We Gather Together (1)

In Acts 20:7, we read, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”

            This morning, I want to begin a new sermon series with you entitled, “When We Gather Together.”

            But I want to begin by talking about the fact that I love weekends.  I think it’s safe to say that most people love weekends.  I think we can all resonate with that.  Let me show you a picture that explains why many people love weekends.  

            We start out on Monday. We’re all charged up. We’ve got lots of energy.  But that energy gets depleted day by day and then, by the end of the week, on Friday, we feel like that, right?  We feel depleted.  We need a charge.  

            When I was a kid in school, I loved weekends because that meant there was no school.  And that meant you could sleep in, you could do whatever you wanted.  And for us, Saturday morning was the only opportunity we had to watch cartoons (because Cartoon Network had not yet been invented).

            Others may say, I love weekends because I love to spend time with my family or I can stay up late with my friends.  Others might say I love weekends because it gives me a chance to take a mini vacation, maybe go camping, go to the beach, have a little fun.

            Weekends are times that we typically disconnect from our responsibilities, and we reconnect with people, with relationships.  And that’s because our culture is bound by time.  We divide the week into two distinct segments – there’s the work week, and then there’s the weekend. The work week is associated with labor. The weekend is associated with rest. For many people, the work week is drudgery, and the weekend is joy.

            So, we say that we love weekends!  And I love weekends, too.  But I love weekends for different reasons.

            I love weekends because that’s when I get to worship God with you and I get to hear the name of Jesus Christ lifted up in our songs of praise.  I love weekends because I have the opportunity to share the Word of God, and I’ve learned over the years that even one verse of scripture has the power to change a person’s life.  I love weekends because it breaks me out of my isolation and surrounds me with godly people and godly conversations.  I love weekends because I’ve learned that I’m a much better person in a community than I am when I’m alone. 

            I love weekends because sometimes on weekends people will surrender their lives to Jesus Christ, and I know they’re going to wake up a different person Monday morning.  And finally, I love weekends because I love all of you, and weekends is what brings us all together.

            So, for the next few weeks, I want to talk about “When We Gather Together”, because there are certain things that happen only when Christians gather.  We’re going to look at the life of the early church in this series — what they did when they came together – and we’ll be spending most of our time in Acts chapter 2.

            But this morning, we’re going to be in Acts chapter 20.  I want to begin reading with verse 7.  In fact, most of this lesson will be focused on verse 7, but we need to read the entire paragraph to get the context.

            “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread, Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight. There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.  And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer.  And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead. 

            “But Paul went down and bent over him, and taking him in his arms, said, ‘Do not be alarmed, for his life is in him.’  And when Paul had gone up and had broken bread and eaten, he conversed with them a long while, until daybreak, and so departed.  And they took the youth away alive, and were not a little comforted.” (Acts 20:7-12)

            I want us to look at this passage, especially verse 7, from the perspective of a reporter.  Imagine you are working for a newspaper and you’ve been sent to Troas.  We’re on the scene at this very unusual worship service.  And we want to find out what’s going on.

            So, like any good reporter, we need to ask a series of questions — when? who? what?  where?  And why?  And after we answer those questions, we’ll have a good picture of what is going on.

1.         When? 

            Let’s begin with the first question – when?  When did this worship event take place?  Verse 7 tells us “On the first day of the week…”  This is the first clear reference in scripture to God’s people – Christians — gathering to worship on the first day of the week rather than the seventh day of the week, which was the Jewish Sabbath.  They met on the first day of the week, the day we call Sunday. 

            Now, some people have the mistaken idea that the early Christians gathered to worship on the Sabbath, on Saturday.  They believe that the only proper day to worship God today is on the seventh day of the week.  They say that’s the command that God gave to the Jews in the Old Testament.  They say that never changed, and so we should still worship on Saturday.

            And part of their reasoning is that they say in AD 321, there was a guy by the name of Constantine, a Roman emperor, who changed Christian worship from Saturday to Sunday, which is just not true.

            The fact is, the early church began early on to worship together on Sunday, the first day of the week.  Why would they do that?  It’s because of the resurrection, because Jesus rose from the dead on the first day of the week.  So, when you look at the four gospels, Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John, you’ll see that all four of them used that same phraseology in connection with the resurrection of Jesus – “Now on the first day of the week.”  That’s when Jesus rose from the dead.

