In the last couple of blogs, we have been thinking about the confusion of the Easter story wrapped up in the shiny foil of chocolate eggs. We have seen that in the Bible the Easter story is not about people having moving, profound spiritual experiences, wonderful as they may be; it is about people actually meeting the risen Lord Jesus Christ in the flesh. He had a real body, wonderfully renewed as the inauguration of the new creation. A historical reality. Our faith is built on facts. There was no room in Paul's mind for warm fuzzy Easter bunnies. He warned his readers that there can be nothing warm and fuzzy without cold hard facts.
If Christ has not been raised, your faith is futile and you are still in your sins (1Corinthians 15:17)
Liberal theology has suggested that the disciples came up with the story of the resurrection because they had had an undeniable experience of forgiveness and grace. The reverse is the truth: they understood that they were forgiven because they could not deny the fact of the resurrection.
The order is crucial: the fact led them to faith, and out of the faith came the feelings. Certainly there were feelings - the overwhelming joy of knowing that if God really had raised Jesus from the dead, then his death had proved to be sufficient punishment to appease the wrath of God that was due to their sins, the wrath that they had seen poured out on their beloved Jesus on the cross.
Knowing it to be a fact, they boldly preached the resurrection. It was that proclamation which brought them such persecution. The fact that they were willing to die for this story is one of the great evidences that they knew that what they were saying is true.
Some have suggested that the Easter story was a figment of their imaginations, an explanation sub-consciously concocted to explain the wonderful feelings of hope and forgiveness that they had experienced and in which Jesus seemed so real to them. But why would anybody die for something that deep down they knew to be the product of their spiritual imaginations? Torture has a powerful way to focus the mind on what's real. If they were motivated by the pleasure of their warm feelings of their Easter imaginings, they would have been just as likely to pursue the warm feelings of relief from pain that a simple statement of the fact that they had made it all up would have triggered. The pursuit of warm feelings makes people avoid death, not embrace it. Chocolate feels good, but not so good that you would die for it. When the chips are down, chocolate doesn't cut it; not being tortured feels a lot better!
The only explanation of their willingness to be martryed is that they knew that the Easter story was true - and that to deny that would have jeopardized all that they believed in for all eternity. The firm facts were the basis of a solid faith. The message they proclaimed was no ethereal message that could be believed or not, depending on whether it proved beneficial or offered an increased sense of inner well-being. It was a message to die for, so they certainly did not believe it to make them feel good..
So, when they faced the prospect of a heavy beating if they would not stop proclaiming that Jesus rose from the dead, Peter and John told their tormentors that they could not "help speaking about what [they had] seen and heard" (Acts 4:20). The Easter story is not therapeutic psychology. It is a fact of history. It is wonderful - not because it feels good, but because it is true. So true it can be trusted: facts followed by faith. Let the feelings come in sometime after that.