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WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE SUNDAY EVENING SERVICE?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

A sermon preached at the Baptist Tabernacle of Los Angeles
Lord's Day Morning, October 5, 2008

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).


I have often quoted a report that says evangelical Christian churches lose 88% of their young people by the age of 18. Dr. Tom Elliff repeated that figure again at the Southern Baptist Convention in 2003. Also, most churches do not seem to be able to attract young people from outside their own congregations. This is one of the reasons that evangelicals have added only 2% to their membership in the last fifty years in the English-speaking world. These are commonly reported figures, and they are tragic! These statistics ought to make us rethink what we are doing. I am convinced that one of the things we need to do is to place a far greater emphasis on praying for the young, and evangelizing them.

Dr. James Dobson, of Focus on the Family, said,

80 percent of church growth results from transfers of memberships. These statistics tell us that evangelism is largely stagnant. Something is wrong with the picture (Focus on the Family Newsletter, August, 1998, p. 2).

Here is where I think we have gone wrong: we try to bring in “families” – which means that we try to attract adults who already consider themselves to be evangelicals. We “transfer” them in to our churches.

But the thought of trying to build a church by evangelizing and discipling unchurched high school and college kids never seems to enter our minds. And yet, I believe that young people should be at the very center of our evangelism. If we go after young people with all our might, we will see a rich harvest in the years to come!

That’s why we go out to the malls and the campuses all over the greater Los Angeles area – and invited young people like you to come and hear the Gospel! That’s why we prayed so hard for you to be here. That’s why we phoned you. That’s why we sent cars out to pick you up this morning. We believe that you young people are the most important people in the world! We love to have you with us! Your laughter and your smiles make us happy! That’s the reason we say, “Why be lonely? Come home – to church! Why be lost? Come home – to Jesus, the Son of God!”

To have a church that attracts young people, we must return to the method of the early church, as recorded in the Book of Acts. Much of the activity in the early church took place at night. Dr. Ellicott pointed out the “primitive practice of an evening celebration” (Charles John Ellicott, Ellicott’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Zondervan, n.d., volume VII, p. 139). The early churches had prayer meetings at night (Acts 12:5, 6, 12). They preached and baptized at night (Acts 16:29-34). They had the Lord’s Supper and a time of eating and fellowship together on Sunday night (Acts 20:7, 11). This was one of the great attractions of the early church. They had something for young people to do at night! That’s one of the reasons that literally thousands of young adults poured into the churches in the first century! And we should copy them today! Come on home – to church – tonight! You’ll love it! There’s nothing like it in Los Angeles!

“By this shall all men know that ye are my disciples, if ye have love one to another” (John 13:35).

Let’s have fellowship tonight! Let’s show all men that we love each other tonight! Come home – to church – tonight!

Now, this passage of Scripture (Acts 20:7-12) teaches us the pattern and method of the early church. There are at least three things that we should learn from this passage if we want to enlist young people in our church, as they did.

I. First, they met together on Sunday night.

Look at our text again,

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).

I’m not going to preach until midnight tonight. I will only preach for about forty minutes, and then we will have fellowship. But on rare occasions I may preach longer. Once Dr. W. A. Criswell preached from one end of the Bible to the other on a Sunday night. That was his famous sermon, “The Scarlet Thread Through the Bible,” which he preached for 4½ hours on Sunday night, December 31, 1961 at the First Baptist Church of Dallas, Texas. It’s a wonderful sermon, and you can hear a recording of it by clicking on the hyperlink to the title above. I wish we had a tape recording of the Apostle Paul’s long sermon that night at the church in Troas. We can only imagine that it must have been even more wonderful than Dr. Criswell’s magnificent four-and-a-half-hour sermon on that memorable occasion in Dallas.

But the important thing to notice in Acts 20:7 is that the early church met on Sunday night! “The first day of the week” was Sunday on the Roman calendar. Dr. J. Vernon McGee said,

This means that they celebrated the Lord’s Supper on Sunday. It was on this day that Paul preached to them. The early church met on the first day of the week [on Sunday]. That was the important day because it was the day when Jesus came back from the dead. Under the old creation the seventh day was the important day, the Sabbath day. That belongs to the old creation. On the Sabbath day Jesus was dead, inside the tomb. On the first day of the week [on Sunday] He came forth. We meet on that day, because we are now joined to a living Christ. That is the testimony of the first day of the week (J. Vernon McGee, Th.D., Thru the Bible, Thomas Nelson, 1983, volume IV, p. 602).

Dr. Ellicott adds, “And on this day [Sunday] they met together, obviously in the evening after sunset” (ibid., p. 138). The early church had Sunday night services. That is extremely important. I think it is a key to their great success in winning as many young people as they did.

When a church starts centering on older people, they tend to drop or neglect Sunday night. But if we want to attract young people, age 18 to 30, we must have lively Sunday evening services – like they did in the Book of Acts! Come home to church – tonight! You will love the preaching – and the fellowship! Why be lonely? Come home – to church! And come to Jesus Christ and be saved!

II. Second, they heard preaching on Sunday night.

The sermon that the Apostle Paul gave was obviously much deeper that Sunday night than he would have preached on any given Sunday morning. And I think it is important to preach on deeper truths from the Bible on Sunday nights. We give simple sermons on Sunday mornings – but we go into the deeper truths of the Bible on Sunday nights. I will be speaking on the end of the world and the Second Coming of Christ tonight. Come and study this great subject with us tonight! It will strengthen your faith, and help you! I promise you that I won’t speak as long as Paul did on this occasion, but I will try to give you something to think about, and take home with you.

