We are ending a three week study that suggests three wise women had more to do with the first Christmas than the famous three wise men. They are Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna.
These three wise women can teach us many things.
Elizabeth taught us that it is wise to wait.
Mary taught us that it is wise to worship.
Today, Anna will teach us that it is wise to witness.
The title of the article caught my attention: A Cage-Fighting Christ for Our Time.
The author begins by quoting a popular Reformed pastor. On a recent blog he wrote,
Jesus is not a pansy or a pacifist. He has a long wick, but the anger of His wrath is burning. Once the wick is burned up, He is saddling up on a white horse and coming to slaughter His enemies… Blood will flow.
In 2008 he told Christianity Today that too many American churches are populated by “chicks” and “a bunch of nice, soft, tender chickified church boys.”
He sees Jesus as a cage-fighter. The way Americans ‘see’ Jesus seems to change with the times.
At the end of the Victorian period, Jesus was widely depicted as a sweet, almost feminine, Savior.
In the early 1900’s athlete-turned-evangelist Billy Sunday said, “Lord, save us from flabby-cheeked, brittle-boned, weak-kneed, thin-skinned, pliable, plastic, spineless, effeminate, sissified Christianity.”
That manly image gave way again in the late 1960’s to the hippie Jesus of musicals like Godspell and Jesus Christ Superstar.
Jesus is the same yesterday, today, and forever. We tend to ‘see’ Him differently at different times, and how we ‘see’ Him affects our witness to others.
The question of the day is: How do you ‘see’ Jesus?
Before you answer, let’s take a look at how Anna saw The Lord. She was among the first to ever ‘see’ Him for who He really was, and it affected her witness as she went about sharing what she’d seen.
I’ll organize my thoughts around two points: #1 How You ‘See’ Jesus Will Be Shaped By Your Preparation, and #2 How You ‘See’ Jesus Will Be Shown By Your Preoccupation.
#1 How You ‘See’ Jesus
Will Be Shaped By Your Preparation
(2:21-24 & 36-37)
We’re catching-up with Joseph, Mary, and the baby Jesus after His birth in Bethlehem.
Like all devout Jews, the little family had three rituals to perform.
Luke 2:21 And when eight days were completed for the circumcision of the Child, His name was called Jesus, the name given by the angel before He was conceived in the womb.
Luke 2:22 Now when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were completed, they brought Him to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord
Luke 2:23 (as it is written in the law of the Lord, “Every male who opens the womb shall be called holy to the Lord”),
Luke 2:24 and to offer a sacrifice according to what is said in the law of the Lord, “A pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons.”
Circumcision… purification… then presentation.
Every Jewish boy was circumcised and officially named on the eighth day after birth. Joseph and Mary were still in Bethlehem on the eighth day. In all likelihood they were at Joseph’s ancestral home, and a local priest performed the ceremony.
Then there was the ceremony of the purification of the mother. For forty days after the birth of a son and eighty days after the birth of a daughter, the mother was considered ceremonially unclean and could not enter the Temple until her ritual purification.
In the next ceremony a firstborn son was presented to God when at least thirty-one days had past since his birth. The ceremony included buying back, or redeeming, the child from God with money.
One more thing, before we get to Anna. A godly old man named Simeon was there in the Temple the day Jesus was being presented. The Holy Spirit had promised Simeon that he would not die until he had seen the long-awaited Messiah. Simeon recognized the child as the Messiah when Mary and Joseph brought him to the Temple to present Him to the Lord.
So did Anna.
Luke 2:36 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity;
Luke 2:37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years, who did not depart from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day.
We sometimes say of a person, do we not, that everything in their life had prepared them for some incredible moment. I have to see Anna that way – being prepared by God, and preparing herself, for this incredible moment.
True, she may not have always known what she was being prepared, and preparing, for. Later, however, she undoubtedly realized that as long as Simeon was alive she’d have an opportunity to see the Savior.
Let’s look at all the ways she is described in order to understand her preparation.
She “had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity.” It means that she was a virgin when she got married, which could have been in her early teen years.
Her marriage lasted a brief seven years and then she was widowed. It seems she was childless; she did not conceive and have a son, which was the expectation and desire of every Jewish wife.
Thus one of the very first things we see in her preparation was shame and suffering.
You aren’t going to ‘see’ Jesus unless you endure shame and suffering. He endured it – for you. A servant is not greater than his master. Plus, to really ‘see’ Christ is to enter into the fellowship of His sufferings.
Seven years without a child, then her husband died. Wow. It seems like piling on, does it not? But that’s not all.
