We continued our Acts series this past Sunday. Both the audio and manuscript are below.
My wife’s back to working in the hospital ICU again. She’s back to holding people’s hands - sometimes really young people - as they die. She’s praying with their loved ones. It can be so overwhelming for her. Rob is serving as a chaplain with the Columbia Police Department. He’s talking to young men who’ve seen unimaginable things, men who’ve pulled lifeless, tattered, young bodies out of horrific automobile accidents. These guys have to suppress their emotions or they’ll lose their minds. Rob has to point them to something.
What can he do? What can Amy say? What do we do as we look around us at this broken, hurting world? There’s a massive truth here in Acts 20 that gives hope - one that makes all the difference. But there’s also a vision here for what a church should look like - of what we should increasingly desire to become - of a people who are different. Karis, let’s become an encouraging community of risk-taking missionaries who gather together to worship our Lord as we cling to the hope of His resurrection. That’s the big idea I’m going to break down in our time today.
A Community of Encouragement
Notice first how Paul cares for those around him. He’s about to leave Ephesus. His work has been tough there. But he’s taking time to encourage those young Christians first. Hear verse one of chapter 20: “After the uproar ceased, Paul sent for the disciples, and after encouraging them, he said farewell and departed for Macedonia.” He then works his way through Macedonia - the region just north of modern Greece. He likely spends time with the Philippians, the Thessalonians, and others. Verse 2 tells us that he gives them “much encouragement.” That’s Paul’s objective on his journey. He goes back to where churches have been planted and tells those believers, in words, “Keep going. Don’t give up. He is at work in you. Cling to the gospel.”
But he is also trying to do this through his deeds. Luke, the author of Acts, doesn’t tell us everything Paul is doing on this trip. However, we know from 1 and 2 Corinthians that one thing he’s doing is collecting funds for the church in Jerusalem. Those Jewish believers are enduring persecution. They’re struggling financially. Paul wants to strengthen the bonds between these Gentile churches in Asia and Europe with the needy Jewish church in Israel. He wants to do something practical to help bring unity amidst this growing diversity. And he wants to show up and tell those Christians in Jerusalem, “Keep going. Don’t give up. He is at work in you. Cling to the gospel.” He wants to encourage them. Paul’s all about encouraging the church in word or deed.
Friends, the Lord wants the same from us. In this broken world, we get torn down so much. We get attacked and hurt. People in our workplaces and at our schools and out in the streets can be brutal. We’ve got to encourage one another. We’ve got to build one another up. And also in word and deed. One thing we talk some about here is pointing out evidences of grace in each other’s lives. How can we see God at work in those around us? How can we help others see that at times when they simply can’t? We also have to continually point each other to the gospel of Jesus. He has lived, died, and risen for us. He has made us His sons and daughters. It’s so easy to forget. We have to encourage one another, just like Paul.
Pointing out growth you see in a brother who can’t see it himself. Telling a couple struggling in their marriage that they’re not alone. Pooling your money and spending your Saturday to help a single mom. Telling a sister that her job is actually making a difference. Telling a brother that he’s a better parent than he thinks. Telling an MC leader to keep going. Encouragement. We desperately need this as believers. A healthy church has a culture of encouragement.
It’s interesting. In John 16, Jesus says He’s going to leave His disciples but not leave them alone. He’s going to give them a “Helper.” You know, that’s basically the same word that’s found here in Acts 20 for “encourage.” It’s a word that combines the Greek word for “call or invite” and the word for “alongside.” It’s parakaleo. It paints this picture of someone coming alongside of someone else and speaking words of encouragement to them. Jesus does this while He’s on earth to His disciples. He leaves His Holy Spirit to encourage us now. He invites us to join in the ministry of the Spirit, as well. In a ministry of encouragement.
This goofy image comes to my mind that you’ve seen in cartoons or TV shows, for sure. You have an angel on one shoulder and a demon on the other. They’re speaking contradictory and confusing words into the person’s ear. Now that picture’s twisted in some ways. But, we do constantly hear Satan’s voice. He accuses us and condemns us. We need to hear the voice of God. We need to hear the hope of the gospel. God wants us to get up in each other’s ears - not to shout words of condemnation, but rather to whisper words of encouragement.
We really need each other. We’re meant to be a part of community. Paul knows this. The believers in Acts do, too. Back in chapter 16, an interesting thing happens. The writing shifts from the third person to the first. Our storyteller Luke shifts from talking about “they” - at least part of the time - to talking about “we.” We see this here. In verses 5, Luke rejoins Paul, and we see “we” and “us” again. Paul and Luke are doing ministry together. They can’t do it alone. That’s abnormal and not ideal. They need each other.
