Ever since the first astonished disciples shared the incredible news that “Christ is risen,” the message of the empty tomb has held fascinating relevance for all who have grasped its significance. But in 1958, with the whole world a potential chasm of death, the Easter message seems to bear a special significance for the modern man.

CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S fifty contributing editors, asked to pin-point that relevance, sketch it in comprehensive terms—in its bearing on the twentieth-century individual, his society, and his cosmos.

The contemporaneousness of the Resurrection was one of their most frequently recurring themes. “Far from being an historical event two thousand years removed from us,” declares Dr. Harold John Ockenga of Boston’s Park Street Church, “the Resurrection is a contemporaneous occurrence in the light of which we must decide, act and live.” President Duke K. McCall of Louisville’s Southern Baptist Theological Seminary sees the Resurrection speaking not, as some have charged, of “pie in the sky by and by when we die,” but of a “transforming power for the present with eternal consequences.”

Thus neither past, future, nor both together, can exhaust the Easter message. This victory, asserts Dr. Paul S. Rees, Minneapolis pastor, “is not something that resides in the future as a hope but something that now leaps from the past as a fact. Immortality is of the future, whereas the Atonement—the victory of God in Christ over sin and death and hell—is of the past, with energies released that range through all the living present, offering victory to the beaten, pardon to the guilty, newness of life to the captives of death.”

The fact that Jesus Christ’s post-resurrection appearances constitute the “bedrock foundation of our faith” is emphasized by Dr. Earl L. Douglass, but he adds: “If these appearances have not continued to the present time, then Easter has lost much of its relevance. To be sure, the appearances today are not the same as they were 2,000 years ago, visible to the eye, but they are and, as long as Christian faith exists, will continue to be the reinforcement of our spiritual lives.… ‘And last of all he appeared unto me also.’ And to the modern church and to an agonizing world and to the community in which we live—today, right now, if ever.”

Rector Geoffrey W. Bromiley, of Edinburgh, observes that particularly those who are continually in touch with old age, sickness and death see Easter’s abiding relevance for every age. And London’s W. E. Sangster is heard exulting in the peace Easter brings as he tells a story on himself. “My children had a joke on me when they were small. They said that my first words to them every Christmas Day were these: ‘Children, this is the most glorious morning of the year.’ And that would have been all right to them if I did not say on every Easter morning: ‘Children, this is the most glorious morning of the year.’ I don’t deny the charge! I still feel on both of those mornings as they come, the same surge of wonder and gratitude.

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God born! God with us forevermore …

God risen! Sin beaten! Death defeated! God with us forevermore!

Oh the peace of Easter—the deep satisfying truth of it at the heart’s core!”

Coupled with the privilege of the Easter peace is the responsibility of the Easter evangel. The Rev. Richard C. Halverson, of International Christian Leadership, comments on the common Christian failing. “The fact that Jesus Christ is contemporary is indisputable. However, the fact needs to be demonstrated in the lives of Christians. Unfortunately, so much that goes by the name of Christianity today is nothing more than man doing his best. The relevancy of Christ will be apparent as Christians participate daily in his living indwelling Presence.” In stirring contrast to the frequent and false equation of Christianity with an effort to “behave oneself,” is the glorious message which Christians really have. As Editor John C. Pollock of The Churchman puts it: “As a result of Easter we do not seek to win … the perplexed people of the world … (to) assent to a doctrine or even to a way of worship, but to introduce them to a living Person—Jesus Christ, who has met our needs and can alone meet theirs.” He it is who makes the Resurrection contemporaneous.

The arrival of Sputnik conjoined with the threat of massive misuse of scientific power provides a fascinating foil for the power of God as manifest in the Resurrection. Armed with this latter power, the Christian may meet the unique fears of this age head-on. Dr. Ned B. Stonehouse draws the lines in lucid fashion. “As never before men have been confronted with the significance for their lives of the eruption of power, power within nature so colossal as to stagger the imagination. Its possibilities for good are acknowledged but the dominant reaction is evidently one of anxiety and dread if not of naked terror. Only rarely and if so but dimly do men perceive and recognize that all power, including the power of fission and fusion, is of God who by his action in Christ has brought our stupendous universe into being and by his power holds it together so as to give assurance that his purpose regarding the world will be fulfilled. What men need to know today, however, if they are to have such assurance and a wholly satisfying peace of mind for the present as well as hope for the future, is that the God of power has acted redemptively in Christ in raising him from the dead. With God all things are possible, even the salvation of sinners! And this possibility has become reality in that Christ was raised up for our justification and we have been made alive with him. And our faith in Christ unto salvation becomes the substance of things hoped for because Christ by his resurrection guarantees a salvation which embraces not only the whole man but also the entire cosmos.”

