During his dynamic public ministry spanning more than six decades, Billy Graham, who died peacefully in his sleep early this morning at the age of 99 received numerous awards – ranging from scores of honorary doctorates to The Congressional Gold Medal of Honor and The Templeton Prize for Progress in Religion. Along the way he was also recognized for his contributions to many cultural issues and societal concerns, including fostering better race relations and understanding among people of all faiths, to name a few.
One of the evangelist's most notable honors was the history making occasion in 200, when he became the first clergyman outside the British Commonwealth to receive an honorary British Knighthood, bestowed by Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II, in a formal ceremony at the British Embassy in Washington, D.C.
"Because of incomparable contributions to civic and social life in the United Kingdom, I am commanded by Her Majesty the Queen, of whom I am her ambassador, to confer upon Billy Graham the insignia of Honorary Knight Commander of the Most Excellent British Empire," Sir Christopher Meyer declared placing the medal around Mr. Graham's neck.
Mr. Graham accepted the honor with "humility and unworthiness," and told of his admiration for Queen Victoria, who once said she hoped the Lord would come in her lifetime, so she could lay her crown at Christ's feet.
Though this Knighthood was undoubtedly one of the highest and most significant temporal honors of the many Mr. Graham received in his lifetime, he similarly deflected all tribute and acclaim to Jesus Himself, Whom he faithfully served throughout his life.
My wife and I were privileged to attend and observe the wonderful British formal pageantry unfold. I was struck that the Ambassador was "commanded by His Queen" to confer this honor on Mr. Graham because of the evangelist's faithful obedience to the command of the King of Kings to "go into all the world and preach the Gospel."
The closest we come in America to Britain's royal charm is on a chessboard, which applies many of the same titles – king, queen, knight, and bishop – to the game's playing pieces. In "The Oxford Companion to Chess," the chapter on 'Opening Moves' explains that White and Black each have 21 possible first moves, resulting in 420 board combinations after the initial round of play. This rises to 71,852 possible board placements after each side has made their second moves.
Incredibly, after three respective turns, the number of possible combinations of playing pieces on the 64 squares of the chessboard grows to more than nine million. To comprehend the number of potential legal positions after four moves – which calculates to 2 x 1023 – at the rate of one per second, it would take 600,000 years to compute. And after five moves, the possibilities become a staggering 25 x 10115 – far greater than the number of electrons in the universe.
Years ago, Billy Graham realized that Jesus' Great Commission applied not only to him individually, but to the global Church. That motivated him to preach 417 crusades all over the world – both in-person and through a progressive use of media. But it also led him to reassert the priority of evangelism and to train 10 of thousands of future evangelists through a series of evangelism schools and international conferences.
Now that he is gone, the vision of one of the most significant evangelists in the history of the Church lives on through these committed individuals and countless pastors and lay persons who have been similarly trained as a result of their participation in one or more of his evangelistic outreaches or training forums.
In assessing Billy Graham's legacy of world evangelization for future generations, what if the Church took the 'chess challenge,' and applied the same logarithms of this historic board game to evangelism? The 21 opening moves could be 21 churches with 21 members each sharing their faith or bringing a lost or seeking friend to an evangelistic outreach, with a Kingdom impact totaling 420. Do the math – it wouldn't take too many more combinations of churches and individuals before we could seriously impact families, communities, our nation and the world with the transformative Gospel message.
Sixteen years ago, at the age of 83, Billy Graham – the King's Pawn – moved to Queen's Knight, and since held another seven crusades before being sidelined by age and health three and one-half years later. Now the Church faces the long-coming reality that this Knight is no longer on the board.
Perhaps of late the Church has been lax in mission or lifestyle evangelism because, unlike the Queen's Knight, we have not put on our armor. Will we now become pawns for our King in the public square of culture and put on our spiritual armor, or remain enamored by the shining, yet temporal treasures and titles of this world?
Graham's unique influence and impact came about in large part because he entered into battle donned and polished with his shining armor – the belt of truth, breastplate of righteousness, Gospel shoes, shield of faith, helmet of salvation and sword of the Spirit. It is my prayer that his Gospel faithfulness will serve as a catalytic model we and future generations can follow as we continue to share the light of Jesus in a dark world, fully armed, laying everything else at our King's feet.
What a legacy – King's Pawn to Queen's Knight inspires King's Bishop (or pastor) to seize other pawns and capture all of the Black Castles in our communities with the Gospel – Checkmate.
Larry Ross is president of A. Larry Ross Communications, a Dallas-based media/public relations agency founded in 1994 to provide cross-over media liaison at the intersection of faith and culture. For more than 33 years, he served as personal media spokesperson for evangelist Billy Graham, and is responsible for the website, http://www.billygrahamlegacy.info/and curator of the video streaming channel, http://bit.ly/BillyGrahamLegacyYouTube.