Imagine Heaven – Highlight of Heaven by John Burke

Based on the book by John Burke, we continued our series called Imagine Heaven at Gateway Church in Austin!

Work through the Next Steps for this message with your family or in a small group.

You can listen to the message I shared at Gateway South Here:

You can watch the message John shared at Gateway McNeil here:

Here are notes from the message we shared:

John Burke studied about 1000 stories of people who have died, been resusitated, and say similar things about a world to come. What’s amazing is that around the globe, people describe the same Being they know to be God. People consistently say “He is the Highlight of Heaven.” Of all the beauty, wonder, colors, mountains, valleys, loving reunions with family or friends, nothing compares to the presence of God.

Osis and Haraldsson, two researchers, studied five hundred Americans and five hundred Indians to determine how much religious or cultural conditioning shaped one’s near-death experience. Though people make interpretations that differ, what they do describe is this Man of Light they know is God — across cultures. The characteristics of the Being of Light they report is amazingly consistent with what the Old Testament prophets and Jesus revealed.

Think about this “If God is truly as wonderful as NDErs say, why wouldn’t we seek to know and follow whole-heartedly after this God who loves us like no other?

Ask yourself—am I whole-heartedly seeking to follow God?

Here are three characteristics of God as found in the Scriptures and consistent with these Near Death Experiences.

  1. God Is Love and Light

This is the first thing every person experiences and what scripture says.

Simran nearly died in a bus crash in Mumbai. She recalls, “A bright light appeared, having a soft man’s voice that told me, ‘You will leave everything behind—your loved ones, money, even your clothes. You’ll come to me empty-handed.’ The light also gave me an important message to follow it. . . . How can I put it in words? The feeling is way too beautiful…to believe. But so true, so loving, so peaceful.”

A white-robed man with a book of accounts, who is Light and Love is the description the ancient Jewish Prophets and the disciples of Jesus gave of God. Yahweh appeared as a Brilliant Light to Moses:

The Lord passed in front of Moses, calling out, “Yahweh! The Lord! The God of compassion and mercy! I am slow to anger and filled with unfailing love and faithfulness. I lavish unfailing love to a thousand generations. I forgive iniquity, rebellion, and sin. But I do not excuse the guilty.” – Exodus 34:6-7 (~1500 BCE)

The Jewish prophet Ezekiel saw a vision of Heaven:

High above on the throne was a figure like that of a man. I saw that from what appeared to be his waist up he looked like glowing metal, as if full of fire, and that from there down he looked like fire; and brilliant light surrounded him. Like the appearance of a rainbow in the clouds on a rainy day, so was the radiance around him. This was the appearance of the likeness of the glory of the Lord.
– Ezekiel 1:26-27 (~600

The Jewish prophets saw this Man of Brilliant Light.

Daniel saw God and the Messiah (son of Man—which became Jesus favorite name for himself) in a vision of Heaven:

As I looked, thrones were set in place, and the Ancient of Days [God] took his seat.
His clothing was as white as snow; the hair of his head was white like wool. His throne was flaming with fire [brilliant light]…The court was seated, and the books were opened…and there before me was one like a son of man, coming with the clouds of heaven. He approached the Ancient of Days and was led into his presence. He was given authority, glory and sovereign power; all nations and peoples of every language worshiped him. – Daniel 7:9-14 (~550 BCE)

It’s uncanny how many NDErs see this same Man of Light, hear the same voice, yet all these prophets wrote this before Jesus was born.

Then Paul and others saw the risen Jesus after the crucifixion:

As [Paul] was approaching Damascus on this mission, a light from heaven suddenly shone down around him. 4 He fell to the ground and heard a voice saying to him, “Saul! Saul! Why are you persecuting me?” “Who are you, lord?” Saul asked. And the voice replied, “I am Jesus, the one you are persecuting!” – Acts 9:3-5

This Being of Light and love, is Jesus—the Highlight of Heaven. Jesus said:

My sheep listen to my voice; I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish…No one can snatch them from the Father’s hand. The Father and I are one.” – John 10:27-30

2. God is Personal

God fills the universe, so of course that’s not what he always looks like, but what most NDEs say, and what the scripture’s proclaim is that God is a person. God appears not as an impersonal force, or some impersonal consciousness. NDErs describe a Personal Being who knows them personally like no other, yet loves them unconditionally.

Jesus demonstrated this when He called his disciples his friends.

Eben Alexander did not seem to recognize Jesus (though he seemed to make a connection in church after his NDE), but says: “One of the biggest mistakes people make when they think about God is to imagine God as impersonal. Yes, God is behind the numbers, the perfection of the universe. . . . [but God is] even more human than you and I are. [He] understands and sympathizes with our human situation more profoundly and personally than we can even imagine.”

Scripture explains what Eben experienced:

“Because God’s children are human beings—made of flesh and blood—the Son also became flesh and blood. . . . It was necessary for him to be made in every respect like us, his brothers and sisters, so that he could be our merciful and faithful High Priest before God. Then he could offer a sacrifice that would take away the sins of the people. Since he himself has gone through suffering and testing, he is able to help us when we are being tested. . . .[Jesus] understands our weaknesses, for he faced all of the same testings we do, yet he did not sin. So let us come boldly to the throne of our gracious God. There we will receive his mercy, and we will find grace to help us when we need it most. – Heb. 2:14, 17–18; 4:15–16 NLT

God is personal. He loves you, he knows you better than you know yourself, and all you have to do is turn to Him—he forgives all who want forgiveness, and he guides all who want His guidance. He is already pleased with you because He created you for himself. All He wants—is you—a loving relationship with you!


3. God is Relational

The reason God does not force himself on us, and the reason He doesn’t tell NDErs his identity unless they seek to know Him, is that loving relationship cannot be forced—it must be freely chosen.

Relationship is what God wants—it’s all He wants—it’s why He created you. The problem with this world is that we all turn from God and seek our will and ways far more than we seek to obey God’s will and ways. Jesus demonstrated God’s unconditional love meeting God’s Justice—poured out on the cross to lead us back into right-relatedness with God. Jesus said:

“This is how God loved the world: He gave his one and only Son, so that everyone who believes in him will not perish but have eternal life. God sent his Son into the world not to judge the world, but to save the world through him. – John 3:16-18

This is exactly what people experience in the presence of this God of Light. Some Christians wonder “Why would those who don’t believe in Jesus see him and feel love and compassion instead of judgment?” Because that’s Who He is—to the woman caught in adultery that the religious leaders wanted to condemn to death, Jesus protected her and said “I don’t condemn you, now go and sin no more.” That’s how great the love and amazing Grace of God is—He will take back anyone who turns to him.


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