When flying on commercial airlines in Saskatchewan, Canada heading north, Saskatoon is the end of the line. Therefore as our plane was touching down in Saskatoon, our group of fishermen would have to spend the night in this city on the Canadian plains, awaiting the final leg of our journey to the fishing lodge the following day.
Saskatoon would be the first time on this trip that our group had set foot on Canadian soil, so we would have to go through customs and immigration before we could leave the airport. In a post 9/11 world, we have grown accustomed to long lines in customs and heightened security in airports, so I was not alarmed when an immigration officer asked a few of the men traveling in our party (including myself) to go to their office for further screening. We thought this was merely a random testing of all incoming passengers, but we would soon find out this stop was anything but random.
Unbeknownst to us, a delay in our flight out of Minneapolis had given the ground crew in Saskatoon extra time to review our flight manifest and cross check the passengers names for criminal records. After over an hour of sitting and waiting to talk to a customs official, I was called into an office and the questioning began. Apparently someone with my same name had committed a few crimes and had previously tried to enter Canada illegally. The customs officials there had to make sure I was not the “Mark Robinson” they were looking for, so they asked me a series of questions.
“Have you ever been arrested,” they asked. “No,” I replied.
“Are you sure,” they responded. I began to strain my brain . . . HAD I been arrested before? Though my answer had been so certain before, it was wavering now.
“Mr. Robinson, it is a privilege and not a right for a United States citizen to enter Canada. We can refuse you entry for many reasons, including lying to us right now. We are going to ask you one more time, have you ever been arrested for anything?” As the guard said this, they clearly had my attention. Though I have never been arrested, I am certainly no angel, and my mind flooded with all the things I have done in my life that were less than noble. Did they know about these things? Was I really going to miss out on this fishing trip because I got a parking ticket in the fall of 2004? Logic told me no, but I felt this intense longing to confess to something the longer they asked me questions.
Finally, after over an hour of waiting and questioning they ran my social security number through their system and discovered that I was not the Mark Robinson they were looking for. Amazingly, a case of mistaken identity almost kept me out of Canada.
If I had been kept out of Canada because of a mistaken identity, I would have been furious. My sense of justice would have been violated, and something that I believed was a right due me would have been rejected because my identity would have been traded with that of a common criminal.
I was thinking about this story today as I was pondering an important aspect of the Christian life. Our entry into heaven and a permanent, vibrant relationship with God is a matter of (not mistaken but) exchanged identity. Here is what I mean . . .
All of us have things in our lives that we regret, things that we have done that are sinful and far from God’s best for our lives. Addictions, mistreatment of others, financial impropriety, divorce, etc. dot the past and present landscape of our lives, causing us to be shrouded in guilt, and dare us to hope they are never found out.
I think people have a great sense of fear when it comes to their future. The Bible tells us that one day all people will stand before God in judgment. At that time, a decision will be made about whether someone will enter into heaven or be cast into hell. I think many of us live life fearful that we will be “pulled out of line” and asked a few more questions by Christ before entry is granted into His heaven.
“It is a privilege and not a right to enter into heaven,” we imagine Jesus saying. “Any sin can keep you out, now tell me the truth . . . are you a sinner?” Knowing that Jesus is all-knowing lets me know that if entrance to heaven is based on personal righteousness, then I (along with all others) am personally out of luck. I simply have blown it too many times.
The great thing about Christianity is that God has sent His Son into the world to live the perfect life, and to die a terrible death that would be sufficient to pay the price for all our sins. The perfect/righteous man (Jesus) is willing to exchange His life for ours. 2 Corinthians 5:21 says, “He (God) made Him who knew no sin (Jesus) to become sin on our behalf so that we might become the righteousness of God.” If mistaken identity almost kept me out of Canada, this passage lets me know that exchanged identity gets us in to heaven.
Our lives are full of doubt and guilt, but Jesus life is filled with righteousness and peace . . . and He offers to exchange identities with us that our sins might be forgiven and that we might have peace with God.
Would you like to exchange your guilt for His peace? An exchanged identity awaits you if you will put your faith in Him. This exchange is no mistake . . . He desires to forgive us and to give us His goodness if we will trust in Him.
This Sunday at Wildwood we will be looking at the verses surrounding 2 Corinthians 5:21 as we complete our 6 week series “Don’t Forget to Fish.” If you have a chance, read 2 Corinthians 5:11-21 before Sunday to allow God’s work to saturate your heart and mind before we look at it together on Sunday. See you then at one of our two identical worship services (at new times) 9:30 and 10:50.