Have you noticed how often hymn writers use the Jordan River as a metaphor for transitions in the spiritual life? That may be because the Bible does the same.
The Jordan River usually flowed a hundred feet wide at the place across from Jericho where Israel crossed over into Canaan after the Exodus (Joshua 3:14–4:23). But because the Israelites crossed at flood stage, the river surged much wider and deeper.
- When the priests carrying the Ark of the Covenant stepped into the Jordan, the water ceased its flow 16 miles upstream.
- This left a stretch of dry land some 20 miles wide for the nation to cross en masse, perhaps several thousand abreast.
Joshua compared the miracle of the parting of the Jordan River with the miraculous parting of the Red Sea (Joshua 4:23). He linked the power of God that allowed them to enter Canaan with the power that freed them from Egypt.
This was a critical comparison. Why? The same grace that redeemed them from bondage led them home.
This also reflects our own spiritual lives.
There has always been only one way to God—even in the Old Testament. That way is by grace through faith in the object of God’s choosing. Bethel gives us a peek at that way.
In his flight to Haran, Jacob spent the night at Bethel, where years earlier his grandfather Abraham had heard God promise that he would receive all the land as far as he could see. There, Jacob dreamed of a stairway to heaven, and the Lord repeated to him the promises that Abraham received.
Shaken, Jacob awoke and cried:
How awesome is this place! This is none other than the house of God, and this is the gate of heaven. —Gen. 28:17
Jacob named the site Bethel—“house of God.” The dream gave more than a vision of God’s house.
It offered a foreshadowing of how to get there.
It’s hard to imagine an omnipresent God dwelling in one place. And yet, every December we celebrate the fact. God dwells in the confines of a human body. And He is also everywhere.
But the incarnation isn’t the first time God has localized His presence among His people.
God is both omnipresent and present. King Solomon summed up the seeming contradiction when he prayed:
Will God indeed dwell with mankind on the earth? Behold, heaven and the highest heaven cannot contain You; how much less this house which I have built. —2 Chronicles 6:18
From creation to Christmas—and from today to eternity.
Let’s take a quick geographical journey and follow movements of God’s dwelling place among us.
Of all the questions leveled against Christianity, few others cause such heated controversy: “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” For many people, Jesus’ words equate exclusivity with arrogance:
I am the way, and the truth, and the life; no one comes to the Father, but through Me. —John 14:6
The exclusivity of those words is unmistakable. Millions question: “How can Jesus be the only way to God? That’s not fair. It leaves out too many people.”
But if you think about it, the real question isn’t, “Is Jesus the Only Way to God?” but rather we should ask, “Is God holy”?
Here’s why that’s the real issue.
In light of the world’s ugliness, it’s tempting to hole up on some mountain and just wait for God to come get us. It was no different in Jesus’ day.
Jesus brought three of His disciples up on the slopes of a “high mountain,” probably Mount Hermon. Six days after the prediction of His death in Jerusalem, Jesus gave affirmation of His glory, divine nature, and coming Kingdom. Jesus was “transfigured” on the mountain—revealing His true glory.
In light of such an awesome revelation, Peter had an odd request.
Suddenly, Moses and Elijah also appeared in glorious cameo appearances. They spoke of Jesus’ “departure” at Jerusalem, the very event Jesus had just revealed to His disciples in Caesarea Philippi (Luke 9:31). Peter blurted:
Lord, it is good for us to be here; if You wish, I will make three tabernacles here, one for You, and one for Moses, and one for Elijah. —Matt. 17:4
What was Peter suggesting with these tabernacles?
He was asking Jesus for the same thing you and I ask Him for.
Any woman who has experienced childbirth understands it. Any helpless man who has witnessed childbirth, like me (twice), understands it to a degree. That’s why the Bible uses the experience of childbirth as a metaphor of our lives.
The whole creation groans and suffers the pains of childbirth together until now. And not only this, but also we ourselves . . . groan within ourselves, waiting eagerly for our adoption as sons, the redemption of our body. —Romans 8:22–23
We would all love to have an emotional epidural to where we didn’t feel the pain of life. But that won’t happen.
God doesn’t give us a way to avoid the hurt.
But He does tell us what to think so we can make it through the struggle.
I think what grips most people when they read Heaven is for Real is that a little boy speaks about what he otherwise couldn’t have known.
And if THAT is true, the rest of his story must be true, right?
No doubt, the book taps the nerve of our day that makes experience the basis of truth. Believers unacquainted with God’s Word will have little reason to doubt the story of a four-year old boy who went to heaven and returned to earth to share his story.
Interestingly, very little of the book is actually about the subtitle: A Little Boy’s Astounding Story of His Trip to Heaven and Back. For example, the first half of the book is mostly back story about what led up to Colton’s appendix procedure. The subtitle for this section could have been, A Little Boy’s Story of His Trip to the Hospital and Back.
As far as heaven goes, should we view this book as affirmation that heaven is real?
For one thing, the book’s account is undermined by its inattention to biblical detail. For example:
- The book says everybody in heaven has wings but Jesus, but that contradicts Philippians 3:21 that says our bodies will be like Jesus’. Plus, angels have wings, and saints are never portrayed as having them (Isaiah 6:2). Except in the movies.
- The little boy, Colton, said: “Jesus told me if you don’t go to heaven, you don’t get a new body.” This flatly contradicts Scripture, which says that both the redeemed and the condemned will experience bodily resurrection (Daniel 12:2; Revelation 20:5, 12). Plus, Jesus described in His parable the rich man in Hades as having a body (Luke 16:24).
If this book’s story is real, Jesus needs to get His stories straight.
Sometimes you hear crazy stuff at funerals. I heard of one set of parents who tragically lost a child, and the minister told them not to weep—but to rejoice in faith. After all, their son was in heaven.
It sounds so right—so spiritual. But it was only half right. Therefore, half wrong.
The Bible reveals that when someone dies, the most natural and right thing to do—even in a life of great faith—is to weep. After Abraham’s wife died, we read:
Abraham went in to mourn for Sarah and to weep for her.—Genesis 23:2
Even Jesus wept at the results of physical death (John 11:35). So, that makes it okay for us too.
Why is weeping right, even if our loved one is in a “better place”?
The Texas Driver’s Handbook has a diagram that shows when you sit in a parked car, you have a full 180-degree field of vision.
But then you start to move.
- When your car accelerates to 20 M.P.H. that field of vision reduces to 66%.
- At 40 M.P.H. your visual field shrinks to 20%.
- At 60 M.P.H. your field of vision remains barely wider than the headlights.
(Photo: Andres Rodriguez, via Vivozoom)
Simply said, the faster you go the less perspective you have.
The same holds true for us in our journey. If we never sit still, we never see the big picture—only the immediate right in front of us.
Ask five people on the street, “How can I find my way to God?” and you’ll likely get five different answers. They may not even believe in God. Or your God.
As I’ve thought about this question, I think it requires we ask another question first.
This one question boils down the issue like nothing else can.