Encountering God – Part 1

By Rev. Dr. Brent Russett – Asbury Free Methodist

January 14, 2024 – Luke 24:13-35

            The difference between a alive church and a dead church is not the music, or the preaching, or the small groups or whether the pastor is cool or not – the difference between a alive church and a dead church is our encounters with God. The difference between a vibrant Christian and a lethargic Christian is our encounters with God.

            Over the next few weeks, I am going to be speaking about encountering God because it matters more than anything else in your faith journey. My prayer for Asbury in 2024 is that we regularly encounter God.

            Sometimes, those encounters will be as calm as an autumn sunset or as subtle as a gentle breeze. Sometimes, those encounters will feel like a wrestling match, or they can sound like a bullhorn.

            However, they come; they will change your life if you let them. Without them, we will be good people following a dead religion. With them, we will find our hearts alive, our souls enriched, and out of that comes service.

            Others cannot encounter God for you. It is something between you and God, although it often happens in the context of community. Not only that, but you must also keep on encountering God. If your latest experience with God is a year old, then there is something wrong with your spiritual life.


 But the question is, how? How do we encounter God? For that, I want to take you to one of my favourite post-Easter Stories. Jesus had died on the cross. It was Easter Sunday morning. He had risen from the dead.

            Rumours were getting around to that effect, but they still weren’t believed. There were two people who were followers of Jesus who were returning to their home from Jerusalem. This is where we pick up the story.

Luke 24:13–16 (NLT)

13 That same day two of Jesus’ followers were walking to the village of Emmaus, seven miles from Jerusalem. 14 As they walked along they were talking about everything that had happened. 15 As they talked and discussed these things, Jesus himself suddenly came and began walking with them. 16 But God kept them from recognizing him.

            Here is what you need to know about encountering God. The number of times that you meet with God is going to be far more than the number of times you have recognized that you have met with God. God has a way of showing up, and we have a way of missing that God has shown up. Sometimes, God even temporarily keeps us from recognizing him because he knows we will gain once we are able to look back and see him.

            If you look at the post-resurrection appearances, sometimes Jesus came to people alone. You will remember Mary at the tomb. She didn’t recognize Jesus either – until he called her name. But usually –usually, Jesus shows up to a group of people.

I have noticed that in my own spiritual journey. God meets with me one on one. But many of the most profound encounters I have had with God have been in the context of other people. God is more likely to show up when we are together. That is why worshipping together, doing church together, and meeting together is so important.

            Back to our story, these guys are walking down the road. They were deep in discussion about Jesus. Those kinds of conversations seem to attract the presence of Jesus. Christians meeting to discuss football is entirely appropriate, but it doesn’t tend to attract the presence of God. When the people of God discuss the things of God, it has a way of attracting the presence of God.  


            So here they were, walking along, discussing what was going on, and they were interrupted by Jesus. I have noticed this about God. He has a way of showing up in the interruptions. — I have a way of being annoyed by interruptions. I know that even that has caused me to miss encountering God.

            Please note what these people did to encounter God. — Nothing. They were the kind of people who took to heart what Jesus had said and done. They were the kind of people who followed Jesus. But they didn’t do anything to create this encounter with Jesus. They were going about their business, and God met with them. They were together, and they were talking about Jesus and the things that were happening. Then Jesus showed up.


            Here is what I have learned about God. I can’t control him. But I know there are places I can go and things I can do to put myself in a place where I am more likely to encounter him. But I can’t control him. Watch out for the kind of spirituality that says that you can control God.

Some people will try to tell you that if you just follow the right formula, then God will show up. That is not Christianity that is magic.

I have noticed that we tend to encounter God more in worship – because God inhabits the praise of his people. We tend to encounter God more in Scripture – because he has promised to bless it. We tend to encounter God more in quiet because he tends to speak with a still, small voice. We tend to encounter him more in community because where two or three are gathered together in his name – he is there.

            But while there are things we can do to put ourselves in a place where we are likely to encounter God – we can’t control God. We cannot make God appear. God chooses to show up where he chooses to show up. And just when I think I got God all figured out, I encounter him in a movie, or in the face of a homeless person, or in the words of a child. We can put ourselves on the paths that God tends to travel, but it is always God’s choice to show up.

            But here is the thing: God wants to encounter you even more than you want to encounter him. I have learned that while I can’t control God, I can get in line with God’s passions. And one of God’s passions is you. He really does want a relationship with you, even more than you want a relationship with him.

            Back to the story. So if you were Jesus and you showed up and people were depressed that you had died and you were absent, and they didn’t recognize you, what would you do? I know what I would do? You hoo, it’s me. Look at what Jesus does…

Luke 24:17–24 (NLT)

17 He asked them, “What are you discussing so intently as you walk along?”

They stopped short, sadness written across their faces. 18 Then one of them, Cleopas, replied, “You must be the only person in Jerusalem who hasn’t heard about all the things that have happened there the last few days.”

