Billy Graham, the well-known American evangelist, died this week at the age of 99. He preached to live audiences of nearly 215 million people in 185 different countries. Graham’s very first crusade in 1947 was at the Civic Auditorium here in Grand Rapids. One of FHBC’s earliest members, Fred Johnson, was 1 of 6,000 in attendance at that Crusade. It was there that Fred was confronted with his sin and came to saving faith in Jesus. We are thankful to God for Graham’s faithful ministry in proclaiming the gospel.
Billy Graham once said, “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.” On the day of Graham’s death, this quote was repeatedly posted on social media. It is a great reminder that those who have been joined to Jesus have hope beyond the grave.
However, I do think Graham’s statement provokes some further reflection. Is it true that Billy Graham is more alive today than he was before he died? There is a sense in which one who believes in Jesus never truly dies (John 11:25-26). When a believer dies, their spirit enters the presence of the Jesus (2 Corinthians 5:8). And that is certainly a welcome relief from the pain, sickness and brokenness we often experience in this sin-cursed world.
But God actually has something even better in store for Billy Graham and for us. There is a coming resurrection of the dead when our physical bodies will be raised, transformed and reunited with our spirits. We are human beings. We are made to have physical bodies and live in a physical world. When Lazarus died, Jesus didn’t rejoice that Lazarus was free from his physical body. Jesus wept because this was not the way God’s creation was supposed to be. Our great hope is that God will dwell with us on a renewed physical earth (2 Peter 3:13; Revelation 21:1-4). The great Christian hope is not simply that we live after death but that death itself is defeated.
We can rejoice that Billy Graham is in the presence of Jesus today. But let’s not settle for a diminished view God’s great and ultimate deliverance. We are still looking forward to the fullness of life that awaits God’s people.
Photo credit: https://commons.m.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Evangelist_Billy_Graham_speaking_at_Doak_Campbell_Stadium_in_Tallahassee,_Florida_(11928157394).jpg