In 2006, a horrible car crash killed five people in Indiana. A young blonde woman identified as Laura VanRyn was the sole survivor. She clung to life, battered and bruised almost beyond recognition in the hospital for over a month. As she began to recover, her family became confused. Laura called her dad by a pet name she had never used before. Other things she said as she began to regain memory and form her words didn’t make sense.
Finally, it was Laura’s boyfriend who stunningly realized – the young woman in the hospital wasn’t Laura.
Bruce Rossman, a hospital spokesman, said that when staff asked her name, she was able to write, “Whitney Cerak.” On Tuesday, the VanRyns began the process of making a positive identification. (Source)
Whitney Cerak was one of Laura’s friends who everyone thought had been killed in the car wreck a month before. The Cerak family had already had Whitney’s funeral, attended by over 1000 people.
In the days that followed, one family began to mourn anew while the other celebrated. (Source)
Mistaken identity cases can be horrific.
Did you know that one of history’s most colossal instances of mistaken identity occurred on Easter morning?
“She thought he was the gardener.” (John 20.15)
The first few verses of John 20 record the final preparations for Jesus’ body. The women who had followed Jesus approached the tomb on Sunday morning to apply the final spices to his linen-wrapped body. They were counting on the soldiers to be able to roll away the two-ton stone from the entrance since his tomb had been guarded.
What they found on their approach astounded them. No soldiers. No stone sealing the tomb. No body. What in the world? They ran and told the disciples, and the result was a footrace between Peter and John (John won) to the tomb to see for themselves.
When Mary Magdalene returned to the tomb, she was shocked to discover two angels in the tomb, one at where Jesus’ head had been laid and another at his feet. Curiously, they asked, “Woman, why are you weeping?”
At this, Mary explains that “they” have taken the body of Jesus and she doesn’t know what to do. In this moment, she looks around and sees another man standing there. He asks her the same question – “Woman, why are you weeping?” and then “Whom are you seeking?”
It was Jesus. But scripture records that she supposed He was the gardener.
It means everything to get Jesus’ identity right. If we mistake Him for someone less than He is, we lose hope, heart, faith, joy, peace… Everything.
This man standing before Mary wasn’t a gardener. In fact, He was the Vine. He was the Source of Life. He was Living Water. Bread of Life.
On another occasion (to a different Mary), Jesus announced:
“I am the resurrection and the life. Whoever believes in me, though he die, yet shall he live, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?” (John 11:21-26)
This Easter, do you believe – deeply – that Jesus is who He says He is? Your life depends on it. Mary’s experience went from dejection to elation in a moment when she got it right.
Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, “I have seen the Lord!” (John 20:18)
It changed everything for her. Seeing Jesus for who He is helped Mary transition from grief to joy. Jesus is the Risen One. He has conquered death. He has defeated evil. And praise God, He has forgiven our sins permanently in the process!
Don’t mistake who He is. Jesus is Lord. He knows you. He will never make a mistake about your identity. He calls you by name. He knows the very hairs on your head. (Matthew 10.30) He made you. He loves you.
Questions to Contemplate:
- How do you most confuse Jesus’ identity? Do you see Him more as your get-out-of-jail-free card? Do you see Him more as your help-me-find-something-I-lost genie? Do you use Him as your divine slot machine? (you put in good works, and He spits out rewards)
- What would it take for you to fully acknowledge Jesus as your Lord today? Your Master. Your Sovereign. Your King. The One who has complete authority over your life? What’s holding you back from full surrender?
- When was the last moment in which you knew beyond a shadow of doubt that Jesus loves you intimately? That He knows every little thing about you? What you think? What you fear? Did that comfort you or scare you? Why?
<Father, thank you – deeply – for Your great love for me. Thank you that Jesus died and rose again. Thank you for the forgiveness I’ve found in Him. Thank you for loving me and redeeming me. Forgive me when I treat Jesus like a gardener – like a servant. Today, I repent of faulty attitudes toward Your Son and fully acknowledge and cling to Him as my Lord. I love you, Father. In Jesus’ great and wonderful name, I ask and pray. Amen.>