MLK and Jesus: No Romanticized Kings

Next to Jesus and the Apostle Paul, no leader has influenced me like Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., whose life and legacy we honor annually during this time of year. My parents and influencers shared the message and ministry of Dr. King during my formative years. I recall visiting the Martin Luther King Jr. National Historic Site as a child…walking through his birth home, listening to his vibrant speeches, not understanding the images of hatred that I saw, and then staring at his tomb stone there. It was clear to me, even as a child, that his message did not die in the grave. The reason it did not die is because his message was the good news of the gospel which transcends time and space; it was universal good news for all who had ears to hear it, and it was a message for which he laid down his life.

I grew to honor and respect his leadership even more during my college years. As a midshipman at the United States Naval Academy (USNA), my sacred space was the time I spent in worship as a member of the USNA Gospel Choir. Every year we traveled to Atlanta, Georgia during the MLK Holiday weekend to celebrate his legacy and the life of his dear wife, Coretta Scott King, who shared in his ministry and suffering. Annually, we sung at the historic Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King and his father, “Daddy King,” formerly pastored. So I have had the honor of singing for Mrs. King, several Civil Rights heroes, and hearing their stories first hand. It was in those moments, at the church and that center where I always found myself deeply connected to the struggle for racial equality, freedom and justice for all, and the belief that people of faith—particularly those of us who are Christians—can be the called out ones who lead the rest of the world by embodying and proclaiming God’s good news for His creation, and affirming our citizenship and allegiance to the now and not yet kingdom where Christ alone is King.

I attended a worship service on Monday morning at High Point University where Rev. Dr. Raphael Warnock, the current senior pastor of Ebenezer Baptist Church where Dr. King and his father co-pastored together, cautioned us against praising and remembering a Dr. King whom we have romanticized and created in our own image. Yes, Dr. King had a dream, yet that is not all that he spoke. The real Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. was a man and prophet, much like John the Baptist who said, “prepare ye the way of the Lord.” He was a man who proclaimed God’s victory over violence…the violence of racism, the violence of poverty, and the violence of injustice for it was Dr. King who said, “Injustice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere.” He was a radical, determined, and truth telling leader sent to raise our consciousness —that was the cause for which he died.

President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965
President Lyndon B. Johnson and Martin Luther King, Jr. at the signing of the Voting Rights Act of 1965

This leader was a yielded disciple of Christ. This suffering servant, followed Christ in life and he was unjustly murdered for it. He followed in death, and all of us are collectively changed as a result. He brought God, our Father, glory on earth by completing the work God gave him to do (John 17:4). Where else can you go after you have been to the mountain top? I pray that we will become more humble and courageous like him. I pray that we will be people who pray, petition, and cry out to God. I pray that we will become people who are submitted to God’s good purposes. I pray that we will learn obedience from the obstacles that shape our character, and the things and people that cause us to suffer. I pray that people will see our good work and glorify our Father in Heaven. This, my brothers and sisters, is what it means to be a disciple or follower of Jesus. We are called to model the life of Jesus with our lives and according to the writer of Hebrews in 5:7-9:

During the days of his life on earth, “he offered up prayers and petitions with loud cries and tears to the one who could save him from death, and he was heard because of his reverent submission. Although he was a son, he learned obedience from what he suffered and once made perfect, he became the source of eternal salvation for all who obey him.”

Christ, himself, learned obedience from what he suffered for his commitment to stand against violence on this earth, and even he was murdered for it. I pray that we will become more like Him.

This is the same Jesus who was rejected in his hometown, Nazareth, when he quoted from the prophet Isaiah and announced his public ministry in Luke 4:18-19:

The spirit of the Lord is on me, because he has anointed me to preach good news to the poor.

He has sent me to proclaim freedom for the prisoners and recovery of sight for the blind,

To release the oppressed, to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.

I pray that we live out the gospel which is good news for the poor (the financially poor and the poor in spirit), the gospel which is good news for the prisoners (those who are incarcerated in this life and those who are in bondage to sin), the gospel which is good news for those who are blind (those who are spiritually and physically without eyes to see as God desires), the gospel which is good news for the oppressed (the most vulnerable and weak among us).

I pray that we live out the gospel, and this prayer is one of words, listening to God, and responding with obedient action. May it be so with us.

Here are a few things to consider:

  1. Continue in prayer.
  2. Go see the movie “Selma,” which is in theaters everywhere now.
  3. Read the whole Bible this year through the lens of seeing God’s heart for broken and lost people.
  4. Take time this month and next to read through some of Dr. King’s sermons. They are all provided through the King Center at this link.

© Natasha Sistrunk Robinson 2015

One thought on “MLK and Jesus: No Romanticized Kings

  1. The best heroes and mentors always point us to Jesus, don’t they? Your personal experiences add a dimension of reality to a man who still seems larger than life. The closest I came to King was knowing a girl at work who married a Jewish “freedom rider,” the folks from the north who rode down by bus to join the marches. If Julian was regarded with awe, you know something about how the rest of us felt about what we thought was being achieved in the American south. As you point out, the enormous effect he had on so many people whatever their traditions and inheritance calls each of us to dig deeper to find out what more we can achieve in our own calling.

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