Acts 20 – Life, Death, and Goodbyes

Acts 20 Bible with Strauss Parra Dark Chocolate

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Today’s PassageActs 20

Today’s chapter, like the one before it, contains Paul stories, but the very first story would be “Paul went through Macedonia and Greece, and when he headed back through Macedonia he went from Philippi to Troas, and he was joined by seven guys.” In Troas, we see another story where a young man falls out a third-story window, but the bulk of the chapter consists of Paul’s address at Miletus. In these latter stories, Luke appears to suggest some parallels between Paul and Jesus, so let’s dig into that, shall we?

Luke switches from third-person to first-person narration early in the chapter, back from “they” to “we,” so by the time Paul reaches Troas, Luke has rejoined the missionary entourage. Late on the night before he plans to leave, Paul is talking to the believers in Troas. It’s pushing midnight, and a young man named Eutychus falls asleep on a window ledge, then falls three stories to his death. But Paul rushes downstairs and embraces Eutychus, then reassures everyone, “Do not be troubled, for his life is in him” (10). And sure enough, Paul’s right: the kid’s alive.

This is the last time in the entire Bible that we’ll see anyone raised from the dead. Apart from Jesus, the only other person in the New Testament to raise someone from the dead was Peter, who raised a woman named Tabitha. And both Peter and Paul’s miracles of resurrection occur after having received the Holy Spirit, the same source of miraculous power that Christ himself possessed. The miracles are meant to point back to Christ’s own resurrection, like a shadow suggesting both the presence of light and a larger, more solid body casting the two-dimensional shape of shade.

Once in Miletus, Paul summons the church elders from Ephesus. The two cities are within 50 miles of each other, a distance which I know from tabletop role-playing games that a person traveling light could easily cover within a day on foot (thanks, GURPS). Once the elders arrive, Paul delivers an extended message summarizing his missionary work, his aims and ethos, and what he sees ahead for himself.

Paul has a sense of foreboding as he prepares to go to Jerusalem. By the end of Acts, he’ll still be very much alive, but he still knows there are hard times ahead: “The Holy Spirit solemnly testifies to me in every city, saying that bonds and afflictions await me” (23). The tone of the scene reminds me of the Last Supper and Jesus’ weeping over Jerusalem. Paul’s statement “I know that all of you…will no longer see my face” (25) echoes similar words from Jesus, “For I say to you, from now on you will not see Me until you say, ‘Blessed is He who comes in the name of the Lord!’” (Matt. 23:39) and “A little while, and you will no longer see Me” (John 16:16). It’s an intimate speech and an intimate scene, tinged with the melancholy of having to say goodbye to friends. There’s prayer, there are warnings of hard times to come, there’s weeping and embracing, all of which you can also find in Jesus’ final time with his disciples in Jerusalem.

The Christ parallels aren’t too sharply drawn. Paul speaks to his own circumstances as one who’s proclaimed the kingdom, not the embodiment of the kingdom itself. He’s not the Messiah. But he and we are called to love as Christ loved, giving our lives to others, even when the act of giving may kill us. And like Christ, he’s about to head into a hostile Jerusalem, where his enemies are ready to seize whatever openings they might have to silence him.

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