Eutychus, the Fall Guy

Acts 20:1-16

Once order was restored in Ephesus, Paul proceeded to depart for Jerusalem.  Luke continues his faithful detailed reporting of their route, their actions, and their timing.

v. 1

Remember that Paul had spent three years in Ephesus at this point, and had developed close personal relationships with many there, especially among believers.  His departure would have necessarily been emotional, and he would have wanted it to be a face-to-face goodbye with as many of them as possible.  (Note that this “going-away party” is in marked contrast with his final contact with the leaders of the church soon to be described in vv. 17-38).

The Greek text literally says that Paul “sent for the disciples.”  It’s interesting to note that Luke does not say “sent for the church” or “sent for the believers.”  This term “disciples” deserves careful attention.  While it is the same word used in the Gospels for “The Twelve,” this use does not mean them.  The Gospels also speak of the “disciples of the Pharisees” and of the larger throng that followed Jesus throughout His ministry.  Modern theology, and especially modern evangelicalism has a penchant for putting certain words on a pedestal and thus narrowing their meaning.  Evangelicals today make much of “discipleship” and the “making of disciples”, bringing to mind certain characteristics in believers that go beyond salvation.  Believers are saved, but disciples participate in additional efforts such as  accountability, daily devotions, door-to-door witnessing, and more.  There is a danger of pride if “disciples” come to see themselves as better than mere “believers!”  Sometimes pressure to become a “disciple” can overshadow the simple joy and motivation of being saved in the first place.  The root of modern discipleship efforts lies in that most sacred of sacred cows, the so-called Great Commission which we have addressed before at length as being part of Israel’s program for the Millennial Kingdom, and not part of this present Age of Grace.  Paul’s commission and ministry, under direct revelation from the risen and glorified Christ, went in different directions to a different people than Christ’s instructions to The Twelve in preparation for the Kingdom which today has been temporarily set aside.

To the people of Paul’s day, the word commonly meant only “followers” or “pupils,” learners and perhaps genuine adopters.  So the ones that Paul sent for were those who had adopted his good news as their own and associated with him. Yes, Paul “made disciples” in the sense that through preaching of his unique revelation many became his pupils, adopted his good news of salvation by grace, and followed his message.  These are the ones he gathered together on the eve of his departure from Ephesus.

It’s interesting to investigate a particular word in this verse – the word that describes what Paul did with these followers once they were gathered.  A check of several translations shows quite a variety:

  • Embraced them (KJV)
  • Encouraged them (NIV, New KJV)
  • Exhorted them (NASB, RSV)
  • Preached a farewell message to them (Living Bible)

I personally don’t think any of these are adequate in and of themselves.  The Greek word is one we have encountered before.  It’s parakalesas, from the same word used when the Holy Spirit is referred to as the “Comforter.”  The prefix para means “along-side,” while kaleo means “to call.”  Visually, it’s the image of compassionately calling a hurting acquaintance to join you in a walk.  It implies ALL of those translated terms!  Sometimes we stop, face them, and put our hands on their shoulders; other times we walk side by side with an arm around their shoulders; and, yes, sometimes a simple hug communicates everything.  The love and care demonstrated in the very calling itself, the touching, the companionship, and carefully-chosen words all result in exhortation and encouragement.  In short, hurting brother or sister is built up.  And in this specific verse the church in Ephesus is prepared for Paul’s future absence from them.

I well recall when a former pastor and his family, who had ministered in our midst for several years, gathered certain members of our local body for a dinner – to announce his resignation and inform us of God having called them to minister in a different distant community.  It was the beginning of a goodbye process that lasted several weeks, and there was not a dry eye in the room, for they were greatly loved.

The verse closes with Paul leaving this farewell meeting and setting out for Macedonia.  This seems like an odd way to get to Jerusalem, which was in the opposite direction!  A little geography refresher is in order.  In Chapters 16- 18 we read about Paul’s second journey following the great council meeting in Jerusalem to validate Paul’s ministry to the Gentiles.  He travelled by land north and then east around the northeast corner of the Mediterranean Sea, through Syria, Cilicia, Galatia, and Pisidia – modern-day Turkey between the Mediterranean to the south and the Black Sea to the north.  The Holy Spirit forbade them to go further west into Asia, Mysia, and Bithynia.  They skirted northward, travelling along the border between Asia and Bithynia, passed through Mysia and eventually came to Troas on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea.  It was there Paul had his vision of a man of Macedonia, asking him to “come over… and help us.”

Macedonia was on the opposite side of the Aegean Sea from Troas.  They sailed along the north coast past Samothrace to Neapolis, the port city of Philippi, in the region of Thrace, and then travelled by land westward into Macedonia (New Testament Thrace and Macedonia are modern-day Bulgaria, North Macedonia, and Albania).  From there they travelled down the west coast of the Aegean Sea through Achaia (modern-day Greece), stopping in Athens, Corinth, and then sailing back eastward across the Aegean Sea to Ephesus.  From there he returned once again to Antioch.  Luke squeezed a lot of history into just three chapters!  Included in that second journey were Paul’s brief stays in Philippi, Thessalonica, and Berea, then his discussions with the philosophers of Athens, then 18 months in Corinth, followed by a brief stay in Ephesus before returning to Antioch.

