To the End of the Earth: To the End of the Earth (46): A Deadly Sermon

Sermon by Derek Thomas on May 27, 2007

Acts 20:1-12

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The Lord’s Day
Evening

May 27, 2007

Acts 20:1-12

To the Ends
of the Earth

A Deadly Sermon

Dr. Derek W. H.
Thomas

Now turn with me if you would to The Acts of The Apostles
once again, and tonight we are in the twentieth chapter. We have been now for a
number of weeks following the ministry of the Apostle Paul in the great city of
Corinth, where he was upwards of three years; we have followed him as he made
his way to Ephesus, another strategic and important city where the apostle now
has spent upwards of two years; and just last week we were following the account
in Ephesus of how the Apostle Paul encountered not a little difficulty towards
the end of his time there–a riot, indeed, in the city of Ephesus, a great hubbub
in the amphitheater. In the providence of God, you remember, the Apostle Paul
was kept outside of the amphitheater, partly at the behest of his disciples, but
partly at the behest of a group of men who are otherwise called his “friends,”
but they are called Asiarchs. These were men in charge of the cult worship of
the emperor, and in this astonishing providence Paul has made friends, or these
men made friends with the Apostle Paul. They’ve seen something in him, in his
character, in the resoluteness and his determined way of living, and they
entreat him, implore him not to enter the amphitheater. Probably just as well…I
think if Paul, as Calvin says, had gone inside that amphitheater, things would
have probably turned out in a very different way.

Well, the riot is quelled, and now Paul is making his
way out of the city of Ephesus and heading, at least initially, towards
Jerusalem.

Now before we read together the first twelve verses
of Acts 20, let’s once again come before God in prayer. Let us pray.

O Lord our God, we thank You again for the
Scriptures, for the holy word of God. We thank You that holy men of old wrote as
they were carried along by the Holy Spirit. And we pray tonight again, O Lord,
come and bless us. Grant covenant insight and benediction as we read the
Scriptures together. Teach us from Your word. We are prone to wander; we are
prone to leave the God we love. So come, O Lord; write Your word upon our
hearts, that we might not sin against You. And this we ask for Jesus’ sake.
Amen.

This is God’s holy and inerrant word:

”And after the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and
when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to go to
Macedonia. And when he had gone through those districts and had given them much
exhortation, he came to Greece. And there he spent three months, and when a plot
was formed against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he
determined to return through Macedonia. And he was accompanied by Sopater of
Berea, the son of Pyrrhus; and by Aristarchus and Secundus of the Thessalonians;
and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and Tychicus and Trophimus of Asia. But these
had gone on ahead were waiting for us at Troas. And we sailed from Philippi
after the days of Unleavened Bread, and came to them at Troas within five days;
and there we stayed seven days.

“And on the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to
break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to depart the next day, and
he prolonged his message until midnight. And there were many lamps in the upper
room where we were gathered together. And there was a certain young man named
Eutychus sitting on the window sill, sinking into a deep sleep; and as Paul kept
on talking, he was overcome by sleep and fell down from the third floor, and was
picked up dead. But Paul went down and fell upon him and after embracing him, he
said, ‘Do not be troubled, for his life is in him.’ And when he had gone back
up, and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while, until
daybreak, and so departed. And they took away the boy alive, and were greatly
comforted.”

Amen. And may the Lord bless to us that reading of His holy
and inerrant word.

It’s fitting, I suppose, that today is Memorial
weekend, and tomorrow is a day off, and that most of you don’t have to go to
work tomorrow…and we can spend the whole night here in this passage! So whatever
plans that you had, the doors are firmly locked and you are here for the
duration!

This is a wonderful, wonderful story. It’s a favorite
story of many a young child; many a young boy and girl love this story. It’s a
strange story of a young boy. The Greek words in verse 12, “and they took away
the boy alive” — the Greek word is a reference to someone between the age of
about eight and fourteen, a young boy. And he falls from the third story window
to the ground.

Well, before we come to that, this passage teaches us
a number of important things.

