September 19, 2000
South African President Nelson Mandela’s former prison cell is now a Cape Town tourist attraction. Friends and perhaps foes gaze at the small space that held Mandela for years, but he now enjoys freedom and a new life. His cell was not the end of the story for Mandela. While some wanted his death, he persisted in his dreams and his message. He was eventually was recognized for his visionary leadership and his jailers had to set him free.
In another part of the world, another supposed former prison also attracts tourists. A newly restored dome rises above the traditional site of the tomb of Jesus. Golden rays shimmer across a backdrop of pearly white surrounded by sparkling stars. Friends and perhaps foes gaze at the even smaller space that held Jesus captive for three days and three nights. This man also now lives in freedom and a new life.
That tomb was not the end of that story for the Son of God either, but for different reasons. Jesus was a leader but He was not recognized by the political and religious pundits of His time. His following consisted of publicans and sinners. While they adored Him, the elite of society and everyone else eventually rejected Him. Their rejection led to His death.
One of Jesus’ disciples later preached to those who did the deed. After healing a cripple, Peter said, “Rulers and elders of the people! If we are being called to account today for an act of kindness shown to a cripple and are asked how he was healed, then know this, you and all the people of Israel: It is by the name of Jesus Christ of Nazareth, whom you crucified but whom God raised from the dead, that this man stands before you healed.
“He (Jesus) is the stone you builders rejected, which has become the capstone. Salvation is found in no one else, for there is no other name under heaven given to men by which we must be saved..”
The audience was not exactly ecstatic. They realized what Peter said was true. They pushed that aside though, remarking how this disciple was an “unschooled and ordinary man” yet they also acknowledged that a cripple had been healed. They were speechless — but not for long.
These religious leaders collected their wits and tried to think of a way to stop the disciples from talking about this Jesus. Finally, they commanded the disciples not to speak or teach at all in His name.
Peter and John replied, “Judge for yourselves whether it is right in God’s sight to obey you rather than God. For we cannot help speaking about what we have seen and heard.”
I’m amazed that a political message of fair play and freedom for his people landed Mandela in jail for such a long time, but I’m even more amazed that a spiritual message of forgiveness of sin and eternal life through faith in Christ put Jesus on a cross and brought His followers into severe persecution. Most people didn’t want to hear about Jesus then, and many people today still do not want to hear the gospel.
Is it true that right wins over wrong? In Mandela’s case, it could be, but in the case of Jesus Christ, it is definitely true. The evidence that Jesus won over evil is an empty tomb. Even though the sin of the whole world put Him in a grave (and only because He chose to bear the penalty of that sin), it could not keep Him there.
Jesus claimed to be God in the flesh. That incredible claim and His equally incredible message would have no credibility if He lied. But He did not lie. Instead, He loved us so much that He died for our sins — then by walking out of the tomb He proved that He is the eternal God, worthy to be set free and able to set us free as well.