The First Reading for this Sunday is from the Acts of the Apostles. The text is Acts 20:17-35 and is a continuation of the Acts texts for the season of Easter. Paul is on his way to Jerusalem and the ship lands at Miletus rather than Ephesus, thus Paul sends for the elders from the church at Ephesus, so he might address them before he continues his journey to Jerusalem. These elders would represent more than one congregation as there were several worshipping congregations in Ephesus. These elders would also be the ones carrying out the pastoral ministry in Ephesus.
As we look at Paul’s words, it is obvious he does not expect to return from Jerusalem, and therefore does not expect to see these elders again. Indeed, Paul believes he will either die in prison or be killed in some manner. This does not seem to be the case as we read later in II Timothy 4:20. Nevertheless, Paul is convinced he will die for the Gospel during this trip to Jerusalem. In fact, the same Spirit which compels him to go to Jerusalem also warns him about imprisonments and afflictions. Naturally, Paul assumes this will be the end, and he is ready.
Paul uses the language of ‘running the race’ and ‘finishing the course’ which provides an excellent sermon theme. However, an equally excellent theme is provided with Paul’s use of the Shepherd motif in verses 28-31. Perhaps that is why this text was chosen to be read along with the Gospel of the Day, John 10:22-20. John 10 is the “Good Shepherd” chapter in John. It is interesting to note the dichotomy so frequently observe in Scripture with the person of Christ. Jesus is the Good Shepherd, but He is also the Lamb who takes away the sin of the world. Thus, Paul can say, Jesus is the Shepherd who has made you part of His flock by His own blood. Note also the “savage wolves” of verse 29. These wolves come from outside as well as inside the sheepfold of the Church (Matthew 7:15).
Perhaps the question that needs answering is, “How?” How can we run the race? How can we be good shepherds of the flock? How can we live and walk as part of the flock? How can we? By God’s Word of grace!
20:17 πέμψας from: πέμπω Aorist, participle: “to send” μετεκαλέσατο from: μετεκαλεω Aorist, middle: “to call; to summons”
20:18 παρεγένοντο from: παραγίνομαι Aorist, middle: “to arrive” ἐπίστασθε from: ἐπίσταμαι Present, middle: “to know; to understand” Idea is knowledge which comes from observing the practice.
20:19 δουλεύων “to serve as a slave” ταπεινοφροσύνης “humility” συμβάντων from: συμβαίνω Aorist, active, participle: “to come together; to happen to”
20:20 ὑπεστειλάμην from: ὑποστέλλω Aorist, middle: “to draw back in fear; to shrink from” This is the opposite of “to proclaim/speak boldly” συμφερόντων from: συμφέρω Present, active, participle: “to be profitable” ἀναγγεῖλαι from: ἀναγγέλλω Aorist, active, infinitive: “to announce; to proclaim” δημοσίᾳ “publicly”
20:21 διαμαρτυρόμενος from: διαμαρτύρομαι Present, middle, participle: “to testify”
20:22 δεδεμένος from: δέω Perfect, passive, participle: “to bind” συναντήσοντά from: συναντάω Future, active, participle: “to meet with; to happen to”
20:23 πλὴν Conjunction: “except that; only”
20:24 τελειῶσαι from: τελειόω Future subjunctive (aorist, subjunctive): “to complete; to finish” δρόμον “course; run”
20:25 ὄψεσθε from: ὁράω Future, middle: “to see” διῆλθον from: διέρχομαι Aorist: “to go through”
20:28 προσέχετε from: προσέχω Present, imperative: “to take heed; to pay attention to” ἔθετο from: τίθημι Aorist, middle: “to place; appoint” ἐπισκόπους “bishop; overseer” ποιμαίνειν Present, active, infinitive: “to shepherd, to tend or feed the flock” περιεποιήσατο from: περιποιέομαι Aorist, middle: “to acquire; to secure”
20:29 εἰσελεύσονται from: εἰσέρχομαι Future, middle: “to go into” ἄφιξίν “departure” φειδόμενοι from: φείδομαι Present, middle, participle: “to spare (with the genitive)”
20:30 ἀναστήσονται from: ἀνίστημι Future, middle: “to arise; to rise up” διεστραμμένα from: διαστρέφω Perfect, passive, participle: “to turn aside; to twist; to pervert; distort”
20:31 γρηγορεῖτε from: γρηγορεω Present, imperative: “to watch; stay awake” Note the continual action indicated by the imperfect. μνημονεύοντες from: μνημονεύω Present, participle: “to remember” νουθετῶν from: νουθετέω Present, participle: “to warn; to admonish; to instruct”
20:32 οἰκοδομῆσαι from: οἰκοδομέω Aorist, active, infinitive: “to build; build-up” ἡγιασμένοις from: ἁγιάζω Perfect, passive, participle: “to sanctify”
20:33 ἐπεθύμησα from: ἐπιθυμέω Aorist: “to covet; desire”
20:34 ὑπηρέτησαν from: ὑπηρετέω Aorist: “to minister to; to serve”
20:35 ὑπέδειξα from: ὑποδείκνυμι Aorist: “to give a lesson (object lesson); to show; demonstrate” κοπιῶντας from: κοπιάω Present, participle: “to work; toil” ἀντιλαμβάνεσθαι Present, middle, infinitive: “to help; to succor” ἀσθενούντων from: ἀσθενέω Present, participle: “to be sick; to be weak”
As mentioned in the earlier notes, there are at least two solid themes to work with in this text. My inclination (agenda) is to preach on the “shepherd motif”, but since I am a vacancy pastor at an inner city church named “Shepherd of the City”, I am afraid this theme has been overdone—by me! Thus, I am providing a brief outline for the “Race” motif.
THEME: Run the Race by Grace
- Focus on the Goal
- Hardships and struggles seek to discourage (Paul/Us)
- Distractions and temptations seek to deviate us from the course (Paul/Us)
- Fix your eyes on Jesus!
- Christ has run the Race
- He has finished the course (cross; resurrection)
- He has enrolled us in the race by the waters of our baptism.
- Finish the Race by Grace
- Leaning on Christ and compelled by the Spirit
- Focus on the finish line—the open gates of everlasting life.
Concordia Theology: Various helps from Concordia Seminary in St. Louis, MO to assist you in preaching Acts 20:17-35.