You know, I don’t know if you have ever had to write a farewell speech before. Maybe for you, it was a letter of resignation. Maybe you got hired somewhere else and had to say goodbye to your boss, your coworkers, or perhaps even your parents if you had to then move long distance. Twice I have had to do that; in fact very much what Paul is doing in our passage today; and that is say goodbye to men and women I loved and ministered to and served alongside with for years. And both times were very very painful, even when people (after I explained in those board meetings and during those worship services) understood how God was leading and accepted it. But honestly, I have never fully accepted it. I miss those people. That is one of the blessings and the curses of ministry; getting attached to people and then sometimes having to say goodbye. And during both those transitions and in the years that have followed, I have hoped that (1) those churches were blessed by my being there and (2) that my ministry will have produced lasting fruit. And if God ever calls me to leave the church I am pastoring now (if so, hopefully many years down the road), I want to leave the church thriving, growing, and anchored deeply in Christ Jesus and in the Word of God. Well that is the situation we find Paul in in our passage today here in Acts chapter 20. He and his team have arrived at Miletus and are probably waiting for their ship to be unloaded and re-loaded. And the elders of the Ephesian Church he had helped start come to see him for what Paul knows will be the last time. And so he wants to encourage and exhort them. And so he gives this beautiful farewell speech to these Ephesian elders. And it is a very special speech, because it is the only record we have of a speech that Paul gave specifically to believers. And in it we have three primary themes. (1) First, Paul defends his behavior; but even more so was able to present it as an example to the Ephesian elders (vv. 18-27, 33-35). (2) Secondly, Paul presents both a charge and a warning to them. (3) And third, Paul commits these Ephesian elders to God and to His Word (v. 32). And so those three elements will form the outline of our discussion today and in the weeks ahead. Go ahead and look with me at the first section in of Paul’s speech here in Acts 20, verses 18-38. Starting with 17, it says…
Acts 20:17-27 (NKJV) The Ephesian Elders Exhorted— 17 From Miletus he sent to Ephesus and called for the elders of the church. 18 And when they had come to him, he said to them: “You know, from the first day that I came to Asia, in what manner I always lived among you, 19 serving the Lord with all humility, with many tears and trials which happened to me by the plotting of the Jews; 20 how I kept back nothing that was helpful, but proclaimed it to you, and taught you publicly and from house to house, 21 testifying to Jews, and also to Greeks, repentance toward God and faith toward our Lord Jesus Christ. 22 And see, now I go bound in the spirit to Jerusalem, not knowing the things that will happen to me there, 23 except that the Holy Spirit testifies in every city, saying that chains and tribulations await me. 24 But none of these things move me; nor do I count my life dear to myself, so that I may finish my race with joy, and the ministry which I received from the Lord Jesus, to testify to the gospel of the grace of God.
25 “And indeed, now I know that you all, among whom I have gone preaching the kingdom of God, will see my face no more. 26 Therefore I testify to you this day that I am innocent of the blood of all men. 27 For I have not shunned to declare to you the whole counsel of God.
SECTION 1: PAUL’S EXAMPLE (20:18-27)— And so in this first section we find Paul relating to the Ephesian elders the example he has set (20:18-27). And in Paul’s example we see him highlighting four major things in his example that he wanted the Ephesian elders to emulate:
(1) The first was that he had identified with the people, having lived among them (v. 18). He knew what their own personal struggles were and identified with them in those struggles, much as Jesus Himself did. He had served God with humility and tears (v. 19), going from house to house (v. 20). And he did that because in doing that he was able to identify what his people’s own personal needs were and then share specific points of the gospel message that were directly relevant to their own situation. He didn’t have a “one-size-fits-all“ approach to ministry. He knew his people. And what this also shows us is that he was very available to people, which we see not only in this passage, but also earlier in this chapter while he was in Troas (vv. 9–10), where he spent a whole night eating with, chatting with, and teaching the believers there. He wasn’t just a preacher, who comes and preaches and leaves and nobody really cares. No, he was a shepherd; a pastor who was deeply involved with his people, which is why we see people grieving whenever and from wherever he leaves.
(2) Now the second element of Paul’s example was that he was a teacher. He identified what the Ephesians needed to hear and taught them constantly both publicly and from house to house (v. 20). He wanted to make sure that they were fully equipped to be able to endure in their faith in the midst of a very pagan and worldly context.
