A travelogue is a ” movie, book, or illustrated lecture about the places visited and experiences encountered by a traveler.” Here author Luke gives us a travelogue of the end of Paul’s third missionary journey.
“After the uproar [in Ephesus] had ceased, Paul sent for the disciples; and after encouraging them and saying farewell, he left for Macedonia. When he had gone through those regions and had given the believers much encouragement, he came to Greece, where he stayed for three months. He was about to set sail for Syria when a plot was made against him by the Jews, and so he decided to return through Macedonia. He was accompanied by Sopater son of Pyrrhus from Beroea, by Aristarchus and Secundus from Thessalonica, by Gaius from Derbe, and by Timothy, as well as by Tychicus and Trophimus from Asia. They went ahead and were waiting for us in Troas; but we sailed from Philippi after the days of Unleavened Bread, and in five days we joined them in Troas, where we stayed for seven days” (Acts 20:1-6).
Inspiring, no? Well . . . no. Makes you wonder why author Luke wrote it. Some ideas. First, Luke was giving us a sense of Paul’s travels as his third missionary journey ends. They took him westward to Macedonia and Greece. Luke tells us three months in Macedonia, but says nothing about Greece time. Commentators suppose a year.
Second, Luke is telling us Paul encouraged the believers to persevere in the faith. Living as a Christian meant opposition could explode any minute, as it did at Ephesus. The Greek is parakaleo—literally, “to call alongside”, often translated “to encourage/exhort”. Paul calls the disciples and he “comes alongside” them to give them support and confidence and hope. The apostle didn’t just plant churches, he pastored them. Although each church had its own elders, Paul could never think of, pray for, or write to any of these churches without thinking of them as “his own”.
Third, Luke is telling us that Paul’s ministry was dangerous. Here, as he’s about to sail for Syria, he learns of a Jewish plot against him. To kill him? To raise false charges against him to the Roman authorities? Whatever, Paul saw it as a real threat and changed his plans.
Fourth, Luke is telling us Paul didn’t travel alone. The men named are Gentiles. Probably representatives of the churches taking their offering for the poor Jerusalem church. The “we” and “us” indicate author Luke rejoined the party at Philippi.
“On the first day of the week, when we met to break bread, Paul was holding a discussion with them; since he intended to leave the next day, he continued speaking until midnight. There were many lamps in the room upstairs where we were meeting. A young man named Eutychus, who was sitting in the window, began to sink off into a deep sleep while Paul talked still longer. Overcome by sleep, he fell to the ground three floors below and was picked up dead. But Paul went down, and bending over him took him in his arms, and said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’ Then Paul went upstairs, and after he had broken bread and eaten, he continued to converse with them until dawn; then he left. Meanwhile they had taken the boy away alive and were not a little comforted” (Acts 20:7-12).
This is the first clear evidence we have of Christians meeting on Sunday for worship. Luke only notes they met “to break bread”; but almost certainly their worship contained more. The central part was Paul’s “discussion”. Since he was leaving the next day, he had much to say. The late hour, the darkness, and the smoky lamps were too much for young Eutychus (“young” suggests 8-12 years old). The longer Paul talked the deeper the window-sitting Eutychus slept. Until he fell out. Three floors down. He was“picked up dead”. Paul “took him in his arms”, in a manner reminiscent of Elijah and Elisha, who both lay down on a dead child and were instrumental in raising both back to life (1 Kings 17:21; 2 Kings 4:34-37) and announced, ” . . . his life is in him”.
Luke gives us a bare-bones account. Certainly Paul’s audience panicked. Certainly they all rushed downstairs. Certainly they grieved noisily according to Oriental custom. Certainly there were ooohs and aaahs when Eutychus revived and stood. Certainly the crowd was amazed. But Paul performed no theatrics. He had faith the Lord Jesus would raise the young boy and simply acted accordingly.
“We went ahead to the ship and set sail for Assos, intending to take Paul on board there; for he had made this arrangement, intending to go by land himself. When he met us in Assos, we took him on board and went to Mitylene. We sailed from there, and on the following day we arrived opposite Chios. The next day we touched at Samos, and the day after that we came to Miletus. For Paul had decided to sail past Ephesus, so that he might not have to spend time in Asia; he was eager to be in Jerusalem, if possible, on the day of Pentecost” (Acts 20:13-16).
Paul had sent the others ahead by boat to Assos. He walked the 20 miles and joined them there. They sailed 44 miles to Mitylene, a chief city of the island of Lesbos and a resort for Roman aristocrats.
They set sail the next day and arrived at Kios—twelve miles from Smyrna and five from the mainland. The following day they crossed over to Samos, which lay at the mouth of the Bay of Ephesus. The city was known for its works of art and also for its manufacture of pottery made of smooth clay with a deep red color.
The next day they put in at Miletus. It was a prosperous city with beautiful architecture and significant religiously. The temple of Apollo stood nearby.
This island-hopping was necessary, because on the Aegean summer winds blew during daylight hours. Sailing ships could make no headway at night. Furthermore, narrow channels along Asia Minor’s west coast were dotted with small islands. Night navigation was dangerous.
Again: why did Luke include this itinerary? Perhaps he’s giving his readers a taste of the travel challenges Paul endured to preach the gospel and encourage “his” believers. Also Luke tells us why Paul by-passed Ephesus: he was eager to be in Jerusalem for Pentecost.
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In the movie, “Breathe”, Robin and his wife, Claire, are a young adventurous couple, until Robin is suddenly stricken with polio. He’s paralyzed from neck down and dependent on a respirator. But, with the help of skilled friends, Claire devises a respirator-carrying wheelchair. Robin is freed from the hospital. He’s back in the outside world. But, after fifteen-plus years, the respirator has irritated his lungs. He’ll drown in his own blood. “It’s time,” he announces. The movie ends sadly with Claire and their son saying goodbye to Robin, who has been euthanized by a doctor friend. “Breathe” makes death a noble relief from suffering. The Bible calls death an enemy to ultimately be destroyed. When Christ resurrects the believing dead, death will be swallowed up in victory. I understand raised-from-the-dead Eutychus to be a foretaste.
And in a text that started with Paul encouraging believers, Eutychus alive and well is great encouragement for us all!