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Jesus on Ice
by Tony Grant
I now invite you to turn in your Bibles to the gospel of John, chapter 20, and follow along as I read verses 1-18. Hear what the Spirit says to us.
1 The first day of the week cometh Mary Magdalene early, when it was yet dark, unto the sepulchre, and seeth the stone taken away from the sepulchre.
2 Then she runneth, and cometh to Simon Peter, and to the other disciple, whom Jesus loved, and saith unto them, They have taken away the Lord out of the sepulchre, and we know not where they have laid him.
3 Peter therefore went forth, and that other disciple, and came to the sepulchre.
4 So they ran both together: and the other disciple did outrun Peter, and came first to the sepulchre.
5 And he stooping down, and looking in, saw the linen clothes lying; yet went he not in.
6 Then cometh Simon Peter following him, and went into the sepulchre, and seeth the linen clothes lie,
7 And the napkin, that was about his head, not lying with the linen clothes, but wrapped together in a place by itself.
8 Then went in also that other disciple, which came first to the sepulchre, and he saw, and believed.
9 For as yet they knew not the scripture, that he must rise again from the dead.
10 Then the disciples went away again unto their own home.
11 But Mary stood without at the sepulchre weeping: and as she wept, she stooped down, and looked into the sepulchre,
12 And seeth two angels in white sitting, the one at the head, and the other at the feet, where the body of Jesus had lain.
13 And they say unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? She saith unto them, Because they have taken away my Lord, and I know not where they have laid him.
14 And when she had thus said, she turned herself back, and saw Jesus standing, and knew not that it was Jesus.
15 Jesus saith unto her, Woman, why weepest thou? whom seekest thou? She, supposing him to be the gardener, saith unto him, Sir, if thou have borne him hence, tell me where thou hast laid him, and I will take him away.
16 Jesus saith unto her, Mary. She turned herself, and saith unto him, Rabboni; which is to say, Master.
17 Jesus saith unto her, Touch me not; for I am not yet ascended to my Father: but go to my brethren, and say unto them, I ascend unto my Father, and your Father; and to my God, and your God.
18 Mary Magdalene came and told the disciples that she had seen the Lord, and that he had spoken these things unto her.
Amen. The word of God. Thanks be to God.
Cryogenics has been all over the news this past year, largely because of the controversy surrounding the freezing of baseball superstar Ted Williams, the “Splendid Splinter,” one of the greatest players in history and the last Major Leaguer to bat over .400 in a season. When Ted died on July 5, 2002, a fight broke out among his children, pitting his oldest daughter against his youngest son. The daughter wanted to have her father cremated and his ashes scattered off the Florida coast, as his 1996 will made clear. But the son and another daughter wanted to put the slugger on ice, arguing that they signed a pact with their father in November 2000, agreeing that their bodies would be frozen. The son had Ted’s body carted to a cryogenics lab in Scottsdale, Arizona, shortly after his death, and he remains there today, suspended upside down with two other bodies in a tomb of liquid nitrogen, frozen at minus 350 degrees. So Ted Williams was put on ice on the very slim chance that someday someone might be able to thaw him out and bring him back to life.
Controversy also surrounded the burial of Jesus. Right after Jesus was crucified, religious leaders swooped down on Pontius Pilate, the Roman procurator, and said, “This impostor said while he was still alive, ‘After three days I will rise again.’ Therefore, command the tomb to be made secure until the third day; otherwise his disciples may go and steal him away, and tell the people, ‘He has been raised from the dead’” (Matthew 27:62-64). Pilate as always, went along. So they sealed the tomb and guarded it, hoping to bring to a close the tumultuous history of the Nazarene. That did not happen however.
On that first Easter morning, everyone expected Jesus to be dead. When Mary Magdalene discovered that the stone door had been removed from the grave, she never dreamed that Jesus had walked away. She came to the only logical conclusion: “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb, and we do not know where they have laid him” (John 20:2).
Of course, with the 20/20 vision of hindsight, we know what was going on. We know that Jesus was fulfilling his Father’s will. He was doing his job. He was carrying out the office of a mediator. I have included in the bulletin today paragraph 4 of chapter 8 of the Westminster Confession of Faith::
This office the Lord Jesus did most willingly undertake; which that he may discharge, he was made under the law, and did perfectly fulfill it; endured most grievous torments immediately in his soul, and most painful sufferings in his body; was crucified, and died; was buried, and remained under the power of death, yet saw no corruption. On the third day he arose from the dead, with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven, and there sitteth at the right hand of his Father, making intercession; and shall return to judge men and angels at the end of the world.