            Furthermore, Jesus appeared in the room with his disciples on the first day of the week. John 20:19 says, “On the same day at evening, being the first day of the week, Jesus appeared to His disciples.”  Then, exactly one week later, when they were gathered together again, Jesus appeared again on the first day of the week, this time to meet with Thomas and have a special encounter with him.

            When we get to the book of I Corinthians, chapter 16, Paul writes, “On the first day of the week let each of you lay up something aside, storing up as he may prosper.”  Paul says, “I want you to take up an offering and I want you to do it on the first day of the week when you’re gathered together.

            Around A.D. 150, Justin Martyr, who was an early Christian writer, wrote: “On the day called Sunday, all who live in cities or in the country gather together in one place, and the memoirs of the apostles or the writings of the prophets are read. … Sunday is the day on which we all hold our common assembly, because it is the first day on which God, having wrought a change in the darkness and matter, made the world; and Jesus Christ our Saviour on the same day rose from the dead” (Justin Martyr, First Apology)

            Both the biblical data and the historical data tell us that for the past 2000 years, Sunday has been the primary day that Christians gather together to worship.  So, we gather on Sunday — and here we are this morning — because of the resurrection of Jesus Christ.  Which means that, in a sense, every Sunday is Easter Sunday for Christians.  We don’t have to wait for a once-a-year event and get all excited because that’s the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  Every Sunday, we are reminded that Jesus conquered death, that there’s life available, there’s hope available for us because of his resurrection.

            So that’s the day they gathered.  But Christianity is not a one-day-a-week religion.  It’s an every-day relationship with God.  And so, when people ask, “What’s the proper day to worship?”, my answer is “every day of the week”.  Because I believe that God is to be worshipped not just one day a week, but every day of the week.  But this is a day, this is a time when we have the opportunity to gather together in worship.

            There are some people who refer to our time in worship together as a “Sunday obligation”.  I grew up being taught that.  In my home as a child, I never asked the question, “Are we going to church today?”  If I did, the answer would probably have been, “Are you breathing?”  This is our Sunday obligation.

            But I’ve come to realize over the years that this is not a Sunday obligation.  It’s a Sunday opportunity.  This is an opportunity for us to gather in worship.

            So, that answers the question, “when” – these Christians in Troas gathered on the first day of the week.  But as a reporter, we want to ask another question — who?  Who’s involved in this gathering?

2.         Who?

            Verse 7, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together.”  The New King James is more specific, “on the first day of the week, when the disciples came together.”  Our church gathering is primarily for disciples, for Christians, “for the equipping of the saints,” as Paul said in Ephesians 4.

            Now, it’s true that unbelievers can come to church.  And we love it when they do.  But primarily this is a family affair.  We do not structure our worship service to accommodate unbelievers. We structure our service for believers, to the glory of God.  As Paul told the Corinthians repeatedly, our worship is intended to strengthen, to encourage, and to edify one another.

            There’s a term that used in a lot of churches today.  They want to be a “seeker-friendly church.”  And I happen to believe that’s not scriptural.  Now that’s not to say that we want to be a seeker-unfriendly church.  “Yeah, go to that church — they just hate everybody.”  We don’t want to be that.  We don’t want to be unfriendly.  But we don’t structure our worship service to attract worldly people. We just don’t do that.

            Some churches do.  They say, “Let’s have the kind of music that non-Christians would be most comfortable with, let’s have the kind of message that non-Christians would be most comfortable with.”  And so, they introduce secular songs in place of worship songs, they have a short pep talk instead of a biblical sermon.  Someone has said that churches like that “become less about feeding the sheep and more about entertaining the goats.”   But that’s not the purpose of church.  “On the first day of the week, the disciples came together.”  Our time together is primarily for those who are Christians.

            We are disciples of Jesus Christ, and we want to honor him in our songs.  We want to study the scriptures in depth.  We’re not trying to appeal to unbelievers.  We’re trying to edify believers and glorify our Savior.   And if unbelievers show up — and again, we’re glad that they do — we want to show them what the church is all about.  

            We are a community of believers whose lives have been changed by Jesus Christ.  There is a purpose in our lives.  And we want to ask them, “Are you interested in that?”  And, if you are, there’s a change that needs to take place.  But the change is not on our part.  It’s not our job to change what we do so that we look more like the world around us.  It’s our job to help people in the world change to become more like Jesus.