It teaches us first of all something about
providence.
There’s a wonderful connection with the sermon this morning in
Philippi and Paul as he’s in prison in Rome, and Ligon was telling us this
morning about Paul’s theology of circumstances. Well, there’s a duplication of
that in some degree here in the passage tonight. It’s about providence. It’s
about God changing someone’s plans.

Secondly, there’s a lesson in here about the
Lord’s Day.
This is the first reference (the first formal reference, at
least) to the Lord’s Day in The Acts of The Apostles, and you get the impression
that when Paul comes (and it is to Philippi that he eventually will come) and
he’s there with Luke, you get the impression that they’re engaging in a certain
activity that they’ve been engaging in for some time on the Lord’s Day. There’s
a certain pattern that has now become part of their standard practice, and I
want us to look at that. Because although what we have here is descriptive
and there are certain aspects of it that are unique, there are also underlying
in this passage some things of a prescription for us.

And then, thirdly, we need to look at this story
about the young boy who falls from the third story window, and I want us to see
that the story isn’t really about him.
But I’ll hold that for …roughly,
about four o’clock tomorrow morning!

I. God’s providence.

Paul has been in Ephesus. He tells us, you remember,
in Corinthians. In I Corinthians 15, he makes that little reference to having
fought wild beasts in Ephesus. When he writes to the Corinthians, the Second
Epistle to the Corinthians, he informs us that he despaired of life itself when
he was in Ephesus. He wants, we read in verse 21 of chapter 19, he wants
initially to see Rome, and Luke is telling us the story in Acts with that goal
in mind. Actually, that’s one of the reasons why he writes The Acts of The
Apostles, to present the Apostle Paul as a citizen of the Roman Empire, perhaps
for his defense in Rome…the very defense that Ligon is looking at now in the
context of the writing of Philippians itself. Acts would form a wonderful
defense before the authorities that he was a loyal citizen of the empire.

Paul had said farewell to the Ephesians. He had
crossed now the Aegean. He had gone into Macedonia, and we read in verse 1 of
chapter 20 that:

“After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples and when he had
exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he departed to Macedonia. Then when
he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came
to Greece.”

The reference of course here to Greece is the reference to
Corinth, so we have this picture of Paul: He had gone over to Macedonia; he has
probably visited the church at Philippi; he’s visited the church at
Thessalonica; he’s visited the church at Berea (he seems to have spent some time
there; we read of a period of about three months or so); and eventually he comes
down to Greece, and he comes to Corinth itself.

Corinth was a troubled church. Oh, it’s a difficult
web to untangle the correspondence of Paul with Corinth. He has already written
one letter to Corinth, back in Ephesus. Somewhere en route to Corinth,
probably in Philippi, he has written the second letter to Corinth. But before he
ever wrote the first one, there seems to be a reference in I Corinthians 5 to
another letter that he has written, a “painful letter” indeed. When he was in
Ephesus, various people from the church at Corinth had come to visit him.
Trophimus was one, Tychicus was another; the household of Stephanas; Fortunatus,
Tychicus, some members of the household of Chloe…we know that they’d come to see
him in Ephesus. They’d brought news that things weren’t good in Corinth. There
was strife and division; there were moral and ethical problems. Their
celebration of the Lord’s Supper was in something of disarray, and evidently the
Apostle Paul…at least it looks as though he wrote a painful letter…we don’t have
that letter; then followed by I Corinthians. In between writing I Corinthians
and II Corinthians while he was still in Ephesus, some commentators think that
he made a quick visit over to Corinth and back again, a painful visit that he
seems to make a reference to in II Corinthians.

But now he’s in Corinth itself. He’s back in the
city. He’s there for three months. It’s a difficult time, a painful time. And he
intends in Corinth to go to Syria, to go to Jerusalem. We learn in the passage
that it’s Passover time–it’s springtime. The three months in Corinth may have
been wintertime. They may have been waiting for advantageous weather for
crossing the Mediterranean down to Syria and Jerusalem.

