If It Bleeds, It Leads
Please turn in the Pew Bibles to the gospel of Mark, chapter 16, and follow along as I read v6. “But he said to them, "Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him.” Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Why do we mostly see bad news on TV? I have heard that question a hundred times. Turn on your local news. The lead story might be about the sex scandal involving the Duke University Lacrosse team, even though no one has actually been found guilty of a crime yet. Then there will be a story about a really gory accident, and another story about multiple murders. There might be several stories about crime and violence.
Crime is in decline in the United States, but crime reporting is increasing. If you get your ideas about America from the TV news, you see a society in chaos, but if you go out and actually see for yourself what is going on, you get a different picture.
A career military man told me this story. When he was in service, he read about how bad high school students are, and about how high schools are swamps of drugs and violence. After he retired from the military, he got a job teaching in a high school. He said, the first day he went to his new job with fear and trepidation, and this is a career soldier, remember. But after a few weeks as a teacher, he was astounded to realize that most high school students are good kids. Sure, there are a few bad apples. You see the bad apples on TV. You don’t see the other 95% who are not causing trouble.
So why is this? Why do we see so much bad news? It called ratings, or numbers of viewers. Every program on TV, including news programs, lives or dies by ratings. If you don’t have viewers, companies don’t buy your commercial time, and you are out of business. And ratings of a news program derive from blood and scandal. Mediascope is a non-profit media research and policy organization. Mediascope says, "Market research suggests that stories of crime and violence increase newscasts' ratings." http://www.pbs.org/wnet/insidelocalnews/behind_leads.html
Everyone in the news media already knows this. The old journalistic adage is: “If it bleeds, it leads,” meaning if you want to increase ratings, or sell newspapers, you put your most violent, bloody, and controversial story upfront.
“If it bleeds, it leads,” because that is what sells. Now this says something about human beings. It appears that a lot of people want to hear about other people’s problems, and the worse the problem the better.
But thank God not all of us are that way. Some of us have stopped watching TV news simply because it is so depressing. I watch the news occasionally, and I am usually disappointed when I do--because I want to hear good news not bad news. And I am not the only one. I hear that same view from many people.
We want good news. A website has been developed to answer our plea. It is called HappyNews.com. It is devoted to upbeat information. Death, disaster, and destruction don’t appear on this news service. HappyNews says, if you want that kind of thing tune in to your regular broadcast networks. Instead of reporting on the destruction in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina, HappyNews reports on a brand-new weather model that predicts hurricanes. Instead of talking about the AIDS crisis in Africa, HappyNews talks about an AIDS vaccine that exceeds expectations. Instead running around in panic about the possibility of a bird flu pandemic, HappyNews talks about the steps that are being taken to prevent bird flu. This website is not “Fair and Balanced,” as FOX News claims to be. Instead, HappyNews claims to tell “Real News. Compelling Stories. Always Positive.” For example, I noticed that their lead story on Thursday of this week was about Queen Elizabeth II celebrating her eightieth birthday.
Well, I don’t know about you, but I could do with some positive news, some good news. But the best news you will not find on HappyNews.com; however, you will find it in the Bible.
When Mary Magdalene, Mary the mother of James, and Salome went to the tomb on Easter morning, they were not expecting to be uplifted. They were bringing spices to anoint the cold, dead body of Jesus. It was a dismal and depressing task. As they walked in the early-morning light, they worried about how they would move the heavy stone away from the entrance to the tomb (Mark 16:1-3). They were surprised to see the stone already rolled away.
They entered the tomb and saw a young man, dressed in white, sitting on the right side. Who was this guy? A guard? A gardener? A grave robber? Walking in and unexpectedly seeing this man was a shock. They were afraid.
But the mystery man, reassures them, saying “Do not be alarmed; you are looking for Jesus of Nazareth, who was crucified. He has been raised; he is not here. Look, there is the place they laid him” (v6).
When we talk about news, there is good news, and there is The Good News. This is The Good News. The man says, you know Jesus, you know he was crucified, he is risen. He is not in this tomb anymore. Look around. This is the place where they laid his body--you have come to the right place--but he is not here.
Now we usually assume that this mystery man is an angel, though if you want to be literal, it does not say that. But in any case, having told them The Good News, the man/angel has some instructions. V7: “Go, tell his disciples and Peter that he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." The disciples do not yet know The Good News, so the women are instructed to tell them.
People all over the world hear bad news all the time. All that they have to do is turn on their TV or radio, or read a newspaper. Maybe its time we told them good news. The specific good news that the women were supposed to tell the disciples was: “he is going ahead of you to Galilee; there you will see him, just as he told you." Jesus is going ahead of them, always ahead of them, and he is waiting for them in the future. That is a second piece of truly upbeat information.
