How are you going to stand with Jesus when vast numbers of other people are moving away from Him? Pastor Colin talks about what it takes to have a faith that lasts.
She began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem. (Luke 2:38)
Last year, during advent, we began a series called Bearing Witness to Jesus. We noticed that the birth of Jesus Christ was announced from heaven. God sent the angel Gabriel to Mary with the extraordinary announcement: “You will conceive in your womb and bear a son, and you shall call his name Jesus” (Luke 1:31).
“How will this be?” Mary had asked. To which the angel had answered: “The Holy Spirit will come upon you. And the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore, the child to be born will be called holy – the Son of God” (Luke 1:35).
The angel Gabriel’s announcement from heaven was confirmed on earth. People, who were moved by God, affirmed to Mary the unique glory of the child she bore. Last year we looked at the testimony of Elizabeth, the shepherds, and of Simeon, and we discovered that in speaking of Jesus, each of these people bore witness to a distinct aspect of his glory.
- Elizabeth affirmed that Jesus is the Lord: “Why is this granted to me that the mother of my Lord should come to me?” Luke 1:43
- The shepherds affirmed that Jesus is the Savior: “For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Savior.” Luke 2:11
- Simeon affirmed that Jesus is the Christ: “It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.” Luke 2:26
We have been picking up on these themes because when it comes to Christmas nothing is more important than knowing who Jesus is. When we know who he is, we will grasp why he came. And when we grasp why he came, we will see what he is able to do for us and for all who will come to him.
The plan for this year is to continue and complete this little series on the people who bore witness to Jesus, and so I invite you today to turn to Luke 2, where we find the story of Anna, who bore witness to Jesus, the Redeemer.
Anna’s Devoted Life
There was a prophetess, Anna, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. (Luke 2:36)
This lady must have had an interesting family history. If Ancestor.com was around at the time, I’d definitely want to take a look at her family history, and here’s why: There were twelve tribes descended from the twelve sons of Jacob. When God’s people came into the land of Canaan, each of the tribes were given an area of land. And we are told here that Anna belonged to the tribe of Asher.
The tribe of Asher was one of the 10 northern tribes that were driven out of the land, 700 years before the birth of Christ. Sometimes these are referred to as the ‘ten lost tribes of Israel,’ because these people were scattered.
But they could not all have been lost, because right here in Luke 2 we have Anna from the tribe of Asher living in Jerusalem. Somehow her family had found their way back, and if that was true for them, it must have been true for many others as well. This reminds us of the wonderful truth that God never loses his own.
We are told that Anna had been married: “She was advanced in years, having lived with her husband seven years from when she was a virgin, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four” (Luke 2:36-37).
Anna’s husband died just seven years later. So, when Anna looked back on her life, she would remember the day of her wedding: All the joy, the hopes, and dreams of the extended Asher family as her father Phanuel threw a party to celebrate his daughter’s marriage.
No one at the wedding could have imagined that in just a few years, Anna would become a widow.
There is no record of any children. All that we know is that after seven years of marriage Anna lived as a widow, and that this was her life right up to the age of 84.
Notice what we are told about the way that Anna lived her life: “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37).
1. Anna did not depart from the temple.
The place of worship was the center of gravity for her life. It seemed like she was always there. This godly woman had a zeal for God’s house and a love for God’s people.
2. Anna gave herself to worshiping with fasting and prayer.
For this godly woman, worship was not a duty, it was a joy. It was not something to fit into her busy schedule. The question for her was how other things could fit around what mattered most. The first commitment of her life was to the Lord and to his people.
Could it be said of you that the house of God is the center of gravity for you and/or your family? To worship God is the first commandment, and it is the first commitment of those who truly love him. Anna gave herself to seek the face of God: Worship! Prayer! Fasting! What she had lacked in intimacy with a husband, she gained in intimacy with God.
3. Anna did this night and day.
Often it was the case for this godly woman that while other people were eating, she was fasting. While other people were sleeping, she was praying. And while other people were playing, she was worshipping.
4. Anna’s prophetic gift
There was a prophetess, Anna. (Luke 2:36)
A prophet, in Old Testament times, was someone who received direct revelation from God. God gave this special gift to Anna. No doubt it was cultivated through the closeness of her own walk with God.
From time to time Anna was given direct promptings from the Spirit of God, enabling her to discern the truth and speak it into the lives of others.
Anna’s Distinctive Witness
And coming up at that very hour she began to give thanks to God. (Luke 2:38)
Anna arrived at the temple at the very hour when Mary and Joseph had come with the infant Jesus. Think about the grandeur of the temple and the paid priests going about their duty. Our Lord would have been circumcised by one of the priests, but it seems that to the priests who were serving at the temple that day, this was just another family with another baby.
