The Power of Advertising.
Mark 1:9-15. Bures 18.2.2018.
About 50 years ago this advertisement appeared in a local newspaper:
“For sale by owner: complete set of Encyclopaedia Britannica, 45 volumes, excellent condition. £700. No longer needed. Recently married. Wife knows everything.
Advertising. About a year ago a letter dropped on to our mat at home. It was an advertisement from the Honda Car Company recommending the new Honda Jazz. I was just about to tear it up when I thought, “My current Honda is over 9 years old. A few things have been going wrong with it recently. Maybe I should look at this new version.”In the advert there were lots of words I didn’t understand. But there was one thing that caught my eye. It had sensors all around the outside of the car. And a reversing camera screen on the dashboard. Now that my neck is getting a bit stiff, this was music to my ears. This car would tell me whenever I was too near anything. I didn’t have to keep turning my head.
The advertising worked. I went ahead and bought it. I must admit that it did help that it was 20% off the list price and the annual car tax was only £30.
The car is very high-tec. I have absolutely no idea how to operate the radio – but it does beep when anything comes near. That’s the important thing for me!
If you want to advertise anything how would you go about it? Well, the internet gives good advice.
Here are 3 suggestions:
Firstly, get someone who is trusted to recommend your product. Sue has recently bought a fitness video. On the front Darcy Bussell is recommending it. What a great choice. She is the girl next door. Someone you can trust.
Secondly, use simple language. Years ago Esso brought out the slogan, “Put a tiger in your tank”. Give yourself the power of a tiger by pouring Esso petrol into your tank. Wonderfully expressive. Wonderful simple language.
Thirdly. Use a clear message. How do you get people to eat instant mashed potato? Have a bunch of Martians laugh at us Earthlings for wasting time mashing our own spuds. “For mash get Smash!” A message that many of us remember decades later.
To put it very crudely, God used similar methods when he introduced Jesus’ ministry.
So, Jesus’ ministry. How did God advertise it? John the Baptist. He was trusted. He was honest. “You brood of vipers!” he called the religious leaders to their faces. His honesty cost him his life when he accused King Herod of stealing his brother’s wife. John the Baptist was searingly honest. Everybody trusted him. He told the crowds that there was someone very special coming; so special that he was not worthy to untie his shoe laces. Because of his character they had no problem believing him.
Secondly, use simple language. John spoke very simply: Repent, clean your lives up. Come and be washed. Get ready for the amazing man who is coming. Simple words that all his listeners could understand.
While John was baptising Jesus, words came from Heaven. They were simple too. “You are my Son, the beloved. With you I am well pleased.” They are simple words to us but for the crowds who listened they had a deeper meaning.
Remember that they knew the Old Testament off by heart. They recognised these words as quotes from 2 Old Testament passages. “You are my Son” comes from Psalm 2. It describes a great king. “Here is my SERVANT, in whom I am well pleased” comes from Isaiah 42. Put these two together and we see that this great king will also be a SERVANT.
The Jews of the 1st Century were desperate for a great king; but a SERVANT king, maybe not! But that is how he was advertised
Thinking of simple language, we are looking at Mark’s Gospel this morning. It was written beautifully simply. It’s an amazing book. It was the first gospel to be written. So you could say that Mark was the inventor of the gospel format. There were no gospels before he wrote his. Peter was almost certainly a major contributor to the gospel. It has an amazing pace to it. The word “immediately” comes 41 times in the first 2 chapters alone. Short stories with very little flesh on the bones. It was probably written for the Romans who loved drama and excitement. He certainly gave it to them with his simple direct style.
Jesus was baptised by John and the words came from Heaven. What happened next? Something amazing. The Holy Spirit drove Jesus out into the wilderness where he was tempted by the devil. Why?
William Barclay, the Bible commentator describes it like this. “Temptations are not sent to us to make us fall; they are sent to strengthen the nerve and sinew of our minds, hearts and souls. They are not meant for our ruin but for our good. They are meant to be tests from which we emerge better warriors and athletes of God.
“Suppose a young boy is a football player. Suppose he is doing well in the second team and showing real signs of promise; what will the team coach do? He’ll certainly not send him out to play for the third team in which he could walk through the game and never break sweat. He will send him out to play for the first team where he will be tested as he never was before. He will have a chance to prove himself. That is what temptation is meant to do – to enable us to prove ourselves and emerge stronger for the fight.”
Back to the 1st Century – Jesus is led to the desert for 40 days for a spiritual “boot camp”, to prepare for his future ministry. In Lent we Christians “celebrate”, if that is the right word, those 40 days. It’s not just a time for giving up chocolate. It should be a time when we are refreshing our spiritual lives.
So, first, Jesus is advertised by a trusted person, John the Baptist. Second, simple language is used to recommend him – by John the Baptist and the voice from Heaven.
Thirdly, the clear message. Jesus proclaimed, “Now is the time. Leave your old lives behind. I have good news for you. Listen to me.”
In our Old Testament reading God spoke to Noah after the Flood. “I shall never again flood the whole Earth.” The sign of that promise is a rainbow in the sky. God called it a covenant; or more colloquially we would call it a deal.
In our New Testament reading Jesus is about to offer a new deal too. This new deal is indeed good news. If we follow him, Jesus offers us forgiveness of sins; a new life and his Holy Spirit to fill us and guide us for the rest of our lives – love, joy and peace in our hearts until we die. Quite an offer; quite an advertisement.
How should we react to such an offer? Well, there are 3 ways, which are summed up by 3 people I know.
So, there is my friend, Graham, who I worked with for over 35 years. He flatly refuses to believe there is a God. Stories about Jesus are fairy tales. To use the car analogy, the advertisement came through his door and he immediately tore it up! However when he recently got prostate cancer he didn’t seem to object to my telling him that I was praying for him!
Then there is Jim. When I became a Christian a young 30 year old came up to me, full of the joy of the Lord, and congratulated me. I asked someone who he was. “Oh,” came the answer, “Jim’s the famous actor. Haven’t you seen his films?” I had to admit that I hadn’t heard of him. But I have followed his career since then. Sadly, he now refers to Christianity as “Just part of my journey through life”. In other words, to use the car analogy, he saw the advert, bought the car, drove it for a bit and then parked it in the garage. It’s not about to come out anytime soon.
Lastly, there’s Adrian. He’s about my age and has just retired. He has always been a churchgoer. He told me the other day that he had seen something different in his son about a year ago. His son had always been very ambitious and driven which had put his marriage under strain. Then suddenly he softened, became more relaxed and kinder. Adrian noticed and remarked on the difference. “Oh,” said his son, “I was invited on an Alpha course. There I learned how Jesus died for me and he has given me a new purpose in life.”
Adrian was intrigued. He went on an Alpha Course himself. Then he said, “For years I went to church out of duty. To be honest, it was just a chore to me. But now I have a living faith. I wake up every morning and read the Bible. I love meeting with other Christians and sharing my experiences with them. I also try to tell others about my faith. Many of them don’t want to know but I don’t want them to miss out for so long like I did.” Using the car analogy again, Adrian has seen the advert, bought the car and now is driving it and is loving the experience.
Each one of us here is in one of these 3 categories. In Christian terms, either we have torn up the advert or we have bought the car and garaged it, or we are enjoying the driving experience.
Lent is a good time to ask, “Which of those categories am I in?”