you the desire of your heart so that with him you’ll never have want again.