The people who claimed to speak for God missed him completely. It fell to Simeon, who was simply ‘a man in Jerusalem.’ He was righteous and devout (Luke 2:25). It took an ordinary man to recognize that this was indeed the Christ.
Now along with this godly man, Simeon, there is also a godly woman Anna. Anna arrives at the temple as Simeon is bearing witness about Jesus to Mary and Joseph. The Holy Spirit reveals to Anna that this is indeed the One for whom she has been looking and praying.
Anna lifts her voice in praise and adoration. And as she does, one word presses into her mind and heart. It becomes her distinctive witness to Jesus. Elizabeth proclaimed him as Lord. The shepherds, reporting the words of the angels to Mary, proclaimed him as Savior. Simeon knew Jesus was the Christ. Anna spoke of him as the Redeemer.
“She began to give thanks to God and to speak of him to all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem” (Luke 2:36). Redemption is a great Bible word that every Christian should know and be able to explain to someone else who doesn’t.
- To redeem: Buy something back through by the payment of a price.
- A redeemer: The one who pays the price.
- To be redeemed: Brought under new ownership by the paying of a price.
There is much said in the New Testament about redemption, about Christ the Redeemer, and what it means for us to be redeemed. But Anna did not have the New Testament. She had the Old Testament and, as a devout woman who had walked with God for 84 years, she would have known well what the Old Testament Scriptures said about the Redeemer. Here are 3 great statements she would have known from the Old Testament:
1. Redemption: A Clarifying Statement of Calling
The great purpose of God is to gather a people from every tribe and nation who will love him, worship him, glorify him, and enjoy him forever.
He began with one man, Abraham, and one nation that came from his line. It was through them that the Redeemer came into the world, and through him that God offers this great redemption to all people. The price of this great purchase is not revealed until the New Testament, but the entire Old Testament story is about God redeeming his own people.
God said to Moses, “I am the LORD, and I will bring you out from under the burdens of the Egyptians… and I will redeem you with an outstretched arm and with great acts of judgment” (Ex. 6:6). Why did God redeem these people? The answer is very clear in God’s words to Pharaoh: “Let my people go that they may worship [serve] me” (Ex. 8:1, 20).
Anna reads her Bible and she knows that the great purpose of God is to redeem a people who will love and worship him. She knows that Jerusalem, the city where she lives, is the place where God had put his name. She knows that the temple is the place where God’s presence would come down and meet with his people.
So day after day, she goes to the temple. But when she is there, what does she see? She saw the same things that our Lord Jesus saw thirty years later when he came to the temple:
- The complete commercialization of faith as the temple had been overrun with traders trying to make a buck out of religion.
- The deadness of so much institutional religion. Think about it – all these priests in the temple, but not one of them could recognize the Christ when he came!
- The self-righteousness of so much that went on in the temple. People who thought highly of themselves trying to impress others and demanding of God what he should do next to make their lives better.
Jesus said, “This people honors me with their lips, but their heart is far from me” (Mat. 15:8).
Anna’s heart must have ached when she went to the temple. All these people showing up and professing faith, but how many of them even known how to pray? How many really love God more than they love themselves and their families? How much she longed for the day when the temple would be filled with people who really loved God and lived to serve him!
There were some who really loved God, and Anna was one of them. While in the temple, she came to know others who, like her, were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem: Longing for the day when the promised Redeemer would come, waiting for the day when God’s city would truly be filled with God’s praise arising from the loving hearts of God’s people.
If you are a Christian, redemption speaks to you of the purpose and calling of your life. “You are not your own, for you were bought with a price” (1 Cor. 6:20). Christ died to purchase people for himself.
If you are one of these people who have been purchased by Christ, then you must say to yourself today, “I have been bought back at the greatest price and for the greatest purpose. I am not my own. I belong to Christ and I must seek freely and gladly to live for him, and to honor him in every circumstance of life.”
That’s why the apostle Paul says, “Flee from sexual immorality… Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit? …You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body” (1 Cor. 6:18-20). This is your greatest motive for pursuing holiness this week, and not resting content with where you are.
2. Redemption: A Personal Act of Love
Anna would have known the story of Ruth, and I think that with Anna being a widow all these years, the story of Ruth, a young widow, must have had a special place in her heart.
It is the story of two women: Naomi, who was married to a man called Elimelech, and Ruth her daughter-in-law, who was married to their son. In a short space of time, both Elimelech and his son died, leaving the older woman and her daughter-in-law as widows.
