This morning, I awoke to learn that renowned evangelist Billy Graham passed away at the age of 99. The impact of this man on the cause of Christ can hardly be underestimated – ministry in 185 of 195 nations of the world, counsel to world leaders as well as both Republican and Democratic presidents, dozens of books written, providing the catalyst for millions of people to believe in Christ, and the list goes on. While no eye has seen, nor ear heard what God has prepared in His plans for us in both this life and the next, I imagine Graham coming face to face with the Lord when he entered Heaven, hearing his Savior declare, “Well done, good and faithful servant.” I imagine those millions of people who were influenced by his uncompromising declaration of the truth of salvation through Jesus Christ coming forward to thank him.
Billy Graham is a major part of my lineage as a believer. One of the people God used to make me aware of my need for Christ was saved at one of his crusades in the late 1950s. He has recounted to me dozens of times how Graham’s riveting, uncompromising presentation of the Gospel compelled him, by the power of the Holy Spirit, to go forward at the end of the event and dedicate his life to the Lord. The fact that my friend actually saw a giant of the faith speak publicly and was powerfully influenced by his message has never been lost on me. Fifty years later, Graham spoke through his experience to influence my life through the preaching of Christ.
I read Graham’s book Peace with God before I was a Christian. In this book, Graham writes that the Gospel “is the infusion of divine life into the human soul. It is the implantation or impartation of divine nature into the human soul whereby we become the children of God.” The subtitle of this book is “The Secret of Happiness,” which at first glance can be highly misleading given the large number of false teachers who preach the “gospel” of prosperity – that if you believe in God (but not necessarily His Son) He will give you everything that allegedly brings happiness. Rather, Graham offers through his thorough and detailed explanation of the Gospel an explanation of how belief in Christ can bring not only happiness, but joy. What could be better than knowing the God of the universe? Still, what could be better than being His child? This is the source of happiness – not some temporal idol that we often hold up as an expression of our identity.
Really, reading this book was the first time I learned that Christianity is not a religion, but a divine relationship with my Creator and Savior, a life-changing and soul-altering relationship that transcends any human bond. It is the message Graham sought to communicate during his decades of ministry, but it is indisputable that the message will outlive him. There is rejoicing in Heaven today, but how much moreso for the millions of people who came to know Jesus through his ministry, and how many more millions are to come.