Acts Day 236 - He Sees You
20:7 Now on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul, ready to depart the next day, spoke to them and continued his message until midnight. 8 There were many lamps in the upper room where they were gathered together. 9 And in a window sat a certain young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep. He was overcome by sleep; and as Paul continued speaking, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 10 But Paul went down, fell on him, and embracing him said, “Do not trouble yourselves, for his life is in him.” 11 Now when he had come up, had broken bread and eaten, and talked a long while, even till daybreak, he departed. 12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.
As we learned from the beginning in Acts it was the custom of the early believers to meet daily to break bread. However this gathering was different. Different because it was Paul's last night with them. He was leaving first thing in the morning. The reality that they had not seen him for some time and did not know of or when they would ever see him again drew a large crowd. The room was so full that some, notably Eutychus, we're sitting on the wide sills of the window openings at the back of the room. Many candles were burning which made keeping the windows open necessary both for temperature moderation and air quality. Even with them open the air was heavy, especially in the window as the smoke escaped through the opening.
The combination of the circumstances of bad air and a long farewell message eventually put Eutychus to sleep and he fell from the third storey to the ground and died on impact.
Perhaps you are like Eutychus. You started following Jesus and were really excited. You wanted to be wherever His people were gathered. Even when there wasn't enough room you found a place. Jesus was coming soon and you didn't want to miss anything! Then soon became not quite right away and as time seemed to plod on ever more slowly it seemed things began to change. Eagerness turned to monotony which turned to boredom and before you knew it you were fighting to stay awake.
Back at the beginning you always arrived early and got a front seat. Then you were content to arrive on time and sit wherever. Finally you were lucky to squeeze in at the last minute and grab a seat at the back of there was one.
You aren't really sure what happened but at some point you awoke to the realization you were falling. The group was nowhere in sight. The preacher's voice could no longer be heard. Very suddenly it was all over.
Paul came. He stopped everything for the sake of that young person who slept through his farewell speech in the back window. He prayed over his lifeless body and by God's grace and power His life returned.
God sees you. Whether you are bored or just plain tired. Whether you are wearing out or just momentarily weary He sees you. He knows where you are. You may even be in free fall. Your friends and fellow believers may have already pronounced you dead but He sees you. He knows where you are and has no intentions of leaving you there.
We were all dead in sin. When Jesus first found Peter he was fishing. Peter dropped his nets and sold everything to join with Jesus. At first it was exciting but then it got weird and confusing. Finally in the end Peter had to turn his back on Jesus. He couldn't understand what He was trying to accomplish. None of it made sense anymore and he walked away into the darkness.
God saw him. God knew him before Jesus called him from fishing and God sent Jesus to call him from fishing again. No amount of sleepiness or even death in us can prevent the love of God from breathing new life into us. The church may be stuffy. The air quality may be bad. We may not find a place where we fit. The preacher may be talking over our heads or just plain too long. None of that can prevent the life restoring power of God.
He sees you. He knows you by name. He has no plans to leave you where you are.
Acts Day 237 - Comforted In No Ordinary Way
20:12 And they brought the young man in alive, and they were not a little comforted.
Life can really deliver a mixed bag of emotions. Yesterday was a day like that. We had a baptism at our church and a baby dedication. It should have been a completely beautiful day. It would have been except that the day before our head elder's sister had a brain aneurysm and the night before the friend of a couple of our young people took his own life.
Paul was leaving. It was a happy occasion that he had come but a sad occasion that he was leaving. Now add to that emotionally charged occasion the sudden and tragic death of Eutychus followed by his miraculous return to life. Talk about an emotional roller coaster.
The Bible says when the night was over "they were not a little comforted." Young's Literal Translation of the Bible says "they were comforted in no ordinary measure."
