November 29, 2010
Today I wondered how the early Christians reacted to the news of Paul's passing. How about those closest to him—the ones who were his partners in the gospel? Did the Philippians remember Paul's letter to them—how he desired to "depart and be with Christ" (Philippians 1:23, ESV)—and then celebrate the fact he finally was granted his wish? Did Timothy smile and think about the "crown of righteousness" his mentor received because he "fought the good fight...finished the race...kept the faith" (2 Timothy 4:7-8)?
No, I suspect that their initial reaction to hearing that Paul had finally paid the ultimate price for preaching the gospel in season and out of season (2 Timothy 4:2) was the same as mine this morning at the news that Graham Maxwell had passed away overnight. Paul's death was not unexpected; he specifically told Timothy he did not have long—that the "time of [his] departure [had] come" (2 Timothy 4:6). Neither was Graham's a surprise—his family saw how he was losing the battle with age and were by his side during his final moments.
Anticipated as it was, the news of Graham’s death was both shocking and saddening. If there was any man I knew who deserved to walk into heaven like Enoch (Genesis 5:24), or even better, go with flair in a chariot of fire like Elijah (2 Kings 2:11)—it was Graham (although I suspect the chariot wouldn’t be his style). I have never seen, nor ever heard, of Graham manifesting a Moses-like striking-the-rock-at-Meribah moment (Numbers 20:10-12) that would make it so he could not be allowed to enter the promised land in the same manner Enoch and Elijah did.
Now, I am not saying that Graham was a better man than Moses–we know that great prophet and leader was the most humble man on earth (Numbers 12:3) and that God spoke with him as a friend (Exodus 33:11), but anyone who has ever had the honor of meeting Graham would immediately use both "humble" and "friend of God" to describe him too. Graham was a mental and theological giant, but he had a enormous heart and treated everyone with the same warm, congenial grace regardless of their stature.
My first introduction to him was a gift from an optometrist of a six-cassette series titled "Friends of God"—which Graham based on Jesus' magnanimous offer of friendship (instead of servanthood) in John 15:15. As I listened to it again today (in a far more modern MP3 format on an iPad), Graham no longer seemed "gone." And there is no way you can spend more than a couple minutes listening to him without realizing...
Yes, this was a friend of God...and a friend of you and me.
While we remember and pray for those who weep at his departure–family, friends, students, and listeners–let us not forget that Graham didn’t fear this moment. Whether you, like me, believe he is resting until his resurrection, or like most of Christendom, think he has already landed in heaven—recall, as was also true with Paul, there is no place Graham would rather be than with Jesus...
Or with the Father he so faithfully reminded us loves us too (John 16:27).
Regardless of his present "location," in a relatively short period of time we will join Graham in the clouds "with a cry of command, with the voice of an archangel, and with the sound of the trumpet of God" (1 Thessalonians 4:16) and then will be his neighbor for all eternity. While he was here, Graham helped change us from God’s enemies into His friends and took God’s invitation to make others His friends too very seriously (see 2 Corinthians 5:18, GNT).
Now, in Graham’s absence, it is our turn.