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  • Writer's pictureRobert Phillips

The Beatitudes: Spiritual Desire

Why do you attend church? Why do you listen to Christian podcasts or music? Why do you read Christian books or blogs? Why do you attend Christian camps or conferences or concerts? What are you craving? Are you craving an experience that makes God feel more real? Are you craving quality time with other believers? Are you hoping God will see you as doing him a favor and that he will return that favor with tangible blessings? What are you actually craving? Jesus would make the case that what you are actually craving is Him, and nothing else is going to leave you satisfied if it isn’t about Him.

In the beginning of John 6, we read about the miracle of Jesus feeding the 5,000 hungry people. The next morning, everyone is looking for breakfast, and Jesus is no where to be found because He is actually already on the other side of the lake. The disciples don’t want to deal with the hungry people, so they get in boats and set off for the other side of the lake to look for Jesus. Verses 25-35 of the chapter record Jesus' response:

"When they found him on the other side of the sea, they said to him, 'Rabbi, when did you come here?'Jesus answered them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, you are seeking me, not because you saw signs, but because you ate your fill of the loaves. Do not work for the food that perishes, but for the food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give to you. For on him God the Father has set his seal.' Then they said to him, 'What must we do, to be doing the works of God?' Jesus answered them, 'This is the work of God, that you believe in him whom he has sent.' So they said to him, 'Then what sign do you do, that we may see and believe you? What work do you perform? Our fathers ate the manna in the wilderness; as it is written, ‘He gave them bread from heaven to eat'.' Jesus then said to them, 'Truly, truly, I say to you, it was not Moses who gave you the bread from heaven, but my Father gives you the true bread from heaven. For the bread of God is he who comes down from heaven and gives life to the world.' They said to him, 'Sir, give us this bread always.' Jesus said to them, 'I am the bread of life; whoever comes to me shall not hunger, and whoever believes in me shall never thirst.'"

Didn’t Jesus understand that breakfast was the most important meal of the day? He probably did because in John 21, the author records the story of Jesus cooking a fish breakfast for the disciples as He appeared to them to encourage them after His resurrection! Jesus understood the importance of sustenance, and that is why He chose this moment to teach an important lesson.

Nothing else is going to leave you satisfied if it isn’t about Jesus.

The Significance of Bread

Bread is one of those words that pops up in important moments in Holy Scripture again, and again, and again; and when bread is mentioned, it is always during difficult moments for God’s people. This is intentional on God’s part. Consider the importance of bread throughout the narrative of Scripture:

  • Bread was baked in haste as the Hebrews prepared to escape Egypt on Passover night.

  • The Israelites grumbled again and again about a desire for food in the wilderness, and God provided His “what is it?” bread, or "manna".

  • David broke the law and ate the holy bread from the table of the tabernacle in his hunger and desperation.

  • Elijah was brought bread and oil from ravens and widows during his difficult ministry to the idolatrous nation of Israel.

  • Every time bread is at the center of the story in the Old Testament, it is a clue to the story and fulfillment of the coming Messiah, and so Jesus broke bread at Passover as a symbol that He was the only hope for mankind’s hunger and the fulfillment of every covenant of God to mankind, including Israel.

  • Jesus was even tempted by Satan with bread during His 40-day wilderness fast, as a picture of Israel’s failure, and His own ability to overcome temptation.

In this moment in John 6, Jesus is once again bringing bread into focus, and making the connection from the Old Testament to the New Testament. Jesus was the real bread that God’s people had been longing for all along!

Is Jesus saying that He would abate physical hunger and thirst? No! Paul talked several times in the epistles about how often God allowed him to go hungry as part of God’s plan and purpose for Paul. Jesus is talking about spiritual desire--a desire that the whole world is looking to fulfill, even if they don’t understand it or recognize it!

This is what Jesus was trying to say in the fourth beatitude. Matthew 5:6 teaches, “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they shall be satisfied." Remember, blessed means “happy”, so we find another paradox in Jesus’ teachings. You will be happy being hungry and thirsty! If you are like me, when you are hungry, you get angry, or “hangry” because your body's nourishment for energy is running low and life is becoming a struggle. This doesn’t make us happy! Conversely, one of the most pleasant feelings is when you are eating because you are actually hungry, not just board or tempted. That is why the first meal of the day, be it breakfast or lunch, is so satisfying. The hunger makes the meal even more satisfying!

