Given for the Saints at Medicalodge, Neosho, MO, on 9/30/07.
"John answered them all, "I baptize you with water; but he who is mightier than I is coming, the thong of whose sandals I am not worthy to untie; he will baptize you with the Holy Spirit and with fire" (Luke 3:16).
The springboard for this writing comes from a book I recently felt led to read called Ninety Minutes in Heaven by Don Piper. Our friend Jeri Fox had heard the man give his testimony on TBN and what she told me sparked my curiosity since I have read several so called "near-death" testimonies. Most of them are similar in that the person "dies," goes into the light, and on to find himself either in heaven or just outside the gate. Popular lore and countless jokes refer to the "pearly gates" of glory, at which the newly deceased must present himself before St. Peter, who is allegedly the "gate keeper." Though it contains only a dash of scriptural truth, this idea has caught the imagination of many. In actuality, "The city of God," spoken of by John, had not one pearly gate, but twelve: "And the twelve gates were twelve pearls, each of the gates made of a single pearl, and the street of the city was pure gold, transparent as glass" (Rev. 21:21).
Before going further, I'll share something I've seen which makes some of these mystical verses easier to conceptualize. If you substitute the word "spirit" for "heaven," it's easier to grasp what's being described. "Going to heaven" would then mean, entering into the spirit realm, for God is a spirit and where He dwells is also spirit, and of course, all of us are certainly Spirit begotten now and Spirit bound after we leave the flesh.
Taking the book of Revelation literally has led to a lot of confusion and scriptural error, yet Christians persist in making literal a writing which was penned by John to the mostly Jewish Christians undergoing hideous persecution by the Romans. He used symbols they all understood, ones utilized by Daniel, Ezekiel, Isaiah and other Old Testament writers. The Romans wouldn't get it, which was exactly the point, and as Lenny is fond of pointing out, when John was caught up in the Spirit (heaven) on the Lord's Day, the Lord told him that what he saw in his many wondrous visions was not what it was, but merely a symbol of the real thing: the seven stars were the angels (messengers) of the seven churches and the seven lamp stands were the seven churches (Rev. 1:19-20).
Don Piper, the protagonist of the book, is a Baptist Pastor who was killed in a horrific car crash, when an 18 wheeler careened into his vehicle on a bridge over Lake Livingston, in Texas. Another Baptist Pastor was traveling a ways behind him, and when the accident occurred, he said to his wife that he needed to go see if there were anyone for whom he could pray. When he got to the scene, he asked the paramedics if anyone needed his help and they said no one was badly hurt except the man in the Ford, who had been declared dead by all four paramedics.
The Lord spoke to the second Pastor and told him to go pray for the man in the crushed car. Not ever having prayed for a dead man before, he protested, but finally gave in and went over to where Don Piper's mangled body lay. While the second pastor prayed for the dead man, Don was transported to heaven, traveling in the light, surrounded by loved ones and friends who had toddled off to glory before, and were there as a welcoming committee for him. He describes the light, the love and joy of reuniting with his family and friends, and the incredibly beautiful music which pulsed around and through him. They guided him to the gate where he paused just outside. He recalls seeing the streets paved with pure gold inside, but he didn't get to enter. Instead, he was called back to his body. He lived!
That's the second near death encounter I have heard in the past six months, and in both cases, the deceased came up to the gate, but got turned back without entering. Both people were extremely reluctant to tell anyone what had happened to them for similar reasons: people would think they were crazy; no one would believe them; and, it was such a sacred event that they felt they would desecrate the experience by talking about it.
I have wondered about these increasingly common occurrences (or at least, more people are willing to talk about them now). I don't doubt that the person was temporarily transported into the spirit realm for I myself had an out-of-body experience when I was probably 12. I had Rheumatic Fever as a child, and nearly died several times. This one time, I had a very high fever, and I vividly remember hovering close to the ceiling looking down at my mother sponging my body with cool water to try to bring the fever down. She had put a cot in their bedroom so she could keep watch through the night. I didn't die, go into the light, or encounter the gates of heaven, but I certainly was out of my body for a brief time, if not out of my mind with the high fever.