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Dr. McCall observes that a generation which had come to believe that future progress was within its own scientific capabilities “has been plunged into sticky pessimism by the proof of Russian scientific prowess. What is desperately needed by our people is an awareness that beyond human life and beyond death God holds the future in the power of his redeeming love.” The Rev. F. P. Copland Simmons, of St. Andrew’s Presbyterian, London, writes in a similar vein of “this poor world frightened by its own cleverness,” needing more than anything else the triumphant message of a risen Lord from whose love neither life nor death, principalities nor powers, things present nor things to come, can separate us.

“Easter has more relevance today than ever before,” avers Professor Faris D. Whitesell of Northern Baptist Seminary. “If the scientists are right that 20 to 30 millions of us could be annihilated by the first attack of an enemy in thermonuclear-missile warfare, we need the living hope of a risen Christ. His resurrection validated his claims to deity, saviourhood and lordship, and made his religion unique and supreme among world religions.” Professor Fred E. Young of Central Baptist Seminary sees materialism and scientism continuing to “ ‘short’ the power line of modern man.” “The light of the twentieth century wanes while the man-made satellites attempt to rise on the horizon of a sin-darkened world. The world needs the light and the life-giving power of the risen Son.”

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Dr. Bromiley reads Easter’s special message for the age of Sputnik and the rocket in following fashion. “It gives the one assurance of a new creation which answers the yearning for the beyond perhaps expressed in the projects of space travel. And it also gives the one assurance of victory over pain and death which answers the threat of mass destruction undoubtedly presented by thermonuclear development. More than ever, the Easter message is good news—the only really good news for yearning but self-destroying humanity.”

Men need constant reminding that God’s power, so clearly displayed in the Resurrection, is infinitely superior even to the greatest of human achievements. Professor William Childs Robinson of Columbia Theological Seminary traces this power in the affairs of men. “The power of his resurrection changed the course of life for a Peter, a James, a Thomas, a Paul, and for an increasing number of individuals since. The power of his resurrection established the Church of the living God in Christ Jesus, and has carried on its victorious march through the centuries. The power of his resurrection is our stay in the hour of sorrow and in the face of death. The power of his resurrection shines through every page of the New Testament making it the book of faith for the life of faith. The power of his resurrection speaks forgiveness to the contrite heart, for he who was delivered up for our offenses was raised for our justification. By the power of his resurrection, Jesus Christ was declared to be the Son of God that he might make his Father to be our Father and his God to be our God.”

The concept of power has long had a magnetic attraction for philosophers and historians as well as theologians. Dr. Frank E. Gaebelein, headmaster of Stony Brook School, points out the one exception to Lord Acton’s statement that power always corrupts. “The fact of Easter is a reminder that Christ is the only person to whom ‘all power in heaven and earth’ can safely be entrusted.… Only in the risen Lord is power seen in its highest integrating and transforming aspect. And the one sure hope for humanity lies in submission to him who upholds ‘all things by the word of his power.’ ”

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The Christian view of God and the world finds its determinative factor in the Resurrection of Christ. “Whereas the Cross and the tomb represented the triumph of evil over good, and the final defeat of divine love,” states Professor James G. S. S. Thomson, “the Resurrection was a vindication of holiness, it showed that the Omnipotent God is on the side of righteousness, it proves the supremacy of spiritual over material forces, it lifts this present life above the vicissitudes and chances and changes of this world’s circumstances, it invests life with infinite meaning, purpose and value, it gives coherence, unity and consistency to the world and history, and becomes the ground of the certain consummation of God’s purposes in human history.”

The keynote of history then is not found in a blind trust in naturalistic processes but rather in the divine act of resurrection. Dr. Roger Nicole of Gordon Divinity School puts it thus: “The Resurrection reminds us that even today it is not by individual or national progress that salvation is obtained, but by the work of Jesus Christ as mediator and only Saviour. The Resurrection emphasizes the supernatural in a world that is too often steeped in naturalism. It emphasizes the sovereignity of God to a humanity that would seek its own autonomy. It emphasizes redemption to a world that is plunged in sin, too often without being conscious of it.”

“More than anything else,” declares Dr. Ockenga, “the world needs a demonstration of the existence of God: Not a God of fiction or legend but a God as exhibited in Calvary and in the Resurrection. The justice and holiness of God which required the death of his Son on the cross in expiation for sin explains much of the catastrophic conflict and the pain in the world today. The power of God as exhibited in the Resurrection affords the hope for the confused and the competitive world today. If Jesus arose from the dead, his prophecies and promises concerning the cataclysmic end to history and the initiation of the kingdom of God hold the solution to many societal and ecclesiastical problems. If Jesus arose from the dead, the supernatural is available in the transformation of individual character and conduct. If Jesus arose from the dead, a principle of divine energy is operative in society today which gives ground for courage and optimism.”

