The funeral service memorializing Michael Jackson on Tuesday at the Staples Center in Los Angeles was very illuminating. According to the Los Angeles Times, over 30 million people watched it on television. Add to that the 19 million people who watched the event through live online video streams over MSNBC.com, the 10.5 million over CNN.com and the 3.4 million who viewed it over FoxNews.com and we’ve got a total of 62.9 million people who were watching it (not counting other, less popular means of downloading live media).
The funeral service aside, even word of his death began an unprecedented flurry of discussion and, for some, hysteria. Some people interviewed by news stations lamented that their world had crumbled and that their dreams of seeing Michael Jackson again in concert were dashed leaving them empty and without hope.
Such reactions leave one absolutely stunned. But then one considers the scope of Michael Jackson’s achievements: record sales as high as 750 million worldwide, over a dozen Grammy Awards, and induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame… twice. It seems safe to say that somehow his astonishing success and flair for performance have made him more than an epic legend, but a person that countless individuals consider worthy of worship.
Perhaps one reason why so many folks are utterly shattered by his death is that so much of the tragedy of his life, particularly the last two decades, remains unresolved and apparently meaningless. Just why have the hearts of countless people seemingly been drawn into such devotion to Michael Jackson that their worlds have now turned into a gloom of despair? Is it because he never seemed quite happy no matter that he not only made more money than most of us can imagine but also spent it faster than he made it? Was it that his evident lack of satisfaction with who he was (in spite of being the most popular entertainer who has ever lived) somehow struck a nerve with countless people around the country echoing their own emptiness and tendency for self-loathing?
Maybe. But it could also be that Berry Gordy, the founder of Motown Records, was right when he called Michael Jackson not merely the “king of pop” but the “greatest entertainer who has ever lived.” Michael Jackson is gone but it cannot be disputed that he entertained the world, first as a performer on stage and then as man vainly trying to navigate the storms of controversy and scandal. I suspect that in the final analysis we will have to conclude that people loved Michael Jackson because he gave them what they wanted but were devastated because he could not give them what they needed. He could entertain them, but he couldn’t give their lives meaning any more than he gave meaning and fulfillment to his own life. He has become, as I heard someone say recently, a “secular messiah”.
The multitudes who now find themselves distraught and depressed perhaps could be compared to a crowd that thought they loved Jesus but didn’t quite get where He was coming from or what they really needed from Him.
“..The crowd… got into the boats and went to Capernaum in search of Jesus. When they found Him on the other side of the lake, they asked Him, ‘Rabbi, when did You get here?’ Jesus answered, ‘I tell you the truth, you are looking for Me, not because you saw miraculous signs but because you ate the loaves and had your fill. Do not work for food that spoils, but for food that endures to eternal life, which the Son of Man will give you. On Him God the Father has placed His seal of approval.’ Then they asked Him, ‘What must we do to do the works God requires?’ Jesus answered, ‘The work of God is this: to believe in the One He has sent” (John 6:24-29 NIV).
In the days of Jesus’ earthly ministry people were as prone as people are today to focusing on temporary concerns at the expense of long-term matters of grave importance. The “felt needs” of the 5,000 people to whom Jesus had given bread and fish consumed their minds as thoroughly as their mouths had consumed what he had passed out to them. And while Jesus was genuinely moved to compassion to feed them with literal bread (see John 6:1-14), He was passionate about their need to receive from Him spiritual bread that would last far beyond the next meal but preserve them for eternity. By God’s grace, many of those who initially followed Jesus focused on temporary things, were “awakened” by His Spirit to their own spiritual need and finally found the “bread of life” (John 6:35) that comes only in placing our unreserved faith in Jesus to save us from both the penalty of sin and its power.
Michael Jackson has died and it is a sad conclusion to a tragic life. Those who have chosen to spend their lives in devotion to Michael Jackson, or any other “secular messiah” for that matter, will find that their hope has been built on emptiness. Jesus suffered and died for our sin but He also rose again and conquered death. Only He provides an eternal hope for those who dare to receive God’s gift of forgiveness and eternal life.
“Jesus answered, ‘Everyone who listens to the Father and learns from Him comes to Me. No one has seen the Father except the One Who is from God; only He has seen the Father. I tell you the truth, he who believes has everlasting life. I am the bread of life…. I am the living bread that came down from heaven. If anyone eats of this bread, he will live forever. This bread is My flesh, which I give for the life of the world” (John 6:43b,45b-48, 51 NIV).
Jesus did not come to entertain or even to simply satisfy our basic physical needs. He came to make a way for us to reach the Father in heaven. He came that we might consume through faith His gift of love, His own life for ours. We simply need to turn our hearts to Him, receive that gift by trusting His promise of forgiveness and then walk in obedience to His word, allowing Him to be not only Savior, but Lord as well!