the shape of leadership

How to Preach the Beatitudes

Exploring Jesus’ words of blessing

Chris Colvin on September 8, 2020

The sermons in Scripture are great sources for sermons in our churches. And I believe none surpasses Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount in Matthew 5–7.

The opening words of this sermon are among the most familiar. The Beatitudes — from the Latin for “blessing” — are reassuring in a chaotic world. Why wouldn’t people want to know about the blessings of God?

However, preaching the Beatitudes is not without challenges. Even a passage that seems fairly straightforward can raise some important questions as you study it. Here are some thoughts about how to approach a sermon on the Beatitudes.

Do or Be?

First of all, what are the Beatitudes? Are these commands we must follow, or are they explanations of who we really are as followers of Christ? Throughout history, students of Scripture have debated this.

On the one hand, these may seem like things we should do. “Hunger and thirst for righteousness” has the ring of an imperative. “Peacemakers” are people of action. Are the Beatitudes steps we take to receive the blessings of God?

Most writers and preachers take another approach to the Beatitudes. Instead of a list of qualifications, they view them as characteristics of those who have already found their place in the kingdom of God. In other words, the Beatitudes are descriptions, not prescriptions.

I personally agree with that assessment. There are definite commands in the Sermon on the Mount, behaviors Jesus requires of us. But He begins on a different note — one of proclamation. As God’s people, we are blessed, regardless of our status in society.

Nevertheless, every good sermon will not only proclaim but compel. When you preach on the Beatitudes, don’t just tell people how and why they are blessed. Show them what to do with that truth. How should the knowledge of God’s blessings affect the way we live? Help listeners apply the text to their real-world situations.

Careful Consideration

As you study each Beatitude, pay attention to the context, and look at more than one translation and commentary. Carefully consider the subtle differences in interpretation.

As God’s people, we are blessed, regardless of our status in society.

For instance, most see “poor in spirit” in verse 3 as an acknowledgement of our need for God. It’s true that we are incapable of living the life God requires apart from the Holy Spirit.

However, a parallel passage in Luke 6:20 doesn’t include the words “in spirit.” The blessing is applied to the poor without qualification. In a time when many assumed the wealthy had a place in heaven and saw the poor as cursed, Jesus turned the system on its head, declaring himself the final authority on who is truly blessed.

Verse 6 contains another Beatitude that could have multiple meanings and applications: “Blessed are those who hunger and thirst for righteousness.” A deep passion for right living should be a hallmark of any believer’s life. And we should long to see others live that way as well.

Yet some biblical versions, such as the New Living Translation, use the word “justice” in place of “righteousness.” The two concepts are closely related in Hebrew. And both the Old and New Testaments teach that the one who hungers for the high standard of righteousness will also promote justice for the oppressed, defend the persecuted, care for the needy, and welcome the marginalized.

Putting It Together

Once you’ve done your research, finding the right format to preach the Beatitudes can make the difference in how people receive the message.

The first approach would be to take on one Beatitude each week over the course of eight weeks. While this allows deeper study, some pastors would rather not spend that long in one passage.

Another approach is to tackle all eight Beatitudes in one sermon. This could be the first part of a series on the Sermon on the Mount or a stand-alone sermon. While this frees up the rest of your calendar for other messages, it may be difficult to give the entire list its due. You may also find yourself wishing for more time the further into the sermon you get.

You might be able to find a happy medium, such as grouping the Beatitudes in two to four sermons. You could address them chronologically or in another arrangement, such as according to topic or theme. Find the ways they intersect, and preach them that way. How might being poor in spirit, mourning, and meekness be related? Is there a connection between the merciful and the peacemakers?

Once you find a format you feel comfortable with, show how Jesus exemplified each Beatitude in His own life on earth. Ultimately, they find their fullest expression on the Cross, a reminder of not only the cost Jesus paid for our own blessing but also the life He calls us to imitate as His followers.

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