In our study of Acts chapter twenty, we look at the end of Paul's third missionary journey and the growing opposition to his ministry. This chapter is basically a travel log that tells us of the route that he took as well as the reasons. We also get to see who was leading the journey (hint: it was not Paul).
When the uproar had ended, Paul sent for the disciples and after encouraging them, said good-by and set out for Macedonia.
The "uproar" that is spoken of is the riot that broke out in Ephesus in chapter 19. After that died down, he called the believers and said farewell and headed for Macedonia (Europe).
He traveled through that area, speaking many words of encouragement to the people, and finally arriving 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.
Paul ended up in Greece where he shared the gospel for three months. He had planned to board a ship and head back to Syria but God had other plans. Many Jews were upset because Paul was telling the people that they did not have to obey the Law of Moses to be saved so they planned to attack him. God then sent him back the way he had come.
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.
Paul's ministry at this point was a team effort as many that had accepted Christ began to serve God with Paul. This team went on ahead of Paul and waited for him at Troas. This is a picture of believers working together to simply tell people about Jesus and more of the same should happen today as time is getting shorter. As Christians, we are all on the same team and, if we get out of the way and let Jesus lead the team, He will do great things.
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.
Paul stayed in Philippi to spend the Feast of Unleavened Bread and we may ask ourselves why he observed this or any other Jewish feast. We remember that Paul was taught the Old Testament by one of the most famous Jewish teachers before he came to Christ. After he accepted Christ, Paul was able to understand the meaning of these feasts and how they all pointed to Jesus even before He came into the world. For the Jews, this particular feast was a remembrance of the deliverance of God's people from slavery in Egypt but, for Christians, it was also a picture of the coming of Jesus to deliver us from the slavery of sin.
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.
The body of believers met on the first day of the week (Sunday). This did not change the Sabbath day as many say but was simply a time where they got together and worshiped the Lord. We are called to worship every day and so we can worship on the Sabbath (Saturday) and on the first day (Sunday) as well as the other five days of the week. They broke bread as Jesus had instructed at His last supper and shared the Word.
There were many lamps in the upstairs room where we were meeting.
They were not hiding in fear as, with lights burning in the middle of the night, it would have been obvious to others that they 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!'
In the face of tragedy, Paul sprang into action and simply trusted God to bring the young man back to life. We may say that Paul was special (and he was) but that same power is available to us today. Paul acted in faith and, if we act in faith, God will answer our prayers as well.
Then he went upstairs again and broke bread and ate. After talking until daylight, he left.
Wouldn't you love to have miracles (like the young man being brought back to life) be almost routine? The simple fact of the matter is that God wants to do amazing things through His people but it requires faith on our part to ask for the amazing things with the expectation that they are coming. That's what Paul did and then he simply went back to the preaching. Remember that he was planning to travel the next day but he stayed all night and preached the Word. How many people do you know that would do that instead of saying that they had to get their rest and turning in for the night? God used Paul in a mighty way because he completely sold out and simply followed the leading of the Holy Spirit. We can do the same!
The people took the young man home alive and were greatly comforted.
Why does God perform miracles? It is to bring glory to His name and this is a good example. You can almost picture the people walking the young man home and praising God for bringing him back to life.
We went on ahead to the ship and sailed for Assos, where we were going to take Paul aboard. He had made this arrangement because he was going there on foot.
We do not know why Paul walked the twenty miles from Troas to Assos. It is possible that he used it as a time of solitude and prayer to strengthen himself for the events to come in Jerusalem. It is likely that he also shared the gospel along the way.
When he met us at Assos, we took him aboard and went on to Mitylene. The next day we set sail from there and arrived off Kios. The day after that we crossed over to Samos, and on the following day arrived at Miletus. Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus to avoid spending time in the province of Asia, for he was in a hurry to reach Jerusalem, if possible, by the day of Pentecost.
This passage gives us the sense of urgency that Paul felt to get to Jerusalem. In spite of the hardship that he knew was coming, Paul was trying to get there by the day of Pentecost. This day of Pentecost is talking about the Jewish festival called Shavuot which means "weeks". This was a feast celebrating the giving of the Law on Mt. Sinai and was also the first day that men could bring the first fruits to the Temple in Jerusalem. Paul knew that his life was being poured out for the Lord and he expected the persecution that was to come in Jerusalem. Still, he was going to present himself in the Temple as a type of first fruits just as Jesus did.
From Miletus, Paul sent to Ephesus for the elders of the church.
Even though Paul was in a hurry to get to Jerusalem, he made time to talk to the Christian leaders from Ephesus.
When they arrived, he said to them: 'You know how I lived the whole time I was with you, from the first day I came into the province of Asia. I served the Lord with great humility and with tears, although I was severely tested by the plots of the Jews.'
