Expecting the Unexpected.


On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 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. 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. Acts 20:7-12 ESV

pauls-third-missionary-journey

Paul had sent his seven sons in the faith on to Troas, while he traveled back through the region of Macedonia. When he and Luke arrived in Philippi, they set sail for Troas where they reconnected with Timothy, Sopater, Aristarchus, Secundus, Gaius, Tychicus and Trophimus.

In this small section of Luke’s eye-witness account, he reveals something of great significance that can easily be missed due to the remarkable nature of the day’s events. He records that they had gathered with other believers in Troas “on the first day of the week.” This is first time in Scripture where we find a reference to the early church meeting on Sunday, the first day of the week, rather than on the traditional Jewish sabbath. The change in worship days was related to the believers’ desire to honor Sunday, the day on which Jesus rose from the dead. It also helped separate and distinguish the Christian faith from its Hebrew roots. In the early days of Christianity, it was commonly viewed by those outside of Judaism as little more than a sub-sect of that religious tradition. But with its rapidly diversifying ethnic makeup and teaching that the traditional rite of circumcision and strict adherence to the Mosaic law were not required for its adherents, Christianity was becoming a distinct religious practice and belief system. 

One of the distinctives of the early church worship service was its practice of what the New Testament author, Jude, referred to as the “love feast.” It seems that the church made a habit of sharing a meal together as part of their worship experience and, with that meal, the Lord’s Supper was also celebrated. When Luke records that the believers in Troas had gathered to “break bread”, he is not referring simply to the celebration of communion or the Lord’s Table as we might call it, but with their sharing of common meal, part of which would include their taking of the Lord’s Supper. Paul describes just such a gather in his letter to the believers in Corinth.

20 When you meet together, you are not really interested in the Lord’s Supper. 21 For some of you hurry to eat your own meal without sharing with others. As a result, some go hungry while others get drunk. 22 What? Don’t you have your own homes for eating and drinking? Or do you really want to disgrace God’s church and shame the poor? What am I supposed to say? Do you want me to praise you? Well, I certainly will not praise you for this! – 1 Corinthians 11:20-22 NLT

In their case, they were destroying the nature of their communal gathering through acts of selfishness and insensitivity to the needs of their fellow members in the congregation. Jude refers to this meal as a love feast because it was to be an expression of their love for Christ and for one another. Paul was upset with the Corinthians because they denigrated the whole point of the Lord’s Supper, a celebration of Christ’s selfless sacrifice on behalf of man, by focusing all their attention on themselves and their own self-centered needs.

Along with the meal, the worship service of the early church included singing, prayer and instruction in the Word. Paul describes this is his letter to the Corinthians.

When you meet together, one will sing, another will teach, another will tell some special revelation God has given… – 1 Corinthians 14:26 NLT

It was in just such a setting that Paul addressed the believers gathered together in Troas. And while Paul had plans to leave the next morning, his sermon extended well into the night. No doubt, he addressed many issues with the believers there, recounting his missionary travels and all that he had seen God accomplish. But there was probably a fair share of biblical instruction, with Paul unpacking Old Testament passages and prophecies regarding Jesus. Much of what Paul wrote in his letters to the congregations he had helped start in Corinth, Galatia, Philippi, and Ephesus reveal the kinds of things Paul might have shared with the believers in Troas. As we have seen, Paul was a disciple maker. He was out to see the people in Troas grow in their faith and in their knowledge of God and His Son. He was seeking to make mature believers, not simply converts.

It was in Paul’s lengthy address to his audience that something very unfortunate and unbelievable happened. A young man named Eutychus, sitting on the sill of an open window, fell asleep and plunged three stories to his death. Most likely, the combination of the late hour, Paul’s lengthy talk, and the aftereffects of a large meal contributed to this tragic scene. It is important to note that Luke, a physician and an eye-witness to this event, pronounced the young man as being dead. The truly remarkable part of this story is not so much that the young man died and was raised back to life, but that Luke treats it with a kind of faith-filled flippancy. He reports this incredible scene with a surprising calm and sparsity of words. He simply wrote, “Paul went down, bent over him, and took him into his arms. ‘Don’t worry,’ he said, ‘he’s alive!’” (Acts 20:10 NLT). There is no description of the shock, sorrow and chaos that must have accompanied this tragic accident. Luke gives us no insight into how the crowd responded and he provides no sense of urgency. Paul simply went down, bent over the young man and then announced him as being alive. And then Luke matter-of-factly records, “Then they all went back upstairs, shared in the Lord’s Supper, and ate together. Paul continued talking to them until dawn, and then he left” (Acts 20:11 NLT). No rejoicing, celebrating, praising of God or description of shock, wonder or awe on the part of the people. This has led many to conclude that Eutychus had not been dead, but had just swooned and had been misdiagnosed as dead by those who first examined him. But again, Luke the physician seems to indicate that the prognosis was clear – Eutychus had died as a result of his fall.

Why else would Luke have included this story? What benefit is there in describing a young man who fell asleep, plunged out of a third-story window and was mistakenly pronounced to be dead? Why does Luke describe Paul bending over the young man and holding him in his arms? He described another, very similar scene, in his gospel. It involved Jesus and His miraculous raising of a young girl from death.

51 When they arrived at the house, Jesus wouldn’t let anyone go in with him except Peter, John, James, and the little girl’s father and mother. 52 The house was filled with people weeping and wailing, but he said, “Stop the weeping! She isn’t dead; she’s only asleep.”

53 But the crowd laughed at him because they all knew she had died. 54 Then Jesus took her by the hand and said in a loud voice, “My child, get up!” 55 And at that moment her life returned, and she immediately stood up! Then Jesus told them to give her something to eat. – Luke 8:51-55 NLT

In this account, it is clear that the crowd knew that the girl was dead. They had already begun to mourn her death. But Jesus described her as being asleep. Was He contradicting their prognosis? Was He claiming that they had been wrong in pronouncing her dead? No. He was revealing that the power of death was nothing to Him. It was no more dangerous than sleep. He would revive her from death as easy as one awakens someone from a deep sleep. Jesus took her hand and she revived. Paul took Eutychus in his arms and he was restored to life.

Luke’s rather blasé description of this scene reveals his growing sense of expectancy and the lack of surprise he felt at witnessing these kinds of remarkable miracles. He was becoming used to such scenarios and tended to describe them as if they were simply a part of doing business as a follower of Christ. In his travels with Paul, he had seen some incredible things take place. He was no longer shocked or surprised at what he saw God going through Paul. The raising of Eutychus from the dead, while spectacular in nature, was not unexpected. And the fact that the entire congregation returned to the third floor and continued their time of worship, listening to Paul teach, reveals that, even they were growing to expect the unexpected.

The Holy Bible, English Standard Version. ESV® Permanent Text Edition® (2016). Copyright © 2001

New Living Translation (NLT)
Holy Bible, New Living Translation, copyright © 1996, 2004, 2015 by Tyndale House Foundation. Used by permission of Tyndale House Publishers Inc., Carol Stream, Illinois 60188. All rights reserved.

The Message (MSG)  Copyright © 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 2000, 2001, 2002 by Eugene H. Peterson

 

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