Encounter with a Supernatural God
“Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight. They asked each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?’” (Luke 24:31-32).
By John David Hicks
If the passion in your heart for God is as intense as it should be…if your total commitment drives you to a deeper sense of God’s presence…if your devotion to win the lost is as urgent as you want it to be…if your life is as fruitful in God’s vineyard as it could be…if the Holy Sprit is flowing like a river, splashing over your banks in power and grace to save, heal, and deliver others, then you may set aside this article. It is not for you!
Most Christians feel a deep need to see God and meet him all over again. If there’s a restlessness, an unfulfilled hunger, a desperate desire, and an unsatisfied thirst for a fresh encounter with God, this article is for you! God met two disciples at their lowest hour on the Emmaus Road. Two disciples encountered God, and so can you.
On the afternoon of the first Easter Sunday, Cleopas and a fellow disciple were walking to Emmaus (which means “warm springs”), perhaps to enjoy the hot springs in the village. Only a few days before Jesus had been betrayed, tried, mocked, flogged, and crucified. The seven-mile trip was an escape from Jerusalem. The thought of just relaxing and being rejuvenated in body, mind, and emotions was alluring.
They had hoped that Jesus was the Messiah. The disciples had been hiding in fear behind locked doors. Then there were the rumors of an empty tomb and the disappearance of Jesus’ body. The reports were confusing. Their disappointment had turned to grief. Both of these disciples were in the pit of depression. Their hopes were dashed. They wanted a break from the stress and strain and from the tragedy of the past few weeks. So they are getting out of town—to Emmaus, but in reality going nowhere. More than anything, they needed a fresh encounter with the living God they now thought was dead.
Just like these two disciples, you are working out a theology of God through the tragedies and trials of your life. The working out of problems, suffering, crises, and grief will teach you more than you will ever get out of a book or a school. You must come to know how God relates to this world and the way He works through secondary causes to reach you. In that school of life, someone once said, the troubles of life will make you bitter or better. Faith is earthly, dirty, the battleground for your soul. Faith is surrounded by fear, insecurity, and uncertainty.
God uses personal trials to rewrite your spiritual agenda and to bring you into a new relationship with Him. The calamity will make you desperate for God. It’s not the fierce trials that will change you, but a passionate pursuit of God. God is determined to use those difficult circumstances to bring you into a faith encounter with Him. Out of this encounter will come a revelation, an understanding, a salvation, and a freedom with God as He transforms your character into His image (Romans 8:28-29). When you are born-again, you move into the supernatural realm. Scripture affirms that hearing God’s voice is natural to a child of God (John 10:4). To a spiritual person the supernatural moves into the natural.
Throughout history many men and women have had an encounter with God. These encounters were life changing and altered the world. Augustine, Luther, Wesley—all had a deep personal encounter with God. The writings of Jonathan Edwards, Count Zinzendorf, Charles Finney, D. L. Moody, and Billy Graham are marked with an encounter with God. That is why A. W. Tozer said, “Listen to the one who listens to God.”
There are some common things in Scripture and in church history with those who walk the Emmaus Road and have an encounter with God:
1. That encounter happens when an individual is ready—at the right time. “As they talked and discussed these things with each other, Jesus himself came up and walked along with them” (v. 15). The Bible calls this “in the fullness of time” (Galatians 4:4; Ephesians 1:10). This denotes God’s perfect timing in His plan for particular events to occur, from the incarnation to the climax of history. The timing will be at the right time for you, too, in your place of need, in your longing or desire for God. It is acknowledged amid human weakness. “You will seek me and find me when you seek me with all your heart” (Jeremiah 29:13). When you are ready, the moment in time will be apparent.
It is in our weakness and need for completion and fulfillment that most of us desire an encounter with God. Emmaus is not so much a place as it is a state of mind. For the two disciples on the road, it was an escape from fear, anxiety, stress, pain, rejection, confusion, and grief. It’s a place where you want to go to “get away,” where you are likely to say, “Forget it. The pain, rejection, loneliness, and failure are not worth it. All seems lost and hopeless. It does not matter anymore.” The road to Emmaus is that place where you think you can escape the demands of life, an ungrateful family, betrayal of friends, and self-rejection. The desire is that the “warm springs” of Emmaus may help you to relax and get revived.
At your darkest and most desperate hour, when you have come to the end of doing it for yourself, when you are unable to conceive of any way out from your problems, God meets you. This is when you are most able to recognize your need for Him. This is the moment that you most desire God in His infinite grace to rescue you. You are hungry, thirsty, anguished, desperate, and desiring. This is the perfect opportunity for God to meet you.
2. In that encounter God comes and confronts your hang-ups and confusion (1 Corinthians 11:32). You learn from the Emmaus Road that at your point of need you encounter God. “They stood still, their faces downcast” (v. 17). God must first deal with the “baggage” of misconceptions you carry. The truth sets you free; His word is truth (John 8:32; 17:17).
