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Teaching, Tears and Travails

Date: 24 September 2023

Speaker: Ps Luwin Wong

Sermon Text: Acts 20:2 – 21:17

24Sep23 Herald
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“Saving Eutychus”. I was introduced to this book at a conference. Eutychus is the young man in our passage today with the unfortunate reputation for being the guy who fell asleep while the apostle Paul was preaching.

And he would have gotten away with it too, had he not sat at a window, which he fell off from, when he fell asleep. And died.

If we’re honest, we have all been in the shoes of Eutychus; we’re just fortunate to not have been in his seat.

So the book Saving Eutychus aim to help the preacher deliver engaging sermons that will not have the effect of putting the audience to sleep. And that’s how we save Eutychus.

It’s a clever name for a book on preaching, but today’s text has little to say about how to preach. Let’s read.

ACTS 20:7-9

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. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered. 9 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.

What we have here is the longest recorded instance of Paul teaching ministry in a single setting and yet know nothing about what he said. The story of Paul and Eutychus, is not about how to preach.

Nor is it a warning about falling asleep during sermons. The story of Eutychus is not a cautionary tale about the need to pay due attention to the preaching of the Word of God. Because there is not even a hint of rebuke towards Eutychus. If anything, we are led to sympathise with him, for this wasn’t your typical 35 min sermon. Paul had been preaching for several hours, and it was about midnight by the time Eutychus fell asleep. And who could blame him?

So if it is neither about preaching nor about listening, what is the lesson of Eutychus? The lesson is found in his resurrection, or rather, Paul’s resurrection of Eutychus.

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.

In the Gospel of John, we read of Jesus’ raising Lazarus from the grave. Why did he do that?

41 And Jesus lifted up his eyes and said, “Father, I thank you that you have heard me. 42 I knew that you always hear me, but I said this on account of the people standing around, that they may believe that you sent me.” 43 When he had said these things, he cried out with a loud voice, “Lazarus, come out.”

Elijah raised the dead, and his ministry became the archetype of the prophetic ministry, as opposed to the false prophets prevalent in Israel. Elisha raised the dead, and thereby confirmed his status as the successor to Elijah, his divinely authenticated heir.

Jesus raised Lazarus to evidence that he, like Elijah, was genuinely sent by God, a true prophet, a true servant of the living God. In chapter 9, Peter raised Dorcas and demonstrated that the chosen apostles carried on the ministry of Christ in this world through the Holy Spirit.

So then, the resurrection of Eutychus places Paul in the line of true prophets from Elijah to Jesus and to Peter, demonstrating that the life-giving power of God was likewise present in Paul’s ministry. The saving of Eutychus through a resurrection miracle authenticates Paul as a true servant of God.

“Well, good to know. Good for him. What has it got to do with me?” you may ask. Well, if Paul is portrayed as a true servant of God, then we who are likewise servants of God, are thereby called to emulate him – his ministry, his heart and his obedience. His teaching, his tears, and his trials.

These are the subjects to which we turn our attention today as we seek to be true servants of God in this world.

First, his heart. Have you noticed how most of Paul’s descriptive is functional – where he went, what he did, what he said. And very little is said about his emotional life – how he feels.

Well, we read that he was “provoked in his spirit” when he arrived at Athens, but it’s merely there to set up his teaching ministry, which was the central focus of the passage.

In our passage this morning, however, Luke opens up Paul’s heart to us.

We’ll see his anguish, we’ll witness his passion, we’ll hear about his tears. And what will strike us about his heart is the love that fills it – a sincere love for the church. And it is a reciprocated love; the church loves Paul back.

Let’s witness the love between the church and the true servant of God.

ACTS 20:2-4

2 When he had gone through those regions and had given them much encouragement, he came to Greece. 3 There he spent three months, and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia. 4 Sopater the Berean, son of Pyrrhus, accompanied him; and of the Thessalonians, Aristarchus and Secundus; and Gaius of Derbe, and Timothy; and the Asians, Tychicus and Trophimus.

