Pastor David B. Curtis


Preached To Death

Acts 20:1-12

Delivered 03/07/2010

It is my hope that none of you can relate to this title. In our last study of Acts we left Paul in Ephesus. He has been there for three years teaching the Gospel of the Kingdom for about five hours every day. All this teaching of God's word had a huge effect on the culture. Many were burning their magic books, and they were turning from idols. This had a big impact on the income of those who made silver shrines. So the silversmiths who made the little idols for Artemis were really getting uptight because they were losing out on money. Business was dropping off. Christianity affected Ephesus economically as well as politically, socially, and religiously. And so there was a tremendous economic drop in the silversmith's profit, so their guild got together and said, "We got to stop this guy," and a riot ensued.

Paul comes to Ephesus preaching the Gospel, and now those who make idols are worried about their job security. The Apostle Paul changed the world as few other men have ever done. He lived in a day before jet airplanes or cars and paved highways. He had to go everywhere by foot, on donkeys, or by sailing vessel, none of which were very speedy. He did not have a telephone to call and talk with the leaders of churches that he had founded around the Roman Empire. He didn't have computers, email, copy machines, or other modern tools that make communication easier. He spent many years of his ministry in prison, unable to move about freely. He contended with fierce opposition both from outside and inside the church. And yet, after 25-30 years of ministry, he left a lasting impact on the world, not only in his time, but also for all times. And this remarkable man's advice to us is:

Be imitators of me, just as I also am of Christ. (1 Corinthians 11:1 NASB)

"Ever become imitators of me" is the literal translation. The Corinthian Christians are to imitate Paul. because he is imitating Christ. Is it just the Corinthians that are to imitate Paul? Does this apply to us? Yes, I believe it does.

Therefore be imitators of God, as beloved children; (Ephesians 5:1 NASB)

Simply put, Paul's reason for living was to be like Jesus. This should also be our reason for living. As we study Paul's travels through the book of Acts, may we learn from him and strive to be like him.

After the uproar had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and when he had exhorted them and taken his leave of them, he left to go to Macedonia. (Acts 20:1 NASB)

The rioting in Ephesus had convinced Paul to move on. But he doesn't do so until after he has called the disciples together for some exhortation. This is the Greek word parakaleo, which has the basic meaning: "to call to one's side," this verb can mean: "to appeal to. or beseech," or "to comfort."

Luke's account here is very brief, but we can fill in some of the details from Paul's other writings:

Now when I came to Troas for the gospel of Christ and when a door was opened for me in the Lord, I had no rest for my spirit, not finding Titus my brother; but taking my leave of them, I went on to Macedonia. (2 Corinthians 2:12-13 NASB)

From this we learn that on leaving Ephesus, Paul had stopped at Troas where he had found an open door for ministry, but that he was so constrained by his love and fear over the Corinthians that he had cut it short and sailed for Macedonia where he waited in agony until Titus arrived with the good news that all was well at Corinth (7:5-7).

Paul had already said that his desire was to go to Jerusalem:

Now after these things were finished, Paul purposed in the Spirit to go to Jerusalem after he had passed through Macedonia and Achaia, saying, "After I have been there, I must also see Rome." (Acts 19:21 NASB)

So if his desire was to go to Jerusalem, why does he go into Macedonia? I told you last week, does anybody remember? Before he left Ephesus, he had written 1 Corinthians. And in it he expresses the reason he's coming to Macedonia:

Now concerning the collection for the saints, as I directed the churches of Galatia, so do you also. (1 Corinthians 16:1 NASB)

So Paul then leaves Ephesus having written this letter to the Corinthians and instructed them about the offering. He goes out from there to collect this money. Did they respond to Paul's plea for money to help the church in Jerusalem?

