Links Daily Devotional

Near-Death Experience

But Stephen, full of the Holy Spirit, looked up to heaven and saw the glory of God, and Jesus standing at the right hand of God. (Acts 7:55, NIV)

Some golfers start slow. They make a bungle of the opening holes, trying desperately to find their rhythm. Once they have it, though, they sail through the end of the round, comfortable with their effort and their score.

Others begin collecting pars right away. The ball flies straight, the putts go in, and the score adds up neatly. But that’s the trouble. One look at the scorecard, and that little voice in the back of their mind begins to whisper, “Too good. This is much too good.” And these golfers achieve their comfort level by bogeying their way home to shoot what they always shoot. It’s disappointing, but it’s the norm.

How we finish may matter in golf, but if it does, that finish means nothing compared to how our lives wind down.

The story of Stephen’s final hour is one of the more gripping accounts of Scripture. Here was “a man full of God’s grace and power,” who dared to speak out his belief when it was anything but safe to do so. In fact, Stephen was directly confrontational with those who needed to be confronted. Here, in so many words, was the culmination of his message to the religious leaders of the day: “You put all the prophets to death, you put the forerunner of the Messiah (John the Baptist) to death, and then you put the Messiah to death. You who had every spiritual advantage are guilty of the greatest of all crimes” (see Acts 7:51-53).

His remarks, pronounced in the public square, did not fall on deaf ears. Those with every deadly intention—Saul of Tarsus among them—heard just what he said and took up stones to kill him.

But before his expiration, Stephen had a vision of heaven. He saw the glory of the God and Jesus standing with the Father. If Stephen had not gone on to that glory, we would have called his vision a near-death experience. In Stephen’s case, it was a pre-death experience.

What does this mean? Are such visions to be trusted? Can we know by such a vision, along with those like little Colton Burpo, that “heaven is for real”?

Certainly what God has done—as we see in Scripture’s account of Stephen’s homegoing—God can do. And what God can do, he may do again—as might have been the case with Colton Burpo and others. Sometimes we can debunk what happens in our time, but here we must deal with the wonder of God as displayed in Scripture. Did Stephen see heaven this side of death? He did.

We may weigh near-death visions in two ways, either believing them all or sorting one from another. But what we cannot deny is that they call us to a readiness like Stephen’s. In the end, will we stand firm in our faith? Will we be said to be “full of the Holy Spirit”? Will we be looking to Jesus?

Jeff Hopper
June 11, 2014
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