“Blessed are they which do hunger and thirst after righteousness: for they shall be filled.” Matthew 5:6
“But seek you first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added to you.” Matthew 6:33
A few weeks ago, I wrote in this blog about the Kingdom of God and it’s primary importance. My text was Matthew 6:33. (If you haven’t had a chance to read that post, I hope you might find the time to do so.) I think, a lot of times, this text of Scripture gets misunderstood. I’ll just speak for my own misunderstandings. You probably have your own. I admit, openly, that at times I’ve viewed Jesus’ words in this verse backwards. No matter how many times I would read this verse, somehow, my heart would pull my attention down to “all these things shall be yours” part. I did not want to be bothered with the stuff about “seeking” or “Kingdom” or, much less “righteousness!” This was a verse I would turn to when I really needed God to do something. “You promised to add all of these things God!” The truth is that I had very little understanding concerning “kingdom”, “righteousness”, or even what it meant to “seek after it.” But it’s also true, that in my pain and desperation for answers or provision – I didn’t WANT to know much about those things that preceded the promise! But doesn’t it make sense that we cannot, and probably will not, seek after or desire something that we don’t understand or recognize for that matter?
I spent sometime in my previous post, “The Primary Importance of the Kingdom of God”, looking into the meaning of Kingdom and how Jesus understood the term “Kingdom of God.” And what about “righteousness?” How does Kingdom relate to Righteousness? And why would I want to seek THAT?
(Again, open confession time, that word always made me a bit nervous, “righteousness” – it brought some negative, scary images to mind – and angry God – scary scenes from the movie The Ten Commandments. I was intimidated. But it doesn’t scare me so much anymore, and I will explain why.)
When we seek to understand a passage of Scripture like Matthew 6:33, it is always a really good thing to be very familiarized with the surrounding verses and chapters. What came before? What comes after? In this case, Jesus began to teach “a large crowd” (4:25) as Matthew records and begins a long discourse “one day” in Chapter 5 verse 1, and He continues speaking to the same crowd all the way through to Chapter 7 verse 28. This extended teaching is known as the “Sermon on the Mount.” Bible scholars tell us that there is a connection between “Kingdom” and “Righteousness” in the context – basically, there is what language scholars define as a “parallelism.” In a sense, the terms are interchangeable here. We have understood “Kingdom of God” to refer to the dynamic activity of God, His constant, relentless agenda to save humanity – in essence, what He is doing to extend His rule and reign so that one day, His “glory will cover the whole earth.” God’s Righteousness then, refer to His wisdom, His “right-ness” in carrying out this Kingdom Agenda. This is important to understand because, sometimes, a lot of times, it appears to us as if God is somehow, way off track. Like He forgot about how things really work. But there is a RIGHTNESS in the way God is managing human history. His plan is the right plan.
So, o.k., we got this far. Bear with me. We are to seek after God’s Kingdom and God’s Kingdom in this case, His righteousness, is directly connected with a five part body of teaching that begins in Chapter 5 and ends in Chapter 7. In these blocks of teaching Jesus is laying out God’s instruction for how the disciples are to act so as to be in sync with God’s way. And these people Jesus speaks to in Chapters 5-7 really needed some truth – because they’ve been fed a steady diet of “unrighteousness.” Over and over he refers to Old Testament Scriptures by saying “you have heard it said…” and so forth. Then Jesus adds, “but I say to you.” This is amazing. Who would dare to “rephrase” God’s words? I guess anyone is welcome to try! And many have. But only Jesus, as the true Son of God is authorized and qualified to do so. Jesus isn’t changing the Law, He is restoring it to God’s original intention. Revealing what God desired to communicate and which men have obscured due to our blindness, selfishness, and self-centeredness.
God’s righteousness…God’s standards…God’s way of doing things…what God really values – this is what we are to seek. This “chunk” of Scripture should bring us to our knees asking, “God, how should I be living? What should I be doing? How should I be reacting to the world around me? To the people? To the news of the day? It’s kind of strange, but as Jesus begins to speak in Chapter 5 verse 1 – He turns everything upside down it seems that what God calls “blessed” (Greek adjective translated ” blessed” (macarioi) word can also mean “happy”) – and what I consider to be blessed are, most of the time, not the same. You might come away from reading 5:1-12 asking yourself a lot of questions. That’s good.
