Jonah and that Boy Who Went to Heaven
You may be familiar with the story of Colton Burpo, the now eleven-year old boy who tells of “going to heaven” when he was four years old. The book, Heaven is For Real, is at the top of every best-seller list.
Colton’s appendix burst when he was four and by the time his family and doctors had figured out what was going on, he was a very sick little boy. He had what has come to be called a near-death experience, and it was vivid and clear and he came back to tell his parents and friends, and now the whole world, what he saw. It was heaven. He met Jesus, a miscarried sister he never knew he had and a grandfather he had not known but whose features he could describe precisely.
It is an amazing story. You can read about it here or watch the Today Show interview here.
Some people have asked me what I think of the Colton’s story. I think it is an amazing story. I think there are too many pieces of it that cannot be explained to explain it away as the power of suggestion. I think it was a near-death experience and I respect near-death experiences. I know people, friends, who have had near death experiences that have been vivid, clear and faith affirming (and some that have been faith confusing).
But Colton Burpo’s story does not lead me to think heaven is for real or that Jesus is still alive. If someone could prove conclusively that the story Colton tells is all about the working of brain chemistry or psychological stress, my hope in Christ will not shift a single millimeter.
Easter’s story is what leads me to think that Jesus is still alive and that heaven – the wedding feast of the Lamb, the new Jerusalem, the Father’s house, the coming Kingdom – is for real.
Some of the scribes and Pharisees demanded from Jesus that he give them a sign to prove that he was who he claimed to be. Jesus was harsh in reply, “An evil and adulterous generation seeks for a sign, but no sign will be given to it except the sign of the prophet Jonah. For just as Jonah was three days and three nights in the belly of the great fish, so will the Son of Man be three days and three nights in the heart of the earth.” (From Matthew 12:38-41)
Easter’s story – Jesus was not near death: he was crucified dead and buried; he descended into hell; the third day he rose again from the dead – gives us hope and purpose and meaning. It sends us into the world to care for the needy and have compassion for those broken by the weight of life in that world. It calls us to demand justice and work for peace. It says “no” to Satan when he “tempts me to despair and tells me of the guilt within.” Easter tells me that while Jesus is in heaven – he sitteth on the right hand of God the Father almight – he is also with us, even to the end of the age.
The story Colton Burpo tells really is amazing. For many it will be encouraging and comforting.
The story Easter tells, this sign of Jonah, is world changing. For those who trust it, it is the power of God for salvation (Romans 1:16). It is the event chiseled into the hard stone of history that says that faith, hope and love, the still more excellent way, beats death, decay and destruction.
He is risen. He is risen indeed.