There is Power in the Cross – Clay Peck

Who has been the most influential Christian over the past 50 years? If you asked that question of informed people anywhere on the planet you’d be likely to hear the same reply—Billy Graham.


Billy Graham has preached the Gospel to more people in live audiences than anyone else in history—over 210 million people in more than 185 countries and territories. Hundreds of millions more have been heard the message of Christ through television, video, film and web casts.I’ve been inspired by reading Billy Graham’s autobiography, Just As I Am.  In 1953 Graham was doing a series of evangelistic meetings in the Dallas Cotton Bowl.  In his own words he recalls:




“One night my preaching did not seem to have spiritual depth or power, although a number of people did come forward at the Invitation.  After the meeting, John [Bolten, who was a close and trusted friend of Graham’s] and I took a walk together, and he confronted me.


“‘Billy,’ he said, ‘you didn’t speak about the Cross.  How can anyone be converted without having at least one single view of the Cross where the Lord died for us?  You must preach about the Cross, Billy.  You must preach about the blood that was shed for us there.  There is no other place in the Bible where there is greater power than when we talk or preach about the Cross.’


“Graham writes, “At first I resisted his rebuke.  The Cross and its meaning were more often than not, a part of my sermons.  But that night I could not sleep, and before morning came I knew he was right.  I made a commitment never to preach again without being sure that the Gospel was as complete and clear as possible, centering on Christ’s sacrificial death for our sins on the Cross and His resurrection from the dead for our salvation.”


That commitment to constantly preaching the cross did two things for Billy Graham: it brought him constant criticism from so-called intellectuals; and it resulted in revival and conversions wherever he went.


During Graham’s life he had to wrestle from time to time with feelings of inadequacy.  In addition to the criticism he faced, he sometimes felt insufficient to preach at campuses such as Princeton and other prestigious universities since he did not have an advanced degree and had never been to Seminary.


One time when he was preparing to do a series of presentations at Cambridge University in England, he wrote his trusted friend John Stott a letter expressing his doubts:

“I do not know that I have ever felt more inadequate and totally unprepared for a mission.  As I think over the possibility for messages, I realize how shallow and weak my presentations are.”


He went on to say that he wished he could cancel his appearance, but the plans and gone too far.  One of his friends that he copied the letter to replied with words of encouragement and support:


“Do not regard these men as ‘intellectuals,’” he wrote, “Appeal to their conscience.  They are sinners, needing a Savior.  Conviction of sin, not intellectual persuasion, is the need.  So many preachers fail at this point when they speak to university men.  So, Billy, keep to the wonderful clear simple message God has qualified you to preach.”


Despite that excellent advice, nevertheless, Graham worked diligently to try and create eight messages that were especially intellectual in nature.  He writes:


“For the first three nights of the…meetings…I felt as if I were in a strait jacket on the platform, and very little happened….  One-fourth of the student body attended each evening, listening intently, but there seemed to be little spiritual impact.


“Then on my knees with a deep sense of failure, inadequacy, and helplessness, I turned to God.  My gift, such as it was, was not to present the intellectual side of the Gospel.  I knew that.  What those students needed was a clear understanding of the simple but profound truths of the Gospel: our separation from God because of sin; Christ’s provision of forgiveness and new life; and our hope because of Him.


“Finally, on Wednesday night, I threw away my prepared address and preached a simple Gospel message on the meaning of the Cross of Christ.  That night more than 400 Cambridge students stayed behind to make their commitments to Christ.” 


That story reminds me of the apostle Paul.  On one occasion (Acts 17) he tried to reason and argue with the intellectuals in Athens in a public debate.  That may have been the correct approach for that audience, but at the end most sneered and only “a few” believed.  Next Paul went to Corinth (Acts 18) and there he followed a very different methodology.  He reflects on this experience in—


 “When I came to you, I did not come with eloquence or human wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness with great fear and trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on human wisdom, but on God’s power (1 Cor. 2:1-5).


There is still power, transformational power, in the message of the cross!