Every media source and the whole world (it seemed) was reporting and commenting on the news that Billy Graham had died at age ninety-nine. We all knew it was coming soon. We’d been thinking that for the last decade at least. Finally, his Lord made the call and home he went.
He has had my admiration since I was a boy. They say that he proclaimed the message of salvation in Christ in person to over 200 million people! That doesn’t include all of us who watched his telecasts through the decades. Suffice it to say no preacher reached as many since Jesus uttered the Great Commission to “Go into all the world” with His Good News.
Memories are etched in my mind of him on our black and white console in the 1960’s, coming in primetime network television, pre-empting whatever was usually on. With a Bible in one hand and extending the other, he urged men, women and young people to receive Christ at the end of his sermons. Always. That’s because he was an “evangelist” – from the Greek it means someone who proclaims the “evangel”, the Good News of Christ.
I’ve seen videos of the invitations he gave to “come forward”. In some cases, people didn’t walk, they ran to trust Christ, so compelling was his message. And as a preacher myself, I learned from Mr. Graham that the offer of salvation God has given isn’t complicated. There are no hoops one must jump through. He loved to quote Jesus’ words, “For God so loved the world, that He gave His only begotten Son, that whosoever believes in Him should not perish but have everlasting life”. It doesn’t get much simpler than that.
And so, in over 60 years of preaching they came by the hundreds of thousands – no, probably the number is in the millions – to simply receive God’s gift they heard about from a simple preacher with a simple message. I’ve read the last few days many of those who responded at Billy Graham “crusades”. Many are my friends. Their lives were changed at that moment, not by Billy Graham (and he would be quick to point that out), but by their new-found relationship with almighty God through the sacrifice of His Son, Jesus.
He was known as the “pastor” to every American president since Harry Truman. All of them sought him out, asking for his insights, wisdom and mostly his prayers. And he, without partisan, obliged them all. I have to wonder, had it not been for his influence in the White House, what might be the condition of our nation today.
Interestingly, as a boy he preferred baseball to religion. “I detested going to church,” he said when recalling his youth. But at age 15 something radical happened in his life. “But finally, I was persuaded by a friend [to go to a meeting]…and the spirit of God began to speak to me as I went back night after night. One night, when the invitation was given to accept Jesus, I just said, ‘Lord, I’m going.’ I knew I was headed in a new direction.” And as a result, generations came to hear and respond to that same invitation through this North Carolina farm boy.
We never met, although I did hear him preach once in person in Atlanta over twenty years ago. Yet, I know he would be embarrassed if the focus of this column was on him, because he never lived that way. He would say to me, “Rick, point them, like I did to Jesus.”
We’ve lost a giant, both in American culture and in the Christian world. But the hope is that those of us who knew his Savior will see him one day. The message he preached will continue to change lives. I know, as a Gospel preacher that I stand on the shoulders of Billy Graham, and am thankful to have lived in a generation he impacted.