Words by Scott Axtmann
The man they say preached the Gospel to more people than anyone else in all history has died. Billy Graham was a burning and shining light for almost a century, dying at 99 years of age.
There were so many likable qualities about Billy!
He was deeply admired by MLK for his work breaking down barriers between blacks and whites. He resisted the temptation to haggle about secondary issues, and gave himself to communicate the simple message of Jesus as clearly as possible. He befriended every president during his long ministry, both Democrat and Republican. He maintained an impeccable morality and never fell into any sort of shameful hypocrisy, such as seems to take down so many famous evangelists. He stayed humble.
I could continue listing all the great things about this old fashioned preacher. He wasn’t perfect—no man is—but he is an example of a life well lived. Though he was famous, his fame never distracted him from his pure devotion to making Jesus famous. His message was Christ. His life was Christ. His focus was Christ. Everything he did was about Christ. His public and private life were in sync, reflecting Christ. He was well loved by millions of people, both Christian and non-.
He was also hated.
Why would anyone not like this genuine Christian servant? It’s really a good question. As far as I can tell, he never said anything mean about anyone. He was respectful to all. He loved his wife and family. He was overflowing with such compassion that it led him to break down in tears at times. His life mission was to help as many people as possible find peace with God. Why was this wonderful man hated by some?
The Bible says that Jesus was hated without reason. He was despised and rejected by men. Even many of his own Jewish brothers rejected him and eventually had him arrested, flogged and killed by brutal crucifixion. Though Jesus was pure love, some people hated him. Jesus promised his followers that if he was hated they too would be hated.
But why? Why would anyone hate Jesus or Billy Graham? Why was the prophet Isaiah sawn in two? Why was Jeremiah thrown into a cistern? Why were early Christians thrown into arenas and eaten by wild animals? Why were Christians burned at the stake? Why in modern society are Christians sometimes hated and at times killed even though they are full of kindness?
Jesus and his followers are not hated for caring for the poor or for being kind. They aren’t hated for being honest and generous. They aren’t hated for being spiritual. They are hated primarily because of the message they insist on spreading everywhere they go. This message is called the Gospel which means “Good News”.
This message of good news, however, is so provocative, that, when it’s understood, it either humbles the soul or hardens it. It brings out either love or hate in a person. It has a way of riveting the heart and laying bare hidden motives. It could be likened to a great wave that takes a surfer on the ride of his life or causes him to tumble chaotically and almost drown.
So this message is the greatest news in the world to some but profoundly offensive to others.
The message of Jesus is simple. We are made in God’s image. We are created to know and enjoy God forever. The problem, however, is that we all have sinned and because of sin are separated from God and guilty before God. This problem of sin, guilt and separation was solved when God took on flesh and blood and came into the world to die in our stead and pay the price for our pardon. When we place our trust in God as our Savior we are reconciled to God and receive all the rights and privileges of sons and daughters of God.
So this message is the greatest news in the world to some but profoundly offensive to others. As a Christian I really wish this Gospel message didn’t affect some people so negatively. I have to say, though, I do get it. At one time I was bothered by this message and felt hate toward the humble messengers. They were telling me, in so many words, that I was lost. That I didn’t know God. That I was on a road to nowhere. That I was guilty before God. That I was in rebellion to God. They communicated these things nicely but I definitely did not like what they were saying. My anger eventually subsided and it evolved into a heartfelt search to figure out whether this disturbing message was really true or if it was just another religious opinion. My search led me to believe in Christ and I made a decision to devote my life to knowing God and I’ve never looked back.
Scott grew up in Western Massachusetts and came to the faith at the age of 21. As the outcome of his transformed life, he founded and now Pastors Renaissance Church and CityLove.