Billy Graham dies at 99, the most influential Christian of the 20th Century

Just a few minutes ago I turned to my phone and received an alert from BBC News that Billy Graham has died today aged 99.

Preacher to millions in massive football stadia. Counsellor of Presidents, Kings and Queens.

It would not be too much to say that he single handedly averted the decline of the Christian Church in the West more than anyone else of his generation. But God also achieved amazing things through him in every continent of the World.

A life well lived.

A death infused with hope of spending an eternity with his LORD.

I’m sure the words that Billy would want us to hear today are these:

“Someday 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.” (Billy Graham).

As much as this death is expected for a 99 year old it has emotionally affected me. His death marks the end of an extraordinary era.  He was an outstanding Evangelist the like the world has never seen before or since, and perhaps never will see again. It should be clear to any unbiased assessor that he was quite simply the most important and most influential Christian globally in the 20th Century.

The mainstream media are attempting to acknowledge this in their coverage, but they must puzzle at the notion of just how influential a genuine Christian could be back then.

Sermon clips from Billy Graham are even featuring on the UK’s Gardian Newspaper website right now.

I wonder what most journalists would make of watching one of Billy’s classic sermons all the way through?

There is nobody today who holds a fraction of the universal admiration and respect of Christian and non-Christian alike that he did then.  The world has moved on.  Christians are generally hated and mocked.

It wasn’t always so.

As a direct result of his public and private ministry, and of his exemplary character, Billy Graham, and other Christians were respected, admired, and listened to. No longer true.

Anybody who wasn’t alive at the time of his active ministry will never have a real concept of how important both his compelling preaching and private pastoral influence over hundreds of global leaders was for multiple decades.

Billy Graham 7 Nov 1918 – 21 Feb 2018 (Image: Pixabay)

What a welcome he must surely be having right now as he is united with the Saviour Jesus who he loved so much.

Can you imagine the cheers of literally MILLIONS of people who have heard his preaching, got saved right there and then in their seats, and have since actually found themselves in heaven, in some cases decades earlier than him?

You have to assume that his welcome must be the largest ever, in terms of the sheer numbers of people involved in the welcome of a saint to heaven who are there directly as a result of his ministry. The numbers would be astronomical, especially if you count his spiritual grandchildren, those converts from the ministry of several generations of ministers whom were themselves saved under his ministry.

If there is much joy in heaven over one sinner who repents, there must surely be great joy in heaven over one sinner turned saint and preacher who is no longer experiencing the challenges of suffering in this world. Billy will spend forever gathered around the throne, with his brothers and sisters, worshiping his Lord and Saviour Jesus Christ. And, of course it will be to JESUS that Billy will be humbly giving ALL the glory. He does not expect any praise from us.

Many may be asking what was the secret of Billy Graham’s success and ability to faithfully follow Jesus for decades as a Christian and a minister. It was simply this:

Billy Graham learnt how to abide with Jesus for decades and be totally dependent on Him.

As John Piper put it, it

‘God Did the Work, Period’ John Piper’s tribute to Billy Graham

 

I always got the sense that Billy never quite knew why God had chosen him for the work he had been given. He wasn’t about self-aggrandisement. But when it became clear that he could fill stadiums and see millions saved, he was no doubt driven to do so out of gratitude for the Jesus who had saved him. His biography is worthy of study alongside any of the greats of Church history.

Perhaps now he has passed we will begin to appreciate him even more.

Millions remember, and had their eternal destinies changed as a result.

I remember.

Billy Graham was a preacher who could fill stadiums with the old unchanging gospel of Jesus. And when he preached, it electrified the crowds.

Millions remember, and had their eternal destinies changed as a result.

I rememeber.

Wembley football stadium full to hear Billy.

The sermon simple, profound, clear. Oh yes! But not very openly emotional or outwardly aiming at being special oratory.

But powerful, powerful anointing.

As he proclaimed his message a pin could be heard dropping. And I will never forget being amazed as thousands RAN TO THE FRONT TO accept Jesus at his call.

His message back then could be summed up as follows:

Billy Graham has spoken to live meetings attended by more people and has been associated with more public professions of faith than any other evangelist in previous history. He seems to have come to a similar conclusion about the importance of the resurrection. The Billy Graham Center, located on the campus of Wheaton College, plays clips from his preaching. A paraphrased summary of what you hear is: Jesus died for you, but not just that—he was raised! He’s a living Jesus, and he’s here today, wanting to have a relationship with you. Could this emphasis help explain the power with which he preached and the millions of conversions that resulted?  In contrast, in many gospel messages I have heard, this strong emphasis on the resurrection has been absent, while the emphasis on the death of Jesus has remained.   (From my book Raised With Christ)

I stand by what I wrote then.

There is something about Billy’s message that is sadly lacking in the modern church.  

First, the message of the resurrection of Jesus, and him as a living person wanting a real relationship with us, is not emphasised as simply as Billy preached.

