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The three-year Lectionary that many Catholics and Protestants hear in public worship gives us a great variety of Holy Scripture.

Yet, it doesn’t tell the whole story.

My series Forbidden Bible Verses — ones the Lectionary editors and their clergy have omitted — examines the passages we do not hear in church. These missing verses are also Essential Bible Verses, ones we should study with care and attention. Often, we find that they carry difficult messages and warnings.

Today’s reading is from the English Standard Version with commentary by Matthew Henry and John MacArthur.

Acts 20:7-12

Eutychus Raised from the Dead

7 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.

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Last week’s entry discussed how Paul and a select number of men from various churches he had planted met up in Troas.

St Luke, the author of Acts, was among that number and personally travelled with Paul from Philippi to Troas.

They stayed in Troas seven days and left on a Monday.

On the first day of the week — Sunday, the Lord’s Day — they met to worship, commemorate the Last Supper and share dinner together (verse 7).

Even though Paul got up early the next day, he preached until midnight. One of the reasons was that he did not know if he would ever return, so he wanted to give the congregation final encouragement and instruction.

Interestingly, no one minded the length of Paul’s speech. In our world, we are clock watchers wondering how long a church service will last.

We know from Acts that Paul was a persuasive teacher who appealed to logic and reason rather than emotion and feelings — something today’s clergy would do well to practise.

John MacArthur tells us (emphases mine):

The problem in the Early Church wasn’t how do you get the people to come. It was how do you get them to go home? And let me tell you something, friends. This has been the characteristic of every period of reformation and revival in the history of the Church. You know that John Calvin preached every day for hours, day after day after day, year after year after year, and so did Martin Luther? And it was out of that the great days of the Reformation revival was spawned. That’s been the history of the Church. Great men of God preach day after day after day after day in certain cities, and great revivals broke out. And people came, and they learned.

Matthew Henry’s commentary posits that Paul might have preached that morning, too:

It is probable he had preached to them in the morning, and yet thus lengthened out his evening sermon even till midnight; we wish we had the heads of this long sermon, but we may suppose it was for substance the same with his epistles.

Henry offers an explanation for the night time worship:

… perhaps they met in the evening for privacy, or in conformity to the example of the disciples who came together on the first Christian sabbath in the evening.

The room they met in was on the upper floor of someone’s home. There were many lights (verse 8). MacArthur says this was because pagans accused Christians of clandestine activities:

You say, “Why does it tell us there were lights there?” Well, I think there’s two reasons. Number one, the pagans used to slander Christians and say that Christians were immoral and they met together for clandestine purposes, and they got in their little cubbyholes in the dark and committed all sorts of abominations. And so some commentators feel that the Spirit puts the little note, “there were many lights,” in there, just to let us know that the Christians in Troas had lit the place up like a Christmas tree so nobody in town could criticize them for meeting in the dark.

A young man, Eutychus, was sitting on the window ledge, nodded off and fell to his death (verse 9). Windows at that time had no glass, so were open spaces save for a shutter of some sort.

Henry says the young man’s fall was divine judgement because he fell asleep during Paul’s speech, for which he should have stayed awake:

Now this youth was to be blamed, (1.) That he presumptuously sat in the window, unglazed perhaps, and so exposed himself; whereas, if he could have been content to sit on the floor, he had been safe. Boys that love to climb, or otherwise endanger themselves, to the grief of their parents, consider not how much it is also an offence to God. (2.) That he slept, nay, he fell into a deep sleep when Paul was preaching, which was a sign he did not duly attend to the things that Paul spoke of, though they were weighty things. The particular notice taken of his sleeping makes us willing to hope none of the rest slept, though it was sleeping time and after supper; but this youth fell fast asleep, he was carried away with it (so the word is), which intimates that he strove against it, but was overpowered by it, and at last sunk down with sleep.

2. The calamity with which he was seized herein: He fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead. Some think that the hand of Satan was in it, by the divine permission, and that he designed it for a disturbance to this assembly and a reproach to Paul and it. Others think that God designed it for a warning to all people to take heed of sleeping when they are hearing the word preached; and certainly we are to make this use of it. We must look upon it as an evil thing, as a bad sign of our low esteem of the word of God, and a great hindrance to our profiting by it. We must be afraid of it, do what we can to prevent our being sleepy, not compose ourselves to sleep, but get our hearts affected with the word we hear to such a degree as may drive sleep far enough. Let us watch and pray, that we enter not into this temptation, and by it into worse. Let the punishment of Eutychus strike an awe upon us, and show us how jealous God is in the matters of his worship; Be not deceived, God is not mocked. See how severely God visited an iniquity that seemed little, and but in a youth, and say, Who is able to stand before this holy Lord God? Apply to this story that lamentation (Jeremiah 9:20,21), Hear the word of the Lord, for death is come up into our windows, to cut off the children from without and the young men from the streets.

MacArthur, on the other hand, is understanding of Eutychus‘s plight, explaining that the fuel from the lamps made the boy — possibly an adolescent — drowsy. However, he, too, says that his death was a judgement:

all those lights in there were oil-burning lamps, and they would have created a tremendous stuffy atmosphere. All the fumes and the little smoke that would come off of that oil, and the place was really filling up. And apparently, an upper chamber would maybe hold 30, 40 people in a good-sized home, and they’d be crammed in. And if there were 50 or 60 there, they would be just like sardines, and all that smoke coming off of there, and that may have created the problem. The burning oil, the stuffy atmosphere, and that part of the world at that time, perhaps that evening, deterioration of the atmosphere.