Now, brethren, we wish to make known to you the grace of God which has been given in the churches of Macedonia, that in a great ordeal of affliction their abundance of joy and their deep poverty overflowed in the wealth of their liberality. For I testify that according to their ability, and beyond their ability, they gave of their own accord, begging us with much urging for the favor of participation in the support of the saints, and this, not as we had expected, but they first gave themselves to the Lord and to us by the will of God. (2 Corinthians 8:1-5 NASB)

In Paul's visit to Macedonia and Achaia Luke is again telling us that prophecy of the restoration of Israel was being fulfilled. This is the theme of the book of Acts. Luke's story is that Israel is being restored by the Messiah in the establishment of the Church. From Acts 1 on we have seen over and over Luke quoting the Hebrew Scriptures of the reestablishment of Israel and applying those prophecies to the Church, because the Church was the New Israel.

Look with me at Isaiah 60, this is a Messianic prophecy. It concerns the restoration of Israel; the calling of the Gentiles, and how the Gentiles would view restored Israel:

"Arise, shine; for your light has come, And the glory of the LORD has risen upon you. 2 "For behold, darkness will cover the earth, And deep darkness the peoples; But the LORD will rise upon you, And His glory will appear upon you. 3 "And nations will come to your light, And kings to the brightness of your rising. 4 "Lift up your eyes round about, and see; They all gather together, they come to you. Your sons will come from afar, And your daughters will be carried in the arms. 5 "Then you will see and be radiant, And your heart will thrill and rejoice; Because the abundance of the sea will be turned to you, The wealth of the nations will come to you. (Isaiah 60:1-5 NASB)

The word "nations" here could be and should be translated: "Gentiles." Notice verse 5, "The wealth of the Gentiles will come to you." Who is the "you"? It is restored Israel. God said that when Israel was saved, the Gentiles would also come to the light, and the Gentiles would give their wealth to Israel. These two groups hated each other, and the Gentiles would have never wilfully given wealth to Israel. But in Christ they are now brothers. So out of love they do what they normally would never have done.

When he had gone through those districts and had given them much exhortation, he came to Greece. 3 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 decided to return through Macedonia. (Acts 20:2-3 NASB)

So after he left Ephesus, he goes north to Troas, and over to Macedonia and then down to Greece and then to Corinth. What very significant thing did Paul do while he was in Corinth for three months? Paul most likely was staying in Gaius' house, Gaius of Corinth, and while he was there he wrote the Epistle to the Romans. Romans tells us that he was in the house of Gaius, and so this third verse is the circumstance out of which originated the Epistle to the Romans.

Phoebe, you'll remember, was a servant of the church at Cenchrea, Cenchrea was the port of the city of Corinth, and it is into her hands that the apostle gave the Epistle to the Romans to take to Rome.

Paul had planned to take the long journey by sea directly back to Syria (where his sending church at Antioch was), but the plotting of anti-Christian Jews made him take a more overland route back through Macedonia, accompanied by many companions. They may have planned to attack him on board ship, especially if the vessel was crowded with Jewish pilgrims for Passover or Pentecost.

Why did Paul change his plans? Was he scared of the Jews? Was he afraid to lose his life? No, I believe that his driving purpose was to get that money to the Jerusalem Saints, and he didn't want anything to stop that. Let me ask you a question? Did Paul believe in the sovereignty of God? Absolutely, it was he who wrote:

also we have obtained an inheritance, having been predestined according to His purpose who works all things after the counsel of His will, (Ephesians 1:11 NASB)

So why, when hearing of the plot against him, didn't he just say, "God is sovereign, what ever happens, happens"? This wasn't his attitude because he knew that we are responsible for our actions even though God is sovereign. Paul acted in wisdom.

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. (Acts 20:4 NASB)

Secundus was most likely a slave. Do you know what his name means? Secundus means: "the second." Slaves did not bother to name their children; they just numbered them.

