Led by the Spirit to a Victory of Faith: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, 2019

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday:

‘Led by the Spirit to a Victory of Faith: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch’

© June 9, 2019, by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin June 9, 2019

Based on a Message shared at BLCF on May 1, 2016

BLCF Bulletin May 1, 2016

Announcements & Call to Worship; Prayer                                           

Opening Hymn #237: What Can Wash Away My Sin?; Choruses                                

Tithing and Prayer Requests: Hymn #572: Praise God; Prayers

Responsive Reading #612 (The Lamb of God – from Isaiah 53)

Message by Steve Mickelson:                                                                                                                  Led by the Spirit to a Victory of Faith: Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch            

Let us pray…

Good morning and welcome to our Sunday Morning Praise and Worship Service at BLCF Church for June 9, 2017. Today’s lesson is primarily focused on the account of Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch, as described in Acts 8:26-40 (ESV):

Acts 8:26-40 (ESV): Philip and the Ethiopian Eunuch

26 Now an angel of the Lord said to Philip, “Rise and go toward the south[a] to the road that goes down from Jerusalem to Gaza.” This is a desert place. 27 And he rose and went. And there was an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship 28 and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet Isaiah. 29 And the Spirit said to Philip, “Go over and join this chariot.” 30 So Philip ran to him and heard him reading Isaiah the prophet and asked, “Do you understand what you are reading?” 31 And he said, “How can I, unless someone guides me?” And he invited Philip to come up and sit with him. 32 Now the passage of the Scripture that he was reading was this:

“Like a sheep he was led to the slaughter
and like a lamb before its shearer is silent,
so he opens not his mouth.
33 In his humiliation justice was denied him.
Who can describe his generation?
For his life is taken away from the earth.”

34 And the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?” 35 Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus. 36 And as they were going along the road they came to some water, and the eunuch said, “See, here is water! What prevents me from being baptized?”[b] 38 And he commanded the chariot to stop, and they both went down into the water, Philip and the eunuch, and he baptized him. 39 And when they came up out of the water, the Spirit of the Lord carried Philip away, and the eunuch saw him no more, and went on his way rejoicing. 40 But Philip found himself at Azotus, and as he passed through he preached the gospel to all the towns until he came to Caesarea.

Footnotes: a. Acts 8:26 Or go at about noon b. Acts 8:36 Some manuscripts add all or most of verse 37: And Philip said, “If you believe with all your heart, you may.” And he replied, “I believe that Jesus Christ is the Son of God.”

The above account, of the encounter between Philip and a eunuch in the remote desert, describes how the Apostle is first directed by an angel of God, on a trek on the road running south Jerusalem towards Gaza.

It is on this road that the Spirit of God directs Philip to approach a chariot carrying an Ethiopian, a eunuch, a court official of Candace, queen of the Ethiopians, who was in charge of all her treasure. He had come to Jerusalem to worship and was returning, seated in his chariot, and he was reading the prophet, Isaiah. Philip, directed by the Spirit, asks the eunuch whether he understands the Scripture which he is reading.

This affords the eunuch the opportunity to invite Philip to join him in order to understand the Scripture, particularly Isaiah 53:7-8:

 

Isaiah 53:7-8 (ESV)

7 He was oppressed, and he was afflicted,
yet he opened not his mouth;
like a lamb that is led to the slaughter,
and like a sheep that before its shearers is silent,
so he opened not his mouth.
By oppression and judgment he was taken away;
and as for his generation, who considered
that he was cut off out of the land of the living,
stricken for the transgression of my people?

It is in regard to this passage of Scripture that the eunuch said to Philip, “About whom, I ask you, does the prophet say this, about himself or about someone else?”  Then Philip opened his mouth, and beginning with this Scripture he told him the good news about Jesus.

