3 Scripture Passages to Consider This Martin Luther King Jr. Day
Some of King’s best-known works reveal his biblical vision of justice, hope, and unity
This Martin Luther King Jr. Day, American Bible Society thanks God for the life and work of Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who dedicated his life to pursuing the Bible’s vision of justice and equality for Black Americans.
While it has been more than half a century since King helped galvanize the civil rights movement, his words—and the Scriptures that inspired them—continue to remind us of God’s heart for every marginalized, oppressed, and suffering person. Martin Luther King Jr. Day gives us a unique opportunity to consider how we can live out Scripture’s values of love, justice, freedom, and unity in our own communities.
Today, we invite you to reflect on three Scripture passages at the heart of some of King’s best-known works.
“I AM COMPELLED TO CARRY THE GOSPEL OF FREEDOM . . .”
In his Letter from a Birmingham Jail, King responded to fellow clergy who questioned his persistent quest for racial equality. While he deeply loved the church, King could not remain silent in the face of injustice. He reminded his Christian brothers of the enormous suffering and discrimination endured by Black Americans. He expressed his deep disappointment in the complacency of many White clergy and church members. He challenged his readers to remember America’s promise of freedom and equality for every person. And, most importantly, he echoed the Bible’s message of true freedom through Jesus Christ.
Like the prophets of the Bible, King felt compelled to “carry the gospel of freedom” with him to Birmingham, and to dozens of other cities across America. His words echo the words of Isaiah and remind us of our own calling to spread the Bible’s message of true justice.
The Sovereign LORD has filled me with his Spirit.
He has chosen me and sent me
To bring good news to the poor,
To heal the broken-hearted,
To announce release to captives
And freedom to those in prison.
He has sent me to proclaim
That the time has come
When the LORD will save his people
And defeat their enemies.
He has sent me to comfort all who mourn,
To give to those who mourn in Zion
Joy and gladness instead of grief,
A song of praise instead of sorrow.
Isaiah 61:1-3a GNT
“I’VE BEEN TO THE MOUNTAINTOP . . .”
King’s final speech was delivered the day before his assassination in 1968. As he spoke to an audience in Memphis, King described just how far their movement for civil rights had come. And, while there was still work to do, he rejoiced in what God was doing in the hearts of people around the world.
At the end of his speech, King referenced a scene in Deuteronomy where God showed Moses the Promised Land. Although Moses would not enter the land himself, he could see God’s promise unfolding before his eyes. Like Moses, King felt that he had caught a glimpse of the Promised Land—a future where racial division, injustice, and suffering would end, and Black Americans would finally be equal. He found hope in the Bible’s vision of justice and unity and trusted God to remain faithful.
While our world is still far from perfect today, we can find the same hope King did in God’s promises to us. In the Bible, we see how God fulfilled his promise to Abraham when, centuries later, the Israelites finally reached the Promised Land. Throughout his Word, God proves that he is a faithful promise keeper, giving us unshakeable hope for the future.
Moses went up from the plains of Moab to Mount Nebo, to the top of Mount Pisgah east of Jericho, and there the LORD showed him the whole land … Then the LORD said to Moses, “This is the land that I promised Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob I would give to their descendants. I have let you see it, but I will not let you go there.”
So Moses, the LORD’s servant, died there in the land of Moab, as the LORD had said he would.
Deuteronomy 34:1a, 4-5 GNT
“THE GLORY OF THE LORD SHALL BE REVEALED . . .”
In one of King’s best-known speeches, he spoke of a dream for an America filled with reconciliation and peace. He quoted a passage from Isaiah, which promises restoration of a weary land. These words gave King the hope and confidence he needed to faithfully work toward the Bible’s vision of unity among all people.
Today, King’s words continue to resonate as we pray for our nation and ask God to stir American hearts with the message of his Word. With King, we look forward to the day when God’s glory is revealed and his promises fulfilled.
“Fill every valley;
level every mountain.
The hills will become a plain,
and the rough country will be made smooth.
Then the glory of the LORD will be revealed,
and all people will see it.
The LORD himself has promised this.”
Isaiah 40:4-5 GNT
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