Rev. Erik Veerman
Falling Asleep on Paul’s Farewell Tour
We’ve all been there. You know the feeling. You’re trying to focus, but your eyes get heavy, your mind can’t focus. You try to fight the sleepiness, but you’re losing.
A few months ago, I was sitting in a worship service, and I started to get drowsy during the sermon. So, I positioned the top rim of my glasses between the preacher and my eyeballs. I didn’t want him to notice my eyes were slowly closing. Yes, by the way, preachers do notice things like that. I do give the benefit of the doubt. “oh, whatever I said deeply affected that person. Their eyes are closed and they are praying!” I know the feeling, sometimes we don’t sleep well or the stresses and commitments of work or other responsibilities wear us out.
A few years ago, I read a good book on preaching called “Saving Eutychus.” It was about keeping your sermons engaging. It’s just a catchy title, though. The authors acknowledged that. This text isn’t a negative commentary on the apostle Paul’s preaching. In fact, there’s a lot packed in these few verses.
One goal of a sermon is to focus in on what the passage focuses on. To consider the original situation and then apply it to our situation.
• Sometimes the application is a call to repent – to turn from sin;
• Sometimes it’s about growing in our trust in and knowledge of God;
• Sometimes it ministers to us in our pain and suffering;
• or deepens our understanding of the world and the Word;
• there are lots of levels of application.
• You’ll know from hearing me over this last year that the good news of Jesus is central in various ways.
Well, these verses this morning are a little harder to hone in on. If I just focused on Eutychus, we’d miss out on several other things here.
As I was reading and studying, I realized these verses are a microcosm of the book of Acts as a whole.
• So, I’ll start by reminding you of the purpose and goals of this book – Acts.
• As we work through these verses, I’ll connect them back to those overall themes
• And then, all throughout, pull out these nuggets of meaning for us. The application may seem more like a shotgun than a rifle… scattered shot rather than a single bullet. But sometimes that can be effective.
Well, that’s where we’re headed. And if you fall asleep and fall out of your chair and hit your head, you should know that I’m not the apostle Paul. But we’ll gather around you and pray to the one who can heal you. And then we’ll call 911.
Let’s go back to Acts chapter 1, where it all began. Jesus commissioned his disciples and other believers to go forth, and then he ascended to heaven. And you may remember, the first verses in Acts give us an overview of the whole book. They also identify its purpose and goal.
We used the acronym Acts - A.C.T.S.
• The letter “A” for the ascended Christ. He is central all throughout. As the risen and ascended Christ, he’s now at work in heaven.
• And one thing he’s doing is building his church. That’s the letter “C” church. All throughout Acts is the church – the establishment of the church.
• And his church, Jesus’ church is, is expanding to the ends of the earth. If you remember, “T” stands for Tucker, because we are part of that expansion to the ends of the earth… we are participating in Jesus ends of the earth ministry. “T” could also be “To” the ends of the earth. We’ll go with that this morning.
• And finally the letter “S” for Spirit. Jesus sent his Spirit to us. And again, all throughout, we see the work of the Holy Spirit as Jesus is building his church… as people are coming to faith in him.
We’ve been studying Acts as a church plant because of its purpose. I mean, what better book of the Bible for a new church plant than Acts. We’ve been seeing God at work, (1) building his church (2) to the ends of the earth, (3) through the ministry of Jesus in heaven as (4) he is working through his Spirit. We’ve also seen that Acts is not just a nice history for us to have, no we’ve seen that Acts is the inauguration of God’s kingdom in Christ as he now reigns, exalted on his throne in heaven.
And all of those things are found in these 16 verses. “A”scended Christ, “C”hurch, “T”ucker, and “S”pirit.
As we go through these verses, I’ll point out how they connect to the bigger themes.
One more quick side note. Also, as we’ve gone through Acts, it’s been kind of like a drone with an HD camera. At times Luke, the author, give us a really big picture view – like the drone is way up looking down. At other times, the drone flies right down next to Peter or Paul, or is in the room with the early Christians, or the drone is moving along recording their travels. And interestingly, these verses give us different views. Kids, imagine you are steering your drone as we go through these.
In fact, you may have noticed, Luke himself is back with us. This is only the second time in the book where Luke uses the word “we.” “We” is used 9 times here. The last time Luke included himself in the narrative was back in chapter 16 - the first time Paul was in Troas and Philippi. So Luke was participating in some of these travels… he was physically in the room with Paul and Eutychus.
Ends of the Earth
Sometimes I put a sermon outline on the back of the bulletin. This morning, something a little different. A map! This is Paul’s third missionary journey. Notice Ephesus right in the middle there - these verses begin in Ephesus and end near Ephesus.
• Paul traveled from Ephesus, through Asia and into Macedonia. You’ll see those churches in the northwest corner there – Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea. Paul loved to retrace his steps. That’s because he was committed to coming alongside these church plants to encourage, equip, and teach – God was using him to build up the church. So in verses 1 and 2 our drone is high in the sky… Luke take us from Ephesus all the way to Corinth - that’s the reference there to “Greece.”
