You never forget the first time you see a dead person. The unfocused eyes, the bloodless skin, and the slumping frame make it obvious to even the most inexperienced observer. This person is dead. No, I’m not a doctor and yes, I know about all of the research on brain waves and heartbeats and the difficulty the medical profession has in defining death. By and large, though, we’ve done pretty well over the years in figuring out who’s dead and who’s not.
And those around Jesus would have known He was dead as well. It’s one of the things that constantly frustrates me about our culture. Every Easter, someone will republish the old rumors that Jesus didn’t really die, but only passed out under the strain of the Roman torture and crucifixion. Please! The Roman soldiers were professional killers. They had one job and their only job was to make sure Jesus was dead. Granted, they were encouraged to make His death as painful as possible, but in the end, their only job was to make sure Jesus was dead.
If there had been any doubt, they would have taken the necessary steps to insure Jesus was dead. They would have broken his legs to hasten his suffocation. They would have stabbed him again. They would have done something to make sure Jesus was dead.
The women knew Jesus was dead. That’s why they came back on Sunday morning to complete the funeral service. None of the women had any thought of seeing Jesus alive again. That’s why Joseph offered a tomb and why the disciples all scattered. They all knew Jesus was dead.
And if I had been there, I would have known Jesus was dead as well. Just like Thomas, I would have wandered off and tried to think about what I was going to do next. I wouldn’t be thinking about seeing Jesus again. I wouldn’t be thinking about life with Jesus. I would be trying to figure out my life WITHOUT Jesus. You don’t hang out with dead people. You have a funeral. You grieve. You move on.
Maybe Thomas didn’t have it all figured out, but he knew this much. Jesus was dead.
So, when the disciples told Thomas Jesus was alive, Thomas didn’t believe them. Jesus was dead. I’m not sure what that says about what Thomas thought of his disciple brethren, but he didn’t believe them.
But you know what? I wouldn’t have believed the disciples. You wouldn’t have believed them either. After all, we know dead when we see it. Like everyone else, we would have known Jesus was dead. So, like Thomas, we would have gotten on with our lives. If you can’t figure out something, you fall back on what you know.
We do the same thing kind of thing every day. When we are confused or uncertain, we fall back on what we think we know. For instance, a lot of us who claim to be Christ followers are mere fans of Jesus and not followers at all. While we claim to live our lives based on Jesus’ teachings, we do so in the shallowest of ways. Our morality and our daily ethics might be founded on the well-known teachings of Jesus — at least superficially — but most of the time, we completely miss the heart of the Teacher.
What we don’t know, or rather WHO we don’t know, is Jesus. There is a lot of difference between knowing about Jesus and knowing Jesus. There are a lot of us who know ABOUT Jesus but don’t know Him.
Baptists, for all of our failures, have always insisted that God has no grandchildren. That is, you can’t know Christ from someone else’s experience. Your experience with Christ has to be your own.
Paul knew this. In his letter to the Corinthians, he writes:
For I passed on to you as most important what I also received: that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, that he was buried, that he was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures, and that he appeared to Cephas, then to the Twelve. Then he appeared to over five hundred brothers and sisters at one time; most of them are still alive, but some have fallen asleep. Then he appeared to James, then to all the apostles. Last of all, as to one born at the wrong time, he also appeared to me. (1 Corinthians 15:3-8, CSB)
“And last of all, he also appeared to me…” And Jesus appeared to Peter, James, Thomas, and all the rest.
And in the living room of my home in Huntsville, Alabama with my mom and dad and the pastor of my little church, Jesus appeared to me.
Thomas didn’t believe Peter and the other disciples when they told him Jesus was alive. He had see that for himself. We all do. The experience has to be our own. After all, God doesn’t have any grandchildren.