We are all complex beings, a composite of our cultural, familial, and religious experiences. It seems to me that even in the most dire situations, these influences have a powerful effect on our psyches.
Those of you who have been reading these writings for any time at all know that what God has given me to say has to do with the difference between religion (the fruit of the tree of the knowledge of good and evil), and life in the Spirit (the tree of Life, Christ Himself). John came as a voice crying in the wilderness to prepare the way of the Lord. Though he himself was filled with the Holy Spirit even from birth (Luke 1:15), he understood that his ministry was merely a prelude to the real thing. He baptized with water unto repentance.
When Peter was explaining to the circumcised believers in Jerusalem what happened at the house of Cornelius, a Gentile, he said, "As I began to speak, the Holy Spirit fell on them just as on us at the beginning. And I remembered the word of the Lord, how he said, 'John baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit'" (Acts 11:15-16). Peter's experience here was indeed a fulfillment of John's prophecy at the Jordan River where he was baptizing the repentant Jews for the remission of their sins.
When Paul came to Ephesus, he found a group of believers who had not received the Holy Spirit because they had been baptized with John's baptism. Paul explained, "John baptized with the baptism of repentance, telling the people to believe in the one who was to come after him, that is, Jesus." On hearing this, they were baptized in the name of the Lord Jesus. And when Paul had laid his hands upon them, the Holy Spirit came on them; and they spoke with tongues and prophesied" (Acts 19:4-6). This brings me back to the gate of heaven described in these two near death experiences. One person was a Baptist; the other was Church of Christ, and like most Fundamentalists, both denominations fall short in their acceptance of Peter's admonition to the gathered crowd on the Day of Pentecost: "Repent, and be baptized every one of you in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins; and you shall receive the gift of the Holy Spirit. For the promise is to you and to your children and to all that are far off, every one whom the Lord our God calls to him" (Acts 2:38-39).
Without the baptism in the Holy Spirit, one can never enter through the gate, but must stop outside and look in, like a poor child standing with his nose pressed against the glass of the candy store window. He sees the goodies on the other side, but does not have the money to go in. The blessed news is that the Holy Spirit is a GIFT to us, freely given and joyfully received when our eyes are opened to see it. A friend pointed out recently that the words "gift" and "free" are so overused, and we are so accustomed to them being a marketing ploy, or including a hidden cost, that we don't believe that free means WITHOUT CHARGE.
This same friend wanted to offer a free ad on his website with every purchase someone made on any of his sites, but instead of calling it free, which he knew would be misunderstood, he said he called it a "complimentary" ad. Salvation and the gift of the Spirit are both COMPLIMENTARY! All God's gifts to us were PAID IN FULL by the blood of the Lamb. There is no charge to us, much like the inheritance given in a "Last Will and Testament." When the heirs show up to hear the reading of the will, it's too late for them to pay for anything they may receive. Whatever the bequest, it was freely given by the one who died.
The Hebrew writer shows how this pertains to Christ's death, "For where a will is involved, the death of the one who made it must be established. For a will takes effect only at death, since it is not in force as long as the one who made it is alive" (Heb. 9: 16-18). Christ died, and so His will is NOW in effect! To emphasize the point, Christ died according to the will of God, "And by that will we have been sanctified through the offering of the body of Jesus Christ once FOR ALL" (Heb. 10:10). As a result, Paul declared that we "were sealed with the promised Holy Spirit, which is the guarantee of our inheritance until we acquire possession of it, to the praise of his glory" (Eph. 1:13-14).
At the reading of God's will, we are joint heirs with Christ (Rom. 8:17). To assure us of that blessed truth, we now have the gift of the Holy Spirit, guiding us and leading us into all truth (John 16:13; I John 2:27). If we have not been baptized by Jesus in the Spirit, we remain servants, rather than sons, mired in sin consciousness and deprived of much our Father has for us. To put it metaphorically, we have arrived at the gate (salvation) of heaven (spirit), but we cannot pass through because we feel unworthy or uninvited.
