Yesterday, April 4th, marked the anniversary of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr’s assassination. On that day in 1968, Dr. King was shot while standing on the second-floor balcony of the Lorraine Motel in Memphis. His death was tragic, and indicative of the very things he was fighting to end—injustice and prejudice.
Nearly half a century later, Dr. King’s cause is still necessary. From Ferguson, Mo. to Baton Rouge, La., it’s very evident racism and social injustices are still a reality. Though we’ve taken steps forward as a society, we still have such a long, long way to go. At times, the fight can feel exhausting, but in my weariness, I’m reminded of what Dr. King said the day before his death:
“We've got some difficult days ahead. But it really doesn't matter with me now, because I've been to the mountaintop…He’s allowed me to go up to the mountain. And I've looked over. And I've seen the Promised Land. I may not get there with you. But I want you to know tonight, that we, as a people, will get to the Promised Land. So I'm happy, tonight. I'm not worried about anything. I'm not fearing any man. Mine eyes have seen the glory of the coming of the Lord.”
There was plenty to be unhappy about. There were plenty of things to worry over, but King’s source of happiness was not found in his present situation. It was in his view of the “Promised Land”.
Though King personally experienced the vile nature of oppression and injustice, he steadfastly trusted in a God of justice. I’m struck by the audacious hope that he held onto to the very end of his life. He believed righteousness would prevail, that love would conquer hate, that God’s promises were sure.
In his last speech, King declared, “I’m happy tonight. I’m not worried about anything. I’m not fearing any man.” His words were lucid and prophetic. He seemed well aware that he might die for the cause. And yet, knowing full well the possibility that he might not live to see his fight for justice realized, he was nonetheless “happy.” There was plenty to be unhappy about. There were plenty of things to worry over, but King’s source of happiness was not found in his present situation. It was in his view of the “Promised Land”. Just as God took Moses to the top of Mt. Nebo and gave him a peek into the land of Canaan, God had given Dr. King a vision of a future day when, as he put it, “right there in Alabama little black boys and little black girls will be able to join hands with little white boys and white girls as sisters and brothers.” King smiled as he envisioned a future day when prejudice and poverty would be a footnote in the story of America, and God’s glory and goodness would take center stage. From the Washington Memorial he declared,
“I have a dream that one day every valley shall be exalted, every hill and mountain shall be made low, the rough places will be made plain, and the crooked places will be made straight, and the glory of the Lord shall be revealed, and all flesh shall see it together.”
The underpinning of King’s hope was the glory of the Lord. He looked forward to a day when God’s holiness would be known and experienced, when his goodness and justice would be an experienced reality. He believed that day could and would come. This is what fueled his actions.
Dr. King’s hope is our hope. What our nation desperately needs is for the glory of the Lord to be revealed. When we get that, we will get justice and equality for all.
Hebrews 1:3 says, “He [Jesus] is the radiance of the glory of God.” Jesus is the emanating fire of God’s blazing holiness. When Jesus is known, the flame of God’s justice will burn brightly.
Our longing for racial reconciliation, justice, and equality for all is found in the knowledge of God’s Son. Oppression, racism, and social injustices cannot remain in the presence of Jesus.
I’m convinced the clearest way we can live in the legacy of Dr. King is to make the real Jesus known. Our longing for racial reconciliation, justice, and equality for all is found in the knowledge of God’s Son. Oppression, racism, and social injustices cannot remain in the presence of Jesus.
He comes to change our hearts, to expose and uproot the places in them where hate and prejudice exist. He comes to make peace where there is hostility. He comes to be our head, reconciling us together as members of the same household.
In honor of Dr. King, may we continue to strive to see the glory of the Lord manifest in our nation by spreading the good news of Jesus. May we say with him, “I’m happy tonight" because we know that as the fame of Jesus spreads, a day is coming when, as the prophet Habakkuk put it, “the earth will be filled with the knowledge of the glory of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
Listen to a portion of Dr. King's last speech here.