Verse 9. “And there sat in a window -” Fortunate young man that he could find air, and so he got by a window and sat on the windowsill. The windows of course were lattices or wooden windows that opened. They didn’t have any glass. “And his name was Eutychus, and being fallen into a deep sleep,” and the verb there in the Greek is a present participle, which means he was progressively falling asleep while he was trying to fight it. Just so – you know how it is. You’ve done it. Your head goes, and then _______ …

Well, that’s Eutychus. He’d bob his head down, and he’d pull it up again and blink around. But he was fighting. And finally the _____ overcame him, “And he being fallen into a deep sleep, and as Paul was long preaching, he sank down with sleep.” He was out. And then of course we know how serious it is to fall asleep during a sermon, because immediately the Lord dealt with him. He fell from the third loft and was taken up dead. So think about that, folks.

Not surprisingly, Paul paused his sermon to go downstairs to determine the young man’s condition. Instead of judging him, Paul had compassion for Eutychus and took him in his arms, announcing that was alive (verse 10).

Henry said that Paul probably prayed earnestly for the boy’s life at that moment:

his falling on him and embracing him were in imitation of Elijah (1 Kings 17:21), and Elisha (2 Kings 4:34), in order to the raising of him to life again; not that this could as a means contribute any thing to it, but as a sign it represented the descent of that divine power upon the dead body, for the putting of life into it again, which at the same time he inwardly, earnestly, and in faith prayed for.

MacArthur also says this was a miracle, taking issue with those who say that Eutychus was still alive, just in a deep slumber. Recall that Luke was a physician; he would have known the difference:

He fell down, and he was taken up dead. That’s the quote of Luke, incidentally, who wrote the passage here, under the inspiration of the Spirit, but Luke’s comment is that he was dead. Now I’ve heard all kinds of commentators and all kinds of people say he wasn’t dead. He just appeared to be dead, and he just was taken up as if he were dead. It doesn’t say that. It says he was taken up dead. He was dead. Three story fall.

Well, look what happens. That would kind of tend to break the meeting up, and it did. Verse 10, “And Paul went down and fell on him.” And of course, the idea of fell there is to place himself on him. Not just to collapse on him, which wouldn’t have helped him at all. Paul went down and just placed himself on him. And it says, “He embracing him,” and the idea of that – it’s a double compound Greek verb, and it means he just wrapped himself around him. You say, “Why did he do that?” Well, maybe he remembered Elijah and Elisha. 1 Kings 17, 2 Kings 4. Remember, both of them embraced and put themselves all the way around a man and raised him from the dead, which it was a child in that case.

And so he just places himself around Eutychus, who is a young man. Perhaps a teenager. And I love this. He says, “Trouble not yourselves, for his life is in him.” One liberal commentator said, when he put himself around him, he could hear his heart ticking, and he said, “Oh, he’s all right,” and got up. No. He was dead. What happened was a resurrection miracle.

You know, Paul had a great prayer that he prayed in Philippians 3:10. He said, “I pray that I may know Him and the power of His resurrection.” And boy, he did know it, didn’t he? He knew resurrection power. He wrapped himself around. In a minute, a miracle happened. All of the broken bones and all of the injuries of his body that had caused the death reversed themselves and he was alive.

Paul went back upstairs to eat with those assembled and to converse with them — until daybreak (verse 11). How selfless was he? Most of us turn in early the night before a journey, but Paul, whose love for Jesus, God and people was so overwhelming that he pulled an all-nighter.

The supper Paul shared with the Christians was what was traditionally known as a ‘love feast’, one of agape and fellowship. Today, we call that a potluck, where everyone brings a plate of food to share with everyone else, especially the poor among them.

Henry describes the setting:

He came up again to the meeting, they broke bread together in a love-feast, which usually attended the eucharist, in token of their communion with each other, and for the confirmation of friendship among them; and they talked a long while, even till break of day. Paul did not now go on in a continued discourse, as before, but he and his friends fell into a free conversation, the subject of which, no doubt, was good, and to the use of edifying. Christian conference is an excellent means of promoting holiness, comfort, and Christian love. They knew not when they should have Paul’s company again, and therefore made the best use they could of it when they had it, and reckoned a night’s sleep well lost for that purpose.

MacArthur tells us:

So they met in an upper chamber. They broke bread. Now what do you mean by that? Well, of course, that’s the reference to the ancient Palestinian custom. The meal was officially begun when the host broke bread, literally. And the breaking of bread came to refer to the Christians coming together, and they did two things. They had the love feast … And communion, or the Lord’s Table.

This was a beautiful thing. You say, “What was the love feast?” Well, the love feast was like a potluck meal, and it was for the purpose of sharing. You had – one of the very basic things of the Christian Church is fellowship, isn’t it? And love. And so the poor people would come, and they couldn’t bring anything, and the people who could would bring enough for the poor people, and they would all share as an expression of love. It was a beautiful sharing. The common meal. And it was followed immediately by the breaking of bread and the celebration of the Lord’s Day. This was the breaking of bread for the Early Church. The agape love feast and communion.

At daybreak, the congregation dispersed taking Eutychus — very much alive and well — with them (verse 12). They were elated that he was living. Such miracles — visible signs from God — allowed the growth of the Church in those early days as to the veracity of the Good News.

Next time — Acts 20:13-16

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