On the First Day of the Week

Acts 20:1-12

Ephesus was a city where Paul experienced great success in preaching the gospel – but it was also a city that mounted incredible opposition to his ministry. He stayed in Ephesus longer than in any other single place – 3 years. From that central base of operations, Paul and his companions launched campaigns into cities throughout Asia Minor, Macedonia and Achaia.
If we’ve learned anything about Paul in our study of Acts to this point, it is that he is never satisfied with the comfortable and secure – his spirit hungered for new challenges and new goals.

“Paul decided”
Tucked back in between the narratives in Acts 19 – the disciples who had never heard of the HS, the seven sons of Sceva, and the riot instigated by Demetrius and the silversmiths – is a decision making moment – 19:21 After all this had happened, Paul decided to go to Jerusalem, passing through Macedonia and Achaia. “After I have been there,” he said, “I must visit Rome also.” If you read that from the NIV, you will notice it read “Paul decided.” And unfortunately, it compresses an idiom into English in a way that leaves us with the impression that Paul just decided one day it was time to move on. What we miss is the literal Greek phrase that says, “Paul set about in the Spirit… to go to Jerusalem.” This was no human decision based on a whim to go – this was a decision prompted and directed by God’s HS. God is at work in all of this. Never miss that. These are the “Acts of the HS” and there is much more going on here than the thoughts and whims and ambitions of a man.

We also get a first glimpse of a dream of Paul’s to go to Rome to preach the gospel there.

But first, Paul has business to attend to – Acts 20:1-6 When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and, after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia. He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arrived in Greece, where he stayed three months. Because the Jews made a plot against him just as he was about to sail for Syria, he decided to go back through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Berea, Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, Gaius from Derbe, Timothy also, and Tychicus and Trophimus from the province of Asia. These men went on ahead and waited for us at Troas. But we sailed from Philippi after the Feast of Unleavened Bread, and five days later joined the others at Troas, where we stayed seven days.

What Luke doesn’t mention here in Acts, Paul talks about at length in his letters to the Corinthians. Part of Paul’s reason for traveling to Jerusalem is to deliver the gift of assistance that the Gentile churches are collecting for them. As Paul leaves Ephesus, his circuitous route to Jerusalem takes him in the opposite direction – north to Macedonia where he travels extensively among the churches, then south to Greece (3 months), then north again through Macedonia and especially Philippi, then on to Troas, at each city collecting their gift for Jerusalem, but also doing something very crucial to the life of these infant churches – bringing them encouragement and teaching.

Notice that Luke’s narrative has suddenly switched back to the first person “we.” Back in Acts 16, we had left Luke in Philippi where he spent nearly five years ministering to the church there. Now in Acts 20, as they pass through Philippi, Luke suddenly appears again, re-joining the mission team as they travel on to Troas. Luke has spent some time in Troas, and they are a special group of people to him – this isn’t a second-hand report of the happenings – this is the eyewitness report of someone who knows personally the events of the day.

Look for a moment at Paul’s pattern of mission work – Acts 14:21 They preached the good news in that city and won a large number of disciples. Then they returned to Lystra, Iconium and Antioch, strengthening the disciples and encouraging them to remain true to the faith.
15:36,41 Some time later Paul said to Barnabas, “Let us go back and visit the brothers in all the towns where we preached the word of the Lord and see how they are doing… He went through Syria and Cilicia, strengthening the churches.
18:23 After spending some time in Antioch, Paul set out from there and traveled from place to place throughout the region of Galatia and Phrygia, strengthening all the disciples.
Paul balanced the focus of his missionary journeys between establishing new churches and encouraging and strengthening already established churches. Paul was never a number cruncher looking for another notch in his gospel gun. He had a genuine interest in ministering to the needs of the churches he had established – it was a driving passion – 2 Cor. 11:28 Besides everything else, I face daily the pressure of my concern for all the churches.

In vs. 6, Paul and his companions arrive in Troas, a church he had established during his 2nd missionary journey in Acts 16:8. It is a seaport into Asia Minor, about 100 miles northwest of Ephesus -- Acts 20:7-12 On the first day of the week we came together to break bread. Paul spoke to the people and, because he intended to leave the next day, kept on talking until midnight. There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting. Seated in a window was a young man named Eutychus, who was sinking into a deep sleep as Paul talked on and on. When he was sound asleep, he fell to the ground from the third story and was picked up dead. Paul went down, threw himself on the young man and put his arms around him. “Don’t be alarmed,” he said. “He’s alive!” Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left. The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.

“On the first day of the week”
What is significant about this visit is that it is the first specific mention of the first day of the week as the unique and separate day on which Christians met to worship apart from their Jewish roots in the synagogue on the Sabbath.