19 “What things?” Jesus asked.

“The things that happened to Jesus, the man from Nazareth,” they said. “He was a prophet who did powerful miracles, and he was a mighty teacher in the eyes of God and all the people. 20 But our leading priests and other religious leaders handed him over to be condemned to death, and they crucified him. 21 We had hoped he was the Messiah who had come to rescue Israel. This all happened three days ago.

22 “Then some women from our group of his followers were at his tomb early this morning, and they came back with an amazing report. 23 They said his body was missing, and they had seen angels who told them Jesus is alive! 24 Some of our men ran out to see, and sure enough, his body was gone, just as the women had said.”

            Jesus didn’t say You Hoo – it’s me. He asked about where they were at. What were you discussing? –  Cleopas basically says – Duh – the thing that everyone is discussing. Stupid question. Jesus doesn’t back down – He says, “What things.” He gets them to recount what they know.

            Your encounter with God always starts with where you are at. That seems obvious. But often, I find that people want to ignore where they are and just pretend that reality is different than it is. But Jesus doesn’t meet us in fake worlds.

            He doesn’t meet us in worlds where things are the way we would like them to be rather than the way they are. And he does not meet plastic versions of ourselves either. He doesn’t meet us in worlds where we are the way we would like to be rather than the way we are. He meets us where we are at, in the middle of our reality.

            You can tell that Cleopas was depressed. (Downcast) You can tell that he was angry at the chief priests. You can tell that he was confused about where Jesus’ body is. He was feeling all those things. He has heard the report of the angel and of Mary, and yet he is still downcast.

            If you really want to meet with God, then even when you are not sure, he is listening. Bring the unvarnished story of your world to him, and bring all your confusion, doubt, and fear to him. Bring what is really going on in your heart. Don’t try to be religious or pious; be real with God.

 And what does Jesus do – You Hoo, it’s me. No.

Luke 24:25–27 (NLT)

25 Then Jesus said to them, “You foolish people! You find it so hard to believe all that the prophets wrote in the Scriptures. 26 Wasn’t it clearly predicted that the Messiah would have to suffer all these things before entering his glory?” 27 Then Jesus took them through the writings of Moses and all the prophets, explaining from all the Scriptures the things concerning himself.

            Remember when Cleopas said Duh – Jesus says right back to him – Well, Duh – The thing is when God says that to you – it is best if you have the humility to hear it. He says to them you are foolish and slow to believe.

            I have noticed more times than not when I am in the Cleopas place that God has come to me and said, – I love you, but you are not too quick on the uptake, are you?

            These men didn’t argue with Jesus. They didn’t try to say, well, what do you know. They didn’t try to say, you are trivializing my emotions. They listened. That is always a good idea.

            Then, look what Jesus does; he takes them to the scriptures. He begins with Moses, and then the prophets, and he talks about what they said about himself.

            There are two things that are going on here. One, their hearts are burning within them. They are saying, yes, this is what we need to hear. And two, they still don’t recognize Jesus, but they are hearing the voice of scripture.

            When Jesus shows up, he has a way of bringing to life scripture to speak into the exact situation that you face. You may not recognize him, but you will recognize the ring of truth. Or maybe he will speak it in another way – the voice of God always lines up to scripture, but when you can’t hear scripture – he may bring truth to you through some of the most unlikely place, Facebook, a movie, – Country music.

Luke 24:28–29 (NLT)

28 By this time they were nearing Emmaus and the end of their journey. Jesus acted as if he were going on, 29 but they begged him, “Stay the night with us, since it is getting late.” So he went home with them.

            Jesus has met them where they are at. He has called them to be more than they are. He has opened the scriptures to him. Their hearts have burned within them. And now he makes to leave. – And here is the thing – they could have let him leave.

            I have done that more times than I care to admit. I have opened my Bible, and I knew it was for me. I have been at church, and I have felt my heart burn within me – but then service is over, my devotions are done, I go about my business as if nothing happened. I knew something had happened – I knew I just heard something really important – but I just left it there. And Jesus moved on.

            But there have been occasions when I spent time – urging God to solidify what he has done. Where God pressed into me, but then I pressed into God. When that happens, something deeper happens. Jesus responds to that kind of urging. He went with them; he will go with you.

            If God meets you in a service, spend some time after the service praying – and solidifying it. Spend some time journaling or contemplating – do what you need to do to urge Jesus to make what is going on enter the core of your heart.

Luke 24:30–32 (NLT)

30 As they sat down to eat, he took the bread and blessed it. Then he broke it and gave it to them. 31 Suddenly, their eyes were opened, and they recognized him. And at that moment, he disappeared!

32 They said to each other, “Didn’t our hearts burn within us as he talked with us on the road and explained the Scriptures to us?”

            Jesus went to their house. He broke bread, just like he did at the last supper, and then their eyes were opened. It doesn’t say they opened their eyes. It says, “Their eyes were open.”

