Death by Sermon (Acts 20:1-12)

One of my favorite pastor jokes is that of the definition of preaching: the ability to talk in someone else’s sleep. And I’ve been doing it now for nigh unto 40 years! At my previous church there was a fellow who simply could not stay awake – for me, or anyone else for that matter. His wife made a career of poking him in the side, but they never changed from sitting in the third row. And though he never probably heard a full sermon, the guy loved me to death and was always such a great personal blessing.

In today’s passage as we pick up our chronology of Paul’s life, the first paragraph of travel details includes a “we” from the writer Luke, indicating that he is part of the road team again. Note the list of other names, many of these surely being younger men whom Paul was discipling. By this time, Paul is a well-known person in church communities of the Roman world, and spending time with him was probably a great privilege.

Acts 20:1 – When the uproar (in Ephesus) had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said goodbye and set out for Macedonia. 2 He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, 3 where he stayed three months. Because some Jews had plotted against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. 4 He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. 5 These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. 6 But we sailed from Philippi after the Festival of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

It was certainly a pretty big deal for these people in Troas to have the Apostle Paul himself staying with them for seven days. Surely there were multiple gatherings and lots of conversation – we can easily picture this happening. And on the final night (a Sunday) while Paul was preaching, a fellow named Eutychus falls asleep, dropping out of the 3rd-floor window and meeting his demise upon impact in the street below.

Acts 20:7 – On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 9 Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. 10 Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” 11 Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. 12 The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

OK… let’s sleuth this out a bit, as there are some hints about what is happening …

Clue 1 – I know you’ve never named a child or pet by the name of Eutychus, but it was a very common name at that time – especially for slaves. So it is presumable that this young fellow had worked all day and now at midnight it was really very late for such a tired guy.

Clue 2 – The upper room (always the largest in ancient houses) is said to have had many lamps. We can take from this that the large crowd and the burning lamps had depleted the oxygen supply a bit – even for the guy sitting in the window.

Clue 3 – There was a lot of talking going on. This may shock the system of some you reading this, but, most of the world does not do church in mere 60 to 75-minute increments. Just this past Sunday I visited one of the African-American churches in town, and the service went on for a total of 2.5 hours. People returning from missions trips often remark about how long the services were at the local church of the people being served. Ask anyone who has been to Kazakhstan on one of our partnership journeys.

You will note from the passage that the words “talking” or “talked” or “speaking” are used – along with the “breaking of bread.”  There are a variety of Greek words used in this passage that get translated very generically into English. To see it in the original, you would be able to discern that Paul’s conversations involved formal preaching, a sort of give-and-take teaching, and the simple conversation between friends.

Warning Note – So Paul goes down to the street and brings the young man back to life, which, yes, encourages the crowd. Yep, that would be pretty cool! But here is the warning:  If you die while I’m speaking, don’t count on me being able to bring you back … I’d suggest you just stay awake!

Here is another inside scoop on this passage … I really love it!  In fact, this was the passage I chose for my senior sermon at Dallas Theological Seminary. In those days everyone presented one in homiletics class, and the top presenters got selected by the faculty to preach them in chapel for the entire student body. No, I was not chosen … guess I put them to sleep in the classroom, including the prof.

What I love about this passage is the picture of the great body life that goes on when the church is gathered. So many of my favorite memories of church people I’ve grown to love in my churches in Dallas, New Jersey and Hagerstown revolve around all the time together on Sundays just hanging out and talking. This is valuable time! It is one of the great blessings of church family and community. And to gain this blessing, you’ve got to be there regularly; and when you come, you should not just run off and escape as soon as the service is over. That is not what church is about. Hang out with us! We’re really cool people! Think of it like Thanksgiving dinner – you would not just run in after the prayer, sit down and eat, and then rush off as soon as the apple pie was gone, would you?

God has set up the church – the body of Christ – so that we need each other and have each other as resources for successfully running the race of the Christian life. It is a great blessing. Don’t undervalue it.

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About Randy Buchman

I live in Western Maryland, and among my too many pursuits and hobbies, I regularly feed multiple hungry blogs. I played college baseball, coached championship cross country teams at Williamsport (MD) High School, and have been a sportswriter for various publications and online venues. My main profession is as the lead pastor of a church in Hagerstown called Tri-State Fellowship. And I'm active in Civil War history and work/serve at Antietam National Battlefield with the Antietam Battlefield Guides organization. Occasionally I sleep.

2 thoughts on “Death by Sermon (Acts 20:1-12)

  1. Probably about sixteen(ish) years ago I read a book called “The Connecting Church.”
    It stressed the importance and value of getting together not only once a week with other believers.

    But encourage one another daily, as long as it is called “Today,” so that none of you may be hardened by sin’s deceitfulness. (Heb. 3:13 NIV)

    One practice that I heard about … maybe it was from the Willow Creek denomination people, is that they hold the meaty sermon service on Wednesdays for people that regularly attend the church. The “normal” Sunday aims to cater to new comers.

