Nelson Mandela was truly one the most influential Christian leaders of our time.
"The world has lost one of its great moral leaders and statesmen. He demonstrated that the only path forward for the nation was to reject the appeal of bitterness." – Steven Harper, Prime Minister of Canada.
"Today he's gone home, and we've lost one of the most influential, courageous, and profoundly good human beings that any of us will share time with on this earth." – Barack Obama, President of the United States.
"A great light has gone out in the world. Nelson Mandela was a hero of our time." – David Cameron, Prime Minister of Great Britain.
"All the world mourned the loss of a colossus of unimpeachable moral character and integrity, the world's most admired and revered public figure." – Archbishop Desmond Tutu.
As a young man, Mandela taught Sunday school in a small Methodist church where he was taught, and taught others, of God's principles of compassion, justice, forgiveness, and especially, of hope. "I am fundamentally an optimist," Mandela once wrote. "Part of being optimistic is keeping one's head pointed toward the sun, one's feet moving forward. There were many dark moments when my faith in humanity was sorely tested, but I would not and could not give myself up to despair. That way lies defeat and death."
Nelson Mandela's South Africa was in deep racial, economic, and political darkness. After 27 years as a political prisoner fighting against apartheid, during which time he contracted lung disease that plagued him for the rest of his life, Mandela could have left prison a bitter and broken man, seeking revenge. Instead, he clung to his Christian principles of forgiveness, love, reconciliation, and hope for a better world. He observed, "As I walked out the door toward the gate that would lead to my freedom, I knew if I didn't leave my bitterness and hatred behind, I'd still be in prison."
Like Mandela, the prophet Isaiah refused to give in to the darkness and hopelessness of his time. For 40 years, the unstoppable Assyrian army had ravaged Judah time and time again, yet in the midst of that desolation, Isaiah not only did not give in, but envisioned a time 700 years ahead, when the Messiah would come.
Isaiah 11:1-2 – A shoot will come up from the stump of Jesse; from his roots a Branch will bear fruit. The Spirit of the Lord will rest on him — the Spirit of wisdom and of understanding, the Spirit of counsel and of power, the Spirit of knowledge and of the fear of the Lord — and he will delight in the fear of the Lord. (NIV)
All around Isaiah, things seemed desolate. The reign of Israel's greatest king, King David, was but distant memory. He compares it to the stump of a great tree which has been cut down. But, likewise, Mandela referring to the wasteland of apartheid in South Africa, said, "On this stump of Jesse, a shoot will appear, and a new tree will emerge bearing much fruit."
Both Mandela and Isaiah realized that our hope is in God, and no other. If our hope is in our financial strength, we will be let down. If our hope is in our government … well throughout history, political systems have risen and fallen. If your hope is in your lottery ticket, you most certainly are in for a fall. Only the hope in a God whose call is for reconciliation, for empathy, for compassion, for forgiveness, and for justice is the foundation that does not disappoint. Only God's truth continues unaltered through time.
Prayer: Loving God, instil in us that hope exemplified in both the prophet Isaiah and in Nelson Mandela, the hope that looks past our hurts, prejudice, and disappointments, and calls us to look forward to the miracle of new life that You have in mind for all of us. Amen.
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