Billy Graham - Living on Death Row
I'm going to ask you to turn with me to the third chapter of the book of Genesis. And at the end of that chapter it says this: "And the Lord God said, behold, the man has become as one of us, to know good and evil. And now, lest he put forth his hand and take also the tree of life and eat and live forever, therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from which he had taken. So he drove out the man and he placed at the east of the Garden of Eden, a cherubim and a flaming sword which turned every one to keep the way of the tree of life".
In other words, God was keeping man away from the tree of life, because if man had eaten the tree of life, he would have lived forever in his sins without any hope of redemption. Suppose, for example, that a man like Hitler came along and ate of the tree of life and lived forever. And we would have Hitler for thousands of years, and many more Hitlers, and they would control the earth. And so God sent death along as a judgment, but also a blessing. Because every generation comes and dies and a new generation is born. And all the Hitlers of the world die eventually.
And the Bible says in Ecclesiastes 3:2, there's a time to be born and a time to die. "It's appointed unto man once to die, but after that, the judgment". But often I find, as a clergyman, that people do not wish to talk about death. Why? In America, 17-year-olds, by the time they're 17, have seen an average of 15,000 murders on television. And there's a rash of best sellers on death right now. And some think of death as a period of life. Sir Winston Churchill once said, "The older you get, the more sleep you need, finally you sleep all the time. In life there are many avenues", he said, "But all lead to that all-embracing death".
And I want to ask you tonight, are you prepared to die? Have you made any preparation at all for your death? Oh, yes, maybe financially you have. But what about your spirit, your soul, that's going to live forever? Have you made a study of it? Oh, it occupies a lot of your thinking. I know that. But the loss and the severance of things you love, do not like to leave behind family and friends. And for others, it's not only a time of life, but it's a question mark. Death ushers in so much uncertainty, and we ask yourselves, why? Why? Why?
You see a young man cut down in the prime of life, and you ask, why? Or you see a boy or girl, and you ask, why? Why does all this have to happen? Part of it is the terror and the fear of the unknown. People never like to be unprepared. They're anxious about the future. And I want to quote one passage from Amos the fourth chapter that says, "Prepare to meet thy God". Are you prepared? If you're not prepared, and have a doubt about it, pick up the telephone and call the number on your screen (1-877-772-4559). There'll be counselors there that will talk to you about how you can prepare to meet death and judgment.
Now we want to soften the reality of death. We don't want to talk about it, some of us don't want to think about it, so we have a lot of cosmetics and facelifts, and the frantic search for the mythical fountain of youth that goes on. But I don't want to turn tonight to the psychologists, or the sociologists, or the medical students, but to the Bible. What does the Bible say about death? First, the Bible says that death is an enemy of man and God. Paul calls it an enemy. He says, I Corinthians 15, the last enemy that shall be destroyed is death.
Now it's an enemy to God because God never meant for man to die. When he created us, he meant for us to live forever. But we broke his law, we rebelled against him. And he said if you do that, you're going to die. He had to keep his word. Neither sin nor pain nor disease nor death were part of God's original plan for man. Death was the penalty for sin when he said thou shalt surely die. And the judgment, "Dust thou art and unto dust thou shalt return" came after man's rebellion. Are you prepared? And then secondly, the Bible teaches that this enemy of death is going to be destroyed. First Corinthians 15:26, the last enemy to be destroyed is death.
When we were touring Russia this past year, and we went to these great Orthodox Cathedrals, and it was my privilege to preach in them the Gospel, just like I do here, and in the Soviet Union I had a theologian from the theological academy in Leningrad say to me in the car as we were riding along, he said, "Mr. Graham", he said, "I would like to see you put more emphasis on the resurrection of Christ because", he said, "If Christ be not risen, our faith is in vain". And I thought to myself, here I am, learning at the feet of a man in the Soviet Union about the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now some people question the resurrection in this scientific age. But Arnold of Rugby said, "I know of no fact in history of mankind which is attested by fuller and better evidence of every sort". Sir Edward Clark, the English high court judge, said some time ago, "The evidence of the resurrection I accept unreservedly as fact. Over and over again in the high court I've secured a verdict on evidence not nearly so compelling". Many of our scientists believe in the resurrection of Jesus Christ.
