Moving Forward by Faith Acts 20 (Sermon)

Moving Forward by Faith

October 27


Hi, I am pastor Rob, and it is great to worship with you.


In High School, I was an evangelist. I shared two things I loved to different degrees: my faith, and my love for cross country running. I was not as successful at bringing people to the Lord as I was to practice. I got almost everyone to sign up for cross-country. All my friends ran. It was so fun. Most of us weren’t fast. Some people are not made to run. One of my friends, I will call him Bob, was one of those. He was smart and still is one of the most intelligent people I know. One race, he was in the back. He was working so hard. If I remember correctly, everyone was cutting a portion of the route out. They were missing the course. I had my map in hand and was cheering him on and getting more and more excited as he ran. He had studied the map before the race. He knew his way, and as slow as he was, he was the only one to follow the course correctly. It was the literal story of the tortoise and the hare. On a technicality, he would win the race with a record slow time. He paid careful attention to the course set before him. Life can be like that. Life is a race, and God calls us to run it with our eyes wide open. Too often, we find ourselves thwarted by enemies outside, around us, and inside. Too often, we aren’t focused on the course. We miss something or try to take a short cut that is off. We don’t have to do that. Maybe you have. Your journey is not complete. Today is a day of mercy and grace and second chances. We are going to look at three events in Acts chapter 20 that remind us to pay careful attention to the course set before us.

Acts 20:1-38

If you have your Bibles, let me encourage you to open the to Acts 20. We will be reading starting from verse 17 to the end of the chapter. I have asked C. S. K to read for us. We have a tradition of standing in honor of God’s word. Would you please stand with me if you are able?
17 Now from Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called the elders of the church to come to him. 18 And when they came to him, he said to them: “You yourselves know how I lived among you the whole time from the first day that I set foot in Asia, 19 serving the Lord with all humility and with tears and with trials that happened to me through the plots of the Jews; 20 how I did not shrink from declaring to you anything that was profitable, and teaching you in public and from house to house, 21 testifying both to Jews and to Greeks of repentance toward God and of faith in our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And now, behold, I am going to Jerusalem, constrained by the Spirit, not knowing what will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies to me in every city that imprisonment and afflictions await me. 24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. 25 And now, behold, I know that none of you among whom I have gone about proclaiming the kingdom will see my face again. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all, 27 for I did not shrink from declaring to you the whole counsel of God. 28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood. 29 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. 32 And now I commend you to God and to the word of his grace, which is able to build you up and to give you the inheritance among all those who are sanctified. 33 I coveted no one’s silver or gold or apparel. 34 You yourselves know that these hands ministered to my necessities and to those who were with me. 35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.’ ”
36 And when he had said these things, he knelt down and prayed with them all. 37 And there was much weeping on the part of all; they embraced Paul and kissed him, 38 being sorrowful most of all because of the word he had spoken, that they would not see his face again. And they accompanied him to the ship.


Thank you. Let’s pray. Dear God, thank you for your Word. May your Word guide our souls. Be with us now we pray. AMEN. You may be seated.


Let’s go back over the big idea of the entire book of Acts. What is it? I believe Acts 1:8 tells us. It communicates that the mission of the church is to be a witness, by the power of the Spirit, about the truth that Jesus, the crucified Messiah, risen from the dead just as he said, offering forgiveness of sins and life eternal with God. This witness must and will move beyond the bounds of Jerusalem and Judea to the surrounding continents of Africa, Asia, Europe, and eventually, every single ethnic group in the entire world. To accomplish this is costly but better is the blessing than the cost. Let’s learn more.


We come to the text, Acts chapter 20, continuing our series verse by verse and hear this, “after the uproar ceased.” What uproar? You may recall Pastor Jeff shared last week that Paul was in Ephesus, modern-day Turkey, for some three years. There was a riot. Some people were upset because a primary economic driver in the community, the worship of the goddess Artemis, suffered massively when the population was converting to Christianity. This uproar went on for hours. Eventually, the mob got so out of hand that a town clerk had to mediate. He was able to reason with the crowd that they could face the wrath of Rome if they didn’t get a hold of themselves. At that point, Paul thought it was wise to get out of Ephesus (19:21). That is where chapter 20 picks up.


