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Billy Graham’s body now lies in the Capitol rotunda, an honor shared by only three others in history. Some of the most powerful people in the world are paying tribute, even as I write this, with their presence and proclamations, all broadcast on a live feed you can follow here. In his life, the evangelist, who once practiced preaching to birds as he sat on a creek in a canoe near his country home, ended up sharing with over 215 million people worldwide, visited with no less than 12 sitting presidents and attended a record-setting number of eight inaugurations. Thousands have already paid their respects, filing by the coffin in his Charlotte home, including former presidents such as George Bush and Bill Clinton, and now thousands more will do so in Washington before the funeral on Saturday. At this moment, President Donald Trump is speaking of how Billy Graham changed our lives and indeed, changed the entire world.
the evangelist, who once practiced preaching to birds as he sat on a creek in a canoe near his country home, ended up sharing with over 215 million people worldwide
I have watched these things with some sadness, but more gratitude, not only for Billy Graham’s ministry, but for the consistency of character he demonstrated, a rare phenomenon, that in this day and time, perhaps speaks louder than his lifetime of powerful sermons. I was privileged to hear Graham at two different stadium events—once as a child and another as an adult, but in this past week, I have been captivated by a video of his “last words” that is circulating in various forms across social media, with this youtube link alone having over two million views. Among other things, he said the following:
Of all the things that I’ve seen and heard, there’s only one message that will change people’s lives and hearts. I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross.
I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross. When I heard that, I wept.
Over a quarter of a century ago, I set out to prepare for Easter by pondering the cross and Jesus’ final days for a month. That journey ended up taking almost a year and I have never been the same. Every year since, I have spent the Lenten season reliving those days with Jesus, meditating on the message of the Cross, being overwhelmed by the paradox of its utter simplicity and profound power.
Every need I have ever faced, every struggle I’ve endured, every painful question I’ve asked, every confusing season I’ve experienced, and every heart wound others inflicted has taken me to Jesus in those final days, where again and again I taste a fellowship of his suffering that soothes and settles and restores my soul like nothing else ever can.
The reality that Jesus paid the price for me to not only experience hope and joy and peace in this world, but to live in His presence for eternity is still an unfathomable mystery to me. In some small measure, I feel I’ve barely begun to understand Paul’s passion to know nothing but Jesus and him crucified.
I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross.
The opening service in the rotunda is ending now, with Michael W. Smith singing the song that invited broken souls to come and receive the gift of new life at every Graham event:
Just as I am without one plea, but that thy blood was shed for me,
And that thou bidst me come to thee, O Lamb of God, I come.
This is the message of the Cross in all its simplicity—we come with nothing in our hands, but the promise that 2000 years ago Jesus died for sinners, the perfect Lamb of God shed his blood so that you and I could come to him. When Billy Graham took his final breath last week, I know he was singing that line--O Lamb of God, I come—with joy inexpressible as he beheld his risen King face to face.
When Billy Graham took his final breath last week, I know he was singing that line--O Lamb of God, I come—with joy inexpressible as he beheld his risen King face to face.
Today and every day, and every minute of the day, I too say, O Lamb of God, I come. Emboldened by the price you paid Jesus, and the righteousness you purchased on my behalf, O Lamb of God I Come. And in my heart of hearts, I hope one day that I too can summarize my entire life’s purpose as Billy Graham did with that one simple line: I want to tell people about the meaning of the cross.
Today is Day 13 of Lent--if you haven't begun focusing on the Cross, you still have 27 more days! Pick up Contemplating the Cross here-click on the book below.
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Tricia McCary Rhodes
Author of 7 books and a professor for Fuller Theological Seminary, Tricia specializes in helping others experience God’s presence through practicing soul-care.