As a pastor of a church in Johnannesburg, South Africa, Nelson Mandela’s death is of major significance for my congregation. How should we respond to Mandela’s death? How should Christians and churches generally reflect on the life and legacy of this great man, even if he was not a believer?
2 Samuel 1 helps answer that question. Saul was David’s sworn enemy, obsessed with hunting down David to kill him. Yet when Saul dies, David does not gloat or rejoice. Instead, he mourned, tore his garments, and composed a public lament. It is a timeless example of a generous, gracious response to the death of a state leader. It is a model of appreciation for the good he has done. David even asks that this become a national war song for the nation of Israel. Here’s a taste:
Saul and Jonathan, beloved and lovely!
In life and in death they were not divided;
they were swifter than eagles;
they were stronger than lions.
You daughters of Israel, weep over Saul,
who clothed you luxuriously in scarlet,
who put ornaments of gold on your apparel.
How the mighty have fallen
in the midst of the battle! (2 Sam. 1:23-25)
And with David’s prayer in mind, here’s how I led Antioch Bible Church in prayer yesterday morning:
O Sovereign Lord, it is you who made the earth, the heaven, and the sea, and all that is in them. With Isaiah, we declare: “It is you who sit above the circle of the earth, and its inhabitants are like grasshoppers. You stretch out the heavens like a curtain and spread them out like a tent to dwell in. You reduce rulers to nothing, you make the judges of the earth meaningless. Scarcely have they planted, scarcely have they been sown, scarcely has their stock taken root in the earth, but you merely blow on them and they wither” (Isa. 40:22-24).
As all these dignitaries and heads of state descend upon this city, we confess that all their power combined is nothing compared to your omnipotence.
O Lord, we read in your Word that it was ‘In the year of King Uzziah’s death that Isaiah saw you sitting on a throne, lofty and exalted. The train of your robe filled the temple. Seraphim stood above you, each having six wings. With two he covered his feet, and with two he covered his face, and with two he flew. And one called out to another and said, “Holy, holy, holy is the LORD of hosts, the whole earth is full of His glory” (Isa. 6:1-3).
Father, we thank you that in a time of great loss to a nation, with an uncertain future, at these times when we need it most, you show us your glory. You give us a vision of your absolute sovereignty. Your Word lifts our eyes above the mortal kings and fleeting kingdoms of this world to see you, the supreme King, the Lord of hosts, in all your glory and majesty.
Your Word tells us the king’s heart is like channels of water in your hands, you turn it wherever you wish (Prov. 21:1).
Every death reminds us that all flesh is like grass, and its glory like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, but your Word endures forever (Isa. 40:8). Last Thursday night, a bright light in this world went out. But Christ, the Light of the World, cannot be extinguished (Jn. 8:10).
O God of all comfort, Father of all mercies, we ask that you comfort the Mandela family at this time of great loss. Comfort our entire nation during this time of grief and mourning.
Teach us to mourn with those who mourn, to weep with those who weep (Rom. 12:15). Indeed, how the mighty have fallen. We have lost a great leader, a father to this nation.
How merciful you have been to this land, to have given us Madiba for so long. What a display of your common grace to man that you would take a secular leader and use him to teach the world about reconciling forgiveness instead of bitter revenge. Thank you for this echo of the greatest reconciliation of all and the ultimate story of forgiveness: the message of a God who forgives, at the cost of his own Son’s life, every repentant sinner who comes to him.
Some two decades ago, when this country was on the brink of civil war and a bloodbath, you heard the prayers of your people. Your remarkable providence intervened and you sent Mandela for such a time as this. Lord, you do not treat us as our sins deserve. How compassionate and merciful you are!
Your Word tells us every human authority is established by you, and deserves our respect, submission and honour. No matter how ignorant earthly rulers might be of you and your rule over them, still we acknowledge their rule over us. Because we trust you, our sovereign, good, and wise God.
We pray for all those in authority in South Africa today, that they would learn from Mandela’s wise and humble example. And most of all, we pray that these leaders would tremble before you, submit to your Word, and come to know your beloved Son, our Lord Jesus.
We pray for the future of this great nation. We pray for peace, for law and order. We pray for real repentance for all wrongs and injustices that have been done, past and present. We pray for an end to the horrible scourge of crime. We pray for an end to the evils of abortion. We pray that the sanctity of marriage would be upheld. We pray for ongoing religious freedom.
Most of all, we pray for revival and reform in your Church, O Lord. O that you would rend the heavens and come down, and awaken your people! Strengthen your church. End hypocrisy. Purify your bride. Purge our sin. Make us a pure church. Holy Spirit, come!
As our nation grieves in the coming week and prepares for the upcoming funeral, we are reminded that your Word tells us it is better for us to go the house of mourning than the house of feasting, because death is the end of every man, and the living take it to heart (Eccl. 7:2-4).
Lord, teach us what you would have us to learn from Mandela’s death. Sober us with this public reminder of our own mortality. Sober us with another evidence that “the wages of sin is death” (Rom. 6:23), that it is “appointed unto man once to die, and after that to face the judgment” (Heb. 9:27). May none here today be unprepared to meet the living God.
O God, we all live on the brink of eternity, on the precipice of an everlasting Heaven or an unending Hell. Our life is but a vapour that appears for a little while, then vanishes (Jam. 4:14). Cause many to repent, lest they perish in their sins. Cause many to turn to Christ before it is too late, before their time comes (Luke 13:1-5).
In this season where we celebrate our Lord’s first appearing, we live in the hope of his second coming. We long for Christ’s final appearing, which you, Father, will bring about at the proper time. You are the blessed and only Sovereign, the King of kings and Lord of lords. You alone possess immortality and dwell in unapproachable light. No man has seen or can see you. To you be honour and eternal dominion (1 Tim. 6:15-16). Amen.
Tim Cantrell is the senior pastor of Antioch Bible Church in Johannesburg, South Africa.