Fifty years ago today, Martin Luther King, Jr. stood on the steps of the Lincoln Memorial and gave one of the most stirring speeches of all time. His “I have a dream” speech was a defining moment in the American Civil Rights Movement. It captured the sentiment of a nation stumbling towards racial equality and contributed towards the passing of the Civil Rights Act the following year.
Recently, as I listened again to the words of this great speech, I was struck by how it paints a vivid picture of the kingdom come. It describes the world, not as it is, but as it could be. Martin Luther King’s dream was prophetic. To borrow a phrase from Brian Zahnd, it was out of sync with the present age but in sync with the age to come. It was music from a distant land, a photo from a faraway place.
When justice rolls down
Racism may not be an issue that touches you, but if we are to be a prophetic people then we will dream like Reverend King. We will herald “the bright day of justice” when…
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.
By “justice” I don’t mean legal justice, where crooks get punished. I’m referring to the greater justice of the Kingdom that sets things right and restores that which has been lost. Legal justice turns bad guys into convicts but Kingdom justice turns them into new men. The justice Jesus revealed turns sinners into saints, enemies into friends, and haters into lovers.
Those who have been raised under law tend to say, “God, give me mercy, not justice.” But those who have seen the finished work of the cross don’t hesitate to cry out for justice for they know that only the justice of heaven can end the injustices of this world.
And this is a world riddled with injustice.
For Martin Luther King the number one injustice was racial inequality. But what about you? What is the injustice that bothers you? It might be child abuse, spousal abuse, or elder abuse. It could be sickness, disease, or poverty. It could be the situation in Syria or southern Sudan. It might be the stubbornness of malaria or the petty prejudices of the powerful. Is there something that breaks your heart?
Have you got something in mind?
Now picture a world where that injustice no longer exists. Can you see it? The gospel declares this world is more than a dream; it is the kingdom of God among you. It’s the world that exists wherever the name of Jesus is exalted.
Some of the greatest triumphs in history came about because godly men and women were inspired by a dream of the kingdom come. They understood that the gospel is not about getting you into heaven, it’s about bringing heaven down to earth. I’m talking about those who opposed violence with peace and spoke out while others said nothing.
Jesus is our best example. He walked the earth at a time of great injustice and released heaven’s justice wherever he went. He healed the sick and liberated the oppressed. He hung out with sinners and stinkin’ Samaritans. He honored women and children and touched unclean lepers. He did this to show us his heart is for the marginalized and the outcast. And he did it to give us a glimpse of heaven.
Getting what Jesus paid for
In his speech, Martin Luther King said, “We have come to our nation’s capital to cash a check.” He was referring to the US Constitution, a promissory note “to which every American was to fall heir.” Similarly, we who believe in the gospel are here to cash a check written in the precious blood of Jesus. A check written for everyone and anyone.
We just want Jesus to get what he paid for.
How do we do that?
It starts with a dream. So why not honor the occasion by dreaming and dreaming big? Some of you haven’t dreamed in years. It’s time to turn your dreamer back on. Don’t listen to cynicism which says, “This is the way it is and always has been.” Instead, listen to Jesus who says, “Behold! I am making all things new.”
Jesus is revealed through those who look at injustice and say, with the passion of an Isaiah or Jeremiah, “You have no future!” And he is seen in those whose desire is to hear the oppressed shout, “We are free at last!”
What is your dream?
What is the injustice you hope will disappear within the next fifty years? I’m not asking you to sign a petition or join a march. I’m not even expecting a speech. But starting with these immortal words – “I have a dream…” – tell us in a few sentences your vision of the kingdom come.
I’ll go first:
I have a dream that one day the trafficking of people will come to an end. I have a dream that one day all the little girls who have been taken from their daddies will find their way home and be made whole. I have a dream that one day no child be abandoned or raised without love. I have a dream that one day all the big people of this world will see children the same way our heavenly Father does – as infinitely precious and dearly loved.
What is your dream?