By Stuart Powell
One written work that demonstrates the gospel’s influence on the life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. is his “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” In it, King answered a group of clergymen who criticized his involvement in the civil rights movement as actions of extremism. King responded to their charge by writing, “Though I was initially disappointed at being categorized as an extremist, as I continued to think about the matter I gradually gained a measure of satisfaction from the label. Was not Jesus an extremist for love?”
To support the idea of Jesus’ extremism, King cited Matthew 5:44-45:
But I tell you, love your enemies and pray for those who persecute you, that you may be children of your Father in heaven. He causes his sun to rise on the evil and the good, and sends rain on the righteous and the unrighteous.
King concluded his response to his critics with an illustration from Jesus’ crucifixion:
In that dramatic scene on Calvary’s hill three men were crucified. We must never forget that all three were crucified for the same crime—the crime of extremism. Two were extremists for immorality, and thus fell below their environment. The other, Jesus Christ, was an extremist for love, truth and goodness, and thereby rose above his environment. Perhaps the South, the nation and the world are in dire need of creative extremists.
Jesus was indeed an extremist. Everything he did was a demonstration of his divinity and God’s over-the-top, unstoppable love for every person throughout history.
Jesus went to the extreme of setting aside his eternal throne to live in the flesh alongside fallen people of the world. Jesus exposed himself to the extreme ugliness of human sinfulness so he could demonstrate the extreme mercy and grace of our Creator.
In his greatest act of extremism, Jesus took upon himself the guilt and divine judgment due to all of us. He purchased our pardon through his sacrifice.
Jesus never surrendered to sin’s temptation. His body was undefiled by the shame of rebellion. His innocent blood paid for our penalties in God’s court.
During this time of reflection, let us eat and drink together to remember and honor Jesus Christ, the extremist for love.
Stuart Powell lives outside of Terre Haute, Indiana, where he serves with the North Side Christian Church.