It sees like today we have a lot of people who are famous for very little. Celebrities who are famous for being celebrities. Today, we’re going to look at someone who tops them all, a guy who is famous for sleeping in church. Euthychus in Acts 20.
The “Read The Text For Everything But the Point” Interpretation
Some commentators focus on anything other that the that a young man dies and is resurrected from the dead in the middle of the worship service. They read it to glean insights of the life of the early church - and to be sure, this is an important source for information about the worship activities of the early church. It is, along with I Cor. 16:2, one of two texts that demonstrate that the early Christians had transferred their primary day of meeting and worship to Sunday, the Lord’s Day, the fist day of the week, rather than the Jewish Sabbaths. So its a very important ant verse in establishing the timing of the Christian worship. It also establishes the purpose of Christian worship - it says in verse 7 that they are gathered together to break bread - that is, that the early Christians met together for the purpose of fellowship and edification through the sharing of the sacramental meal. It’s one of the reasons that we break bread together every time we meet together as a church. The text also sheds some light on the procedure for worship in the early church, as it seems that as they would come together for the breaking of the bread in fellowship together, they would first listen as the scriptures were opened, in this case, Paul has the privilege of talking with them, in which he likely shared testimony of the things God had been doing on his journeys, as well as opening up the word and teaching them. After the assembly fed on the word, they broke bread together, which most understand to be a reference to the Lord’s Supper, and then they also ate a communal meal together, displaying the fellowship that characterized the early churches. And so some scholars see this as a very important text, giving us a glimpse into the life of an early church, and only minimally acknowledging that this dude fell out of a window and died (!) This is not likely Luke’s intent - if he wanted to write out the whens and the whys and the how’s of worship in the early church, he could’ve done it with a bit more focus.
The “Poor Eutychus” Interpretation
There’s another interpretation that focuses on the incident with Eutichus falling out of the window, and I call it the “poor Eutychus” interptreation. This is a modern interpretation which reads the passage through a somewhat humorous lens, often emphatic to young Eutychus who feel to his death an innocent victim of a preacher too in love with the sound of his own voice to get the sermon done before too long. And to be honest, there are some details in the text that are a bit funny to our ears; I mean, they came together to break bread, and I can imagine Paul, being the honoured guest as the travelling preacher and noted apostle, being asked to say a few words before dinner. This reminds of any of the banquets I attended in Japan or China, when the most esteemed among the guests would be asked to say a few words before the meal and he’d go on and on and my stomach would be saying enough! Thankfully at Corina’s wedding we all ate before Richard came up with his speech. And Paul goes on and on and I can see the kind servants who’ve prepared the meals growing in frustration as they peak out of the kitchen doors and see him still going, and Eutychus is in the corner (because all of the young people are kind of pushed off to the side aren’t they?) and he’s nodding off, because its getting close to midnight and beloved brother Paul, bless his heart, has been at it for hours, and just then before midnight, plop - out the window! Thankfully, Paul’s not completely useless and he brings the poor young man back to life at which point someone mercifully takes advantage of the interruption and says, hey, let’s start the meal, before Paul can open up his mouth again because once he does, he might not stop, and indeed doesn’t stop until morning. Poor Eutychus! I read a couple of sermons and blog posts this week that said basically, don’t be like Paul. “How to preach sermons that keep even Eutychus interested”. The worst article I read argued that Eutichus was an innocent victim of an oppressive church culture that marginalized children and youth, pushing them to the side, boring them to death with long sermons and depriving them of snacks.
This interpretation is almost so ridiculous that it hardly warrants a response, but there is a spirit behind it that infiltrates our modern churches, so that it is the pastors job to keep the kids entertained so that they don’t fall out of the windows. More video, spice it up, insert some relevant pop-culture lingo. Snacks! Lasers! Fog lights in worship! the standard we set for a ministry are - were the people entertained? Or heaven forbid, were they bored? I had a friend a few years ago who applied for a ministry position in this town, and they asked him to preach to the entire congregation, and long story short they told him he didn’t get the position because one of the elders noticed that the youth weren’t paying attention during his message. Poor Eutychus.
There’s a third interpretation - “Lucky Euthychus” It’s a play on his name - Eutychus means “lucky one”. How is Eutychus lucky?
1. Euthychus sat under faithful teaching of the Word of God
A major thrust of this passage is look how dedicated they are to the word of God and hearing it taught! There is no criticism in this passage of Paul’s going on to long, in fact, the picture we get is that the church sees it is such a privilege to have a preacher like Paul present among, so eager to hear the word, that they make preparations to stay the night. Don’t overlook verse 8: There were many lamps in the room in which we were gathered. This is the first key to unlocking this text. These believers were eager for the word and made preparations for the word to come into their community and bless them. the picture that’s comes into my mind are those videos I’ve seen of Chinese Believers opening up a crate of Bibles and crying and worshipping because the word has come to them. Or the believers that I knew in Beijng who begged us to dothree hour long bible studies when we met together because they had bussed for over an hour across town and they had come for the word of God and were not going to go home until they were filled.
The emphasis in the text is not that Eutychus is like everyone else, bored out of his mind and sleeping during the sermon - but that Eutychus is not like the others, they were alert, while he dozed off. And this is likely the main point of this text - how fortunate for Eutychus to sit under the faithful teaching of the word of God, and thus how devastating is his spiritual slumber.