Look at the people present at Paul’s departure from Greece: From Berea, Sopater, son of Pyrrhus; From Thessalonica, Aristarchus and Secundus; from Derbe, Gaius and Timothy; from the provinces of Asia, Tychicus and Trophimus. It’s a mini-United Nations summit.

Christians from various cities who sat under the ministry of Paul accompanied him to the airport to see him off. You can’t just call a grab either, they accompanied him by walking with him to the departure point. It’s a picture of fellowship, a picture of shared love for one another. That’s the sort of relationship modelled for us, between the church and the true servant of God.

And this isn’t a one-off instance either. It appears to be typical.

Here’s what we see at Miletus when we departed from the Ephesian elders.

ACTS 20:36-38

36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.

They wept, and embraced Paul and kissed him. And they were sorrowful above all, because it was the last time they would see each other, and they accompanied him to the ship.

And then again when he departed from Tyre:

ACTS 21:5-6

5 When our days there were ended, we departed and went on our journey, and they all, with wives and children, accompanied us until we were outside the city. And kneeling down on the beach, we prayed 6 and said farewell to one another. Then we went on board the ship, and they returned home.

A warm farewell:

The disciples at Tyre appears to have went a step further. They didn’t just accompany him. They took their wives and children along as well,

I imagine a typical scene today would go like this, the husband says to the wife, “Eh Paul is leaving, I go see him off. You guys wanna come? Don’t want la. Very hard la, with the kids. You go ahead. Eh, send him my regards. Okay, see you.”

No so for Paul. The men, the wives and children accompanied Paul all the way to outside the city, to the beach, where the ship was docked. And there they knelt and prayed and said their farewells.

It’s a warm farewell, a family scene, borne out of a love of the church for their minister Paul.

When Ps Daniel left for his Sabbatical, he mentioned it during comms day, he wrote an Herald editorial about it, and after all that, some didn’t even realise he had left. The subsequent Sundays folks were asking me, “Eh, Ps Daniel didn’t come today ah?”

Anyone sent him off? Anyone knelt and pray for him? Anyone felt sorrowful wept at his departure? No? Just me? More work, that’s why.

Passages like this show us that there are some ways to go in our love within the church. We can develop a bigger heart, a deeper love, a warmer fellowship between the shepherd and the flock.

And Paul didn’t just receive a warm farewell, he received a warm welcome as well.

When Paul arrived at Jerusalem, not only were there disciples who accompanied him, but he immediately found a home, and a glad reception by the Christians in the city.

ACTS 21:15-17

15 After these days we got ready and went up to Jerusalem. 16 And some of the disciples from Caesarea went with us, bringing us to the house of Mnason of Cyprus, an early disciple, with whom we should lodge. 17 When we had come to Jerusalem, the brothers received us gladly.

And this is the reason the church loved Paul so much; because Paul loved them so well.

ACTS 20:31-35

31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one's silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’”

Paul, on his part, loved the church deeply.

We see at least two aspects in his pastoral ministry to the church at Ephesus.

  1. He taught, admonished, ministered to them day and night, not functionally, not professionally, but passionately - with tears. That’s how a parent admonishes their children, they do it day and night, and they do it with tears. Why? Because they love. Because they care, because they identify their kids. And Paul displays that sort of parental, familial love for the church.

  2. He worked hard not just to support himself but this gospel partners as well. Paul worked hard and provided for the fellowship of believers. Again, it’s something we see parents do, working hard and providing for the family. Why? Because they love. Because they care, because they identify with the family.

Take note, leaders of Hermon. That’s how Paul loved the church. And the church loved him back.

And at Caesarea, they disciples urged him not to depart from them to go to Jersusalem, because they feared for his safety.

ACTS 21:13-14

12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem. 13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart?”

When the church is weeping, Paul’s heart breaks. He weeps when they weep. That’s a sincere sort of love that Paul has for the church. And we witness the love they have for him in return.

There was a time when Mt Hermon couldn’t meet as a church. For nearly two years, we couldn’t gather as one family. No church camps. Couldn’t meet up even in CGs. We weren’t able to regularly partake of the Lord’s Supper together. We couldn’t meet face-to-face. We couldn’t do church.