Luke structures chapter 20 with three events of Paul speaking, verses 1-6, 7-16, and 17-38. Each story helps us stay the course with our mission.
SCENE 1 Wisdom in Encouragement

If you are taking notes, I have three points. The first we find in verses 1-6,
In spite of opposition move forward in mission

Paul was on his way to Corinth. He was stopping in the cities where Christians were. He was encouraging the brothers and sisters in the Lord. We know from Romans and Corinthians he was collecting benevolent funds from the church to help the poor in the church at Jerusalem. Paul traveled west from what is now Turkey to Greece, the opposite direction by the way to Jerusalem. Why? The Holy Spirit was leading Paul in his indirect route. Why? Possibly to help the greek church. The church was a mess.

  • They fought over leadership. Some people followed Apollos, some follow Paul, and some followed Peter.
  • They divided over rich and poor.
  • They strayed over spiritual gifts.
  • And they celebrated giving grace those enjoying gross sexual sin.
The Corinthian church was a church divided and united under the wrong values. After a loving and firm letter and a visit from Timothy, they corrected their behavior. Paul sent a follow-up letter, 2 Corinthians, and planned to visit this church in Greece by the power of the Spirit. That was his direction after he left Ephesus. That is where verse 3 comes in.
3 There he spent three months,
He was in Corinth for three months. He was teaching, encouraging, and preaching. Verse 3 continues.
and when a plot was made against him by the Jews as he was about to set sail for Syria, he decided to return through Macedonia.
Paul heard about the plot against him and changed his direction. He didn’t change his mission, but his direction. People wanted him silenced. Once a hunter, now prey, there was a bounty on his head. He was a marked man. He already had been imprisoned and stoned and left for dead. Paul survived all that. His mission was not finished. Paul didn’t have a death wish or martyr’s complex. He was not taking unnecessary risks but understood his mission. He stuck to his guns. He didn’t abandon his course. What was his plan? Jump back to Acts 19:21.

21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia He was headed to Achaia, which is modern-day Greece. The capital of Achaia was Corinth. Verse 21,
21 Now after these events Paul resolved in the Spirit to pass through Macedonia and Achaia and go to Jerusalem, saying, “After I have been there, I must also see Rome.” 22 And having sent into Macedonia two of his helpers, Timothy and Erastus, he himself stayed in Asia for a while.
Ephesus was a major city in this region called Asia - which is not the continent we think of but a portion of the continent in the area of Turkey. Paul planned to go to Rome from Jerusalem by way of Greece. That was like us going to New York by way of Omaha. Paul was on God’s schedule and course. He was following Jesus. He knew his purpose and moved forward by faith. The opposition would not hinder his mission.


Friends, what is your mission? God has a call on your life. He made you with purpose. You have what the French call a raison d’etre, a reason for being. For us followers of Christ, there are forces in this world that would seek our downfall and destruction because of our convictions. What is your course? That is a question at the Leader’s Workshop coming up. We will explore. As Christians on mission for God, I don’t think you will be threatened with your lives in America like Paul was in Greece or Ephesus or Jerusalem. However,

  • you may be overlooked for a promotion.
  • You could be denied a job.
  • You could be cut off from relationship.
So, let’s say God calls you to share your faith with a coworker. I am not talking about not doing your job, but going out after work to eat and asking him or her how you can pray for them, sharing what God has done in your life, or exploring what the Bible says. That would not be outside of work. Yet, how would you respond to the discovery there was a plot to take you down because of that? Would you fight, flee, or compromise? What do you do if the world is out to get you? What did Paul do? He went back to his purpose and moved forward by faith. He didn’t back down or capitulate. He paid attention to his mission. Paul fixed his gaze on his goal: to help the poor in Jerusalem, to spread the gospel where it had not been, and strengthen the brothers. He didn’t give up, shut up, or quit. He moved forward by faith.


