TIME magazine deemed the “protester” the person of the year for 2011. For the last 80 years or so, the magazine has been selecting an individual who impacted the world the most, for good or bad, and in 2011 we certainly witnessed the face of the protester driving totalitarian leaders into corners and saw how protests consistently supplied the force for global change. Oppressive regimes were challenged across the world from Tunisia to Syria and in our own backyard, Occupy Wall Street captured the nation’s attention. It was the year when the voice of the people trumped the voice of a select few time and time again.
Today in the United States, we remember Martin Luther King, perhaps the most famous protester of the 20th century, and a man whose face and words represented the masses. His I Have a Dream Speech during the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom in 1963 is one of the most rousing orations ever given. Watch it here. Towards the end, he began speaking about the dream that he had for America, one in which justice prevailed and all men, women and children were treated equally. Though MLK witnessed much tragedy during his life, this dream of his was not primarily a reaction to the unspeakable horrors committed against black people. Instead, it was grounded in the belief that all people throughout all times and in all places are created in God’s own image and are born with equal value. For me, the most rousing part of the speech occurs when MLK gets personal. He goes off of his pre-scripted speech and begins talking about a dream he has for the nation and with a deep vibrating voice says “I have a dream that my four little children will one day live in a nation where they will not be judged by the color of their skin but by the content of their character.” It’s a dream that many shared and still share today. And what MLK is getting at here is that a person’s worth should not be determined by what’s on the surface, or appearance, but rather by what’s on the inside.
When you watch King deliver the speech and listen to the 200,000 plus supporters passionately chiming in, you can’t help but feel the rise against injustice in your veins. You begin to feel what he means by “we won’t be satisfied until justice rolls down like water and righteousness like a mighty stream.” There is a desire for justice in all of us because God is just and we are made in His image. And before God, the gospel declares that all men stand in the same place – guilty. All have been judged by the content of their character and we are found guilty, guilty, guilty.
The American Civil Rights Movement of the 50s and 60s that sought to break down the racial inequalities that existed is only a microcosm of the wall of hostility between mankind and God. Paul, speaking in Ephesians about the racial tensions between Jews and Gentiles plainly stated that before God, race didn’t matter. What mattered was the hostility that existed between God and Paul’s listeners, because of their rebellion against their Creator, the only one who was worthy of their worship and devotion. And Paul’s remedy for both Jews and Gentiles is revealed in Ephesians 2:13-16 – But now you have been united with Christ Jesus. Once you were far away from God, but now you have been brought near to him through the blood of Christ. For Christ himself has brought peace to us. He united Jews and Gentiles into one people when, in his own body on the cross, he broke down the wall of hostility that separated us…together as one body, Christ reconciled both groups to God by means of his death on the cross, and our hostility toward each other was put to death.
Jesus secured the freedom from punishment that all deserve, by dying on a cross to satisfy the wrath of God and three days later rising from the dead. And not only that, all who are united to Christ in his death and resurrection become brothers and sisters in Christ here and now, breaking down all racial, economic, and social divisions and bringing us together in a common brotherhood. The brotherhood that MLK sought was earthly, but the one Jesus has secured is eternal. In heaven we won’t see any “For Whites Only” signs. It is a place for the redeemed; those who threw all their hope upon Jesus and received the free gift of eternal life purchased by him at the cross. The gospel tells us that at the cross God judged the content of our character and we all fall short…way short. But through faith in Christ we can declare, in an eternal sense, “free at last, free at last, thank God almighty we are free at last!”