• Well, from there, Paul’s plan had been to take a boat back all the way to Jerusalem. But that didn’t happen. No, some Jews wanted to kill him, so God redirected his steps.
• Verses 3-5 take us back up through those same churches where he ends up in Troas. You can see Troas on the northeastern part of the Agean sea. That’s where this worship service with Eutychus occurred.
• And if you jump down to verse 13. They boarded a ship. Luke’s drone now follows the ship as they work their way back down toward Ephesus. Verses 14 and 15 list the stops on the way.
And let me point out something important here. While these travel verses seem to be side notes, actually, they are fulfilling Jesus’ mission to the ends of the earth in two ways. By the way, this is the “T” in our Acts acronym - To the ends of the earth.
First the obvious one. You can see on this map how the Gospel has been expanding all throughout the Mediterranean. But second, look at verse 4. Paul now has several travelling companions. Remember, it was first Paul and Barnabas, then it was Paul and Silas. Timothy soon joined.
Well, here in verse 4, we’re given this representation of God’s “to the ends of the earth” purposes. Look at this list. Sopater is from Berea; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thesolonica – so those first three along with Luke are from Macedonia. Then you have listed Gaius from Derbe and Timothy who we know is from Lystra. So those two are from Galatia. And the last two, Tychicus and Trophimus are from Asia (Asia Minor) possibly from Ephesus. In all, a representation of God’s work all throughout the northern Mediterranean. It’s a picture of God’s people working together.
Have you ever watched the Tour de France? That’s the world most well-known bicycle race. The first time you see it, it may appear to be individual race. But the more you watch, you realize that actually, it’s very much a team race. Every teammate, every racer has roles and responsibilities. They help each other out.
• For example, they work together in each other’s slipstream – drafting off each other.
• Some take the responsibility to carry and deliver extra water bottles.
• Other racers are sprinters. The role of the sprinter’s teammates include keeping him fresh until the last sprint… then leading him out in their slipstream to then launch him to the finish line.
• For the climbers, they need help with pacing and keeping water. Sometimes there’s an early breakaway, and a team may send two riders ahead so that when their climber reaches them, he’ll have teammates to support him.
• And also interesting, Tour de France teams usually have racers from different countries.
In a similar way, these believers are all working together for the Kingdom. It doesn’t matter that they are from different regions and backgrounds. Some of them went ahead, verse 5. If you go back to chapter 19 verses 21 and 22, you’ll see that same thing. Timothy and Erastus had been sent ahead.
Others, like Luke, helped to coordinate travel, verse 13. Paul was like the team captain. He’s leading the vision and purpose. Their immediate goal was to get Paul to Jerusalem (that’s verse 16), but their bigger goal was that the church would go to the ends of the earth.
What a beautiful picture for us of the broader church working together. And where did it all start? Look at the map again. Notice Antioch over there on the right. Each of Paul’s three missionary journey’s began in Antioch. God had given the church in Antioch an “ends of the earth” vision to support His kingdom work. And here we are in Acts chapter 20 – it’s been about 10 years since these missionary journeys began. And look at how God has been fulfilling His mission, through the work of his church together.
We are not to be a local church island unto ourselves. No, ministry to Tucker, to Atlanta, to our country and to the ends of the earth means working together. Each church, each believer has different gifts and areas of focus. That means, as we mature as a congregation, we’ll need to explore ways to work with other churches and support God’s work throughout the world. Some of those things are already starting to happen.
Ok, let’s now steer our video drone and hover over Troas. We’re going from the broader ends of the earth ministry to now focusing on the local church.
Throughout Acts so far, we’ve been given glimpses of the early church – local congregations like the church in Jerusalem and Antioch. We’ve learned about what the church should focus on. That’s been particularly valuable for us, as a church plant. Well, here in Troas, we’re given more helpful insights into the church, especially regarding worship – gathered corporate worship. What we’re doing here and now.
We’re now talking about the letter “C” for church in our Acts acronym.
Look at verse 7 “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.” That phrase is the common way of saying they gathered for worship and the Lord’s Supper. Verse 11 is when they specifically celebrated the Lord’s Supper. In the original Greek in that verse, there’s a definite article associated with the word “bread” - “the bread.” It clearly indicates we’re talking about the sacrament. In our translation in the English, you won’t see that, but it’s there.
And the way that that this worship gathering is described – it was their weekly worship. “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered…” Literally that says, “the day after the sabbath.” It’s referred to as the first day of the week because the Jewish sabbath was the last day of the week.
Verse 7 has been seen as an important verse. It’s first New Testament glimpse we get that corporate worship for Christians has shifted to Sunday. In fact, the calendar that most of the world uses today – seven days of the week – with Sunday as the first day of the week, comes from the Christian calendar. It’s based on the seven days of creation. And we gather for worship on Sunday... partly because of this verse. We also call this day “the Lord’s Day.” It’s the day of the week on which Jesus was resurrected. So that’s the first thing we learn here about corporate worship.
