That’s in the Bible?! The Neverending Sermon

This is the second entry in a series on bizarre, unusual or fascinating stories in the Bible that have largely been overlooked through the years. But I believe they still offer some teaching benefit. Or maybe a warning, like today’s story. Let’s get a quick background check:

ImageThe story comes from Acts 20:7-12. This part of Acts covers the journeys of the apostle Paul, a Jewish scholar saved by Jesus and sent as a witness to the non-Jews of the Roman Empire. He had conducted two “mission” trips in the Mediterranean region so far and is wrapping up his third trip by traveling from Macedonia to Asia Minor, modern day western Turkey, before eventually back to Israel. He has picked up a few traveling companions during his trips including Luke, a young doctor, who is the author of the Acts narrative. As chapter 20 begins, Paul has made a journey to the port city of Troas, where he meets with Christians in a house.

“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. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. 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. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”

Okay, here’s the skinny on the story: Paul likes to talk. Young boys like to sleep. First Century windows don’t have glass. Or metal bars. And three story buildings are mighty high. Moral of the story: don’t let sleepy young boys sit in third-story windows when Paul’s around. Got it? Okay, good. But there’s more to the tale, of course…

  • “On the first day of the week… break bread” 
    • The early Christians adopted the first day of the week, Sunday, as their gathering day and it has been that way pretty much ever since. In the first century, Sundays were seen as the “Lord’s Day” because the resurrection took place on a Sunday morning (Jn 20:1). The Jewish day of rest, the Sabbath, was on Saturday, the 7th day of the week. It was the day God rested in the Genesis creation story. But in setting a new pattern with a new life in Christ the Creator (we are a “new creation” 2 Cor 5:17), Christians adopted Sunday. During the 1st Century “worship service” or gathering, believers would “break bread.” This was both sharing of a meal (Acts 2:42) and sharing of Holy Communion (1 Cor 11:20-24). The early Christians would celebrate communion every time they met together. In fact, it would be the centerpiece of their worship.
  • “Paul spoke to the people … kept on talking until midnight…”
    • Ever listened to a sermon that seemed to never end? It just kept going on and on… Well, I listened to such a sermon a few years back. I received several CDs in the mail from a preacher on the West Coast. I sighed when I read the labels. Each audio disc topped one hour in length. It was a four-part series on Jonah and I believe the longest message was one hour and 14 minutes. Had Jonah been listening he probably would have walked out into the desert, built himself a shelter and sat down, waiting for the end of the world. Anyway, Paul’s reason for talking so long wasn’t a zeal for good expository preaching but instead a time issue. The apostle had a lot to impart on the Troans (Troasians? Troasites? Troasicans?) and this was his last chance to teach them before he departed for Jerusalem. At this point in his ministry, Paul had already written several letters to other churches that were likely circulated through Troas. But when you have the author in your midst, you don’t pass up a chance to listen to him and learn from him. So refill the oil lamps one more time and save me a seat!
  • “a young man named Eutychus, … fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead.”
    • Well, that just sucks. The term “young man” here (Gk. neanias) does not specify an age. He could have been six or 13. I’m guessing that he was over 10 because he was in the room with the adults listening to Paul and he was allowed to sit on the window sill. You just don’t let a child sit on a third-floor window sill. There is so much that is behind the scenes of this story — so much emotion — but Luke just gives us the facts. I’m sure the good doctor noticed the boy getting sleepy in the window but no one else, if they saw, thought it an issue. When I preached it was before a small church crowd and I could tell who was paying attention and who was getting sleepy. As a young preacher, I took it to heart when a person got sleepy during my messages. “I’m losing them!” I thought. “This is the worst sermon ever. They’ll never let me preach here again!” But somehow Eutychus escaped attention until it was too late. I can only imagine the horror when he fell. Makes me want to cry. This was the greatest night of the Troan church and suddenly it turned into the greatest tragedy. I’m sure some of the men rushed downstairs as fast as their shaky legs could handle. When they got to Eutychus it was disaster upon disaster. He was picked up dead. Luke’s a doctor. He knows dead. so many times critics of the Bible want to explain the miracles of God with “acceptable” explanations that meet science and reason. But the evidence here cannot be ignored. Three story fall, in the darkness, a doctor on the scene, the diagnosis is “dead.”
  • “Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!”
    • ImageThank God for apostles! Paul, I’m sure feeling overwhelming emotion at this moment does what the Spirit compels him to do. He hugs the young man’s body. In a moment of marvelous miraculous mystery, life comes back into the lifeless — breath into crushed lungs, electricity into battered brain. The young man opens his eyes and Paul exclaims, “Don’t be alarmed, he’s alive!” And he was. I wonder if his bones were healed or skull or organs or whatever was damaged. I don’t know. I just know that he wasn’t dead anymore. Throughout his ministry, Paul repeatedly was trying to prove his apostleship to his readers and hearers. He hadn’t walked with Jesus but he had encountered the resurrected Jesus in a vision on the road to Damascus. But as he demonstrated in person, the power of God was in Paul and miracles were done through him. Paul went back upstairs and ate some more, then pulled an all-nighter, talking until dawn.
  • “The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.”
    • They were greatly comforted. I imagine so! Eutychus probably got top-rate treatment after this incident. Meals in bed, special gifts, get well cards, a song written in his honor… all because he fell asleep during a sermon. Oh, plus that thing about the fall-dead-apostle-resurrection.

This story has always amazed me. I guess I relate to Eutychus in that I often have a hard time enduring long sermons, too. I tend to think the sermon portion of our worship services is overblown and takes way too much time. If a preacher cares about teaching his audience, he will think of more ways than one to accomplish his desire. But this story isn’t about preaching 101. Or even about worship services. It’s not about the proper way to break bread or the need for nighttime small groups. Or the value of lamp oil, for that matter. It was a story that described how God demonstrated his power through Paul, His apostle, and saved a young life. And maybe it is meant to compel us to action. Paul can talk as long as he wants but when it comes to action, Paul did so immediately. He did what the Holy Spirit compelled him to do and God raised Eutychus back to life. Maybe that’s our application. Listen to the Holy Spirit and when He compels you, act, and God may do great things. Maybe even save a life.

Or maybe it’s a warning about sitting on high-rise window sills. If so, point taken.

One thought on “That’s in the Bible?! The Neverending Sermon

  1. You make the story come alive, John. Thank you. I hadn’t thought about Paul still needing to prove his apostleship. This surely would at a big punch to that. God through Peter raised Dorcas from the dead; God through Paul raised Eutychus from the dead. God did it through both of them equally.

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