A couple weeks ago I had the opportunity to go on BSM's Mission Atlanta. I had not been planning on going, and had never been involved in the High School Ministry, but the opportunity to be a leader on the trip presented itself last minute and I said, “Okay Lord, if this is of you, let it all work out.” Next thing I knew I was sitting on a charter bus with 50 people I didn’t know going to a place I had never been.
One of our last stops in Atlanta was to a place called the Martin Luther King Jr. Center for Nonviolent Social Change, otherwise known as the King Center.
The first thing we did at the Center was watch a 20 minute film about Dr. King and the civil rights movement he lead. During the film, countless men and women spoke about Dr. King and his life and beliefs with the utmost honor and admiration. This man moved people and a country by standing for what he believed in. As the film came to a close, a gospel hymn came on saying something to the effect of “we shall be free”. Tears filled my eyes.
After we finished the main exhibit, we were able to see the house he was born and raised in, and the fire station down the street that he used to play in. It felt surreal. While at the fire station, a group of us met one of the the employees; a bright and warm woman named Sunshine who graciously walked us around and give us a personal tour of the fire station. It felt as if we were in a sacred place – not in a sacrilegious way, but the honor and reverence that exuded the walls, sidewalks and people was palpable. At the grave site, even noisy tourists and anxious teenagers seemed to calm down and take in the reality of this man’s life and legacy.
His quotes were on walls, posters, and sidewalks. This man left a mark, and it was big enough for the whole world to see.
The last place we visited on the tour was Ebenezer Baptist Church, the church where he, his father, and his grandfather all pastored at one point. The seeds of love that changed the world were planted and watered here. It was amazing to sit and imagine young Martin sitting in the pews listening to his father preach the word of God. I like to think this is where he first understood the gospel and the forgiveness Jesus offers all people.
On the wall of the exit of the church was the quote:
“It seemed I could hear an inner voice saying, 'Martin Luther King, stand up for righteousness. Stand up for justice. Stand up for truth. And lo, I will be with you, even until the end of the world.'"
After leaving the King Center I was so inspired and stirred. It was incredible how one man inspired so much hope and change. Why was he different?
I believe it is because he understood the love God has for every person, black or white.
What many people don't know about Martin Luther King is that he engaged in extramarital affairs. And as we were on the bus ride back to our hotel, several of us were talking about King and his life, and the topic of his affairs came up.
In my flesh I would have been disappointed or frustrated that people treated this man with such respect despite the horrible moral failures he had. How could people idolize this man when he so greatly failed?
But in an instant, it was almost as if a lightbulb went on. In that moment, the Lord kindly leaned in and whispered, “I use imperfect people to do incredible things.” The reality of the Gospel hit me again. Our God is a redeemer. He loved us enough to take our nasty sin and give his Son to redeem us into relationship with Him again.
That type of forgiveness is not of this world. That type of forgiveness changed the world forever.
At the last supper, Jesus was washing the disciple’s feet. This act not only symbolized him serving them, but also cleansing them of their sins. If we look throughout the gospels, how many times did the disciples not believe Jesus or doubt who He was? Countless. What did Jesus do in response? He forgave, or “washed their feet”. He said, “A new commandment I give to you, that you love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another. By this ALL people will know that you are my disciples, if you have love for one another.”
My observation is that this type of love that Jesus loved the disciples with, cannot be separated from radical forgiveness.
Why are people so moved by Jesus?
The woman caught in adultery for example. Jesus looked at her in her sin and said, “your sins are forgiven” Did she deserve or earn that forgiveness? No. According to the law she deserved to die, but complete forgiveness was freely extended to her.
Humans love to keep score. We want people to earn our forgiveness or come to us first and tell us that they were wrong. But the reality is that Jesus didn’t do that. He forgave the disciples even before they realized that they had sinned against him.
God’s Love keeps no records of wrong.
Now, I know it's more complicated than it sounds to forgive someone who has hurt you so deeply. I do not take the pain lightly or say this flippantly. I just can’t help but think of how many times I have hurt Jesus, deeply wounding his heart by what I have said or done. He is one who forgave Judas even before he betrayed him. I know you are thinking, “no he didn’t” YES, he did. Jesus washed Judas’ feet along with every other disciple knowing EXACTLY what Judas’ would do. THAT love changes the world and breaks down walls and sets people free.
How can we love people like Jesus if we don’t forgive them?
How can we expect to see change in the racial tension if we can’t even forgive our own family member or a coworker? But more importantly, how can we expect to forgive others if we haven’t truly accepted the forgiveness that Jesus, the Son of God, is freely extending to us every second of every day. When we truly understand how much we are loved and forgiven, how can we not forgive others the same?
Let’s be a generation, that forgives radically. Let’s be a generation that changes the world. Let’s be a generation that sees all ethnicities walk in freedom from bitterness and unforgiveness. Let’s be a people that the world looks at and see’s the radical love of the Father by the way we forgive each other. Let’s obey and love like Jesus, and in doing that, forgive the unforgivable.
This is my dream and I believe it was Martin Luther King’s as well.