LOUISVILLE, Ky. (BP)–He opened by proclaiming the exclusivity of the gospel and closed by stressing the eternality of the soul.
During four days of preaching in Louisville, Ky., June 21-24, 82-year-old evangelist Billy Graham made it clear that while his health has changed in recent years, his message of salvation through Jesus Christ hasn’t.
Graham preached to more than 180,000 people during four nights of the Greater Louisville Billy Graham Crusade at Papa John’s Cardinal Stadium, including a stadium-record crowd of 57,500 on the final night. Each night, nearly 2,300 people responded to Graham’s call to make a commitment to Christ.
“Is there another way to heaven, except through Christ?” Graham asked the crowd on the first night. “The Bible teaches there’s only one way. Other people will come along and try to tell you there are other ways, but the Bible says there’s only one way, and that way is by the cross. Jesus said, ‘I am the way, the truth and the life. No man cometh to the Father but by Me.'”
Each night, the crowd showed its appreciation to Graham by giving him a standing ovation as he prepared to speak. Following the standing ovation on the first night, Graham quipped, “I’m not a horse” — in reference to Kentucky’s famous thoroughbreds.
“For an 82-year-old evangelist to receive a standing ovation is a testament to his integrity — to the way he has been above reproach for so many years,” said Southern Baptist Theological Seminary professor Timothy Beougher, who served as a counselor during the nightly invitations. “Even people who may not be people of faith respect that. In an era when so many so-called evangelists have fallen, he has maintained his integrity and has really set a standard.”
Like he has during his entire career, Graham mixed anecdotes and humor with his gospel presentation. He joked about his age, saying that the golden years are anything but golden.
“I used to think of myself as young — just a few short years ago,” he said on the final night. “Now I know that I’m old, and I have a lot of the problems that old people have. I’ve accepted the fact that I’m old, and I’m proud when they say that I’m old. It’s a great period of life. … It’s a great period to experience God — to look back over your life and see the hand of God in your life, and to have the assurance that if you die you’re going to heaven. To me, heaven is one glorious place, and I’m going.”
Graham then quickly reminded the hushed crowd of the reality of death, saying, “Every one of us are going to die.”
“Are you in the process of losing your soul today?” he asked. “You were born in sin, and sin has separated you from God. There was a movie entitled, ‘The Voyage of the Damned.’ That’s the route some of you are taking right now. You’re on a cruise. It’s the voyage of the damned. You’re having a pretty good time now, but one day it will snap, and you’ll find yourself in a totally different environment. There’s no return route out of hell. It’s a one-way street.
“Jesus Christ loved you so much that he died that you might live – that you might live fully, completely and eternally.
Graham told the story about the New Jersey lottery winner who waited until the last week to claim his multi-million dollar prize.
“But even if you’ve got it all, it doesn’t bring peace and happiness,” he said. “It doesn’t help in time of trouble.”
While the world changes, God never changes, Graham reminded the crowd. He also said that human nature, moral laws and the Word of God don’t change.
“The Bible … says that the Bible has not changed,” Graham said. “‘The grass withereth, the flower fadeth, but the Word of our God shall stand forever.’ The big arguments in the some of the church assemblies recently (were) about the Word of God. Some of the church assemblies discuss it, as though it is debatable. ‘All Scripture is given by inspiration of God,’ the Scripture says.”
Graham then told the crowd pointedly, “(God) is never going to change. But you must change. Have you changed?”
While Graham’s simple message had an impact on those who came forward, it also had an impact on several Southern Baptist Theological Seminary students. They walked away with an added amount of respect for Graham.
“It has been awesome to watch a simple message bring about an enormous response,” said Tom Atkinson, a master of divinity student from Chandler, Ariz., who served as a counselor. “… The message is simple and the hearts were prepared before the Word was spoken.
“It just shows you all the aspects of what a church can do if the prayer life is there and the message is of God because he said, ‘my word will not return void.'”
Clark Barton, an employee at the seminary, also served as a counselor.
“I see it as almost a wakeup call to local pastors to be more evangelistic in their preaching,” he said. “… “I sort of see this as back to the basics.”
(BP) photos posted in the BP Photo Library at http://www.bpnews.net. Photo titles: SHARING A SPIRIT OF JOY and SHARING THE CELEBRATION.