I recently discovered the blessings and curses of instant internet fame. While I don’t wish these curses on anyone, they’ve taught me to more deeply appreciate the sacrifice of Jesus and what he endured during his final days. My suffering is slight compared to His, but during this Holy Week, I make this analogy to underscore just how profoundly He suffered compared to our relatively minor travails. Without over-spiritualizing this experience, I hope these thoughts deepen your faith as they have mine.
But first, a bit of context on how this all got started.
How it got started
I work as director of events for Social Media Examiner. At our recent conference, Social Media Marketing World 2014, I wrote a song that was meant to be a light-hearted, tongue-in-cheek song to poke fun at what’s wrong with social media. Included in the song was a rap section where I subtly made fun of middle-aged marketers trying to be hip with social media. We enjoyed a good laugh and took a lot of fun pictures. Overall it seemed the crowd loved it and understood the joke.
And then we posted the video.
The video was never the goal and little thought went into how to produce the video, let alone how we should promote it or what we would do if it went viral (ironically, one of the lines in the songs says “so we shoot our viral video”). Video is not a core strategy for our company, so this was really just something fun to share with conference attendees, and we hoped it might create a little buzz for next year’s conference. Last year we did something similar and it only received 400 views (here’s last year’s video).
After a few days some people who really didn’t like it discovered the video. They shared it with their audiences, making it a mission to ridicule the song and share it negatively across the internet. Within 24 hours the song went from 300 views to over 75,000. As of today, the song has over 450,000 views and has been played on radio stations, television, VH1 and had numerous articles written about it (positive and negative). Here’s some by Mashable, CBC, and Huffington Post.
Here’s the video. WARNING: Feel free to watch the video, but read the comments at your own risk. They are mostly negative; some, vulgar and hateful.
7 Things I’ve Learned About the Gospel Through My 15 Minutes of Fame
As mentioned above, I hesitate to compare my experience to the suffering of Jesus because he endured far worse for a far greater purpose. However, the comparison has helped me endure my own personal trial and deepen my faith. I hope you can find encouragement for your journey as well.
#1: Applause – It’s not obvious when watching the video, but people were clapping, dancing, singing, taking pictures and generally enjoying themselves while we sang. The audience applauded the song and felt energized for a lively conversation that soon followed (which was the primary goal of the song).
How quickly the crowds forget. I was surprised to see conference attendees start to follow the online trends and declare the song “awkward,” “embarrassing” and “terrible.” That was my first clue that people missed the humorous note of the song. (I’ve since learned I didn’t make the song funny enough.)
When Jesus entered Jerusalem on what we now call Palm Sunday, the crowds sang his praises, shouting out, “Hosanna! Blessed is he who comes in the name of the Lord!” It sure looked like they understood his purpose and were ready to crown him king.
But the fickle crowd reversed their opinion and cried for his crucifixion only a few days later. Jesus didn’t plan to become an earthly king to dethrone Rome, so the crowds followed the religious leaders, perhaps fearing the consequences of disappointing them.
Jesus understood the applause of man is meaningless and short-lived. As Jesus entered Jerusalem on Palm Sunday, the religious leaders told him to rebuke the disciples who were singing his praises, but Jesus responded, “If they keep quiet, the stones will cry out” (Luke 19:40).
It takes a lot of energy to keep your fans happy. Basketball teams fall out of favor as soon as they start losing too many games. Pop stars lose their luster if they stop producing Top 40 songs. Movie stars seek to stay in the limelight by getting nominated for Oscars. Marketers try to stay front of mind with their customers by creating posts and videos they hope will be popular and possibly go viral.
The Gospel reminds me that I have one audience that matters and He doesn’t expect anything from me. God delights in my successes and empathizes in my failures, but he isn’t looking for another home run performance so he can finally allow me into his Hall of Fame. Jesus already took care of that with his permanent sacrifice. In response to God’s eternal love, God only asks that I repent of my sin and receive his grace.
