When Nelson Mandela was released from prison, he came out with a message of forgiveness and reconciliation, not revenge. His attitude changed the whole future of South Africa. He was asked, “How did you choose not to seek revenge after all your enemies did to you?” He said, “I knew if I didn’t leave my bitterness and hatred behind I would still be in prison.”
Forgiveness is not easy – when you are treated unfairly, cut up by another driver, ignored, passed over, insulted. And especially when you forgave them before and they did it again. The reason we are asked to forgive others is not for their benefit but for ours. Unforgiveness acts like a cancer in our soul. It eats us up inside. The person who hurt us may be going about their life blissfully unaware of how we are feeling. We are the ones who suffer. And it’s a sin. We need to forgive.
Our inner and outer problem
But we need forgiveness even more – not just from people we have hurt, but most especially from God. Nelson Mandela was a great man but he couldn’t live forever and he wasn’t a saint. We may say, “I’m not really that bad, my life is no worse than some who say they are Christians.” It is not about comparing ourselves with others. We are all guilty, the degree of guilt is not the issue. We all need forgiveness.
The paralytic forgiven
Jesus said, “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinners.” (Mark 2:17)
He did not come for those who think themselves righteous but those who know they are sick inwardly and outwardly. When the paralysed man was brought to Jesus by his friends, they were looking for physical healing. But Jesus knew there was something much more important that the man needed – his sins forgiven. Something only God can do.
Jesus forgave his sins, then asked his shocked audience, “Which is easier to say, ‘Your sins are forgiven’ or ‘Get up and walk’? But so that you may know that the Son of Man has authority on earth to forgive sins …’ Then he said to the paralytic, ‘Get up, take your mat and go home.’ And the man got up and went home.” (Matt.9:5-7)
Do you think you don’t need a Saviour?
Sin is spiritual apartheid – it separates us from God. Mandela’s greatest legacy was getting South Africa to face its past and set up reconciliation committees. We need to face our past – our sin, our failure, our need of a saviour. All our heroes are only human, sinners in need of a saviour. Even John the Baptist recognised his own unworthiness before Jesus. (Matt.3:14-15)
Jesus is our representative. He has made the long walk from eternity and truly stands in our place.
Many will make pilgrimage to Mandela’s grave. If we tried to make pilgrimage to Jesus’ grave we would find an empty tomb. He is risen, and resumed his glory, majesty and power. But we don’t need to find Jesus because he finds us. Pilgrimage is a journey to a special site, but it is a spiritual journey too.
Jesus has broken down the walls of spiritual aparteid for us, he has bridged the gap.
He stands at the door and knocks. (Rev.3:20)
How will you respond?
Will you leave behind all your battles to be good enough and ask him in, to be your Saviour?
[From a sermon by Pete Orphan, Pantygwydr Baptist Church]