ASHEVILLE, N.C. (Christian Examiner) – A sermon preached by Billy Graham at a stadium crusade in 1956 and reprinted in the January 2015 issue of Decision magazine brings comfort to those who have lost loved ones this winter and for all seasons past, as well as hope to all others.
Christian vocalist Andre Crouch dying from illness is sad; police officers who die in the line of duty is tragic; but when it's your baby, your husband, your favorite sister, it's personal.
"Do you think," Graham preached, "that the God whose watchful vigil notes the sparrow's fall and who knows the number of hairs on our heads would turn His back on one of the children in the hour of peril? With Him there are no accidents, no tragedies and no catastrophes as far as His children are concerned."
Graham, the renowned evangelical evangelist now in his 96th year, brought the words of the Apostle Paul, D.L. Moody, and God Himself into a message that gives a vision of the future for those who pass on, knowing God and His unconditional love for them.
"When his tired, bruised body began to weaken under the load, Paul said in triumph: 'For we know that if our earthly house, this tent, is destroyed, we have a building from God, a house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens,'" Graham preached from 2 Cor. 5:1.
His words were for Christians, Graham noted.
"The death of the righteous is unlike the death of the unrighteous," he said. "Though Christians have no immunity from death, death is to them a friend rather than a foe, the beginning rather than the end. ...
"One of the bonuses of being a Christian is the wonderful hope that extends beyond the grave into the glory of God's tomorrow," Graham continued. "I have talked to doctors and nurses who have held the hands of dying people, and they say there is as much difference between the death of a Christian and of a non-Christian as there is between Heaven and hell."
Death for a Christian "is the shadowed threshold to the palace of God," Graham preached with visual clarity, adding a few minutes later that, "Death is the Christian's coronation, the end of conflict and ... a rest from labor."
D.L. Moody, an evangelist from an earlier era, also referred to the coronation of Christians who ascend to heaven, Graham added.
In 2 Tim. 4:6, the Apostle Paul writes of death being a departure, Graham noted.
"The word 'departure' literally means 'to pull up anchor and set sail,'" he preached. "Everything that happens prior to death is a preparation for the journey. Death marks the beginning, not the end. It is a solemn, dramatic step in our journey to God. ...
"Death to the Christian is the exchanging of a tent for a building. Here we are as pilgrims or refugees, living in a frail, flimsy home, subject to disease, pain and peril. But at death we exchange this crumbling, disintegrating tent for a house not made with hands, [but with one that is] eternal in the heavens.
"The wandering wayfarers come into their own at death and are given the title to a mansion that will never deteriorate or crumble," Graham said.
The international evangelist who has preached in stadiums in at least 185 nations to more than 215 million people – and millions more via television, radio and other media – always included a Gospel presentation in his messages.
"Bear this in mind," Graham warned listeners. "The hope of eternal life rests solely and exclusively upon your faith in Jesus Christ! Make no mistake about this. ... To put it in the Bible's words, [John 3:36] here is the secret of the blessed hope: 'He who believes in the Son has everlasting life, and he who does not believe the Son shall not see life.'
"When Christians die, they go straight into the presence of Christ – to Heaven – to spend eternity with God," Graham's invitation continued. "An unsaved sinner's destiny is separation from God, a place that Jesus has called hell. ...
"There is no judgment, no hell, for those who are in Christ. You can confess your sins, turn your back on your sins and receive Jesus Christ as your savior now. At this moment, you can bow your head and say, 'God, be merciful to me, a sinner." Graham referenced Luke 18:13. "He will hear that simple prayer. The Spirit of God will come into your heart."
That invitation was for each individual, Graham said, no matter how young or old or infirm. "At this moment, you can receive the Savior and have the hope of Heaven in your heart."
Many of Graham's sermons can be heard online.