A Spiritual Encounter

During the sixties and seventies hitchhiking was common for young people searching for adventure or the meaning of life. An urban legend among the Jesus Generation featured an angel of God visiting people as a hitchhiker. The story goes like this—someone is driving along a road, spots a hitchhiker and stops to pick him up. As they travel along, the hitchhiker turns to the driver and announces, “The Lord Jesus is coming back soon!” In the next instant, the driver turns towards the hitchhiker but he’s vanished. The meaning of the story was simple—be ready for the Lord’s return! I did my share of hitchhiking in those days, and I picked up plenty of hitchhikers, but I never had this experience, nor could I verify the story of the visiting, hitchhiking angel.[i]

Recently, a good friend of mine gave a first hand account of a visiting angel. This is no urban legend, but his own account of someone who visited his mother in a hospital in Georgia, as she lay ravaged by cancer. Mario was near the end of his training in Navy flight school in northwest Florida. When it was clear his mother was near death, and against the advice of his instructor, he abruptly took leave to visit his mother before she died.

Mario’s mother read the Bible every day for as long as he could remember, but she didn’t have a personal assurance in her heart of God’s forgiveness. It was a Saturday morning, and the hospital chaplain had promised to stop by for a visit, but something came up and he couldn’t make it. Another pastor, an African-American man dressed in a red shirt and blue jeans, arrived at her room unannounced with balloons and flowers. He told them they were for someone else who was already released from the hospital. Mario’s mother, Frances, was in a room near a nurse’s station at the end of a closed corridor. Another nurse’s station sat at the other end of the hallway where the elevator was located, with a waiting room and the only access and exit door for the floor.

As the pastor came in the room, he saw Francis was near death. Greeting her by her first name, which was not posted anywhere outside or inside the room, she rose up in bed and smiled. This alone amazed Mario since her body was riddled with cancer, with her spine no longer able to support her. The pastor asked her if she was ready to meet the Lord, and she admitted her uncertainty. When he offered to pray for her, Mario’s mom gladly accepted his offer and entered into a personal relationship with the Lord that morning.

The pastor completed his visit and went out of the room, off to whatever else required his attention that day. As the hospital door shut behind the pastor, Mario followed right after him. Opening the door, he didn’t see the pastor in the hallway. He went to the nurse’s desk to ask where he had gone, but they hadn’t seen any “man in a red shirt and blue jeans.” Puzzled, my friend proceeded to the other nurse’s station, near the waiting room with the elevator. They had not seen the man, nor did they have any idea where he went.

My friend and his sister went over and over the details of the pastor’s visit. They had seen him, talked with him, heard him greet their mother and pray with her. How could he just disappear? Even to this day, Mario and his sister talk with reverence about this encounter with the mysterious pastor. Was he a visiting angel? They never tracked this man down to verify it, but their hearts tell them he was.

In my book (now in final editorial review!), this is the introduction to what I call the encounter on the road to Emmaus in Luke 24:13-33. Jesus appears and joins two of His disciples on their way from Jerusalem to a village called Emmaus about seven miles away. The disciples don't recognize Him until they later break bread (eat supper) with HIm. Then their eyes open but He disappears from their presence. They realize it was HIm all along because their "hearts burned" while He explained the Scriptures related to His death and resurrection.

Maybe you haven't experienced a visiting angel (Heb 13:2), then again, maybe you have. But have you ever had a sense of God speaking to you "after the fact?" At the time He spoke you didn't realize it. There wasn't a loud speaker or sign in the sky, but later you realized God was revealing Himself, a truth, or He giving you some insight.

Belief is not a matter of intelligence quota or lack thereof. It is a deeper spiritual knowledge. When it's a belief in the one, true and living God it's called faith. How does it develop? The more we know Him, the more it deepens. How do we know Him? Through revelation by the Holy Spirit, understanding of His written word (the Bible), and living our lives in faith—an implicit, developing trust in Him.

Have you had any spiritual encounters like my friend Mario or these two disciples? Maybe it wasn't quite so obvious or dramatic, but if you have, if your heart has "burned" with the presence of God, appreciate it. It's part of how God makes Himself known and real in our lives.

[i]“The Vanishing Hitchhiker” is an urban legend having different versions with some history — http://goo.gl/35tZl | http://goo.gl/3aHCp