A set of lessons for... The Beatitudes
Summary of all workshops in this Lesson Set:
For 1st- 6th grade:
Cooking: kids have breakfast while practicing some Beatitudes – taking care of someone else’s needs and learning humility. Thanks to Kim Trimboli who wrote the original lesson from which this one was adapted. We ran two cooking workshops each week, to fit everyone in.
For 4th-6th grade
Art: The Beatitudes are “keys” to how we should live. Make keys to illustrate some or all of the Beatitudes. Attach your keys to your backpack to remind you of living the Beatitudes.
Video: View the live-action video, The Visual Bible: Matthew showing Jesus teaching the Beatitudes. Discuss the relevance of the Beatitudes in our lives.
For 1st- 3rd grade:
Drama: Explore sign language to discover how to express the Beatitudes. .
Games: Explore living as Jesus taught while playing a life-size board game.
Key Verses: “Blessed are the poor in spirit…” Matthew 5:3-10 (NIV)
Workshop Objectives — After completing this Rotation, participants will be able to:
- Name that the Beatitudes are found in the New Testament in the Gospel of Matthew.
- Identify the meaning of the word “Gospel” and name the four Gospels.
- Locate the Beatitudes in the book of Matthew (Third grade and up).
- Describe the Sermon on the Mount is a collection of Jesus’ teachings.
- Analyze the Beatitudes and incorporate them as “keys” to how we should live.
After Jesus’ forty days in the wilderness, he went to Galilee, and settled in the village of Capernaum. Located near the Sea of Galilee, Capernaum was a busy place – filled with farmers, fishermen and trading. It was here that Jesus called his first disciples. Soon word of Jesus’ teaching and healing spread throughout the region, and crowds of people followed him.
What was new and exciting about Jesus’ ministry was that he didn’t preach only in the temple – he spoke outside, where a great many people could gather and all could hear him. His words were meant for everyone, not just the powerful and privileged. His teaching appealed to all people – young and old, men and women, the healthy and the sick, the rich and the poor. It was in such an outdoor setting that Jesus preached what we know as “The Sermon on the Mount.”
Now when he (Jesus) saw the crowds, he went up on a mountainside and sat down. His disciples came to him (Matthew 5:1).
The implication is that Jesus was teaching primarily to his disciples, however surely there was also a crowd. The end of the Sermon on the Mount, in Matthew 7:28-29 gives us this clue:
When Jesus had finished saying these things, the crowds were amazed at his teaching, because he taught as one who had authority, and not as their teachers of the law.
So we picture the scene – Jesus sitting on the hillside surrounded by his disciples, with a second layer of ordinary people spread out around him, hanging on his every word. These ordinary folks had the potential to become followers of Jesus. Surely Jesus wanted all present to hear what he had to say about living life with God’s values.
The Sermon on the Mount
The Sermon on the Mount is probably Jesus’ best-known sermon, but that doesn’t make it easy to understand, or to put into practice! It is certainly a long sermon – covering three chapters in Matthew’s Gospel. Scholars speculate that perhaps Jesus didn’t speak the entire Sermon on the Mount in one setting. Matthew may have compiled several of Jesus’ teaching sessions – lumping together Jesus’ lessons about the character and behaviors that are expected of his followers. Regardless of how it was spoken, The Sermon on the Mount covers a lot of material. We will focus our Rotation on the start of Jesus’ famous sermon – “The Beatitudes.”
The Beatitudes – blessed are …
Before we began studying the Beatitudes we need an understanding of the word “blessed” which starts each of the eight Beatitudes. In Greek, the word is makarios. In a non-religious context this means “happy” or “fortunate.” Thus you might read a translation (such as the Good News Bible) that states, “Happy are those…” But one must be careful in using the word “happy.” Jesus isn’t talking about a subjective feeling we may have. It’s not a happiness that depends on external circumstances, as in: if I buy that house then I’ll be happy, or if I have that car then I’ll be content. Jesus is talking about the supreme happiness that comes from the blessings that God bestows on us. When we live life according to the teaching of the Beatitudes, then we are truly blessed by God.
Each of the eight Beatitudes starts with a pronouncement of blessedness and is followed by two other components – a desired “character trait,” and a promise to those who exemplify this trait.
The promises are described in a number of similar ways – possession of the kingdom of heaven, comfort, etc.
Each Beatitude consists of:
A pronouncement of + a desired character trait + a promise
blessedness or attitude
Our main focus will be on understanding the middle component and rather than thinking of it as a character trait, it would be better to call it an “attitude.” Jesus asks us to acquire all eight of these attitudes. We can think of the Beatitudes as key-attitudes. It kind of has a nice ring. Key attitudes sounds like “Beatitudes!” These are the keys to how we should live. How will we acquire the keys that open the doors to a fulfilled life with God? Let’s look at each of the Beatitudes.
Blessed are the poor in spirit…
…and he began to teach them, saying: Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:2-3).
In this case the word “poor” does not mean monetary poverty. Instead, it refers to people who recognize how spiritually poor they are without God. Blessings come to those who don’t rely on their own skills or possessions; they look with dependency to God! Think about how our culture rewards independence, self-confidence, and self-reliance. Be dependant on God? It can be hard to acquire this “key attitude” in today’s world. Question for thought: In your own life, how have you been blessed by recognizing your spiritual bankruptcy?
Blessed are those who mourn…
Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted (Matthew 5:4).