The future is a scary place, because of its uncertainty. We do not know what is going to happen out there. We know that death awaits in the future, and there may be other scary things: loss of jobs, loss of possessions, loss of friends and loved ones. ButThe Good News says to us that Jesus will transform all of that. Jesus is there in the future toward which we are moving.
All of the bad TV news makes the future seem even more dark and scary. An asteroid is going to hit us; killer bees are going to sting us; bird flu is going to mutate and kill us. The Good News is that Jesus is Omega, the end of all things. The future converges on Omega, on Jesus. Thus, Christians must always be optimists. Everything is going to work out, because everything is going to end in Jesus.
The future of the world is the New Jerusalem, and we are told in the book of Revelation that New Jerusalem shall need no artificial light because God is its light and the lamb of God is its lamp (REV21:23). In that restored universe, God’s people shall be so unified with Christ that we will have no need for things that are considered necessary in the present order of things.
All that being true then, we should be grateful that the Bible reports The Good News of the resurrection to us. You won’t find this story in any of the other records of that day. Neither the Jewish authorities nor the Roman procurator give any account of Jesus rising from the dead. As far as the official writings of the time are concerned, nothing newsworthy occurred on that first Easter morning. It was a day like any other day. Businessmen bribed politicians, poor people were ignored, and the iron fist of the Pax Romana controlled everything. For the average resident of Jerusalem, the day of resurrection was the typical grind. They ate a quick breakfast, if they were lucky, and went off to work. It was not a big news day for anyone outside the small circle of disciples.
Now I know that we celebrated Easter last Sabbath, but in the church every Sabbath, every Sunday, is little Easter. We worship God on Sunday, our Sabbath is on Sunday, because Jesus was resurrected on Sunday. Every Sunday is Resurrection Day. Every Sunday, we remember The Good News.
There is plenty of bad news around--death and disaster, injury and illness, corruption and conflict. But the resurrection overpowers all bad news. When Jesus is raised, he puts death to death. When Jesus leaves the empty tomb, all expectations are shattered. He races ahead of us into the future that he is planning for us, and he invites us to follow him.
That is the gospel, that is The Good News. And we are not only called to celebrate The Good News, we are called to be The Good News. The women were told, Christ is risen, and then they received their marching orders. We are told, Christ is risen, and we have some marching orders. Through Christ we have received mercy; we should give mercy. We have been forgiven; we should forgive. We are loved, we should love.
Sometimes today our situation is not happy. We may be grieving for a loved one, we may be experiencing physical pain, we may feel hopeless, we may feel desperate. If our situation is bad, it is all the more true that we need to trust the risen Lord. The Christ who was crucified knows our deepest personal anguish. The Christ who goes ahead of us knows that the future is full of promise and possibility for us.
During the Second World War, an eighteen-year-old German named Jürgen Moltmann was drafted to serve in Hitler’s army. Assigned to an anti-aircraft battery, he saw fellow soldiers incinerated in firebombings. After surrendering to the British, he spent three years in prison camps.
Moltmann had not grown up as a Christian, but an American chaplain gave him an Army-issue New Testament and book of Psalms, signed by President Roosevelt. He read the Psalms and found something he desperately needed: hope. He became convinced that God was present with him, “even behind the barbed wire.” After being transferred to a camp in England run by the YMCA, Moltmann learned Christian beliefs, and experienced the love and the acceptance of the local population. He says, they “treated me better than the German army.” Jürgen Moltmann found new life in Christianity after seeing only death in the Second World War.
The risen Christ was moving ahead of Moltmann, leading him into an unexpected future. After the war, Moltmann became a Christian theologian and focused on the ideas that God is present with us in our suffering, and that God is leading us to a better future. Both ideas come out of the story of Jesus, and both ideas come out of Moltmann’s personal story.
[Yancey, Philip. “God behind barbed wire.” Christianity Today, September 2005, 120. found at http://www.christianitytoday.com/ct/2005/009/20.120.html]
A person without faith looks at the world and sees all the bad news, and says God is not good. A person with faith looks at the world and sees all the bad news, and says God is good and God is not happy with the way the world is, and God is going to make the world a better place.
That is why God sent Jesus to us. In the crucifixion, Jesus suffers with us, in the resurrection, Jesus overcomes all suffering and death. This is Easter news. This news triumphs over all the bad news that dominates our newspapers. Christ is risen! Christ is ahead of us! Christ will lead us forward! Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
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Last modified 09/02/06