Author’s Note – I was on vacation recently, and I’m thankful to Faith Church’s Ministry Coordinator, Emerald Peters, who preached Acts 19 in my absence. I hope to publish her posts on that chapter soon.
The Bible includes so many stories there are plenty of candidates for the most bonkers Bible story award. In my opinion, there’s one really good option in Acts 20. Actually, Acts 20 is a kind of buffet chapters, where I think you’ll find there is something for everyone. It’s one part travelogue, one part bonkers story, and one part ministry smorgasbord training.
Turn to Acts 20. Paul is on his third missionary journey, having spent nearly three years in Ephesus. But the time has come to move on. Read verses 1-6, and you’ll find the first travelogue section, as the author describes numerous stops that Paul makes.
In the middle of the travelogue, let’s rest our attention for a moment on verse 4. Paul has assembled quite a ministry team, and notice that they come from all over. We would do well to see Paul giving time and energy to disciple the various members of the team. Likewise, we Christians are team players, part of families, friend groups, and church families. We are people who play well with others. We seek to bring people together for the cause of Christ.
Paul’s team is together in the city of Troas, and in verses 7-12 Luke records a very interesting occurrence. No, “interesting” isn’t a strong enough adjective. To my way of thinking, this is an absolutely bonkers story.
First of all, I love how this episode gives us a glimpse into the gathering of the early church. The Christians in Troas have come together on the first day of the week to break bread. For them, the first day of the week is Sunday, and the early Christians gathered on Sundays, as we still do 2000 years later, because that was the day Jesus rose from the dead. Sunday was not a weekend day for them as it is for us. It was a work day, so most of them would have worked all day, and then gathered in someone’s house for the evening meal, including communion. Also, this is a special gathering because it is to be Paul’s last night before leaving, so he talks long into the night, till midnight.
I love the detail Luke gives us in verse 8 that there were many lamps in the room, setting the scene, that even though it was after dark, they were still able to have a gathering. Some scholars surmise that the smoke and haze from the lamps could have had a drowsy effect on people.
Right in the midst of this church gathering, tragedy strikes. In verse 9 one of the Christian young men, Eutychus, falls asleep sitting in an open window sill and falls three stories to his death. Yikes!
I so identify with Eutychus, kind of. I can pretty much fall asleep anywhere and almost anytime. At 9:30pm or so, when my wife, Michelle, and I sit on our living room sofa and read or watch TV, I can’t make it long before my head is nodding off. In seminary, if the professor turns off the lights to show a video, I’m out cold.
But what about Eutychus? Has he fallen prey to the stereotypical borefest sermon? Personally, I highly doubt that Paul was a boring speaker. But even the most eloquent, engaging speaker cannot possibly expect to keep people’s attention for hours into the night. There were probably others in the gathering struggling to keep their eyes open too. Eutychus just had the great misfortune, or lack of sense, of sitting in an open window three stories up.
Imagine that scene. People were probably freaking out. Did anyone see him fall or did they just notice the rustling of movement and hear the sickening thump down on the street below? It is crazy to think about being there, right?
It gets even crazier. In verse 10, Paul raises Eutychus to life! Then Paul goes back up, breaks bread and eats, like nothing totally insane just happened! Then in verse 11, we read that Paul continues talking all night long, till daylight! As if there wasn’t just a freaky death AND a resurrection!
There is a certain level of emotion, though, if we look closely. Paul’s words in verse 10 reassure the people who were alarmed, when he declares that Eutychus is alive. Then in verse 12 the people take Eutychus home, still alive, and they were greatly comforted. What a story!
Why did Luke include this story, I wonder? For one thing, it is simply wild. When you have a story that bonkers, you include it. But more than that, in this story we see the resurrection power of God at work, and that is amazing and encouraging. It doesn’t mean that God will raise people from the dead every time a death occurs. Instead, we simply dwell in wonder at the power-working God who calls us friends.
The next section, verses 13-18a, tell the story of the beginning of Paul’s journey back to Jerusalem. It is another itinerary section, in which we read that after numerous stops land him at Miletus, Paul sends word back to Ephesus for the elders of the church to come see him in Miletus. The elders from Ephesus arrive, and Paul begins talking to them. And that is what we’re going to spend most of our time on in the remaining posts in this series on Acts 20.