Coming Close: A redeemer remembered

Peet Dickinson

“This Moses, whom they rejected, saying, ‘Who made you a ruler and a judge?’—this man God sent as both ruler and redeemer by the hand of the angel who appeared to him in the bush. ~ Acts 7:35

There aren’t many people who come along who can legitimately be considered iconic.  At the mere mention of his name, you not only see his face in your mind’s eye, but a nation, a movement, indeed an entire era come to mind.  The world is mourning the loss of a truly iconic figure at the passing of Nelson Mandela.  People are remembering a man who was all at the same time powerful and charismatic and yet also humble and loving.  As I’ve watched the coverage, I’ve of course seen tears of grief, but I have also seen those same tearful people dancing in the streets of South Africa.  How could there be tears and dancing?  It must be the response of the redeemed.

Nelson Mandela, one could argue, was a redeemer.  He was, like Moses, a ruler and redeemer and he led his people from the bondage of Apartheid into a life of freedom the likes of which they had never known.  So, when that redeemer passed from this mortal life, those whom he had redeemed were overwhelmed with grief and sorrow but also with profound joyful gratitude – tears and dancing.

I’ve always been struck by how Mandela ultimately brought redemption from Apartheid.  Although he was certainly involved in violent protests in his earlier years, it was not these actions that saved the day.  No, Mandela redeemed through suffering in prison and more importantly by his humble forgiveness and grace upon his release.  Love rather than rage was what brought redemption.

Bono, the lead singer of the band U2 put it well when he said, “In the end, Nelson Mandela showed us how to love rather than hate, not because he had never surrendered to rage or violence, but because he learnt that love would do a better job. Mandela played with the highest stakes. He put his family, his country, his time, his life on the line, and he won most of these contests. Stubborn til the end for all the right reasons, it felt like he very nearly outstared his Maker. Today, finally, he blinked. And some of us cry, knowing our eyes were opened to so much because of him.”

Nelson Mandela was a remarkable man.  He really was a modern day Moses, but like Moses, this redeemer brought a temporal freedom that is tenuous and inconsistent.  Another way to put it is that the redemption Mandela brought is but a shadow of a greater redemption.  Mandela’s mother was a devout Christian.  She placed him in a Methodist school, which is where he received his name Nelson.  My guess is that she used to tell her son of a Redeemer greater than Moses.  She told him of a Redeemer who brought freedom not through rage and violence, but through love, forgiveness, and grace as he suffered and died for his people.

My prayer for us all even as we remember a redeemer in Nelson Mandela, is that we would remember the redeemer’s Redeemer, the Lord Jesus Christ.  We would remember our Redeemer who gives us freedom that is not tenuous and inconsistent, but is full and complete.  We have been set free from the apartheid of sin and death.  I pray we would look to our Redeemer on the cross and it would make our eyes to fill with tears of grief and our feet to dance with gratitude.