An 11-week sermon series on the Beatitudes, based on the book Heaven on Earth: Realizing the Good Life Now, by Chris Seidman and Joshua Graves
Every so often we hear of fighter pilots engaged in high-speed maneuvers who, tragically, fly straight into the ground or ocean. Sometimes the accident occurs because of a malfunction of the plane’s operating system or a mechanical breakdown of some kind. But there is also the possibility that the pilot had become disoriented, if only for a few brief moments, and flown by instinct, instead of the instrument panel. Sometimes pilots travel so fast and engage in so many different maneuvers that they lose their sense of orientation and no longer which way is really “up.” This can prove to be disastrous when the pilots turn the controls in what they think will help them ascend into the sky, only to descend straight into the ground.
Many of us are flying full-throttle through our lives. We live at a speed that borders on breaking the sound barrier, thinking we know which way is “up” – what we need to do to “ascend.” In many cases, we fly straight into the ground. There are times when we’re flying upside down and don’t even know it.
North Americans are consumed with a desire to experience “the good life.” Savvy advertisers spend billions of dollars painting pictures of what the good life is and how their product is an integral part of it. The entertainment industry spins its own narratives embodying the good life. Entire magazines and websites are radically devoted to capturing the essence of the good life. But what really is the good life, and how do we stay on course? How do we avoid crashing? Beyond that, what is the flight mission in the first place? The “good life” spoken of in “Heaven On Earth: Realizing The Good Life Now” refers not to a particular standard of living but to a quality of life – a beautiful and effective life – a life that makes a difference.
Through Jesus, the kingdom of heaven is ushered in and makes a difference in life on earth. The kingdom of heaven isn’t strictly a location on the other side of the grave. Scripture bears witness that it’s a “happening” on this side of the grave. The “good life” is possible because the reign of God is present on the earth. And the “good life” is possible only to the degree that God is involved.
Jesus’ opening words in the Sermon on the Mount, most commonly referred to as the Beatitudes, are navigational beacons that tell us where the good life is found, because they tell us where God is found. And where God is found is where heaven on earth is. The Beatitudes are not prescriptions for us to follow in order to gain divine favor from above that blesses our own ambitions and plans. They are descriptions of where God is found, who God is blessing, and what a difference God’s kingdom breaking into the world makes.
The following series outline suggests the focus of each week’s message as well as the chapter of the book that corresponds to that week’s focus scripture. Those chapters will inform and inspire your preaching for each week. Encourage small groups and Sunday school classes to use the book to study the Beatitudes throughout the weeks of this series for a church-wide experience.
Week 1: Which Way Is Up?
Scripture: Matthew 5: 1-16
This message introduces the series and provides a context for walking through the Beatitudes. We live in a world inundated with messages about what “the good life" is. In a world of mixed messages, it’s difficult to know when you’re flying right-side up or upside down. Pulling the throttle when you’re disoriented can be disastrous. The Beatitudes serve as a way of getting our bearings as to how God operates, what God values, and where the “good life” is truly found.
Week 2: Heaven Happens
Focus Scripture: Matthew 4:17
Study: Chapter 1
Context is king. The Beatitudes in Matthew 5:3-12 are really a response to what transpires in the latter part of Matthew 4 and Jesus’ declaration of the kingdom of heaven coming near. Before Jesus speaks of the kingdom of heaven, he demonstrates it. Through Jesus, we are reminded that the “kingdom of heaven” isn’t just a location on the other side of the grave. It’s a “happening” on this side of the grave.
Week 3: For The Bankrupt
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:3
Study: Chapter 2
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for the poor in spirit – those who are in a broken condition far beyond their own capacity and resources to repair. People like to say "God helps those who help themselves," but that maxim is far from biblical. In fact, God helps those who cannot help themselves, which is really all of us—people hopeless before God, standing in need of grace.
Week 4: Aching Visionaries
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:4
Study: Chapter 3
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for those who mourn – those who are acutely aware of and grieved by the world as it is; and how far removed it is from what God intended for it to be all along. Mourning is more than simple sadness; it is a gut-wrenching desire for things to be different. Out of this despair comes action and the presence of God in the midst of pain.
Week 5: Get Small
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:5
Study: Chapter 4
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for the meek – those who are “small” and surrendered to God out of a profound sense of their “smallness.” The bigger we are (or think we are) the smaller God seems, but when we are humble, we know our need for God and God can do big things through us.
Week 6: Craving God’s Future
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:6
Study: Chapter 5
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for those who hunger and thirst for righteousness – those who crave for things to be made right again in their lives and world. We often think of "righteousness" as personal piety, but throughout the Bible, righteousness indicates right-ness between people, justice for the oppressed. Crave these things and you will be filled with soul food and living water.
Week 7: Mercy Me
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:7
Study: Chapter 6
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for the merciful – those who are generous in deeds of deliverance on behalf of others in bondage to guilt and need. The prophets and Jesus alike emphasize God's love of—and desire for us to practice—mercy. Regardless of whether they "deserve" it, we are to show others the grace and unmerited kindness that God shows to us.
Week 8: Hearts Wide Open
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:8
Study: Chapter 7
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for the pure in heart – those whose desire (even desperation) for God is undiluted. Children, people with special needs, and others whose hearts are so pure are able to see God unadulterated by our biases and burdens, and they show us a glimpse of God's heart as well.
Week 9: The Road To Peace
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:9
Study: Chapter 8
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for the peacemakers – those who are contending for God’s wholeness – God’s shalom – in our violent, fragmented world. Conflict seems inevitable, but it is possible to live in a way that embodies God's peace, living as children of God on earth, indeed bringing heaven to earth.
Week 10: True Grit
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5:10-12
Study: Chapter 9
When the kingdom of heaven “happens,” it makes a difference for those who are persecuted because of righteousness – for those who are done wrong precisely because they are doing right. We should not seek out persecution, but know that it will find us if we are living according to the values of God's kingdom. Harassment will drive us closer to the comfort and shelter of God, more than an easy life ever could.
Week 11: Make Something Happen
Focus Scripture: Matthew 5: 13-16
Study: Chapter 10
As we align our lives with these realities, we become as salt and light in our world – difference-makers. But we are only as salty and enlightening in our world to the degree that we reflect the nature of the King and his kingdom as described in the Beatitudes.