Recently, the news of the death of South Africa’s Nelson Mandela dominated all newscasts. He was heralded as one of the greatest men of our day. People equated him to Martin Luther King Jr., Gandhi, and Mother Teresa, “all rolled into one.” His acclaim originated over his stand against racial injustices and inequalities in a country predominately ruled by whites. He spent 27 years in prison for his protests and alleged crimes, even refusing a release that was offered to him on the condition of renouncing his calls to revolution. Once released, he did not seek any revenge against those who had him incarcerated. Instead he preached forgiveness and healing. Eventually, Nelson Mandela rose to the highest office in his country, and at his funeral presidents, kings, prime ministers, and celebrities from all around the world came to honor him at a memorial service.
While witnessing all this worldwide news coverage for days, and hearing the constant acclaim for this man, this writer could not help thinking: “I know a far greater man who gave forgiveness to many and preached the good news of forgiveness.” Do you know this man? It was the God-man, God in the flesh, the Lord Jesus Christ.
The Savior came to Israel with the offer of the Gospel of the Kingdom, therein offering the forgiveness of sins. He taught His followers to pray to the Father for forgiveness (on the condition they must forgive others [Matt. 6:12-15]). When He healed a man sick with palsy he stated: “Son…thy sins be forgiven thee” (Matt. 9:2), and He taught Peter the necessity to forgive one who came asking forgiveness and to do so as many times as the one asking was sincere (Matt. 18:21-35).
Actually, the Lord Jesus Christ came offering divine forgiveness to all of Israel. Peter told his fellow Jews that Christ was now exalted to the right hand of God the Father in heaven “to give repentance to Israel and forgiveness of sins” (Acts 5:31). This was the message of our Lord throughout His earthly ministry. He told His disciples He had come “to seek and to save them that are lost.”
Once Israel was set aside and the Apostle Paul was raised up by the Lord to minister to Gentiles, the message of forgiveness remained the focal point. The risen Savior explained Paul’s mission was to go to all the world, “to open their (sinners) eyes, and to turn them from darkness to light, and from the power of Satan unto God, that they might receive the forgiveness of sins” (Acts 26:18). This would be done by pointing Jew and Gentile, man and woman, young and old, to personal faith in the Lord Jesus Christ as their only hope for eternal life.
The Savior was the greatest example of forgiveness. Even after His enemies had Him falsely imprisoned, beaten, and crucified, He asked His Heavenly Father from the cross to “…forgive them, for they know not what they do” (Luke 23:34). We know He could have called ten thousand angels to command His release from prison or the cross, but He refused, that He might pay the sin debt of the world so that you and I could be forgiven. Colossians 2:13 tells us that every believer has forgiveness so complete that He has “forgiven you ALL trespasses.” This God-man, our Savior, is one most worthy of our love, respect, and dedication. Rejoice in Him. Exalt His name!