Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied.” In the Beatitudes, Jesus speaks these Words of Himself. Not one of us meets this list of the characteristics of the blessed. That’s the whole point of this day. We have not been pure in heart. We are not peacemakers. We are not meek. Only Jesus is. Only Jesus has the perfect hunger and thirst for righteousness.
From the cross, He cries out, “I thirst.” Certainly Jesus endured physical thirst. No food or drink had crossed His lips since He instituted His Supper the night prior. After His arrest in the garden, Jesus was taken before Annas and then Caiaphas. The time during and between these trials was filled with ridicule and mocking by the guards. Then He was led to Pilate. From there He was taken to Herod and then back to Pilate once again. Then He was scourged, crowned with thorns, beaten, and mistreated by the soldiers. On His torn and bloody back He carried the rough wood of the cross until He collapsed under its weight. Then He spent six hours nailed to the cross, slowly dying. So it is only natural that He endures physical thirst. David, prophesying this moment, put these words in Jesus’ mouth: “I am poured out like water, and all My bones are out of joint; My heart is like wax; it is melted within My breast; My strength is dried up like a potsherd, and My tongue sticks to My jaws; You lay Me in the dust of death” (Ps. 22:14-15). But Jesus says this chiefly to fulfill the Scriptures, part of His active obedience. He fulfills another of David’s words, the sixty-ninth Psalm where the Messiah cries out: “Reproaches have broken My heart, so that I am in despair. I looked for pity, but there was none, and for comforters, but I found none. They gave Me poison for food, and for My thirst they gave Me sour wine to drink” (Ps. 69:20-21). Jesus’ physical thirst is satisfied by sour wine, the drink of peasants. The King of the Jews, the Lord of all creation, is mocked one final time before He yields His spirit.
All this He endures for us, the sheep who loves to wander. He hungers and thirsts for our righteousness, but we want nothing to do with it. We love to wander, love to follow after those things that appear good for food and are a delight to the eyes. We listen to Satan’s lies, just like Adam and Eve: “You will not surely die.” We convince ourselves that this delight is just a nibble, just a temporary foray into some fleshly lusts, something we can spit out when we hear God coming and act like we’re pure and innocent.
“Why do you spend your money for that which is not bread, and your labor for that which does not satisfy” (Is. 55:2)? Why do you thirst for that which God forbids? And when you get caught, when you are chastised for that lust, for playing the harlot and chasing after other gods, why do you return to them? Why do you love to wander? Isn’t that the sobering question of the Reproaches, that ancient part of the Good Friday liturgy where God calls us to repentance, convicting us of sin?
Thus says the Lord: “What have I done to you, O My people, and wherein have I offended you? Answer me! For I have raised you up from the prison house of sin and death, and you have delivered up your Redeemer to be scourged. For I have redeemed you from the house of bondage and you have nailed your Savior to the cross. For I have conquered all your foes, and you have given Me over and delivered Me to those who persecute Me. For I have fed you with My Word and refreshed you with living water, and you have given Me gall and vinegar to drink. What more could have been done for my vineyard than I have done for it? When I looked for good grapes, why did it yield only bad? O My people, is this how you thank your God?”
There is no self-justification. There is no excuse. We all must fall to our knees with Isaiah: “Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips!” We all must pray with the tax collector, beating our breast in agony, “God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” We all must cry with David: “Hear my prayer, O Lord; give ear to my pleas for mercy! … Enter not into judgment with Your servant, for no one living is righteous before You” (Ps. 143:1-2). Holy God. Holy, mighty One. Holy, immortal One. Have mercy upon us.
And He does. In mercy unfathomable Jesus thirsts for your righteousness, your forgiveness, your eternal life. He thirsts and He is satisfied. His Blood pays the price for your sin. His death takes the place of yours. He drinks not the sour wine of His executors, but the cup of the Father’s righteous wrath. He bears the punishment you deserve. He is stricken, smitten, and afflicted for you, the sacrifice appointed for you, bears the awful load for you. He is glorified in this, shown for who He truly is—the Lamb of God, the Savior, the Lover of souls.
You, the sheep who loves to wander, is picked up in the nail-pierced hands of Jesus. You are restored to the sheepfold by your Shepherd and Savior. And kept safe by Him, He satisfies your thirst with Himself, with His own Blood. By that Blood, by His Holy Spirit, He keeps you in the faith, He gives you the strength to turn from lust and sharp temptation to the things God would have you do.
But when you stumble, when your flesh thirsts for its old ways, its old desires and you give in, know that here you have a refuge. In God’s house, at His holy Altar, you are given divine food and drink, the Sacrifice that cancels guilt. So learn to pray those words we sing: “Lead us in our sin and woe where the healing waters flow.” And the Holy Spirit will answer that because Jesus’ thirst continues. He thirsts for your righteousness, for the world’s righteousness. He desires that you, that all, be forgiven, recreated, fed, and kept safe in the holy ark of the Christian Church.
So until the Last Day Jesus thirsts for you in mercy still, that deep desire to distribute His forgiveness to people who do not deserve it, but people whom He died to redeem. In righteousness He will bring your soul out of trouble and you, His servant, will depart in peace.
Why does the Pastor preach? Scripture explains that the role of preaching the Word of God is how saving faith is created: “How then will they call on Him in whom they have not believed? And how are they to believe in Him of whom they have never heard? And how are they to hear without someone preaching? And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’ … So faith comes from hearing, and hearing through the Word of Christ” (Romans 10:14-17). The Augsburg Confession, seeing this connection between the Preaching Office and saving faith, summarizes Scripture on the Office of the Holy Ministry in this way: “To obtain [saving, justifying] faith, God instituted the Office of Preaching, giving the Gospel and the Sacraments. Through these, as through means, He gives the Holy Spirit who produces faith, where and when He wills, in those who hear the Gospel. It teaches that we have a gracious God, not through our merit but through Christ’s merit, when we so believe” (AC V 1-3). The whole reason the Pastor preaches is so saving faith can be created, so we know that “we have a gracious God” who loves us and has saved us from our sin by the death and resurrection of Jesus Christ.