Concordia Seminary’s Professor J. Theodore Mueller sets forth God’s sovereignty in face of the world’s prevailing social, economic, and political confusion. “Though he hides his glory,” the “risen divine Saviour still rules.” God’s chastening hand is seen upon his children, and if the Lord tarries, “the world will emerge out of its present affliction with greater awareness of God, and the Church with greater strength for serving Christ.”

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The Christian philosophy of history gains its perspective in the garden of the tomb. The Resurrection, as a point in time, gives release from a cyclic view of history and, in the words of a London rector, the Reverend J. R. W. Stott, gives assurance that “this world of time and sense is not a mere mirage of mocking delusions.”

The transiency of the temporal is pointed up by United Presbyterian minister Dr. Cary Weisiger, who observes that just 25 years ago Hitler came to power, while just 10 years ago Mahatma Gandhi was assassinated. Such names come and go. The enduring name is Jesus Christ. His resurrection gives certainty of his present reigning and his coming return.

History is thus viewed eschatologically. Professor F. F. Bruce finds the relevance of Easter in the fact that the decisive battle of all time has already been won. “The Crucified One is King.… While the campaign may be long and hard, the issue is not in doubt, for the course of history is under his control, and Victory Day is sure.” Lt. General William K. Harrison, former U. N. truce delegate in Korea, sees the sinful world demonstrating its vain futility in its determination to be independent of God and thus passing through ever increasing tribulation, whereas those who know Christ can, by his bodily resurrection, rejoice in the certainty of his ultimate glorious and eternal reign, the King of Kings and Lord of Lords.”

Professor Boyd Hunt of Southwestern Baptist Seminary cautions the believer against despair. “Who knows but that in just these crisis times a new age is being born and that the horizons are lifting to frontiers more challenging than man has dared dream?” “ ‘Fear not, I am the first and the last, and the living one; I died, and behold I am alive forevermore, and I have the keys of death and hades.’ ” Or as Dr. Harold Kuhn of Asbury Seminary puts it: “Does Easter afford some clue concerning what today’s darkness portends—of a dawn not of man’s own making and design, but one revealing a new departure in God’s dealings with his race?”

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In all the foregoing there is manifestly no room for a concept of an “Easter faith” without an “Easter fact.” As the apostle Paul makes so very clear, all hinges on the fact. And the alternatives are not bright. As Professor Thomson emphasizes: “ ‘If Christ hath not been raised,’ then his mission is uncertificated, his miracles are impositions, his death a mistake, and Christianity is robbed of its credentials. ‘If Christ hath not been raised’ there is neither pardon nor atonement since a Christ entombed can neither forgive nor save; and the mourner, peering through the gates of death, can espy no world of light beyond the shadows.” In Dr. Ockenga’s words, we must then “return to Marxism, reconstructionism, progressivism or humanism.”

To the Church is thrust the imperative of rescuing men from Easter’s alternatives. Professor John H. Gerstner gives the sobering reminder that even as mankind seeks to avert self-imposed destruction, “for the true Christian it makes no ultimate difference if we are not successful, and for the unbeliever it makes no ultimate difference if we are successful.”

There is then consummate urgency for the preaching of the Gospel, a gospel in which is ever found the divine coupling of Calvary and Easter. “The cross of Christ is never so luminous,” affirms Bishop Arthur J. Moore, “as when seen in the light of that empty sepulcher in Joseph’s garden. The light that falls upon our pathway is not the light of the setting sun; it is the light of the eternal morning that shineth more and more unto the perfect day.” So let us preach a full-orbed gospel, exhorts Dr. Andrew W. Blackwood, “as the only ground of hope for a weary heart or a needy world.”

Would that all preachers would maintain as their goal the oft-sharing of the experience of John Bunyan’s immortal “Christian.”

Now I saw in my dream, that the highway up which Christian was to go, was fenced on either side with a wall, and that wall was called Salvation. Up this way, therefore, did burdened Christian run, but not without great difficulty, because of the load on his back.

He ran thus till he came at a place somewhat ascending, and upon that place stood a cross, and a little below, in the bottom, a sepulchre. So I saw in my dream, that just as Christian came up with the cross, his burden loosed from off his shoulders, and fell from off his back, and began to tumble, and so continued to do, till it came to the mouth of the sepulchre, where it fell in, and I saw it no more.

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In the emptiness of that sepulcher, a mere pinpoint in this universe, resides eternal relevance for American and Russian, Briton and Cypriot, Frenchman and Algerian, Israeli and Egyptian, Afrikaner and Bantu; for statesmen, politicians, educators, professional men, businessmen, and laboring men. Perhaps the best hope of CHRISTIANITY TODAY’S contributing editors is that all of these, yea even the cosmos itself, might stoop, behold the empty tomb … and marvel … and believe.

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