For the two disciples on the Emmaus Road, their point of need was their unbelief. When unbelief sets in, many times it is due to lack of faith, putting your trust in what you see, touch, hear, taste, and smell as reality. But as Christians “we fix our eyes not on what is seen, but on what is unseen. For what is seen is temporary, but what is unseen is eternal” (2 Corinthians 4:18). The two disciples could not bring themselves to believe the truth about the resurrection of Jesus, and their feelings of desperation soon followed.
In God exists all TRUTH. His word is truth (John 17:17). Truth moves into BELIEF that produces faith (Hebrews 11:1). Belief moves into ACTIONS, because “faith without works is dead” (James 2:20). Our actions move into FEELINGS. This is the way God works in you. There is knowledge of truth, followed by belief of that truth, followed by actions of a changed life, and finally followed by your feelings. Your part is to change your thinking with truth. Then God will give you the power to change your behavior. Simply put: When you change your mind, God will change your heart, but it starts with truth.
The world’s way is the opposite: FEELINGS—ACTIONS—BELIEF—TRUTH. It starts with how you feel, then goes into your actions, or your reaction to your feelings. From your actions you move into belief that is in opposition to truth. You believe a lie and reject the truth and are deceived. In this way many actually even feel good about believing a lie. Starting with your feelings will generate self-pity, which is a false Holy Spirit that will rob you of God’s true Holy Spirit, who has the power to change you. Self-pity will not let you receive, listen to, or obey God.
If you start with your feelings, you will fall into deception. That’s what was happening on the road to Emmaus. The disciples could not see the incredible truth of Jesus’ resurrection because their feelings were so overwhelming. Start with truth, belief, actions, and then feelings. Between your belief and actions you will find your identity and purpose.
Yet it is when these feelings seem overwhelming and you become desperate that God reveals Himself. Desperation brings you into an encounter with God. Dissatisfaction leads to revelation. As the two disciples discussed the events in Jerusalem, a “stranger” joined them. They shared their deepest disappointments, hopes, doubts, and failures. The stranger addressed their fears, failures, and uncertainty. It was an ordinary walk on the Emmaus Road with friends in dialogue, and at the meal the grace of God met them at their point of need.
3. God uses His word to confront you (Matthew 4:4; Luke 4:4). The foundation for an encounter lies in the Scriptures; no revelation from God will contradict the Bible. Jesus reprimands the two disciples for not understanding and believing Scripture. “He said to them, ‘How foolish you are, and how slow of heart to believe all that the prophets have spoken!’” (v. 25). He then opened the Scriptures to them. Christ is the central truth of Scripture and the key to unlocking its treasures. From Moses and the Prophets He explained what had been said about Himself. These disciples should have understood from Scripture what had happened. God honors His word and His covenants! “He rewards those who earnestly seek him” (Hebrews 11:6). He is “the same yesterday and today and forever” (Hebrews 13:8).
How is it possible that these two disciples were unable to recognize the power of God even though they were followers of Jesus and had studied the Scriptures? It is in the revelation of both experience and knowledge of Scripture that you know God—the harmony of the Bible and the conviction of the Holy Spirit. Yet the most common barrier to a faith encounter with God is to exchange Bible knowledge for experience. Jesus rebuked the Pharisees: “You are in error because you do not know the Scriptures or the power of God” (Matthew 22:29). Ignorance on these two counts was inexcusable for any Bible teacher.
First, the Pharisees did not know the Scriptures. Their study of Scripture did not lead them into an encounter with God. “Know the Scriptures” speaks of personal experience. Anything you get from the Bible without the revelation of the Holy Spirit will not transform your life (Matthew 16:17). The law gives you religion and guidelines; grace gives you the Holy Spirit and a guide. “The written law brings death, but the Spirit gives life” (2 Corinthians 3:6).
If the Bible does not lead you into a deeper relationship with God, pride may be your stumbling block. Knowledge “puffs up” and creates an appetite for your own opinion. Satan uses the “tree of the knowledge of good and evil” as a substitute for the presence and power of God. Paul described the deception that takes place as “having a form of godliness but denying its power. Have nothing to do with them” (2 Timothy 3:5).
Second, the Pharisees did not know the power of God. Jesus uses the word dunamis for a power encounter that is unexplainable, mysterious, and at times offensive (Romans 1:16-17). This is the spiritual world of faith, risk, and obedience to God. Out of His presence, power is given. Jesus said, “But even more blessed are all who hear the word of God and put it into practice” (Luke 11:28 NLT). To those who are obedient to God’s revealed word, faith is imparted and the power is given and a fresh revelation occurs.
