William Webber tells the following story: “I was pastor of a small church in a rural community. Wilbur and his wife, Leah, attended every Sunday morning. Wilbur was a farmer, and whenever he came into the house from the field and sat down, he would fall asleep.
“It was such a habit that when he came into church and sat in the pew, he would also fall asleep. I discovered that some of the members of the church were taking bets to see how long I could keep Wilbur awake on Sunday mornings.
“Wilbur’s wife was embarrassed by his behavior, especially when he began to snore. She tried everything to keep her sleepy spouse awake. She complained to him that she was getting calluses on her elbow from poking him in the ribs in a futile attempt to keep him alert.
“One day, while shopping in the grocery store, she saw a small bottle of Limburger cheese. Leah bought it and dropped it in her purse. The next Sunday morning, I had just started the sermon when Wilbur began to nod.
“When I finished the first point in my three-point sermon, I could see I was losing him. As I started the third point, Wilbur began to snore. Quietly, Leah opened her purse, took out the bottle of Limburger cheese and held it under her husband’s nose.
“It worked. Wilbur sat up straight and, in a voice that could be heard all over the church, said, ‘Leah, will you please keep your feet on your own side of the bed!’”
It can be dangerous and risky to fall asleep in church. The young man, Eutychus, in Acts 20 learned that the hard way too.
A Sunday Evening Service
“And we sailed away from Philippi after the days of unleavened bread, and came unto them to Troas in five days; where we abode seven days.
“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight.
“And there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together” (Acts 20:6-8).
The setting of this account is during the latter part of Paul’s third apostolic journey. Paul was on his way back to Jerusalem with a collection for the poor saints there (Rom. 15:25-26). The apostle had intended to sail straight to Syria from Corinth, but because of a plot by Paul’s enemies to harm him, Paul took a different route, and went the long way through Macedonia (Acts 20:3).
Along with several faithful men (Acts 20:4), Paul then traveled to Philippi, where he met up again with Luke. Most of Paul’s traveling companions then sailed ahead of him from Macedonia to Troas on the eastern shore of the Aegean Sea in northwest Asia Minor (Acts 20:5). Later Paul and Luke also sailed there. Arriving at Troas, Paul spent a week ministering in the city (Acts 20:6).
Then, “upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them” (Acts 20:7). The breaking of bread does not necessarily mean that they partook of the Lord’s Supper as described in 1 Corinthians 11:23-24. It just means that they dined together. In Acts 2:46, we read of the Kingdom church after Pentecost doing the same, “continuing daily with one accord in the temple, and breaking bread from house to house” (cf. Luke 24:30,35). Paul was departing Troas the next day, and the breaking of bread at this Sunday evening service was a time of fellowship and a farewell meal for the apostle and his companions.
The congregation at Troas had distinguished visitors present this night as they broke bread. From verse 4 we learn that there was a Gentile friend from Berea, named “Sopater,” and two brothers in Christ from Thessalonica, “Aristarchus and Secundus,” along with another saint from Derbe named “Gaius,” and two
other believers from the province of Asia Minor, “Tychicus and Trophimus.” Also present was Paul’s son in the faith, Timothy, and the beloved physician, Luke.
In the course of the meeting, “Paul preached unto them.” They were all fed physical bread, and then Paul gave them spiritual bread and nourishment from the Word of God. This reminds us how the Word is to be the centerpiece when believers gather together. The Word of God is of primary importance to the Church. It is the Word that convicts the unbelieving of their need for Christ and equips and encourages the saints. And by the Word, the Spirit guides and teaches the Church and leads us into greater maturity in Christ.
Paul began preaching at this Sunday evening service, and he continued to preach for a long time—until midnight (Acts 20:7). Because Paul was leaving them the next day, possibly never to return to Troas, there was much encouragement, exhortation, instruction, and warning to be given to these dear saints.
In verse 8, Luke provided eyewitness detail that “there were many lights in the upper chamber, where they were gathered together.” These lamps likely were filled with oil and had wicks that flickered and smoked.
Many of these lamps flamed in that crowded upper chamber. The “many lights” testify to the boldness of this meeting. This gathering of believers was not held in secret. The upper room in this home was lit up and it shone brightly. Those in Troas knew some important event was going on as this group met.
However, when you put many people together in an upper room with many lamps burning, we naturally believe that the house would have been warm, stuffy, and smoky too. That is important to remember as we consider the reasons Eutychus fell asleep.
Dropping Out of Paul’s Class
“And there sat in a window a certain young man named Eutychus, being fallen into a deep sleep: and as Paul was long preaching, he sunk down with sleep, and fell down from the third loft, and was taken up dead.
“And Paul went down, and fell on him, and embracing him said, Trouble not yourselves; for his life is in him” (Acts 20:9-10).
