“And he opened his mouth and taught them, saying: ‘Blessed…’” – Matthew 5:2 (and the first word of 3) (ESV)

I am so excited!  This Saturday I will begin an earnest, long, deep study of the Sermon on the Mount.  I am gathering research material and preparing my heart to hear what God has to say in these three amazing chapters of Matthew.  The fact is that the core – the very heart and definition – of Christianity is contained in these passages.  I have always been intrigued by the structure of these chapters, how they build in blocks on one another (the Beatitudes forming a foundation to build upon).  I am quite eager to dig deeper.

Tonight, as I was reading John Wesley’s notes on the gospel of Matthew, something struck me.  He writes that “to bless men, to make men happy, was the great business for which our Lord came into the world” (Wesley’s Notes on the Bible, p.17).  In 1755, when Wesley wrote this, I’m not sure that happiness meant quite the same thing it does today, with our modern preoccupation with comfort. 

But Christ surely came to bless us with unspeakable joy and amazing grace and boundless love.  It is beautiful to find that Jesus began laying out the foundation of what it means to be a Christian by teaching us who is blessed (and, by implication, who is not – even though, by the world’s terms, it would appear Christ got it backwards).

Blessed indeed we all are who follow Jesus Christ.  Blessed in ways we cannot even imagine.  Blessed in ways the world cannot see.  Blessed in the truest sense of the word.

Sing to the LORD, all the earth!
   Tell of his salvation from day to day.
Declare his glory among the nations,
   his marvelous works among all the peoples!
For great is the LORD, and greatly to be praised,
   and he is to be held in awe above all gods.
For all the gods of the peoples are idols,
   but the LORD made the heavens.
Splendor and majesty are before him;
   strength and joy are in his place. – 1 Chronicles 16:23-27 (ESV)

Here… have some poison…

“Let all bitterness and wrath and anger and clamor and slander be put away from you, along with all malice. Be kind to one another, tenderhearted, forgiving one another, as God in Christ forgave you.” – Ephesians 4:31-32 (ESV)

If I offered you a bowl full of poison and a spoon, would you sit down and eat it?  Of course not!!  But, consider this… every grudge we hold, every ounce of unforgiveness, every little drop of bitterness is poison.  It rots our souls and kills us spiritually. 

Here is the problem, at it’s heart.  We have a relationship with God because Jesus came to earth to act as the propitiation for our sins.  Propitiation is a big word – a legal term – that means, through the act of forgiveness performed by Jesus Christ on the cross for all of us, our status is changed from utterly guilty to innocent.  Not only forgiven, but cleansed.  Our record is expunged in God’s eyes.  The Lord holds no grudge, bears no memory of the wrongs each of His children has committed against Him.

When we refuse to forgive somebody, when we choose to bear a grudge, we are not walking in the light of Christ.  In fact, we are doing just the opposite.  We are choosing to walk away from Jesus.  Every act of revenge – even what we think is the smallest word of unkindness uttered about somebody we feel bitterness toward – takes us farther from God. 

Don’t think God takes (un)forgiveness this seriously?  Think again.  Think back to the Lord’s Prayer, which you have probably repeated, and truly think about this one line:

“And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors” (Matthew 6:12).  (Or, if you’re more comfortable, “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us.”)

Jesus goes on to explain, “For if you forgive others their trespasses, your heavenly Father will also forgive you, but if you do not forgive others their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses” (Matthew 6:14-15, ESV).  That’s pretty serious stuff.  That means our forgiveness hinges on whether we choose to begrudge others and harbor bitterness.  Is it worth it?

Unforgiveness does more harm to the one holding the grudge than the object of the anger.  It blocks us from giving and receiving love and grace. If we think about people we have known in our lives, who were the most miserable?  Those who couldn’t let go of the wrongs they felt had been committed against them.  Letting go can be tough.  But forgiveness isn’t merely a matter of passively saying, “OK, I forgive you.”  True forgiveness is a willful act of not only forgiving the debt, but forgetting that it is owed to you.  Forgiveness is choosing to put down the bitterness that poisons your spirit – indeed, your very being.

We are called to be “rooted and grounded in love” (Ephesians 3:14, ESV).  This leaves no room for bitterness and unforgiveness.  Jesus equates hatred with murder – says they are one and the same.  In Christ, there is life.  If you are feeling unforgiveness toward anybody, go to the Lord.  Ask for strength and grace to help you through, and revel in the sweet release of forgiveness.  Feel love and mercy swell up in your soul and bask in the joy of the glory of the Lord!