Now thirdly, the Bible teaches that this enemy of death has already been defeated. Already defeated. Paul says, "O death, where is thy sting? O grave, where is thy victory"? By death and resurrection of Christ he said, "I am he that liveth and was dead, and behold, I'm alive forevermore, and have the keys of hell and death". Think of it: he has the keys of hell and the keys of death. Now what is this defeat of death? Paul likens it to a poisonous insect whose sting has been withdrawn. He says the sting of death is sin.
Now I want you to think about death for a person who does not know Christ, for an unbeliever. Disc Jockeys are reviving that old pop song of David Clayton Thomas which goes, "And when I die, I pray there ain't no hell". But the Bible teaches there will be a judgment. You cannot read the Bible and miss the references to hell. And I don't see how a clergyman can preach without talking about it. Because it's so much in the scriptures. And the one that taught so much about it is Jesus, more than any other person in the Bible. To be in hell is to be out of the presence of God.
What is hell? I'm not going to give you my imagination. I'm not going to do what some have done in the past and used their imagination to frighten people. We ought to be frightened, but I want to tell you what I believe the Bible teaches. There are three words that describe hell in the Bible for me. One is fire. "For our God is a consuming fire", says Hebrews 12. But the Bible also teaches that fire is used symbolically. It says, "Our tongues are set on fire of hell". That doesn't mean literal combustion in James, it's symbolic. And Jesus used this symbol over and over. I believe that the fire is a thirst for Almighty God that can never be quenched. You'll go out into eternity thirsting for God and you can never find him. And you can never find the fulfillment that you missed in this life.
And then secondly, the word darkness. The Bible says, "God is light". And Matthew 8:12 says, "But the children of the kingdom shall be cast out into outer darkness". Hell is called outer darkness. It's separation from God in darkness. That's the reason those that go to hell will not see anybody else. It'll be too dark. You're not going to go down there and set up a night club and have a big time, and have beautiful golf courses and all the rest of it, as some people think. No. It's separation from God, from light.
And then the third phrase that Jesus uses is the second death. God is life. It is separated from life. "And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire, this is the second death", Revelation 20:14 says. You die the first time naturally. Your body dies. Now your soul, your spirit is still alive but it's dead. It's dead toward God, just like it is tonight. There are thousands of people here in this audience in South Florida tonight whose spirit is dead toward God. Your body is alive, you go to church, you're religious, as most people are around the world. You go to India, and you'll find more religion than any country in the world. But deep in your heart you don't really know Christ. You haven't made your peace with God.
Now God doesn't take any delight in hell. He didn't create hell for you. He made hell for the devil and his angels. But if you persist in going the devil's way, that's where you're going. Now when Jesus Christ died on the cross, that was a judgment. God judged Christ in your place, and Jesus, being who he was, had the capacity to endure hell for you. And when Christ said, "My God, my God, why hast thou forsaken me"? In that terrible moment, in a way that we cannot possibly fathom or understand, the Lord Jesus Christ and his father were separated, and Jesus took the pangs of hell and he suffered in that moment everything that man will ever be called upon to suffer. He did it for you because he loves you.
And now God says you must repent of your sins and receive him into your heart. And if you don't do it, and you persist in listening to the voice of the devil, who says you have plenty of time, or tells you that it's not true, or whatever he's whispering to you. Yes, you have to make a choice. You have to make a choice between some things that are wrong in your life, and you have to make a choice with Christ. Which will it be? What is your choice? If you want to make a choice tonight for Christ, or if you want to talk about it, pick up the telephone and call the person that's on the other end on that number that's on your screen (1-877-772-4559). Write it down. Now you may dial several times and keep on dialing, they'll be there all evening.