But he hears of a plot, a plot to kill him…a Jewish
plot to kill him. Perhaps his intention had been, the plans had been, he would
go on a ship full of pilgrim Jews going back to Jerusalem to celebrate Passover.
He would go along with them. He hasn’t been in Jerusalem now for a number of
years. He’s been three years in Corinth, two years in Ephesus; he’s been away
from Jerusalem for a number of years. But there’s a plot to kill him, a plot to
take away his life, and he has to change his plan. “Man proposes, but God
disposes.” Even the Apostle Paul, some of the plans and some of the decisions
that he would make would have to be changed and altered because of
circumstances. And he heads back up to Macedonia, heads back towards the
districts of Thessalonica and Berea, and eventually to Philippi, and eventually
across the Aegean again to Troas.

Luke tells us that he didn’t travel alone. It was a
wise policy, of course, not to travel alone. There’s a whole slew of people,
there’s a group here of ten people that we know of in this party. One is
Timothy, from Lystra; Aristarchus and Secundus come from Thessalonica in
Macedonia; Tychicus comes from Asia; Sopater comes from Berea; Trophimus, from
Ephesus; Gaius comes from Derbe; Titus and Luke come from Antioch. We’re not
quite clear where Luke has been; all we can say is that when he gets to
Philippi, Luke is there, because all of a sudden, you notice, we’re back to
we
again. We did this and we did that, and we left
here, and we sailed there. Luke is there already. Maybe Luke had stayed
on in Philippi the whole time. And now Paul has been reunited with his friend,
this doctor, this historian, this writer of The Acts of The Apostles. Nine men,
plus Luke, in Philippi. And Paul waits in Philippi. Seven, or perhaps eight of
them, make their way across to Troas, leaving just Paul and Luke in Philippi,
and they celebrate…well, he waits until Passover is over, and then Luke and Paul
head to Troas.

This is an interesting reference to Passover…that
there was Passover, and he was in Philippi. And the suggestion has been made…and
that’s all that it is – it’s very difficult to prove it… but the suggestion is
that Paul would have taken this opportunity, especially amongst converted Jews,
to explain now something that he had already written back in Ephesus when he had
written to the Corinthian church. He had mentioned that Christ is our Passover;
that the Old Testament festival of Passover is now fulfilled in Christ. That
would have provided the Apostle Paul all kinds of opportunities for presenting
the gospel, and for explaining the interconnectedness and the areas of
continuity and discontinuity between the old covenant and the new covenant.

Some, of course (for reasons that are obvious)
suggest that what they did at Philippi was actually begin the celebration of
Easter. I’m not too sure about that, but I certainly think that there was no way
that Passover could have been taking place in Jerusalem without Paul mentioning
and preaching and proclaiming and explaining from the Scriptures that Passover
is now fulfilled; that celebration which at the heart of it warns of the
avenging angel that otherwise struck the firstborn of the Egyptians, but spared
those in Israel that had the blood on the doorpost, the lintels of the doorpost,
that blood now seen in all of its clarity in the blood that was shed on the
cross of Calvary. He is the Passover Lamb that is sacrificed for us. And in a
sense, then, Passover would need to be celebrated no longer, and Christ has
fulfilled it.

Change of plans! Change of plans–don’t be surprised,
my friends, don’t be surprised when you follow the Lord with all of your heart,
as Paul followed the Lord with all of his heart…don’t be surprised if plans have
to be changed, if God’s providence as it unfolds presents itself in mysterious
forms…closing doors, opening other doors of opportunity, but changing plans.

II. A change of day
But secondly, a change of day, because Luke provides for us now in
Philippi a reference in verse 7:

“On the first day of the week, when we were
gathered together to break bread….”

