Study in the Acts of the Apostles. Presentation 41. Cost And Reward Of Evangelism Chapter 20v1-12. Presentation 41. Introduction. There might be an initial temptation to skip vs 1-6
Acts of the
There might be an initial temptation to skip vs1-6
in our desire to get on with the story, thus missing their full significance. There is more compressed into these verses than most men accomplish in their entire ministry.
Note the phrase, 'when he had travelled through that area speaking many words of encouragement’. The word translated ‘encouragement’ embraces the rich and comprehensive ministry of God’s Word. This patient up-building through the Word of God is not something that hits the headlines, but it is what lies behind every forward movement in the Church's life.
But there is something even more impressive here, and it is this: on the one hand v3 records a plot against Paul’s life, on the other v4 tells of a number of believers who accompanied him to Asia. There is a vital connection between these two seemingly unconnected statements.
The statement about the plot is brief and clear. But do we have any conception what this must have meant to the Apostle? 'In danger from my own countrymen' is how he describes it in 2 Cor. 11v26. He had already passed through many hazards in his journeys. This was yet another!
Think back to his stress at Corinth, and the Lord's reassurance to him in midst of it, and the riot he had just left at Ephesus. And now this further plot against his life v3. Was there to be no respite for him, ever? He might have been forgiven for feeling an unutterable weariness descend upon his spirit. It was not that he was afraid to die, but to live in face of such continuing and unremitting pressures is often far harder than to die.
There may be an echo of these things in the famous passage in 2 Cor. 4v8 ff,
‘We are troubled on every side.... always
bearing about in the body the dying of
the Lord Jesus ....’ This is the background
here against which the significance of v4
needs to be understood.
Dr James Denney underlines the essential nature of the sufferings of God's people as follows:
“Suffering, for the Christian, is not an accident: it is a divine appointment, and a divine opportunity. To wear out life in the service of Jesus is to open it to the entrance of Jesus' life; it is to receive, in all its alleviations, in all its renewals, in all its deliverances, a witness to His resurrection. Perhaps it is only by accepting this service, with the daily dying it demands, that the witness can be given to us;
and the 'life of Jesus' on His throne may become inapprehensible and unreal in proportion as we decline to bear about in our bodies His dying .. Paul does not say in 2 Cor. 4 that he bears about in his body the death of Jesus, but His dying, the process which produces death…
…The sufferings which came upon him daily in his work for Jesus were gradually killing him; the pains, the perils, the spiritual pressure, the excitement of danger and the excitement of deliverance, are wearing out his strength, and soon he must die .... But that was not all.
In spite of the dying, he was not dead. Perpetually in peril, he had a perpetual series of escapes; perpetually at his wits' end, his way perpetually opened up for him. What was the explanation of that?' It was the life
of Jesus manifesting itself in his body…
… The life of Jesus can only mean the life which Jesus lives now at God's right hand; and these repeated escapes of the Apostle, these restorations of his courage, are manifestations
of that life; they are, so to speak, a series of resurrections.
Paul’s communion with Jesus is not only in His dying, but in His rising again; he has the evidence of the Resurrection because he has its power, present with him in these constant deliverances and renewals. Nay, the very purpose of his sufferings and perils is to provide occasion for
the manifestation of this resurrection life'.
Looked at from one point of view, Paul’s experience and that of many Christians seems very thrilling and moving; but we must not forget its painful and costly side, or the toll it takes of those who endure it. Think of Elijah and his great distress and despair after Mount Carmel. He had reached rock bottom when he cried,'I have had enough… Take my life… I am the only one left and they are trying to kill me’. 1Kings 19v4,10
Would Paul never have felt like this? He was too human not to. He was no Stoic but felt things very deeply. But a man who lives like this is never left alone, even on the human level. For he ever produces others like-minded to himself. They are the fruit of his labours and his travail. 'Out of the presses of pain comes the soul’s best wine'. Samuel Rutherford
Paul was accompanied by the fruit of his labours, men who are bound to him in a deep personal loyalty. This has greater importance than we might think. We owe this loyalty to those who have been the means of blessing our lives.
God does not take it lightly when we neglect to honour our obligations in this direction. Some
of God's dearest servants suffer needless at the hands of those who forget all too soon the travail spent on their spiritual welfare. To hurt them is to hurt Christ. Sadly when on trial for his life in Rome Paul wrote to Timothy,
‘At my first defence no one came to my support but everyone deserted me.’ 2Tim. 4v16
Paul arrived in Troas and while waiting for transport to take him further on his journey he found an opportunity to minister on the first day of the week. Incidentally, this is the earliest reference we have to Christians regularly meeting on the Lord’s day.
The story of Eutychus takes up most of v7-12. This young man perched high up above the others by an open window would be the first to suffer from the soporific effects of the fumes from the many lamps and the heat that rose upwards. He was not the last person to fall asleep during a sermon!
The incident itself was undoubtedly miraculous. It is plainly stated that he was taken up dead. Dr.Luke knew a dead body when he saw one! Paul’s words, ‘he’s alive', must be understood as a result of his having embraced the lifeless body.
It seems very likely that the action of Elijah [1 Kings 17v21] and Elisha [2 Kings 4v34] was in his mind, impelling him to the same procedure with Eutychus. And what Jesus had done with Lazarus, Paul did, in His Name, with Eutychus.
The amazing thing is that the believers took
this astonishing happening so completely in their stride, and returned to hear the
preaching of the word by Paul.
This tells us two things: they were used to the supernatural, and could accommodate their minds to its continual operation among them; and what is even more important, they were able to hold things in a proper perspective. With them the 'miraculous' was regarded as almost incidental to the real purpose of the gospel, which was the proclamation of the Word.
This was the admirable thing about the early Church, as it is indeed the hallmark of the mature in every age - a sense of balance, and an ability to keep unessentials in their proper place, and to refuse to allow them to displace the really important matters.
The Church down the ages would have been saved from many a distorted emphasis if she had been more concerned to encourage this spiritual grace in her members.
Another lesson - and here we must recognise the link and connection with what we have said about the opening verses of the chapter - is that the miracle performed on the young man was a symbol and a sacrament of Paul’s gospel. In this sense that it was a divine vindication of the Word that he preached and the kind of life he lived.
In Mark 16v20 we read that “the disciples went out and preached everywhere, and the Lord worked with them and confirmed his word by
the signs that accompanied it”.
The incident recorded here is an evidence of these words, and the truth of them.
And so this incident was a vindication of Paul’s gospel. Paul believed so utterly and completely in a God who raised the dead that it was no surprise to him that God should do so.
What is more, this raising of the deadwould serve as a sacrament of Paul’s message to the disciples at Troas. It would confirm them in their faith, recognising that what Paul was saying to them was no idle chatter but real and living truth – Jesus was alive, he gives to his people resurrection life.
Above all, consider what a superb illustration this resurrection gives of the power of the gospel in spiritual life. Indeed, it was simply the shadow and token of the basic gospel truth of regeneration by the Word and Spirit
It was this, that these disciples at Troas were aware of, and it was to them so incomparably greater than physical resuscitation that they wanted to hear more about it from Paul. They did not allow the Eutychus miracle to distract them from their gospel interest! Isn’t that both amazing and challenging!