The death of Christ was a judgment. And the scripture says that God's desire is that all men should be saved, all women should be saved. That's God's desire. He wants it so much that he gave his Son to die on the cross for you. And the words used in those scriptures are desire and wish: not will and purpose. It's not God's will or purpose that you die. It's his desire that you be saved. And you have a choice.
Now, what about what happens to the believer? So much could be said about this. I could talk all evening about heaven and about the joys and the thrill and the excitement it's going to be in heaven for all of us who know Christ. In Christ, the judgment is past. The storm is over. The hell is past. If you know Christ, there'll be no judgment for you. "There is therefore now no judgment to them that are in Christ Jesus". There is no hell for you. You will live eternity with the Lord Jesus Christ, and with the saints of all the ages. By his death, he destroyed death. In Christ, we no longer regard death as the king of terrors.
Paul said, "I have a desire to depart to be with Christ, which is far better". He said to be with Christ is better than living here and now. "I want to be with him", said the apostle Paul. Why? Was it because he worked so hard for Christ? Or because he'd suffered so much? No. He was ready because long ago he had met Christ on the Damascus road and had an experience with the Lord Jesus Christ, and Christ came into his heart, and he had found a fulfillment, and a peace and a joy. He found the purpose and the meaning of his life, when he had that encounter with Christ.
You can have that same experience with Christ tonight, right here, before you leave here. There are many people think that it's a long process and there may be a process in which you're convicted by the Spirit of God. And there may be a process like birth: there's the moment of conception, there's the months of gestation, then comes birth. And then there comes growing. All of those are different steps and different processes. Some may take place almost all at once. We do not know how the Holy Spirit works at that point in each individual life. Sometimes it's individual. But tonight you need to take a step to Christ, and make sure! If you don't know and you're not certain, be sure. Many people do not have a date when they came to Christ, but it's good for many people to come and make a date, and say, yes, that was the night that I became sure.
Now the conquest of death is the final great achievement of what we call Christianity and Judaism. Physical death is but a transition from life on earth with Christ to eternal life in heaven with Christ. It's like going through a door, when you die. You leave one room and you enter another, bigger room, which is more beautiful and more wonderful, and the transition which we call death is based on the fact that Jesus was raised from the dead. "For we know that Christ being raised from the dead will never die again, death no longer has any dominion over him", says Romans 6. "For as in Adam, all die, so also in Christ shall all be made alive".
You're not going to die alone if you know Christ. I believe as I said in a book that I wrote on angels, that there is a death angel, and that angel comes and takes you by the hand, and leads you into the presence of Christ. It's a wonderful thing to die as a believer. I've seen believers die, and I've seen those that did not know Christ die, and there's a vast difference in the way they die.
Today people are so sedated, we don't have their final words as we used to have. But I have many memories of people dying, talking about the music that they hear. Talking about who they see. My own mother was one. She seemed as though she could hear and see into the future. Jesus said, "He that believeth on me shall never die". "Believest thou this", he meant that you'll never die spiritually. An atheist only sees a hopeless end to life, but the Christian sees an endless hope. We look beyond our present sorrow to the triumph of Christ. Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord. But Christ brings a permanent freedom from evil to the believer who dies in him.
Those that don't know Christ may not desire this. They may prefer, go on living in your sins. You have only a short time so live it up! As we get older, life is pressing in on us. Get all you can out of it now, that's the philosophy of many, here in South Florida, as well as all over the world. You don't have long. You'll be in eternity, and the decision you make tonight may decide where you'll be. Do you know Christ? The word "Depart", the Bible uses the word depart.