Philip helps the eunuch is to understand that Isaiah 53:7-8 indicates that Christ’s sacrifice was made on behalf of all people, who are oppressed and judged for their transgressions or sins. No doubt, the eunuch was given limited access to the temple, as a eunuch would be considered “blemished’, under the criteria of holiness that the Lord gave Moses in Leviticus 21:16-24:

Leviticus 21:16-24 (ESV): Holiness and the Priests

16 And the Lord spoke to Moses, saying, 17 “Speak to Aaron, saying, None of your offspring throughout their generations who has a blemish may approach to offer the bread of his God. 18 For no one who has a blemish shall draw near, a man blind or lame, or one who has a mutilated face or a limb too long, 19 or a man who has an injured foot or an injured hand, 20 or a hunchback or a dwarf or a man with a defect in his sight or an itching disease or scabs or crushed testicles. 21 No man of the offspring of Aaron the priest who has a blemish shall come near to offer the Lord’s food offerings; since he has a blemish, he shall not come near to offer the bread of his God. 22 He may eat the bread of his God, both of the most holy and of the holy things, 23 but he shall not go through the veil or approach the altar, because he has a blemish, that he may not profane my sanctuaries, for I am the Lord who sanctifies them.” 24 So Moses spoke to Aaron and to his sons and to all the people of Israel.

The Temple was partitioned into four courts, beginning with the Court of the Priests; then the Court of Israel; followed by the Court of the Women, and finally by the Court of the Gentiles. But a eunuch was viewed to have a physical blemish that would prohibit him from entering the temple or Assembly of God:

Deuteronomy 23:1 (ESV): Those Excluded from the Assembly

23 “No one whose testicles are crushed or whose male organ is cut off shall enter the assembly of the Lord.

Because a eunuch was considered to bear a physical defect or blemish, he would be lucky if he were permitted to enter the Court of the Gentiles, a court most removed from the Holy altar containing the Ark of the Covenant, where the presence of God was considered to reside.

In addition to being a blemish, the eunuch was also considered a foreigner. But Isaiah indicates that the Lord offers a path to salvation to foreigners, as we see in Isaiah 56:1-5:

Isaiah 56:1-5 (ESV): Salvation for Foreigners

56 Thus says the Lord:
“Keep justice, and do righteousness,
for soon my salvation will come,
and my righteousness be revealed.
Blessed is the man who does this,
and the son of man who holds it fast,
who keeps the Sabbath, not profaning it,
and keeps his hand from doing any evil.”

Let not the foreigner who has joined himself to the Lord say,
“The Lord will surely separate me from his people”;
and let not the eunuch say,
“Behold, I am a dry tree.”
For thus says the Lord:
“To the eunuchs who keep my Sabbaths,
who choose the things that please me
and hold fast my covenant,
I will give in my house and within my walls
a monument and a name
better than sons and daughters;
I will give them an everlasting name
that shall not be cut off.

But the Lord did instruct his people to offer compassion to the afflicted, such as the deaf or blind:

Leviticus 19:13-14 (ESV)

13 “You shall not oppress your neighbor or rob him. The wages of a hired worker shall not remain with you all night until the morning. 14 You shall not curse the deaf or put a stumbling block before the blind, but you shall fear your God: I am the Lord.

But there is a huge difference between have compassion and pity for the disabled, whose afflictions were regarded as a punishment for sin, and being totally forgiven of their transgressions.

By the grace offered by the New Covenant, through the sacrifice of Jesus, the judgment for any blemish or sin is removed. The believer is made both whole and holy in the eyes of God to become an Ark of the Holy Spirit, by way of God’s New Covenant.

The eunuch is sanctified by faith in Christ and asks Philip to be baptized in a stream nearby. At one time, only a eunuch, who is impotent, would be allowed to approach a married woman without being judged guilty of the sin of adultery:

Matthew 19:8-12 (ESV)

He said to them, “Because of your hardness of heart Moses allowed you to divorce your wives, but from the beginning it was not so. And I say to you: whoever divorces his wife, except for sexual immorality, and marries another, commits adultery.”[a]

10 The disciples said to him, “If such is the case of a man with his wife, it is better not to marry.” 11 But he said to them, “Not everyone can receive this saying, but only those to whom it is given. 12 For there are eunuchs who have been so from birth, and there are eunuchs who have been made eunuchs by men, and there are eunuchs who have made themselves eunuchs for the sake of the kingdom of heaven. Let the one who is able to receive this receive it.”

Footnotes: a. Matthew 19:9 Some manuscripts add and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery; other manuscripts except for sexual immorality, makes her commit adultery, and whoever marries a divorced woman commits adultery

As a final reflection, under the Old Law, a eunuch would be barred from entering the temple and drawing close to God because of the blemish of his physical condition. Any priest who suffered injury and thus became physically blemished could no longer perform the rites of a priest and was subject of charity in order to be fed. He could no longer approach the Ark of the Covenant and would be removed from the presence of God because of his affliction.