(3) Now the third element of Paul’s example was that he was a witness to the gospel (v. 21). And the Greek word behind this word “witness” actually means “declared”. And it carries the idea that evangelism is a very serious and awesome responsibility because in it you are calling people to repent of their sins and turn to faith in Jesus Christ. Both in this verse, but also in verses 26–27, there is this reminder to us that we are called to be watchmen. We have an awesome responsibility to warn people of God’s coming judgment and implore them to seek life in Christ. And in Paul’s talking about his being innocent of the blood of all men, he is drawing directly from the Old Testament book of Ezekiel (particularly chapters 3 and 33). Just to give you a glimpse, listen to the words of just the first part of Ezekiel chapter 3. It says in…
Ezekiel 3:16-19 (NKJV)-- 16 Now it came to pass at the end of seven days that the word of the Lord came to me, saying, 17 “Son of man, I have made you a watchman for the house of Israel; therefore hear a word from My mouth, and give them warning from Me: 18 When I say to the wicked, ‘You shall surely die,’ and you give him no warning, nor speak to warn the wicked from his wicked way, to save his life, that same wicked man shall die in his iniquity; but his blood I will require at your hand. 19 Yet, if you warn the wicked, and he does not turn from his wickedness, nor from his wicked way, he shall die in his iniquity; but you have delivered your soul.
A Faithful Watchman-- And so what Paul is saying here is that he has been a faithful watchmen. He has been faithful to warn and instruct the people and now their fate is in their own hands. And that is something you and I need to be sure we are doing as well. God will not hold you guilty of the blood of your brother or sister if you witness to them and they don’t listen. He won’t even hold you guilty if (in trying your best) you don’t even do it all that well. But He will hold you accountable if you keep silent. All of us are watchmen. The question is whether or not we are faithful watchmen.
(4) Now the fourth element of Paul’s example is something that is intimately tied to his commitment to evangelism. And that was that Paul suffered because of obedience. We see in verses 22–23 that there are two key things that he says the Holy Spirit is doing in his life. First, the Holy Spirit is compelling him towards Jerusalem. And secondly, through the voices of prophetic believers he has encountered, the Holy Spirit is revealing that he will suffer if he does go to Jerusalem. And what that shows you and me is that our ultimate goal is not “long life and happiness”. No, our ultimate calling in life is to be faithful to “declare” the message of the Gospel. And that may mean having to go through some very unpleasant circumstances. It may mean facing persecution, suffering, imprisonment, or even death. But our goal is to strive towards the Kingdom of God and the storing up of wealth there, not becoming comfortable here; because this world is not our forever home. All of it will pass away.
Olaf’s Dilemma-- Just recently I watched with my kids the movie Frozen II. And in it there’s this little magic snowman named Olaf, one of my favorite Disney characters, perhaps because he is so much like me; oddly shaped and slightly misunderstood. But in this movie he is having an emotional crisis. He’s laying in the grass next to Princess Anna and starts pondering the deeper questions of life. And he says to Anna, “Tell me, you're older, and thus all-knowing, do you ever worry about the notion that nothing is permanent?” Anna replies, “Uh, no.” “Really?”, asks Olaf. “Wow, I can't wait until I've aged just like you, so I don't have to worry about important things.” And of course she is a little taken aback by that. But Paul knew what Olaf pointed out; and that is that nothing in this world is permanent. However, there is a world that is. And so if we want to make investments that last, we need to make them there.
You will not see my face again – Now after revealing to the Ephesian elders what the Holy Spirit has been communicating to him, he tells them very frankly that because of this they will not see him again (v. 25). And this of course prompts his declaration that he is “innocent of the blood of all men” because he had been faithful to warn them of God’s truth (vv. 26-27).
On That Day-- Now that phrase prompts me to ask some questions. What about you and me? Have we been faithful to warn people of God’s coming judgment? When we get to heaven, are there going to be people there because we had the courage to speak up? Or is there going to be blood on our hands? Have we been faithful watchmen? When I get to heaven, I want Jesus to say, “Well done, my good and faithful servant.” I want Him to say, “Cameron, just look at how much fuller heaven is because you were faithful to do the most important thing I told you to do in the world.” I want Jesus to start pulling people from the crowds in heaven; people who will come up to me and say “Hey Cameron, you may not know this, but I am here because of you; because you took the time, because you had the courage, because you valued me enough to (in whatever small way you could) put my hand in the hand of Jesus.” What will be said of you and me? Let that scene so permeate your mind that any fear or hesitation that might come the next time the Holy Spirit prompts you might evaporate and be squelched by your even greater desire to see that your life made not just a long-lasting impact, but an everlasting one; an eternal one. Let’s live under that weight of glory. Amen.
Rev. Cameron Ury graduated from Asbury University in 2007 with a B.A. in Bible and Theology. From there he continued his studies at Wesley Biblical Seminary in Jackson, MS. It was there that he met his wife Tanya, who graduated from WBS with her M.A. and M.Div. degrees. Cameron and Tanya got married in 2009. Cameron then graduated with his M.Div. degree with a pastoral concentration in 2011.
After shepherding churches in both Mississippi and Ohio, they joined the ministry team at Renton Park Chapel in January of 2018, where Cameron serves as Senior Pastor and Teacher.
Cameron is also the founder and host of Lechem Panim, a weekly radio show that airs on KGNW 820AM "The Word Seattle". The ministry of Lechem Panim is centered around leading people into the life-giving presence of God in and through Bible study, prayer, and active discipleship with the aim of ministering to a world that is in desperate need of the healing touch of Jesus Christ.