You see, the Bible teaches that we're citizens of two worlds now. I'm a citizen of the United States, but I'm also a citizen of heaven. I'm a citizen of another world, heaven, and that's where I'm going. And I'll be there, it won't be too many months or years before I go. The vast majority of my life has already been lived. My record has already been made. I don't have very much longer, I know that. I don't plan to retire. I feel like I'm eighteen years of age, but I know that I'm not. I can look at the x-rays when they take the x-rays and see deterioration of a bone here and there through something that I don't even know what it is. I can't feel it, but I know at some point I'll feel it. It'll start having its effect on the body.
We all die! I'm not going to escape it. I don't want to escape it. I want to go! Because to be with Christ is far better than to be even in Florida. The Bible says, "We shall be like him, for we shall see him as he is". Napoleon once said, "I die before my time, and my body will be given back to the earth to become the food of worms. Such is the fate soon of the Great Napoleon". What a contrast to the words of Job. He said, "I know my Redeemer liveth, and though after my skin worms destroy this body, yet in my flesh shall I see God".
I'm looking forward to seeing him. Face to face. There's an old English prayer that says, "Lord, grant that my last hour may be my finest hour". Paul said, "I've fought the good fight, I've finished the race, I've kept the faith". An Anglican bishop of the last century said, "I hope when I come to die I shall not have to say I wish I had loved Christ more".
I'm going to ask you tonight to make sure that you're ready. What do you have to do? Father, mother? Senior citizen? Boy or girl? We never know in this world in which we live when anyone is going to go. You get out on these highways and streets and you never know. Are you ready? What do I have to do to be ready? First, the Bible teaches, you must repent of your sins. And you say, "Well, what is repentance"? Repentance is changing, changing your mind toward God, and toward yourself. Seeing yourself a sinner, and seeing the holiness and the righteousness of God. Looking at the cross of Christ and seeing that he died for you.
But it also means a change of living. You're gonna change your habits. From this moment on, you're going to ask God to help you. You may not be able to. You may not have the strength to. But if you'll ask God to help you, he'll help you. And then the second thing you must do is to believe. That word "Believe" means more than just believing with your mind. It means committing yourself, your total self, to Christ as Savior and Lord. And then the third thing, you must be willing to follow him and serve him. Are you willing to do that?
You say, "Billy, I decided that years ago". Did you really? Is there a doubt about it? Many older people have been religious, and younger people, too. Because I was young when I accepted Christ. Sixteen or seventeen years of age, and vice president of the young people's society in my church, but I knew that I really didn't know Christ. I already knew that. And when they ask people to come and make it certain, I went, and I'm so glad that I did that night.
You can make sure tonight. I'm going to ask you to come and stand in front of this platform, as we have seen hundreds every night do. I'm asking you to come publicly. He said, "If you're not willing to acknowledge me publicly before men, I'll not acknowledge you before my father which is in heaven". There's something about coming publicly that helps settle it. And I'm going to ask you to come. If you're with friends or relatives, they'll wait. And after you've all come, I'm going to say a word to you and have a prayer with you, give you some literature to help you in your Christian life. You get up and come. We're going to wait on you.
Hundreds of you. If you come from this stand back here, it'll take about a minute, maybe a minute and a half. This stand and this one over here, close to two minutes. Get up and come right now. And after you've come, we'll stand here a few minutes then have a prayer, and then you go back and join your friends. Very simple, but very important. Because your whole eternal future may hang on what happens tonight. And you that are watching by television, pick up the telephone and call that number and make your commitment to Christ, as people are already beginning to come here in this stadium in Fort Lauderdale, Florida. Just get up and come now, hundreds of you. We're going to wait on you.
To you that are watching by television, you can see that here in Fort Lauderdale, Florida, many hundreds of people are coming to make their commitment to Christ, to make sure that they know him as their Lord and Savior. You can make sure where you are. You may be in a hotel room, maybe in your bedroom, living room. Maybe in a bar somewhere. I don't know where. You can say, yes, Lord Jesus, come into my heart. And be sure and go to church next Sunday.