In the Acts 8 account of the conversion of the Ethiopian eunuch is significant in so many ways. We see that Philip, an apostle/messenger of Christ’s Gospel, is sent out by an angel of God on a missionary journey and then directed by God’s Holy Spirit to minister to an Ethiopian eunuch, who is converted, Christian.

In contrast to other accounts of conversions of blind, paralytics and others who are considered by Jews as blemished, are first healed of their respective infirmity or blemish in order to enter the temple and worship as a member of the assembly. The eunuch is baptized and received as part of the body of Christ and his blemish is unchanged. Through Christ, he is unblemished in God’s eyes.

We see that being a eunuch with physical deficiencies is no more an impediment to being saved and joining the body of Christ, than are the scars or stripes Jesus bore for our sins an impediment for the Lord to be the head of his church. Through Christ, there is no physical impediment to salvation and the gift of the Holy Spirit.

The Ethiopian eunuch is the first foreigner to become a convert of Christ and the first black person to convert to the Way of the Lord. In spite of being a student of the Scriptures, who had just returned from worshiping at the Temple, the eunuch’s physical blemish would likely have been allowed by the Temple Priests to worship in the Court of Gentiles, and this conversion is significant as it is the first recorded Christian conversion of a Gentile.

Christ suffered physical affliction on the cross to remove the restrictions and judgments under the Old Covenant and to permit access to God’s Presence, in the form of the Holy Spirit, under a New Covenant through Christ.

Come to think of it, under the Old Covenant rules, the Resurrected Christ would not be permitted access to the Temple because the wounds in Jesus’ hands, feet and sides would be considered unacceptable defects or blemishes. Under the Old Covenant, the blemishes borne by the Son of God would create the paradox that Christ would neither be allowed to pass through the veil at the Priest’s Temple Court to access Holy of Holies nor allowed to ascend to sit at the side of the Father in Heaven.

But it is because Christ took upon himself to bear the marks or stripes of our sins under the New Covenant, any blemish or defect can no longer be a barrier to the sanctification of the believer. Faith in Christ’s sacrifice guarantees our access to the presence of God, which is the Holy Spirit.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #484: It Only Takes a Spark

Benediction – (Philippians 4:23): The grace of the Lord Jesus Christ be with your spirit. – Amen

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Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress  

Bloor Lansdowne Christian Fellowship – BLCF Church Message for Sunday: 

‘Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’

© February 25, 2018 by Steve Mickelson

BLCF Bulletin February 25, 2018

Based on a Message Shared with BLCF Church on October 30, 2011

BLCF Bulletin October_30,_2011

Announcements & Call to Worship;r of Prayer Prayer

Opening Hymn #358: We Praise Thee, O God, Choruses

Prayer and Tithing: Hymn #572: Praise God from Whom All Blessings

Responsive Reading #612: (The Lamb of God from Isaiah 53)                

Message by Stephen Mickelson: ‘Steadfast in Faith and Sanctified in Times of Distress’ 

Let us pray…

‘Do not forsake me, o my darling’ is the opening lyrics for the Western Classic movie High Noon, starring Gary Cooper who portrayed lawman Will Kane. On the day he gets married and hangs up his badge, Will Kane is told that a man he sent to prison years before, Frank Miller, is returning on the noon train to exact his revenge. Having initially decided to leave with his new spouse, Will decides he must go back and face Miller. However, when he seeks the help of the townspeople he had protected for so long, they turn their backs on him. It seems Kane may have to face Miller alone, as well as the rest of Miller’s gang, who are waiting for him at the train station. This is the story of a good lawman unwilling to violate his oath to uphold the law, even though the chances of his surviving his ordeal seem slim.

The movie deals with the universal question as why a person who seems to live his life as an upright and law-abiding citizen, seems to be rewarded for his efforts by being abandoned by the people he took an oath to protect, a moral issue found frequently in the works of Shakespeare and reprised by Sean Connery in the futuristic Science Fiction movie Outland. As we often see, art and literature imitate real life, which brings us to the plight of Job and Jesus when they were tested by the devil.