What is your course? What is your mission? Have you lost focus or forgotten what God would have you do with your days in the roles he has you? Have the threats of the Evil One hindered you for stepping out in faith? If you are wondering what your mission is, it can be pretty basic. Here is a 50,000-foot view from Paul’s letter to the Ephesians chapter 2 verse 10.
For we are God's handiwork, created in Christ Jesus to do good works, which God prepared in advance for us to do.

What is your mission? Maybe it merely starts with the ideas that you were made to do “good works.” Your course is to honor and worship of Jesus in word and action, not just thought. Perhaps that is not specific enough. Let’s keep moving forward with this text for more definition. Paul faced the cost of mission, changed his direction without capitulation.

SCENE 2 FAITH in Focus

We come to the second scene, verses 7-16, and my second point. My first point was,
In spite of opposition move forward in mission My second is like it.
In spite, limitations Move forward in mission.
Paul turns around and goes back through Macedonia towards Ephesus. He gathered his disciples. Timothy was one, and so was Luke, the author of Acts. His followers were from all over: Berea, Derbe, Philippi, and Thessalonica. The next major stop was Troas. It was on a Sunday, like today. They were having an evening service in an upper room. We don’t know all of what Paul said, but whatever he said, he kept going on and on and on. They lit candles, relaxed, and took in his teaching. Paul kept on preaching and teaching and discussing.


I suspect they had better attention spans 2,000 years ago. They probably slept when it got dark and woke when it was light. They didn’t have the high-speed entertainment society we have today. Remember, Paul was a celebrity. It wasn’t like your boss or teacher. Even his handkerchiefs that he had touched had healed people! Yet, Paul would describe his style not as eloquent, or lofty, or witty, or smart, but somewhat fearful, weak resting on God’s power (1 Cor. 2:1-4). I think that last fact, resting on God’s power, was what made his message so compelling. Paul’s teaching would keep people’s attention, but not everyone. Look at verse 9.
9 And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer.
I find that funny and comforting for those of us who can’t keep our eyes open. I probably would have joined Eutychus, but, I would have chosen my seat differently. Let me ask you this, why would anyone choose to sit in a window sill? That seems risky? As I thought about this, maybe it was cooler by the window with everyone crammed in an upper room. I bet it could get hot and stuffy in a room with lots of grown men and possibly women. Remember, there is no air conditioning. People didn’t have running water to bath like we do, or deodorant, or antiperspirant. The window might have been the best seat in the house.


The text goes on. Not only was Eutychus falling asleep, but he was also falling. Verse 9 again,
And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story Can you imagine? That sounds awful. But that is not all.
And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.
He died. How does that affect Paul and his mission? Paul stopped his teaching, understandably, and he went over to the young man and, by God’s grace, healed him. Paul, by God’s might, raised Eutychus from the dead. Then everyone broke bread, which I think was a phrase for taking communion, and he went back to sharing. The adrenaline must have been pumping. Look at verse 11.
11 And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak.
They pulled an all-nighter. When was the last time you did that? Have you ever done that? This is intense. This was not normal. This was extraordinary. We need to sleep. Monday may have been hard, but maybe not. Look at verse 12,
12 And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.
“Not a little comforted.” That is precisely how the Greek reads word for word. The NIV translates the idea more into how we would say it, idea for idea. They were “greatly comforted.” The NLT says they were “greatly relieved.” Monday dawns, and they had seen a miracle like nothing they had ever seen before. With great relief, I think they also had a great joy. I bet Eutychus and his family sure did.

In the first encounter with the opposition, Paul sticks to his mission yet changes his direction. In the second encounter facing natural limitations, and a shocking disruption, he continues his course. Sleep and death didn’t stop him. In fact, we see God magnified during an accidental death. So, the first point I made was
In spite of opposition move forward in mission
The second was
In spite of limitations move forward in mission.


The text goes on. In the morning, Paul departed. Where? He skipped over Ephesus and went south to Miletus, some 30 miles away. In Miletus, he sent out a request that the elders of Ephesus would join him. He wanted to share with them his mission and encourage them in theirs.