You also see this in the list of guys in verse 4. Most scholars think these are representatives of the churches Paul has planted. They’re all traveling with him to deliver this offering. They’re together for safety. They’re together for accountability. And they’re not going to get bored or lonely. Team ministry is so much better. Paul models this for us here. Being on mission is so hard. Discouragement is so common. We need each other. Hear these famous words from Dietrich Bonhoeffer in his book Life Together:
“The Christ in their own hearts is weaker than the Christ in the word of other Christians. Their own hearts are uncertain; those of their brothers and sisters are sure. At the same time, this also clarifies that the goal of all Christian community is to encounter one another as bringers of the message of salvation.” (Dietrich Bonhoeffer)
We’re meant to be a part of community. We’re meant to encourage one another. But hear this: it doesn’t mean we don’t say anything hard. Mark Dever calls ministry a “series of hard conversations.” That’s so true, if it’s a vibrant, healthy ministry. We may have to tell people to put their idols down. We often have to call people back to the gospel from things that won’t satisfy and will lead to destruction for us and others. Our manner has to be loving and not hard, but loving people have to say some hard things.
Paul sure did. Another thing we don’t see in Acts 20 is this controversy Paul’s involved in with the Corinthian church. That’s where Paul’s heading toward. Corinth is in Greece. That church is full of division. They’re mired in immorality. They’re buying into false teaching. The apostle has to wake them up. He has to tell them hard stuff. Read the books of 1 and 2 Corinthians if you haven’t. But I really bring that up to point out something else. Paul’s having all kinds of trouble with them. They’re the Christians gone wild. Paul founds that church in Greece back on his Second Missionary Journey - back in Acts 18. He leaves that church and they’re flourishing. But they end up going nuts. Paul at one time takes a trip there and gets run out of town. He has to send them a tough letter that we don’t have with us now. But he’s worried about them. He doesn’t know how the’ll respond. He sends his friend Titus to check on them and get them involved in this collection for Jerusalem. And now he leaves Ephesus and walks along this path in the same direction. He doesn’t take the quick route across the ocean. He’s too nervous, not knowing where they’re at. He goes by land, hoping to run into his buddy Titus as he comes back home, desperately wanting to hear that they’ve come around. He’s full of turmoil. All the while he’s doing this ministry of encouragement we read about here. Eventually he does find Titus. He hears they’ve repented. He writes 2 Corinthians in response. He eventually makes it there to see them again. But for much of this time, while he walks along this road, he’s in anguish.
Have you felt that way before? “How can I encourage anyone? I’m barely surviving myself.” I sure have. But we can’t wait until we’re in a better mood. Or until we’ve got things together. Until ministry is easier or better. It’s never going to get there in this fallen world. This is the new normal. We’ve got to encourage amidst turmoil. We’ve got to bless through the tears.
So many times over the years, many of us here have been doubled over in pain from the work of the mission, but we’ve had to keep going. You’ve been with me. I’m thankful for that. But, as your pastor, I’ve had to keep preaching the gospel, keep praying for people, keep trying to love, even when I didn’t want to and didn’t feel like I could. But in that time, I’ve taken calls from other pastors who’ve told me to keep going, to not give up. They’ve reminded me of God’s work in me. They’ve pointed me back to the gospel - even while I knew they were facing all kinds of discouragement themselves. We need to do that for each other, Karis. May God continue to make us an encouraging community. Even in the heartache.
Last week, Billy proposed this: if we’re experiencing no opposition, we should see if we’re doing anything significant enough to oppose. I’ll put it another way: are we doing something hard enough to require constant encouragement? We should be. That leads to my next point.
A Band of Risk-taking Missionaries
I told Billy before least week’s sermon that we can’t make every sermon in Acts from here on out about perseverance through suffering. We both laughed and agreed: it’s what the book’s all about. And it’s a message we so desperately need to hear.
See Paul’s struggles again here. We saw last week the craziness going on in Ephesus. Verse one here says that the “uproar ceased.” Yes, it does for a time in that city, but the uproar always follows Paul around. Verse 3 says that once he’s in Greece - likely in Corinth - some Jews plot against him. He’s planning to sail from there over to Syria, but he has to take the long way back again. To avoid getting killed. And there’s no doubt more controversy for him along that road.
But notice where Paul’s going to end up. He tries to sail to Syria because he wants to get to Jerusalem. And heading there is signing up for more suffering. He ends up heading that way, despite his friends’ warnings. And he almost immediately gets arrested. In Luke 9:51, the same author of Acts writes, “When the days drew near for him to be taken up, he set his face to go to Jerusalem.” This is what Paul does as well. Scholars have pointed many parallels between Christ’s journey there and Paul’s. But Paul’s going there. Because Jesus went there. He went to the cross for Paul and all of us. Paul’s determined to take up His cross and tell people about His Lord’s death. That’s what the Lord wants from us, also.