With that upper chamber being warm and smoky from the numerous lamps, a young man named Eutychus found his way to a window to stay cool and to take in the fresh, night air.
“As Paul was long preaching,” Eutychus was listening, but after a while he fell “into a deep sleep.” The description of Eutychus “being fallen into a deep sleep” portrays him as being gradually overcome by sleep in spite of his best efforts to stay awake. It’s easy to picture Eutychus getting drowsy, beginning to nod, shaking himself awake, trying not to sleep, nodding again, and waking momentarily. But then unable to fend off sleep any longer, it got the best of him and, eventually, “he sunk down with sleep.”
When you think about it though, Eutychus had a full stomach, he was in a warm room with a cool breeze in his face, and the hour was late; it was midnight. That is a triple whammy! And so, like Cain who “went out from the presence of the Lord, and dwelt in the land of Nod” (Gen. 4:16), Eutychus entered the land of nod.
Then Eutychus dropped out of Paul’s class—literally! Falling into that deep, sound sleep on that open windowsill, Eutychus slumped and then plummeted out of the window, falling to the ground below. It was a fall of three stories. The shocking event and the sound of Eutychus’s body hitting the ground suddenly stopped the meeting, and the stunned believers rushed down the stairs and gathered around Eutychus’s body.
Dr. Luke (Col. 4:14), the inspired physician who wrote the account and saw the event, pronounced him dead” (Acts 20:9) on the spot. We see also that Luke declared him “alive” (v. 12) after Paul raised him from the dead. When Luke wrote that Eutychus was “taken up dead” this means that when they picked up his
body, it was a corpse. The fall from the third-story window had been fatal.
In verse 10, we learn that Paul went down from the upper chamber and fell on Eutychus’s dead body. Paul was full of tenderness toward the young man, and we see that by the way Paul embraced his lifeless body.
Then Paul told the troubled group gathered around to not be alarmed or troubled because “his [Eutychus’s] life is in him.” When Paul fell on him and embraced him, God’s power, which is much stronger than death, restored Eutychus’s life. And Eutychus was, at that moment, alive again, raised from the dead and fully healed from his fall. Thus, the crowd did not need to be troubled any longer.
The name, Eutychus, means fortunate. It was fortunate for him that Paul was the preacher that night, and that Eutychus fell out of a three-story-high window in the presence of a man of God who, through the power and goodness of God, had the ability as a true apostle to bring him back to life!
Back to Sunday Meeting
“When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed.
“And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:11-12).
Verse 11 shows us how intent Paul was on teaching this group of believers. Little emphasis is placed on this outstanding miracle. Right after raising Eutychus from the dead, Paul quickly went back upstairs to get something to eat. He ate something because he needed strength to keep on preaching the Word. It was as though Paul glanced at his watch and said to the group, “Oh man, we lost 20 minutes of teaching time. Let’s go upstairs and get something to eat quick, because I have more I need to teach you about Christ and God’s grace before I leave.”
Paul and Luke give this miracle second place to the preaching of the Word of God. Although the miraculous sign gifts of the Acts period were still being manifested, miracles would not sustain people’s faith. But the truth of the Word of God can and does sustain faith. Thus, the preaching of the Word was Paul’s foremost priority. A miracle, even one as outstanding as raising the dead, was secondary to the Word.
After this short break, Paul ended up teaching the rest of the night. Luke stated that Paul “talked a long while, even till break of day” (v. 11). We can imagine though that Paul had everyone’s undivided attention at that point, and no one got sleepy after the miracle! After an all-night meeting, never to be forgotten,
at the break of day, the apostle bade farewell to the believers in Troas and departed to continue his journey to Jerusalem.
Verse 12 tells us that Eutychus, the fortunate young man, departed as well and was brought home alive. The group of believers and Eutychus’s friends and family were “not a little comforted”; they were all greatly comforted that he returned home that morning and that they did not need to be planning a funeral. If anyone doubted the authenticity of Paul as an apostle of God (2 Cor. 12:12), they needed only to talk to the young man in Troas who fell asleep in church.
Practical Truth and Important Symbolism
There is practical truth to be found in this account. For instance, we learn from Eutychus that a wide-open window is not a good place to sit when hearing the preaching of the Word. Falling asleep in that window led to his falling to his death. This window can portray a window of divided attention, a window of compromise, or a window of exploring and looking at the world. All these things can lead a believer to becoming spiritually slumberous and falling asleep spiritually.
Thus, Eutychus is a great example of Ephesians 5:14: “…Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light.” The believer can be lulled to sleep by the world and have a dulled, dead Christian experience. But God would have us wake up (1 Thes. 5:6) and yield our lives to Christ, being awake and sensitive to spiritual realities and to the importance of living for eternal things (Col. 3:1,2).