When the leaders from Ephesus arrived, Paul began by reminding them of his service. Paul had not only proclaimed the gospel in the province but he also had demonstrated it as well. He also reminded them of the opposition that he had faced from the established religious leaders.
You know that I have not hesitated to preach anything that would be helpful to you but have taught you publicly and from house to house. I have declared both to Jews and Greeks that they must turn to God in repentance and have faith in our Lord Jesus.
Paul reminds the Ephesian elders that he did not hold back anything in his teaching but shared it all publicly with anyone who would listen. There are many today that want to just tickle the ears of people and not really teach them how to follow Jesus because they don't want to offend anyone. The simple fact of the matter is that there are parts of the Bible that will offend each of us because we all have areas of our lives that do not match God's desire for our lives. The Word can bring us to repentance but you will not change if you aren't made aware of the problem and that is why all of the Word must be preached.
'And now, compelled by the Spirit, I am going to Jerusalem, not knowing what will happen to me there. I only know that in every city the Holy Spirit warns me that prison and hardships are facing me.'
Paul doesn't know the details of what is coming but he knows that it is not going to be easy. Even though he knows that he is facing this hardship, the Spirit is "compelling" him to go to Jerusalem. God grants us "free will" to do or not do things but He will give us guidance as to what He wants us to do. This is what Paul is talking about and Paul has made it a habit to listen and obey the leading of the Holy Spirit.
However, I consider my life worth nothing to me, if only I may finish the race and complete the task the Lord Jesus has given me - the task of testifying to the gospel of God's grace.
Paul is willing to die in his efforts to share the gospel. He is focused on the task at hand and convinced that, even if he dies, he will be better off with Jesus. That may seem like radical faith to us but, if you think about it, why should we fear going to be with the Lord? Fear is not from God it is a tool that the devil uses to get us to take our focus off of the task at hand which is sharing the gospel. Paul knew that and we can too!
'Now I know that none of you among whom I have gone about preaching the kingdom will ever see me again. Therefore, I declare to you today that I am innocent of the blood of all men. For I have not hesitated to proclaim to you the whole will of God.'
Paul tells the Ephesian elders that he knows that they will not ever see him again. He then goes on to explain how he is innocent of the blood of men because he shared the gospel. This is from Ezekiel 3:17-19 where God talks about being a watchman for the people. We must understand that God has made all of us who are Christians to be watchmen for the world. If we do not share the gospel with the people we come into contact with, we can be guilty of their blood if they die without Christ.
Keep watch over yourselves and all the flock of which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers. Be shepherds of the church of God, which he bought with his own blood.
Paul urges the elders to not only watch over the believers but also to watch over themselves as he knows that there will be attacks. He reminds them to be shepherds and that the "church" was bought at a heavy price. A shepherd's main job is to protect the flock and so Paul urges them to be watchful.
'I know that after I leave, savage wolves will come in among you and will not spare the flock. Even from your own number men will arise and distort the truth in order to draw away disciples after them. So be on your guard! Remember that for three years I never stopped warning each of you night and day with tears.'
Now, Paul warns them of the dangers that face them and the worst of all is distorting the gospel. Paul even warns the Ephesian elders that, some from their own number, will distort the Word of God to get people to follow them. It seems that Paul could be talking about many people today as it seems that "churches" are in a competition to be the biggest or have the most programs. Many today are seeking numbers instead of the lost and distorting the Word to draw people in instead of proclaiming the Word to lead people to salvation. This is just what Paul was warning them (and us) about.
'Now I commit you to God and to the word of his grace, which can build you up and give you an inheritance among all those who are sanctified.'
Paul was a man of prayer and here he tells the Ephesian elders that he has prayed for them and placed them in God's loving hands. He also encourages them as he reminds them that they have an inheritance. We can take encouragement from this as well because we share in that same inheritance.
'I have not coveted anyone's silver or gold or clothing. You yourselves know that these hands of mine have supplied my own needs and the needs of my companions. In everything I did, I showed you that by this kind of hard work we must help the weak, remembering the words the Lord Jesus himself said: "It is more blessed to give than receive."'
Paul is encouraging the Ephesian elders to be humble even as they are in a position of leadership. He reminds them that, even though he deserved to be supported, he worked to support the ministry that God had given him. It seems that much of this teaching has been lost on the leaders of today as many are more of the boss behind the desk type instead of the getting your hands dirty actually laboring in the gospel. Paul, one of the greatest "church leaders" ever, got out of the office and worked to support his ministry. In doing this, he was a great example to the early church as well as to us.
When he had said this, he knelt down with all of them and prayed. They all wept as they embraced him and kissed him. What grieved them most was his statement that they would never see his face again. Then they accompanied him to the ship.
Even as Paul is heading for severe persecution, he bows with the elders from Ephesus to pray for them. What an impression that must have left on the elders!