Notice here that Paul had SEVEN traveling companions--the number of perfection. I think this speaks of "perfect" companionship:

But these had gone on ahead and were waiting for us at Troas. (Acts 20:5 NASB)

Paul sends these men on ahead while he stays at Philippi. If we understand why Paul stayed, we'll understand why he sent them on ahead. The next verse tells us why Paul stayed:

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. (Acts 20:6 NASB)

Paul stayed for the Feast of Passover and Unleavened Bread. These were Jewish feasts, and his traveling companions were Gentiles, so he sent them on ahead. The days of Unleavened Bread was the feast which lasted seven days immediately after Passover. So they had Passover there and seven days of Unleavened Bread in Philippi, and they came across to Troas. Passover and Unleavened Bread in A.D. 57 was April 7-14.

This verse begins with "we." Luke again begins to use the first person plural. Now, he had used it when they were in Philippi on the second journey, but then when Paul left Philippi the first person is stopped. And Luke begins to speak in the third person. Now, as Paul comes back to Philippi, Luke again begins to speak in the first person, which indicates most likely that when Paul was in Philippi on his second missionary journey, Luke was with him. Luke stayed there and has been there ever since, carrying on ministry. But now, as Paul comes back on his third missionary journey, coming through Philippi, Luke rejoins the apostle and now follows with Paul on the way down to Ephesus again.

Paul and Luke rejoin the party at Troas. It was here, in Troas, that Paul received the vision, providing him with the "Macedonian call" (16:9-10). Here we see another seven, they stayed in Troas for seven days, a time of "divinely perfect" (sevenfold) fellowship.

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7 NASB)

The most interesting aspect of this passage is that it contains one of the clearest pictures in the New Testament of an actual church meeting. And what is even better about it is that the author of the account was there, himself. So what we have is a first-hand account of what took place when the early church met.

First we see WHEN they met­"On the first day of the week." Now there is the first direct statement of the time when the church met. Notice what Paul says to the Corinthians:

On the first day of every week each one of you is to put aside and save, as he may prosper, so that no collections be made when I come. (1 Corinthians 16:2 NASB)

They were to do this on the first day of the week because that is when they gathered. It became the pattern for the early church to meet the first day of the week. The first meeting the church ever had after the resurrection was on the first day of the week.

What happened to the Sabbath? It was done away in Christ:

Therefore no one is to act as your judge in regard to food or drink or in respect to a festival or a new moon or a Sabbath day-- things which are a mere shadow of what is to come; but the substance belongs to Christ. (Colossians 2:16-17 NASB)

The Sabbath was Jewish, it was a shadow and was fulfilled in Christ.

So does the Church have to meet on Sunday?

One person regards one day above another, another regards every day alike. Each person must be fully convinced in his own mind. He who observes the day, observes it for the Lord, and he who eats, does so for the Lord, for he gives thanks to God; and he who eats not, for the Lord he does not eat, and gives thanks to God. (Romans 14:5-6 NASB)

I don't think the "when" really matters as long as the Church gathers. But the tradition of the Church is to meet on Sunday, the first day of the week, which works out pretty good for us because most people have off on Sunday.

The next question that we want to ask is WHERE did the early church meet? Well our text says they met in an upper room. The early church met everywhere. First, they met in the temple, where the church was born, and you can imagine how popular that was. That must have been interesting. And then after that, they started meeting in synagogues and in homes. They must have been substantial homes to accommodate a good size group of Christians.

When Paul wrote Colossians 4:15, he referred to the church in the home. When he wrote Romans 16:5 and 1 Corinthians 16:19, he referred to the church in the home of Aquila and Priscilla. Philemon also refers to the church that met in the home. And so there was a very common occurrence in the early church, and that was to meet in homes. And then later on, between the middle and the end of the second century, they began to build their own buildings.

So we have the when and the where, now let's look at the WHAT. What did these meeting consist of?

On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul began talking to them, intending to leave the next day, and he prolonged his message until midnight. (Acts 20:7 NASB)

This text tells us why they came together. What is it? It doesn't even say that they came to hear a sermon. But, as Luke puts it, when the disciples came together to break bread, it's obvious he's laying a great deal of stress upon the experience of the observance of the Lord's Supper. It's expressed here that the primary purpose of their gathering was the breaking of bread.