Now there are going to be plenty of good times, church. Living in community is amazing. So many joys. Lots of laughs. There is much encouragement in the family of God. But that’s not the end. It’s not the point. We’re a community facing outward. We’re missionaries. That’s our identity. There are going to be a lot of farewells and lots of departures, as verse 1 talks about. And that’s going to hurt. But the ministry is going to hurt more. Christ’s road and Paul’s road is ours. It’s a path of risk. It’s a road through pain. We’ve got our faces set toward Jerusalem, as well. And there can be no turning back, church.
I had lunch this past week with a friend. He talked about growing up in northern Nigeria where Boko Haram, a militant Islamic group, runs rampant. They target Christians. And he has a friend, whose dad, a pastor, was killed by them. This is what the early Christians suffered - what awaited Paul in Rome. This is what Christians in other parts of the earth suffer. It’s what could be coming our way. And that’s why we again need encouragement. Encouragement to head into suffering. Encouragement to persevere in it. Karis, let’s become an encouraging community of risk-taking missionaries.
A Missional Community that Worships
Let’s move now into verses 7-16. Here we have this interesting, even humorous story of this boy Eutychus who falls out of a window, dies, and is resurrected by Paul. But here we also see a description of the worship of the early church. We get a picture of a biblical church. Hear verse 7. It says, “On the first day of the week, when they were gathered together to break bread.” Notice what it says. They come together as His people in Troas on a Sunday. They’ve been scattered on mission. They now gather in worship.
This is the first time we hear of the church worshipping on the first day. It’s the day their Lord rose from the dead. It’s why we gather here this morning. Yes, worship is meant to be all of life. It doesn’t just take place on Sunday. But since the very early days of the church, God’s people have found it valuable and necessary to come together to do a couple of things. Things that biblical, healthy churches do. On the first day of the week. Things we see here.
Notice first that we see preaching here. Verse 7 continues to say that “Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.” Paul is proclaiming the word here. He’s no doubt teaching the Scriptures. He’s no doubt reminding them of the gospel. He’s for sure encouraging them with those words.
And notice that the message isn’t short. Right? It goes on until midnight. The lamps are making things stuffy. Eutychus gets sleepy. He sits in the window. He goes to sleep. It says, in verse 9, “Paul talked still longer.” Eutychus ends up falling asleep, falling out the window, and dying. Now that’s a sermon fail, huh? But of course it sets up a miracle.
But maybe Paul didn’t consider at least the snoring part a failure. Maybe he didn’t care how long it was. Maybe he didn’t mind if someone occasionally fell asleep. We’ve imbibed too much of the world in today’s church. We’ve taken our cues from corporations and television. Friends, the goal of a sermon is not to get finished! It’s not to make you the first ones to the restaurants. It’s to form you into the image of Christ. It’s to faithfully preach the Scriptures and the gospel. And that takes time. So have we preached too long at times? Yes. Have some of us been boring at times? Sure. But we’re trying to be faithful. And if Paul put people to sleep at times, there’s no need to beat ourselves up over it.
The goal’s also not to hit a home run and blow your baseball socks off of you every time. Triples or even singles or doubles are ok. There’s so much pressure to compete with the podcasts and measure up to the conference speakers today. But it’s ok for our guys in Karis to get up here and just give an ordinary, faithful sermon. A sermon that seeks to remind you of His work in You, to help you keep trusting in the gospel.
We’re giving sermons that may take a long time to deliver. But we’re also taking the long view in our approach. I once heard of a pastor being approached by someone who said, “I’ve been worshipping here for 25 years, and I can’t remember a single sermon you’ve ever preached.” The pastor replied, “My wife has been cooking me meals for the past 25 years, too, and I couldn’t tell you about any of them, except maybe yesterday’s, and I’m a pretty healthy man.” Karis, that’s our goal. Health. Growth. Over the long haul. Not razzmatazz in the moment.
We’re committed to preaching the Bible. We’re committed to preaching Jesus. Over the long haul. Of course, we’re trying to improve. Our goal is not to put you asleep. It’s not to preach until you die. Or set up a resurrection miracle. It’s to be faithful. But if you do fall asleep, unless somebody’s in the window, nobody’s gonna get hurt. Because it’s just a sermon from an ordinary guy in an ordinary church.
