Being Jesus

March 23, 2008


John 20:11-18

(11) But Mary stood weeping outside the tomb, and as she wept she stooped to look into the tomb.

(12) And she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had lain, one at the head and one at the feet.

(13) They said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping?" She said to them, "They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him."

(14) Having said this, she turned around and saw Jesus standing, but she did not know that it was Jesus.

(15) Jesus said to her, "Woman, why are you weeping? Whom are you seeking?" Supposing him to be the gardener, she said to him, "Sir, if you have carried him away, tell me where you have laid him, and I will take him away."

(16) Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher).

(17) Jesus said to her, "Do not cling to me, for I have not yet ascended to the Father; but go to my brothers and say to them, 'I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God.'"

(18) Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord"--and that he had said these things to her.


Les Cheveldayoff gets crucified six times a week. He does not have a bad job; Getting crucified is his job. He gets resurrected six times a week, too, so it’s all good. Les Cheveldayoff is Jesus, or rather he portrays Jesus at a park in Orlando, Florida. Les is a ruggedly handsome guy with long wavy and sandy hair, a full beard, smiling eyes and six-pack abs — the prototype of the popular picture of Jesus (at least in white American churches).

For six years, Les has been part of the cast at The Holy Land Experience — an interactive living history park/ministry that was the dream of founder Marv Rosenthal, a man who, although born into a Jewish family, converted to Christianity. The Holy Land Experience, which opened in 2001, was designed by Orlando-based ITEC, which worked on projects for Disney and Universal Studios. When Les gets crucified every afternoon, all the special effects are well done.

The management at The Holy Land Experience wants to make it clear that they are not a theme park like the others around them in Orlando. There are no rides, for example. They prefer to refer to the park as a “living biblical museum”. The disciples, townsfolk, and Roman soldiers in The Holy Land Experience interact with the visitors as living historians. They act in the first person and must know all the details about life in first-century Israel.

Jesus, on the other hand, retreats behind the scenes after a morning show called “The Ministry of Jesus,” reappearing again only once in the afternoon as he drags the cross down the Via Dolorosa while actors portraying Roman soldiers appear to kick and spit on him. Tourists line the streets taking pictures, some licking the “milk and honey” ice-cream cones they bought from a nearby concession stand (I am not making this up. You can actually buy milk and honey ice cream there.). The action moves to the “Calvary’s Garden Tomb” area of the park where Les/Jesus is “nailed” to a large cross that is lifted up by hydraulic motors. Later, he appears from the tomb that sits immediately below Calvary’s hill.

I do not know how you feel about that sort of thing, and I have not been to the Holy Land Experience in Orlando, but generally I have not liked Hollywood style portrayals of biblical events. In fact, I have sometimes felt rather embarrassed by so-called biblical theme parks. But Cheveldayoff sees it differently. Every time he is hoisted up on that cross during that intense 20-minute presentation, he sees the outpouring of emotion among many in the crowd. “I notice it so much that sometimes it throws me off my lines,” he says. Taking people back to the events of the Crucifixion and Resurrection has a emotional impact, even with the rumble of trucks barreling down Interstate 4 in the background.

Most churches do not have hydraulic crosses and scale model tombs in the sanctuaries on Easter morning, but preachers still try to recreate the events of that morning. Unfortunately some folks come to church with the mindset of spiritual tourists. They drop in, look on, have a pleasant experience, and then it’s on to lunch.

Maybe that is the preacher’s fault. If people treat Easter Sunday like a tourist attraction, maybe that’s because we preachers have not done enough to point out the real message of Easter as an ongoing reality that continues beyond the historical event . The resurrection of Jesus marked the triumph of God over evil and death, but it also marked a fundamental change in the relationship between God and humankind. Resurrection signals reconciliation. “We have peace,” Paul writes in Romans, “with God through our Lord Jesus Christ” (5:1).

We have been talking about the arrest and trial of Jesus in John’s gospel in our Wednesday night Bible study. We have pointed out that John deviates from the Synoptic Gospels, that is from Matthew, Mark, and Luke. For example, John 20:1 states that “while it was still dark, Mary Magdalene came to the tomb.” Mark 16:1-2 mentions “Mary the mother of James, and Salome ...” in addition to Mary Magdalene and states that “when the sun had risen, they went to the tomb.”

But this morning we are concentrating on what John says. John is a good writer who connects various themes throughout his gospel. For example, John reports that “Mary Magdalene CAME to the tomb and SAW that the stone had been removed from the tomb” (20:1). Back in chapter 1 of the gospel, when Jesus called his first two disciples, his invitation to them was “come and see” (John 1:39; cf. 1:46). His invitation to us is to come to the empty tomb and see the mighty work that God has wrought.

When she saw that the stone had been rolled away, Mary Magdalene ran to tell Simon Peter and the other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” (20:2a). This is another literary feature of this gospel. “The other disciple, the one whom Jesus loved” is mentioned 4 times in the gospel (cf. John 13:23; 19:26-27; 21:7, 20-23). Traditionally, this unnamed disciple has been identified as John himself, but we don’t know that, and this adds an element of mystery. Of course the resurrection itself is the greatest mystery of all.