As we await the possession of our full inheritance, we often struggle with the flesh, which I'll characterize as laboring "outside the gate." Be it forgiving someone, loving the unlovable, or leaving whatever plagues us on the altar and moving on in trust, we cannot do it in our own strength.
We often hear from people by e-mail and by phone who are struggling with horrific life situations, from which there seems no relief. I was speaking to a woman last week who was blaming the devil for her troubles and those of her dear friend for whom she has been very concerned. She hates it when I tell her that God is the only one responsible for all things, because she thinks that makes Him a monster. She's been well trained by religion's dogmas, that God only does the good and the devil does the bad. She has yet to fully appreciate that if Christ came to destroy the works of the devil, then we need not fear him, unless she thinks Christ failed in His mission. Only God is sovereign in our lives (Heb. 2:14; I John 3:8).
To make her point, she was going on and on about her friend's wretched situation, and how it left her in the lurch, so to speak, because she depended upon him to do so many things for her that she cannot do for herself due to her disabilities. I couldn't get a word in edgewise and heard myself shouting at her, "It's HIS journey!" I said it loudly several times, though I don't know if she heard it.
Some hours later, it hit me forcefully that God was speaking to me personally, rather than to her. I've been wrestling "outside the gate" off and on for months with a huge concern I have for a loved one, who I feel sure is undergoing some traumatic dilemma, though I don't know what it may be. I KNOW that God is in charge of her situation, and have given my worries and concerns about her to Him so many times I've lost count, but at 3:00 in the morning, there the fear is again, huge, dark, and peace robbing.
Realizing that God was speaking to me about this in my conversation with this dear lady who had phoned, I said, "But Lord, what about bearing one another's burdens?" I grew up in a church which emphasized that we ARE our brother's keeper, and we MUST bear each other's burdens. How many times have we had Paul's statement to the Galatians laid like a shroud on us? "Bear one another's burdens, and so fulfill the law of Christ" (Gal. 6:2).
God's answer set me free, as only He can do. He said, "You can bear the [occasional] burden here or there (and I had the feeling He meant answering a temporary need which arises), but the sons of God are not to bear the burdens of the world for I HAVE ALREADY DONE THAT." In a few words, God delivered me from my angst and put me in my place at the same time.
As often happens, when we have had a rough go of it, we develop excessive compassion for other people who are having a hard time, but what I got from the Lord was that each of us has our own journey to make. We can offer a helping hand to someone who needs a lift, but we must not attempt to make or amend his journey for him. Had we been rescued from our situation in California when we lost our house, etc., we would not have known that God is faithful to deliver us from whatever He brings to us. When we continually look to others for help, we miss the glorious truth that only He has what we really need.
Learning to leave our concerns with God can be a long process, but it's the only way to move through the gate into heaven (spirit) where we fellowship with Him. It is only by the anointing of the Spirit that we have the power and ability to live the Christian life. On our own, it is impossible, but with the anointing of the Spirit, we can move beyond the gates now. We don't have to wait for a near-death experience or actual death to "Enter his gates with thanksgiving, and his courts with praise! Give thanks to him, bless his name!" (Ps. 100:4).
Father, thank You that every experience, be it good or bad, on our journey reveals Your presence. The trees clap their hands and bow in reverence to you as all nature declares your glory. The winds sing Your praises; the earth reflects Your grandeur, and Your sons manifest the kingdom in action now. For this, we praise and honor You, and glorify your holy name. Amen. Jan Antonsson
Editor's Note: The music on this website is "Nessun Dorma," an aria from Puccini's opera "Turandot."
Jan and Lenny Antonsson
17178 Highway 59, Neosho, MO 64850 (Snail Mail)
The Glory Road
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This page was uploaded to the web on 09/21/07
by Jan Antonsson, Webmeister,
and last edited on 09/30/07.