But on the other hand, it might harm you if you miss out. These are the words of God! We have the Spirit of God. He uses preachers of the gospel! And you need to hear the gospel repeatedly. So show up, ready to hear and grow and worship. God will at times change people in one sermon. But He’ll also change you through many of them. Sometimes they may get a little long. It says in verse 11 that Paul picked right back up after the healing and kept preaching - “until daybreak.” This might be a 8 or 9 hour sermon. At least we’re not doing that. But really teaching the passage and getting to Jesus takes time. And God will use it in our lives together.
There is a second aspect of gathered worship we see here in this passage. We don’t just see Scripture explained. We see the Supper celebrated. A couple of weeks ago, I talked about the sacrament of baptism. This is the sacrament of communion, or the Lord’s Supper. One we take part in as we enter into this covenant community. The other, the Supper, we do to renew our vows and to remember His covenant. This is a visible word, a picture of the gospel, that Jesus gives to us to practice. Hear how Paul describes it in 1 Corinthians 11.
1 Cor. 11:23 For I received from the Lord what I also delivered to you, that the Lord Jesus on the night when he was betrayed took bread, 24 and when he had given thanks, he broke it, and said, “This is my body which is for you. Do this in remembrance of me.” 25 In the same way also he took the cup, after supper, saying, “This cup is the new covenant in my blood. Do this, as often as you drink it, in remembrance of me.” 26 For as often as you eat this bread and drink the cup, you proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.
The bread represents His body broken for us. The cup represents His blood spilled for us. We look to the past, remembering His death in our place. We stand in the present, affirming our need for Him and our faith in Him. We look to the future, proclaiming His return. We do this as individuals, testifying that Christ is our Lord. We do it together, displaying our need for one another. This is the Supper. And it’s awesome. It doesn’t save. But it reminds us of our great salvation.
And we believe it should be taken every week together. It seems clear from verse 7 that they’re coming together every first day to “break bread.” This isn’t talking about a meal, although the church did generally share a meal together. Verse 11 says they “broke bread” after midnight, after this resurrection miracle. No, this is THE Supper. That’s what that expression clearly means. It seems as if the early church is taking it weekly here in Acts. We know from writings outside the Bible that churches are doing this soon after, as well.
What about the objection that it would become routine? Back to the meal metaphor. If your dad puts a meal in front of you every meal of your growing up years and you’re never thankful, does that mean that the meals are bad? Not necessarily. Maybe it has to do with your heart. Routine? That’s easy. If it becomes that, the problem’s with us, and not the sacrament. And we don’t stop preaching or praying or singing because it’s routine, right?
No, we can’t take it in a flippant, “unworthy manner,” as Paul says further on in 1 Corinthians 11. But this remember that this meal doesn’t save us. God works at this table, I believe, nourishing and growing our faith. And it is meant to be an act of celebration and worship. But God doesn’t expect us to experience fireworks each week. It’s not primarily about our level of experience. It’s about Him. About remembering what He has done. It’s about remembering who we are in Him. That’s a routine we desperately need.
Hearing from the Scriptures. Partaking of the Supper. Those are the two main marks of a biblical church. They’re two important things we see here. And let me tell you - they’re what you need. Let me go back to where I started. In a world where we’re on mission and we experience suffering, we need the encouragement of the word and the sacrament. We need it far more than we think. If not, we one day will.
Beyond that, we desperately need the encouragement of gathering together. Don’t just think that you can download the podcast or get a sermon in another place - although that will surely happen from time to time. You’ll get hugs and receive smiles and have conversations that will build you up. As you gather together.
And how about we talk about this another way? NOT what you can make up or do without. What about the people who won’t receive your encouragement? There are people who won’t hear the Christ who is in you speak into their weak hearts! What about the people you won’t invite and bring because you’re not here? This is why the author of Hebrews says this:
Heb. 10:24 And let us consider how to stir up one another to love and good works, 25 not neglecting to meet together, as is the habit of some, but encouraging one another, and all the more as you see the Day drawing near.
Church, let’s become an encouraging community of risk-taking missionaries who gather together - around the Scriptures and Supper - to worship our Lord.
The Hope of the Resurrection
But, as we do, we worship our risen Lord and look forward to His resurrection. That’s what we see here. Right? Look what happens to Eutychus. Paul does what Peter does back in Acts 9. He does what Christ does, also. He raises the dead. And the miracle looks similar to the ways Elijah and Elisha the prophets in the Old Testament raise people to life. Eutychus - whose name means “lucky” or “fortunate” - you can decide if the name fits - he falls from the third story of a building. And Luke, who’s the author here, who happens also to be a doctor, declares in verse 9 that he’s dead.
