American evangelist Franklin Graham preached at the second largest church in China on Sunday, proclaiming to around 10,000 people the story of tax collector-turned-Jesus follower Zacchaeus, as recorded in Luke 19.
Before the overflowing crowd at Bethel Church of Baoding, located about 120 miles south of Beijing, Graham stressed that each person there is
not just one figure in China's 1.3 billion population nor too insignificant to meet God. To the Almighty Lord, each of them is important as was Zacchaeus, who was given the choice to accept or reject Jesus' invitation to come down and meet him.
"I'm here today to tell you that not only does God know who you are, He loves you," the evangelist said, according to Decision Magazine, the publication of the Billy Graham Evangelistic Association (BGEA).
Sunday's appearance marked the second time in the past two years that the American evangelist has preached to thousands in China. Last May, Graham preached the Good News to some 12,000 people in mainland China's largest church, Hangzhou Chong-Yi Christian church.
During Graham's introduction Sunday, the BGEA leader shared about his family's three generations of ties to the Chinese people.
His maternal grandfather, Dr. L. Nelson Bell, had come to China in 1916 and served as a medical doctor there for 25 years. Graham's mother Ruth Bell Graham was born in China in 1920 and had planned to return to serve there, but marriage changed the plan.
"My mother's desire was to come back to live in China, but she met my father, Billy Graham, and her life changed," the younger Graham said.
The Graham family did, however, return to China to visit Ruth Graham's birthplace in 1988. During the trip, Billy Graham preached and was able to meet with China church leaders and talk to government officials, the younger Graham recalled.
With Billy Graham now retired, it's Franklin who is now traveling the world, meeting with church and government leaders. One day prior to Sunday's service, Graham had helped Bethel Church of Baoding to dedicate its new six-story Lay Training Center. The leaders who will train at the megachurch's center are affiliated with the government-approved Three-Self Patriotic Movement and the China Christian Council.
In an interview after the dedication ceremony, Graham told the church's magazine that he hopes the training center will raise up thousands of Christian leaders in the next 10 to 15 years to proclaim the Gospel throughout China and Asia.
"And I pray that there will even be graduates that can come from here to the United States and bring the Gospel to America," he added.
Throughout his sermon Sunday, Graham stressed the Good News by referring to the popular verse John 3:16, which states: "For God so loved the world that He gave His only Son that whosoever believeth in Him should not perish but have everlasting life."
No other person in the history of China or the United States, the preacher said, had paid for another's sins.
"Jesus Christ is the only Person in the history of the entire world who has paid for your sins," Graham proclaimed
So while Zacchaeus may have been given a choice, whatever his decision, the fact would remain that Jesus Christ is the only way to God.
"You have a choice today. You can accept Him by faith, or you can reject Him. The choice is yours," Graham said
In closing Sunday's sermon, Graham invited those listening to commit their life to Jesus Christ. More than 1,000 people responded and were given literature developed by the church to help them grow in their Christian faith.
Graham's visit to China follows a three-day trip to North Korea, where the evangelist met with high-level government officials and also visited his international relief agency's humanitarian assistance projects.
In addition to serving the BGEA as president and CEO, Graham also heads Samaritan's Purse, which provides spiritual and physical aid to hurting people around the world.