Read verses 1 through 12 again. Basically Jesus is challenging the way we view reality. He is challenging our feelings, our emotions, what we value, who we call a “winner” or a “loser.” He is also challenging our expectations about the future. Over and over in this these verses, He says something that’s really topsy-turvy and then adds, “they shall, they shall, they shall.” As if to say, “you’ll see”, I may sound crazy, but “you’ll see.” And, incredibly, in the first and last beatitude, He states something about the poor in spirit and those who are being persecuted for the sake of righteousness, and says, “their’s IS the Kingdom of Heaven. In other words, some of those you see as crushed under the boot of oppression, the spiritually depressed who look like absolute losers, those people are “in” – they “own the Kingdom!” What?!
Actually, when you read this chapter, you might feel a lot like Neo in The Matrix. You’re sitting in front of Morpheus and he’s telling you this bizarre story about the Matrix. You find it really hard to believe, but he extends his hands and offers you proof. If you want it. Take it, don’t just take my word for it. Here it is. Jesus is doing the same with the disciples. Don’t just take my word for it. Take the pill. I dare you to pray and seek, and knock. Or just walk away. Take the blue pill, the story ends, walk away from Matthew 5,6, and 7, and “believe what ever you want to believe.” Take the red pill; and you stay with Jesus in the Kingdom, wonderland, and He will show you how deep the rabbit hole goes. It gets a lot deeper.
In a way, these beatitudes and the verses that follow represent God’s Red pill – God’s truth about the world. This is the essence of “God’s Righteousness” – and the amazing thing is that when we believe what Jesus is saying, and seek after it, and knock, and ask, and open, we are allowed to begin to see the world as God sees it. And we also can look peek behind the eschatological curtain into the future and see where it’s all headed. Here’s why. When we begin to think like Jesus about things, then the Kingdom, which was previously hidden (like the Matrix was hidden from Neo) comes alive right in front of our faces. All of a sudden we start to view life, and the “now” differently. We get a huge paradigm shift. This is what Jesus’ wants the disciples to get. The Beatitudes give us a new set of lenses with which we can view the world around us. They allow us to see how God is working (His Kingdom Agenda) and we get a “peek” at where it’s all going.
Hunger and thirst for these lenses. Hunger and thirst for God’s “moral goodness” as Matthew Henry puts it. This is the only thing that satisfies. When you get righteousness, you also get the Kingdom…and when you are in that place, and only in that place – then you are filled – you are satisfied.
Later on in the New Testament the Apostle Paul speaks about God’s righteousness.
I love this book….and these two verses – they have probably changed more lives any other in the Bible! Some scholars say that the whole Book of Romans builds on these two verses. The rest of the letter unfolds from here:
“For I am not ashamed of the gospel, for it is the power of God for salvation to everyone who believes, to the Jew first and also to the Greek. For in it the righteousness of God is revealed from faith to faith; as it is written, “BUT THE RIGHTEOUS man SHALL LIVE BY FAITH.”
The Gospel. The Good News of Jesus Christ. Jesus the King has come with a great message – a very hopeful message. “The world isn’t what you think it is.” It isn’t for the proud, the rich, the powerful, the aggressor. It’s for the meek, the humble, the poor in Spirit (I’ve seen many poor in material goods who are not poor in spirit at all!) God’s way of doing things is revealed when we believe what Jesus is saying. In general, everything He says, and in particular, what He is saying in Matthew 5 through 7.
So, God’s Kingdom, which has been inaugurated in Jesus’ First Coming to earth, will one day be consummated when He returns at His Second Coming. The heart and soul of God’s Kingdom Values are revealed by His Son Jesus in Chapter 5, verses 3 to 10. What is commonly known as the Beatitudes. There can be no Kingdom without a King, and no King without subjects, right. That’s what we are. And when we are living the heart and soul of Jesus’ teaching – His own heart and soul – God’s Kingdom is revealed and extended – take the Matthew 5-7 Red Pill!
Don’t lose heart! See things the way Jesus sees them! Put on His Kingdom Glasses! Read Matthew 5 through 7, over and over, pray, seek, knock, thirst, yearn – THEN – “all of those things will be added unto you!”
More on the word “righteousness” – This is a very important word to understand!
“Our English word was originally rightwiseness, from the Anglo-Saxon justice, right, and to know; and thus the righteous man was a person who was allowed to understand the claims of justice and right, and who, knowing them, acted according to their dictates. Such a person is thoroughly wise; he/she aims at the attainment of the best end by the use of the best means. This is a true definition of wisdom, and the righteous man is he/she that knows most and acts best. The Hebrew צדק tsadak, in its ideal meaning, contains the notion of a beam or scales in equipoise, what we call even balance; and it is well known that in all the personifications of Justice, both ancient and modern, she is represented as a beautiful female with a bandage on her eyes, and a beam and scales in her hand, so perfectly poised that neither end preponderates.” (from http://www.godvine.com comments on Romans 1:17.)