The Influence of Billy Graham

Early Wednesday morning, Heaven’s doors opened wide to receive Billy Graham. I cannot think of one other person who lived in the last 100 years who had a more profound impact in both the propagation and authenticity of the Gospel. Billy Graham was changed by the Gospel. His humility, his love for others, and his simplicity were powerful attractions to the Gospel for many. When presidents spent time with him, they knew there was something different about him. He didn’t need to argue anything with presidents nor parishioners; he simply let his life and the power of the Gospel do their job.

Matthew quotes Isaiah and tells us that John the Baptist prepared the way for the Lord’s coming. Maybe he wore camel’s hair and ate bugs to resemble the hairy prophet Elijah. Maybe his strange behavior and look was to draw a crowd. Maybe couriers who prepared the way for kings always dressed down to minimize their role. But whatever God’s reason for how John the Baptist approached his job, he was effective. When John spoke, people listened and they confessed their sins and their hearts were prepared for Jesus.

Once Jesus came, his humble presence and his teaching stirred the masses. Everyone wanted to hear and see Jesus. But Jesus didn’t come just to draw crowds; he came to redeem lives. His death on the cross made our transformation possible. Billy Graham was a good man but he didn’t walk through heavens gates because he was good enough. He may have been genuine and polite. He may have been wise and kind. And at some level maybe these attributes gave him a passage way to the offices of American presidents and world leaders. But I am convinced that what attracted men and women to stadiums to hear him and caused politicians to seek him out was the authentic presence of Christ that everyone saw and felt when they were around him. Like John the Baptist, Billy Graham prepared people to see and hear Jesus. He helped create a worldview in which serious conversations about the Christian faith happened all over the world.

There will no doubt be thousands of stories told about Billy Graham. He deserves our respect and admiration. But if he could speak to us today, I think he would humbly defer all the platitudes and tell us to consider Jesus. What would happen if all of us modeled the love of Jesus and shared the gospel with those around us with dignity and kindness? I think Billy would say, “Heavenly Father, I think they finally got it…you can blow the trumpets and bring them all home.”

“In those days John the Baptist came preaching in the wilderness of Judea, ‘Repent, for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’ For this is he who was spoken of by the prophet Isaiah when he said, ‘The voice of one crying in the wilderness: “Prepare the way of the Lord; make his paths straight.”‘ Now John wore a garment of camel’s hair and a leather belt around his waist, and his food was locusts and wild honey. Then Jerusalem and all Judea and all the region about the Jordan were going out to him, and they were baptized by him in the river Jordan, confessing their sins. But when he saw many of the Pharisees and Sadducees coming to his baptism, he said to them, ‘You brood of vipers! Who warned you to flee from the wrath to come? Bear fruit in keeping with repentance. And do not presume to say to yourselves, “We have Abraham as our father,” for I tell you, God is able from these stones to raise up children for Abraham. Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees. Every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire. I baptize you with water for repentance, but he who is coming after me is mightier than I, whose sandals I am not worthy to carry. He will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and fire.’

And when Jesus was baptized, immediately he went up from the water, and behold, the heavens were opened to him, and he saw the Spirit of God descending like a dove and coming to rest on him; and behold, a voice from heaven said, ‘This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.’” – Matthew 3:1-11, 16-17 ESV

Written by President Dean Collins ’79