by Roger McCay
4 October 2020
Sermon Passage: Acts 20:1-12
Link to Audio Version
Have you ever fallen asleep in church?
It happens. I remember this one older gentleman at a particular church. I wasn’t the senior pastor; I was still a seminarian, but when they would ask me to preach … Well, you could almost set your clock by this guy. I still remember watching his face as he’d nod off. I’d start preaching, and he’d be out. Every time. I suppose, as a new preacher, that could have been discouraging, but I just thought it was funny. It’s not like I hadn’t fallen asleep in church before. No worries.
Sometimes it’s hard to stay focused in church, engaged. We’re tired from a long week. Didn’t get much sleep the night before. A certain drug induces drowsiness. The coffee maker is on the fritz. Maybe the stressors of life just have us tired all the time. Or, in the case of some young men about Eutychus’ age, who was probably around 12 to 14, growing up takes its own energy, making napping a regular thing—with church being a great opportunity.
I pray about this, you know (and I hope you are likewise praying). Before most services, as I’m praying in my study beforehand, among the various things I pray about, I pray that the Lord, through his Spirit, would keep us engaged in his worship. I pray he would remove distractions from our hearts and minds, putting the worries of the world at bay, and purge anything that would keep us from being fully engaged in his worship, heart and mind, while we worship—which would include sleepiness.
I pray this because there is a tendency and a temptation to fall asleep in church, even if it’s just zoning out, thinking about something else or nothing at all. As it is, for most folks, physically falling asleep in church is not the norm. The larger concern, and my earnest prayer, is for those who are spiritually asleep.
In our passage today, Luke once again gives us a whirlwind description of events quickly moving the narrative forward to get Paul, in this case, to Jerusalem. Along the way, Luke takes the time to highlight a few important stops and key events, like Paul raising a dead boy who fell out a window during Paul’s long sermon in vv. 7-12. The passage marks a shift in Paul’s method and mission, as he is finishing off his third and last missionary journey. Paul is no longer founding churches. He’s visiting and encouraging existing churches, providing some final teaching for them, and saying farewell.
In Acts 20, v. 1, Paul heads out from Ephesus after the riot over Artemis. He wasn’t run off, like he’d been in some places. Rather, he’d already planned on heading out (Acts 19:21-22). The riot, it seems, just spurred him along to actually go. His visits to these various places listed in vv. 1-6 are estimated by some to have taken anywhere from 18 months to two years. It was during this time that he wrote 2 Corinthians while in Macedonia and Romans while in Corinth.
2 Cor. 1-9 thus fills in some of the details of this time. Luke doesn’t mention it, but, as a part of Paul’s ministry, Paul was also taking up a collection from the churches he was visiting for the church in Jerusalem.
Also, during this time, Paul found it necessary to stay alert to plots by the Jews to murder him, as we see in v. 3. The plot to kill him, in this case, was apparently one to kill him onboard the ship and throw his body overboard. Providentially, he heard of the plot, allowing him to make other arrangements, heading back up to Macedonia, and spending the time of the Passover and the Feast of the Unleavened Bread with the church in Philippi. From there he headed over to Troas, a city located 10 miles south of ancient Troy, and the place where he had had the vision of the man from Macedonia.
In Troas, Paul linked back up with his traveling companions, making the passage over from Philippi with Luke and probably Titus. You’ll notice, too, that the men listed in v. 4 represented key areas and churches Paul had planted and ministered to over the years. It seems they were travelling with Paul to Jerusalem as representatives of the largely Gentile churches, carrying the monetary offerings to the church there. They were also, perhaps, ministering alongside Paul during his farewell tour. Even more, there is the reality of safety in numbers. It was dangerous out there, not only from bandits, but also from assassins trying to kill Paul.
So, in Troas, Paul stayed a week encouraging and ministering to the church. This was not a church Paul had planted, and we don’t know who planted it. As it was, it seems Paul felt he had much to say to them in the short time he had.
