Preaching and Worship Resources about Beatitudes
Beatitudes are special blessings of divine favor that are pronounced on people who find themselves in difficult circumstances but through whom and in whom the kingdom of God can shine nonetheless. Although there are beatitude-like blessings proffered in the psalms and elsewhere in Scripture, most people immediately think of Jesus' opening words in the Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 as the classic location of Jesus' Beatitudes. In the New Testament, the Beatitudes are paradoxical statements that reverse common expectations by pronouncing as especially blessed the very people whom society might deem to be of no account or whose actions have no hope of making a difference. Yet in God's sight, these are the people who can represent the ethos of God's coming kingdom.
"Happy are those whose transgression is forgiven, whose sin is covered. Happy are those to whom the Lord imputes no iniquity, and in whose spirit there is no deceit" (Ps. 32:1-2).
Matthew 5:1-12 "When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying: "Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted. Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth. Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled. Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy. Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God. Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God. Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness' sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you" (Matt. 5:1-12).
Luke 6:20-26 "Then he looked up at his disciples and said: "Blessed are you who are poor, for yours is the kingdom of God. Blessed are you who are hungry now, for you will be filled. Blessed are you who weep now, for you will laugh. Blessed are you when people hate you, and when they exclude you, revile you, and defame you on account of the Son of Man. Rejoice in that day and leap for joy, for surely your reward is great in heaven; for that is what their ancestors did to the prophets. But woe to you who are rich, for you have received your consolation. Woe to you who are full now, for you will be hungry. Woe to you who are laughing now, for you will mourn and weep. Woe to you when all speak well of you, for that is what their ancestors did to the false prophets" (Luke 6:20-26).
Points to Ponder
Kingdom Entrance Requirements? It is a mistake to take the eight Beatitudes as pronounced by Jesus in Matthew 5 and turn them into a kind of legalistic checklist for entrance into God's kingdom. The Beatitudes as Jesus proclaimed them are not a "To-Do" list but, as Dallas Willard pointed out, they represent the Good News of the gospel that when the kingdom of God comes upon people, those whom the world regards as losers and non-starters turn out to be exactly God's kind of people through whom God gets work done on this earth. You don't gain entrance to the kingdom when you attain these various positions in life. Instead, you discover that when the kingdom comes upon you as a sheer gift of grace, you do not have to turn into a successful, powerful, respected person as the world defines those things in order to be pleasing to God or to do great things for God. God takes that which is humble and of no account by the world's reckoning and blesses all of it as being a reflection of how life should really operate. Of course, the fact that Jesus blesses those who in this world are downtrodden, sad, and abused does not mean the church is relieved of responsibility to minister to such people and even to alleviate suffering when and where it can. The Beatitudes are not entrance requirements for the kingdom, but neither are they a set of excuses in case the church fails to stand up for justice for people in distressing circumstances.
Matthew Versus Luke: As most students of Scripture know, there are significant differences between Matthew's Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5 and Luke's (sometimes called) Sermon on the Plain in Luke 6, and these differences extend to the Beatitudes as well. Matthew has Jesus speaking eight blessings, Luke presents just four (and then neatly balances out those four blessings with four corresponding woes that are not present in Matthew). As Willis DeBoer once pointed out, Matthew also tends to present the blessings as present-day sources of comfort and reassurance for people in these circumstances, whereas Luke aims the blessing in more of an eschatological direction as latter-day and ultimate reversals of all things when God's kingdom fully comes. There may be no neat harmonization of the two versions. Instead, understanding the function of the Beatitudes in the context of Matthew and then in the somewhat different context of Luke allows a richer and more nuanced understanding of the full import of these peculiar blessings, which encapsulate so much of what Jesus taught about the surprising, upside-down nature of the true kingdom of God. (cf. Willis DeBoer, "Beatitudes" in The International Standard Bible Encyclopedia, Eerdmans 1979, pp. 443-444.)
From Dallas Willard: "Jesus did not say `Blessed are the poor in spirit because they are poor in spirit.' He did not think, `What a fine thing it is to be destitute of every spiritual attainment or quality. It makes people worthy of the kingdom.' And we steal away the much more profound meaning of his teaching about the availability of the kingdom by replacing the state of spiritual impoverishment — in no way good in itself — with some supposedly praiseworthy state of mind or attitude that `qualifies' us for the kingdom. In so doing we merely substitute another banal legalism for the ecstatic pronouncement of the gospel. Those poor in spirit are called `blessed' by Jesus, not because they are in a meritorious condition, but because, precisely in spite of and in the midst of their ever so deplorable condition, the rule of the heavens has moved redemptively upon and through them by the grace of Christ" (The Divine Conspiracy, Harper San Francisco, 1998, p. 102).
From Frederick Buechner: "You can see [Jesus' listeners] looking back at him. They're not what you'd call a high-class crowd — peasants and fisherfolk for the most part, on the shabby side, not all that bright. It doesn't look as if there's a hero among them. They have their jaws set. Their brows are furrowed with concentration. They are blessed when they are worked over and cursed out on his account, he tells them. It is not his hard times to come but theirs that he is concerned with, speaking out of his own meekness and mercy, the purity of his own heart" (Whistling in the Dark, Harper San Francisco, 1988, p. 19).
|Scripture quotations are from New Revised Standard Version Bible, copyright 1989, Division of Christian Education of the National Council of the Churches of Christ in the United States of America. Used by permission. All rights reserved.|