Want to stretch your imagination? Try to picture marketing in 1st century Israel as we know it today.
Who would be pictured on the billboards? I’ll bet they would be well dressed and good-looking (i.e., have all their teeth!). They would be inviting, and they would represent a company with a well-designed brand. You would be attracted to them… you would want to know more.
Now imagine this: the Creator of the Universe is about to launch the most important mission in the history of humanity; the earthly ministry of Jesus. And who does God pick as the franchise face of this important movement?
A bug-eating hermit named John the Baptist. You know, that guy who scores low on social skills and fashion sense!
“John’s clothes were woven from coarse camel hair, and he wore a leather belt around his waist. For food he ate locusts and wild honey.” (Matt 3:4 NLT)
I have to ask, why did God go ugly in the marketing department? I can think of two reasons…
In short, the emphasis is all about the message, not the messenger.
At the end of the day, a successful marketing campaign has people talking about the message. We don’t see a lot of buzz about John himself… the buzz is in the message.
And if John’s clothes and food were simple, his message was even more simple:
His message was, “Repent of your sins and turn to God, for the Kingdom of Heaven is near.” (Matt 3:1–2 NLT)
I can just see the onlookers and scoffers saying, “Really God… that’s all you’ve got?”
But my favorite part is imagining God’s response: “No really… that’s all it takes. Turn away from your those things that are putting distance between us… turn back to me… I’m about to do something amazing!”
Even today, John’s clothes and diet are but a footnote in history. We’re still talking about his message. Well played, God’s marketing department!
And perhaps there’s another reason for this approach:
I doubt anyone would call John the Baptist beautiful. He’s odd… he’s loud… heck, he’s even rude sometimes:
But when he saw many Pharisees and Sadducees coming to watch him baptize, he denounced them. “You brood of snakes!” he exclaimed. “Who warned you to flee God’s coming wrath?” (Matt 3:7 NLT)
But with both John and the good news that is coming, the beauty is not in the front of the message, it’s on the other side of the message.
The front of the message shines light into darkness. It exposes just how far we humans have wandered from the God who loves us. No one likes to hear that they are a sinner, much less a brood of snakes. But the fact is, it’s true. It’s not pretty… but it is true.
Why would God lead off with ugliness in a message of good news? Well, it’s not God who’s getting ugly… it’s us who have already gone ugly. God’s light is just exposing that ugliness. And why would a loving God expose that ugliness?
Because it’s the first (and necessary) step to true beauty. I’m not talking about the surface beauty of this world, I’m talking about the deep beauty of a life lived in the full light of God’s grace. A life where there’s nothing to hide, where ugliness fades back into the shadows and true beauty emerges.
It’s life on the other side of repentance… it’s beauty on the other side of the message.
It’s like John and his message… ugly early… beautiful in the end.
As we prepare for the coming of the King this Advent season, we should recognize that there’s about to be light shining into our darkness. It will expose things… ugly things perhaps. But no need to fear, that’s the way it works.
Ugly gets an early lead, but beautiful wins the race… IF we follow the advice of a bug-eating hermit from the 1st century.
And that, my friends, is good news!
Why do you think John was chosen to prepare the way? What has been your experience with “light shining into the darkness?” Where have you seen the beauty that follows repentance?