Unless you are a die-hard Seahawks fan or someone who nerds out on defensive packages, that Super Bowl was BORING. The average unbiased observer wants to see momentum swings, miraculous come-backs and game-winning drives. This one felt over from the first snap (literally). So if you’re like me, Sunday night was more about eating way too much unhealthy food with friends, switching over to the Puppy Bowl and of course…the commercials.
Many pastors and theologians have made the case that every commercial is preaching a message offering some version of heaven and then claiming that buying their product is the key to entrance. If your heaven is an island paradise, fly this airline and stay at this hotel. If it is a perfect body, take these diet pills or buy this exercise equipment. If it is a sexy partner, use this body spray or chew this gum. If it is escape into an adventure rife with glory and danger, see this movie or buy this video game. To use an example from this weekend, if it is a progressive, empowered and united society that gives hope to the hopeless and voice to the voiceless…the key is technology. Just make sure you buy Microsoft. Or maybe become a scientologist. That might work too.
However, simply making the assertion that “advertisers are liars, Jesus is better” is tired. It’s lazy cultural engagement. First of all, we live a capitalist society and people need to sell products. Advertising itself is not a sin. And if every commercial is as formulaic as some say, what do we say about a Doritos commercial with an ostrich or a time machine that is simply hilarious? Yes, Doritos are “For the bold,” but it’s quite a stretch to say they are making any eschatological promises in order to sell chips. It’s just a funny commercial that works on middle school boys and a certain demographic of adult men that probably watch a lot of football (as a NorCal boy who prefers strong, local IPA’s, I’m assuming these are the same men that Bud Light commercials are made for). Measured by a standard of effectiveness, I found the 2014 Super Bowl commercials to be surprisingly well-done: they engaged our humor, our anxieties, our pride, even our most basic hopes and fears. Even the downright absurd commercials managed to engage our deep cynicism that no product or service can solve all of our problems (hello, Ford Fusion and Wonderful Pistachios). Most went for warm-fuzzies instead of raunch, which is a step in the right direction I suppose (hello, GoDaddy.com and Axe).
Last week’s message at iNVERSION, The Truer & Greater Messenger, focused on messengers and messages. We were finishing Hebrews 1, where the author grounds his “Seven Flashing Facets” of Jesus’ divine identity with “Seven Jesus-Looking Lenses,” Old-Testament Scriptures that establish Jesus’ superiority to angelic beings. Angels are the messengers of God who mediated the Mosaic Law on Mount Sinai. They are glorious, terrifying beings. To reject their message by disobeying the law was to invite curses on oneself, as all Israel and its prophets, priests and kings all did without exception. To receive their message by obeying the law was to invite blessing. The curse for disobedience was judgment and death. Blessing, on the other hand, was summed up best in the foundational promise that appears in all of God’s covenants: that He would be our God and we would be His people. Fellowship with the covenant Lord is the height of blessing, encapsulating all that the heart longs for.
What does this have to do with Super Bowl commercials? A lot, actually. Every time you hear “After these messages,” realize that you are about to be bombarded with a slew of placebos for the kind of covenantal blessing that our hearts yearn for. As we learned a couple of weeks ago in the conclusion of 1st John, our hearts, these thrones of passion that pound in our chest, are not vacuums, but they certainly suck in like vacuums any temporary fulfillment to fill their existential voids. Commercials are mediators (media), just like angels, delivering messages to fill these chasms. They mediate laws that conflict and confuse, ordering us simultaneously to accept ourselves and to be more like this celebrity. They explicitly and implicitly imply blessings for obedience and curses for disobedience. But they’re not the problem. Our vacuous hearts are the problem. They are desperately sick (Jeremiah 17:9). What would you call a person who treats their asthma with wind-sprints or their depression with hours of daytime television?
These messages are not the problem. Neither is God’s law, which is holy, righteous and good (Romans 7:12). But it isn’t enough to save us. It can never bring us the covenantal blessing of fellowship with our Lord because of our sin that separates us. Sin transgresses God’s perfect law; indeed, sin is lawlessness (1 John 3:4). And our hearts are so sick that even external obedience leads to pride…which God doesn’t exactly look upon favorably (James 4:6). If the messages of the world and the message of God’s law ultimately end in the same result: condemnation, what hope is there for sinners who can never measure up (2 Corinthians 3:9)? For us who will never be skinny enough, smart enough, beautiful enough, successful enough or obedient enough to enjoy the blessings of peace, joy, security and intimacy? Even the absurdity and hilarity of the most trite commercials cannot numb the dull ache of eternity in our hearts.
There is an answer. “Jesus is The Truer & Greater Messenger because He is the great Message!” Jesus is the key to the covenantal blessing that our hearts long for. We are unrighteous; blessing required righteousness under the law. “But now the righteousness of God has been manifested apart from the law, although the Law and the Prophets (the Old Covenant mediated by angels) bear witness to it—the righteousness of God through faith in Jesus Christ for all who believe” (Romans 3:21). Jesus, the Righteous One, took the curse for our disobedience on the cross so that we might enjoy the covenant blessings earned by His obedience: the very fellowship He had with His Father. He is the True Mediator, the obedient Israel, the Son of God, the final Prophet, Priest and King. Remember, the foundational promise of blessing is that God would be with us. Jesus is Immanuel, God with us (Isaiah 7:14). Yes, angels are glorious. But all glory belongs to Jesus Christ (John 1:14; Revelation 4:11).
All the promises of God, to which the promises that commercials make pale in comparison, find their “Yes!” in Him (2 Corinthians 1:20). In him we are children of His Father, the King, with the privileges of the first-born as co-heirs with Christ of all of creation. We were dead, now by His Holy Spirit we are alive. “For in Him we live and move and have our being” (Acts 17:28). Are you starting to glimpse the awesomeness of this fellowship, this pinnacle of covenantal blessing? This is the Gospel, and we can’t stop looking deeper into it. It is a message that a child can wade in but with unfathomable depths. We are not alone in longing to gaze into this wonderful Good News:
“It was revealed to [the prophets] that they were serving not themselves but you, in the things that have now been announced to you through those who preached the Good News to you by the Holy Spirit sent from heaven, things into which angels long to look” (1 Peter 1:12).
Did you catch that? Angels long to look into the Gospel. Angels! The author of Hebrews must have been absolutely losing their mind that his/her Christian audience was slipping back into observance of the law’s shadowy rituals while the angels who delivered the law(!) clambered over one another to try and get a peek into the Gospel realities that freed them from the curse of the law! We, however, can and must gaze into the Gospel deeps. Fittingly, the message at iNVERSION next week is called “Gospel Gazing.” The text, Hebrews 2:1-4, opens like this: “Therefore we must pay much closer attention to what we have heard, lest we drift away from it,” just like the Israelites drifted away from the message of the law. We 21st century Americans will never be made new by ordering a product, logging on to a website or dialing the number on the bottom of the screen. Only the gospel gives life and makes us new, that is why neglecting it is suicide. Neglecting the gospel is neglecting Him: the Way, the Truth and the Life. We therefore hope that you will gaze at Him with us this Sunday, our King who achieved a much greater and much less boring victory than the Seahawks did last Sunday.