Rotation.org Writing Team
Lesson Objectives and Bible Background
Scripture for the lessons
Matthew 5: 1-12, the Beatitudes
Memory Verses: The entire passage.
The Beatitudes is one of those passages children should begin to learn in total as they offer a compact set of "Jesus values" and are often quoted in both the secular culture and in churches. To meet the objective, each lesson in this set includes memory work.
Lesson objectives for this Set:
After completing this Rotation, participants will be able to:
- Locate and Remember that the Beatitudes are the Gospel of Matthew, Chapter 5.
- Gain a working memory of the eight Beatitudes that improves over the course of the Rotation weeks.
- Be able to express the meaning of these important Christian concepts found in the Beatitudes: "blessed," "meek," "mercy," "righteousness," "persecution," Kingdom of Heaven."
- Be able to contrast the behavior which the world values versus the behavior Jesus values.
The Beatitudes: Jesus' Keys to Kingdom
Background for Teachers
The Beatitudes are some of the most-loved and often quoted words of Jesus both in the church and in Western culture. Phrases like "the meek shall inherit the earth" and "blessed are the peacemakers," are frequently heard in movies and found in books. By teaching the Beatitudes to memory, our children will know who uttered these profound words, and begin to understand their profound meaning.
The Beatitudes are so rich and deep that each could be it's own book. That alone is why this set is focusing on beginning to remember them —so that a lifetime of learning can begin. In this short Background, we offer some insights you may want to include in your lessons with children.
In Matthew 5, Jesus makes eight statements about what makes for real blessedness or happiness. Each statement starts with the same word, which we translate as "Blessed." In the Greek language of the New Testament, and in Jesus' native Aramaic tongue, the word for "blessed" means something like "happy" or "joyful." In Hebrew it can also mean "kneeling" as one does when giving thanks.
Some of us grew up with the translation "happy," instead of "blessed." "Happy" is a legitimate translation of "makarios" –the Greek word for "blessed" in Matthew. The problem is that in today's world, "happy" can sound trite. "Happy" tends to connote a "feeling," rather than, the state of one's soul. And make no mistake... Jesus was talking about what makes our soul, our life, really happy. The term, "Blessed," can also suffer from misunderstanding. "Blessings" in today's English is often thought of as something we are given, rather than, a way to act or the soul's state.
How the early Roman church understood Jesus' "blessings"....
The word "Beatitudes" is the English version of the Latin (Roman) word "beatitudo." It's root word, "Beatus," means "happy" —but also "full" or "wealthy."
This means that when a Roman/Latin speaker read the Beatitudes, they heard them like, "Wealthy are the poor in spirit," and "Full are the hungry." Hearing them this way also pumps up the CONTRAST that Jesus may have been seeking, and is often found in his other teachings: weak will be strong, rich will be poor, lost will be found.
This "Roman" understanding of the Beatitudes especially jumps out in the last verse of the Beatitudes. In verse 12, Jesus concludes with the phrase, "great is your reward in heaven," a phrase that bolsters the idea that "Blessed" is about what makes a person truly wealthy and full.
In other words (so to speak), the Beatitudes are "classic Jesus" turning a phrase, an image, a power structure on its head to make a point that God's ways are not the world's ways.
In the Kingdom of God...
The poor in spirit are wealthy
The hungry are full
The weak are really the strong ones
The mourners are the ones going to be made happy
The merciful, the peacemakers, the persecuted --they are rewarded instead of ridiculed.
They are not only a vision of the Kingdom of Heaven, but a guide to how we should see the world now and train our spirit.
We tend to lump the Beatitudes together, but no two of them are alike.
- Some speak of an inner strength that will be rewarded, whereas, others, speak of an emptiness and need.
- "Blessed are the pure in heart" seems to reveal the secret for how you "see (know) God," whereas, the last two take a personal turn toward Jesus, calling for steadfastness in the face of persecution.
Individually, each Beatitude is a profound thought that leaves us thinking (a familiar teaching style of Jesus). Together, they combine to make a promise about a future that is coming, and how Jesus wants us to live now.
