Anna & Christ
Hope. It’s a rare commodity in our day and age. More than any other time in our history I think many people are on the verge of simply losing hope that darkness will ever be totally pushed back by light.
- Nationally, many are wondering if our Constitution and nation will survive the now blatant corruption showcased at all levels of life. When will the majority stand for truth? When will the ends stops justifying the godless/immoral means? When will facts be used to prosecute those who commit crimes to subvert an election? Why vote if my vote can be subverted?
- Geo-politically, some of our most fearsome enemies appear to have infiltrated influential areas of our country from media and communications to government. When will people in various crucial areas stop permitting those who seek our demise to peddle their ideologies in clever ways?
- Medically, Covid has certainly done damage beyond our comprehension, from the loss of lives to the totalitarian control and destruction of our lives and economy. When it this going to end? Some politicians are going so far to say that even if you receive the immunization now available, you should still wear a mask and continue to practice social distancing. If the shot is effective one wonders why we can’t get back to life as we knew it? Seems hopeless, doesn’t it?Yeah, there are good reasons for the flame of hope to be flickering in our day.
How should we, as believers, respond? We can gain insight and answers by studying the life of a godly, old widow who lived in ancient times. Why study her life? Her life dripped with hope in hopeless times. Her name? Anna. What does her name mean? It means grace, and, boy, she was full of this rich spiritual commodity. In the ruthless, riotous days of the Roman and Herodian political machines stood an aged woman full of divine grace and oozing with inexorable hope that not only was God in control, but that He was going to do something amazing, something jaw-dropping despite what naysayers might say.
Where does her story appear in the story of the birth of Christ? We bump into her only one time in a short, seemingly insignificant historical snippet in the book Luke:
36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four. She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers. 38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
From this brief snapshot from the birth of Jesus, we encounter this eternal spiritual truth:
Messianic Hope in Hopeless Times Leads to Power, Praise, & Proclamation (Luke 2:36-38)
When a person loses hope, they lose the strength, the mental and spiritual fortitude to push forward to victory. When a person loses hope, they focus on the negative so that items of praise are obscured from their purview. When a person loses hope, they lose the passion to proclaim the truth that the King and the Kingdom are, in fact, coming. The Devil, of course, wants godly, moral people to lose hope so he can gain major ground diminishing the impact of the Church, and to continue to subvert and control the kingdoms of the world toward his nefarious ends.
On the contrary, the Devil and his minions shake in their proverbial boots when a saint is sold out to God and the teaching and promises of the Word of God. They tremble for they know that the hope this person exudes not only reminds them of their coming demise, but it is contagious to the people this person meets on a daily basis. Anna, of course, was one of those saints who wreaked havoc, I’m sure, in the unseen world. She, also, as we shall see, is a flesh and blood example of how a believer should live in wicked, truly evil times.
From these three concise verses, we encounter how her love and adoration of God’s teaching in the Old Testament concerning the mission of the Messiah caused her to live a life consumed with hope. That hope, as these verses denote, is seen in three principles we derive from her lengthy life of faith in God’s well-orchestrated, well-thought-out kingdom plan.
Hope Regardless of Your Family’s Baggage (Luke 2:36a) Before we develop this concept, let me remind you of the all-important context.
According to the Law (Ex. 13:2, 12; Lev. 12:1-8), thirty-three days after Christ’s circumcision Mary and Joseph had to present him, as their firstborn, to God at the temple, and she had to obtain purification from the birthing process. Standing outside the massive and ornate Nicanor Gate, which separated women from men, they awaited their turn to present their meager sacrifices (Luke 2:24) and their newborn son. Looming above them was a large, glistening Roman eagle Herod had affixed to the top of the gate in honor of his friend Vipsanius Agrippa, who was also a friend and son-in-law of Caesar. The godless, menacing eagle, I’m sure, caused the godly couple to cringe at the flagrant disrespect of the power-hungry, religion bashing, blood-thirsty Herod the “Great.” However, the Child resting in their arms ironically represented the One who would, one day, deal a crushing blow to Herod’s rule and to that of Rome. In light of this truth, I’m sure the demons were none too happy.
As they stood here, an aged saint named Simeon, a man who had unshakable hope in the Messiah’s coming all of his life, a man who had asked God if he could just see the Messiah before his death, stepped forward. The Holy Spirit had suddenly revealed to this senior citizen saint that this little boy was, in fact, the Messiah he had wanted to see for so many years. What a gift of God! Simeon turned and spoke a prophetic word over the Messiah, a word detailing His coming difficult ministry to a stiff-necked people, and a ministry which would eventually pierce Mary’s soul when He died.