The Holy Spirit is unpredictable. So the Pharisees reject what they cannot control. This spirit of control works against faith. It will tolerate a reference to the power of the Holy Spirit if it’s in the past or in some far away place, but does not want it to be talked about in the here and now. When man’s reason replaces the Holy Spirit’s anointing, it gives rise to religion and scoffs at a supernatural encounter with God. God’s thoughts and ways are far higher than your ways (Isaiah 55:8-9). He will not be limited by your understanding.
Without a God encounter you will argue with those who have had an experience that you haven’t had. Paul faced that at Corinth and said, “I will find out not only how these arrogant people are talking, but what power they have. For the kingdom of God is not a matter of talk but of power” (1 Corinthians 4:19-20). Some teachers in Corinth were good with words, but demonstrated little power to save, heal, or deliver people. Paul told them how the church was established: “My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power” (1 Corinthians 2:4-5). Christianity is not a doctrine or philosophy; it is a God encounter. That’s what makes Christianity relational, appealing, and powerful.
Bill Johnson says it well in When Heaven Invades Earth:
“Jesus did not say, ‘My sheep will know my book.’ It is His voice that you are to know. Why the distinction? Because anyone can know the Bible as a book—the devil himself knows and quotes the scriptures. But only those whose lives are dependent on the person of the Holy Spirit will consistently recognize His voice. This is not to say that the Bible has little or no importance. Quite the opposite is true. The Bible is the Word of God, and His voice will always be confirmed by scripture. That voice gives impact to what is in print. You must diligently study the scriptures, remembering that it is in knowing Him that the greatest truths of scripture will be understood…. Any revelation from God’s Word that does not lead us to an encounter with God only serves to make us more religious. The church cannot afford ‘form without power,’ for it creates Christians without purpose.”
Any person, including the God of the Bible, is known by experience. Paul’s prayer for all the saints is “to know this love that surpasses knowledge—that you may be filled to the measure of all the fullness of God” (Ephesians 3:19). Paul says that this encounter “surpasses knowledge” and results in being filled with the fullness of God—experiencing Him. Jesus promised that too: “He who loves me will be loved by my Father, and I too will love him and show myself to him” (John 14:21).
Even with their hearts moved by Scripture, the two disciples didn’t get it! It was not until they sat at the table and Jesus broke bread with them that it dawned on them. The light broke through.
4. The encounter with God will initiate an acceptance and love when the bread is broken (John 15:16).“When he was at the table with them, he took bread, gave thanks, broke it and began to give it to them” (v. 30). Then their eyes were opened. Notice, they did not recognize him with their human eyes. It was when God opened their eyes that “they recognized him.” God was revealing Himself in a new revelation. An encounter with God refreshes your spirit, opens the eyes of vision, and turns faith into action. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32) Christ led them to see that His suffering and crucifixion was all a part of God’s plan of redemption. With that fulfilled, salvation was now complete and the Scriptures had been fulfilled; Jesus could now enter into His glory at the right hand of the Father, and the Holy Spirit could come in supernatural power.
As the Lord’s Supper explains that Jesus’ broken body and shed blood gives us redemption, there is an invitation to eat and fellowship with the risen Lord (Revelation 3:20). Only in fellowship at the breaking of the bread is the recognition of the Christ accomplished; His disciples’ eyes were opened and they recognized Him. God’s character is revealed out of intimacy and in the process you will recognize Him and hear His voice.
5. A supernatural encounter will cause a change to take place (1 Thessalonians 1:5). “Then their eyes were opened and they recognized him, and he disappeared from their sight” (v. 31). With a supernatural encounter with God, a person is never the same and the experience is unforgettable. Two things have caused this: a new knowledge of the character and personality of God, and a new understanding of God’s love and acceptance. “Were not our hearts burning within us while he talked with us on the road and opened the Scriptures to us?” (v. 32). The disciples’ encounter with Jesus Christ changed their lives!
There is a spiritual realm all around you, enveloping you and waiting for you to acknowledge it. As you reckon its reality, it will come alive. God is waiting for your response to His presence.
No one will ever understand salvation until he experiences it—it’s supernatural because God is supernatural. God cannot be known apart from experience. Your faith is born out of a relationship. You are as strong or weak in your faith depending on how you have cultivated that relationship with God. Faith is the conviction of the unseen realm and is able to drag that reality into your physical world (Hebrews 11:1). Without a faith encounter with God, you have no spiritual life (John 3:3). Religion tries to teach life into a spiritually dead person (John 3:6) and it can’t happen. Paul tells us what happens in a faith encounter: “God has actually given us his Spirit (not the world’s spirit) so we can know the wonderful things God has freely given us” (1 Corinthians 2:12 NLT).
