What made Billy Graham the world’s pastor?
How did this happen? Why did he have the privilege to speak to over 200 million people? Why was he chosen as the fourth citizen in history to lie in repose in the United States Capital? Why was he the first citizen since Rosa Parks to get such an invitation? Why has his death been the focus of every newspaper and media outlet in the world?
What is “it” that he had?
For once in my life, I know an answer to a tough question: “it” was that Billy Graham was a very compelling picture of Jesus.
Those of us who know Jesus saw Him in Billy. Those who don’t know Jesus probably don’t realize they’ve seen Him in the life of a simple preacher.
Billy chose to be known for what He was for, which was the love and kindness of Jesus extended to all. He chose to not be known for what He was against. He chose to love instead of judge. He chose to hold out the hope of grace instead of the animosity of judgment.
I think we sometimes confuse having firm beliefs that may not be embraced by others with the reality of what judgment looks like.
To be clear, I have very strong beliefs about the Bible: about what it says and what it means to the way I live. I’m always happy to share those beliefs within the confines of a personal conversation, in a place where disagreements are shared with mutual respect for each other. Too many church podiums have been turned into political dissertations rather than used for inspiring biblically-based messages which help us see Jesus.
When I think of the traits of Jesus others observed in Billy Graham, I think of the words humility, kindness, forgiveness, patience, honesty, clarity, courage, and boldness. Among the many articles I’ve read this week, one in particular captured “it” in the following paragraph:
“What was it about this simple man from Charlotte, North Carolina, that so captured our attention? Why did we listen to him for 60-plus years? Many evangelical leaders agree that what made Billy Graham so special was a God-given combination of a humble spirit and a reassuring demeanor joined with an unflinching preaching power that proclaimed the good news of Jesus Christ. He was a lion in the pulpit and a lamb outside of it.”
Billy Graham had a signature song called "Just As I Am." It was sung at the end of every crusade he held:
“Just as I am, without one plea,
But that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bid‘st me come to Thee
O Lamb of God, I come, I come.”
It’s hard to hear or sing that song without thinking of Billy Graham. Millions and millions of people walked onto the floor of a stadium to give their lives to Christ while tens of thousands sang “Just As I Am.”
Billy’s musical team included humble and talented men as well and each one of these men gave us a song. Cliff Barrows led the crusade choir in singing “How Great Thou Art.” Then, George Beverly Shea often stood at the podium and sing “I’d Rather Have Jesus.” In addition to these musical greats, most of the Graham Crusades featured a prominent Christian music artist.
I would especially watch the television broadcast when Bill, Gloria, and Danny Gaither appeared on the stage singing what was then contemporary worship music. Songs like: “Because He Lives,” “Something Beautiful,” and “Let’s Just Praise the Lord.”
I would watch Sandi Patty sing for the world to thunderous applause. Michael W. Smith spent a great deal of time with the Graham family. All of these people were very important to Billy and Ruth. They were there for Billy when Ruth died and they will all be there for the family as they celebrate Billy’s life this week.
Melissa Marshall, one of the pastors on my team, spoke last summer and made a statement I’ll never forget:
“If you are a follower of Jesus, then someone should be able to follow you and find Jesus.”
That was Billy Graham. If you watched him on TV, read his books, or listened to his messages, you not only heard about Jesus, you got a picture of Him in this humble man.
“I consider everything a loss because of the surpassing worth of knowing Christ Jesus my Lord, for whose sake I have lost all things. I consider them garbage, that I may gain Christ.” (Philippians 3:8)
This was Billy Graham.