That’s not to say it was the first time it had happened, because even the way Luke words this, it was already the common, customary day that Christians met. It is as if Luke is saying, “because it was the first day of the week – where else would you expect to find Christians, but meeting together?”

By the end of the 1st century – the apostle John, in the book of Revelation, uses the phrase “the Lord’s day” in such a way that it is obviously the common designation of the first day of the week on which Christians met to worship.

Troas plays a cameo appearance here in Acts 20. This is not a posed portrait, but a spontaneous glimpse into a rather usual event in this church’s life (spiced up, of course, by the arrival of Paul) – but what they did, they did every week – Paul’s arrival is incidental to their meeting together in worship on the first day of the week. What I mean is that Luke isn’t presenting something unique about a special church event. This is the ordinary, regular occurrence – that on the first day of the week, the church gathered.

“We came together”
Luke uses a beautiful expression for the assembly of the church – “we came together.” It really dispels those images of an institutional, impersonal entity. These are people whose love for the Lord and whose love for each other draws them together. There is nothing haphazard and occasional about their meeting – this is the fulcrum of their lives.

One of the exciting things about this passage is that it gives us a window into an early church worship assembly.

It doesn’t give us a complete picture – that isn’t Luke’s purpose – there is no single passage in the NT that chronicles a complete worship service – there is not a single blueprint or order of worship handed down.

Our model of worship comes from a compilation of NT texts. This passage tells about their partaking of the Lord’s Supper and the importance of the preaching. A number of other NT passages give us additional glimpses into the makeup of their worship.

What this passage does give us, if not a complete picture of a worship assembly in the nuts and bolts, is a picture of a church where their vibrancy and hunger for the Word and for fellowship brings them together and keeps them together deep into the early morning hours.

In the middle of all this, Luke introduces us to Eutychus – it’s a humorous little episode – most scholars just scratch their heads concerning what it is really doing here – what does Luke possibly have in mind as he introduces this story that turns from humor to tragedy – a sleepy young man who falls to his death from a third story window – exhausted from the long day and now a long sermon (do you get the feeling that Luke might have wanted to write there in vs. 9 – “Paul preached on and on and on and on…”

But we, and they, were relieved when the tragedy turns again suddenly to comfort – vs. 9 “picked up dead,” not “as if dead,” but dead. Paul rushes down and Eutychus is raised again to life and Paul says, “Don’t be alarmed, he’s alive!” Vs. 12 – they were “greatly comforted.”

You know what I think this story of Eutychus is doing here? We all bring the tragedies and sorrows and struggles of our lives to worship with us and what should happen is that we leave greatly comforted. I always wince a little when someone prays, “Let us leave the cares of this world outside” – and I know what they are trying to say. But the fact is, this is where we ought to bring the cares of the world, because God is the only one who can really deal with them. Let’s bring them, and lay them at the foot of God’s throne. And the greatest mistake we can make is to sit at home and isolate ourselves from the healing, encouraging, strengthening power of the body – that is the real tragedy.

“To break bread”
One thing that is really emphasized by this passage is the centrality of the Lord’s Supper in the life of the church. The grammar of the verse indicates, not only that it was a regular event, but that it was the event around which their coming together focused – “On the first day of the week we came together [in order] to break bread.”

Of all the things the church does, the Lord’s Supper claims priority – not as another ritual – but as the heart and life of who we are.
This is when:
• We remember the sacrifice of our Lord upon the cross.
• We reflect upon the gift of God’s grace.
• We examine ourselves and recommit our lives to him.
• We recognize the body of Christ.
• We proclaim the Lord’s death until he comes.

Why the first day of the week?
Later Christian writers remind us that there is nothing arbitrary about this day – it is more than mere symbolism – the first day of the week is the day of the Lord’s resurrection.

Each of the Gospel writers begin their resurrection narratives with the words, “on the first day of the week.” It is no longer Saturday, the Jewish Sabbath that is the significant day of the Christian’s week – it is Sunday, the Lord’s day – the day he arose from the dead – the day life begins for us – when death’s grip is broken – when Satan’s dominance is crushed – when Jesus stands beside the disciples and says, “why do you seek the living among the dead?”

This is the day we gather – not to focus on ourselves – but to celebrate the event which fills our lives with hope and joy – the resurrection.

And so we, like the church in Troas meet “on the first day of the week” to eat the Supper and be fed by the Word.

We often call the Lord’s Supper “communion” – a word meaning “in common, in community” and there is a reason for that. It’s not just that we take it together, but because we are together. We are one, we share our lives, we love being together. It is more than a religious ritual – you and God doing your thing. It is the symbolic participation in the body and blood that make us one in Jesus. Paul said that when we partake of the Lord’s Supper that we should “discern the body” – look around you at the body, your family. Your closest friends and deepest relationships should be among these people because you share something with these people that transcends everything else – you share the blood of Christ that makes you one in Jesus.