The Lord Fights for You: Martin Luther King and Jesus Christ
Deuteronomy 7:21 “You shall not be terrified of them; for the Lord your God, the great and awesome God, is among you.”
In 1983, President Ronald Reagan signed into law the federal holiday that celebrates the birthday of Martin Luther King. This year, it’s Monday the 16th (Dr. King’s birthday is January 15). America remembers the life and accomplishments of Dr. King, who led the nonviolent protest against racial discrimination that prevailed in both federal and state law. But how did Dr. King view his work? We have to look back in history to understand a turning point in the Civil Rights movement that was the defining moment for his decision to not only persevere but overcome the extreme hatred of American racism at that time.
It was December 1955 in Montgomery, Alabama, and Rosa Parks boarded the city bus as she always did in returning home from her job as a seamstress. Montgomery’s law required black people to give up their seat to any white person. On this day, when a white man told her to give her seat to him, Rosa Parks said no. Not only was Mrs. Parks immediately arrested for violating Montgomery’s segregated bus seating law, she was fired from her job. On the same day of her conviction, Montgomery’s black community began the bus boycott and the “Montgomery Improvement Association” (MIA) was soon formed.
The MIA needed a leader, someone who could be their voice – to champion their civil rights. They went to a bible preacher at the Dexter Avenue Baptist Church in Montgomery and asked him to be their president. Taking this position would make this man the target of white supremacists’ hatred of the black community. At only 26 years old, Dr. (PhD Theology from Boston University) Martin Luther King accepted.
On January 30, 1956 (one year after Mrs. Parks arrest), Dr. King’s home in Montgomery was bombed while he was away speaking at a meeting to support the boycott. The explosion badly damaged their home, blowing out all the windows. He rushed home and found it surrounded by a crowd of black men, some carrying weapons, and many white policemen. His wife and two children were scared but uninjured.
When Dr. King came outside, the armed crowd was angry, wanting revenge. After calmly telling them his family was safe and no one was hurt, he gave them these instructions on what they needed to do next: “If you have weapons, take them home. He who lives by the sword will perish by the sword. Remember that is what Jesus said. We are not advocating violence. We want to love our enemies. I want you to love our enemies. Be good to them. This is what we must live by. We must meet hate with love.”
He then explained why he knew they would eventually win: “I did not start this boycott. I was asked by you to serve as your spokesman. I want it to be known the length and breadth of this land that if I am stopped, our work will not stop. For what we are doing is right. What we are doing is just. And God is with us.”
They did win – the boycott ended with the Supreme Court ruling that bus segregation was unconstitutional. But how did Dr. King know God was with them? Just prior to his home being bombed, Dr. King received one of many phone calls threatening to kill him and his family. As his family lay sleeping, he decided that the risk of continuing to lead the MIA was too great. He created a plan to leave the Civil Rights movement.
Late that night, he met with the Lord and told Him the truth: “I am afraid. The people are looking to me for leadership, and if I stand before them without strength and courage, they too will falter. I am at the end of my powers. I have nothing left. I’ve come to the point where I can’t face it alone.” Dr. King explained what happened: “I experienced the presence of the Divine as I had never experienced Him before. It seemed as though I could hear the quiet assurance of an inner voice saying: ‘Stand up for righteousness, stand up for truth; and God will be at your side forever.” Dr. King switched his focus onto Jesus Christ. And later, he delivered that speech on his front porch after they had tried to kill his family.
The Bible tells us we can expect to be weak when we rely on our own strength: “If you faint in the day of adversity, then your strength is small.” (Proverbs 24:10). But Dr. King’s strength wasn’t centered on himself – his foundation was Jesus Christ: “The Lord is my light and my salvation – whom shall I fear? The Lord is the strength of my life – of whom shall I be afraid?” (Psalm 27:1). What he relearned that night, that was the turning point in the civil rights movement, was that God doesn’t ask you to fight for Him. He fights for you. Knowing that Christ fights for you is the reason to embrace Jesus Christ as your Lord and Savior.
Ed Croteau is a resident of Lee’s Summit and hosts a weekly study in Lees Summit called “Faith: Substance and Evidence.” He can be reached with your questions through the Lee’s Summit Tribune at Editor@lstribune.net.