Jesus said "In this world you will have trouble but be of good cheer for I have overcome the world." John 16:33
The death and resurrection of Eutychus was a stark reminder of the truth of both. This life is full of trouble. Some is minor and some is absolutely heart wrenching pain that makes your chest feel like it will explode. God does not wrap us in bubble wrap. He does not send His angels to prevent every accident. I cannot tell you why He does prevent some but I can tell you He could prevent them all. The problem is if He did we would get even more comfortable in this place that is not our home. Tragedy is the reminder that an enemy walks among us. There is evidence of his handiwork everywhere. However, and this is the point - his destructive work can only go so far and last so long. He has no dominion over life. God can give life back to whomever He chooses and His Word promises that eternal life will be given to all who choose Him.
On that Day there will be no more sickness, no more crying, no more pain, and no more death. (Rev. 21:4)
The roller coaster of mixed emotions will be over. Never again will moments of triumph be marred by tragedy.
Paul sailed away. It was a sad day. But standing with them waving him farewell was a young man freshly back from a tragic death. He stood there as a reminder there is much more to the Story than often meets the eye. I have experienced miracles and the absence of them. I am learning to be thankful for both because God is using all of it to bring the sad history of this world to a glorious end in which all tragedy will be forever wiped away. May this reality comfort all of us in no ordinary way.
Acts Day 238 - Planned Avoidance
20:13 Then we went ahead to the ship and sailed to Assos, there intending to take Paul on board; for so he had given orders, intending himself to go on foot. 14 And when he met us at Assos, we took him on board and came to Mitylene. 15 We sailed from there, and the next day came opposite Chios. The following day we arrived at Samos and stayed at Trogyllium. The next day we came to Miletus. 16 For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he would not have to spend time in Asia; for he was hurrying to be at Jerusalem, if possible, on the Day of Pentecost.
Here is another weird passage that seems to have no relevance. Why do we need to know such details? There may be other reasons but here is one:
It gives us a glimpse into the very real human side of the behind the scenes logistics of their lives. It wasn't just preaching and miracles and riots. It was walking and sailing and even planned avoidance. Planned avoidance? Yes planned avoidance. Did you miss that?
Obviously they are sailing in a small vessel and closely following the coastline. We know this because Luke and the rest of the team leave without Paul and he meets them on foot. They had to sail out and around land that jutted out into the water. Paul just walked across that narrow strip of land and met them on the other side. We also know from the description that they cane to shore every night to sleep. Village after village dotted the coastline and they stopped at one of them each evening.
Think about it. Their travels made them visible. Anyone who was paying attention and knew them could watch them sail by.
Paul has a goal. He is trying to get to Jerusalem for the Day of Pentecost. To do that he told them to sail past Ephesus and not stop. It was planned avoidance. Did they see him pass and not stop? Quite likely. Were they hurt by that? Quite possibly.
Just last week I had to run an errand north of where I live. It required driving past someone I haven't seen in a while. Time constraints demanded I drive past and not stop. I wanted to stop. I wanted to see them but time and circumstances made it impossible.
This week I am "home" in Nova Scotia. There are lots of people I would like to see but time and circumstances will prevent me from seeing all of them.
Paul had a goal. He had a destination in mind and a time limit. These factors required bypassing Ephesus and the people there that he loved. I'm sure some were offended when they found out, not realizing it probably hurt Paul more than it hurt them.
All of this brings me back to something Jesus said. He was about to be crucified and ultimately return to heaven. The disciples of course wanted nothing to do with Him dying or leaving. Then He said this to them: "It is to your advantage that I go away. Then I will send the Comforter..."
Jesus had become like us, like Paul. He could only be in one place at a time. If He was in Bethany He couldn't be in Jerusalem. If He was in Jerusalem He couldn't be in Galilee etc... So He sent Someone else, Someone different. Someone who can be wherever we are at all times. Someone who never has to pick and choose where He must be while avoiding others to get there.
"I will send you the Comforter." - Jesus
He is always with me and always with you. Don't miss Him and spend a life of planned avoidance. Make Him your closest companion.
Acts Day 239 - Bound
20:17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
This is one of the most powerful passages in all of the Bible for me. Paul sails past Ephesus to the next village. There he comes to shore and sends for the elders of the church in Ephesus. He doesn't have time to meet everyone but feels he must encourage the leaders.