No sooner did Simeon finish his prophecy than another aged saint walked up to the Lord’s parents. Luke introduces her in this fashion: 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.
Most of Israel’s prophets in the Old Testament were men; however, there were a few female exceptions: Miriam (Ex. 15:20), Deborah (Jud. 4:4), and Huldah (2 Kings 22:14 certainly come to mind. What was the role of the prophet? The Greek word has two primary connotations: One, the ability to foretell the future with specificity and precision (Deut. 18), and two, to foretell God’s truth with verbal power and conviction. Since Malachi, who prophesied around 430 B.C., was Israel’s last prophet in the OT period, Israel had been without a major, refreshing, and instructive divine word for some 425 years. When God broke the revelatory spell He did it in a big way. For one, He spoke in and through two old people, people we might be tempted to write off in our culture. For another, He spoke through a man and a woman. Amazing.
To these thoughts I’d add one more. Anna was from the tribe of Asher. You might be tempted to read over this as an insignificant point, but you shouldn’t. Why? Because a short history lesson on this tribe will prove to teach you much about God and His ways.
Asher was the eighth son of Jacob. His mother was Zilpah, the handmaid of Leah. Leah named this boy Asher, which in Hebrew means happy, because his birth brought a smile to her face (Gen. 30:13). According to Jacob’s final prophetic blessings on his sons, Asher would become financially prosperous based on its ability to extract a fertile living off the land and by means of producing delicacies for consumption (Gen. 49:20). Her land allotment under the leadership of General Joshua, which was determined by God’s control of the lot (Jud. 13:6-7). As you can see from the map, she inherited the rich costal land on the north edge of Israel, an area populated by the powerful and wealthy Phoenicians. From what we know of biblical history, Asher provided no courageous spy to check out the land of Promise prior to the invasion under the leadership of Moses and Joshua (Num. 13:13). This tribe never raised a military, political, or spiritual hero. During the time of David, when he lists the key tribal leaders in his empire, he doesn’t even mention them (1 Chron. 27:16). No doubt, their amalgamation and absorption into the Phoenician carnal culture eventually led to this sad absence on their part (Jud. 1:31).
I say all of this to make this one (hopefully) salient point. To a tribe full of historical spiritual baggage, to a tribe which had not lived as God had commanded them to live, to a tribe who had not supported King David, the messianic proto-type, God gave a fresh prophetic word to a woman from this issue riddled, highly compromised tribe. You might need to read that one more time. Within a tribe known for their spiritual shallowness walked a young woman who became an old woman who loved the Lord and all of the prophetic utterances concerning the promised coming of the Messiah, the Savior. Put differently, in a tribal not known for possessing an inexorable hope in God’s prophesied kingdom program, came one young lady who had enough hope for the whole clan. And God saw this love, this passion in her heart and rewarded her with an audience with her Creator and the Messiah on that cold winter day.
What is the word here for you some two thousand years later? Despite the godless baggage your family is toting around, despite how far back the wicked, sordid baggage goes, God looks for one among the line to stand up and love Him for what He has said/revealed, and what He promises to do in the future to advance His kingdom/redemptive cause. So, go ahead. Lay your baggage at His feet and ask Him to forgive you and He will. Then, turn and follow Him with all you have and expect Him take make you a light to your family and all others who cross your life path. This is part of the story of Anna. She didn’t focus on her family’s historical baggage but on the One equipped to deal with the baggage so she could be free to follow him. Talk about a way to get some much needed hope.
In a tribe not known for its love affair with the words of the prophets concerning the coming Messiah walked a woman who broke the carnal, sinful mold. Her hope became a beacon for all to see in hopeless times.
In addition to this, when a person is inflamed by the messianic hope nothing in this life can put that flame out. We see this much in the ensuing verses:
Hope Regardless Your Personal Adversities (Luke 2:36b-37)
You want to talk about heart-break, dashed dreams, and hope crushing circumstances? The next two verses fit the description:
She was advanced in years and had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, 37 and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four.
There is some ambiguity in the Greek text here but from what I see I think it tells us two things about Anna: one, she was married for seven years before her loving husband died, and two, she had been a widow a LONG TIME. At this time, Jewish girls could be married between 12-15 years of age. Say she became married at 15. This means her husband would have died when she was twenty-two, and she had been a widow for sixty-two years. Wow. Sad, isn’t it? I guess she never remarried for he was, in fact, the love of her life. Don’t you know she had other opportunities to marry a nice, good-looking young Jewish boy, but she didn’t? Why? Why not get remarried so you would not have to go into old age alone and without children and grandchildren? The last part of verse 37 gives you the much needed flash of divine insight.