That’s why I wrote the book Raised With Christ to rexamine the importance of the resurrection, core in Billy Graham’s preaching, but sadly assumed in ours.

Secondly, we are lacking his simplicity of explanation, assuming nothing.

That is why I wrote my second book, with my pastor Tope Koleoso, Hope Reborn and as I did I was very conscious of trying to follow Billy’s example of simply retelling for a new generation the unchanging gospel of old.

We also lack evangelists.

And when we do find them, we don’t know what to do with them.

And, all too often, we lack the will do do real evangelism, whether it is mass evangelism or working hard on a one to one. I am hoping this week for opportunities to talk about this simple gospel, and perhaps give someone a copy of my own gospel book Hope Reborn to read. I suspect that kind of simple action would bring a smile to Billy’s face.

Billy knew all to well he was NOTHING without the millions who befriended, invited, and later discipled those who came to hear him preach.

Evangelist Billy Graham preaches one Sunday to more than 40,000 worshipers at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. (Edited version of a UCLA image.

Entire generations of Christian evangelical leaders from all over the World traced either their own conversion, or their evangelical fervour to the influence of this one man’s preaching, including the founder of the group of churches I am a part of, Terry Virgo and many many others.

None of them could have achieved what they did without first hearing the simple preaching they often heard first from Billy.

Here is one example of the testimony of Greg Haslam, one such convert who later filled the pulpit of Martyn Lloyd-Jones’ old church in London:

I attended a Billy Graham big-screen Gospel crusade relay to Liverpool on June 30, 1967, and after a big emotional struggle with doubt and many fears that Christ would not have me (the scars of rejection were still there from the break-up of my parents’ marriage and the lack of a father’s love), I came to faith in Christ that night. That was 40 years ago! My whole world and life-direction dramatically changed (Greg Haslam)

But perhaps almost the last word should go to one of those who will no doubt be welcoming his old friend to heaven right about now. John Stott, a pastor-theologian extraordinaire, recognised the unique quality of Billy Graham, and Stott’s comments leave us with a very potent challenge today, which should take your breath away.

For it is not just Billy’s simple message we are lacking today. It is also his sincerity, passion, and anointing. How we can recapture that, and how we can relearn how to enable evangelists to do what they are called to do, are the two greatest challenges facing the Church today:

I am convinced that in our day simple sincerity has not lost any of its power to appeal or to impress. It was in 1954 that Billy Graham first hit the headlines in Britain, with his Greater London Crusade. Approximately 12,000 people came to the Haringay Arena every night for three months. Most nights I was there myself, and as I looked round that vast crowd, I could not help comparing it with our half-empty churches. ‘Why do these people come to listen to Billy Graham,’ I asked myself, ‘when they don’t come to listen to us?’ Now I am sure that many answers could have been justly given to that question. But the answer I kept giving myself was this: ‘There is an incontrovertible sincerity about that young American evangelist. Even his fiercest critics all concede that he is sincere. I really believe he is the first transparently sincere Christian preacher many of these people have ever heard.’ Today, twenty-five years later, I have found no reason to change my mind.”

John Stott, Between Two Worlds: The Challenge of Preaching Today (Grand Rapids, 1982), pages 269-270.

But finally, lest we feel despair at his passing and worry what the future holds, I’m sure that Billy would want to remind us that it is JESUS who builds His Church and always has been.

Nobody would have predicted when he was young what Billy would become.

The whole strategy of God working in Billy Graham was to show what HE can do with a devoted life.

Jesus hasn’t finished building His Church. And he wants to use US today.

Each in a unique way.

Every single one to one encounter, when we faithfully share about Jesus, is no less significant than the vast crowded stadia to the One who leaves 99 sheep to seek and save the one who is lost.

If you are one who is lost today, wondering what all the fuss is about. Billy’s message is simply this: become a Christian and follow Jesus so you can live forever, be forgiven of your sin, and reunited with the God who loved you enough to live as Jesus, die and rise again for you! If you are a Christian, can you simply explain your faith to others?

I like to imagine that right now Billy is whispering in his Saviour’s ear, with eager anticipation and faith for the future of the work of the gospel, “Whats the next phase of your glorious plan of mission, Jesus?”

MORE ARTICLES FROM ADRIAN WARNOCK ABOUT BILLY GRAHAM

Watch Adrian’s Facebook Live video discussion about Billy Graham

I dare you to watch this classic sermon from Billy Graham right here, and visit the Billy Graham Sermon Archives

 

Adrian’s Facebook Live Discussion about Billy Graham

Let’s talk about Billy Graham

Posted by Adrian Warnock on Wednesday, February 21, 2018

 

Sample of Media Coverage of Billy Graham’s Death

Billy Graham, America’s pastor, has died In Depth, USA TODAY

Obituary: Billy GrahamBBC News

Billy Graham, evangelist pastor and counselor to presidents, dead at age 99 NBCNews.com

Billy Graham, renowned evangelist, dead at 99  CBS News

Evangelist Billy Graham Has Died ChristianityToday.com

 

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