Eutychus is given as a warning to us, that we be spiritually alert and not take the opening up of the word of God for granted but instead be ready and eager to receive the word of God. That’s how the original readers would have read the text - not poor Eutychus, but pitiful Eutychus, the one who slumbered while the apostolic Word of God was preached with power in front of him.
Luke’s intent with telling us the story of Eutychus is to warn us, that we might not spiritually slumber when we are so fortunate to have the word of God come to us. And yes, this is bigger than just sleeping in church - sometimes your tired, I get this. It’s not about dozing off one Sunday. It’s about not being ready, alert and prepared spiritually for the blessing of God to come in and shine on you.
See, Luke emphasizes in his gospel, and as we’ll see, in this very chapter, the call to Christians to stay spiritually alert and ready, until the Lord comes in all his fulness. Only Luke, for examples tells us that during the amazing transfiguration of Jesus in Luke 9, that the disciples fell asleep. the actual phrase “they grew heavy with sleep” is similar to the phrasing in 20:8. In Luke 12:35, Jesus commands:
“Stay dressed for action and keep your lamps burning, 36 and be like men who are waiting for their master to come home from the wedding feast, so that they may open the door to him at once when he comes and knocks. 37 Blessed are those servants whom the master finds awake when he comes. Truly, I say to you, he will dress himself for service and have them recline at table, and he will come and serve them. 38 If he comes in the second watch, or in the third, and finds them awake, blessed are those servants!
I guess the most clear argument for understanding this passage as a waning to us that we should guard against spiritual slumber is reading the rest of the chapter. Often, Biblical authors will pair a descriptive story with explicit teaching, so we get a picture first and then the presentation or vice versa. In the second half of this chapter, Paul meets with a church for his final words to them, as he does here. He reminds them of how he devoted himself to teaching them the word of God, as he is showing in this story, and listen to his last words to the elders of that church, and see if this does not echo a warning that Euthychus would have been well served to heed:
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. 31 Therefore be alert, remembering that for three years I did not cease night or day to admonish every one with tears.
You see all of Acts chapter 20 is Paul’s last words to the church before the focus of Acts shifts from his ministry among the churches to his travels to Rome. And the overarching message to the church leaders in Ephesus, through the illustration of what happens to Euthychus, and to us reading the Word today, is Be Alert! Do Not Slumber! Stay ready for action and keep your amos burning. See what a privilege it is to be part of the family of God, and see how fortunate you are to have the Word of God in your midst! Wake up sleeper!
This is the message of Paul to the Romans:
Rom. 13:11 Besides this you know the time, that the hour has come for you to wake from sleep. For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed. 12 The night is far gone; the day is at hand. So then let us cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light.
Or hear the message to the Corinthians:
1Cor. 15:33 Do not be deceived: “Bad company ruins good morals.” 34 Wake up from your drunken stupor, as is right, and do not go on sinning. For some have no knowledge of God. I say this to your shame.
If you prefer, you can here the same message from Jesus through John to the church at Sardis:
“ ‘I know your works. You have the reputation of being alive, but you are dead. 2 Wake up, and strengthen what remains and is about to die, for I have not found your works complete in the sight of my God. 3 Remember, then, what you received and heard. Keep it, and repent. If you will not wake up, I will come like a thief, and you will not know at what hour I will come against you. 4 Yet you have still a few names in Sardis, people who have not soiled their garments, and they will walk with me in white, for they are worthy.
Or Peter, if you will:
9 And we have the prophetic word more fully confirmed, to which you will do well to pay attention as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts
Do not slumber as Eutychus, but see how fortunate you are to have to Word of God in your hand and on your ears, and in your church and on the radio. Wake up!
2. Euthychus spiritual slumber did not lead to eternal death
Eutychus was extremely fortunate that his spiritual slumber did not end in ultimate death. Yes, he fell out of the window, yes he was taken up as dead, but God, in his great mercy, granted to him the power of life from the dead. See, church, this is what we need to pierce our spiritual slumber, the gracious, saving power of God to grant us life. This story is not about shorter sermons or video clips of fog machines or witty pop-culture references, this is about the power of God to awaken the dead. If we miss this point, we will fail those who spiritually slumber around us, because we will try to wake them up by worldly methods, rather than by the power of God. Parent, can’t you see this about your kid - every kid will tell you that they don’t like coming to church because its boring, and maybe sometimes it is, but I promise you there is a young person sitting beside them, who in the same boring sermon is clinging to every word like a pearl because God has awakened their heart.
There is an excellent saying, that demands full acceptance in the church, “what you win them with is what you win them to.” The idea is that if we shiny up the church with popsicles and sunshine and skinny jeans and whipped cream pies, we’ll attract the crowds and entertain the masses and yeah, the lis will just eat all that stuff up. The problem is that that is not the kingdom. So when Christianity is not fun any more, there’s no reason to stick around. But if we win them with the simple message, “Come and die and find your life in Christ.” If that’s what we win them with, then we win them to a life that lasts when the party ends. We need to pray for the Eutychus’ among us, not that they fall out of windows and die, but that they be awakened to life by the Power of the Spirit. How fortunate Eutichus was!
3. Euthychus was restored to table fellowship
The final way Eutuchus was fortunate, is that having slept, having fallen, having been raised back to life, he then joins once again with the believing community, breaking bread together with them in celebration of the God who saves. They go back into the house together, and
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.
Euthichus, what a lucky guy. Pray that those sleeping might be awakened and restored.