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.