Now Luke is squeezing again.  Paul sets out from Antioch heading westward along the northern shore of the Mediterranean Sea as in his previous journey, stopping at each of the previous churches to encourage them.  This time he comes directly through Asia to Ephesus, and stays for two years.  As a result, “all of Asia heard the word of the Lord” – the very region where the Holy Spirit had forbidden them to enter on their previous journey!  His stay in Ephesus culminates with the silversmith’s riots which we studied in the previous post.

v. 2-3a

From Ephesus, then, he circled around the north shore of the Aegean Sea through Troas, Philippi, and Berea, and all the way down into Greece to Corinth.  Luke describes this lengthy journey – both time- and distance-wise – as “those districts,” and what was accomplished as “much exhortation.”  He notes that Paul spent three months there.  (Remember that verse numbering is not part of the actual text – it was added much later by theologians.  This “three month” phrase belongs at the end of verse 2, not the beginning of verse 3.)

v. 3b

Paul’s intent apparently was to return to Jerusalem directly by sailing from Corinth’s port city of Cenchrea to distant Syria, crossing the Aegean Sea to Miletus or thereabouts first.  However, Jews apparently caught wind of his plans and his whereabouts, and over those three months developed a plot to kill him. Luke doesn’t give us any information about which Jews or from where, and it’s not the first such plot or the last.

Luke says this resulted in an immediate change in plans.  Again, translations vary in describing what went on in Paul’s mind.  NASB says he “determined” to return back through Macedonia instead;  KJV says he “purposed”; NIV says he “decided.”  The Greek word is gnome, derived from ginosko, which Zodhiates defines as “to discern, … capacity of judgment, faculty of discernment as far as conduct is determined.” (Word Studies – Lexical Aids to the New Testament, #1106)  This is not the same word as when Paul “made up his mind” to go to Jerusalem in 19:21.  He was not “determined,” rather he discovered the plot (discerned it) and judiciously changed his route to avoid it.

So back around the horseshoe of the Aegean coastline he went.

vv. 4-6

Luke lists Paul’s associates in Corinth at that time, noting in v5 that they were sent on ahead, perhaps as a diversion, and were waiting for him at Troas.  The list reads like a list of the Macedonian, Asian and Galatian churches themselves – Sopater from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus of Thessalonika, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy from Lystra, and Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia Minor.

In verse 6 Luke reveals that he (and perhaps others) remained with Paul as they journeyed through Macedonia to Philippi.  They remained in Philippi through the days of Unleavened Bread, and rejoined the others five days later in Troas, and remained there for seven more days.

It’s interesting that Luke uses a Jewish holiday, the Days of Unleavened Bread, to pin down the time of this brief visit to Philippi.  This holiday’s origin dates back to the day that Moses led Israel out of Egypt – in such a hurry that they had no time for their bread to be leavened or to rise.  Consequently it is associated with the Jewish Passover, which of course coincided with the “last supper” of the Lord with His disciples before His crucifixion.  We must remember that Paul was Jewish himself, and always had a burden for his “own people,” as evidenced by his participating in certain Jewish vows.  However, as a “calendar marker,” it was a time commonly known by both Jews and Christians, and Luke likely used it without implying any particular religious significance.

vv. 7-12

Here Luke gives us an interesting anecdote.  Still in Troas, the local believers and Paul’s entourage gathered for fellowship and teaching on the “first day of the week.”  C. R. Stam suggests that this was actually a Saturday night, the evening following the Jewish Sabbath, which ended at 6:00 PM.  In Jewish reckoning, 6:01 PM was already “the first day of the week.”

The place where they gathered was apparently a three-story home with a large “upper room” lit by many oil lamps. One of the attendees, a young man named Eutychus (probably a teenager) was sitting on the sill of a third-story window.  As the evening wore on and Paul continued to teach and preach, Eutychus “fell” asleep — all the way to the pavement below.  Others in the group raced to his aid, and apparently lifted him from the ground on arrival.  Their diagnosis was heart-wrenching: he was dead.

Paul, however, apparently watched the scene from above.  On seeing their conclusion, he joined them on the street.  With great compassion he knelt and took the boy into his own arms.  Within moments Paul announced that the boy was not dead.  By verse 12 Luke relates that the boy was “taken away” alive, probably to his home by his family.  Paul returned to the upper room, ate in fellowship with the group, and they all lingered until dawn, talking through the night.

Luke’s description, as the “beloved physician”, is surprisingly terse compared to other passages.  Under the Holy Spirit’s direction, he gives no indication that this was a “miraculous resurrection.”   It happened in a small intimate setting and made no flashy impression on unbelievers or Jews.  The only thing it accomplished was the comforting and encouragement of those present.  At the same time, Luke gives no details of specific injuries or necessary recuperation. The incident didn’t disrupt their time together – it apparently was taken in stride, for afterward they picked up where they left off.

Paul, of course, DID perform miracles, and this was not beyond the reach of the God he served.  Today we often refer to medical recoveries as “miraculous.”  But I don’t think we mean the kind of miracles such as the raising of Lazarus or Paul’s re-entry into Lystra after being stoned by the Jews.  Luke – and the Holy Spirit – simply do not give us enough information to determine which level of “miracle” happened here.

In any case, when the meeting finally dispersed at sunrise, Paul and his companions boarded ship and set sail for Jerusalem by way of Miletus.

Next time: Farewell Instructions to Ephesian Leaders

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