© July 17, 2018 | Schulter Etyang
Nelson Mandela, what a man! What a life. His persona, endearing. His heroic deeds, unmatched. A man who lived way before his time. A man who peered into the future, anchored himself in the present, reconciled the past and led not only South Africa but also the rest of the world into the future he envisioned. His future? Black and White living together in a non-racial South Africa – all of humanity living together in harmony. This was his vision.
A few events have been planned around Johannesburg to commemorate the centenary of Nelson Mandela. This year, he would have been 100 years old. In particular, Barack Obama, the first African American president of the United States will deliver the 16th Nelson Mandela Annual Lecture, in partnership with the Motsepe Foundation, in Johannesburg on 17 July 2018.
As a Christian, I was a bit sceptical of Mandela’s outsized almost mythical stature. It seemed to me, that it was possible for Mandela to be categorized as a mini-saviour of the world, almost like Jesus himself. I am surprised, though, that a religious organization or following did not form around him. His persona, charisma, and achievements warranted one. But my scepticism about him ebbed off when I discovered the gospel.
In view of the gospel – the good news of who Jesus is and what he has done for us, could it be that Nelson Mandela was God’s gentle reminder of His son and what His son accomplished for all of humanity? Could it be? I think so.
Nelson Mandela and Jesus, their lives are parallel to a tee. I mean, if you study their lives, it’s as if they lived the same kind of lives, albeit at different times.
Let’s look at their parallels – just a few
- Both men came from royal families.
- Both men left their prestige backgrounds.
- Both men identified with the oppressed people of their time and fought for their freedom.
- Both men did not enjoy close relations with their families because they were constantly on the move.
- Both men were revered by the masses.
- Both men endured untold harassment and persecution from their antagonists.
- Both men were accused, sentenced and jailed for crimes they didn’t commit.
The parallels at this point begin to diverge.
- Nelson Mandela was condemned to life imprisonment where he served 27 years. Jesus’ sentence was death by hanging on a tree. The ultimate punishment for a notorious criminal of his day.
- Nelson Mandela served his time between three prisons. He mingled with fellow prisoners who had been arrested for the same purported crimes. Jesus hangs on the cross between two thieves. He had no relationship with the thieves.
- Nelson Mandela was released from prison in 1990. He was 72 years old. Jesus died a painful death. He was 33 years old.
- Nelson Mandela was accorded a state funeral and was buried in his own grave. Jesus was buried in a borrowed tomb.
But here are the big ones
- Jesus rose again from the dead. Nelson Mandela is still in his grave.
- Jesus ascended to heaven after 40 days.
God’s heart beats with affection for his son. He is all about His son. He loves his son. Yet, he gave up his only son for us. (John 3:16 NKJV) And after his son had accomplished his work for us, God employed all his resources to make his son known to all of humanity. So, God uses everyday events and lives, to remind us or nudge us towards his son. You cannot but think how amazing it is that God uses everyday events and lives to point us to his son and what his son did for all of us.
Nelson Mandela was such a life, a kind reminder, and a gentle nudge towards who Jesus is and what he did for us. Nelson Mandela fought specifically for the freedom of the oppressed people of his country. What he did points us to a greater one than Nelson Mandela who lived, died and rose again to save humanity from sin, death, the grave, the devil and his minions.
The one very important thing, though, that is missing in Nelson Mandela’s life is the resurrection. Nelson Mandela is still in his grave and Jesus is alive, seated at the right hand of his Father. (Acts 7:55–56; Romans 8:34; Ephesians 1:20; Colossians 3:1; Hebrews 1:3; 8:1; 10:12; 12:2; 1 Peter 3:22; Revelation 3:21) If Nelson Mandela put his trust in what Jesus has done for him, then one day he will rise from his grave with a new body. He, then, will ascend to heaven with the rest of us. (1 Thessalonians 4:16-17 NKJV) Yeah, don’t laugh, Christians believe such things. Weirdoes.
I will celebrate the life and achievements of Nelson Mandela. More so, I will rejoice in the fact that God used Nelson Mandela’s life to point me to his son, the ultimate saviour of the world.
Thank you, Nelson Mandela!
That’s what grace looks like