Sermon Illustrations

Perhaps the most famous missing man in American history is Judge Joe Crater, who was an associate justice of the New York Supreme Court when he vanished without a trace in August, 1930. One of the most recognizable people in New York City, he was vacationing with his wife in Maine when he received a phone call and told her only that he had to return to the city to straighten some things out. His wife later reported that when he left, he was behaving normally and seemed to be in good spirits.

It is known that he went back to the city and spent two hours looking through his files in his courthouse chambers. He then had his assistant, Joseph Mara, cash two checks for him that totaled $5,150—equal to roughly $60,000 today. Around lunchtime, the assistant helped him carry two locked briefcases to his apartment, where Judge Crater dismissed him for the day.

Later that evening, Judge Crater bought a ticket for the Broadway comedy Dancing Partner that was playing later that night. He then went to dinner at Billy Haas’s Chophouse on West 45th Street, where he ate with an attorney friend of his. The lawyer would later tell police that Judge Crater was in a good mood during dinner and gave no indication that anything was amiss.

Around 9 p.m., shortly after the opening time for Dancing Partner, Judge Crater and the lawyer left the restaurant. Judge Crater hailed a cab, and before stepping in waved back to his friend. That was the last anyone ever saw him.

What happened to Joe Crater remains a mystery. The nation became engrossed with the massive investigation for the missing judge. It was discovered that the judge’s safe deposit box had been cleaned out, and the two briefcases that Joseph Mara helped him carry to his apartment were missing. How can such a prominent person simply vanish without a trace? Had he been murdered because he was about to expose corruption in Tammany Hall? Or, was he himself involved in corruption, and he ran away? Could it be that he intended to use the cash to pay off someone, and the deal went bad? It is known that he was having an affair with a 22 year old dancer: some have speculated that she was also seeing a mobster. Could the mobster boyfriend have had the judge killed. Or, could he have run off with another woman? Or, maybe with the dancer? She herself disappeared two months later and was never seen again. Or, perhaps he had been killed by a mob boss as a political favor to politicians who were protecting the mob. No one could say. It was as if he had vanished into thin air.

In October a grand jury was convened, which expressed the opinion that, “The evidence is insufficient to warrant any expression of opinion as to whether Crater is alive or dead, or as to whether he has absented himself voluntarily, or is the sufferer from disease in the nature of amnesia, or is the victim of crime.”

For years, sightings of Judge Crater were reported, but he was never seen again.

(Joseph Force Crater, Wikipedia, (last visited Mar 18, 2008)).

B. Occasionally people go missing, with no way to tell whether they are dead or alive. But seldom do you encounter someone who claims to have come back from the dead. Unlike the case of Judge Crater, the issue with Jesus isn’t that He was nowhere to be seen. Rather, it’s that He was seen: He was seen dead, He was seen locked in a tomb, and then He was seen alive again. The story of Easter is not the story of a missing person. Rather, it’s the story of Jesus being raised from the dead, and remaining alive down to the present time.