I believe that it is important to preach the Gospel on all occasions. Paul said,

“I determined not to know any thing among you, save Jesus Christ, and him crucified” (I Corinthians 2:2).

I try to keep the Gospel of Christ central in all my sermons. But on Sunday nights, we go into

“the deep things of God” (I Corinthians 2:10),

as they relate to the Gospel and our Christian lives.

My pastor, Dr. Timothy Lin, used to say,

Observe the whole day of the Lord’s Day as truly the Lord’s. Start with worshipping God as Creator in the morning to worshipping God as Heavenly Father in the evening at evening service (The Testimony of a Shepherd, 1994, p. 8).

I think Dr. Lin was right when he said that back in the 1960s and 1970s! If we want to win and disciple many young people, we must have lively, and interesting, and helpful services on Sunday nights!

III. Third, they had wonderful fellowship on Sunday night.

In Acts 20:11 we read,

“When he therefore was come up again, and had broken bread, and eaten, and talked a long while, even till break of day, so he departed” (Acts 20:11).

Jamieson, Fausset, and Brown say,

How life-like is this record of dear Christian fellowship – as free and gladsome as, in such circumstances, it must have been…solemn (A Commentary on the New Testament, Eerdmans, 1976, volume III, p. 147).

We must not think that this was the only Sunday night that they had a meal “and talked a long while.” No, this happened often, at least every Sunday night, in the early church, according to Acts 2:46-47. No wonder

“The Lord added to the church daily such as should be saved” (Acts 2:47)!

Justin Martyr (c. AD 100-165), writing in the second century, tells us that these early Christians met on Sunday, which they called “the Lord’s Day,” on which he says, “All, both in the city and country, met in one place for religious worship” (quoted by Dr. John Gill, note on Acts 20:7). Matthew Henry tells us that the early Christians had wonderful fellowship:

They were loving one to another, and very kind. Their charity was as eminent as their piety, and their joining together in holy ordinances knit their hearts to each other, and very much endeared them to one another (comment on Acts 2:46-47).

These people didn’t just “go to church” for an hour or two on Sunday morning! They were together several times a week, mostly in the evenings. We must not think that they spent all their time together listening to sermons and praying, though they did that too. But they also “talked a long while” (Acts 20:11). It’s important for us to be together in church and talk “a long while.” We need to talk with each other. This is part of what makes church a second home. We love to come home to church so we can just sit down together and talk “a long while.”

That’s an important thing to do in church. We don’t have a deacon running around turning the lights out to make us go home quicker. We can hang around and talk until we feel ready to go home. I think that’s the way it’s supposed to be in church – on Sunday night!

It’s a cold and lonely world out there – on the streets. There are thousands of people, but no one seems to notice you. You feel lonely much of the time. You go home, and often your non-Christian parents are too busy to talk. You sit alone in front of a TV or a computer. Most young people feel lonely and blown away much of the time. One recent poll indicates that loneliness is rated by teenagers as the greatest problem they face.

Do you ever feel like that? Do you ever feel the aching loneliness that haunts so many young people today? One young person told me, “I’m so lonely I could cry, and I don’t know what to do about it.” I’ll tell you what to do about it – come home to church! Do it tonight! Do it next Sunday! Come on home to church – so we can sit down and have a good meal and a good talk. That’s what Christian fellowship is all about! Come home to church every week! And be sure to come tonight! Do it! Do it! Do it!

But there’s a catch to this. If you don’t commit yourself to be in church, no matter what comes up, you will not receive these benefits. They are only received by those who decide to be here every Sunday, rain or shine, whether there’s a test the next week or not! All the young people here are in college. They don’t drop out when there’s a test. They budget their time and come. And that’s what I want you to do as well. Jesus said,

“Seek ye first the kingdom of God” (Matthew 6:33).

I was going to tell you about the young man who went to sleep while Paul was preaching – but we’re out of time! It’s enough to say that you shouldn’t be like him! I’ll do my best to keep you awake when you come back tonight!

These Christians in the first century met together on Sunday night to listen to the preaching and to enjoy each other’s company. No wonder so many thousands of young people poured into the churches in those days.

I hope that you will help to make our church as much like that as possible. And I hope and pray that you will receive Jesus Christ and be converted. Christ died on the Cross to pay the penalty for your sins. Christ rose physically from the dead to give you eternal life. Christ is praying for you right now – up in Heaven, at the right hand of God. Come to Christ and be washed clean from sin, and be converted in your soul.

“As many as received him, to them gave he power to become the sons of God” (John 1:12).

And He will do that for you as well! Glory be to God throughout all eternity, world without end. Amen.

(END OF SERMON)
You can read Dr. Hymers' sermons each week on the Internet
at www.realconversion.com. Click on "Sermon Manuscripts."

Scripture Read Before the Sermon by Dr. Kreighton L. Chan: Acts 20:6-12.
Solo Sung Before the Sermon by Mr. Benjamin Kincaid Griffith:
“Blest Be the Tie” (by John Fawcett, 1740-1817).


THE OUTLINE OF

WHATEVER HAPPENED TO THE SUNDAY EVENING SERVICE?

by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr.

“And upon the first day of the week, when the disciples came together to break bread, Paul preached unto them, ready to depart on the morrow; and continued his speech until midnight” (Acts 20:7).

(Acts 12: 5, 6, 12; 16:29-34; 20:11; John 13:35)

I.   First, they met together on Sunday night, Acts 20:7.

II.  Second, they heard preaching on Sunday night, I Corinthians 2:2, 10.

III. Third, they had wonderful fellowship on Sunday night, Acts 20:11;
Acts 2:46-47; Matthew 6:33; John 1:12.