By Keith Manuel, Evangelism/Church Growth Team Director
The death of Billy Graham is grabbing the headlines in print, on a variety of screens, and over radio waves – avenues he used extensively to spread the gospel.
Many are reminiscing on the spiritual counsel he provided Presidents of the United States. Others are remembering his impeccable character, especially during the eighties when ministry failures seemed all too common.
While these and many other aspects of his ministry will be discussed, Graham’s use of a simple authoritative phrase, may be his greatest legacy – “The Bible says.”
If one reads or listens to the sermons of Billy Graham, a consistent pattern will emerge. He reads the Scripture. He shares what some call “The Big Idea of the Sermon.”
Next, he addresses what famous people say or how people live relative to the subject. Finally, he makes an appeal, not based on the authority of Billy Graham nor based on the ideas of great men and women. He makes his appeal on the only authority any preacher ever has. Graham cries out with a clear, resonate voice, “The Bible says…”
The phrase flowed so freely from Graham that even a secular newspaper, the Chicago Tribune, used it to describe his pulpit presence. The article stated, “A tall figure with swept-back hair, blue eyes and a strong jaw, Graham was a commanding presence in the pulpit with a powerful baritone voice. His catchphrase: “The Bible says …”
Graham’s message was never his message. He was only a herald, declaring the powerful message of the King of kings, no matter if he was addressing a president or a pauper. The final appeal was always similar, “Come. If you are with family or a delegation, they will wait on you. You come and receive Jesus.”
There is an example in the preaching of Graham for those in the pulpit or the pew. Our words should point people to the saving work of Jesus found in the Word of God.
In his sermons, Graham consistently pointed out the problem of sin. Men and women seek pleasure, wealth, wisdom, and other worldly things because of their sinful nature. In his sermon on the Value of a Soul during the sixteen-week, New York crusade in 1957, he said, “The Bible says, you can have pleasure temporarily. You can have pleasure in sin for a season, for a short time; but true happiness and true peace are found when the soul comes back to the Maker.”
Graham also directed his hearers to the Bible for the answers to life’s tough questions. During a sermon in Washington, D.C. in 1970, he said, “The Bible is the only book that fully answers the ultimate questions that youth are asking: Who am I? Where did I come from? Where am I going? What is the purpose and meaning of my existence?”
Most importantly, he pointed his hearers to the work of the cross. He declared Jesus as our substitute. God loving us enough to allow His Son to die in our place. To an audience in Japan in 1980, Graham stated, “The Bible says, ‘Jesus … who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame.’”
Usually, after explaining the work of the cross, Graham called urgently for a response from his hearers to repent, believe in the Gospel, and to receive the new birth through complete surrender to Jesus.
In May of 2006, Billy Graham came to the hurricane devastated city of New Orleans. The city was still reeling in destruction and despair. He declared to a hurting people what God requires of a man or woman. The first requirement is to repent. He proclaimed, “In his first sermon ‘Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.’” Next, he mentioned that, “The Bible says, “Without faith, it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is.” On that night, he concluded with an appeal that spoke to the hearts of a broken people in a burdened city, “You can start over again, right here and now.”
Then came Graham’s characteristic appeal to respond to the gospel invitation. “I want to ask you to get up out of your seat tonight and come forward. From the top of the stands, it will take you a few minutes, so get started now. Just step out into the aisle and ushers will direct you. … You may say, ‘I am here with friends.’ They’ll wait on you; they won’t leave without you.”
Though frail and preaching from a raised chair, hundreds responded, not to Graham, but to the powerful Word of God. “Faith comes by hearing and hearing by the Word of God.” A message of salvation. Plain. Simple. Direct. Inviting.
You can declare the same message as Billy Graham. You probably won’t be in a major sports arena, but your local coffee shop will do. Intentionally visit with a lost friend and share what the Bible says. First, the Bible says everyone is a sinner. Next, the Bible answers life’s tough questions, especially how sinners can receive forgiveness through Jesus. Finally, share what the Bible says about salvation being available to all who will receive this gift by repentance and belief. Don’t forget to give your friend the opportunity to respond, right then, to the gospel.
There is no greater legacy that someone can pass down than the legacy of faith in Jesus. Urgently appeal to your friends and family. Call them to respond in faith to Jesus. It was the message of Billy Graham. It can be your message too.