The eight Beatitudes share one of Jesus' most important themes, that of "reversal."
- "You have heard it said.... but now I say to you...."
- "The last will be first."
- The unexpected welcome home and invitation (Prodigal Son, Great Banquet, Zaccheus)
- The Folly of the Cross in 1 Corinthian 1:18 "For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God."
- Jesus confounds the authorities by calling fisherman and tax collectors. He calls down Zaccheus from his tree, and converts Saul on the Road to Damascus.
- Time and again, Jesus takes down the haughty and hypocrites, ...those who love the law instead of practicing the law of love.
Who is truly "Blessed" or "Wealthy"? The world has its well-known definitions of happiness and wealthy, ...and Jesus has his. Jesus says it will be the poor in spirit, the mourners, the meek, the hungry, the persecuted, the reviled because of him, ...to such belongs the Kingdom of Heaven.
What is the Kingdom of Heaven? According to the Beatitudes it is a state of comfort, safety, fullness, mercy, and an awareness of the very presence of God. We pray for this Kingdom to come.
Jesus might as well have been describing himself. He is meek, hungry for righteousness, pure, and persecuted. In that sense, the Beatitudes are a list of spiritual traits we should aspire to.
The Beatitudes teach another familiar Jesus theme: that faith is more than what you say, it's how you treat others, and it's a feeling inside of you: Be poor in spirit, be humble, be hungry for the right things, be willing to stand up for Christ even when it hurts.
Teaching the Beatitudes
You can't exhaust the meaning of the Beatitudes. They are the gift that keeps on giving. They can be about our spiritual journey, and about our daily life, They can be about our relationship with God, and a guide to our relationships with others. Thus, our first goal is to teach the actual verses, and help them begin to explore these wonderful words.
Teaching for Memory & Comprehension
This Rotation Lesson Set encourages you to take at least four weeks to teach the Beatitudes, but even 8 would not be enough. That is why these lessons include a focus on REMEMBERING the Beatitudes, ...so that their meaning can continue to unfold as we hear them in bits and pieces over the years both inside and outside of the Church.
Teach the Beatitudes using a standard translation
The Rotation.org Writing Team encourages you to teach the Beatitudes using your church's preferred adult Bible translation, such as, the NRSV or NIV, rather than a simplified children's version. While some lesson activities will have them condensing it, it's important that they learn the Beatitudes in a version they will recognize in church, and in the culture and media in the years ahead.
Avoid turning the Beatitudes into a mere set of "be happy, do-good" morals.
The happiness Jesus speaks of is much deeper than a good feeling. Indeed, it often doesn't feel good at all to be humble, to mourn, or to be persecuted. The Beatitudes are not only values to live by, they are God's promise that what the suffering disciples often endure won't be overlooked and unrewarded.
Keep the vision of the Kingdom of Heaven in the Beatitudes
Elsewhere in Matthew, Jesus taught that the Kingdom of Heaven was like a mustard seed —small and growing, and like leaven hidden in the loaf. This means that the REWARDS for meekness, spiritual hunger, and peacemaking are present now, and not just a distant hope. We can find contentment now when we learn to be humble. We can glimpse God now when our hearts are unclouded. We pray, "thy Kingdom come... on earth as it is in heaven." This means that each Beatitude is also a call to action.
Poor in Spirit ~ Those who know they need God. Those who know they have nothing without him. Interestingly, Luke 6's short version of the Beatitudes doesn't include the phrase, "in spirit." Poor in Spirit, however, makes sense when read with the other Beatitudes, as each points to a spiritual condition, rather than a group of people. The world says you do not need God, that your spirit will be filled by wealth, possessions, and popularity.
Kingdom of Heaven ~ i.e. the Kingdom of God. Only Matthew uses the phrase "heaven" instead of God. But it should also be remembered that the Lord's Prayer is also found in Matthew, and in that prayer, Jesus prays for thy Kingdom to come on earth ...as it is in heaven. God's Kingdom is a vision of the future that is growing among us now —like a mustard seed (Matthew 13: 31,32). We are workers in God's Kingdom. The world says God doesn't live here.
