Picture yourself walking around Hamilton Town Center’s outdoor shopping mall for some window shopping and people watching. It’s a beautiful spring day and it’s good to get outside. Suddenly, you catch a whiff of cinnamon. And sugar. And butter. Where a moment ago you weren’t in the least bit hungry, you now crave to be filled with what you just caught a scent of.
That craving isn’t something you imagined or made up. Real airborne molecules of sugar, butter, and spice collided with your brain’s sensory receptors and brought you into a true encounter with the real thing. And the result? You’re hungry. You crave a fresh, warm cinnamon roll.
Adapted from Frederica Mathewes-Green
So it is, Jesus says, when it comes to feeling and filling our spiritual hunger.
“Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.” – Matthew 5:6
You’re blessed, Jesus says, when you feel a strong appetite for God and his ways. He has food and drink in the best meal you’ll ever eat.
Welcome to the final week of our series on 8 keys to a blessed life, 8 keys to a happier life straight from Jesus. We conclude with the blessing Jesus promises to those who feel and act on the right kind…of hunger.
We all know what it is to be hungry. From infancy on up, we have no problem recognizing when we’re hungry and pursuing being filled. So in this final beatitude or blessing, Jesus takes something all of us can relate to, and flips it toward spiritual fulfillment, spiritual satisfaction.
This week’s message is wrapped around three declarations about getting spiritually filled rather than staying empty, finding spiritually satisfaction rather than settling for spiritual junk food. If you’re taking notes, here’s the first declaration with a question:
God’s banquet is open. How hungry am I?
God’s banquet is open. The question is, how hungry am I for what God is offering?
I want to invite you to come along on an imaginary journey. Imagine that you receive a huge inheritance. You receive a sudden windfall, and you are now set for life, rich beyond your wildest dreams. You’re so happy, you decide to throw a big party to celebrate. You want to shower your family and friends with the finest feast they’ve ever enjoyed, sharing your riches with them, no strings attached.
You hire the best event coordinator around. You pull together a lavishly generous guest list. You spare no expense. You contract to fly in multiple Michelin-star chefs from the finest restaurants around the world—Alain Ducasse and Pierre Gagnaire, Gordon Ramsey (who promises not to swear), Yoshihiro 2
Murata and more. This is going to be the greatest feast in contemporary history. No one has ever put on a fete like this.
You reserve the beautiful Black Iris Estate in Carmel. You arrange for world-class waitstaff to serve guests on fine china and crystal. You commission artists to carve sculptures of ice swans and chocolate towers. You send out engraved invitations months in advance so that everyone can make it to the special day.
But somehow, when the day and time finally arrives for the celebration to begin, you find yourself…alone. Not one invited guest has bothered to come.
After an hour of waiting, you ask your event coordinator to pull up the guest list and begin making phone calls.
The first person the coordinator calls is very apologetic. She says she fully intended to come, but just as she was about to leave for the party, her realtor called to say that the offer she placed on a vacation home had been accepted, and she wanted to close the deal immediately. She sincerely hopes you understand is what you’re told.
The next person your coordinator calls is only slightly embarrassed. “I really meant to be there,” he explains, “but this morning the Tesla dealership called to say the new model I’m interested in had finally arrived. You wouldn’t believe how long the waiting list is for this car. Anyway, the dealer said I could take delivery on the car today if I got there right away. I’m actually in the car now letting it drive me hands-free. Quite frankly, I’m having so much fun with this new car that the party completely slipped my mind. I’m so sorry. Make it up to you the next time, eh?” And he hangs up.
The next person your coordinator calls doesn’t even bother to apologize. In fact, he’s quite abrupt. He says he and his family are just driving home from vacation and they don’t want to be bothered. They had an argument the night before, and they’re not in the slightest in the mood for a party, no less together.
The guest calls go on and on like this until your coordinator has called every name on the guest list. Everyone, it seems, has some kind of excuse.
Let me ask you something: If that was you, how would you feel?
The entire event has already been planned, booked, paid for, and everything is ready. Desserts and champagne are chilling.
What do you do now? A flash of inspiration comes to your mind. You remember Third Phase in Noblesville, Hamilton County’s only homeless shelter. You recall Cumberland Crossing, a section 8 apartment complex in Fishers. You think of Good Samaritan Network of Hamilton County and how connected they are to people in need in our area.
So you direct your event coordinator to get the waitstaff out in cars to these places to personally invite anyone who wants to come enjoy the feast of a lifetime, all free, right now. No need to change clothes, just hop in the car to come as you are, and you will be treated like royalty. 3
It isn’t long before cars the waitstaff’s cars are pulling with people streaming into the banquet hall. The room resounds with laughs and ooohs and aaahs and shouts of exclamation as platters of the finest food are brought by, their glasses constantly topped off, and the band has everybody tapping their toes.