            Put yourself in a position to encounter God, and eventually, you will see him. But even when you do see him, you can’t control him. Just when they figured out that he had appeared to them he disappeared from their sight.

            But then they spoke with each other, didn’t our hearts burn within us. They encountered the risen Lord – but most of the encounter was only seen in retrospect.

            Often, that is the way it is with God and us. It is often in retrospect that we recognize our encounters with God. And just when we think we have a handle on the whole thing, he disappears from us. But if they hadn’t urged him to come home, they would not have recognized him at all.

            These guys walked the ten kilometres back to Jerusalem and here is what happened.

Luke 24:33–35 (NLT)

33 And within the hour they were on their way back to Jerusalem. There they found the eleven disciples and the others who had gathered with them, 34 who said, “The Lord has really risen! He appeared to Peter.”

35 Then the two from Emmaus told their story of how Jesus had appeared to them as they were walking along the road, and how they had recognized him as he was breaking the bread.

            Whenever you encounter God, it is best to share that experience. It has a way of encouraging others because of what has happened to you. It has a way of validating what is going on in the community. It has a way of solidifying what happened to you.

Luke 24:36 (NLT)

36 And just as they were telling about it, Jesus himself was suddenly standing there among them. “Peace be with you,” he said.

            When people share how they have encountered God, it has a way of having other people encounter God.

            Our mission as a church is to have people encounter God. Next week, I will be talking about the love of God – but any encounter you have with God is an encounter with Love because God is love. – We will look at that a little more next week.

            One of my hopes for Asbury this year is that we will be a people that encounter God regularly and often – and that we will know that we have encountered God. It is my prayer that we will hear him speak in scripture, in our Spirit, and through the people around us.

            We can’t create an encounter with God. We don’t control God. But we can put ourselves in places where we are more likely to encounter him.

            So we gather here week after week. We talk about the things that are going on, just like the people on the road to Emmaus did. We worship, and we pray. And there will be times when Jesus will show up, but we won’t recognize it.

But he will cause us to deal with reality. Where are you and I really at? God always takes us where we are at – not where we want to be at. Then, he will open the scripture to us. You will notice that there is a lot of scripture in our services.

            We also engage in worship because God has a tendency to show up in worship. We put ourselves in a place where we are more likely to encounter him.

            As we go on, I expect that there will be times when our hearts will burn within us. We will have a choice to let Jesus continue on or invite him to sit with us and share more with us.

If we are going to be true to what God has called us to be – we need to push in – even when the service is over. Even when our prayer time is done. For some, if we encounter Jesus in the middle of the day, it may mean interrupting our schedule as we talk through what Jesus is showing us.

            Depending on what Jesus is showing you, it may mean making an effort to get together with someone and talking about what you heard.

We all need a few spiritual friends where we can talk about our encounters with Jesus.

            But here is what I hope that you will not do. You have this encounter with Jesus – and you say to yourself – that was interesting – I will take it as information and be dismissed. I hope that you will press Jesus into coming home with you.

            As we meet week after week, I know that Jesus is going to show up. Does he show up every week to every person? No. But I hope that he shows up every week to some people. If he shows up for you and you encounter him, my hope is that you will recognize him and share your encounter with someone else. It may just be that he will show up for them as well.


            I remember special meetings happening in Ottawa. I wasn’t going to go. I was struggling with my relationship with God. But I chose to go anyway.

God showed up at that meeting. I was sitting by myself in the middle of worship, and I sensed God correct my worship, and then he spoke to me about his love towards me. That encounter with God changed me. Over the years, I have had a number of encounters with God. Often, I didn’t recognize the impact of what had happened to a while after it happened.

            Here is what I have noticed. Often, before those encounters, I was tempted to stay away from the place where they happened. But when I chose to put myself in a place where God was likely to be – God had a way of meeting me.

            Maybe it is in a quiet time, maybe it is in church, maybe it is with some Christian friends. Put yourself in a place where God is likely to show up. Even when you don’t feel like it. For when you encounter God, you go away changed for the better.

Sermon Questions – Luke 24:13-35


1. What are you giving thanks for this week?

2. What are you praying about this week?

(You may want to pray together)

Digging in

3. Read Luke 24:13-35 – What stands out to you about this story?

4. Read Verses 13-16. Why do you think God kept them from recognizing Jesus? What are some things that attract the presence of God?

5. In Verses 17-34, Jesus gets them to recount current events. Why? What were the two men feeling? What does this tell us about bringing our feelings to God?

6. Read verses 25-27. They didn’t know it was Jesus. Why did they listen? What are some of the indicators that you are hearing something significant?

7. Read verses 28-29. How do we let Jesus move on past us?

8. Read verses 30-32. It is often after the fact that we recognize Jesus. Can you think of a time when that has happened to you?

9. Read verses 33-35. As they were sharing their story, Jesus appeared. Why does sharing our story of encountering God matter?

10. Out of all the principles of encountering God in this story, what is one that you could focus on in your own life?