The Syr-i-ac version renders it, "to break the eucharist," by which the Lord's Supper was called in the primitive times; or as the Arabic version, "to distribute the body of Christ," which is symbolically and emblematically held forth in the bread at the Lord's Table.

We know that a weekly Lord's Supper was the tradition of the early church. We know this from the writing of men shortly after the time of the apostles. They describe some aspects of their meetings, and this is prominent.

In Calvin's institutes, he says that in his opinion, "It is Scriptural to observe the Lord's Supper every week." John Wesley, the founder of Methodism, affirms that in his opinion it is Scriptural to observe the Lord's Supper week by week. Charles Haddon Spurgeon, a Baptist, affirmed that it was Scriptural to observe the Lord's Supper, Sunday after Sunday. Tradition is not always wrong.

Alright, I know that some of you are thinking, well that is good if you're a Futurist, but why do Preterists need to observe the Lord's Supper? Didn't Jesus say to do this until He came? And since He already came, why do it? Good question!.

First, let me say that the Bible does not say, "Do this till I come." It is amazing to me how many folks think the Bible says that. Let's look at what it does, in fact, say:

For I received from the Lord that which I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus in the night in which He was betrayed took bread; 24 and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." 25 In the same way He took the cup also, after supper, saying, "This cup is the new covenant in My blood; do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of Me." 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord's death until He comes. (1 Corinthians 11:23-26 NASB)

Notice what this verse doesn't say: It doesn't say, "Observe the Lord's Supper until Jesus comes back." It doesn't say that! It says that through the observance of the Lord's Supper, the Corinthians were proclaiming the Lord's death until His coming.

"You proclaim the Lord's death until He comes." Now, the problem arises over the word "until." If this word "until" meant that something stopped at that point, what would stop would be the proclamation of the Lord's death through the Lord's Supper, and not the Lord's Supper itself. Was the only purpose of the Lord's Supper to proclaim His death? No! The Lord very clearly said, "This do in remembrance of me." He did not say, "This do to proclaim my death." Now, in doing it, we show the Lord's death, but that is not why we are commanded to do it. The word "until" does not mean that something stops at that point, but if it did, it still wouldn't mean that the observance of the Lord's Supper stopped.

What does the word "until" mean? The Greek phrase used here is hou achris. This phrase is only used four times in the New Testament and means: "even unto a point." Thayer says, "It is used of things that actually occurred and up to the beginning of which something continued." It is a point of reference and not a point of cessation.

Let's look at another use of hou achris.

For He must reign until He has put all His enemies under His feet. (1 Corinthians 15:25 NASB)

Does Christ ever give up His reign? Will there ever be a time when Jesus Christ will not reign? No! Never!

"He will be great, and will be called the Son of the Most High; and the Lord God will give Him the throne of His father David; 33 and He will reign over the house of Jacob forever; and His kingdom will have no end." (Luke 1:32-33 NASB)

He reigns even unto the point that all his enemies are put under His feet. It is a point of reference. Christ's rule never ends. His kingdom is an everlasting kingdom and so is His reign. So, hou achris here is clearly not cessation.

The Lord's Supper is a memorial:

and when He had given thanks, He broke it, and said, "This is My body, which is for you; do this in remembrance of Me." (1 Corinthians 11:24 NASB)

The Lord's Supper is a memorial; a memorial of the death of Jesus Christ, of His body given and His blood shed. This memorial was certified by the Lord's words, "do this," which is the Greek present tense "keep on doing this." It is also an imperative in the Greek, which means it is a command.

You and I can go through our lives remembering the Lord many ways and at many times, but you'll never observe the Lord's Supper without calling to mind the fact that He died for you.

"In remembrance of me"--This is the one major goal of the Lord's Supper; to elicit remembrance of the Person and work of Jesus Christ. The Lord's Supper is a Memorial, which is something as a structure or custom, serving to honor or keep alive a memory.

