A Snapshot of Heaven 22nd Pentecost
Psalm 145:1-5, 17-21 Luke 20:27-38
I know that many of you are already familiar with the story of little Colton Burpo. When he almost died in surgery, he reportedly took a little trip to heaven and got a glimpse of what awaits us! He was so little, the memories of his experience came out in brief snippets over a period of many months. He says that, while in heaven, he met members of his family who were waiting for him, including his great-grandfather. And he met a sister that he had never known about! Here’s how he revealed that bit of information to his family:
“Mommy, I have two sisters.”
“No, you have your sister, Cassie, and…do you mean your cousin, Traci?”
“No. I have two sisters. You had a baby die in your tummy, didn’t you?”
At that moment, time stopped in the Burpo household. “Who told you I had a baby die in my tummy?”
“She did, Mommy. She said she died in your tummy.”
Colton’s dad writes, I knew what my wife had to be feeling. Losing that baby was the most painful event of her life. We had explained it to Cassie; she was older. But we hadn’t told Colton, judging the topic a bit beyond a four-year-old’s capacity to understand.
Colton continued, “It’s okay, Mommy. She’s okay. God adopted her.”
“So, what did she look like?”
“She looked a lot like Cassie. She is just a little bit smaller, and she has dark hair…in heaven, this little girl ran up to me, and she wouldn’t stop hugging me. She said she just can’t wait for you and Daddy to get to heaven.”
His mother gave Colton a kiss and let him run and play. “Our baby is okay,” she whispered. “Our baby is okay.” From that moment on, the wound from one of the most painful episodes in our lives began to heal. We had a daughter waiting for us!
Now, if you think it’s odd for people to be given an experience of heaven, think about this. In 2 Corinthians 12, the Apostle Paul describes another man’s experience. He reports, “I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago…was caught up into Paradise, and heard inexpressible words, which a human is not permitted to speak.” A follower of Christ, “Caught up into Paradise.” And, through the centuries, others have reported similar experiences.
Now, I don’t know if there are simply more people these days being given “a glimpse of heaven”—but with modern communication and global networking, these stories are certainly heard more frequently than in years past. And I suspect that God is using them to give us a sense of surety about our future, as well as comfort regarding our loved-ones who have passed on. Paul wrote to the Thessalonians that he wanted us not to grieve like people with no hope—but to have confidence in God, an assurance that not even death can separate us from God’s love.
In our Gospel reading for today, we encounter a group called the Sadduccees. They had one thing in common with the Pharisees: they adamantly opposed Jesus! But in most other ways, they were very different from the Pharisees. The most significant difference is that they did not believe in any life after death. [Here’s a little trick to remember this differentiation: The Sadduccees did not believe in life after death—so they were sad…you see?] And because they were convinced that there was nothing after death, they were ready to do anything that kept them in wealth and power for this life.
William Barclay writes: The Sadduccees were the small, wealthy aristocracy, who were the collaborationist party and were quite prepared to serve and cooperate with the Roman government, in order to retain their wealth and their privileges. Further, the Pharisees looked for and longed for the Messiah; the Sadduccees did not.
It’s obvious that this group was completely vested in this earthly life, not wanting to believe in any hereafter, thereby giving themselves a rationale for wholehearted selfishness! So, in today’s reading, we see them trying to trick Jesus into admitting that there is no afterlife by presenting a hypothetical situation about a series of brothers who marry the same woman, one after another, in order to fulfill the law of Moses. They were pretty certain they HAD him when they asked, “In the resurrection, whose wife will the woman be?” I’m afraid they underestimated who they were up against—someone who was intimately acquainted with heaven and with the Scriptures!
He spoke with authority when he said that those in heaven “neither marry nor are given in marriage.” They are “children of God, children of the resurrection.” And then, using the same method of teaching that they were accustomed to, he went on to PROVE the fact that the dead are raised! “Moses speaks about the Lord as the God of Abraham, the God of Isaac, and the God of Jacob. Now He is God, not of the dead, but of the living; for to Him all of them are alive!” The following verses say that some of the scribes answered and said, “Teacher, you have spoken well.” In their opinion, the words of Jesus carried the day!
Jesus came to teach us many things, including: 1. The nature of God; 2. The characteristics of the Kingdom of God; 3. How we are to treat one another; and 4. Truths about himself. One of these truths was revealed when he was summoned to Bethany to heal his friend Lazarus. Listen to what Jesus says: “This sickness is not unto death, but for the glory of God, that the Son of God may be glorified by it.” And he delayed departing for two days. It took them some time to get there, and by the time they arrived, Lazarus had been in the tomb 4 days. Martha said to him, “Lord, if you had been here, my brother would not have died. Even now I know that whatever you ask of God, God will give you.”
Jesus said, “Your brother shall rise again.” Martha responded, “I know that he will rise again in the resurrection on the last day.” Then Jesus told her, “I am the resurrection, and the life; whoever believes in me shall live, even though they die, and everyone who lives and believes in me shall never die. Do you believe this?”
And Martha professed her faith: “Yes, Lord; I have believed that You are the Christ (the Messiah), the Son of God, He who comes into the world.”
Soon after this, Jesus went over to the tomb, and asked that the stone covering the opening be removed. Martha warned him that there would be a stench, but Jesus said, “Did I not say to you, if you believe, you will see the glory of God?” So they removed the stone and Jesus prayed for Lazarus to be brought back to life so that God’s glory would be revealed. Then he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come forth!” And the man who had been dead came out, bound hand and foot with wrappings.
The Truth about himself that Jesus revealed is that He IS the RESSURECTION! And the truth he demonstrated is that, where the Lord of Life is concerned, death is not permanent. That’s why we say at the beginning of a Presbyterian statement of faith, “In life and in death, we belong to God.”
Now, just a word of warning: There are folks who have “a utilitarian faith,” and they would urge us to believe in Jesus so that we can go to heaven. Now IF we buy into that self-centered and erroneous idea, we will have missed the message of the Kingdom of God! Jesus taught us about living in a way that connects us with others and with God, a way to live a full life-the abundant life. IF we live for ourselves and think we have Jesus “tucked into our back pocket for later” then we are deceiving ourselves. We are no better off than those Sadduccees who lived for themselves and for this earthly life.
I will finish with this thought: People who have experienced a glimpse of heaven often report that they are no longer afraid of death. They know what is waiting for them! For many, this allows them to live life selflessly, taking risks on behalf of others, venturing fearlessly into situations they might have avoided before their experience. And even more report that they now have no doubts about their own futures or the fate of their loved-ones who died in Christ. They have a here-and-now faith that is based on the Resurrection of Jesus, and they are not sad—you see?