The paragraph deals with what was involved in Christ carrying out the office of mediator. Or to put it another way, what was involved in Christ acting for us. He freely accepted this task. He decided to be our redeemer. He assumed our condition and situation. This is more than simply saying Christ became man. Christ identified himself with us and put himself where we stand before God. He became the subject of the law, like ever human being. This was not an easy thing, but his obedience was perfect. Having set foot in this way, he walked it to the end, living the life of a man until he died the death of a man. His death was not the end but the beginning of a new life. It was the climactic point at which his acting for us intersected with his acting for God. The cross of Christ by its very shape points to a miracle. The miracle was that Jesus’ death was crossed or canceled by the resurrection. This was indeed a miracle. It was not achieved by any human quality of Jesus that somehow enabled him to escape death. The power of God in Christ brought about his resurrection.
The phrase which reads “with the same body in which he suffered; with which also he ascended into heaven” emphasizes that the same Christ who was crucified is that Christ who rose on Easter morning. The writers of the Confession would point out that when Jesus appeared to Thomas, he had the wounds of the cross still on him. They would point out that he ate with the disciples. But we might argue that Christ did not have exactly the same body because the Risen Lord could appear and disappear at will. Moreover, Mary had some problems recognizing him until he spoke. In Luke, the two disciples on the road to Emmaus did not recognize him until he broke bread with them. It would seem then that Christ’s resurrected body was the same body, but not quite. But that is hardly the main point. The point is that he rose from the dead, and this is God’s promise to us. As Jesus says in John 14:19, “Because I live, you also will live.” When Jesus is exalted and raised, he is our representative. We shall be raised and exalted in Christ. Christ is our destiny and our hope.
And make no mistake about it. This is the central doctrine of Christianity. If there was no resurrection, there is no Christianity.
[Robert Funk organized the Jesus Seminar] in 1985 and set it to work examining the historicity of words and deeds of Jesus from the gospels and then reporting the results in press releases and in books published by its own Polebridge Press. Applying some conventional methods of textual analysis and other more disputed rules of evidence, the seminar, made up of about 50 religion professors, concluded that no more than 20 percent of the sayings and even fewer of the deeds attributed to Jesus are authentic. Among the castoffs: the Lord’s Prayer, the sayings from the cross and any claims of Jesus to divinity, the virgin birth, most of his miracles and his bodily resurrection.
The Jesus that remains, which Funk describes in his forthcoming book Honest to Jesus, is a secular sage and a social critic who satirized the pious and championed society’s poor and marginalized. He spoke in parables and aphorisms, often using humor or irony to make a point. “Jesus was perhaps the first stand-up Jewish comic,” says Robert Funk.
[Jeffery L. Sheler, “In search of Jesus,” U.S. News & World Report, April 8, 1996, usnews.com.]
That is what he says. That is what the Jesus seminar says. I hope that shocks you. Maybe it will make you sit up and listen. Now, as Funk’s critics have pointed out, if you go through what has been written by and about any person in the world, and throw out eighty percent of what you do not like, you can pretty much make anyone into anything you want. If you go through all that has been written by and about Gandhi, Stalin, Hitler, Abraham Lincoln, throw out what you do not like, keep what you do, you can pretty much make them into any image you desire.
The problem Robert Funk has the resurrection is that it was miraculous. It was outside human experience. We cannot logically prove the Resurrection. That was the point I was making on Tuesday when I spoke during the Holy Week services. I used part of ICR1 as a text. Verses 18-20 read:
18 For the preaching of the cross is to them that perish foolishness; but unto us which are saved it is the power of God.
19 For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent.
20 Where is the wise? where is the scribe? where is the disputer of this world? hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world?
What Paul is saying is that you cannot reason your way to the cross. The idea that God would die and rise on the third day is absurd. But to those that are called by God, it is the power of God.
However, even as believers we have a problem with this power of God. It is a problem of comfortable expectations. We want to put Jesus on ice, thaw him out on special occasions, then slip him back into storage. A frozen Jesus is much easier to handle than a risen Lord who makes demands upon our lives.
