The Dream Behind MLK’s Dream

Today we honor the life and legacy of the Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King. It’s important to remember, of course, that the first word that frames his identity is “reverend”—Dr. King had an orbital center in his life, and it was his passion for Jesus. His mission was to bring the priorities and values and truths of the Kingdom of God into the everyday reality of a creation broken by sin. In this way, MLK’s mission was the mission of all who ever committed themselves to follow Jesus—to participate in His mission to plant the Kingdom of God on earth.

Later in the spring my new book, Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church, will come out. The last chapter in the book is “The De-Prioritizing of Justice.” In the year I spent writing the book I invested myself in MLK’s writings and work and legacy. In particular, I read Dr. King’s “Letter from a Birmingham Jail.” I was profoundly impacted by its prophetic weight and forceful humility—it’s a shot across the bow to the church, because it’s written specifically to white church leaders who were fighting against, not for, the advance of the Kingdom of God on earth.

In MLK’s most famous prayer, he says this: “Oh Lord, we thank you for your church, founded upon your Word, that challenges us to do more than sing and pray, but go out and work as though the very answer to our prayers depended on us and not upon you.” MLK is urging us to pray that the Kingdom of God would become embedded in our values and priorities here on earth, but to live out those prayers as if it was solely up to us. This is the heart of activism and protest and equity strategy. And there is an upside and downside to this… The upside exposes our passivity, the downside exposes our hubris.

MLK’s Dream paints a picture of the Kingdom of God on earth. But how does the Kingdom of God become established on earth? After more than 60 years, we’re still fighting the fight—after all the staggering sacrifices and investment of passion and hard work and human capital. We honor MLK today because he paid for his dream with his life. And in the church, especially, we honor MLK because his dream was fueled by his faith—he followed Jesus and served Jesus and lifted up Jesus. And Jesus came to bring the Kingdom of God to earth.

So, it’s good to remember, on this special day of observance, the roots of MLK’s hopes and dreams in Jesus, who is determined to bring the values and priorities of the Kingdom into our midst… Watch this short scene excerpted from the popular series The Chosen—it’s Jesus meeting Nicodemus for the first time, under cover of darkness because the Pharisee was aware he could get into trouble for it. We wrestle with the same question as Nicodemus—what does it mean to be born over again? Outside forces cannot transform, alone, the heart that either embraces or rejects the Kingdom of God’s priorities and values. We can’t legislate that—we’ve tried. So, as you watch, think about these questions:

  • What struck you about how the Kingdom of God advances in the world, from this scene?
  • What is Jesus asking of Nicodemus, and what is He asking of us?

Here’s the YouTube link to watch this scene:

If you would like help as you embed new ways of advancing the Kingdom of God in your context, reach to connect with a Vibrant Faith Ministry Leadership Coach. Just CLICK HERE for more information. Coaching is an intentional process that moves you forward into the future you long for.

Rick Lawrence is Executive Director of Vibrant Faith—he created the new curriculum Following JesusHe’s editor of the Jesus-Centered Bible and author of 40 books, including The Suicide Solution, The Jesus-Centered Life and Jesus-Centered Daily. In the Spring of 2024 his new book Editing Jesus: Confronting the Distorted Faith of the American Church will be published. He hosts the podcast Paying Ridiculous Attention to Jesus.


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