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Free Books » Bonar, Horatius » Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles

Chapter 23 - Acts 9:27 - An Interview with Jesus the Sinner's Turning Point Light & Truth: Acts and the Larger Epistles by Bonar, Horatius


This is Barnabas's account of Saul's conversion. The event was no common one; never has such a peculiar miracle been heard of before or since; it was a thing much to be remembered by the church of God; it was brought about in a very marvelous way, yet the relation of it here is singularly brief and simple—"He had seen the Lord in the way, and He had spoken unto him."

Had some of us moderns narrated the wonderful event, we should have entered largely into descriptions of many points connected with it; the setting out from Jerusalem, the journey, the scenery and adventures by the way, the hills and plains of Palestine, the magnificence of the mountain-gorges of Lebanon, the noble plain of Syria, in the center of which Damascus sparkles like a gem, specially the spot of the striking down—the glory, the terror, the voices; but Barnabas passes all these by, and draws our notice to one single point, which to him, and to the Holy Spirit by whom he spake, was the one important thing in the scene, the meeting between Saul and Jesus; between the persecutor and the object of his persecution; between the sinner and the Lord.

It was a strange meeting this of two as different as are light and darkness—two opposing hosts—Christ and Antichrist. Which is to prevail? And what shall be the issue? Life or death? Shall man or God be the conqueror? Once before there had been a meeting of this kind between man and God—on the cross of Christ. The issue of that meeting was the death of the Son of God. Man conquered. Earth and hell prevailed. But here the issue is reversed. Man is conquered. God prevails. Yet the result of the victory is the life, not the death of the conquered one. The vanquished one does not die, but live. God has triumphed, yet man has triumphed too. For the battle and the victory were not like man's battle and victory of hatred, but the battle and victory of love. It was love overcoming hatred, not hatred overcoming love. In such a case, what but life could be the issue?

The details of the conversion are not given us in these words, only the means by which it was accomplished. What the process was we are left to learn from the means employed; "he had seen the Lord in the way, and He had spoken to him." He had set out from Jerusalem an enemy to Christ, and he reached Damascus a friend. What had produced the change? He had seen the Lord in the way. He left the one city an unbeliever in the gospel, he came to the other a believer in it. How was this? He had seen the Lord in the way. This is the history of his conversion, the secret of his change; this accounts for it all; we do not wonder at it now.

(1.) He had seen the Lord. (2.) The Lord had spoken to him.

I. He had seen the Lord. Not every one that saw the Lord was converted. Judas saw Him, Pilate saw Him, the thief saw Him, yet they remained unconverted. Still, when conversion does take place, this is its cause. What did Saul see? He saw the glory, which as a Jew he knew to be the Shekinah, or glory of Jehovah; and he saw the human form of the Son of man; he saw Him as Jehovah and as Jesus. To Jesus of Nazareth belonged that heavenly glory which he knew to be the glory of the Lord God of Israel. True, he was blinded by this glory, but not the less did he see it. As the Lord shewed Himself to Thomas to be truly man, so did He shew Himself to Saul to be truly God. Yes, the Lord shewed Himself to Saul, amid that sight was irresistible. Flesh and blood had nothing to do with it. The vision was divine, and the power accompanying it was Almighty. Who could resist it? It bore down hatred, unbelief, self-will, self-righteousness; all these fell down before it like the walls of Jericho before the trumpets of Israel.

II. The Lord had spoken to him. The substance of His words was, "I am Jesus;" but that contained much. It must have utterly confounded him; for it tore up by the root every part of his former self, shewing him by a word, himself as one of the worst of criminals—the persecutor of the Son of God. It told him that all was wrong with him, his creed, his religion, his faith, his hope, his life, all was wrong. It said, Thou art a sinner, thou art an unbeliever, thou art a persecutor of the saints of God, a murderer of the Son of God. His blood is upon thee, and the blood of His saints. And proud as thou art in thy self-righteousness, thinking thyself a great one, armed with power to slay and to destroy, thou art a poor helpless worm fighting against God; kicking against the pricks. But I am Jesus; I am the Saviour. Thus the Lord spoke to Saul, and what He said was an entire reversal of every idea that was in Saul's mind regarding Jesus and regarding himself. A minute before none was so excellent or righteous in his own eyes as this Saul, this Pharisee, this Hebrew of the Hebrews, this keeper of the law; none so contemptible as Jesus of Nazareth. Now all is reversed. Saul has decreased, and Jesus has increased. Saul is cast down to the ground, and Jesus of Nazareth set on high. Could any change be more entire? Could any transformation be more simple? Yet what does it amount to? Each has been set in his own place, and has got his proper value and honour assigned to him. That is all. Saul is Saul, and Jesus is Jesus. Man is man, and God is God. The sinner is the sinner, and the Saviour is the Saviour. This is the rationale, the explanation of the whole process. This is the key to the change, the secret of the conversion.

This is in substance the history of every conversion. Only let a sinner see Jesus, and all is changed. All the varieties of experience may be reduced to this; and all the biographies of saints, common or wonderful, resolve themselves into this: "They saw the Lord in the way, and He spoke to them." They are not all so sudden or so direct as Saul's; but they all tell the same story. They do not all see Him in the same way, nor hear the same words; but they "see and hear"; and of that which they see and hear Christ is the Alpha and the Omega. In spurious conversions there is something faulty here. Something perhaps is seen or heard, but it is not that which Saul of Tarsus saw and heard. It is about feelings, or doctrines, or visions; but not about Jesus of Nazareth.

This is all that a sinner can say about his conversion. No doubt he can tell of many subordinate things, many details; but the sum is this, "He saw the Lord in the way." Remember some of the New Testament conversions—Andrew and Simon leave Capernaum one morning in their boat to fish—careless Jews, like the other fishermen of the lake. They return changed. What has befallen them in the course of the day? Ask them the secret of their change. They will tell it at once, "They saw the Lord in the way." So with Matthew at the receipt of custom. So with Zaccheus on his sycamore. So with blind Bartimaeus; and so with all the rest. Ask any, ask all of them how their change took place. In substance they will return the same answer, "They saw the Lord in the way." There might be some differences as to what, they saw and heard; but it all bore on these two points, who and what Jesus is, who and what we are ourselves.

Our first meeting with Jesus will not be our last. It will be daily true of us. "They have seen the Lord in the way." We go out burdened, we come in unburdened. How is this? We have seen the Lord in the way. We awake perhaps weary and troubled, and set out on the day's duties with a sigh; we have not gone far when all weariness departs, and trouble is exchanged for gladness. How was this? We met the Lord in the way. We lie down perhaps oppressed and fretted, we awake with a light and merry heart. How was this? The Lord met us in the night watches. We begin some Sabbath under the pressure of sin; we are weak and tempted; fightings without and fears within. But ere the evening has fallen around us we are singing, "who is he that condemneth"?—"thanks be unto God who giveth us the victory." How is this? We saw the Lord in the way. It may be that, as in the days of His flesh, we came across His path or He ours, it matters not. In either case, we meet Him; He speaks, and all is well. Sometimes we recognize Him at once; sometimes the relief comes so natural that, like Mary, "We know not that it is Jesus," but that matters little. Seen or unseen, He has effected the cure.

Ah, this is the cure for all sickness; this is the secret of all strength; this is deliverance from all perplexity; this is consolation under all sorrow. Nothing else will do. This will. And He is always to be met with. He is never far off.

Sinner, have you not seen the Lord? He proposes a meeting; a meeting that will settle everything between you and Him; a meeting at which He will turn a Saul into a Paul, opening your eyes, and bringing you out of darkness into marvelous light. Grant Him this meeting and all is well.