When they arrive in Miletus he opens his heart to them. He tells them he believes he is going to his death by going to Jerusalem but that he must go because he is bound in the Spirit, meaning he believes this is what God wants him to do.
Talk about boldness and courage! When Jesus went to the cross He knew it was to die yet He went anyway. He could have avoided it. He could have called angels to His rescue. He could have struck his captors with blindness. So many possible escape routes yet He submitted to the shame and agony of the cross knowing it was the singular act that would break the power of Satan and open the way for us to come Home.
Paul is not Jesus. He is not on a mission to save the planet. Jesus has already done that. The mission Paul is on is to follow Jesus wherever His Spirit leads him. For the moment that means returning to Jerusalem. This brief encounter with the elders from Ephesus reveals to us that Paul believes he is going to die there, but He is going anyway.
I think it's important to recognize that when Paul says he is bound in the Spirit that it isn't with chains. It was not chains or nails that held Jesus to the cross. He committed to it in Gethsemane before anyone ever laid a hand on Him. Jesus was bound by love for us. Paul was bound by love for God.
The man who a few years earlier was rounding up Christians to kill them is now willingly sailing to his own death if necessary.
"Greater love has no man than this, to lay down his life for his friends."
Paul is bound by love, the greatest force in the universe!
Acts Day 240 - House to House
20:18 “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ."
A friend sent me a quote that sums up the Christian struggle. The essence of the quote was that Martin Luther found it easier to convince men that the pope was the antichrist than it was to convince them that the just will live by faith.
Paul had a singular mission. It was a simple message. The challenge was not in explaining the message but in getting people to believe it. I want you to notice that he preached it publicly and from house to house. The message was that we are sinners incapable of earning, buying, or working our way back into God's favour. The truth is we don't have to. Jesus is God's message to us. Jesus is our "Way" back Home. If we believe Him and trust Him we have nothing to fear. Such a simple message and yet the chasm between the message and our hearts seems impossible to bridge at times. That is why Paul didn't just preach publicly. He preached from house to house.
I preach publicly. I preach in my churches too. This week I'm preaching in a school. However experience has taught me that teaching one on one in homes is the most effective way to bridge the chasm.
Many years ago I was doing just that. The person I was teaching was a young mother. She believed everything and it seemed she would be eager to be baptized and publicly declare her love for and faith in Jesus. However when I invited her to do so she said she couldn't. I was taken aback. How could this be? So I asked her flat out why she would stop short of baptism when she believed everything?
She started to tear up and then the floodgates opened. When she was a teen she got into a relationship. She got pregnant. She was young and scared and her boyfriend did not want the baby. She didn't want her parents or anyone to know so she got an abortion. Fear turned to consuming guilt that had haunted her ever since. She believed there was a God. She believed He created the world. She believed everything the Bible said about Him except the best part - forgiveness. She couldn't repent of the deeply ingrained idea that we have to somehow be 'good enough'. She struggled to have faith enough in Jesus that His sacrifice was big enough to include her.
Thankfully that story ended well. I showed her some of the horrific sins in the Bible that God washed away. I explained to her privately in her home that the only wall between her and God was her belief that her sin was greater than His grace. Do you think that wall would have or could have been torn down in public?!
I truly believe one of, if not the greatest reason why Christianity is struggling is because we aren't taking the message from home to home and from heart to heart. That intimate space free from the stares of others is where the deep encounters happen. Nicodemus met Jesus one on one. Jesus sat privately with the woman at the well and got down to the truth of where she was and where God wanted to take her. Jesus took Peter aside privately to work through his guilt issues.
The public preaching of the Good News is important but it's just the beginning. If Paul knew that house to house and heart to heart was necessary and Jesus took time to meet people one on one shouldn't we be following?
Many believe there is a God, they just can't see past their own sins. The reality that the just will live by faith seems too good to be true and their guilt remains.
If you know someone who seems to believe in God yet is always on the fringes maybe it's time to go visit them...