Which brings us to vv. 7-12. Notice the worship context the passage describes. The church met together on Sunday, the first day of the week. The day of the Lord Jesus’ resurrection. They met in the home of a person there in Troas, possibly the home of Carpus, mentioned in 2 Tim. 4:13, meeting in the large room on the third floor. They met at night. As Sunday was a work day in their culture, they met after most folks got off from work, probably tired and grimy after a long day. They had numerous torches, or lamps, lit, which would have made it hot and stuffy with all folks packed in there, especially in the hot climate. They gathered together to break bread, which included a celebration of the Lord’s Supper along with a fellowship meal. So food was either being cooked below during the service, or it was ready to go—but either way, the smell probably had some bellies rumbling. Their service included the ministry of the Word of God—a sermon (with of teaching and exhortation) also dialogue, with a back and forth conversation of questions and answers. And, although it’s not mentioned, there would most certainly have been prayer. Thus, various key elements of worship were present, much like what was mentioned in Acts 2:42: “And they devoted themselves to the apostles’ teaching and the fellowship, to the breaking of bread and the prayers.”
We still do these things, my friends, along with Christians all over the world: Sunday worship, preaching, teaching, fellowship, celebrating the Lord’s supper, fellowship meals, and prayer. Furthermore, considering the circumstances of the church in Troas’ worship context, our own worship context is put into perspective. We’ve got it easy.
Along those lines, Lord willing, it won’t be long until we get our Wednesday fellowship meals back up and going, having taken a break from them due to Coronavirus concerns. As it is, I’m looking forward to our tail-gate fellowship time tonight in the parking lot.
So, considering the worship context that Sunday night in Troas, perhaps we won’t be so hard on Eutychus, whom the language describes as struggling to stay awake until he succumbed. I mean, Paul had been ministering the Lord’s Word for hours and hours by that time. Luke even emphasizes Paul’s prolonged speech in vv. 7 and 9. On top of that, it’d been a long day. It was hot and stuffy inside. So, it’s easy to see how a young man sitting in a window, maybe trying to catch a breeze, could conk out and fall out. Verse 9:
9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
Some folks wonder if Eutychus was really dead. Maybe he was just knocked out, and looked like he might have died? Well, the Bible says he was dead. That’s what “taken up dead” means. Luke, the author of Acts, was also a physician. He was there. He saw the body, and he certainly thought Eutychus was dead. Language gymnastics and unbelief can’t change that fact. Eutychus was dead.
Now, if that was the end of the story, it would have been a tragic ending for Paul’s time at Troas. It could have even discouraged the church to the point of dissolution. They could have taken Eutychus’ death during Paul’s prolonged message as an omen, bad juju, towards Paul at the least. Yet the Lord had other plans, and he maneuvered Eutychus’ death into a time of comfort, praise, and great encouragement for the church. Vv. 10-12:
10 But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.” 11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed. 12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
Can you imagine the distress and horror of the people, seeing Eutychus dead? And the circumstances, my goodness. Perhaps they erupted in chaos, even wailing; maybe his mom went into shock. So Paul, alarmed at what all was happening, or, well, maybe not so alarmed, considering what happens … Paul went down, and (like Elijah in 1 Kings 17:17-24 and Elisha in 2 Kings 4:18-37) he raised the boy from the dead.
You know, Paul normally seems to have emphasized the resurrection in his teaching and preaching. Perhaps this incident made for the ultimate sermon illustration for the church at Troas … hmmm.
As it was, Paul settled the folks down, telling them, once the boy had been raised from the dead, “Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.”
They then went right back up to the upper room and broke bread celebrating the Lord’s Supper, and enjoyed a fellowship meal together. From there the congregation conversed and dialogued with Paul concerning the Lord’s Word until sunrise; I’m sure with renewed interest, totally engaged, and with great joy and fascination, considering the preacher had just raised a boy from the dead. The apostle and his message were once again validated by the Lord God himself. But most importantly, the Lord had validated this little congregation’s faith.
My friends, let us each strive to be fully engaged when we worship, praying that sleep will not overcome you. Pray the Spirit of God will enable and help you to do this (Phil 2:13). The Lord raised Eutychus from the dead; he can help you stay awake and engaged in his worship. Maybe you already do. Praise God! Pray that you do not fall into temptation and can continue on this way. Regardless, the Lord deserves our full attention when we worship him (Ps. 96). May the importance of such a reverent focus be seared into our souls. Even more, let us be particularly concerned for those who are spiritually snoozing.
Pastor and author Kent Hughes points out three reasons how folks might be spiritually snoozing, even while wide-awake in the pews: 1) “because they have never been awake;” 2) due to “Sin, a compromising, backslidden state;” and, 3) “Familiarity.”