But even with all these newcomers, there’s still plenty of room. There’s an enormous amount of food and drink in danger of going to waste: caviar and candy dishes, clams on the half-shell and the finest of wines already opened, shrimp cocktail and lobster tails and bacon-wrapped filet mignon.
Another flash of inspiration comes to your mind.
“Get word out to every homeless shelters and section 8 housing complex throughout central Indiana. Send buses now. Send your best staff to personally invite all who want to get in on this. Go now!”
Within the hour, bus after bus after bus is pulling in and people are joining in on the greatest experience of their lives.
At the height of the party, one of the invited guests, the one who put off coming in order to test drive his new Tesla, happens to drive by on his way home. He had completely forgotten about the party, but he figures, “Might as well make a showing!”
He strides in expecting a warm welcome but is immediately put off at the hall being filled with the kind of people he would never associate with. He sees you chatting with guests at one of the tables. He walks over to make his presence known and interrupts, clearly conveying that you should feel honored that he stopped by.
How would you react?
I suspect a lot of us, having spent so much time, effort, and expense in, only to be blown off, would promptly invite security to escort that man off the premises. You would be completely within your rights to decide that not one of those who were invited were to get a taste of that banquet.
That is actually a parable Jesus told that is recorded by both Matthew and Luke, the parable of the great banquet. In that parable, God is the host, his kingdom is the party, God has paid for the whole feast, and everyone is invited. But not everyone who is invited…is interested. Many who could be enjoying the feast lack the most important thing: the right kind of hunger.
The American axiom says you can lead a horse to water but you can’t make it drink. So it is with God’s invitation to eat and drink that which spiritually satisfies. The banquet is open. The choice to come is up to you and me. The tables are set. The only question now is how hungry are you? How hungry are you for what God is offering, the God who Jesus reveals?
There’s the first declaration about how to be spiritually filled, spiritually satisfied rather than stuffed with the spiritual equivalent of junk food. Here’s the second declaration:
Spiritual satisfaction begins with admitting our emptiness.
Listen to this from the book of Deuteronomy, Moses speaking to the people of ancient Israel forty years after God set them free from generational slavery in Egypt… 4
“Remember how the Lord your God led you all the way in the desert these forty years, to humble you and to test you in order to know what was in your heart, whether or not you would keep his commands. He humbled you, causing you to hunger, and then feeding you with manna, which neither you nor your fathers had known, to teach you that man does not live on bread alone but on every word that comes from the mouth of the Lord.” – Deuteronomy 8:2-3
Jesus quoted that last portion when tempted by Satan to settle for spiritual junk food.
Spiritual filling begins when we admit our emptiness, our dissatisfaction with the mental and spiritual junk food that’s so easily grabbable. Moses reminds his peers, “God let you grow hungry, then fed you, so that you would learn that we’re meant to live on something other than what everyone around you is stuffing themselves with.
Check out this take on spiritual satisfaction from another writer. Once upon a time there was a young girl whose parents took her to the Shrine of the Golden Arches. There she saw an opportunity to buy a combination of food and a little toy that someone, in a fit of marketing genius, named the Happy Meal.
“May I have it, please?” she asked her parents. “I must have it. I don’t think I could live without it.”
“No,” her parents told her. “The toy is a trivial little thing that just enabled the price of this package to be raised beyond what it is really worth. It’s not in the budget. We can’t do it.”
But you don’t understand, she thought. She knew that they would not just be buying fries, McNuggets, and a dinosaur stamp, they would be buying happiness. She was convinced that she had a little McVacuum at the core of her soul: “Our hearts are restless until they find their rest in a Happy Meal.”
So she explained, “I want that Happy Meal more than I’ve ever wanted anything before. And if I get it, I’ll never ask for anything again—ever. No more complaining. No more demanding. If you get me that Happy Meal, I’ll be content for the rest of my life.”
This seemed like a pretty good deal to her parents, so they bought it. And it worked. She grew up to be a contented, grateful, joyful woman. She lived with serenity and grace. Her life in many ways was hard: the man she married turned out to be a louse, and he abandoned her with three small children and no money. The kids too were a disappointment: they dropped out of school, sponged off her meager resources, and eventually left without a trace. When she was an old woman her retirement income dried up, and she had to live from hand to mouth.
But she never complained. She had gotten the Happy Meal. She would think of it often: I remember that Happy Meal, she’d say to herself. What great joy I found there. Just as she had predicted, it brought her lasting satisfaction. She was grateful the rest of her life.