How did your heart feel at the time? It did it break? Did you weep because you couldn’t fellowship in-person with your spiritual family whom you love? How eager were you to return worship in-person when our doors were opened at Henderson?

No doubt some of you were. But even today, where are some who have no desire to return, some who are far happier to simply watch the stream apart from their family in Hermon. CGs who continue to see little need for face-to-face fellowship.

This may be the state of things, but it is not the biblical ideal. “They shall know we are disciples”, Jesus says, “by our love for one another”. Mt Hermon exists to glorify God by being and making disciples. Be disciples by loving one another with a sincere love. That’s the heart of a true servant of God.

Having seen the love and tears of a true servant of God, let us witness his teaching.

ACTS 21:17-26

17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia… 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ.

ACTS 21:26-27, 31

26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God.
31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.

Paul’s teaching ministry bore the following characteristics:

  1. He taught not only with his talk, but also with his walk. His life was transparent before the church.“You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia”. He knew his people, his people knew him.

  2. He taught in various settings and at various times. “teaching you in public and from house to house,”, “for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.” Paul taught in public and in private. He preached to the congregation over the pulpit, and discipled individuals in their homes. His teaching ministry is not a once-a-week Sunday ministry. It was done day and night, in public and from house to house.

  3. He taught the whole counsel of God. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. Now what does this mean? It does not mean that he brought them verse by verse through all 66 books of the bible, mainly because the bible as we have it wasn’t yet canonized at the time.

What then does it mean to preach the whole counsel of God? It means you preach God’s word without leaving out anything that is of primary importance, without avoiding difficult doctrines, without skirting uncomfortable topics, and in so doing helping believers to grasp the whole revelation of God so that they themselves would be equipped with a robust framework from which they better read and understand God’s word for themselves.

And why is this important? Because few of us are actually interested in knowing the whole counsel of God. What do I mean?

Did anyone listen to the National Day Rally delivered by PM Lee last month? For those who did, did you listen to the whole speech with equal attention paid to every word?

The likely scenario is something like this:

He began with an introduction on COVID-19, the US-China relations, and the Russia’s war with Ukraine. And most of us, would be “yea yea, whatever, get on with it.”

And then he says the line: “We will introduce a package to help Young Seniors meet your retirement needs – let us name it the Majulah Package.”

And then those of us in the 50s and 60s, we go, “Okay okay, everybody quiet, quiet. I wanna hear. Me me, I’m young senior. Majulah package for me. I want to hear what its all about.”

And then further down the speech, PM Lee says: “Now I want to speak about public housing.” And then those of you who are planning to either buy or sell a HDB will do: “Dear, stop doing the dishes, come and hear, he’s talking about HDB. Might be important to know.”

And then towards the end, PM Lee says, “There is one special group I want to address: the singles.” Then the singles, go “Eh, eh. No. Singles got no one to call. Just ownself watch”.

The point is this. We tend to be self-interested beings, inward-looking, naval-gazing people. And we tend to only pay attention to information that we believe affects us, that speaks to our felt needs, and answers the questions we are presently asking.

And we take that attitude to the counsel of God as well. We not interested in the whole counsel of God, only the bits that we believe affect us.

You listen to a sermon on Acts, which calls us to proclaim the gospel to our culture, to those around us, in the power of the Spirit. And you “Huh, you lai? This again?” And you drift in and out, and you pay half-attention.

And then you hear a sermon on Ephesians, “…husbands love your wives as Christ loved the church.” And you perk up, nudge your husband. “Eh, got hear or not?”

You see, we are far less interested in the whole counsel of God than we think.

So, it is important that the teaching ministry of the church does not pander to the “felt needs and wants of the congregation”, but rather, is committed to, insists upon, and does not shrink, from declaring the whole counsel of God.

Now I should mention, that this point while necessary to know for the whole church, really applies specifically to teaching office of the church – the pastor and elders, the shepherds who are responsible for feeding the flock.

ACTS 21:26-31

28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 I know that after my departure fierce wolves will come in among you, not sparing the flock; 30 and from among your own selves will arise men speaking twisted things, to draw away the disciples after them.

