It was described as “Billy Graham’s last crusade,” the celebration Friday in Charlotte, North Carolina, of the life of one of the most influential figures in American history.
In the presence of the U.S. president and vice president, and with millions watching worldwide via television and the Internet, the Gospel of salvation through Jesus Christ was proclaimed, just as Graham had planned when he mapped out the details more than a decade ago.
With the farmhouse where Graham grew up in the background, more than 2,000 invited guests gathered in a 28,000-square-foot white tent meant to evoke the venue of the 1949 crusade in Los Angeles that propelled him to worldwide renown. They sang hymns, they listened to testimonies and they heard the Gospel, with an invitation to pray a simple prayer of submission to God to receive the gift of salvation.
After recounting warm memories of her father’s final years, Anne Graham Lotz, Billy Graham’s second oldest daughter – whom he described as the most gifted preacher in the family – turned to the big picture, interpreting current events through the lens of the Bible, as was her father’s custom.
“I believe, from heaven’s perspective, that my father’s death is as significant as his life,” she said. “And his life was very significant.”
Lotz said she knows that “before the foundations of the world, February 21st was the day God chose to take my father home.”
A friend told her that Feb. 21, 2018, was the day that Jews focused on a Scripture reading concerning the death of Moses.
“Moses was a great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage to slavery, got them to the edge of the Promised Land, and God took him to heaven,” said Lotz.
Then, she continued, God brought Joshua to lead them into the land.
“And my father also is a great liberator. He brought millions of people out of bondage to sin, and he gets us to the edge of heaven, the edge of the Promised Land, and then God has called him home,” she said.
“Could it be that God is going to bring Joshua to lead us into the promised land, to lead us to heaven?”
Lotz pointed out that the Hebrew name for Joshua is Yeshua, which also translates as Jesus.
“I believe this is a shot across the bow from heaven,” she said. “I believe God is saying, ‘Wake up, church. Wake up, world. Wake up, Anne. Jesus is coming.”
Billy Graham’s youngest daughter, Ruth Graham, then came to the podium and paused for a moment before speaking.
“I have followed her all my life,” she deadpanned to laughter from the audience.
She offered insight into the kind of father Billy Graham was through her personal story of the devastation of her marriage ending in divorce after 21 years and her “stubborn” decision to rush into a new marriage, even though her parents urged against it.
She left the man after five weeks and found herself fearing what her parents would say after she had “embarrassed” the family. But she knew she had to go home and face her parents.
“As I wound myself up the mountain, I rounded the last bend in my father’s driveway, and my father was standing there waiting for me,” she remembered.
Fighting back tears, she said “As I got out of the car, he wrapped his arms around me.”
“There was no shame, there was no blame, there was no condemnation — just unconditional love,” she said.
“My father was not God. But he showed me what God was like that day.”
Among the reactions that poured in immediately after his death were tributes from the five living former presidents.
‘There weren’t two Billy Grahams’
At the service Friday, Billy Graham’s oldest son, Franklin Graham, who succeeded him as president and CEO of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association, summed up his father’s message.
“My father preached on heaven, told millions how to find heaven, and today he is in heaven,” he said.
“His journey is complete.”
He said “the Billy Graham that the world saw on TV was the same Billy Graham that we saw at home.”
“There weren’t two Billy Grahams.”
Franklin Graham recited a quote from his father that has circulated in the week since his death: “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.”
The eldest son said that if his father could speak now, he would ask, “Will you be making this journey to heaven some day?”
He said his father would want the people watching his funeral to known that “he believed the Bible to be the infallible word of God.”
He also also believed in hell, Franklin Graham said, noting that Jesus preached about it.
“But the Bible says that God doesn’t want anyone to perish but everyone to come to repentance,” he said. “This motivated my father to preach the gospel with urgency.”
There is “a judgment coming,” said Franklin Graham, but “the best news ever is that God so loved the world.”
John 3:16, he said, was “preached in every message my father ever preached, because it demonstrates the love of God.”
His father said “millions today are searching for the way,” and Jesus said, “Follow me, I am the way.”
Franklin Graham asked those in attendance and watching around the world, “If this were your funeral would you be in heaven?”
He said “my father would want me to share this.”
“There’s no better time than right now, at Billy Graham’s funeral, to settle this for eternity.”
Franklin Graham directed his final thoughts to the casket in front of him.
“Daddy, I won’t see you on this earth again, but I will see you again. Maybe soon, but not yet,” he said.
“To God be the glory.”
See video of Rev. Billy Graham’s funeral:
Billy Kim, a South Korean pastor who served as Graham’s interpreter at a 1973 crusade in Seoul, spoke “on behalf of millions of Christians around the world” grateful for Graham’s “impact on millions of lives, including kings and presidents.”
Sami Dagher, a Lebanese church planter who spoke at several BGEA conferences, said Graham had “great impact on the Middle East.”
Graham, he said, was a courageous man who never ran from the word “repentance” and who “taught by example.”
He recalled one time arriving unannounced and being let into a room by Ruth Graham while Billy Graham was preparing to speak.
“I saw a giant on his face before God, crying and praying before he preached the Word,” Dagher said.
He recalled Graham saying: “Sami, don’t talk about yourself. When we lift Jesus up, he will draw all men to himself.”
Dagher concluded: “I pray that God will bless America for giving the world such a great man as Billy Graham. Glory and honor be to Jesus Christ.”
‘Exactly what he wanted’
Bible teacher Beth Moore, who was one of the many Christian leaders in attendance, told Christianity Today, an influential evangelical magazine founded by Billy Graham in the 1950s, that she thought it fitting when she arrived in the parking lot that there were so many satellite TV trucks.
“It would have been exactly what he wanted, that the Word would go out and people would hear the name of Jesus today,” she said.
Earlier this week, Graham’s body lay in repose at the Graham family homeplace in Charlotte.
President George W. Bush and former first lady Laura Bush visited Monday to pay their respects, and President Bill Clinton visited Tuesday.
His body was flown by private jet Wednesday to Washington, D.C., where he was honored in a bicameral service at the Capitol rotunda. President Trump, Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell and House Speaker gave remarks as Graham became the fourth private citizen to lie in honor at the Capitol, following Rosa Parks and two slain Capitol police officers.
Following the funeral Friday, close family gathered for Graham’s burial beside his late wife Ruth in a prayer garden alongside the Graham library.
Christianity Today noted that when Graham initially planned the funeral, he wanted his best friend and longtime music director Cliff Barrows to lead the music and George Beverly Shea to sing. Barrows died in 2016 at 93, however, and Shea in 2013 at 104.
During the service, Billy Graham’s only surviving sibling, Jean Graham Ford, the wife of evangelist Leighton Ford, told of her conversation earlier Friday with President Trump.
The president, she said, told her, “My goodness, your family has good genes.”
Ford added: “He didn’t know that my name was Jean.”