“Some day you will read or hear that Billy Graham is dead. Don’t you 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.”
Unless you’ve be living under a rock, you are probably aware of the passing of William Franklin “Billy” Graham, Jr. Affectionately referred to as “America’s Evangelist”, Billy Graham was the face of the Evangelical movement for decades. Most Americans over 40 have probably heard, seen or attended a Billy Graham crusade. His impact for the Kingdom of God has been profound.
I found myself (through the mystery of YouTube auto-play) listening to the entire celebration of Billy Graham yesterday. If you are interested the ceremony at the Capitol is here, his funeral service is here, and the interment is here. I have a few observations born of watching the honor bestowed upon this man.
Watching the Capitol ceremony, the first thing that struck me was that when you honor someone, you often have to wait. The video begins with the hearse pulling up in front of the capitol. The morticians get out of the car and wait as events unfold. Standing by the Capitol steps is an honor guard, standing at attention. Who knows how long they had been waiting. Next, a bus arrives and the family disembarks they are guided up into the Capitol where they wait until all is ready. Then, the family is directed out of the Capitol and arrayed at the top of the steps to observe the arrival of the guest of honor.
Finally, the honor guard marches with precision to where they receive the casket and march to the Capitol steps. Then, one step at a time, they ascend the Capitol steps, always holding the casket level (I would really have hated to be the guys in the back). The 5 minutes it takes seems like an eternity. At last, they reach the top of the steps and enter the building, followed by the family.
Inside are various government leaders, including the Senate majority leader, Mitch McConnell; Speaker of the House, Paul Ryan; President and Mrs. Trump and Vice President and Mrs. Pence. These are important people, not used to being kept waiting, yet they have been inside for at least 20 minutes if not longer.
Here is an application. The importance of a person is indicated by who waits for him. The President of the United States does not typically wait for anyone; people wait for him. Yet by their willingness to wait as this ceremony unfolded, these powerful people declared the importance of Billy Graham.
There is no one greater than God. Sometimes, we are called to wait on him. Prayers are not answered at the time or in the fashion we would have wanted. Plans don’t work out they way we intended. Justice is not immediately received. Reasons are not forthcoming. Waiting patiently on God’s timing is an act of worship, declaring that he is more important than we are. Note that his importance is not defined by our waiting, we simply demonstrate our agreement to it.
Mitch McConnell’s eulogy, on behalf of the United States Senate, began by stating, “The man we recognize today shared the Gospel with more people, face to face, than any man in history.” In other words, Billy Graham is important, worthy of the honor being bestowed, because of his faithfulness in sharing the Gospel.
Billy Graham had just one message. It was simple, it was timeless. It basically goes like this: God loves you. You can be restored to right relationship with him if you repent of your sins and believe in the name of Jesus Christ, for there is no other name given under heaven by which we must be saved.
One of the things reiterated by his family was that the Billy Graham they knew at home was the same Billy Graham who preached before thousands. He didn’t have a public persona different from his private one. He was the genuine article.
The question I’m left with is this: Billy Graham was great because of his faithfulness in proclaiming the message of God’s love and redemption. If that message is true, do you believe it? If not, why not? If it’s not true, then was he really great?
The Gospel cannot be proven empirically, except for one way; the way the Billy Graham has gone. By the time you know for sure that it is true or false, it will be too late to do anything about it. That is why it is necessary to receive the gift of God by faith.
“I’m counting totally and completely on the Lord Jesus Christ, and not on Billy Graham. I’m not going to Heaven because I’ve read the Bible, nor because I’ve preached to a lot of people. I’m going to Heaven because of what Christ did.”