After her husband died, Anna gave herself wholeheartedly to the worship and service of the living God. Think about it. Could she have been angry at God for taking her husband? Yes. Could she have spiritually withdrawn because, say, God didn’t hear her prayers to heal him? Yes. Did she do any of these things? No. Instead of looking at her personal adversity and permitting it to motivate her to run from God instead of to Him, she embraced the trial and the Lord who sovereignly permitted it for His lofty purposes (Isaiah 45:7, “I form the light and create darkness, I make peace and create calamity; I, the LORD, do all these things”). She knew, from her faith walk that since God is Lord of the good times, He is also Lord of the bad times, and with this truth in her heart she marched forward in her faith. What an amazing woman of hope.
Let’s look at her life from another angel. Since she was 84 when Christ was born, this means she was born around 88 B.C. Think of all she experienced in these ensuing years. The Jewish Hasmonean dynasty fell apart (76-64 B.C.). In her twenties, General Pompey entered Jerusalem after a three-month brutal siege (63 B.C.) and took over the country of the future Messiah. Antigonus renewed Hasmonean rule from 40-37 B.C. after he drove Herod out of town. From 37- 4 B.C., or the majority of her life, her country was dominated by the evil king who defeated Antigonus and established himself as Israel’s rightful leader. And this is not to overlook all of the high-handed, ruthless activities of this self-absorbed man, coupled with his penchant for weaving godless Hellenism into the country. Yet, even though Anna lived through all of this social and spiritual upheaval which caused many around her to wallow in a sea of hopelessness, she never lost hope in the prophesies of the coming of the Messiah. She studied the prophetic word and promises from God and believed them no matter what. That belief gave her hope, coupled with the power and strength to press on each and every day. What a widow! What a woman of God!
How did she function over all these tumultuous political and spiritual years? Dr. Luke tells us in verse 37 she gave herself to three things:
She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers.
We all know the Temple closed each day, so the opening statement here is hyperbolic. It’s just saying, to use our vernacular, “When the doors of the church were open, she was there.” Imagine you head to the Temple on Monday, walk past the court of the Gentiles, through the Beautiful Gate on the east, across the Court of the Women and there is Anna. “Shalom, Anna. Boqer tov” (Good day). Do this again on Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, and so forth and there she is, worshipping in the temple, praying, singing, and talking to other worshippers. And to think she did this for OVER SIXTY YEARS. Talk about commitment to God. You could not go to the Temple and not see this faithful saint. What a testimony of faith! What a spiritual example to follow! Why was she there? She knew that the Lord of the universe had promised to be here in a special fashion (1 Kings 8:11-13), and she wanted to be near Him so she could hear from and worship Him.
If you are a widow, what should you be doing? You should let nothing get in your way of being in corporate worship. I know the loss of the mate can cause some to want to pull back and stay at home; however, the healthiest thing you can do is step out in faith and put the corporate worship of God first above all things. I know our Governor is telling our state inhabitants they don’t need to go to church because God is everywhere, and this is true only to a point. Where it breaks down is God has established the Church and He commands us to be present for worship (Heb. 10:24-25). All of the “one another” passages in the NT cannot be fulfilled if we are not together either (love one another, Rom. 13:8; admonish one another, Rom. 15:14; comfort one another, 1 Thess. 4:18, to mention a few). And we cannot fulfill out spiritual gifting if we are not together (Rom. 12:6ff; 1 Cor. 12; Eph. 4). Had Anna been alive in our day and age, she would be leading the charge to be in worship. Let that be you, as a widow, because you have hope in the Messiah who has come, is here, and is coming again. Also, may your commitment be a fire which lights fires in the hearts of the many worshippers around you. Who is our next Anna?
Anna committed herself to two other spiritual disciplines as well: “serving night and day with prayers and fastings.” The Greek word for prayer here, teasis (δέησις) speaks of a petition, a definite plea. If you saw Anna at the Temple, you rest assured that she, of all people, was always praying specifically for the needs of people in and around her. Who does not need a woman of faith and hope like this?
