“When Death comes to find you, may it find you alive” – African Proverb
There are Christians from a certain tribe in Africa who never say of their dead “who die in the Lord” that “they have departed.” Instead, speaking as it were from the vantage point of the glory world, they triumphantly and joyously say, “they have arrived.” Billy Graham rightly said, ‘My home is in heaven, I’m just travelling through this world.” Death found Graham alive on Wednesday 21st February, 2018 at 7:46 am and he safely ‘arrived’ home. According to Mark DeMoss, a spokesman for the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association. “He was not in any pain, and he wouldn’t have suffered any.” DeMoss said Graham’s personal physician, Dr. Lucian Rice of Asheville, described it this way: ” He just wore out.” Death came to find Graham, and found him alive, like a living a baby in the womb, for him to be born into eternal life, as a new child is born at the appointed time.
To Christian believers, death is a trade in of our physical existence in anticipation and preparation for our future resurrection. God did not leave Jesus in the grave, the power of grave is conquered, hence there is a coming day of resurrection and this formed the objective ground of Christian faith and creed:
‘I believe in God the Father, Almighty, Maker of heaven and earth: And in Jesus Christ, his only begotten Son, our Lord: Who was conceived by the Holy Ghost, born of the Virgin Mary: Suffered under Pontius Pilate; was crucified, dead and buried: He descended into hell: The third day he rose again from the dead: He ascended into heaven, and sits at the right hand of God the Father Almighty: From thence he shall come to judge the quick and the dead: I believe in the Holy Ghost: I believe in the holy catholic church: the communion of saints: The forgiveness of sins: The resurrection of the body: And the life everlasting. Amen.’
In the words of the Puritan writer Thomas Watson, “We are more sure to arise out of our graves than out of our beds. Oh! How precious is the dust of a believer?” The good news Graham preached for over 64 year points to the fact that “Death will not have the last word for Jesus has conquered the grave. Because he rose, we too shall rise. In that faith we take courage to live for Christ with reckless abandon because death is not the end of our story.” Death can be viewed in two ways: There is death to our old ways when we become born again Christians and there is another when we pass from our temporal physical existence to spiritual and physical everlastingness and deathlessness. Dying is what we must face eventually, but in our dying as Christians, we are born to eternal life, our physical death is put to death for ever. Christians don’t therefore fear death because when we trust God, all will be well. Born November 7, 1918 into a farming family, Billy Graham’s death last week is not his end, it is merely his graduation he has been preparing for since age 16 when he gave and surrendered his life to Jesus. He is home, a beginning of a grand adventure and convocation when Jesus will come again. I like to share with people that our going to church on Sundays or for mid week prayer and bible study is principally to worship, train, equip, and prepare ourselves for the graduation just as a successful student graduate after finishing his or her courses in the university. With his “last crusade” in June 2005 in Queens, New York, Graham finished his thesis from his personal salvation at age 16, his call, family life, his training, and ministry persuading and reaching out to over 200 million of souls in over 185 of the world’s 195 nations. He graduated with unequal testimonies. Few preachers surpassed him. Graham, known for his large white tent evoking his first “Canvas Cathedral” revival for over 64 years is globally credited with bringing the gospel message of tent-revival preachers into the modern media age by employing everything from telegrams to telephones to the internet in his lifelong quest to “win souls for Christ.” Graham founded the magazine Christianity Today, a leading evangelical publication in 1956. Testimonies abounds with his weekly Sunday radio program called “Hour of Decision.”
In accordance with Graham’s explicit intent, his funeral service is to “reflect and reinforce the gospel message he preached for more than 60 years.” Graham’s death and funeral reminds us about the temporariness of our life, hence physical death is a must including dying to our old self in order to be reborn to a new life as Kingdom people in this life and the eternal life. Like Graham, we are called to be “… crucified with Christ. It is no longer I who live, but Christ who lives in me. And the life I now live in the flesh I live by faith in the Son of God, who loved me and gave himself for me.” Married in 1943 to Ruth who died in 2007, Graham, as an example of a real believer, husband, father, gospel preacher, statesman, and a true Christian shaped his total life on God’s love and his faith in Jesus Christ. Graham’s life with his commanding appearance and death summons you and I to renew our hope in Eternal life beyond the grave in this our world of temporary wilderness. Beloved, Graham’s life and death based on Jesus’ teachings reminds us that the remedy for our spiritual death is our spiritual rebirth (John 3:3-5) through our faith in Jesus. This rebirth is a re-connection to the source of life now and in life Eternal (Jn 15:1-6).
