Monday, February 5, 2018

Acts 20:1-16 - ”Falling Asleep Under Paul’s Preaching?“

This  sermon  has nothing to do  with falling asleep under your pastor’s  sermons – just in case you wanted to know in advance!  J

In Acts 20 Paul is on his third and last missionary journey, having spent almost three years in Ephesus, a strategic city in Asia minor. His letter to the Ephesians is so very helpful in terms of understanding the nature and power and also the application of the gospel.

In  Ephesus  Paul  first preached   the gospel for three months in the local synagogue (19:8), after  which  he left there  to preach  the gospel daily in the hall of Tyrannus for  two yearsso that all the residents of Asia heard the word of the Lord, both Jews and Greeks (19:9,10). What an astonishing statement!

We saw that the preaching of the gospel bore fruit and we saw that it produced resistance, both in the synagogue and in the city. I often marvel that the preaching of the Gospel (i.e.  Good News) is very often not received as such, but rather in a hostile manner. I had such an experience recently when preaching the gospel at a funeral of a man with no church connections. I don’t think that the congregation  expected to hear a gospel message, and when it came, the faces froze. Apart from the fact that I could have been more thoughtful and more mindful and  more  prayerful for the grieving people that sat before  me,   I had to remind myself  that  the gospel does not   enter heads and hearts naturally.  Man’s sinful nature opposes the gospel, since the gospel demands that man must lay down his   claim to autonomy,  and that the gospel demands  a man  to confess his sin and  that the gospel demands that a man must  return to his Creator. 
I needed to remind myself that while the preacher can prepare well, only the Holy Spirit can make a person love the gospel of Jesus. Only the Holy Spirit knows who the true sheep of Christ are, and even though it is the work of the church to participate in the finding of the lost sheep of Jesus, we do not know who they are, until we see it in the fruit of true conversion. 
We use the means given to us. We pray for the harvest, and we preach for a verdict. We present the gospel message on every occasion, in formal settings like Paul in the synagogue and in the hall of Tyrannus, but mostly in informal settings. And since God has granted a people to hear and believe the gospel in every generation, we, like the apostle Paul  must  expectantly use daily opportunities to  proclaim the gospel.  But we must also be ever prepared for resistance from the beasts of Ephesus (1 Cor.15:32  cf. 2 Cor. 1:8)  

And so, seeing that the work was done (Acts 19:10) and following a severe  upset and riot in Ephesus, Paul leaves  here, crossing the Aegan sea, entering into Macedonia, and down to Greece, and  probably to Corinth. 
We remember that Paul had a difficult relationship with the church at Corinth (e.g. see the painful letter in  I Corinthians 5:9-10 and the  mentioning  of   the painful visit in 2 Cor. 2:1).  He spent three months there, and  again he hears of a plot  against him by the Jews (20:3). Instead of sailing back to Syria ,  he changes plans and  goes back up to Macedonia, and  again across the Aegan  sea and  then to Troas, accompanied by the  7 people mentioned in  20:4 plus  Luke[1], the  writer of the book of Acts.   They stayed in Troas for 7 days.

V.7 “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread….”
The Christian church maintained the practise of keeping the 7th day of public worship, but now on a Sunday, from the reckoning of the Jewish calendar, the first day of the week. The practise of gathering on the 7th day with the breaking of bread was begun in Acts 2:42 along with the preaching of the Word of God.  He doesn't mention all the  activities  of Acts 2:42ff here, but we may assume with fair certainty that fellowship and prayer were part of the meeting. 

Concerning the breaking of bread we can say this. From  1 Corinthians  11:17-34  we know that the breaking of bread was  done in the context  of a fellowship meal , a supper- akin to the Passover meal – but it was really a ‘perfected Passover’, since the true Lamb of God was slain. In the context of  an evening  meal  the  gathered church  would  take some time out to  remember  and celebrate what became known as  ‘the Lord's Supper’.  The Lord’s supper does not only anticipates all that Jesus  accomplished in His death and resurrection, but it also   anticipates  that great feast,  the marriage supper of the Lamb (Rev. 19:7 cf. Matt. 22:2)  when all  God’s elect people, the sheep of Jesus  Christ  shall finally be gathered  at that great  wedding  feast  in the presence of our great King Jesus,  forevermore.