We can glean this practical truth from this passage, but there is even further symbolic significance to this episode. Note these six important facts about this account: 1) Paul was the preacher; 2) Paul preached for a long time; 3) Eutychus fell asleep under his preaching; 4) The sleeper fell from the third-story window to the ground below and died; 5) Paul restored him to life by the power of God; 6) The people were comforted.
Stop and think about Paul and his epistles, and how those letters, by the Spirit, continue to preach the truth to us, the Church. Then think about how long Paul has been preaching truth to the Church. Paul has been preaching for a long time, even longer than Moses did. Moses and the law were in effect and preached to Israel for about 1500 years, whereas Paul has been preaching the truths of grace for nearly 2000 years so far in this dispensation of grace. Paul has been “long preaching” during the darkness of this evil age (Gal. 1:4; Eph. 5:16). And Paul is still preaching as this dispensation continues to this moment.
There are two things that are emblematic of Paul’s preaching in this account: “bread” and “many lights.” Under grace, the Church receives its spiritual bread and nourishment from the preaching of Paul in his epistles. Through Paul and the message revealed to him by the risen, exalted Christ, believers today are “nourished up in the words of faith and of good doctrine”(1 Tim. 4:6).
When believers come to see the distinctive message of Paul for us today, they’ll often state how it explains so many difficult passages, opens up their understanding of Scripture, and solves so many problems. Many believers describe this experience of coming to an understanding of God’s program of grace for today as the light went on (Eph. 1:18). “The preaching of Jesus Christ, according to the revelation of the mystery” (Rom. 16:25) results in illumination by the Spirit and “many lights” for the Church.
The Church is “in the midst of a crooked and perverse nation [generation]” (Phil. 2:15). But by sitting under the preaching of Paul and living out his teaching, we can “shine as lights in the world,” like the upper chamber of that house did that Sunday night in Troas.
The group that was present in that house in Troas was a picture of the Church, the Body of Christ. It was primarily made up of Gentiles, but also one who was ethnically half Jew and half Gentile (Timothy), and at
least one who was fully Jewish (Paul). But these brethren were “all the children of God by faith in Christ Jesus” and one in Him (Gal. 3:26-28), with “no difference between the Jew and the Greek” (Rom. 10:12). And Eutychus, a “young man,” portrays the “one new man” (Eph. 2:15) of “the Church, which is His Body” (Eph. 1:22-23).
Each of us Gentiles under grace are like this Gentile named Eutychus. We are fortunate. We are blessed that God, in His mercy, chose to have a program with the nations (Rom. 11:30) by which we have been saved by the grace of God and lifted high in Christ. And like all those believers were in an upper chamber in the third loft, so we have been seated in Christ in the third heaven (2 Cor. 12:2; Eph. 1:20; 2:6; Rom. 8:34; Col. 3:1).
However, sitting under Paul’s preaching, much of the Church, like Eutychus, gradually became drowsy and fell asleep, into a deep sleep, until it stopped listening to Paul. And gradually, not all at once, but one after another, portions of the Church nodded and lost hold of the distinctive apostleship and message of the Apostle Paul: not being under law but under grace, the pretribulational rapture of the Church, the difference between Israel and the Church, and even justification by faith alone.
By putting itself under the law, the Church fell from grace (Gal. 5:4) and from its enjoyment and understanding of all we have in Christ today. As a result, the life of the Church was gone, and the Church became a morgue for a long time in the Dark Ages.
However, when the Reformation came, it was Pauline truth that began getting recovered. The concepts of grace alone, “the just shall live by faith” (Rom. 1:17), “one body” (Eph. 4:4), and the “blessed hope” (Titus 2:13) of the Rapture were truths first revealed through Paul that were recovered. Then the distinctive ministry and message of Paul were again recognized in the 20th Century.
What we can see in the account of Eutychus is that it is Paul, the ministry and message of Paul, that gives life to the Church. It is when the grace of God as revealed through Paul embraces the Church that it finds its life and power in Christ. As it was God Who gave life to Eutychus through Paul, so it is God that gives life to the Church through Paul.
And the result will be as Acts 20:12 states, “And they brought the young man alive, and were not a little comforted.” When the Church turns to the truth that Christ revealed to Paul for this dispensation, the Church, like Eutychus, will be alive, and it will result in not a little comfort.
There is great comfort to be found in this remarkable message: the comfort of salvation by grace through faith as a free gift, being sealed in Christ, being blessed with all spiritual blessings, having a seated position in Christ in the heavenlies, and to look for Christ’s appearing to catch us away to glory to forever be with Him before the Tribulation ever begins. As Paul wrote of that blessed hope, “Wherefore comfort one another with these words” (1 Thes. 4:18).