The Second Coming of the Lord in A.D. 70 did not bring an end to the Lord's Supper, it perfected it. Redemption is complete, we are now dwelling in the promise land of the New Heaven and Earth, in the very presence of God. As we observe the Lord's Supper, we celebrate a completed redemption.

So the early church met to observe the Lord's Supper, but also, in the context of the breaking of the bread, there was the preaching of the Word of God:

"Paul began talking to them"--The word "talking" here is the Greek word dialegomai. It's a word from which we get words like "dialog" and "dialectic." It's a word that originally referred to the Socratic method of communication in which there was a responsiveness on the part of individuals. Questions would be thrown out, and then the answers were given, and other questions were asked that were designed to cause individuals to think through the things that they were discussing. Paul didn't just get up there and preach. He allowed for questions and dialog.

"He prolonged his message until midnight"--Those who teach that the book of Acts is to be the pattern for normal Christianity ought to focus on this verse. Paul preached until midnight, and the reason he stopped then is because he preached a young man to death, and that disrupted the service. Go figure!

We talked earlier about following Paul's example, but not too many people want their preacher to follow this example. Though many men have followed Paul's example. John Calvin preached every day for hours, day after day after day, year after year after year, and so did Martin Luther.

I heard the story of an individual who came into a church service a little late. He walked in late, he sat down by someone and he said, "How long has he been preaching?" And the person looked at him and said, "Thirty or forty years I think." And he said, "I'll stay. He must be nearly done."

Paul preached until midnight? Did he start at 11:00am. No, this meeting began Sunday evening. They probably began at sundown. So Paul was probably preaching for at least four hours. A large percentage of the early church were servants and slaves, and, therefore, they had relatively little free time. They couldn't come out whenever they wanted to come out. So evidently, they would meet in the evening after work.

Now, it seems to me that when we think of the ministry of the Church on the first day of the week, we should think of both of these things. We should think of the observance of the Lord's Supper, and the ministry of the Word of God.

Let me ask another question, "WHAT did Paul preach?" Let me tell you first what he didn't preach. He didn't do a topical series based on the latest movie or tv show. He didn't preach on how to have financial freedom, or how to have a happy marriage. He didn't show a movie clip and then give three points and a poem. The trend in our day of "user-friendly" churches is to shorten the sermon into 15-minute sound bytes, since the younger generation has been reared on TV and can't handle a longer discourse. But as J. Vernon McGee used to say, "Sermonettes produce Christianettes."

Paul preached primarily the work of Christ. I learned that from his letters. He rarely ever says anything about the life of Christ. He regarded that as well known. He talks about the significance of His death, burial, and resurrection and the theological issues that flow out of the fact that the Second Person of the Trinity took to Himself an additional nature, a human nature, and came to Calvary and there offered up a sacrifice for sinners and was buried and was raised again from the dead and on the Day of Pentecost gave the Holy Spirit. He preached about the soon return of the Lord Jesus, and of the saints gathering unto Him.

Now listen to what Luke records next:

There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered together. (Acts 20:8 NASB)

Why does it tell us about the many lamps? He tells us this because it explains why this guy who fell asleep in the next verse fell asleep. All those lamps in there were oil-burning lamps, and they would have created a tremendous stuffy atmosphere. All the fumes and the smoke that would come off of that oil, and the lamps would rob the room of oxygen. And this upper room would maybe hold 30, 40 people in a good-sized home, and they'd be crammed in. And if there were 50 or 60 there, they would be just like sardines, and all that smoke, lack of oxygen, and after working a long physical day, this poor man couldn't stay awake:

And there was a 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. (Acts 20:9 NASB)

I've heard of people being bored to tears and bored to death, but here's a person who was preached to death. This has always been an encouraging text to any pastor. It reveals that even the Apostle Paul had people go to sleep on him.

So Eutychus, whose name means: "Fortunate" (or, "Lucky"), was probably a teenager. The Greek word for "young man" was often used of a young man between 7 and 14 years of age. He may have gone to sit by the window in order to obtain some air. and now was sitting on the window ledge, trying to fight off his drowsiness as he listened to Paul.

