CHARLOTTE, N.C. – During an emotional ceremony that included touching tributes from family members and over 2,000 guests that included the President of the United States, the world said goodbye to Charlotte's favorite son, Reverend Billy Graham.
The beloved evangelist's funeral was held at noon on the grounds of the Billy Graham Library.
The funeral message was delivered by Rev. Franklin Graham, one of Billy Graham's sons, who also serves as president and CEO of the BGEA and Samaritan's Purse.
Standing behind the same pulpit his father preached behind on many of his crusades in the 1990s, Franklin Graham delivered a powerful message eulogizing his father. Graham said that he and his siblings all came to know God through their evangelist father's eyes.
"I remember we would take walks together along mountain trails above his log home in Montreat," Graham said. "But the Billy Graham that the world saw on television, the Billy Graham that the world saw in big stadiums, was the same Billy Graham we saw at home.
"There weren't two Billy Grahams."
Franklin Graham closed his message by saying he last saw his father three days before his death on February 21. After a life of traveling the world to spread the gospel, he said the Billy Graham he knew finally made the trip he's waited on for a lifetime.
"Most of his life was spent traveling the world, but last week he went on the journey he most wanted to, the journey from earth to Heaven," he said. "I could only imagine what it was like for my father to step into Heaven and there was the Lord Jesus Christ, and he said, 'well done, good and faithful servant.' Can you just imagine?
"Daddy, I won't see you on this earth again, but I will see you again. I'll see you, maybe soon, but not yet. To God be the glory."
The eulogy was preceded by memories of "America's Pastor" that were shared by Graham's sister, Jean Ford, as well as his children — Virginia "Gigi" Graham, Anne Graham Lotz, Ruth Graham, and Ned Graham.
Anne Graham Lotz channeled her father's powerful manner of preaching, promising that she would dedicate her life to spreading the gospel as he did, saying she believed her father's death was "a shot across the bow from Heaven."
Ruth Graham followed her older sister and told a story of forgiveness from her father. After making what she felt was a huge mistake early in her life, she said she made the two-day journey to her parents' mountain home. As she rounded the last bend, there stood none other than Rev. Billy Graham, awaiting the arrival of his daughter.
"As I got out of the car," Graham said. "He wrapped his arms around me and he said, 'welcome home.' There was no shame. No blame, no condemnation; just unconditional love. And my father was not God, but he showed me what God was like that day."
The funeral took place under a massive, 28,000 square-foot tent. Rev. Graham, who spent a decade planning his own funeral, wanted the message to be delivered beneath a tent because that's how his crusades began in the late 1940s. During his life, Billy Graham's ministry and crusades are reported to have impacted over 215 million people in nearly 200 countries.
More than 100 international delegates from 50 countries were also in attendance for the service.
Other esteemed guests at Rev. Graham's funeral included Carolina Panthers owner Jerry Richardson, Kathie Lee Gifford, Joel Osteen, and Beth Moore of Living Proof Ministries. Political figures were also in attendance, with former N.C. governor Pat McCrory and Sarah Palin attending the service.
Grammy-winning Christian recording artist Michael W. Smith, a personal favorite of Rev. Graham's, performed "Above All," following tributes from members of the Graham family. Famed southern gospel group the Gaither Vocal Band sang the traditional Christian hymn "Because He Lives," one of Rev. Graham's favorite hymns. Bill and Gloria Gaither were longtime friends with Graham and performed at many of his crusades over the years.
At the conclusion of the ceremony, Rev. Graham's casket and family were escorted out of the tent and into the Billy Graham Library to the tune of "Amazing Grace" being played by Pipe Major William Boetticher. Ruth Graham's funeral in 2007 also included a bagpipe recessional.
Following the funeral, Rev. Graham's casket will be escorted from the Library to the gravesite by a procession of pallbearers, made up of members of Graham's family. Officials expect about 200 family members to attend the interment, which will be closed to the public and media.
BGEA officials said over 13,000 people paid their respects to Rev. Graham while he lay in repose at the Billy Graham Library on Monday and Tuesday of this week. Former presidents Bill Clinton and George W. Bush made personal visits to the viewing, as well, with both delivering remarks expressing Rev. Graham’s impact on their lives.
Rev. Graham was brought home to Charlotte Thursday after he lay in honor inside the U.S. Capitol Rotunda Wednesday. Graham was just the fourth private citizen and first in over a decade to receive the honor. Thousands filed into the Rotunda to pay their final respects to the man who grew up on a dairy farm off of Park Road and went on to become one of the most significant religious figures of the century.
Rev. Graham’s tombstone will read “Preacher of the Gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ” along with a single Bible verse. That verse, John 14:6, reads “I am the way, the truth and the life. No one comes to the Father except through Me.”
"You know, I've lost a very dear friend and a man that I had the privilege of spending many years in a very private and personal way with," said Dr. Don Wilton, the personal pastor of Rev. Billy Graham, who will deliver the invocation for Friday's service.
And while Rev. Graham's funeral will be an A-level production for the world to see, Wilton said it took some convincing just to get the world's most well-known pastor's name spoken during the service.
"Mr. Graham wants one thing, that is the Lord Jesus Christ be high and lifted up," Wilton told NBC Charlotte. "I mean, to the point that it took some persuasion to even get him to agree that his name could even be mentioned at his own funeral."
In keeping with Rev. Graham's humility, he will be interred in a simple casket that was handmade by Louisiana inmates. During a preaching engagement at the Louisiana State Penitentiary in Angola, Louisiana, Rev. Franklin Graham learned inmates had been building caskets for other inmates who died while serving their sentences.
"He asked if they could make one for his mother and father," BGEA spokesman Mark DeMoss said. "The caskets are made of pine, plywood and lined with a mattress pad. A wooden cross is nailed to the top of the casket."