Looking to Jesus
Yesterday the news came out that Billy Graham had died. I was talking to a friend (a trained historian) about Graham's impact on American Evangelicalism, and we agreed that in many ways Graham's shadow looms large over American Evangelicalism. However, unlike some leaders in the movement today, he never forgot his primary focus: to preach the Gospel. Yes, he met with many presidents and preached at numerous official government functions, yet influencing the political process was not the main goal. For Graham, the main objective was always that the Gospel be preached. Don't get me wrong he did not stand for quietism and retreat from the political sphere. He wanted to see the US turn from the path it was heading down. However, he knew that the only hope for that was for people to have hearts of stone replaced with hearts of flesh (Ezekiel 36:26). Graham knew hope was not found in Washington D.C., but in the work of Christ. Graham always wanted people to look to Jesus.
The last couple weeks, I have been reading the book of Hebrews. Yesterday, as I reflected on Graham's death, I was brought back to the constant reminder of the author of the book. The entire book is a call to see Jesus as better, better than the Old Testament laws and regulations, better than the tabernacle, better than the priests of the Old Testament. As I considered on Graham's ministry, it became clear to me that Billy Graham embodied the message of this book. Graham always wanted people to know Jesus as better than anything else. He wanted people to set their hope in him, to look to him, to be satisfied with him. Billy Graham did what any good pastor should do. He pointed people beyond himself and to Jesus, calling them to look up.
When a person like Billy Graham leaves this world, we can be shaken. Or even more regularly when a loved pastor leaves our church (whether through death or taking another job), we can teeter. We often set hopes and aspirations in our pastors, and every time we do that we are disappointed. Disappointed because they do not nor can they live up to our expectations. They stumble. They fall. They fail us. They are only human after all. But a good pastor will do what Graham called to us his entire life, a good pastor will call us to look up. He will call us 'to fix our eyes on Jesus the author and perfecter of our faith' (Heb 12:2). What the writer of Hebrews knew, Billy Graham learned, and a good pastor regularly preaches: everything else in this world will fail, and therefore, we need must look to the one who is human, but more than that, he is God. We need to look to Jesus. If we set our eyes on Jesus, we will never be disappointed because Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.
As I closed my day yesterday, I read a few short letters that Herman Bavinck wrote to a student who was dying. In one of them he says this:
Following Him, imitating Him, we are also assured through Him, and then we go with Him into the deepest of deaths, but we also rise with Him out of the grave. After death follows life and the resurrection. May this rich, full Christ, who Himself is life, be all your comfort and treasure in your heavy path, my friend. If it is God’s will that you must pass on, may Jesus Himself take you by the hand and lead you through the door of death into the heavenly Jerusalem. And God give grace that I might follow you sooner or later! This earth is not our resting place.
In the midst of death, Bavinck points his student to the only one who can give hope because he conquered death. Bavinck points his student to Jesus. As we walk through this life, let us heed the call of Hebrews. Let us not fix our hope on anything or anyone in this world but look to Jesus. Let us hear the message of the saints that have both gone before us and those, who even now, faithfully speak the Word of God to us:
Therefore, since we are surrounded by so great a cloud of witnesses, let us also lay aside every weight, and sin which clings so closely, and let us run with endurance the race that is set before us, looking to Jesus, the founder and perfecter of our faith, who for the joy that was set before him endured the cross, despising the shame, and is seated at the right hand of the throne of God. - Hebrews 12:1–2