Gospel nugget: God’s opinion of me cannot be swayed by my successes or failures.
#2: Misunderstood – In my recent experience, one of the core problems arose from the simple fact that people didn’t understand the point of the song. Few people read the description that explained this was a humorous song written as a warm-up for a more serious conversation about the role of being social in social media. (Of course, it seems I should’ve made the song more obviously funny, but everyone I previewed the song for prior to the conference immediately heard the humor and laughed in all the right places.) As a result many of the naysayers attacked the song and video based on the assumption that I believed social media should be used in the ways the song described.
The disciples followed Jesus for three years and yet they still didn’t comprehend the full plan of God and why Jesus had to suffer and die for the sins of man. When Jesus looked at the celebratory crowds on Palm Sunday, the angry crowds on Good Friday or the hostile courtroom gathered before Pilate, he must have grieved that no one understood his true mission required him to die.
The way people have misunderstood me is kind of silly and I can laugh at most of it. Frankly, some of my comedian friends tell me that writing a funny song is one of the toughest forms of comedy, and I underestimated the truth of that advice.
The way we misunderstand Jesus is no laughing matter. Many people have rejected Jesus because they were improperly introduced to him. Pastors, teachers and authors must work diligently to present clearly the mission and teachings of Jesus so all men and women can hear this good news: Jesus Christ died for sinners, was raised from the dead, is seated at the Father’s right hand and will one day come again to claim his own.
Gospel thought: My failure to understand Jesus’ purposes often causes me to reject his provision in my moment of need.
Gospel Song: Misunderstood by Actress AJ Michalka in the movie “Grace Unplugged”
#3: Mocked –Numerous people made fun of me as a result of this video. They called me names, insulted me and questioned my character. This hurts. When my children read these insults, it caused my youngest to cry for me.
As Jesus’ mother and disciples watched Jesus hang on the cross, it must have hurt deeply to see Jesus mocked by the onlookers and Roman soldiers. I wonder how Jesus could even listen as those whom he created insulted him.
The only way I’ve been able to deal with the mean attacks is to largely ignore them. Jesus, being God, could not do that. He hears and knows everything and understands the story behind every man, woman or child who mocks him. In fact, it’s because he knows us better than we know ourselves that he endured the mockery of the crowds and the cross.
I don’t mind that people have made fun of my song or my role as “awkward middle-aged white rapper.” That was kind of the point: I was making fun of a caricature of social media marketers doing things wrong.
But it hurts when people mock your character and assume the worst about you.
Jesus endured the mockery of the soldiers and crowds by turning his other cheek and remaining silent. His silence didn’t come from weakness—an inability to do something—but came from a restrained strength because he knew he needed to endure this for our sake.
Gospel thought: Though we deserve to be mocked, Jesus was mocked for my sin and yours.
Gospel Song: Isaiah 53 portrays Jesus as the suffering servant. This song helps us call on the one who endured mockery and abuse for our sake.
#4: Abandoned – Becoming famous can be a lonely place. People love to be around famous people when they are popular, but as soon as that person becomes unpopular or attacked, the crowds tend to disappear.
I’ve been surprised to see how few of my online friends have entered the fray to speak up for me. Some are excited by my newfound fame, but it’s risky to step into the crossfire for someone else’s battle.
In defense of my friends, I confess I have not enlisted their help or expected them to do anything. In fact, I suspect many of my friends are just learning about these events. So it really doesn’t hurt me that much. And for the record, some of my closest friends and colleagues have provided amazing support and encouragement throughout this time.
Jesus, however, was abandoned by ALL of his disciples and by His Father. He faced the crowds and his accusers alone. He endured the agony of the cross and the wrath of God without any assistance. He could’ve called for help, but this would have nullified the point of his sacrifice.
I haven’t felt all that lonely this week as I’ve had co-workers, family and friends supporting me in many different ways. Jesus didn’t have that support. Yes, the angels encouraged and ministered to him while he prayed in the Garden of Gethsamene, but he was alone when he went through the mock trial and while he was flogged and crucified.
