Rev. Billy Graham passed away peacefully at his home in North Carolina on February 21, 2018, at the age of 99. He is clearly one of the most influential figures of the past hundred years. Various aspects of Graham’s story have been recounted by the media, but I would like to share my reflections on this remarkable man and his ministry.
Billy Graham was a relatively ordinary man, used by God in very extraordinary ways. It is hard to overstate his impact on the world’s religious landscape. Graham was in many ways synonymous with “evangelicalism.” When he began his ministry, evangelicals were often seen as a relatively unimportant “sect.” Today, many view them as the most significant and vibrant branch of Christianity. Graham’s influence, through his own ministry and other organizations he founded, has played a huge role in shaping the evangelical church today. The relationships Graham developed with religious and political leaders also enabled him to play a key role on the world stage. The annual Gallup survey found that Billy Graham was among the top ten of “most admired men in the world” for sixty-one years in a row.
Billy Graham’s most important impact was in the lives of individuals he touched. Literally billions of people heard Graham share the Christian message at a crusade meeting, on T.V. or radio, or through countless books and articles. Many of these folks, including some of my friends and family members, point to words by Billy Graham as instrumental in their becoming a believer in Jesus Christ.
Billy Graham’s message was simple and clear. “The Bible says…” was often the preface to statements he would make. This reflected his conviction that the message he shared was not based on his own ideas, but on God’s truth, revealed in the Bible. The heart of Graham’s message was always that every human being is in need of God’s forgiveness and salvation that can only be found through trusting in Jesus Christ. Graham consistently made it clear that Jesus is able to provide this salvation because He is the eternal Son of God, who died on the cross for the sins of human beings, and rose from the dead to guarantee the salvation of all who trust in Him. Graham’s message was hardly novel, since it is the teaching of the New Testament and has been taught by the Christian Church for two thousand years. I am privileged to be able to frequently share this same truth with people of this community.
Billy Graham lived in such a way that his character was “above reproach.” Yes, he made mistakes just like any human being. However, he made every effort to ensure that neither his personal conduct, nor the practices of his ministry, gave people reason to dismiss the message that he was committed to proclaiming. While other churches and ministries often become entangled in accusations of sexual misconduct and financial scandal, the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association and its founder maintained a reputation of total integrity.
Billy Graham’s death brings tears to my eyes but joy to my heart. He is a man who will be missed. However, I believe Graham himself is now experiencing greater joy than he has ever known. Many years ago he said, “Someday you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t believe a word of it. I shall be more alive than I am now. I will just have changed my address. I will have gone into the presence of God.”