            So that’s the when. That’s the who. Now let’s look at the what.  What were these disciples doing?

3.         What?

            We’re told in verse 7, On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together.”  Again, in verse 8, “There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.” Christians have always done this.  From the very beginning, they have always thought, it’s important to gather together.

            In Matthew 18:20, Jesus said, “Wherever two or three are gathered together in My name, there I am in their midst.”  Acts 2:42, “They continued steadfastly in the apostles’ doctrine and fellowship. All who believed were together.”  In 1 Corinthians 14:26, Paul said, “When you come together.” And then that verse that most of us are aware of, Hebrews 10:25, “not forsaking the assembling of ourselves together, as is the manner of some.”

            Now, I’m aware that every Sunday, there are some who are not able to gather with us.  There are some who are sick and confined to home.  There are some who are traveling.  There are some who are deployed.  We understand that.  But our goal is to get as many Christians as we can in this room, because we think it’s important to gather together.  

            And here’s why — because Christianity is a team sport.  That’s how we win the game. We need each other.  We understand that it’s important to be connected together with other believers. Certain things can happen only when we’re together.

            Years ago, John Stott wrote a book on the church. And he said that he was visiting a South American city, and he heard about a group of young Christian students who had left the church. They were disillusioned with church, with formal churches, organized religion. And so, they called themselves Christians, but they gave themselves the name “cristianos descolgados” — unattached Christians.  They were unattached, disconnected from everyone else in the church because they had been hurt by people in the church.  They’d been hurt.

            And if that describes any of you. Then I want to say first of all, I’m sorry you’ve been hurt. On behalf of heaven, I apologize for the representatives of Christ who have failed you.

            But I want you to understand that you have no right to give up on the church because Jesus hasn’t given up on the church.  The church belongs to him, and he wants to build it up.  And he wants to use you to do it.  So, at some point, you need to deal with the past.  You need to get over it, move on, forgive, extend love, and grow spiritually.  Because we need each other.

            So, we have the when, the who, and the what. The next question — where? Where is all this happening?

4.         Where?

            Well, we’re told in the previous verses that it’s happening in a city called Troas.  Troas was the town that opened up the door for Paul to go into Europe.  This is where he got the vision of the man from Macedonia who said, “Come over to Macedonia and help us.”

            So, Paul’s back in this city of Troas.  And this gathering of Christians takes place in an upper room somewhere in that city.  Verse 8 tells us, “There were many lamps in the upper room where we were gathered.  And a young man named Eutychus, sitting at the window, sank into a deep sleep as Paul talked still longer. And being overcome by sleep, he fell down from the third story and was taken up dead.”

            These Christians were gathered in a room, an upper room.   Keep in mind they didn’t have church buildings back then.  Churches didn’t get property and build buildings until about AD 250.  Up to that point, they met mostly in homes.  In Jerusalem, they would sometimes meet in the temple because it was a public meeting place.  They could gather in Solomon’s porch. 

            But mostly, they met in homes.  My understanding is that the family would have their living space on the ground floor, but they would typically have a large room above that where they could entertain guests or worship privately.  And it was an appropriate room for Christians to gather.  They saw the importance of gathering together in the same room.

            Now, as tempting as it may be, I’m not going to tell you that the moral of this story is, “See what happens when you fall asleep in church? You die!”  I’m not going to do that.  In fact, I will say that this passage is actually a great comfort to me, because even the apostle Paul put some people to sleep with his preaching. So, if I look out and see someone nodding, I think, “That’s OK.  It happened to Paul.”  

            But you’ll notice that this situation was not very conductive to staying awake.  It’s after midnight. There are oil lamps that are burning. They’re in a stuffy, unventilated environment in an upper room.  Heat rises.  Maybe the ceiling was low.  Eutychus is having trouble staying awake, so he goes to a window to get some fresh air.  But he falls asleep, falls out of the window and dies.

            By the way, notice his name — Eutychus. You know what the word Eutychus means? Fortunate.  Maybe not that day. Reminds me of the ad I heard about that said, “Looking for my lost dog.  He has a missing leg, blind in one eye, goes by the name Lucky.”  So, lucky Eutychus, falls out the window onto the street, he dies, but he’s resurrected, and he’s brought back in.

