Billy and Franklin Graham visited hurricane-ravaged New Orleans to bring a message of God’s love through the “Celebration of Hope,” held March 11-12 at the New Orleans Arena. After witnessing firsthand the scope of the destruction and despair in the city, the Grahams both preached about God’s love and forgiveness. Billy Graham gave the following message on March 12.
I want to thank the ministers who invited us here, especially Dr. Crosby of the First Baptist Church and Bishop Douglas Wylie of the Life Center Cathedral. In 1954 we were invited to New Orleans. We came here and spent several weeks in Pelican Stadium holding meetings and meeting some wonderful people.
Tonight I want to speak on something that all of you are familiar with: John 3:16. “For God so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life” (KJV).
First this verse says, “For God.” And many people ask, “Who is God? Where did He come from? Why is it important to believe in Him?”
You can’t put God in a test tube. You can’t see Him on a computer screen. But He’s real; He’s the Creator of the universe. Think of the universe. The Milky Way galaxy with its billions of stars and planets is only one small part of the universe, containing thousands more galaxies.
And they have found galaxies beyond what they thought would be the last one. I read about the discovery of a baby galaxy that is more than 13 billion light years from earth. We can’t take in such vast distances. But Genesis 1:1 tells us, “In the beginning God …” (KJV). Before all those galaxies, before all the stars, before all the moons and suns, there was God. We can’t comprehend it, because God has no beginning and no end.
The Bible says that God is a Spirit. It also says that He is unchanging: “In Him there is no variableness nor shadow of turning” (Cf. James 1:17).
God is holy in all His works, the Scripture says: “Thou art of purer eyes than to behold evil, and canst not look on iniquity” (Habakkuk 1:13, KJV). “Every idle word that men shall speak, they shall give account thereof in the day of judgment” (Matthew 12:36, KJV). So not only is God holy, He also is a judge. He judges each one of us. And every idle word that you and I have ever said, every little thing we’ve ever thought, will be exposed at the Judgment Day.
I remember watching on television the approach of Katrina. I didn’t have any idea from what I heard that it was going to be the storm that it turned out to be. I was like everybody else. I knew it was a hurricane. I knew it was dangerous, but I had no idea the punch that it would have. In fact, I had never even heard of the levees in New Orleans; I’d never heard people talk about them. And then all of a sudden they began to tell us that the levees had given way and we saw the devastation that happened. We watched the brave, wonderful men and women in helicopters who helped carry people to safety. And we knew that a God of love was watching over us. The Scripture says, “Yea, I have loved thee with an everlasting love” (Jeremiah 31:3, KJV). God loves you, as Franklin said so eloquently last night.
Now, the Scripture says that man has a terminal disease; we’re all sinners and we’ve all broken God’s law. It’s a terminal disease because we’re under the sentence of death. Every one of us is going to die. War does not increase death. Hurricanes do not increase death, because death comes to everybody. Every one of us is under that sentence–not only physical death but also spiritual death.
Spiritual death means that we are separated from God forever, and the Bible calls that hell. The wages of sin is death, but the gift of God is eternal life through Christ. It has been said that the ultimate statistic is that “one in every one person is going to die.” Most of us in this auditorium will not be alive 75 or 80 years from now. All are subject to death.
Whether you are a young person here tonight or an old person like me, you’d better decide for Christ here and now, because you never know when your turn is coming. Some of the words that Jesus used to describe eternal loss are lost, perished, condemned, punishment, torment, hell, everlasting fire.
We were in New Zealand many years ago and a student came to our hotel room to see us. During the address that I’d given to the students, I had mentioned hell. And he came to rebuke me because he said he didn’t believe in hell. And I asked him, “What if you went out to the airport and got on a plane, and they said there’s a 10 percent chance you won’t make it to Sydney?” Then I asked, “Suppose there is only a 1 percent chance that hell exists; is it worth taking the chance to be forever lost from God?” He said, “Well, I hadn’t thought of it that way.”
Did you ever think about that? How terrible it would be!
But the Bible says that God gave His Son on the cross and made Him to be sin for us. Think of Jesus. He became sin. Not His sin, but yours and mine. God laid on Him the iniquity of us all, “who His own self bears our sins on the cross” (Cf. 1 Peter 2:24).
“Christ also hath once suffered for sins, the just for the unjust” (1 Peter 3:18, KJV), and the Bible says that if we are to ever get to heaven and have the peace of God in our hearts, we’ll have to come to Him. “If thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved” (Romans 10:9, KJV). Has that happened to you?
What do you have to do?
First, you must repent. That’s the first sermon Jesus ever preached, the first sermon John the Baptist ever preached. “Jesus began to preach, and to say, ‘Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand'” (Matthew 4:17, KJV). And tonight He says to you, “Repent.”
What does repentance mean? It means that you are sorry for your sins, that you’re willing to turn from your sins.
The second thing you must do is believe. The word believe that’s used in Scripture means to commit. You commit yourself to Jesus. The Bible says, “God commands all men everywhere to repent and to believe and be converted to Him” (Cf. Acts 17:30), and “without faith it is impossible to please him: for he that cometh to God must believe that he is” (Hebrews 11:6, KJV). And it says, “But as many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God, even to them that believe on his name” (John 1:12, KJV).
I saw in a cartoon where someone wrote to a pastor and said, “Dear preacher, what does God mean when He forgives us?” The pastor wrote back and said, “All your files are deleted.” God deletes all your files. They are totally erased.
Once in a while a newspaper reporter writes that I have Parkinson’s disease, and that’s true, but that’s a minor disease compared to what I really have. About four years ago I had four brain operations, and today I have two shunts in my brain. I can feel them here on the back of my head, and they hurt every day.
One night, I knew I was dying, and I think the doctor did as well. I didn’t think I could survive. And in my darkness, I called upon God. All of a sudden, all of my sins since childhood came before me. And underneath them was written, “The blood of Jesus Christ cleanseth from all sin” (Cf. 1 John 1:7).
Now tonight, if you’re not sure of your relationship to God, if you’re not certain and you’d like to be certain, I want you to come, as Franklin said earlier, and stand in front of this platform, and say by coming, “I want to know that I’m ready to meet God. I’m opening my heart and letting Jesus come in.”
If you’re with friends or relatives, they’ll wait. Come and stand here. We will have a prayer for you and give you a little booklet that’ll help you in your Christian life.
I understand that there are people in the overflow area. You get up and come to the front of that place. People are there to speak to you, to help you answer questions. People up in the balcony, you may need some extra time, but you come. We’re going to wait on you.
If there’s a little voice speaking inside of you saying you should come, that could be the Holy Spirit drawing you. Don’t resist Him. The Scripture says, “He that hardeneth himself shall suddenly be lost” (Cf. Proverbs 29:1). Come.