I had an experience like this in high school. I grew up in Los Angeles and my parents wanted me to experience the wilderness, so they sent me for a month all the way across the US to the Adirondacks with two of my friends to learn how to survive in the wilderness. We were based at a Christian camp, and then we would go off on week-long excursions in the woods, living off of our supplies and whatever we could scavenge. The camp food was not great, but every time we came back hungry from one of our week long adventures, that camp food would taste so much better than it did before! Why? Because we were more hungry for it.

With this truth in mind, let’s build to our fourth beatitude upon the ones we have already learned:

  1. When we recognize we are spiritually poor, we must turn to the wealth of God’s righteousness.

  2. The state of our broken condition causes mourning, but we find joy in Jesus because he grants to us his righteousness, allowing us to be in God’s presence.

  3. We respond with meekness through the honesty that we cannot accomplish a righteous condition on our own without Jesus! As we exalt Jesus in our life, God allows us to be an influence on those around us!

All of these attitudes, or beatitudes, drive us on in spiritual desire for even more of God’s presence and wisdom because we recognize that nothing else is going to bring us satisfaction in this life. Jesus is the only bread we truly desire.

The Significance of Water

Jesus didn’t just equate happiness to hunger, but also to thirst. We recognize hunger pretty easily, but we don’t always recognize thirst, or dehydration. Nutritionists tell us that often when we think we are hungry, we are actually thirsty and dehydrated. They also say that if you feel thirsty, you are already dehydrated. When we are ill, one of the most important things is staying hydrated because we don’t realize how little fluid we are taking in.

Just like bread, water and thirst was at the center of difficult moments in scripture:

  • God provided wells to Abraham, Isaac and Jacob as they followed Him on their journeys.

  • God turned the life-giving Nile river to blood as He plagued Pharaoh and Egypt for their hardness of heart.

  • Moses smote the rock of Meribah to provide water for the thirsty Israelites.

  • God led Elijah to a stream to help with his dehydrated condition.

  • Jesus turned water to wine as a declaration of His Messianic intention.

  • Jesus called out for water in thirst as He hung on the cross. This was significant, as Jesus fulfilled the picture of the rock of Meribah, the rock smitten by Moses to provide water for the people. Just a few short hours later, Jesus hung dead on the cross, His body still intact. The Roman soldier pierced his side to prove He was dead, and water and blood came fourth, completing the prophetic picture for Israel to see.

It is said by survival experts that the human body can go weeks without food, days without water, and mere hours without hope. Water is an important picture of the cleansing of the Gospel, or baptism. The Gospel is our only hope for peace and comfort in this world!

Jesus shared a tender moment with a women in desperate need of water, but not physical water; rather, it was the spiritual water that only Jesus could offer. Perhaps you recall the story of the woman at the well in John 4. Jesus came to the well and asked this woman, a Samaritan, for a drink of water. When she questions why Jesus, a Jew, would ask her, a Samaritan, for water, He responds by saying, "If you knew the gift of God, and who it is that is saying to you, ‘Give me a drink,’ you would have asked him, and he would have given you living water" (Vs 10). Jesus explained that everyone who would drink from that well would end up being thirsty again, but that those who would drink of the water He gave would never experience thirst again. If you read on in the story, you will see that the woman didn’t really get it, and asked for this "magical water" so she wouldn’t have to keep coming to the well. Jesus’ response was to point out her sinful condition that needed to be cleansed. He wanted her to understand that He was offering a spiritual cleansing that would satisfy every longing of her heart, a longing she had tried to fulfill in physical relationships with men. It finally clicked with the woman, and she gave her life to Jesus. This woman at the well became the first witness of declaration to Jesus being the Messiah, which means that God had expanded her influence in the kingdom of heaven.

Finding True Satisfaction

What are you craving in life? Jesus didn’t say “righteous are the happy”; Jesus said “happy are the righteous”. Martin Lloyd-Jones writes in his book Studies in the Sermon on the Mount, “According to scripture, happiness is never some thing that should be sought directly; it is always something that results from seeking something else. If you put happiness in the place of righteousness, you will never get it (Jones, 63). He says later, "Hungering for righteousness is not merely justification, but also sanctification" (Jones, 65)

The more you make your life about the world’s ideas of happiness, the less satisfied you are going to be. True satisfaction can only be found in the bread of life, the living water, Jesus Christ.


Lloyd-Jones, D. M. (1976). Studies in the sermon on the Mount: One-volume edition. Wm.B.Eerdmans Publishing Co.

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