            So, we know when, who, what, and where. Let’s close with the last question, why?  Why did these Christians meet?  We know they gathered together, but why?  What were they doing as they gathered together?

5.         Why?

            Verse 7 tells us, “On the first day of the week, when we were gathered together to break bread.”  Now, in scripture, breaking bread can mean to have a meal together.  But it can also refer to the Lord’s Supper, communion.

            And sometimes it refers to both at the same time.  The early Christians had what they called an agape feast — a love feast.  It was like our potluck.  Everybody brought food and they shared it, and everybody got to eat.  If there were slaves in the room who couldn’t afford much, they got to eat as much as everybody else.  It was a beautiful gesture.  So, they did that. They broke bread together, and they probably had the Lord’s Supper along with that love feast.

            But these Christians in Troas did something else. It says, “Paul talked with them, intending to depart on the next day, and he prolonged his speech until midnight.”  So, they gathered together to break bread and to listen to a message from the apostle Paul.  And I’m guessing this was a pretty substantial message. Knowing the apostle Paul, and knowing how deep he could get in the letters he wrote, he speaks until midnight, and then after Eutychus is raised from the dead, Paul continues to preach until daybreak, I’m guessing this was a pretty meaty Bible study.

            And you might wonder, “Why did Paul feel compelled to preach for so long?”  I mean if somebody dies in the middle of our church service, that seems to me that it might be a sign from God for us to stop.   “Uh, Paul, you might want to stop talking.  People are dying in your Bible study.”  Not Paul.  He raises him up from the dead and then says, “I got more to say.”  And he keeps going till morning.

            Why would he do that?  Well, number one, Paul is leaving them the next day.  He’s just passing through Troas.  And so, he wants to pour into them as much biblical, doctrinal truth as he possibly can.  And number two, this congregation was probably made up of laborers, workers, maybe even slaves who would only have the night off but not the daytime.  So, Paul uses that time wisely.

            So, we have the when, who, what, where, and why.  Christians, on the first day of the week, gathered together, in the upper room, to break bread and to listen to Paul give a Bible study.

            And we also gather every Sunday to do the same thing.  Let me close by sharing with you what I believe are four important benefits of gathering together in this room.

1          This is a Place to Reconnect

            This is a place for you to reconnect with your spiritual family.  We meet together.  We sing together.  We serve the Lord together and we serve God’s people together.  We take the Lord’s Supper together.  We read the Bible together.  We weep together.  We laugh together.  So, we reconnect.

            Maybe some of you are thinking, “Yeah, but I’m an introvert. I recharge when I’m alone.”  I get that.  I truly understand that.  I know what it’s like to need to unplug and just be alone.  But I’m here to tell you, we all need this opportunity to reconnect with God’s people.

2.         This is a Place to Recollect

            This is a perfect place and time for you to look back over the past week, the past activities of the week, and take inventory, to consider the lessons you’ve learned, the mistakes you’ve made, the victories you’ve experienced.  And you’ll find that doing this once a week is a lot more valuable than doing it once a month or once a year on New Year’s Eve.  Making resolutions and taking inventory 52 times a year, week by week by week, is a lot more constructive than doing it once a year.

3.         This is a Place to Recalibrate

            When we come together, we get spiritually reoriented.  It’s like when you calibrate your compass to go in the right direction.  Because during the week, when you’re around worldly people and worldly values and worldly conversations, including dirty jokes from clients and customers and co-workers, and even the music that’s played in the lobby or in the store, it’s very different when you come into this room.  Songs of praise that glorify the Lord and study of God’s Word and taking the Lord’s Supper — it recalibrates us.  It sets our compass in the right direction and helps us see the world better.

4.         This is a Place to Recommit

            This is a good atmosphere that helps us to make a commitment to take what we learn from Scripture, to take what we hear from conversations before and after service, to take what we hear and see in the examples of the Christians around us, and apply it to my life, not just to recalibrate, but to recommit — to get my life headed back in the direction that it needs to be going.

            So, I love weekends.  And I think there was something missing from that chart I showed you earlier.  Monday, I get, it’s all green.  I’m charged up, ready to go, ready to take on the week. Friday, everything’s depleted, empty, I need to be recharged.  But how do you go from red to back to green? That’s what’s missing here in this chart.  It’s by being here in this room.  We get recharged when we gather together with God’s people.

            Next week, we’ll continue to take a look at what happens when we gather together.

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