PASADENA, Calif. (BP)–Nearly 55 years to the day after ending a Los Angeles crusade that launched evangelist Billy Graham onto the national scene, he was back in Hollywood preaching the same timeless Gospel of grace and redemption Nov. 18.
“God is saying tonight, ‘I love you. No matter how bad you have been, I love you and I’ll forgive you because of what Jesus did on the cross,'” Graham told more than 45,000 people at the famed Rose Bowl during the first of a four-night crusade designed to reach the country’s second largest metropolis.
Some 2,500 people came forward to make a decision for Christ.
Graham centered his 30-minute message on the Passion and the meaning of the cross. He referred several times to Mel Gibson’s hit movie “The Passion of the Christ” from earlier this year, focusing at one point on the scene that depicts Jesus praying in the Garden of Gethsemane.
“Tears are coming down His cheek and He says to God, ‘Father, take this cup from me, but not my will but your will be done,'” Graham said. “Then He looks in the cup. What did He see in the cup? He sees the sins of the whole world.”
Though the Rose Bowl was not filled to capacity for the first night, Billy Graham Evangelistic Association spokesmen Larry Ross told the Los Angeles Times that they expect the attendance to build during the following three days.
Graham, who needed a walker and help getting to the pulpit during the evening, has struggled with poor health throughout the last few years. The Los Angeles crusade had been originally scheduled for July but was postponed after doctors decided he needed more time to heal from a fall last May.
Many who volunteered to be a part of this crusade did so knowing it was likely their last opportunity to participate in a Graham crusade. Larry Williams of First Baptist Church in Culver City said he had been watching Billy Graham on television since he was five years old and was excited to finally see him in person.
“It was awesome,” Williams said. “I can’t tell you how many times I have seen him on television, but it is nothing like seeing him in person.”
Williams served as a counselor on Thursday evening and had the opportunity to help a father and son who were making first-time commitments to Christ.
“They don’t know what is in store for them,” Williams said. “They have no idea how different their life is going to be from this day forward. To have a small part in that is a blessing.”
The four-day event marks the ninth and final crusade for the 86-year-old evangelist in the Los Angeles area. Graham referred fondly to his first Los Angles Crusade in 1949 when he came to the city as a 30-year-old. More than 350,000 people attended those crusade meetings over nearly a two-month span.
During the crusade a two-word memo, “Puff Graham,” from newspaper publisher William Randolph Hearst to his editors gave Graham the media attention he needed to extend the crusade beyond the expected three weeks. It also gave him national exposure through front-page articles in newspapers across the country.
In more than 65 years of ministry, Graham has preached to more than 210 million people in 185 countries. He has counseled every president, both Democrat and Republican, since Dwight Eisenhower. For 39 consecutive years and 46 times in all, Graham has been named one of the “Ten Most Admired Men in the World” by the Gallup organization.
The Los Angeles event is the second crusade in two months for Graham. In October he held a crusade in Kansas City. More than 86,000 people committed their life to Christ during that crusade.
He plans a final New York City crusade in June of 2005.