Luke says he was, "sinking into a deep sleep"--New International Dictionary of New Testament Theology, ed. by Colin Brown says, "This is present passive participle of kataphero, to bear down, and followed by instrumental case hupnos, describes the gradual process of going into deep sleep." So Eutychus was progressively falling asleep while he was trying to fight it. Well he lost the fight and fell sound asleep and fell from the third story window, and the fall killed him.

Remember, Luke was a physician, and he's writing this, and he says, "He was picked up, dead." Dr. Luke has, as it were, written us a death certificate.

So what had been a wonderful evening of fellowship with the saints and hearing the Apostle Paul teach, had suddenly turned into a nightmare. During the preaching of life, there had come death, and the life of a young man had prematurely come to an end. You can imagine the impact this had on this meeting.

Notice what happens next":

But Paul went down and fell upon him, and after embracing him, he said, "Do not be troubled, for his life is in him." (Acts 20:10 NASB)

Now, Luke was there, but he evidently was unable to do anything. Although "signs and wonders" were a feature of the early church, they could not be performed by just anyone. Paul, however, was able to do something. He was an apostle and the signs of an apostle were manifest in him. Paul "fell upon him"--Paul is following in the tradition of Elijah:

Then he stretched himself upon the child three times, and called to the LORD and said, "O LORD my God, I pray You, let this child's life return to him." The LORD heard the voice of Elijah, and the life of the child returned to him and he revived. (1 Kings 17:21-22 NASB)

Paul, like Elijah, could raise the dead. Paul's preaching was interrupted, so he goes down to the first floor and falls on this young man and his life returns. And Paul tells the church, "His life is in him." Wow, this meeting of the church just went from sadness and grief to joy and celebration. The tragedy had become a huge encouragement for the whole church. In this they were reminded that they serve the God Who raises men from the dead. Here was living and continuing proof of the power of the resurrection.

They took away the boy alive, and were greatly comforted. (Acts 20:12 NASB)

The raising of Eutychus is stated matter-of-factly. There is no hype, no trumpet blowing, only a very brief description of the event. Why does Luke seem to downplay this miracle? This is a huge deal, especially for the boy and his family.

Let me take a shot at why Luke seems to downplay this. I believe that both Luke and Paul were firmly convinced that while miracles would soon stop, the Word of God was eternal. I believe that both were convinced that while miracles will not sustain faith, the Word of God will. This is why Paul and Luke deal briefly with the miracle and deal emphatically with the teaching. Faith is not based upon what is seen (miracles, for example), but on the Word of God (Hebrews 11). Luke seems to be making the point that it is the teaching of God's Word, not amazing miracles, that will sustain and strengthen the Church.

Notice what happened right after the resurrection of Eutychus:

When he had gone back up and had broken the bread and eaten, he talked with them a long while until daybreak, and then left. (Acts 20:11 NASB)

They went right back to the worship service. Paul goes back upstairs, they all partake of the Lord's Supper, and then Paul continues to talk to them about the things of God until morning. The Greek word for, "he talked with them" is different from the word that describes his preaching earlier. It's the more familiar term, homileo. We get the term "homiletics" from it. It means: "to engage in conversation."

This church service lasted from dusk to dawn, and its focus was on the Lord's Table and the preaching and teaching of the Word of God. I think this is a good pattern for how we should do Church. Anybody in for a dusk to dawn service? I know, I know, when I can raise the dead then I can preach all night long. I did have an experience similar to this (not the raising the dead part) where I preached for about an hour and a half and then the question and answer time went on until midnight. When I was finished preaching, we moved the chairs into a circle, and we answered questions and discussed Scripture until midnight. It was an awesome time!

Media #496 MP3 Audio File Video File

Continue the Series

Berean Bible Church provides this material free of charge for the edification of the Body of Christ. You can help further this work by your prayer and by contributing online or by mailing to:

Berean Bible Church
1000 Chattanooga Street
Chesapeake, VA 23322