In addition, she fasted constantly. Fastings, of course, were/are of two sorts. One, an absolute fast wherein a worshipper took in no food or drink for a specified amount of time. Saints typically did this in OT times in light of the gravity of the situation before them. For instance, Esther told Mordecai they needed to fast when it looked like this might be the end of the road for the Jewish people (Esther 4:16). Two, a partial fast wherein a worshipper abstained, as Daniel did, of certain foods for a spiritual reason or to tap into divine power in light of the spiritual battle before him/them (Dan. 10:3). Given the dysfunction, corrupt nature of our government, I think we need more folks given, as Anna was, to prayer and fasting, for in this discipline the worshipper demonstrates to God just how serious they are about their faith and how much they need His divine intervention. Realizing that the Messiah would one day come, but in the meantime the forces of darkness were working overtime in and through Rome and Herod, Anna stepped up her spiritual game. Is it not amazing how the widow led the way to the worship of arrival of the Messiah?
So, if you are feeling hopeless today after watching the news, listening to hearings, reading the platform of the incoming political team, witnessing people en masse embracing error over truth, I know what you need to do. Take what you know about the Messiah and let it motivate you to serve God like you’ve never served Him before. When you do this, hope will fill your sails, the Devil will shudder, and some folks who are hopeless will move toward the messianic light.
Anna lived each day with great hope when she could have lived shuttered in her modest home in abject fear of what was going on in her country. She had hope God would use her despite her familial baggage. She had hope in the living God despite her personal adversities, and that hope translated into a life of devout service to Him. Lastly, she had . . .
Hope Rooted in God’s Providential Guidance (Luke 2:38) I love this verse:
38 At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God, and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem.
She “just happened” to be standing near the Nicanor gate when Simeon gave a prophecy about the Messiah after God told him that baby Jesus was the Messiah. Right. She was providentially in the right place at the right time. For over sixty years she came daily to the temple to worship God, the same God who had given Israel the prophetic promises of the coming One, the Messiah (Isa. 7:14; 9:6). And now she had the privilege of being in worship when the Lord of all worship showed up infant form. Her testimony is all the reason you need for telling the Governor he’s all wet. Had she missed worship that day she would have missed the greatest spiritual event of her ENTIRE LIFE! Imagine being able to see the hands which formed the cosmos. Imagine seeing the eyes which created eyesight. Imagine seeing a little mouth which spoke all things into existence. Imagine looking at little hands and feet which would one day bear Roman spikes as that Savior died for all of our sins. Just imagine.
Anna knew her being within listening distance from Simeon and Mary and Joseph was no fluke. No. Even though fellow worshippers crammed into the place, she just happened, by God’s good design, to be near a conversation to end all conversations. Stepping forward she knew, as a prophetess in touch with the Spirit of God, that this was the Son of God, the Messiah. Wow.
How did she respond?
One, she gave thanks immediately to the living God. Thanks for what? I can guess.
- Thanks for sending the promised seed.
- Thanks for sending the redeemer not just of Israel, but of all mankind.
- Thanks for not forgetting us, nor His kingdom plan.
- Thanks for sending the One who would bring truth and justice.
- Thanks for hearing prayers and taking note of her countless times of fasting.
- Thanks for letting her, at such an advanced age, to lay her tired old eyes on theSavior, the Messiah himself.She gave thanks because she had real hope in her life. What should you be doing this Christmas? You should be giving that same God thanks for the fact the Savior has come and is coming again in glory to rule and reign. Are you? Will you?Second, she perpetually spoke to anyone around her who was looking for the Messiah. I wonder what she said to them? “Come with me, the Messiah of Israel is right over here. Let me show Him to you.” We should go and do likewise in our day and age. The hope she had in the coming One caused her to point anyone and everyone to Him when she started talking.
- The prophesied seed of Abraham and Isaac is here (Gen. 22:18; Matt. 1:1; Gen. 21:12; Luke 3:32, 34.
- The prophesied King from the tribe of Judah is here (Gen. 49:10; Luke 3:23, 33).
The Christmas Story Selected Bible Passages
- The prophesied King from the line of Jesse and from the house of David is here (Isa. 11:1; Luke 3:23, 32; Matt. 1:6; Jer. 23:5; 2 Sam. 7:12-16; Matt. 1:1; 9:27; 15:22).
- The prophesied eternal Messiah who will be from Bethlehem is here (Mic. 5:2;Matt. 2:1).
- The prophesied final Prophet from the lips of Moses is here (Deut. 18:18; Matt.21:11; Luke 7:16).
- The prophesied Messiah who will perform miracles to validate Hismessiahship is here (Isa. 35:5-6; Matt. 9:35).
- The prophesied Suffering Servant who will deal with our sins is here (Isa. 53;Rom. 5:1-11).Who will you point to the Messiah this Christmas? You have all the proof you need He has come and is coming again, so move out in hope and start pointing.And maybe, just maybe, the godly widows in our church and nation will lead the way, as Anna did of old.