Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was a great man by any standard. He was well-educated, well-known, and the various works he did were well-done.
He had a great influence on our nation. He is a historical icon, which is why we take the third Monday in January of each year to celebrate his life and his accomplishments.
I understand that I am a beneficiary of King’s sacrifices, and the sacrifices of all those involved in the fight for equality during the Civil Rights Movement.
I have great respect for the courage, selflessness and strength it must have taken for them to stand in the face of death and risk everything for a freedom that they themselves may not have gotten the privilege to enjoy.
Yet, what Dr. King stood for was bigger than race, and bigger than civil rights, as big as those things are. King was a Christian preacher, and was the son and grandson of Christian gospel preachers.
His motivation came from more than a cause, and his morality was not drawn from the men and women around him.
“I tell you, I’ve seen the lightning flash,” King once said in a sermon, invoking the words of an old hymn. “I’ve heard the thunder roll. I’ve heard sin’s breakers dashing, trying to conquer my soul. But I heard the voice of Jesus, saying still to fight on. He promised never to leave me; never to leave me alone. No, never alone; no, never alone.
“Sometimes, I feel discouraged. I don’t mind telling you this morning; sometimes I feel discouraged,” he said. “I felt discouraged in Chicago. As I move through Mississippi, Georgia and Alabama, I feel discouraged. Living every day under the threat of death, I feel discouraged sometimes. Living every day under extensive criticism, even from Negroes, I feel discouraged sometimes. Yes, sometimes I feel discouraged, and that my work is in vain. But then, the Holy Spirit revives my soul.”
Dr. King’s legacy on this earth will always be his work in the Civil Rights Movement, and rightfully so. I am thankful to God for what he did, and what every single person did, in the fight for the freedoms and equalities I enjoy today.
Even more important, however, is why King did what he did. He wasn’t serving himself. His life could have been much easier, and likely much longer, if he’d fled from the conflict. He was not simply serving people, because people did not, and could not, strengthen him when he felt defeated and discouraged.
King was serving Jesus Christ. He was serving the one who said, “If any man should come after me, he should deny himself, take up his cross daily, and follow Me” (Luke 9:23). Day after day, King denied himself for the work the Lord told him to do, and millions upon millions of people reap the benefits even to this day, including me.
Celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Celebrate his life, celebrate his accomplishments, celebrate his work. All of those things are worthy of praise and admiration. But if we celebrate the things he did while ignoring the God he was serving in doing them, we will have missed the point King himself would have wanted us to get, above all others.