She “was a widow of about eighty-four years.” This could mean one of two things:
It could mean she was an eighty-four year old widow.
It could mean she had been a widow for eighty-four years.
There’s no way of knowing which is meant. I lean towards her being a widow for eighty-four years, pushing her past the century mark in age, because the text also says, “she was of a great age.”
If Anna married at age 14, which was evidently not uncommon, and she was widowed at age 21, eighty-four years later she would be 105.
Anna “did not depart from the Temple.” Did she live there? We sometimes say of a person who is fully engulfed in his or her work that they “live” at the office. It could be that Anna spent most of her time at the Temple.
Then, too, there were living quarters in the Temple, and this may be a literal statement.
We skipped a couple of facts about Anna. She was “the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.” Listen to this description of the tribe of Asher from Easton’s Bible Dictionary:
Of [this] tribe… nothing [extraordinary] is recorded beyond its holding a place in the list of the tribes… Asher and Simeon were the only tribes west of the Jordan which furnished no hero or judge for the nation.
Lackluster ancestry… No kids… Dead husband… Didn’t remarry… Never left the Temple for eighty-four years. If you put it that way to someone who didn’t know this story, they’d think her life a total waste.
You know that silly saying, “when life hands you lemons, make lemonade?”
By the way, there are a few revisions to that answer:
“When life hands you lemons, squirt someone in the eye.”
“When life hands you lemons, throw them back.”
“When life gives you lemons, you don’t make lemonade. You use the seeds to plant a whole orchard.”
It seems Anna just ate lemons.
Do you ever feel your life has been wasted? That it isn’t going to amount to much? If you do, it’s because you are not valuing fellowship with God as the most important purpose of your life. That way of thinking is the worldly whine of a carnal Christian who has forgotten they were created to know God and have fellowship with Him.
The point the text is making, one point, anyway, is that Anna was being prepared, and was preparing, to ‘see’ Jesus.
Do you notice I keep saying “being prepared and preparing?” On the one hand, God – Who knew the future and the very instant Jesus would be in the Temple – was preparing Anna to be there and to understand the significance of the event.
Luke 2:38 And coming in that instant…
There was a very small window of time in which Anna could have seen Jesus being presented. It was a particular few minutes on a particular day in a particular year. God’s timing was everything.
We have no problem believing God knows the future and is working providentially to accomplish all His purposes. He was preparing Anna for that “instant.”
Anna also needed to be preparing. If she had deviated from walking with The Lord she would have missed that “instant” God was preparing for her.
Under the Law, she could have remarried, but evidently God was calling her to a life of celibacy serving Him. Suppose, for example, she allowed loneliness in her widowhood to overcome her. She may have decided her relationship with God wasn’t enough, that her calling was insignificant, and that she was going to remarry no matter what.
Well, then I guess she wouldn’t have been in the Temple that “instant,” would she? I guess she wouldn’t have seen the Savior or gone on to witness for Him to others.
Instead of talking about Anna this morning, we’d be talking about someone else entirely.
You are on track to ‘see’ Jesus. Not in the Temple as a baby. You’re on track to see Him face-to-face either when you die or when He comes in the clouds to rapture us.
If you are a believer, you are definitely going to see Him. Still there is a question of how prepared you are going to be for the meeting.
Will you be saved just barely, as by fire? Or will you have the incredible joy of hearing Him say, “Well done, good and faithful servant?”
It will be the most exhilarating moment of your life. It’s worth the preparation of walking with The Lord. Every suffering, each sacrifice, is a step of preparation for that glorious day.
Mean time that same preparation (or lack thereof) contributes to how you ‘see’ Jesus in order to share Him with others in this life.
#2 How You ‘See’ Jesus
Will Be Shown By Your Preoccupation
Anna was a “prophetess” who spent her time serving God in “fastings and in prayers night and day.”
I think ‘preoccupied’ is a good word to describe her. She was preoccupied with serving God. Thoughts about God dominated her mind, engrossed her thinking, and she was absorbed with serving Him.
She was a “prophetess.” Six women in Scripture are expressly stated as possessing the title of prophetess: five in the Old Testament and one, Anna, is mentioned in the Gospels. In addition, Philip is mentioned in Acts as having four daughters who prophesied, which brings the number of prophetesses to ten.
Did Anna prophesy before she saw Jesus? Or is she called a prophetess because of what she said about Jesus?
I would lean toward her being a prophetess in her long ministry to The Lord. She clearly knew the Old Testament prophecies concerning the time of the Messiah.