The abandonment that hurt Jesus most deeply was being shut off from his eternal fellowship with his Father. But this had to happen as the Father could not look upon Jesus as he carried your sins and mine.
Gospel Thought: Because Jesus hung alone, I will never be alone.
Gospel Song: “You Are My King” This short worship song says so much about how Jesus took our rejection and condemnation. It’s truly an amazing love.
#5: Crushed – Most of the 1000+ comments made on this video are negative. Reading them can be depressing. The first day I was crushed by the negativity until I realized this would pass and the source of most of the negativity was a misunderstanding. I probably can’t undo all the miscommunication because sometimes perception is reality. But I don’t have to let the opinions of others crush me. Many politicians, business leaders and other courageous thinkers endure far greater attacks than I have endured this week.
Jesus, on the other hand, was literally crushed for our sins. The weight of our sin led to his death. It wasn’t the opinions or misunderstandings. It wasn’t even the false accusations and mockery. Jesus died because the Father’s eternal law required a perfect sacrifice to atone for sin and Jesus was the only one qualified. But that simple act of obedience required him to die the death I deserved.
Jesus told his disciples, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you and learn from me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.” (Matt. 11:28-30).
Gospel thought: Jesus can give us a light burden, because he was crushed by the burden we deserve.
Gospel Song: By His Wounds
#6: Afflicted– I have largely stayed out of the negative conversations online, maintaining a position of radio silence. In the few instances where I have responded to naysayers, it’s surprised me how these people love to pester and continue to hurl their insults. YouTube has been described as the “Wild, Wild West,” since there is so little policing taking place. I believe in free speech, but free speech without restraint can be very ugly.
Jesus was afflicted by curses, insults, physical punishment, the soldiers’ horseplay and ultimately by death on the cross.
Scripture says that Jesus went to the cross as a lamb to the slaughter: “He was led like a lamb to the slaughter, and as a sheep before its shearers is silent, so he did not open his mouth” (Is. 53:7b). He didn’t deserve this death and could have turned away at any moment.
But motivated by a deep compassion for mankind, Jesus can see past our attacks and accusations. We know he prayed for his accusers, “Father, forgive them for they don’t know what they are doing.”
I’ve found myself praying for my attackers this week (at least in my better moments). I realize that but for the grace of God I might be one of those joining in the revelry (and certainly I’ve mocked others before, so I do not stand guiltless). But God can see past our present sin to whom we can become when we are transformed by his grace.
It’s hard to pray for those who attack and accuse us, especially when they are doing physical or emotional damage to us and our families, But prayer is frankly the best way to respond to a world bent toward evil.
Gospel Thought: I can’t change my attackers, only God can, so I will pray for them instead.
Gospel Song: Stricken, Smitten and Afflicted
#7: Accused – Hundreds, if not thousands, have accused me of ruining the internet, destroying faith in humanity, and discrediting all social media marketers. Most of this is hyperbole from people looking for attention, but it still hurts to be wrongly accused of something you didn’t do nor were trying to do.
Jesus was accused of all kinds of evil that wasn’t true. The charge of blasphemy led to his trial, but it was also untrue. But those who judged him could not comprehend that he really was God and that his kingdom is not of this world.
I accept that some of the accusations against me have merit. With 20/20 hindsight I’m sure I would make some changes to how we performed the song and produced the video.
But Jesus listened to countless accusations that had no grounding in reality. Ultimately he was put to death not because he was found guilty of any of the accusations, but because God wanted him to die for all the things we have rightly been accused of.
Gospel Thought: Jesus was wrongly accused of my sins and yours and he accepted the blame so we wouldn’t have to.
Gospel Song: Man of Sorrows: Hillsongs introduced this powerful song last year celebrating Jesus as the man of sorrows who was accused, beaten, mocked and scorned.