They’d come now to Troas. Luke and Paul and the other
eight, they’re all reunited now in Troas. They’ve gathered with the church.
They’ve gathered with the Lord’s people. They’ve landed on a ship somewhere in
the port just outside the city of Troas. They’ve made their way in, they’ve been
welcomed, and it’s the Lord’s Day. “On the first day of the week….” He’s going
to spend a week there, but no sooner does he arrive but this first day of the
week…literally, it’s the first after Sabbath, and it’s translated here as
the first day of the week. It’s not clear whether Luke is using the Jewish way
of reckoning or whether he’s using the Roman way of reckoning. Does he mean the
first day of the week after Sabbath? That is, sundown on Saturday evening to
sundown on Sunday evening, reckoning in the Jewish mode? Or, as I think is more
likely here, that he is reckoning after the Roman way, from midnight to midnight
of what we would call Sunday, the first day of the week.

And they were gathered together to break bread.
Already, do you see, the church in Troas…of which we know almost nothing…but
this little church, this little community that has gathered together in Troas on
the first day of the week, on Sunday, they’re gathering together. And they’re
gathering together for the purposes of breaking bread and, as we see here, of
listening to preaching, of listening to the word of God being expounded.

That’s a very interesting thing. You see, I don’t
think that you would have had to teach the early Christian community about the
importance of the cycle of one day in seven. Yes, I do think that you’d have to
teach them about the difference between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian
Lord’s Day. That’s to be sure. And Christians began to celebrate a different day
from the Jews, the day of Christ’s resurrection, the day of triumph, the day
when Jesus rose from the dead became the day: not the last day of the week, but
the first day of the week. But I don’t think that you would have had to teach
them the importance of a cycle of one day in seven. Within the consciousness
especially of converted Jews, of Jewish Christians, that cycle would be part of
their tradition from the time they were born. They gathered together for
worship. They gathered together to read God’s word and to sing God’s word, and
to pray God’s word and to hear God’s word being expounded. So the Christian
church naturally develops that. There’s a continuity, I think, in principle,
between the Sabbath and the Lord’s Day, so that the Ten Commandments, the fourth
commandment to keep the Sabbath holy, becomes for us still part of the Ten
Commandments. We’re not Nine Commandment people, we’re Ten Commandment people!
At the Lord’s Supper we frequently in the bulletin have the Ten Commandments. We
read them, the table of the Law, when we gather together for the Lord’s Supper.
But we don’t just read nine of them. We read ten of them, because although there
is a difference between the Jewish Sabbath and the Christian Lord’s Day, there’s
also a continuity of principle. We’re meant to gather together on the Lord’s
Day, to gather together as a fellowship of God’s people, to gather together in
order to hear God’s word and to sing His praises, and to corporately worship Him
together as the Lord’s people.

Now Luke draws attention to two particular things.
He doesn’t mention…this isn’t a description, for example, of all of the elements
of public worship on the Lord’s Day. There’s no mention here of praying. There’s
no mention here of singing. We do have reference here to two things: preaching
and the Lord’s Supper.

I rather fancy (and you have to imagine, now) that
Paul, wherever he went in these years, he took with him the scrolls and the
parchments. You remember at the end of his life, in II Timothy 4? It’s almost
the last thing that he writes, when he’s in prison in Rome and he’s awaiting his
death; (not the prison in Rome at the end of Acts 28, but the final prison from
which he will be taken out and executed.) and he’s asking his dear friend to
bring him the scrolls and the parchments. And I rather think that Paul, wherever
he went, had these scrolls; and on these scrolls were either parts of the Old
Testament or maybe all of the Old Testament, and notes that he was constantly
making–outlines, things that God was revealing to him, copies perhaps of the
letters that he had written to the various churches.

And as he comes now to Troas…and there’s something
of a farewell about this occasion.
There’s something unique about it. He may
well never be back in Troas again, at least not for a long time, so they’ve
gathered together. It’s the Lord’s Day and he preaches, and it’s a long sermon.
They’ve gathered in the evening. (It’s not uncommon, by the way. It’s uncommon
to us, of course, but it’s not uncommon in various parts of the world for
sermons to be long. You know we dictate to the Holy Spirit that it must all be
done in twenty-five minutes, but you understand that in various parts of the
world–in fact, in the majority parts of the world these days–the traditions are
entirely different.)