I think verse 24 captured Paul’s heart. If you are going to memorize a verse that expressed the heart of Paul and motivate you, I would pick verse 24. It is one of my favorites.
24 But I do not account my life of any value nor as precious to myself, if only I may finish my course and the ministry that I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
What an example. This was Paul’s goal to testify to the gospel of the grace of God. In verse 24, we see Paul places following God above his physical well being. He knew the course he was running. He knew what he must do.


After saying that, he challenged the elders about their course. Look at verse 28. I think it summarizes his challenge:
28 Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood.
Jesus purchased the church for God by his blood. The elders were to oversee the souls of the church of God. Paul encouraged those men to pay careful attention to the church and themselves. Be attentive. Focus. This was not a self-centered, self-promoting, selfish, totalitarian, top-down fiefdom. This was a focus on themselves first that they don’t stray from the faith. Why? Paul thought some would. He said,
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. (Acts 20:29-30)Paul wrote to Timothy who ministered in Ephesus,
Now the Spirit expressly says that in later times some will depart from the faith by devoting themselves to deceitful spirits and teachings of demons, 2 through the insincerity of liars whose consciences are seared, (1 Tim. 4:1-2)
Paul and the Holy Spirit are telling the leaders of the church in Ephesus. Some would fall away and, worse, some will lead others astray. Pay attention. The elders must keep an eye open not only to opposition from the outside but most importantly, they must be aware of the temptations of leaving the faith and taking others with them. We have talked about following Jesus is costly.
In spite of opposition move forward in mission.
In spite of limitations move forward in mission.

Now, let’s talk about,
In spite of temptations move forward in mission.


The other day my wife and I were shopping. I ran into the store to do a return. My wife said something like, "I will be over here." I heard her, but it didn’t register. I think I said, “Great.” I was not paying attention. I assumed she would be driving in circles around the place. That is how we have done it in the past. I did the return and came out. I looked around, no wife. I walked one way, no wife. Then I walked another way, no wife. Then I started walking down a random lane of cars, no wife. Eventually, I found the car with my wife inside. She asked, didn’t you hear what I said? “Yes, I did, and no, I didn’t.” I heard her. I was there. My ears were working. I heard her say something about being over there. But the words never stuck. I didn’t pay careful attention. Has that ever happened to you? Kids do mom or dad give you instructions before they leave, you hear them, but you don’t? That happens to us, too, at least to me. That is not good. Paul was aware that we could spiritually hear but not hear. We can see what needs to be done in a sense, but be distracted or lose focus. We can know the right thing to do but do the totally wrong thing. Maybe that is you right now. Wake up. This Bible is for you. Pay careful attention to your soul.


The Ephesian leaders needed to pay careful attention to their souls and the souls they care for. They had people in their community hate them. Some of their own church leaders would eventually leave them. The church itself would even get stuck and need to be rebuked by the Lord decades later. God said to the church,
2“‘I know your works, your toil and your patient endurance, and how you cannot bear with those who are evil, but have tested those who call themselves apostles and are not, and found them to be false.
That is good. It sounds like they followed Paul’s advice. They paid careful attention to who was leading them. The letter from God went on.
3 I know you are enduring patiently and bearing up for my name’s sake, and you have not grown weary.
Awesome. Great job. Way to go. However, verse 4 and following states this rebuke,
4 But I have this against you, that you have abandoned the love you had at first. 5 Remember therefore from where you have fallen; repent, and do the works you did at first. If not, I will come to you and remove your lampstand from its place, unless you repent.
What is the lampstand? The lampstand is the church. God threatens to close the doors of the church if they don’t change. Why? They didn’t pay careful attention to their affections. They went off course. They had gauded doctrine and morality but forsaken the love they had at first. They had recognized heresy and immorality. Awesome. They were doing some things really well. But they failed the test of love. Paying careful attention to our souls is not just guarding our minds that we believe the right doctrine or guard our morality that we don’t steal and murder, but paying careful attention includes paying attention to the trickier parts of our hearts.