A friend reminded me of the story of Joseph in the book of Genesis. His brothers tried to kill him, but God rescued him and made him the leader of Egypt so he could provide for his family during a severe famine. When his brothers were concerned that Joseph might punish them, he said these words, “You intended to harm me, but God intended it for good to accomplish what is now being done, the saving of many lives” (Gen. 50:20).
In our world we can’t avoid brushing up against darkness. Sometimes the eternal battle between good and evil is more obvious than others, but it always wages until Jesus returns to install His new kingdom. In the meantime, let’s take courage that God reigns and can rescue prophets from the mouths of lions, can heal the sick and raise the dead. He forgives the sins of all who seek mercy.
That’s good news for the mocked and abused.
Pete Alwinson says
Phil…I saw the video for what it was, a good humored poke at ourselves…we need to do that more often. We take ourselves too seriously, and don’t take Jesus seriously enough. Thanks for the perspective of this article! Your openness, warmth, humility and Christ focus mark who you are.
Phil Mershon says
Thanks Pete. Great to hear from you and I appreciate the thoughts.
Juan Felix says
Hi Phil, I’m having the pleasure of working with you and all I can say is you are one of the most courageous people I know. I highly respect how you handle all this negativity (like a true professional) around this Social Song and I wish you and your family blessed days.
Phil Mershon says
Thanks, Juan. You also have my deepest respect. I appreciate your work ethic, integrity and love for learning. You’re an awesome community manager. Maybe you can help on this site some day 🙂
Phil- when a grown white male comes on stage with sunglasses and a newsie cap, the first thing I think is “parody.” It’s too bad this escalated as it did but knowing Mike and the brand he built, I can see how you’d have a giant target on your back.
Kudos to you for bringing this all back to Christ. That is seriously legit.
Phil Mershon says
Thanks for saying that. I know the whole song wasn’t a parody, but the intent was laughter and creating a light-hearted moment.
Yeah, certainly there’s a target on us, but I’ve never thought so deeply about the target that was on Jesus back. The Pharisees were trying to catch him at every turn. They thought they finally caught him, but he won.
Appreciate you reading the article.
Mike Gingerich says
Hi Phil. What an unexpected journey this took you on! I arrived late and only caught the end of the live version. I had no idea it took off in views until Mike posted about it. I also was unaware until reading this of the depth of the uncalled for attacks. I’m sorry you had to walk through that! At the same time, you could not have written such a moving and in-depth post as this is had you not walked that journey.
I really appreciated these reflections and Gospel thoughts. It has helped me slow down and reflect on what Jesus walked through and given me some deeper perspective. Thank you! Thank you for your grace in walking through, your transparency, and your show of faith and strength! There’s a “well done” coming!
Phil Mershon says
Thanks so much for commenting. I agree that I would never have reflected upon Jesus’ last week in this way without my recent crucible experience. I wouldn’t trade the outcome and wonder what God wants to do as a result of all this.
Certainly my story is minor compared to the Gospel. I know my story will fade from all our memory in short order, but I hope the Gospel becomes more real every day.
Toby DuBose says
Thanks for sharing your pain! One of the evidences of grace in your life is that you know how to self-deprecate by poking fun at yourself. One of the memorable and winsome things about you is that you don’t take yourself seriously.
After reading your reflections above and the piece in Huffington, I have these simple words for you, “Well done!”
Laughing with you, not at you,
Phil Mershon says
Hey Toby, thanks for your kind words. I also remember you as one who could laugh easily. Laughter is indeed medicine to the soul, though we also know we need more than that temporary relief. Blessings!
Ray Edwards says
I was there, but I somehow missed all the hubbub about this. Your response here was full of grace and truth. Interesting that people haven’t been as quick to repost that.
“Blessed are you when people hate you, when they exclude you and insult you and reject your name as evil, because of the Son of Man.” Luke 6:22
Phil Mershon says
Thanks, Ray. I appreciate your kind and gracious words.