Now there is something unique about this occasion.
But don’t you sense as you read this that there’s a longing and a desire there?
They’re gathered together in this upper room, and they’re sitting there and
they’re listening to Paul as he is expounding, and he’s going on and on and on —
and it’s midnight. And he’s been unfolding the word of God. [Wouldn’t it be
wonderful if we knew what it was he’d been preaching on? If we could plug into
some website and download onto an iPod™ the ministry of the Apostle Paul in
Troas? You’d need a 60K iPod™ for this one!] But don’t you get the sense that in
this church there was a longing, a desire? They wanted to hear the word of God.
They wanted to grow. They wanted to know what the parameters of new covenant
life looked like. Some of them, of course, knew very little about Jesus, and
Paul would be expounding to them the life and the works and the significance of
the death of Christ and the resurrection of Christ.

And then, eating. And at this time, as we know
from the situation in Corinth, the church would gather together for a communal
meal as well as celebrate the Lord’s Supper. And perhaps because Passover itself
was a segue from a meal to something that was emblematic and symbolic
(initially, at least) in the church…and we know for sure in Corinth there was
this relationship between a common meal that the whole community gathered
together and the celebration that was specifically the Lord’s supper. And at
midnight they break bread together, and I rather see that the reference there to
breaking bread at midnight is in fact a reference to the celebration of the
Lord’s Supper.

Now, the celebration of the Lord’s Supper is not
mentioned a great deal in Scripture. That in itself is instructive. We shouldn’t
make too much of it, and it’s possible to make too much of the Lord’s Supper,
and I think we need to find a proper balance. But the Reformers, especially,
drew from this particular passage the lesson that the Supper was celebrated
after the preaching of the word, and it’s always been the case in Reformed
worship that first of all there’s the exposition of Scripture and then there is
the celebration of the Lord’s Supper, so that the visible word is explained
first of all by the preached and expounded word, and then after they’ve broken
bread (celebrated the Lord’s Supper), be reminded (as Brian reminded the
children this evening) of that in terms of growing to know Christ more, and
focusing and being reminded of who Christ is and what Christ has done, and in
anticipation of that festal meal that you and I will have one day as we sit down
and feast in the marriage supper of the Lamb, and in the presence of King Jesus.

And Paul begins to talk again. And…is it one o’clock?
What time did he start? Seven? Eight o’clock? He’d gone on until midnight,
they’ve celebrated the Supper…there’s been this little hiatus with Eutychus, to
be sure; but then one o’clock, one thirty, two o’clock in the morning until
daybreak…daybreak at maybe five thirty, six o’clock…. They’d been there eight
hours, and all that they’d been doing is listening to Paul as he’d been talking,
as he’d been expounding, as he’s been unfolding the glorious riches of divine
mercy, grace in the Scriptures of the Old Testament. What a wonderful, wonderful
experience that must have been. You know, I can’t imagine that the folks in
Troas ever forgot it. I imagine if you had gone back to Troas, you know, ten,
twenty, thirty, forty years later, there’d be some who would say, “You know, I
was there that night when Paul preached on and on and on. And it was hot, and it
was muggy, but oh! there were glorious moments as Christ was exalted and the
Spirit came down.” And, oh, that we would at least one time in our lives long
for such an occasion as that, when, as it were, you lose sense of time and you
lose sense of the clock–just occasionally. This is a unique moment. This isn’t
what happened every day. This isn’t what happened every Sunday. This was a
unique moment. It was a visitation of the Spirit. There was a change of plans;
there was a change of days.

