Case of mistaken identity


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." Jesus said to her, "Mary." She turned and said to him in Aramaic, "Rabboni!" (which means Teacher). 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.'" Mary Magdalene went and announced to the disciples, "I have seen the Lord" -- and that he had said these things to her.

-- John 20:15-18, ESV

You would think that the most pivotal event in all of holy and human history would be accompanied by great fanfare. But except for a small earthquake and a little flash of angel light that scared away some cemetery guards, the resurrection of Jesus Christ was as subtle as it is certain. So low key, in fact, that the first witness to the resurrection, Mary Magdalene, did not even recognize Jesus when He walked out of the tomb and stood right beside her.

"Supposing Him to be the gardener," the text tells us she thought. "The gardener!" This is Jesus we're talking about here, Mary, the risen King of kings, the eternal Lord of lords, the Savior who bought us with His blood and rose from the dead. You mistook Him to be a mere "gardener."

To cut Mary some slack, she had many reasons for her mistaken identity. Her every expectation upon approaching the tomb was to find nothing but the blood of Jesus drained from His lifeless body. Her senses had been dulled by the sadness of the third day back. It was early in the morning, too, just after dawn, and perhaps the dawn was not shedding enough light on the Son.

Whatever Mary's reasons, at first glance she mistook God for a gardener. It is a mistake that somehow keeps repeating itself, over and over.

If a prosperity Gospel preacher had been there, he would have supposed Jesus to be a genie, and peppered him with three wishes for health, wealth, and a new airplane. If a liberal clergyman had been there, he would have supposed Jesus to be a figment of his own imagination. If a progressive politician had been there, he would have supposed Him to be a privileged white male, and scolded him for being resurrected while so many women and people of color were left in their tombs.

Like Mary for a moment, most people wouldn't recognize Jesus if He walked right up to them. He is hard to see, impossible really, apart from sovereign grace and saving faith. And in the regenerative workings of grace and faith, one has to hear the Lord before he or she can really see the Lord.

Mary's moment of clarity came when she listened before she looked. The voice must have sounded general the first time she heard it, when He asked her about her tears and fears. But when Jesus spoke to her effectually, "Mary," there was no doubt about it. This was no gardener. God of very God was calling her very name.

The Gospel rarely comes with fireworks. It would make it too hard to hear. God spoke, through the living Word of God, Jesus Christ, to Jesus' first followers two thousand years ago. God speaks to His followers today, through the written word of God, the Bible. Hear it, read it, trust it, obey it, and I promise you will hear God calling you by name.

Eventually, everyone must decide. Who was this person outside the empty tomb on Easter Sunday? Was it the gardener, or was it God?

I'll trust the Gospel, including this narrative of Mary Magdalene and Jesus. I'll stand by Mary's testimony, too. By grace, Jesus came to Mary. Through faith, Mary heard and believed the word of God. In Christ, sin is forgiven, death is defeated, and life abundant and everlasting is enjoyed.

Jesus Christ is risen. He is risen, indeed!

Chuck DeVane is the pastor of Lake Hamilton Baptist Church. Call him at 501-525-8339 or email [email protected].

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