The first refers to people who have never really come to a true saving faith in Jesus Christ. They are pew-sitters, but their heart is not attuned to the Lord. They attend church, sing, go through the motions, but they’re really only present, while other people worship. Hughes laments, “The pity is, it is possible to pass from this life into eternity without recognizing your slumber until it is too late. It is possible to be damned even in the church.”
My friends, if this is you, wake-up! Death may come for you at any time. Trust in Jesus! Believe in Jesus! Follow Jesus in faith and repentance, and be saved. He died for you on the cross so that you might have life and resurrection; he loves you; he offers salvation to you as a gift. Don’t sleep through his passion and ignore his grace. Wake-up!
The second form of spiritual snoozing is when a confessing Christian gets caught up in sin, making compromises, resulting in a withdrawal of their heart from full worship. This is prevalent when idolatry seeps into a believers life, with their heart following the idol. As Jesus said, one cannot serve two masters (Matt. 6:24; Rom. 6:16). Sometimes this involves a sense of guilt coming into play, a knowledge that one is wrong, a resistance against repentance, and a shame that you are at worship but want to hide from God, your savior. So you zone out, sleep, trying to numb yourself to the pain of guilt-ridden worship. This leads to indifference and being bored with spiritual things. “Samson is,” as Hughes puts it, “the preeminent example of this in Scripture.”
He began and ended in the faith but messed up big-time in between. Sin progressively and imperceptibly took such hold of him that he was no longer awake to spiritual realities. In fact, his final doze on Delilah’s lap was symbolic of his state. “He awoke from his sleep and thought, ‘I’ll go out as before and shake myself free.’ But he did not know that the Lord had left him” (Judges 16:20).
My friends, if this is you. Wake-up! Repent! Recognize and purge any idolatry in your life! What are you doing?! You know better. Wake-up! Be real. Stop deluding yourself. The ruler and judge of all the earth is eyeballing you. You can’t hide. You’re only fooling yourself. Repent and be who you are in Christ, freed from idolatry, alive and in full communion with him. Wake-up!
The third form of spiritual snoozing is familiarity. This is when a believer has been around church and the means of worship so much, he or she has lost contact with the spiritual realities. It’s become so familiar it’s ho-hum—boring. You’ve heard it all and seen it all. It’s just become rote for you. You sing, but you don’t pay attention to what you’re singing, the tune is so familiar. The Scripture is read; the pastor preaches, but you don’t really pay attention, because you think, “I’ve heard this before.” You are particularly critical of the preacher and teachers of the church, not bother trying to learn from them, because you’ve heard better. You partake of the Lord’s Supper, but you don’t bother examining yourself, repenting and reveling in the holy grace of God, in communion with him. Partaking of the bread and wine has, for you, become just going through the motions of church. If this is you, wake-up!
The slumber of familiarity is solved by a conscious and deliberate participation in worship. It’s a decision followed by the action of investing yourself in what you are doing. In paying attention. As Hughes suggests:
When we sing a hymn, we should shut everything else out and sing it to God, singing not only with the mouth but with the heart and mind. As others lead us in prayer, we should pray along with them—a spiritual concert. When we hear the Scriptures, we must listen, for we are hearing the voice of God. We must listen to God’s Word as we would to a love letter, for that is what the Bible is.
Be deliberate in your worship, my friends. Don’t you think that your Savior and Lord deserves the investment of your whole heart in your worship? If you don’t, well, have you ever been truly awake? This is spiritual discipline. It involves the full engagement of your soul: body, mind, and spirit. Engage in worship, my friends! Engage in worship! Wake-up!
Jesus loves you! Love him back!
Corporate worship on Sunday’s is unique in the life of the church. It’s really the only time we come together, gathered as a body, for such a concentrated, focused worship of the Lord. Sure, we have Bible studies, fellowships, and our private devotions, and those are likewise times of worship. But the Lord’s day, the Christian Sabbath, is special, set aside for our concentrated worship of the Living and true God.
Let’s not waste this time. Let us be fully engaged in our worship of the Lord. And, as we come to the Lord’s table today, let us partake of the body and blood of Christ while very much awake.
Since the Lord’s Day is the highpoint of the week, we should fully engage in the Lord’s worship.
 R. Kent Hughes, Acts: The Church Afire, Preaching the Word (Wheaton, IL: Crossway Books, 1996), 272.
 Ibid., 273.