    Many years ago when I attended a church in Massachusetts I went through a period of time where I’d use the above scripture as a guideline … and I tried to call someone in the church each day.

    And even then I tried to have something spiritual to say. As for what we talk about at church what does scripture point us to?

    “What then shall we say, brothers and sisters? When you come together, each of you has a hymn, or a word of instruction, a revelation, a tongue or an interpretation. Everything must be done so that the church may be built up.” (1 Cor. 14:26 NIV)

    Though I’m not at all advocating “Sabbath observance” Isaiah wrote about having conversation on the Sabbath that might honor God.

    “If you keep your feet from breaking the Sabbath and from doing as you please on my holy day, if you call the Sabbath a delight and the LORD’s holy day honorable, and if you honor it by not going your own way and not doing as you please or speaking idle words,then you will find your joy in the LORD, and I will cause you to ride in triumph on the heights of the land and to feast on the inheritance of your father Jacob.” For the mouth of the LORD has spoken. (Isa. 58:13-14 NIV)

    A few people at TSF will discuss the things of God in conversation, but it almost seems as if bringing up Jesus is embarrassing.

    TSF is very, very good at not being pushy with religious ideas, but is there a downside if we forget to give honor to the God who has brought us together?

    I’ve probably attended TSF at times regularly, at times sporadically for more than five years. Never been in a religious debate that I can remember. That is great.

    Yet is there a problem in that religious things or things of God aren’t that often discussed? A few people are great discussing such things. BK – an older man who preaches sometimes being one of those of people.

    Yet, I’m not faulting TSF, I know it isn’t perfect and I am glad to have attended some place that I didn’t have to get into arguments.

    Jesus gave two great commands to follow.
    1) Love God with all your heart, soul, mind and strength.
    2) Love your neigbor as yourself.

    Paul warned about arguing.

    As I urged you when I went into Macedonia, stay there in Ephesus so that you may command certain people not to teach false doctrines any longer or to devote themselves to myths and endless genealogies. Such things promote controversial speculations rather than advancing God’s work– which is by faith. (1 Tim. 1:3-4 NIV)

    Why did Paul warn about that? “The goal of this command is love, which comes from a pure heart and a good conscience and a sincere faith.” (1 Tim. 1:5 NIV) Where Paul wrote “The goal of this command is love” he again was bringing the main focus to where Jesus said it should be.

    And in Titus 3:1-8 Paul mentioned things that are good Christian teachings.
    And then he warned in verses nine through eleven about what type of conversations and topics to avoid.

    But avoid foolish controversies and genealogies and arguments and quarrels about the law, because these are unprofitable and useless. Warn a divisive person once, and then warn them a second time. After that, have nothing to do with them.You may be sure that such people are warped and sinful; they are self-condemned. (Tit. 3:9-11 NIV)

    Arguing about prophetic speculations has led many Christians astray over the years as they sometimes get around to setting dates for Christ’s return. Other times people have argued about things in the distant past, endless arguments trying to use the Bible to prove that the earth was created on a specific date at around nine in the morning 4004 BC like James Usher did. Even now controversies about whether the speed of light has changed and all kinds of geological arguments can drive discussions … or drive people insane when some people argue things when they don’t know what they are talking about.

    There are some reports that Calvin and Luther (fathers of protestantism?) spend a bit of their time criticizing Copernicus … even using scripture to prove their points.

    Often people are so enamored of their particular frame of mind, equating their interpretations with “essentials of the Christian faith.” Paul mentioned these, highly arumentative and opinionated people, are often so “warped and sinful” that they should be warned twice and then Paul advised “have nothing to do with them.”

    So, while I’m thankful that I’ve experienced little of the contentiousness that Paul warned about, getting together at church to discuss trite worldly things or even personal things … it doesn’t quite equal the immense power that the word of God has to impact our lives an make us powerful for God and for his righteousness.

    I’ll just leave this conversation at that. I’m not trying to NOT be controversial and “hold back” on writing things that should be written. Yet neither am I adequately scripturally or spiritually prepared to “show how it is done” (that is – have a lot of spiritual conversations.)

    There may be room for improvement here … but I’m in need of such improvement as anyone else, so I’m not going to articulate much on what that balance is. If I’ve yet to “take the plank” out of my eye, I’m not going to see clearly what to do.

    I just think we are all very flawed. We need to pray for each other.

  2. Ok
    So Pastor Randy you know my position and laughing hurts despite the medicine but this was HILARIOUS! I love this story too, but you opened my eyes to something I had not considered as far as where I come from we always get mad at him for falling asleep and preachers can tend to push the point of why was he sleeping, where most services Ive attended all my life have run from 10 am Sunday School to the first service ending arounf 4 and if there was a second (you were expected to stay especially if were like me and had to sing all day) and would not get out until 9:30-10 pm.

    Its just another lesson for me in grace. And Im sorry for them they didnt let you teach it. They truly missed out on a wonderful lesson and seeing what I think would have been Gods sense of humor.

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