I’m notorious for falling asleep when I should be awake. I’ve paid $10 to take a nap in a movie theater before. My wife knows not to start an episode of a show we’re watching after a certain hour. I try my best to avoid driving late at night. I don’t mind long plane rides because something about the white noise of plane engines puts me to sleep like a newborn baby. I can sleep anywhere, anytime, and under any condition.
I, therefore, resonate with a young man named Eutychus in Acts 20:7-12. The church was gathered in an upper room on a Sunday evening, worshiping and listening to the Word. Paul was teaching, and Luke tells us he went a little long. In fact, “he prolonged his speech until midnight” (v. 7). Eutychus happened to be sitting in a window, and, as Paul “talked still longer” (v. 9), sleep overcame him, causing him to fall three stories to his death. Thankfully, God mercifully resurrected him through Paul, and the church continued to worship until daybreak.
Why is this story in the Bible? Certainly, one reason is to show off God’s power in raising the dead. We know that Jesus’s resurrection was the first-fruits for the rest of the world, but every once in a while, God resurrects a person as a powerful reminder of what we all look forward to in Christ. However, when we read this story in the context of Luke’s other writings, we begin to see some common themes emerge. Eutychus is meant to serve as a warning to us all.
Consider the circumstances of Jesus’s birth. Angels come to shepherds at night to make the grand announcement probably because they are the only people awake. Anna the prophetess is a model of faithful waiting, and she is described as “worshipping…night and day” (Luke 2:37). Jesus often prays through the night. Clearly, for Luke, faithfulness involves being awake at the right times.
Contrast these examples with the negative examples of Jesus’s disciples. Jesus is transfigured on the mountain, and Peter, James, and John almost miss it because they are “heavy with sleep” (Luke 9:32). In Jesus’s greatest hour of need, when he’s praying the night before his crucifixion, he must rebuke his sleeping disciples: “Why are you sleeping? Rise and pray that you may not enter into temptation” (Luke 22:46). Jesus’s disciples can’t seem to stay alert when they’re needed.
However, when we get to Acts, all this changes. The Holy Spirit comes to indwell the disciples, and we see Peter freed from prison in the middle of the night as the church hosts an all-night prayer vigil for him at Mary’s house (Acts 12). In Acts 16, Paul receives a vision to go to Macedonia in the middle of the night. When he gets arrested in Philippi, Silas joins him to sing hymns to God at midnight. For Luke, sleep is a metaphor for spiritual laxity. To be awake is to be spiritually alert, watchful, and faithful. To be asleep when you ought to be awake is to be spiritually lethargic.
Eutychus is the only disciple who can’t stay awake in the upper room in Troas. He is out of sync with the fellowship of Christ’s people and unable to benefit from worship and hearing the Word. When he falls, he falls from an upper room with “many lamps” (v. 8) into the darkness and down to his death. He serves as a warning to us, not to stay caffeinated, but to live attentively, to remain vigilant, and to expect God to be at work around us. If we fall asleep, we put ourselves in great danger.
There are many other passages that warn us of the dangers of spiritual laxity. 1 Thessalonians 5:6-8 reads, “So then let us not sleep, as others do, but let us keep awake and be sober. For those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk, are drunk at night. But since we belong to the day, let us be sober, having put on the breastplate of faith and love, and for a helmet the hope of salvation.”
Peter warns, “Be sober-minded; be watchful. Your adversary the devil prowls around like a roaring lion, seeking someone to devour. Resist him” (1 Peter 5:8-9a). We must stay awake because real danger surrounds us. We must remain alert because our age is not neutral, and our enemy never sleeps.
I recently heard about a series of interviews conducted with pastors who had ruined their ministries with moral failures. When asked, each pastor reported that he had gotten to the point where the things that used to move him spiritually no longer did. They had become dull to the things of God. The gospel no longer excited them. The Words of God seemed like a dead letter. In short, they had fallen asleep, and danger came swiftly. May we stay awake in Christ.