The Book of Job is considered by most Biblical scholars to be the oldest of the Scriptures and Job, the wealthiest man in his time. It documents the story of this faithful servant of God, who was tested to the point of death by Satan, as we see in Job 1:1-12:

                                                                 Job 1:1-12 (ESV)

There was a man in the land of Uz whose name was Job, and that man was blameless and upright, one who feared God and turned away from evil. There were born to him seven sons and three daughters. He possessed 7,000 sheep, 3,000 camels, 500 yoke of oxen, and 500 female donkeys, and very many servants, so that this man was the greatest of all the people of the east. His sons used to go and hold a feast in the house of each one on his day, and they would send and invite their three sisters to eat and drink with them. And when the days of the feast had run their course, Job would send and consecrate them, and he would rise early in the morning and offer burnt offerings according to the number of them all. For Job said, “It may be that my children have sinned, and cursed God in their hearts.” Thus Job did continually.

Now there was a day when the sons of God came to present themselves before the LORD, and Satan also came among them. The LORD said to Satan, “From where have you come?” Satan answered the LORD and said, “From going to and fro on the earth, and from walking up and down on it.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Have you considered my servant Job, that there is none like him on the earth, a blameless and upright man, who fears God and turns away from evil?” Then Satan answered the LORD and said, “Does Job fear God for no reason? Have you not put a hedge around him and his house and all that he has, on every side? You have blessed the work of his hands, and his possessions have increased in the land. But stretch out your hand and touch all that he has, and he will curse you to your face.” And the LORD said to Satan, “Behold, all that he has is in your hand. Only against him do not stretch out your hand.” So Satan went out from the presence of the LORD.

You may recall that Job lost wealth, family and suffered personal afflictions. His friends told Job that the Lord was punishing him for some sin or transgression committed either by Job or a member of Job’s family. Even Job’s wife told her husband to forsake his trust in God, as Job’s wife suffered almost as much as Job did. Except for her health, she too lost everything: home, family, and possessions. Her attitude and response exactly matched the one Satan had set out to evoke from Job: to curse God and to blame Him for their misery. How ironic that Satan achieved his goal in Job’s sole surviving companion but not in Job himself.

Did Job’s wife realize that she had surrendered to Satan’s manipulative scheme? Did she feel her loss so great that she didn’t care that she was wrong? Or did she respond to her calamity merely in a fit of emotion, which later passed, taking her bitterness with it? We don’t know the answers to any of those questions. All we know is that she responded just as most people would have under the circumstances: she got angry at God and insisted that Job do the same.

We know that Job’s story ended in his being restored to health, wealth and in the family. But these questions arise: “for what reason did God have to allow Satan to test his obedient and faithful servant? Were the Lord and Satan involved in some idle chess game with Job as a pawn?  I believe that the Lord had several reasons for allowing Job to be tested by Satan.

Satan challenged God, indicating that Job’s faith was merely the result of the hedge the Lord has built around Job. The Lord allowed Satan to take away Job’s wealth and family, in short, to remove the so-called hedge that Satan had claimed was the reason for Job’s faith. The toughest part for Job was the fact that he had sensed to some degree that the Lord had distanced himself from a person who had demonstrated steadfast trust and faith in his God, (Job 23:3):

Oh, that I knew where I might find him, that I might come even to his seat! 

David, too, had undergone a period of similar testing, and asked God, (Psalm 22:1):

My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?

Why are you so far from saving me, from the words of my groaning?

And even though Satan, may have his way at times, the key to making it through the snares and traps Satan sets is to maintain our trust in the Lord, that He will rescue us from our predicament, (1 John 5:19):

We know that we are from God, and the whole world lies in the power of the evil one.

And in Psalm 31:14-15, David maintains rediscovers his faith:

But I trust in you, O LORD; I say, “You are my God.”
My times are in your hand; rescue me from the hand of my enemies and from my persecutors!

Not only, did Job and David go through tests, where at some point they had experienced a separation from God, Jesus too was left alone in his suffering on the cross at Calvary, (Matthew 27:46):

And about the ninth hour Jesus cried out with a loud voice, saying, “Eli, Eli, lema sabachthani?” that is, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me? 

In order to feel the full weight of the punishment for our sins, Jesus had to be abandoned by God. Was this really necessary? We find the answer in Isaiah 53:4-6:

Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted.

 But he was wounded for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that brought us peace, and with his stripes we are healed.

 All we like sheep have gone astray; we have turned—every one—to his own way; and the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all.