For example, we might expect a Jesus who taught about love, but we surely did not expect a lord who commands us to love our enemies (Matthew 5:44). Today we hear much about a Jesus who supports family values. We do not want to hear about a Lord who predicts that he will cause divisions in families, father against son and daughter against mother (Luke 12:52-53). Again, we want a Jesus who accepts people as his disciples, but not a Lord who challenges us to walk the way of the cross, to lose our lives for his sake, and to find new life through sacrifice (Mark 8:35). We feel much better about Jesus when he stays frozen in certain acceptable forms. We feel much better about Jesus when he supports our ideas and practices and lifestyle. Lets face it. Many of us are really quite content with a Cryonics Christ.
Of course, it doesn’t matter what we like. What matters is what God likes. God has given us a risen savior who is our promise of our salvation over sin and death. The liturgy proclaims:
Christ is risen!
Chris is risen indeed!
We cannot really say that in cryogenic terms. We cannot say:
Christ is thawed!
Christ is thawed indeed!
Yet, isn’t it time to thaw out Jesus in our lives? Isn’t it time to affirm that although Christ is risen, we too often behave as though he were still in the grave? The glory of Easter is that Christ is alive, bursting the bounds of death and running wild and free through human life. When we try to preserve Jesus as a nice reminder of what a good person looks like, he rips through these limitations as though they were flimsy linen grave clothes. On the day of resurrection, Jesus laughs at our attempts to limit him in any way, and he leads us into a future that only he can control.
When Peter and the other disciple run to the tomb to see what Mary is talking about, Jesus confounds their expectations by being conspicuously absent (John 20:3-10).
When Jesus stands before Mary, he appears in a form that she does not recognize — she believes him to be the gardener (vv. 14-15).
When he speaks to her by name, and she realizes he is the risen Lord, he forbids her to hold on to him. He knows that he must move on, always onward, and eventually on to his Father in heaven. But before he leaves her, he gives her a mission: “Go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (vv. 16-17).
What an amazing and unexpected assignment this is. The command of Jesus to “go” is significant here, since it is related to the word apostle, which means “one sent forth.” On a literal level, Mary Magdalene is the first apostle, the first one “sent forth” by Jesus to spread the good news of the resurrection!
It is in just such surprising ways that our risen and living Lord moves among us on Easter morning. This Lord is not a comfortable Jesus, one who proclaims a gospel of success and offers himself as a better business partner. This is not a Jesus, one who thinks in worldly terms and confines himself to a sort of social gospel that is limited to just doing good deeds. He is, instead, a Jesus who truly challenges our age, and every age. The good news of Easter is that Jesus is not on ice. Never has been. Never will be.
Let me conclude then with this illustration: Little Philip, born with Down’s syndrome, attended a Sabbath school class with several eight-year-old boys and girls. Typical of that age, the children did not readily accept Philip with his differences. They sort of tolerated him but that was about it.
The Sunday after Easter, the teacher brought Leggs pantyhose containers, the kind that look like large eggs. Each receiving one, the children were told to go outside on that lovely spring day, find some symbol for new life and put it in the egglike container. Back in the classroom, they would share their new-life symbols, opening the containers one by one.
After running about the church property in wild confusion, the students returned to the classroom and placed the containers on the table. Surrounded by the children, the teacher began to open them. After each one, whether flower, butterfly or leaf, the class would ooh and ahh. Then one was opened, revealing nothing inside.
The children exclaimed, “That’s dumb. That’s not fair. Somebody didn’t do their assignment.”
Philip spoke up, “That’s mine!”
“Philip, you don’t ever do things right,” one student retorted. “There’s nothing there!”
“I did so do it,” Philip insisted. “I did do it. It’s empty. The tomb was empty!”
Silence followed. From then on Philip became a full member of the class. Philip died not long afterward from an infection most normal children would have shrugged off. At the funeral, this class of 8-year-olds marched down to the coffin but they were not carrying flowers. Each child carried an empty pantyhose egg, which they laid on the coffin. [Source unknown].
Those children had obviously learned a lot about Easter. They had learned that:
He is risen!
Christ is risen!
Christ is risen indeed!
“Hearing over Ted Williams postponed by scheduling conflicts.” Associated Press, October 2, 2002.
“Science magazine offers cool prize.” ABC Online. Australia, September 19, 2002, abc.net.au.
Sullivan, Tim. “Plaintiffs about to be frozen out in cryonics war.” The San Diego Union-Tribune. September 26, 2002, signonsandiego.com.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 7/23/03