And the second thing we learn concerns our priorities in worship. Their worship focused on the Word of God. Paul was speaking – he was preaching - further teaching them the Scriptures.
So, today, to follow this example in Troas, I’m going to preach all afternoon, into the evening. Are you ready? Just kidding, of course. But if the apostle Paul were here, I’m sure you wouldn’t mind.
For them, Paul was going to be leaving the next morning. Yes, he’d already been there for a week, but this was their time for gathered worship. They wanted to hear his preaching – they likely had a sense that they wouldn’t see him again. So Paul continued to preach. They yearned to hear the word. They even stayed up talking to him all night.
The order is important here. The preached Word (verse 8) precedes the Lord’s table (verse 11). It’s the Scripture that should be the center of worship. The Lord’s Supper supports the ministry of the word in a service.
It’s the same order as on the road to Emmaus. Right after Jesus was resurrected, he met two people travelling to Emmaus. First, he opened the Scriptures to them on the road. It’s only after that when Jesus broke the bread with them. This is why the Lord’s Table supports and displays the word of God.
Now, as far as Paul’s preaching. We’re not told exactly what Paul said. But if you look at these verses as a whole, Paul had a couple things on his mind. First, the feast of unleavened bread (verse 6). That festival is connected to Passover. So, Paul had just celebrated the Passover in Philippi. It’s the annual celebration of when God saved his people from slavery in Egypt. They brushed the blood of the lamb over the doorposts of their homes and the angel of death passed over them. Well, Jesus connected himself with the Passover lamb. So, of course, Paul would have been thinking about all the Old Testament promises of Jesus’ death and Jesus’ resurrection.
Add to that, Paul also had the Holy Spirit on his mind. You’ll see Pentecost mentioned in verse 16. Paul wanted to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost. We’ve talked a lot about Pentecost in our Acts series. If you haven’t been with us, it was the day (about 25 years prior) that God blessed his people with the Holy Spirit. By the way, this is the “S” for Spirit in our Acts acronym. So, Paul had that day in mind as well.
While we’re not told his specific focus, he preached Christ. Christ crucified and Christ resurrected.
Well, then it happened. Let’s move our drone over to the window.
They were all in this third story room. The lights were not LEDs. Instead, some sort of flame. That heated things up. Add to that, it was crowded - Eutychus was sitting in an open window sill. And Paul went on and on.
Eutychus’ eyes began to close. He sank into “a deep sleep,” it says. And then he rolled over the wrong way. The fall would have taken about 1.5 seconds. Nobody was asleep anymore. You can picture the scene. Panic. Rushing down the stairs. It’s highly likely one or both of his parents were there.
They gathered around him and it says he was “taken up dead.”
I looked at several commentators – and there is very strong agreement that Eutychus died. It’s not unanimous, but the language is very similar to other passages where people had died. Plus remember, Luke was there, observing all of this… or should I say Dr. Luke. He was a physician. So for him to write that “he was taken up dead” and not “we thought he was dead” also adds to that likelihood.
Well, good news, Paul was also there. He took Eutychus in his arms and God brought life back into the boy. Verse 12 says “they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” They were greatly comforted! From shock and sadness to joy.
Talk about a real death to life illustration… right in the middle of their worship service. Really, it was illustrating the hope we have in Christ! A. The eternal hope of a resurrected life in eternity with him. All the examples of people being raised from the dead in Scripture ultimately point to Christ. Lazarus, Tabitha, the widow’s son in Luke 7, Jairus’s daughter in Mark 5, and now Eutychus – those are just the New Testament examples. They all point to our hope in Christ, through his resurrection of our own future resurrection in him.
Here with Eutychus, it demonstrated the A in our ACTS acronym, the “ascended Christ.” Jesus was working out his plan as the exalted king of his eternal kingdom. He raised Eutychus. Jesus accomplished here precisely what he desired to reveal – life in him. And this amazing story wasn’t just to the believers in Troas, but to His people throughout the centuries… as they’ve read and heard about God’s mighty work in Troas. It’s Jesus’ own resurrection that gives us hope and life. As the Scriptures say, he’s the firstborn from among the dead. In his life we will have new life.
In conclusion, our video drone has taken us high above the northern Mediterranean. We’ve zoomed in to see who Paul was travelling with and where he was going. Then we hovered in Troas. We experienced a worship service on Sunday! It included a sermon and the Lord’s Supper. We were there with Luke and the crowd as Eutychus fell out the window but was then taken up alive.
And all throughout, God was at work. The ascended and exalted Christ was accomplishing his ends of the earth ministry through his people and through his Spirit. Jesus was… and has been… and is… and will be building and establishing his church. As we continue through Acts, we’ll learn more and more about his church and our roles and responsibility in it.