If you have followed us over the last few months, you know that we are deep into the study of the Gospel of Luke. So on this Christmas eve, I wanted to take a moment and bring a concluding thought to Luke’s Birth Narrative in his Gospel. It is here we find a woman with a remarkable testimony that has something to say to us today as we celebrate Christmas in 2020.
The essence of Luke’s Gospel approaches the birth, life, death, and resurrection of Jesus as a collection of eye witness testimony. His purpose is to provide credibility to the Gospel and “that you may know the truth,” as he writes in his opening lines. Truth is something that is difficult to find in our day. It is considered subjective and relative in our post-modern world, which leaves us in a difficult spot.
So when we experience the level and number of events that we witnessed this past year, it leaves us to ask the question, “What is going on?” A few weeks ago, I sought to expose what is going on prophetically. Like the days of the first arrival of Christ, God is moving world powers and geopolitical forces to see his will and his redemptive plan fulfilled. Today we have front row seats to God’s prophetic plan unfold like never before in history. I want to encourage you to join us on Sundays to learn more and in a few weeks, we’re starting weekly prophesy updates on Wednesday nights.
Tonight is Christmas Eve and I know you are anxious to connect with other festivities and parents have some upcoming tasks. So I want to only briefly connect you to one such witness Luke includes in his birth narrative, a prophetess named Anna. To give you some context, I’m going to back up a little in Scripture about her significance:
Luke 2:25–38 ESV
25 Now there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon, and this man was righteous and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel, and the Holy Spirit was upon him. 26 And it had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ. 27 And he came in the Spirit into the temple, and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him according to the custom of the Law, 28 he took him up in his arms and blessed God and said, 29 “Lord, now you are letting your servant depart in peace, according to your word; 30 for my eyes have seen your salvation 31 that you have prepared in the presence of all peoples, 32 a light for revelation to the Gentiles, and for glory to your people Israel.” 33 And his father and his mother marveled at what was said about him. 34 And Simeon blessed them and said to Mary his mother, “Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rising of many in Israel, and for a sign that is opposed 35 (and a sword will pierce through your own soul also), so that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed.” 36 And there was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, 37 and then as a widow until she was eighty-four. She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 38 And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.
I. A Remnant of Believers
Anna is found nowhere else in the New Testament. She is virtually an unknown. All that we know about her is found right here in the 3 verse of Luke’s gospel. She was what I would call a remnant of true believers in Israel. Most of Israel was secularized by the Roman world and their attention was not on things of God or the plans of God. That is why nearly all of Israel completely missed the coming of the promised messiah and it is why the vast majority of the world today, including many who come to churches will be unprepared for his return.
New Testament Scholar, David Gooding said this about Israel and the coming of Jesus, “Israel had never been a nation marked by unqualified obedience, any more than others have had. When they came out of Egypt, singing their songs of redemption, no one had dreamed that hidden in their hearts of most of them lay as yet unformed thoughts of sheer rebellion again God, their redeemer. But the wilderness, by God’s deliberate intention, exposed them.”
You know, when you look at the history of Israel and the heart of man, David Gooding is right. So when people ask me, what is going on? I immediately say that God is allowing us to wander in the wilderness to expose our hearts so that we may be ready for his return. There is a remnant of people who are looking at these days and saying, Maranatha because we’re ready. This was Anna.
When Jesus was brought to the Temple of God 40 days after his birth for the offering of purification made by Joseph and Mary and for Jesus’ dedication, only 2 people out of thousands of people present recognized him, Simeon, who we read about first, and Anna. Their ears were tuned to God’s voice enough to recognize their messiah was in their presence.
II. A Prophetess
We know a few things about Anna (likely Hannah). She was a prophetess. What is that? She’s not a fortune teller. Rather, she is someone who speaks for God. A teacher, a speaker, a person who spoke the truth. She would be recognized as a reverent person; an elder. The key characteristic here is not her title, but her function. She was Spirit-led and was she was singularly devoted to the things of God.
Luke has a way of providing significant details about people that are small, but important. First, we know that she is the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. This is not a random person. Luke including this detail means that he knew her. This is a very specific identity Luke is building her credibility to his readers.
Secondly, Anna is advanced in years. Some of our English translations say that she was a widow for 84 years, which would be her around 104 years old. That’s possible, but it could be that she was a widow who was 84 years old. The language isn’t clear about that, but either way, she is a woman who has lived the entirety of her life.
What should be most noteworthy about her is that she never left the temple. Luke tells us that she was at the temple day and night praying and fasting. What is she praying and fast for? Well, apparently she is of the same mind as Simeon who was praying and waiting for the consolation of Israel - the coming of the messiah.
She’s a passionate woman for the things of God. Fasting is more than saying, “I won’t eat.” Fasting is is when you are so consumed with the spiritual matters of God, including prayer, that you have no interest in the things of the flesh, like eating. Skipping a meal is fine, but that’s not biblical fasting. The point is, her heart is focused on God’s plan. People are coming and going doing their religious duties, but Anna and hungry for the things of God, especially the coming of Christ.
III. A Hope for Today
For Anna, the condition of the world and the condition of Israel wasn’t as alarming to her as maybe other people of her day. She knew God’s plan and like Simeon, she waited and prayed for the consolation and redemption of Israel. When he arrived, she recognized him. We don’t know what she said, Luke only mentions that she began to give thanks to God and speak of him.
Can you imagine the years she spent praying, watching, waiting, fasting? There were many in Israel who thought of her as an eccentric old lady. Maybe a ‘holy roller’ who was a little too zealous for God for most people’s liking. But her years of watching, praying, fasting, and waiting paid off and she went from waiting for Jesus to telling others about him.
Her life was not easy. It was marked by pain and grief. She lost her husband early into their marriage. She never remarried. This was a hard life for a woman then. She watched her country be overtaken by the occupation of a pagan nation and she saw the decline of her people as they drifted further from God.
Maybe we have more in common with Anna than we think. Are you asking tonight, “What is going on?” Has this year been marked by pain, weightiness, and grief? Are the events of this year weighing on your heart. Are you depressed and troubled by the days we are living in and coming to realize that 2021 may not be any better? I want to offer you hope.
The messiah has come. He came on that first Christmas 2000 years ago as a baby born in a manger. Why a manager? So that anyone could come and bow before him. He didn’t come as a lofty king requiring you to ascend a religious mountain. God came down to you. Everything about him was to offer you the gift of eternal life.
Romans 6:9–11 ESV
9 We know that Christ, being raised from the dead, will never die again; death no longer has dominion over him. 10 For the death he died he died to sin, once for all, but the life he lives he lives to God. 11 So you also must consider yourselves dead to sin and alive to God in Christ Jesus.
He is coming again soon. We are waiting. Fasting. Praying. When he comes he will take his church home to be with him. What is going on? The world is groaning under the weight of sin. There is no hope in the world apart from Jesus Christ. Will you put your hope in him tonight?
Tonight we’re closing in candlelight and singing silent night. I want to invite you to use this time for reflection and to hear from God.