In a world full of lies, both from outside and within the church, pastors, elders, we must ensure we that we teach the flock with our talk, with our walk, in public and in private, day and night, declaring the whole counsel of God.

That is the teaching ministry of the true servant of God.

Finally, we see the trials of Paul. His willingness to suffer for the call.

ACTS 21:18-19

18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews;

ACTS 20:22-24

22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.

Paul is aware that he will be met with persecution and suffering in Jerusalem, the Spirit has told him and the Spirit is telling him to go. And so he does. Because his goal in life is not to avoid suffering, but to fulfil the ministry he received from God.

ACTS 21:4

4 And having sought out the disciples, we stayed there for seven days. And through the Spirit they were telling Paul not to go on to Jerusalem.

When the disciples at Tyre learned from the Spirit that Paul will face suffering in Jerusalem, they told him not to go. Because that makes sense right? Avoiding suffering, self-preservation. That’s common sense is it not?

“Hey Paul, self-love man. You don’t love yourself, how you gonna love others? We hear that a lot don’t we?” That’s not a contradiction to Paul. That’s not a contradiction at all.

24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself.

The Spirit of Christ leads him. The command of Christ compels him. The example of Christ exhorts him. Love requires sacrifice, even the denial of self and the willingness to suffer. After all, we follow a suffering servant, a crucified Saviour.

Again we read:

ACTS 21:8-12

8 On the next day we departed and came to Caesarea, and we entered the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, and stayed with him. 9 He had four unmarried daughters, who prophesied. 10 While we were staying for many days, a prophet named Agabus came down from Judea. 11 And coming to us, he took Paul's belt and bound his own feet and hands and said, “Thus says the Holy Spirit, ​‘This is how the Jews at Jerusalem will bind the man who owns this belt and deliver him into the hands of the Gentiles.’” 12 When we heard this, we and the people there urged him not to go up to Jerusalem.

Again we read that the Holy Spirit testifies to the suffering that awaits Paul in Jerusalem. And again we see the disciples urging Paul not to go.

And again Paul answers,

13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.” 14 And since he would not be persuaded, we ceased and said, “Let the will of the Lord be done.”

Let the will of the Lord be done. That’s the prayer of Jesus at Gethsamane is it not?

“Not my will, but yours be done.” We know what our will is. Our will is to avoid suffering at all cost, in all places, at all times.

Is it any coincidence that that the Lord’s prayer opens with: “Our father who is in heaven, hallowed by your name, your kingdom come, your will be done?”

“Let the will of the Lord be done.”

May that be the compass that guides our life, and our constant prayer.

And is the will of God in this instance?

We find that in Acts 9, at the conversion of Paul.

ACTS 9:15-16

15 But the Lord said to him, “Go, for he is a chosen instrument of mine to carry my name before the Gentiles and kings and the children of Israel. 16 For I will show him how much he must suffer for the sake of my name.”

The will of God was for Paul to suffer for the sake of the name of Jesus Christ.

Have that thought ever crossed your mind? That it is possible that the will of God for his true servant was to suffer? That suffering is God’s punishment, but his sovereign will for those whom he calls his children, for those whom he gave his Holy Spirit, for those for whom Christ died on the cross?

Has it ever crossed your mind that while the will of God for his good and faithful servant is to ultimately enter into the joy of his master, that that is a promise for the coming eternal kingdom, of the new creation, and not a promise for this present age, in this fallen world, on this side of eternity?

What does that mean for us? It does not mean pursuing suffering wherever we may find it. It does not mean that. It does mean, though, that you do not rule out suffering as the will of God for you.

Perhaps you’re in a thankless job, stuck in a difficult marriage, committed to a sluggish church. Consider the possibility that faithfulness may entail persevering in those circumstances rather than extricating yourself from them.

Consider the possibility that fulfilling God’s will for your life may lead to a loss of income; it may spell the end of friendships; it may demand the deprivation of pleasure.

Consider the possibility that faithfulness may hurt; it may lead to difficulty and agony; it may feel like carrying a cross.

Will you still follow? Will you still trust and obey? Will you be a true servant of the Lord today – marked by a love for the church, by teaching the word and a willingness to suffer for the sake of the name?

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