III. A change of location.

Well, you guessed it: there was a change of
location. I’m referring now to Eutychus, this eight to fourteen year old boy
who’s on the third floor window sill. And Luke — he’s a doctor, he’s trying to
explain some mitigating circumstances here as to what happened. There were lamps
burning everywhere, and lamps, you understand, eat up oxygen; and it’s on the
third floor, and he rises, of course, so there’s a lack of oxygen. [You remember
what Spurgeon said, that the next most important thing in a church, next to
godliness, is oxygen!] Now, in the South we have glorious air conditioning
blowing oxygen all the time, but you know exactly what is happening to poor
Eutychus. You’ve experienced it (preachers see it all the time!) when those
little peepers begin to fight against you, and you’ve had roast beef for lunch,
and now it’s time for that to work it’s way through your body, and once it
starts it’s difficult to stop. I’ve been there and I know exactly what it is
when those eyes are closing, and you say to yourself ‘I’ll close them just for
two seconds, and that will relieve the pressure,’ but it only makes it worse.
And you resort to sucking up strong, strong peppermint of some kind — or, the
last resort, you take notes! You get out a pen and a piece of paper, and you
start making notes, and you’re just an amanuensis at that point. The brain has
long since ceased to function, and you’re just writing down every word just to
try and stay awake.

Well, he falls to the floor. Imagine–there were
screams from upstairs… the poor boy’s mother, for a start–the thud as he
falls, as it were, without breaking his fall, because he’s fast asleep. He’s
overtaken by sleep, and he plummets to the ground, and you hear this thud, and
Paul has to stop preaching. And they take him up, and he’s dead. He’s not
breathing. I’m not at all impressed by commentators who try to explain this away
and say that he wasn’t really dead, and when Paul says “He’s alive,” he’s just
saying to them, you know, ‘You misunderstood…he wasn’t dead at all.’ No, the
grammar here seems to imply that he came to life as a consequence of something
that Paul did; that Paul comes running down the stairs and takes him up, and
life comes back into this boy.

Now what’s this all about? You see, these miracles,
they don’t occur that often. The raising of the dead only occurs five times or
so in the New Testament. Trophimus, who is there, one of the companions that has
come up from Corinth and has now gone to Troas, Trophimus…Paul will say in II
Timothy that he has to leave Trophimus behind at Miletus because he was sick.
Timothy is there. You remember, Paul is always saying to Timothy, “Take a little
wine for your stomach.” He’s got a delicate stomach. So even the Apostle Paul
didn’t possess these miraculous gifts all the time. This was a unique
occurrence.

It reminds you, doesn’t it, of Elijah and Elisha? It
reminds you especially of Peter raising Dorcas in Acts 9. It’s a demonstration
of kingdom power. It’s a demonstration of resurrection power. Perhaps in the
second half of that sermon until dawn, I wonder if Paul…you know Paul was always
talking about death and resurrection…if you examine some of Paul’s letters you
see that theme again and again and again. I wonder if he used that as an
illustration. I can’t imagine but that he didn’t. And the poor young boy, having
been raised again, he sits through the whole thing! He’s not taken home until
the morning. He sits through that whole experience until daybreak.

But you know, this entire story is bracketed by the
word comforted. “They were greatly comforted” [verse 12]; and you
see it again in the very opening verse, although the translation in the New
American Standard somewhat hides it. But this word comfort…what was Paul
doing? He was engaging in a ministry of comfort. It’s the word that’s used for
the Holy Spirit. He is the Comforter. Jesus has promised “I will send another
Comforter.” Jesus is a Comforter; the Holy Spirit is another Comforter. The
ministry of Paul here is a Spirit-like ministry, it’s a Jesus-like ministry.
It’s a ministry of building up, it’s a ministry of strengthening, of growing
these Christians in the fundamentals, in the ABC’s of the Christian faith,
readying them for the battle that lies ahead.

Well, a change of plans, and a change of day, and a
change of location. May God bless His word to us.

Let’s pray together.

Father, we thank You for the Scriptures. Thank You
for this passage in particular. Thank You for the Lord’s Day. Thank You for the
reassurance that in every circumstance You are in complete control. Thank You
for this little glimpse of resurrection here in this passage; that one day we
shall rise from the dead and be with Christ forever. Bless us we pray in the
remainder of this Lord’s Day, and grant us the presence of Your Spirit for
Jesus’ sake. Amen.

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