Graham’s life and death warns us that those who refuse to accept God’s salvation, their physical death and spiritual death culminate in the second death (Rev 20:14). Eternal life is a conscious fellowship with Jesus without end while eternal death points to ‘eternal punishment for sin in the lake of fire, described as being separated from the presence of the Lord’ (2 Thess 1:9, Matt 25:41). The story of Lazarus and the rich man readily comes to mind calling us to receive God’s salvation and turn from death to life before it is too late (Lk 16:19-31, 2 Pet 3:9, 1Jn 3:14). The Truth of Christ will always have enemies and opposition because the truth of Christ confronts and exposes our human limitations, pride, ego, and sinful nature. Obedience to the truth of Christ is rewarding in this life and life eternal. Truth heals, comforts, and restores. During the Great Plague of London from 1665 to 1666, an estimated 100, 000 people were killed ‘– almost a quarter of London’s population – in 18 months.’ The fragrance of roses, popular scented flower with sweet spicy smell were employed to clear the people’s lung. This approach did not work as the death increased. The truth was not about the sweet spicy smell of roses that could have prevented or stop the death until the real cause spread and transmitted through the bite of an infected rat flea was discovered. Initially, people were very sincere in their reliance on the spicy smell of the flower that could not the cure the people just as many people today are sincere in following their own ways. The Bible says you will know the truth and the truth you know and do will set you free. Lack of truth is the secret of our bondage and decline. The truth is that not all roses smell like roses. Ida Guirey in one of his hymns described Jesus as the true ‘Rose of Sharon’ (Song of Solomon 2:1; 2 Cor 2:14):
Jesus, Rose of Sharon, bloom within my heart;
Beauties of Thy truth and holiness impart,
That where’er I go my life may shed abroad
Fragrance of the knowledge of the love of God.
Jesus, Rose of Sharon,
Bloom in radiance and in love within my heart.
Jesus, Rose of Sharon, sweeter far to see
Than the fairest flow’rs of earth could ever be,
Fill my life completely, adding more each day
Of Thy grace divine and purity, I pray.
Jesus, Rose of Sharon, balm for every ill,
May Thy tender mercy’s healing pow’r distil
For afflicted souls of weary burdened men,
Giving needy mortals health and hope again.
Jesus, Rose of Sharon, bloom forevermore;
Be Thy glory seen on earth from shore to shore,
Till the nations own Thy sov’reignty complete,
Lay their honors down and worship at Thy feet.
Beloved in Christ, Jesus is the true Rose of Sharon, that bloom forevermore, ‘giving needy mortals health and hope again,’ now and when you go home. Graham is at home resting from all his labour on earth and waiting for you and I at the appointed time, especially as many that responded and are still responding to his altar calls during and after his earthly ministry. The text for his burial today calls us to follow after his footstep and legacy “… never boast except in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, through which the world has been crucified to me, and I to the world.” (Gal 6:14). The world is full of boasting, enticements, seductions, and confrontations with both subtle cultural pressures, fake news, and over propaganda. Graham speaks and is encouraging us to escape these end time destructive pride, ideologies, influences and other human ideas. The question Graham is asking you and l is this: What and where is your interest? Is it more in the temporal things of this temporal world or in the eternal things for your everlastingness and deathlessness? You have a choice just as Graham made a choice at his young age and we are celebrating his going home today in anticipation of our reunion with him in eternal life.
Let me conclude this tribute to Papa Billy Graham, the ‘protestant pope,‘ with the story told of old Bishop Warren Chandler, after whom the school of theology at Emory University was named. As he lay on his death bed, a friend inquired as to whether or not he was afraid. “Please tell me frankly,” he said, “do you fear crossing over the river of death?” “Why,” replied Chandler,” I belong to a father who owns the land on both sides of the river.” Remember, death is the answer to our groaning and pains in this divided and broke-down world full of hate, family break down, betrayal and disappointments. For Papa Graham, no more vision and hearing loss, as well as Parkinson’s-like symptoms diagnosed nearly 20 years ago. Graham said in 2005, “Do I fear death? … No. I look forward to death, with great anticipation, … “I am looking forward to seeing God face to face. And that could happen any day.” It has happened and using the words of Chandler, when we crossed the river of death like Graham, there is no more death, no more Boko Haram, No more ISIS, no more sickness, no more night, no more cancer, no more divorce, no more prison, no more snow, and no more building of walls, gun policy or Brexit. Beyond the invitation-only crowd today on the grounds of his Charlotte library limited to 2,000, on this his final crusade with his own choosing songs, scripture and speakers for one last public opportunity to spread the Gospel, Graham is saying to someone, “Jesus is Coming Again! Are you ready?”