Jesus tells us that those who hunger for righteousness are doing well. They will receive, abundantly, what they long for (Matthew 5:6).
Righteousness, as Jesus describes it, is obeying God’s commands (5:17-20). But then, as he continues to teach, we find it is not just compliance but a hearty agreement with what God wants. Jesus tells us to be perfect like our heavenly Father is perfect (5:48).
But what kind of person is hungry for righteousness? Most of us think it’s something we have plenty of. We do the right thing—mostly. And we spend a lot of time and energy defending it. We don’t understand the word ‘hungry’ when it comes to righteousness.
And there’s another problem. Our natural self is saying, ‘My idea is best!’ God’s requirements seem like an intrusion.
Into this situation comes Jesus. And he begins by demonstrating what hunger for righteousness looks like. He insists on John baptizing him. He’s ‘hungry’ to get this done (Matt. 3:15). He has no lack of righteousness himself, but he wants us to be obedient children of God. His obedience to the Father is going to make it happen.
Then, Jesus shows us what God’s righteousness looks like. He saves people from their sicknesses. He teaches the truth in a way that is riveting. Many are finding that God is real and that he is reaching out to them.
Jesus is providing an appetizer! We are never going to do what God wants if we are not attracted by who he is.
Isaiah said this would happen: God delighting our hearts and making us thankful; God making us like sturdy trees—tall and righteous, and getting on with the things that need doing (Isaiah 61:1-4).
Does this whet our appetite? We all want upright people to govern us, or to be our neighbours. But what about us?
We really need to be filled with righteousness—preferring what God wants. This is what we are made for. We damage ourselves and defraud those around us when we don’t follow what he says. Sometimes, things need to go wrong before we long for what God wants (Psalm 119 :71).
Perhaps we’ve been hungry and not understood our pain. Jesus knows we need lots of things but tells us to seek God’s reign and righteousness first (Matt. 6:33). God can look after all the other things, but we need to be hungry for righteousness.
So, how does this happen?
Jesus tells us about a tax collector who is broken by his miserable life. He’s defrauded people and kept God at a distance—until now. He asks God to be merciful to him—a sinner (Luke 18:13-14).
Here’s the punch line. Jesus says he goes back to his home a righteous man—or justified. He’s been hungering for righteousness. And now, he’s filled!
Later on, Jesus will tell a lame man that his sins are forgiven (Matthew 9:2). He is able to say this because he will offer up his own body as an offering for them, and for ours as well (Matt. 26:28).
All of us need this thorough wash out of who we are—our unholy desires and crippling guilt. We need to believe in this act of Jesus on our behalf. And we need to hear God calling us righteous. That’s right, God calls us righteous (Isa. 53:11-12; Rom. 3:22).
Now, our protests and pomp drop away and we find God is someone to love. And so is our neighbour. All the rules we thought were a bother are now a good way to live.
Paul tells us what’s happened. ‘The grace of God has appeared, bringing salvation for all people, training us to renounce ungodliness and worldly passions, and to live self-controlled, upright, and godly lives in the present age’ (Titus 2:11-12).
All this is better than breakfast! We’re hungry, and being satisfied, all at the same time. And we are being congratulated!