But before that  fellowship meal happens, Paul has  much to say. He knows that he may not be back for a long time … if ever.  And so he takes time to pour out that which the Lord has laid on his heart for the church in Troas. I wished that we had a record of what he said, but we can safely assume, that all that he said has been written in the Bible.  He   has a very long list of things to say, and so “he prolonged his speech (Gr. dielegeto) until midnight.” 

In this context we find the story of Eutychus, a young man, sitting on the window sill of the upper room of a three story house. And as ’Paul talked still longer’ he ‘sank into a deep sleep‘ (20:9). In this case it is deadly. He falls out of the window ‘and was taken up dead’.  In a manner  reminiscent of Elisha  who  was used of God to raise from the dead  the  young son of a widow (2 Ki. 4:18-37), “Paul  went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘ Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him’”. The same is reported of the ministry of Peter who by the power of God raised Tabitha/ Dorcas from the dead (Acts 9:36-43).

Luke records  that  this  young man  was picked up dead (20:9). Luke, the writer of the 'Acts' ,  being a physician  was surely  qualified to say this.   Some  commentators [2] say that  he wasn't really dead following the fall. He was merely unconscious and when Paul said,   “his life (psuchē)  is in him”, they think that he is simply saying, ‘Praise God…he wasn’t really dead….this is lucky fellow survived this fall from a three story building’.
There is no reason not to believe that this young man was dead. Paul was  after  all an apostle attested  with miracles (see 19:11), and  this  happening at midnight  would have served  further authenticate the gospel that Paul was preaching, and it  created a buzz and  it certainly gave the Christian community in Troas the impetus to  stay awake  until daybreak, and  the youth being alive, we are told, brought  not a little comfort to the community  (20:12)

[Please note that the breaking of bread, or the Lord’s supper  (20:11) happened only after the incident at midnight. ]

So why do we find this remarkable story here?   What did the Holy Spirit intend to achieve by having this recorded?  What do we learn from this? 
·       Is the point of this message that preachers should not kill their  people  through preaching  long sermons?
·       Is this story  proof  that  some people would rather die than listen to  long sermons?
·       Or is this  story  a warning to preachers that,  unless   you  have the gift of raising the dead, keep your  people   from  window sills and awake at all costs?

The answer is, ‘None of the above!’ My sermon title  is actually  deceptive, but I did that intentionally  to show you what  preachers  can do with  such texts, and you need to be awake  enough  so that when that happens  to challenge  the  preacher.  

So,  what then  is the point of the passage?  It surely is a demonstration and authentication of kingdom power, and  specifically  of  resurrection  power. This text, I would argue   is a repeat of John 11- the raising of Lazarus from the dead. That story was recorded by the Holy Spirit to show us that  the Jesus whom Paul preached  is  the One  who has the power over life and death. He is the resurrection and the life [Jn. 11:25]. 
I would not be surprised  if Paul, following the  miraculous raising  of Lazarus, followed by the breaking of bread spoke  until daylight about  the work of Jesus  in the context of  man's  sin  and  the curse of  death, and about the resurrection of the body,  and the life to come. When I read Paul’s letters  I certainly  see him  addressing  these subjects again and again.  Surely he must have used this incident as a powerful illustration to that end.  

We also take note of the fact that this incident came in the middle of the night, at midnight,  the darkest, most vulnerable  time  when we are just  not in control of ourselves. Paul and Silas  in Acts  16 had another midnight  experience in which they  were in prison, having been severely beaten in Philippi, but their hearts were in God’s hands,  and at midnight they  were praying and singing  hymns to God …. And suddenly there was the deliverance… at midnight!  

David says in  Psalm 18:4-6,  expressing the same thought :
“The cords of death  encompassed me;
The torrents of destruction assailed me;
 The cords of Sheol entangled me;
The snares of death confronted  me.
In   my distress I called upon the LORD
To my God I cried for help.
From his temple  he heard my voice,
and  my cry to him reached his ears.

We are  not a little comforted   when we read passages like this. 

[1] Timothy from Lystra; Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica in Macedonia; Tychicus comes from Asia; Sopater comes from Berea; Trophimus from Ephesus; Gaius  from Derbe;  Luke from Antioch. Notice the ‘we’  in 20:6 as Luke includes himself again in the narrative .
[2] E.g. William Barclay thinks so  in his commentary upon the passage 

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