Meek ~ Often and properly translated as "humble," meekness in the Bible is about trusting who is in charge. The meek trust God and know they live in their Father's world. The world says trust in yourself and rely on your own strength or someone else's, but that will leave you with nothing.
Mourn ~ Children will naturally think of "sadness" over things they have lost (a pet, a friend, etc.) but "mourning" in scripture is not limited to personal loss and often has a more spiritual and self-less dimension. We mourn the way things are. We mourn poverty. We mourn trouble. We mourn tragedy. We don't turn a blind eye. Mourning is often a public statement of the things God does not want for us. In Revelation 4, we are reminded that God will "wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death' or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away.” The world says to toughen up, and take care of only yourself.
Righteousness ~ How are we "made right" ("saved") with God? Jesus often criticized the "self-righteousness" who taught that you had to keep all the religious rules to be "right" with God. Jesus taught that we are made right only by God's gracious forgiveness. That requires humility. The world says God demands perfection. Jesus says, God's love and salvation is not earned. It is given as a gift.
Pure in Heart ~ Pure means clean, and in a deeper level, "honest." No games, no hypocrisy, no excuses. The pure in heart stand before God knowing they are completely dependent on his grace. It doesn't mean "sinless." All of us sin. Pure means we are honest about ourselves and throw ourselves on God's mercy. It means we reject hate and selfishness. The world says you have to earn God's love, and encourages selfishness, and those things keep us from seeing Jesus all around.
Peacemakers ~ Notice it says "makers." In Jesus' Luke 19 Palm Sunday lament, he said, "if you only knew the things that make for peace." In John 14, Jesus leaves us his peace "not as the world gives." Real peace is not the absence of conflict, it is what you do to resolve conflict. The world says "don't get involved," and "hurt those who hurt you." Jesus says make peace.
Revile and Persecute ~ These are strong words for children. Perhaps they have been called "weird" or "stupid" for going to church and believing in God. It will get worse as they grow older. Showing your faith often brings negative reactions from others who don't want to be reminded that maybe they are wrong, or feel that you are judging them. The world hides behind the belief that, "God doesn't exist" or isn't important.
Matthew 5: 1-12 (NRSV)
1 When Jesus saw the crowds, he went up the mountain; and after he sat down, his disciples came to him. 2 Then he began to speak, and taught them, saying:
3 “Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
4 “Blessed are those who mourn, for they will be comforted.
5 “Blessed are the meek, for they will inherit the earth.
6 “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness, for they will be filled.
7 “Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy.
8 “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they will see God.
9 “Blessed are the peacemakers, for they will be called children of God.
10 “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.
11 “Blessed are you when people revile you and persecute you and utter all kinds of evil against you falsely on my account. 12 Rejoice and be glad, for your reward is great in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you.
Note 1: Some Beatitude lessons include verses 13 and 14 about being salt and light, however, they are not considered "Beatitudes" and are not in the form of the Beatitudes. Other translations of the Bible are very similar to the NRSV.
Note 2: Many scholars do not include verses 11 and 12 as a Beatitude, and thus, only count eight Beatitudes. There are nine "blessed" statements, however, the ninth blessed statement in v 11-2 doesn't follow the format of the first eight. It is longer and says, "blessed are you...," instead of, "blessed are the..." And the ninth also specifically pertains to Jesus. You may include or exclude it. (The Bible Skills and Games Workshop uses verses 11 and 12.)
An Abbreviated Kid-Friendly Version of the Beatitudes**
Know you need God
Mourn what's lost or wrong
Be hungry for the right things, and being right with God
Be honest about yourself
And your reward will be great!
**It's impossible to sum up all that each Beatitude can mean. They are the gift that keeps on giving.
Written by Rev. Neil MacQueen for the Rotation.org Writing Team
with contributions from Julie Burton.