The lesson taught by Job’s test by Satan was meant not only for our benefit, but a lesson to the other heavenly hosts (angels) present at the time Satan challenged the reason for God’s faith. It taught both the angels and us, that faith does not come from having worldly wealth, but a wealth of the Spirit. Remember, too, in John, that as soon as Jesus had received the Holy Spirit, he was tested by Satan in the desert. The reason why Jesus suffered, unlike Job, was to atone for our sins and to show us an example of obedience and faith to the Father in Heaven, ( 1 Peter 2:21-24):

For to this you have been called, because Christ also suffered for you, leaving you an example, so that you might follow in his steps. He committed no sin, neither was deceit found in his mouth. When he was reviled, he did not revile in return; when he suffered, he did not threaten, but continued entrusting himself to him who judges justly. He himself bore our sins in his body on the tree, that we might die to sin and live to righteousness. By his wounds you have been healed.

While we demonstrate our faith and trust in the Lord, he offers in return, His Promise of Salvation and Sanctification by way of the suffering of Jesus on our behalf.

We see that Job was allowed to suffer, to teach us and the heavenly host where faith should be based, and how much faith is rewarded for our faith, by bringing us salvation and sanctification from the Lord. We are also given through Jesus, the promise of eternal life and receive the gift of the Holy Spirit.

But what about suffering today, particularly amongst the innocent? Does God have a plan in that?

Paul Paraskevopoulos

Paul Paraskevopoulos

I have shared with some of you about my brother-in-law, Sophie’s brother, Paul, who passed away a few years ago after a short, unexpected illness. Paul was brain injured, having been run over by a truck in childhood. His injury left Paul with the intellectual capacity of an 8-year-old. Even though mentally and physically challenged and being confined to a wheelchair in the last decade of his life, Paul was generally a happy soul, enjoying many of the simpler things in life.

I recall a few years before Paul’s passing, both Sophie and I were called into the hospital in Oakville, as Paul had suffered from a combination of kidney and blood infection. The prognosis was poor, as Paul was not expected to survive the night. At this grim time, I had a concern about Paul’s faith walk: whether or not my brother-in-law had made a decision to accept Jesus Christ as his personal Saviour? I knew Paul had attended church with his siblings and later some of the staff from West Park Hospital, as well as with staff from the group home in Oakville. My fears about Paul were dispelled when upon our arrival at Paul’s hospital room, as before either Sophie or I had a chance to say hello, Paul opened his eyes and spoke: “You know that Jesus is in my heart. I love Jesus.” I knew then that Paul was right with the Lord.

Paul Paraskevopoulos between Steve and Sophie Mickelson

Paul eventually recovered from that illness in 2008 but passed away in 2011 from a separate ailment a bacterial blood infection. Although he was not able to speak when we arrived in the hospital, we had assurance from Paul’s earlier testimony that he was still right with the Lord.

It was not until Paul’s funeral, that I had the opportunity to fully understand why Paul was allowed to suffer so much.  Our family was moved to see that some forty or so staff attended the attended the services. It was obvious that Paul had an impact upon this extended family, as staff members said Paul would love to sing, often reprising the hymn, ‘My God is able’ in acapella. Paul was loved and appreciated by his caregivers as much as by his family.

At Paul’s memorial, I shared some of the happier times we had with Paul, but also shared the story of Paul’s faith and testimony. At the cemetery, a staff member who had returned from her vacation to attend Paul’s funeral shared a story about how Paul was at get together which was recorded on video, where he had burst into a chorus of ’Onward Christian Soldiers’ for the camera. It was then I realized that members of the staff of the group home were aware of Paul’s faith, which he openly shared with them through song. Paul’s faith had also shone through his personality, and that many staff members had listened and learned from Paul’s testimony.  God had a plan and a purpose for Paul, as many members of the family and staff had learned through the simple childlike faith, of this child in a man’s body, how both the faith and the Holy Spirit enabled a believer to keep a happy, positive outlook in spite of a life of injury, suffering, and pain. The common lesson we may take from both Paul and from Job is: in spite of any sufferings endured in life, the Holy Spirit brings joy when faith in the Lord is maintained.  That faith provides the believer with an opportunity to give a testimony of his or her faith may explain why ‘bad things happen to good people’, (Isaiah 54:10):

For the mountains may depart and the hills be removed,
but my steadfast love shall not depart from you,
and my covenant of peace shall not be removed,”
says the LORD, who has compassion on you.

Let us pray…

Closing Hymn #224: How Firm a Foundation

Benediction (James 1:12):  Blessed is the one who perseveres under trial because, having stood the test, that person will receive the crown of life that the Lord has promised to those who love him. – Amen