Then he asks, does life ever work this way? You would think that after a while, children would catch on, that they would say, “You know, a Happy Meal never brings lasting happiness; I’m not going to get suckered into it this time.” But it doesn’t happen. When the excitement wears off, they need a new fix, another Happy Meal. They keep buying them, and they keep not working. In fact, the only one Happy 5
Meals bring happiness to is McDonald’s. Ever wonder why Ronald McDonald wears that grin all the time? Billions and billions of Happy Meals sold.
He concludes, of course, only a child would be so naive. Only a child could be foolish enough to believe that a change in circumstance could bring lasting contentment. Or maybe not. Maybe when you get older, you don’t necessarily get any smarter; your Happy Meals just get more expensive.
All day long we are bombarded with messages that seek to persuade us of two things: that we are (or ought to be) discontented and that contentment is only one step away: “Use me, buy me, eat me, wear me, try me, drive me, put me in your hair.” The things you can buy for hair contentment alone are staggering: You can wash it, condition it, mousse it, dye it, curl it, straighten it, wax it if it’s growing where it shouldn’t, and Rogaine it if it’s not growing where it should.
People are healthier, cleaner, richer, and better informed than ever. We live longer, eat better, dress warmer, work less, and play more than ever in the history of the human race. But are we happier?
Or are we just cleaner, healthier, better-coifed discontents? The desperate chase after whatever Happy Meal we were pursuing turns out to have been…a trivial pursuit.
Adapted from Love Beyond Reason, John Ortberg
Junk food is easy to find. Junk food is easy to settle for. So it is spiritually as well. The table is set. God’s banquet is open. And you’ve been invited. The question is, how hungry are you for what God is offering?
Spiritual satisfaction begins with admitting our emptiness, our hunger for what only God can provide.
Here’s the third declaration:
God’s kingdom hosts the only banquet that ultimately satisfies.
More than 700 years before Jesus cried out, “Let anyone who is thirsty come to me and drink,” (John 7:37), Isaiah prophetically looked ahead to Jesus, writing…
“Come, all you who are thirsty, come to the waters; and you who have no money, come, buy and eat! Come, buy wine and milk without money and without cost. Why spend money on what is not bread, and your labor on what does not satisfy? Listen, listen to me, and eat what is good, and you will delight in the richest of fare. Give ear and come to me; listen, that you may live.” Isaiah 55:1-3
With this prophecy, we’re right back to the parable of the great banquet. Everything is ready. God has paid for it all and prepared it all. All that remains…is that you see the richness of what God’s kingdom offers, feel and admit your need, and come. Enjoy the banquet! It starts now. It never ends.
Around this table, you’ll meet people from throughout history and across time. You’ll feast alongside Dov Bikas, a Russian Jewish immigrant to Israel who spoke for us recently from his home in Tel Aviv—a former addict who with his team of volunteers is going out into the streets and inviting us into the feast 6 anyone who will come: addicts, prostitutes, whoever. There’s food, there’s a home, there’s the family of God, and there is spiritual fulfillment waiting at God’s kingdom banquet.
Around this table, you’ll meet Muslim background believers, as more Muslims are coming to saving faith in Jesus as Savior and Lord than ever before in history. More Muslims have become Christians in the past 50 years than in the past 1,500 years combined! That’s a miracle taking place right now, in our lifetime. You may have the privilege of meeting some of them right here in central Indiana. You most certainly will enjoy their company in the kingdom to come.
Around this table, you’ll get to know and love people from cultures wildly different from your own: jungle-dwelling tribes from Papua New Guinea who have never seen a city; Irish monks from the Dark Ages who kept literacy alive; residents of Hong Kong’s infamous Walled City—former heroin addicts, Triad gang members and prostitutes who came into the kingdom through the outreach of Christians moving into one of the worst places on the planet. You will meet North Korean Christians who have suffered in harsh labor camps simply for believing in Jesus—they and you will feast together at the table in God’s kingdom.
Around this table you will feast with people who in this life were both high and low—simply all who recognize the richness of what Jesus offers, all who feel and admit our need, and all who come, who don’t put off the greatest invitation, to the greatest feast, put on by the greatest host, in the greatest company you’ll ever enjoy—the redeemed from every nation and all-time who said yes to this great invitation.
Would you pray with me?
We hear your invitation, Lord. We feel our need. And so we come. Keep us hungry for the good stuff, we pray, for a life that honors you. Fill us as we seek your kingdom and righteousness. Empower us to invite others in for the feast. Thank you for the great expense you’ve gone to. Thank you for chasing us down until your invitation reached us, even us.