She spoke God’s Word and the prophetic promises concerning the Messiah to all who visited the Temple. I see her as a sort of street preacher – proclaiming Scripture in the public areas of the Temple.
She also “served God with fastings and prayers night and day.”
There’s a popular commercial right now in which people are asked, “If you could get paid do something you loved, what would you do?”
The answers given are yoga teacher, baker, activist, pie maker, art historian, writer, and pilot.
Not one person says, “I would prophesy, fast, and pray.” They don’t even say “I would serve God.”
Obviously, it’s not being asked of Christians in the commercial. So let’s ask it of ourselves. If you could get paid to do something you loved – would it be something for the One who loved you and died for you?
Or do you have some other preoccupation that would take priority?
Luke 2:38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord, and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
Anna came “in that instant.” She was right where she needed to be; right where God wanted her to be.
It causes us to ask, Am I where I need to be spiritually? Am I saved? Am I walking with the Lord?
She “gave thanks.” Until you learn to give thanks always, whether you are abounding in blessings or being abased with buffetings, you won’t have much of a witness.
Anna “spoke of Him.” Right then, in the Temple, she gave a public witness to those who were gathered. She undoubtedly told them that all she had been sharing from the Word of God, for the past eighty-four years, was now present in that baby being presented.
It may seem obvious, but we should speak about Jesus. He should be the theme. We get too easily sidetracked talking about other aspects of life and of the Christian life.
Anna “spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem.” She spoke of redemption while Jesus was being redeemed by His earthly parents in accordance with Jewish law.
Let’s talk a little about this redemption. Originally the firstborn son was to be the priest of the Jewish family. God said “the first issue of every womb among the Israelites is Mine” (Exodus 13:2).
After the Exodus from Egypt, however, the Israelites committed the grievous in of the Golden Calf, of which only the tribe of Levi was not guilty. Consequently the LORD decreed that the Levites were to take the place of the firstborn sons of Israel (Numbers 3:11-12).
But since a firstborn son is technically a (disqualified) priest, having to be substituted with a priest from the tribe of Levi, God required that all firstborn sons (who were not themselves Levites) must be redeemed from service to God by means of paying five shekels of silver (Numbers 18:15).
In the ceremony the father announces that this is his firstborn son. The priest asks if he is giving him the child and dedicating him to serve God, or if he wants to redeem him by paying a price prescribed in the Law.
Since Jesus was the first-born son of Mary (who was of the kingly lineage of Judah), He was not of the priestly clan of Levi, so according to the Law He must be redeemed to fulfill all the Law.
Being redeemed is one of the many metaphors the Bible uses to describe the condition of human beings from God’s perspective.
The idea of redemption is the exchange of ownership, accomplished by paying a price. It is also used to describe paying a price for a slave. Redeeming a slave could result in his enslavement to a new owner, or to his being set free.
Jesus once said He came to earth to give His life as a ransom for many (Matthew 20:28). He thus portrayed the human race as slaves to sin needing to be redeemed.
The apostle Peter tells us that the price Jesus paid to ransom us from slavery to sin was His precious blood, shed for us on the Cross at Calvary (First Peter 1:18-19).
As Jesus was being presented for redemption, Anna let everyone know that He was, in fact, the one who had been promised to redeem all of them once-and-for-all from the slavery of sin. He would pay their ransom and free them to know and to serve God.
Anna prophesied, fasted, and prayed for eighty-four years, living in the Temple – totally preoccupied with things of God.
Then she occupied herself with sharing Him with others.
God isn’t calling us to be just like Anna. We wouldn’t let you live here in the building anyway; it would be creepy for you and for the staff. (Unless you made killer cinnamon rolls).
God’s path for Anna involved barrenness, widowhood, and frugal living. Your path could involve some or all of those, but chances are it is going to be very different.
But it is still a path. Your path. God has good works that He has before ordained that you should discover as you walk with Him. He has “instants” in your life that He is preparing for you; but you must be preparing, too, or you risk missing out on them.
At the beginning we asked, “How do you ‘see’ Jesus?”
How you see Him is shown by what you are preoccupied with. In other words, I may think I see Jesus a certain way, but how I truly see Him is revealed by what preoccupies me.
Whatever your occupation, you can nevertheless be preoccupied with Jesus and with the things of The Lord.
One final thought. The Levites had taken the place of every firstborn son in Israel. They were set aside as God’s priests.
In the New Testament, every believer – male and female – is considered a priest. We are called “a kingdom of priests.”
Whatever your occupation, it is to be subordinate to your preoccupation with your Redeemer – who lives and who is returning.