Today marks Billy Graham’s 96th birthday. It is a day where we as a community of faith can celebrate the work that God has done through the hands of one man. It is a day where we can look to a hero of faith and follow him as he followed Christ. It is a day where we can hear, and celebrate testimonies of our brothers and sisters in Christ, who are a part of the same eternal kingdom because of the preaching of this man. It is a joyful day.
At the same time it is a day to reflect on the brevity of human life. On the fact that we all must face death. On the fact that at 96 Billy Graham is reaching the end of his earthly life. We look to a hero for many of us and see an old, frail man in failing health. Someday in the not so distant future we will hear the news that Billy Graham has passed from this earth. It will be a day of tears and a day of joy. Bill Graham spoke of this day often;
“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.”
There is another important thought to consider today as we are reminded of the aging of Billy Graham. It is a question of succession. Where is the evangelist that will take his place? Billy Graham comes from a long line of very popular mass evangelists. Starting with men such as Charles Finney and Elder Jacob Knapp, to men such as D. L. Moody, Billy Sunday, Mordeaci Ham, and Billy Graham, the mass evangelist has held a place in our culture for a couple hundred years. Men who were popular not just in the Christian community, but in the community at large. Men who were listened to by both saved and unsaved individuals.
These great evangelists were able to reach out in a variety messages and speak the Gospel into homes where no Christian lived. Because of this fact, many came to faith that may have heard the message in no other way. They were by no means perfect, but the culture turned to them and God used them greatly.
Where is the next man who can do the same?
As of now, he doesn’t exist. Evangelists still work throughout the land, and the office of the evangelist as a leader in the church is just as relevant as it was when the apostle Paul penned the words of Ephesians 4:11, but the face of the culture has changed. The community has hardened itself to the words of God, and therefor they have also turned away from any teacher who brings a message from God. A man such as Billy Graham would no longer be received in the same way.
Billy Graham was a man, placed by God, to be used during a specific season of life in America. That season has passed.
No longer will mass evangelists be able to get the Gospel message into homes, and lives. Yet the Great Commission remains. The message Billy Graham gave his life to preaching, must still go forth. The messengers now must look different.
What does this mean for the church?
To put it bluntly, the task falls to each Christian. We are all called to evangelize and get the Gospel message into the world. We are all called to lead others to Christ. At one point a single man could come to Kansas City and preach to 40,000 different people 4 days in a row. Today few would come. In order to reach those 160,000 people we must go find them where they are. We must knock on doors and engage them in the streets. We must take the Gospel message to the highways and byways of the city. The task is on us.
Of course, it has always resided on the shoulders of the local church, but God used men such as Billy Graham to accomplish His purpose. Now is the time for Him to use you and me. We must be faithful to get the message into the world. We must obey the Great Commission.
Here is the cool part.
The same Holy Spirit that brought power to the messages of Billy Graham and fruit of salvation to his listeners resides in us. The truth that he preached is the same truth that we preach. The same power of God is available to us.
In 2004 Billy Graham preached for 4 days in Kansas City to 155,000 people. During this crusade 16,265 decisions were made (salvation, rededication, response to vocational ministry etc.). Imagine if we as a church took the Gospel message out to 155,000 people in our city. Imagine the blessing from God. Imagine the response.
This is what we as a church are called to do. No longer can the task fall to one man. The culture will no longer allow it. The job is for us to do. It is time to put our hands to the plow and get on with the task.
On Billy Graham’s 96th birthday we have a lot to consider. Billy Graham perhaps gives us a gift better than we could give him. The example of a well lived life in faithful obedience to the Great Commission. It is time we followed that example.