6. A supernatural faith encounter with God will give you a mission, task, or revelation beyond yourself (1 Corinthians 2:12-13).“They got up and returned at once to Jerusalem” (v. 33). Everything now made sense. Meeting the resurrected Jesus, the two disciples saw the triumph of the cross over sin, Satan, hell, death, and the grave. They rushed back to Jerusalem that very hour with the message of a risen Lord. They found the eleven and began to relate their experience.
What they experienced on the Emmaus Road laid the foundation of faith and gave hope to the other disciples that they, too, could have an encounter with God. Their testimony traveled throughout their fellowship. It affected Peter and the others deeply. “Every time I have grown spiritually,” Watchman Nee said, “another brother has proved me.” When you share your encounter with God, others will be motivated to a deeper walk as well.
7. The encounter will cause you to take the risk of faith and die if need be (Acts 15:26). Their hearts burned within with a new passion. This happens when you know you have broken through the dryness, emptiness, and darkness of your circumstances. You know that you have come into the flow of spiritual fullness and light when the pain, fear, rejection, loneliness, and failure have turned and given meaning and purpose. Grace burning within abounds along the road back from Emmaus. “While they were still talking about this, Jesus himself stood among them and said to them, ‘Peace be with you’” (v. 36). Jesus went with them and confirmed their word. On your Emmaus Road you, too, can expect the risen Lord to meet you and go before you through the ministry of the Holy Spirit.
The transformation comes out of the relationship in spirit and truth in your innermost being. “For no matter how many promises God has made, they are ‘Yes’ in Christ” (2 Corinthians 1:20). God is truth, therefore every promise of God is true. For that reason God’s promises must be fulfilled. You can rely on God.
8. With the encounter there is the command of Jesus to all His disciples to receive the power and the presence of God (Colossians 1:27). “I am going to send you what my Father has promised; but stay in the city until you have been clothed with power from on high” (v. 49). Don’t leave home without being “clothed with power from on high.” In reality “be clothed with God’s ability” (Philippians 4:13; 1 John 4:4) “through an encounter with the Holy Spirit” (Acts 1:8).
To fulfill the mission of Jesus and to finish the Father’s work you need the anointing of the Holy Spirit. Peter testified that “God anointed Jesus of Nazareth with the Holy Spirit and power, and how he went around doing good and healing all who were under the power of the devil, because God was with him” (Acts 10:38). The Holy Spirit by His very nature gives a supernatural ministry to those who have been anointed. To walk in the Spirit is to have an ongoing encounter with God. “God has chosen to make known among the Gentiles the glorious riches of this mystery, which is Christ in you, the hope of glory…. To this end I labor, struggling with all his energy, which so powerfully works in me” (Colossians 1:27, 29). “Our gospel came to you not simply with words, but also with power, with the Holy Spirit and with deep conviction. You know how we lived among you for your sake” (1 Thessalonians 1:5).
The apostle Paul had an Emmaus Road experience on the road to Damascus. He described it as a faith encounter (Acts 9:1-19). Throughout his life he would talk about that encounter and how it changed him. An encounter with God is what gave the early Christians a passion for God that overflowed into their world. This is why Paul prayed that you would know the love of Christ, which passes knowledge, so that you may be filled with all the fullness of God (Ephesians 3:19).
The good Samaritan must have had an Emmaus Road experience before he encountered a “poor, beat-up, hurting man” on the Jericho Road. It allowed him to overcome the indifference, selfishness, and prejudices of the others who went before him. Your encounter with God will change your life and give you a new passion for people.
As he approached the runway for take-off, an airline pilot reportedly said to his passengers, “We will leave when I get up enough nerve.” That’s where most Christians are—on the runway with no nerve to trust God’s guidance or believe in His power to fly. But in the Bible the focus is on His presence (Hebrews 12:2), an encounter with God that goes where you live and beyond your reason. When you experience God you see the world differently. You see people and things from an eternal viewpoint—through God’s eyes. “Blessed are your eyes because they see, and your ears because they hear” (Matthew 13:16).
A. W. Tozer put it like this:
“If you are living only to buy and sell and get gain, that is not enough. If you are living only to sleep and work, that is not enough. If you are living only to prosper and marry and raise a family, that is not enough. If you live only to get old and die, and never find forgiveness and the daily sense of God’s presence in your life, you have missed God’s great purpose for you…. It used to be said of a person who was converted to Christ that he or she had had a spiritual awakening. There is no better way to put it.”
On the Emmaus Road Jesus first accepted the two disciples and built a relationship by listening to them. He then explained His crucifixion and gave them a new revelation of Himself. He then “disappeared from their sight” (v. 31). They put their faith into action by going back to their friends with this new revelation. Their faith allows them to see and hear things in the spirit—to look past the physical dimension and see what God sees from eternity. They were never the same. They had an encounter with a supernatural God and so can you!
“Anything God has ever done, he can do now,” Tozer said. “Anything God has ever done anywhere, he can do here. Anything God has ever done for anyone, he can do for you.”