There were two laws in Old Testament times that you need to know in order to understand this story. The first was the law of redemption, which said that if a person became poor and had to sell their land, the ‘right to buy’ was given first to the nearest relative in the family (Lev. 25:25). And if that person deferred, it was passed onto someone else. The purpose of this law was to keep land in the family circle.
The second was the law of levirate marriage, which said that if a man died without leaving children, his nearest relative should take responsibility for the dead man’s widow (Deut. 25:5-10). The purpose of this law was twofold: First, to provide for the widow, and second, to continue the family line.
The question at the heart of the story is: Will there be a redeemer for her? Will there be a redeemer who is willing to pay the price for the land and who would be willing to provide a home and a future for Ruth?
There was such a man and his name was Boaz. The problem was that there was a nearer relative who had the first right to redeem. So Boaz went to the man at the gate of the city, in front of witnesses, and said, “Naomi is selling the field and you have the first right to buy it.”
The man really liked this idea. The field sounded like an excellent investment. He would be able to buy it at a reduced price. “Oh, yes, I’d like to redeem!”
Then Boaz said, “Of course, when you buy the field, you will also assume responsibility for the support of two women.” I would have loved to see the reaction on this man’s face!
Boaz continued, “There are two laws to consider here: One gives you the right to buy the land, the other given you the responsibility of supporting the widows. As a man of honor, you can’t claim the privileges of the one and deny the responsibilities of the other!”
It was a masterpiece of negotiation. The price of redeeming was more than the unnamed relative thought. It was more than a one-time payment. It was a lifelong commitment.
Then the redeemer said, “I cannot redeem it for myself, lest I impair my own inheritance. Take my right of redemption yourself, for I cannot redeem it” (Ruth 4:6). What he is saying is this: “That is way too costly. I can’t do it! It would jeopardize my own inheritance. That’s too great of a commitment.” So Boaz redeemed the land.
What is the difference between these men? Boaz had come to love Ruth, and he was ready to do whatever it would take to make her his own. This story is given to tell us about the Redeemer. Christ became our nearest relative by taking human form. He was ready to pay the ultimate price – all that he suffered – in order to make us his own.
What did it cost him? “Pay careful attention to yourselves and to all the flock, in which the Holy Spirit has made you overseers, to care for the church of God, which he obtained with his own blood” (Acts 20:28). Jesus shed his blood for a bride that is not always attractive, a bride that is often unfaithful and often lacks commitment.
3. Redemption: An Enduring Gift of Hope
I want lastly today to remind you of one of the greatest statements about the Redeemer in the Old Testament. Anna would have known this well, and I expect that as the years passed it meant more and more to her.
I am thinking of the words of Job, “I know that my Redeemer lives, and at the last he will stand upon the earth. And after my skin has been thus destroyed, yet in my flesh I shall see God” (Job 19:25-26).
Anna had been waiting for the Redeemer. She saw and welcomed the infant Jesus, but thirty years would pass before Christ began his public ministry. At the age of 84, Anna would not have lived long enough to hear the teaching of Jesus or to see his mighty works. The world, when she died, would have looked pretty much as it did when she was born – scarred by wars, disease, and death; marked by greed and by people grabbing for power.
My wife Karen and I just came back from vacation in the United Kingdom. And we experienced again the strange idea that we are somehow responsible for everything imported to the UK from America. Do you know what the latest thing is? Black Friday. They haven’t adopted Thanksgiving in the UK, but they’ve adopted Black Friday!
Of all the millions of dollars spent on Black Friday in the UK, do you know what was done with it all? It was wrapped up and hidden under beds and in closets for a better day. In the same way, everything that has been purchased for you by Jesus Christ has been hidden for a better day. No eye has seen, no mind has conceived what God has prepared for those who love him.
The great truth that Job stated so wonderfully is that the work of the Redeemer stretches beyond this life. There’s a part of our redemption that believers begin to enjoy now, but the largest part of all that Christ has purchased for us is still to come.
The redemption Christ has purchased includes not only your soul but also your body! And what he has purchased includes not only you, but the world in which you will live. The creation itself will be liberated from its bondage to decay. There will be a new heaven and a new earth, and it will be the home of righteousness – no violence, no racism, no disputing as to who is God, no tears, no pain, no hatred, no war, and no death.
By shedding his own blood, the Lord Jesus Christ has secured for us an eternal redemption (Heb. 9:12). When times of trouble come, look up! The day of your redemption draws near (Luke 21:28).
Worship as you anticipate that day when all God’s people will sing a new song: “Worthy are you to take the scroll and to open its seals, for you were slain, and by your blood you ransomed people for God from every tribe and language and people and nation” (Rev 5:9).
© Colin S. Smith
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