It is tempting to think of mourning only in the context of death. But Jesus meant more than this type of sorrow – job loss, sickness, a loved one being deployed to a war zone, not making the team, or a best friend who moves away – all reasons for mourning. Add to this list: those who mourn the injustices of this world, and those who recognize the pain that their own sin causes.
This sounds like a difficult “key attitude” to acquire! Question for thought: Can we honestly see ourselves as “blessed” when bad things happen? Thankfully Jesus says these sorrows are a source of blessing – in all our times of mourning, God comforts us.
Blessed are the meek…
Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth (Matthew 5:5).
“Meek” has a negative connotation – weak and defenseless. Aren’t the meek ignored and trampled underfoot? We need to look to the Greek to understand what Jesus had in mind – “meek” translates as “gentle,” “humble,” “considerate,” “courteous.” Those with a “key attitude” of meekness are humble people – they are patient, they don’t need to be first, they restrain their anger, they have a servant attitude. The meek also humble themselves before God – they accept God’s guidance in all things. God is in control. Question for thought: can we say, “I’m going to remain cool, calm and corrected?” (Schuller)
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness…
Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
It’s not unusual to hear people say, “I’m starving!” when actually they are just feeling a few hunger pangs. Few people really know what true hunger is. The same for thirst – a turn of the tap, and water is available. But in this Beatitude Jesus isn’t talking about food and drink – he’s talking about justice. Injustices from Jesus’ time still exist today. It isn’t always enough to send a check to aid a worthy cause – we must fight for right with as much passion as one who works for food and water. A commercial for a sports drink asks, “Is it in you?” Question for thought: “Is the hunger [for justice] in you?”
Blessed are the merciful…
Blessed are the merciful, for they will be shown mercy (Matthew 5:7).
Webster’s dictionary defines mercy as “kindness in excess of what is expected; kind or compassionate treatment; the power to forgive.” Mercy is more than just having compassion for people in need; it includes those who act on their compassion. As part of human nature, we get our feelings hurt, sometimes too easily. Rather than forgive and try to work things out, it’s off to court we go. Mercy is when the victim’s family forgives a murderer. To show us how to acquire this “key attitude,” God sent Jesus who lived among us, saw things with his own eyes, and felt the things we do. Question for thought: If Jesus can forgive his tormentors from the cross should we do less?
Blessed are the pure in heart…
Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God (Matthew 5:8).
Unblemished, perfect, flawless – these are the words that come to mind when one thinks of “pure.” Ivory Soap claims to be 99.44 percent pure – almost, but not quite. Jesus was pure in heart. We can strive to be pure in heart by being completely focused on following God. From such a devoted focus flow the characteristics of being “pure” that commonly come to mind – no distractions from other desires; no hurtful thoughts; completely open, honest, and sincere in all our relationships – with God and with other people. Attaining this “key attitude” can take a lifetime of training! And what of the promise of seeing God? Jesus didn’t just mean “in heaven.” When we are focused on God, we catch glimpses of God at work in this world. Question for thought: Think of a time when you have been focused on God. How did you see God at work?
Blessed are the peacemakers…
Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called sons of God (Matthew 5:9).
This “key attitude” sounds simple, but there is more to it. Jesus is talking about right relations between people. In nearly any setting one can find a “troublemaker” and a “peacemaker.” The troublemaker always seems to have a negative attitude or creates ill will in some way, while the peacemaker is always trying to set things straight, and reconcile hostile groups. But being a peacemaker requires that one has his or her own peaceful heart. “When we have a peaceful heart we are better equipped to work for peace in a larger setting” (Bauknight). Question for thought: Are you at peace with yourself so as to work to create right-relationships?
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness…
Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven (Matthew 5:10).
If the disciples figured following Jesus would be easy, they were in for a rude awakening! Jesus knew that his followers needed to prepare for persecution. Even today, Christians must take a stand on issues that are sometimes controversial or unpopular. This can be an uncomfortable “key attitude” to acquire! Everyone knows how hard it is to be the person who is “different.” Question for thought: Are you up for the challenge of persecution?
The Beatitudes give us a framework for living – key attitudes to acquire in order to become faithful disciples. In turn, having these attitudes leads to blessings beyond measure.
- Barclay, William. Matthew. New York: Hyperion Books, 1993. Print.
- Bauknight, Brian. “Jesus’ Little Instruction Book For Life.” Sermon Series- Christ United Methodist Church (Bethel Park, PA). 2003. Web. [no longer accessible online]
- Burton, Julie. “Rotation.org Writing Team Lesson On the Beatitudes: Bible Background.” Web. 2003. [no longer available, has been retired]
- Crane, Amy. “The Sermon on the Mount & Creative Movement Workshop.” 2001. Web.
- Henry, Matthew. “Commentary on Matthew 5”. Matthew Henry Complete Commentary on the Whole Bible. Print.
- Keathley III, J. Hampton. “The Sermon on the Mount.” Biblical Studies Foundation. Web. [no longer accessible online]
- Schuller, Robert. The Be-Happy Attitudes. Waco, TX: Word Books, 1985. Print.
- Stott, John. The Beatitudes: Developing Spiritual Character. Downers Grove, IL: InterVarsity Press, 1998. Print.
A lesson set written by Carol Hulbert from First United Methodist Church
120 S. State Street Ann Arbor, MI 48104
If you use this material, even in a modified form, please include the following reference:
Hulbert, Carol. "The Beatitudes: Bible Background." Rotation.org. 2009. Place URL where lesson found inside angle brackets<>.