When they heard Mary say, “They have taken the Lord out of the tomb,” the disciples ran to the site to find out what is going on. When “the other disciple” reached the tomb, “he bent down to look in and saw the linen wrappings lying there, but he did not go in” (20:5). “Then Simon Peter came, following him, and went into the tomb” (20:6). So, these two disciples, like Mary before them, accepted Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.”

But though the two disciples came and saw the same tomb and the same linen cloths, they responded differently. When “the other disciple ... went in … he saw and believed” (20:8). This disciple — “the one whom Jesus loved” — holds a special place in the theology of John. He stands in sharp contrast to Thomas, who says he will not believe until he can see and touch Jesus’ hands and side (cf. John 20:25). In v29, Jesus, says, to Thomas, "Have you believed because you have seen me? Blessed are those who have not seen and yet have believed." The unnamed disciple represents the blessed disciple who did not see Jesus, yet still believed. The implication is that we should all be like this unnamed disciple. Even though we have not seen the risen Lord, we believe.

Peter, however, stands in contrast to both “the other disciple” who saw an empty tomb and believed, and Thomas who could not believe until he saw Jesus’ resurrected body. Peter neither believes nor doubts. He is just confused.

The disciples left, but Mary remained at the tomb “and she saw two angels in white, sitting where the body of Jesus had been lying, one at the head and the other at the feet” (20:11b-12). Mary is again responding to Jesus’ invitation to “come and see.” But this time, she sees much more, for she is blessed to see angels. But she cannot realize how blessed she is right now. She is so distraught that the body is Jesus is missing, she cannot think about anything else. When the angels asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?” she said, “They have taken away my Lord, and I do not know where they have laid him” (20:13). She is like Peter, she is confused. She loves Jesus, but she does not know what is going on.

Then, “she turned around and saw Jesus standing there, but she did not know that it was Jesus” (20:14). She was one of Jesus’ closest disciples. Why did she not recognize Jesus? One explanation is that we see what we expect to see, and she never expected to see Jesus. Others have suggested that in her grief-strickened state, she would not have recognized anyone.

John’s gospel offers another explanation. Her reaction is consistent with John’s theology that no one, including Mary, can come to Jesus “unless drawn by the Father” (cf. John 6:44, 65). To put it in other words, no one recognizes Jesus as the Christ, unless they have the Holy Spirit. Consequently, when Jesus asked her, “Woman, why are you weeping?” she saw a gardener, and she assumed that someone — perhaps, this gardener — had taken Jesus’ body away (20:15).

Then Jesus called her by name, which symbolizes the Holy Spirit coming to her, and then she knew him. Again, John is linking things together. He links the Resurrection with the figure of the good shepherd whom Jesus had mentioned in John chapter 10. “The good shepherd” calls “his own sheep by name” (cf. John 10:1-18, esp. vv. 3-5). Upon hearing her name, Mary was instantly transformed from a brokenhearted disciple of Jesus into a believer.

In her joy, as understanding finally dawns, her reaction is to hug Jesus and cling to him. We certainly understand that. But jesus reprimands her, mildly reprimands her, saying, “Do not hold on to me, because I have not yet ascended to the Father. But go to my brothers and say to them, ‘I am ascending to my Father and your Father, to my God and your God’” (20:17). In other words, do not do the one thing you want to do, embrace me. Don’t do that, because I have something I need for you to do right now. Go tell others about the resurrection. Having been called by “the good shepherd,” Mary was thus empowered to go and announce to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord” (20:18).

Notice the practicality of Jesus. He says to Mary, this is not the time to be all sloppy and sentimental about my resurrection. You have work to do. You have a mission to take the message of the risen Christ into the world.

The mission is important because it is about our relationship with God. By the resurrection, Jesus is proved to be the son of God. Through belief in him, we are brought into his family and enjoy a similar relationship with God. Jesus says this several times in the gospel of John. God is now our father and our God through Jesus Christ.

As if to signify this change in relationship, Jesus instructs Mary to bring the news to “my brothers.” The disciples, both male and female, were to be the new family of God and the representatives of Christ to the whole world. When Jesus appeared to his disciples for the first time, he confirmed that mission — “As the Father has sent me, so I send you” (John 20:21).

Yes we are supposed to portray Jesus. For 21st-century disciples, being Jesus isn’t about beards, robes, six-pack abs and twice-daily shows, but it’s about bringing the good news of resurrection to the whole world. Jesus did not die on the cross so that we can say to him, you did good Jesus. Let me give you a big hug. Jesus says, we don’t have time for that. You need to be telling people about the greatest thing that ever happened, the most important thing in their lives. The resurrection is not some sort of historical drama, it is a miraculous demonstration of the kind of relationship you can have with God right now. It is something you need, desperately need, right now.


CNN Sunday Morning Transcript,

August 12, 2007.

Lomartie, Paul, “What would Jesus view?” The Palm Beach Post, Thursday, June 17, 2004.


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