God cares about what we love. We must be careful to love what he loves and hate what he hates. The most important thing you can do with your life, the greatest mission in your life, is not just showing up on Sundays and doing good deeds in Jesus’s name but to love God. The second most important love for your life is to love each other. Those are the top two commands. Every other command, course, mission can be wrapped up in them. Satan, the world, and sinful flesh want to short circuit, short cut, and short change you. We must be alert friends to the enemies outside the church, we must be aware of your limitations, and we must be mindful of the temptations around us. I think the latter is the one that is most deadly and pressing.

We don't live under the persecution our brothers and sisters face around the world. I don’t think right now our leaders are walking away or leading others astray. However, I think we all have the capability of falling, neglecting, and forgetting the grand purpose before us. None of us are perfect. We rest in God and His strength and His kindness. He is the one who can do what we cannot. He raises the dead and inspires you to keep on keeping on by the power of the Spirit.


How are you doing? Are you paying attention to your soul? Are you paying careful attention to the souls you have responsibilities for? Jesus gave up his body and blood for you. That is how much he cares. He loves you to death. Jeff talked about taking that step of counting the cost to follow Jesus. He spoke of giving up something that may be a barrier. Did you do that? The Ephesians had some barriers and obstacles to following Jesus’s course. Paul casts the prize in Jesus’s own words in verse 35,
35 In all things I have shown you that by working hard in this way we must help the weak and remember the words of the Lord Jesus, how he himself said, ‘It is more blessed to give than to receive.The mission God calls us on is costly. It involves sacrifice and challenge and opposition, and limitations. The church globally was giving financially at a price for the poor. They risked their lives to follow Christ. They choose a course where people would oppose them. Why? Paul points to Jesus saying they would be blessed. What did he mean? He was not saying they would get their money back. This was not a money-back guarantee or a claim they would not be persecuted, imprisoned, or punished. The blessing was not like that. I think the blessing of following involves knowing and enjoying God. Some of you, many of you know that joy. It was whole and sweet and happy and kind and pure. It involves forgiveness, love, peace, and contentment. Friends, the blessing is yours now and in the life to come by God’s grace.


Let me encourage you to pray now to consider what is your mission? How do you move forward in course with God? You here for a reason. You have a reason for being. What area must you be wary of that might tempt you or distract you from hearing and following and enjoying God? Let’s take a moment in your bulletin, on your phone, or in your head.


Paul wrote out an answer to the Greek church around this time. He wrote,
24 Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize? So run that you may obtain it. 25 Every athlete exercises self-control in all things. They do it to receive a perishable wreath, but we an imperishable. 26 So I do not run aimlessly; I do not box as one beating the air. 27 But I discipline my body and keep it under control, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.
Brothers and sisters, I don’t want any of you disqualified. We may not feel like we can run 3.1 miles or even 1 mile. We may feel like we have no discipline at all. But we have a race before us, a race of faith and a new day. You can run. I know you can.

Maybe you are exhausted. We have a time of prayer after the service. Ask for prayer. M.B, who has been a church planter, and elder, and now cares professionally for missionaries and pastors will pray from you after the service. You are not alone. We are in this together as a community of believers.

Maybe you have never known this purpose. You don’t understand this. You feel guilty and unworthy. I went to the dentist this week and got a filling. The dentist wanted to check the cavity to make sure. I joked that brushed my teeth extra hard. I repented in my dental hygiene, hoping things would change. She said it doesn’t work that way. What is done is done. I faced her judgment. Friends, our sin is like that. What is done is done. There are consequences. But the good news is that Jesus came lived a perfect life, and died a sinners death, and rose victorious for the forgiveness of your sins. Tell God how you have sinned. Be honest with yourself and with God. He already knows. But desires confession. Be thankful for His Son’s death on your behalf, and ask Him to help you. He will. God will help you. We are in this together.

God wants to have a say over all of your life, not just one hour a week. Don’t stray from the course. You will face the temptation to do just that. Let us follow Paul’s example, remembering the mission God has for us in Jesus, and the prize ahead, moving forward by the power of the Holy Spirit.


Let’s pray

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