But verse 10 says this: “Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’” The apostle doesn’t say, “Actually, you’re wrong. He’s still alive.” He heals him and says, “His life’s back. He’s no longer dead.” That’s what happens to this boy Eutychus.
But let’s think a minute about what it means. Yes, it’s a picture of being raised to spiritual life. We were dead in sin, but God made us alive in Christ. But it’s more than that. It’s a picture of our future physical resurrection. One day, when Christ sets up His reign, we’ll be raised from the dead. As Christ was raised by the Father, so He’ll raise us. And unlike Eutychus, we won’t die again. We’ll live forever. We’ll have perfect, glorified bodies. We’ll be made new - just like all of His creation. He’ll make a new heavens and new earth. His redeemed people will be raised to worship Him there forever. No more heart diseases or back surgeries or parasite takeovers or cancers. Not on that day - not from then on out. That’s meant to give us hope, friends. And encouragement.
Think about the despair and pain that had to have fallen over that room with the lad on the floor dead. Think about the joy and celebration when Paul lifted him back up. See Paul’s confidence. Notice his compassion. He walks over to the little guy, holds him close, and says, “I got this.” That’s what our Lord also says to us. “I got this. You’ll live again.” Verse 12 reads, “And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” That’s the same word used for “encourage” back in verses 1-2. The resurrection encouraged them. It’s meant to encourage us, too. We can believe, as Samwise Gamgee put it, “Even darkness must pass. A new day will come and when the sun shines, it will shine out the clearer.” Everything sad is going to come untrue. That’s true, Karis.
This is our hope. Let’s think about that hope in three ways. First, we hold it out to those around us. Rob’s told me about sharing with grieving police offers. Where does he go in those hard situations? This is not the way things are meant to be. One day everything will be made right. A resurrection is coming. A new heavens and new earth is around the corner. Where there will be no more sadness or suffering. This is where we have to go, friends. We have to hold out this hope. One day there will be no kids getting arrested, no more boys getting shot, no more churches getting burned down, no more drunk drivers taking out crowds, no more hurricanes taking out cities. This is our message. Not just that He died. That He rose.
Second, we have to fight for it as His people. Of course, the last day and the resurrection of God’s creation isn’t something we can conjure up. But that picture of where things are going should motivate us to do - in a fallen, human way of course - what Jesus did. What the early church did. Relieve suffering. Rescue the oppressed. Lift up the weak. Labor for justice. Those of us in the medical profession - your job points to this. Social workers and civil servants - you can be about the resurrection. Feeding the poor, spending time with an orphan, holding the hand of someone terminally ill, laughing with a widow, carefully performing a surgery - all of those things point ahead to a day when there will be no more crying. Yes, all those people need to hear of the word of the resurrection. But they need to see it, too. Let’s show it to them, Karis.
Third, we have to cling to it ourselves. In suffering, this is what we point each other to. If they kill us, there’s a resurrection. If we get cancer, we’ll get a new body some day. I can stand here and look at Jake here who truly was at the brink of death. His body still isn’t working right, and he no doubt longs for a new one. His suffering makes us long for that day, too. But his recovery here also gives us a preview of what’s to come. It’s a foretaste. We’ll be dead, but we’ll be made alive again. We’ll fly out of those graves. This fallen world will be renewed. We must cling to this, Karis.
Why did Jesus keep going to Jerusalem, to the cross? Hebrews 12:2 says it was “for the joy that was set before Him.” Why did Paul? He says, in Philippians 1:21, “To live is Christ, and to die is gain.” We’ve got to look at that joy - the joy of the resurrection. To that gain - gaining Him and the whole earth. And keep going, as well. The resurrection gives us hope. We must encourage each other in that hope, Karis! “Keep going. Don’t give up. He is at work in you. Cling to the gospel.”
I had the opportunity to hear Pastor Greg Surratt talk at a recent conference over in St. Louis. His congregation is in Charleston, South Carolina. He talked about being in the courtroom when the families of the victims of the shooter addressed the man, Dylann Roof, who entered an historic black church there and shot nine people. Surratt was blown away by their responses. Non-Christians there said they had never seen anything like it. They shared the gospel with the man. They told him they forgave him. They did and said things that could only come from people who hope in a resurrection. In the darkest places of human suffering. They trusted in it themselves. They proclaimed it to others. They’re laboring for it now. He is risen! He is risen indeed!
Karis, let’s be a people of the resurrection. Who hold it forth. Who labor toward it. Who hope in it ourselves. Let’s encourage each other by it as we worship. Let’s encourage those around us by it on mission. Let’s become an encouraging community of risk-taking missionaries who gather together to worship our Lord as we cling to the hope of His resurrection.