By Stuart Powell
On May 17, 1956, Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. joined other civil rights leaders at the Cathedral of St. John the Divine in New York City. That day, he delivered a sermon entitled “The Death of Evil upon the Seashore.” The event commemorated the second anniversary of the U.S. Supreme Court’s landmark decision in Brown v. Board of Education. King saw in minority groups’ struggles for social equality in America a parallel with Israel’s bondage in Egypt. Just as God released Israel, King envisioned God’s goodness would deliver the United States from the evil of segregation. Midway through his sermon, King spoke of Jesus’ death on the cross to highlight a contrast.
Good Friday may occupy the throne for a day, but ultimately it must give way to the triumphant beat of the drums of Easter. . . . Evil may so shape events that Caesar will occupy a palace and Christ a cross, but one day that same Christ will rise up and split history into AD and BC, so that even the life of Caesar must be dated by his name.
When Jesus’ body was pierced, evil appeared to win the victory. In reality, Jesus’ death and resurrection secured God’s supreme victory over evil.
John introduced his marvelous vision with words of praise for Jesus’ sacrificial victory. These words provided the foundations for King’s eloquent contrast:
To him who loves us and has freed us from our sins by his blood, and has made us to be a kingdom and priests to serve his God and Father—to him be glory and power for ever and ever! Amen.
“Look, he is coming with the clouds,” and “every eye will see him, even those who pierced him”; and all peoples on earth “will mourn because of him.”
So shall it be! Amen (Revelation 1:5-7).
John made it clear that, in Jesus’ sacrifice on the cross, God unleashed the ultimate weapon leading to the death of evil.
Even today, God continues to demonstrate the eternal good of the cross. The body and blood of Jesus paid the penalty for all evil acts throughout human history. That body and blood hold the power to unite every believer, regardless of differences, into one kingdom as God’s holy priests. As we partake of the loaf and cup, let’s set aside the differences created by this sinful world. Let’s unite with thanksgiving around the One whose death sets every believer free: Jesus—the crucified Christ and victor over evil.
Stuart Powell lives outside of Terre Haute, Indiana, where he serves with the North Side Christian Church.
*Learn more about King’s sermon at https://kinginstitute.stanford.edu.