If Protestants had a Pope, Billy may have been chosen, though he would never consider the post.
In a website photo he sits in a large chair in his rustic living room. There can be no mistaking his piercing eyes, angular features or strong chin. A cloud of wavy frost-white hair falls just below his ears. Almost, almost, I am a teenager again. I hear music. I always hear music when I see Billy Graham’s face.
Mid 1960s. Crowds overflow both stands and field of the Vancouver football stadium. Billy has just finished preaching. “Won’t you come? Jesus is calling. Tomorrow may be too late.” A thousand-voice choir sings, “Just as I am, without one plea, but that thy blood, was shed for me…” Mine is one voice.
People leave their seats by the hundreds; walking, running to the far side of the field. Billy stands on a platform, open Bible in hand, still inviting as counselors pray with those who have come seeking the only thing that can fill the vacancy in their hearts: Jesus Christ himself.
For the majority of the last Century the tall young man with the humble spirit and clarion voice was considered the “rock star” of evangelists. This “pastor to presidents” has blanketed the world with the gospel of Jesus Christ and news of God’s amazing love. In the evangelical world, Billy has had no equal. He never will.
About the time I attended that crusade, a different kind of rock icon flashed across the world stage. Beatle John Lennon, who mid-tour in 1966 said, “Christianity will go. It will vanish and shrink. I needn’t argue about that. I’m right and I will be proved right. We’re more popular than Jesus now. I don’t know which will go first – rock n’ roll or Christianity.”
Lennon’s comment caused an uproar among his fans. They burned his albums. Cancelled his concerts. The Beatles later called a press conference and Lennon apologized to the world for his words. But the damage was done. Though they went on to make some of their most creative albums, the Beatles never toured together again. In 1969, they disbanded.
I look at Billy’s photo and think of his response when asked by a member of the media if he felt there was any danger that his effect on the world may pass. He answered, “My effect, yes, as a person, will. Definitely. I thought it would have passed long ago. But the gospel I preach has been going for two thousand years, and in my opinion is much stronger now than it ever was.”
Billy turned 95 on November 7th. He didn’t think anyone would remember him. Eight hundred people, past presidents among them, celebrated with him.
Billy’s final project, just completed, features his last message, freshly packaged for today’s young audience. As always, the cross of Jesus Christ is his focal point.
Interestingly, today, I found a popular Beatles website with this sub-title, “Not quite as popular as Jesus.”
You can watch Billy’s last message here: