We Proclaim Jesus.
By Joseph Ametepe
Patricia St. John, who has been described as an ordinary woman with an extraordinary faith, poured out her life ministering to people in the neediest places on our planet. She was in Sudan when war refugees flooded that country. They had suffered terribly and had lost everything, yet those among who were Christians still gave thanks to God. Patricia said that she stood one night in a crowded little Sudanese church listening to those uprooted believers singing joyfully. Suddenly a life-changing insight burned its way into her mind. "We would have changed their circumstances," she said, "but we would not changed them." She realized that "God does not always lift people out of the situation. He Himself comes into the situation...He does not pluck them out of darkness. He becomes the light inthe darkness."~Daily Bread August 1994
You see, at the heart of Patricia's moving story is that even in the face of great suffering and loss the displaced Sudanese believers joyful and thankful. That, I tell you folks, is real triumph in tragedy.
Please I want you to listen carefully to the main idea of the message in this article, not just with your head, but more importantly with your heart, where the Holy Spirit is eager and enthused to plant the seed of God's eternal and enduring truth, in order to change true born-again believers more into the blessed image of Jesus Christ- the Good Shepherd and the Glorious Sanctifier of the Church, and to convict unbelievers of their sin of unbelief-graciously leading them to personal saving faith in Jesus Christ-the Seeker and Savior of sinners. Here is the heart of the message. Through the Holy Spirit's presence and power, the believer in Jesus Christ can overcome personal tragedy to live a triumphant and thriving life to the glory of God.
Folks, friends, faithful followers of Christ, and fellow believers in the fold and flock, fellowship and family of God, the Bible is going to vividly and visually present to us a remarkable example of triumph in tragedy at the First Christmas. You see, the story of triumph in tragedy, which we are about to look at, doesn't get much attention at Christmas time, let alone at other times in the calendar of the church. It is often passed over. But I tell you friends, it is a great story with great spiritual lessons for all who have ears to hear and hearts to receive its life-transforming message. This story is found in Luke 2:36-38, a passage which can be accurately described as a passage of tragedy and triumph. It is a passage it graphically presents to us the personal tragedy and loss in Anna's life. It is a passage of triumph because it gloriously portrays Anna's triumphant and thriving life even in the face of great loss. In this passage, first of all, we will look at the Bible's personal description of Anna in verses 36-37a. Second, we will examine the Bible's teaching regarding the perseverance of Anna in verse 37b. Third, we will consider what the Bible reveals about the passion of Anna in verse 38a. Fourth and finally, we will discuss what the Bible teaches concerning the proclamation of Anna in verse 38b. If you are ready to learn afresh from God's Word, let's begin with the Bible's:
Personal Description of Anna in verses 36-37a.
Please understand that all we know about Anna in the Bible is preserved in these three verses. In other words, apart from these verses we know nothing about her. But even in this brief account of about Anna, the inspired writer, Dr. Luke, has drawn us a complete sketch of Anna.In fact, every word is rich and relevant. We will do well to pay attention to what the Holy Spirit is going to teach us about her life. Now would you please notice the Bible's brief but blessed personal description of Anna. "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, and then as a widow to the age of eighty-four" (Luke 2:36-37a)
Please notice very carefully that five specific personal characteristics of Anna are disclosed to us in the above verses. First of all, we are given her personal name, Anna. Anna is the same name as Old Testament Hannah. It means "gracious" or "favor." Actually, I am following thew word order in the original, which begins by saying: "And there was Anna, a prophetess, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher." You see, Anna, was like Simeon, a member of the faithful remnant of Israel who was waiting expectantly for the coming of the Messiah. Second, we are told that Anna was a prophetess. This refers to a woman who spoke God's word to God's people. This also indicates that she was unusually close to God. You see, to be able to communicate God's word to God's people, Anna would need to have an intimate personal relationship with God, to be able to hear His message, and then convey that message to God's people. So her main role as a prophetess was to speak for God, proclaiming His truth. Actually, it will pleasantly surprise you to know that the Bible mentions only a few women who were prophetesses. They Miriam (Exodus 15:20), Deborah (Judges 4:4), Huldah (2 Kings 22:14; 2 Chronicles 34:22). Isaiah 8:3 refers to the prophet's wife as a "prophetess." Also, Noadiah (Nehemiah 6:14) was a "prophetess" who had gained a bad reputation. These are the prophetesses mentioned in the Old Testament. You can count them on one hand. Anna is the first prophetess mentioned in the New Testament (Luke 2:36). A woman by the name of Jezebel is the last prophetess mentioned in the New Testament (Revelation 2:20). But she also had a bad reputation. In between these two, there were women who spoke by the Holy Spirit but they were not called prophetesses. The NASB refers to the four virgin daughters of Philip as prophetesses (Acts 21:9). However, the original says "prophesying." In other words, they functioned as prophetesses but they were not given the title of "prophetesses." The point I want to not miss is that, genuine prophetesses of the Bible are few. But today, we hear of many women claiming to be "prophetesses." Just be very careful who you listen to. Because you may be listening to a "prophetess" who has a bad reputation before God-misrepresenting Him.
Third, the Bible reveals to us her paternity. Her father's name "Phanuel," means "face of God." That's very significant. But you say what is significant about that? Well, it's significant because Anna would have the awesome privilege of seeing the "face of God" in the Christ-Child at the First Christmas. Fourth, the Bible tells us the particular tribe in Israel from which she was a descendant. The Bible discloses to us that Anna was a descendant of one of the northern tribes, namely, Asher, which had gone into Assyrian captivity in 722 B.C. Asher means "happy." Asher was the eighth son of Jacob, the second by Leah's maidservant Zilpah. Apparently Anna could trace her genealogy, and though the tribe of Asher was not outstanding, Luke considered it important to show her true Jewishness. Often, people say, "the ten lost tribes of Israel"- referring to the tribes which went into Assyrian captivity. Asher was among these tribes. But here Anna is specifically mentioned as a member of the tribe of Asher. Evidently Anna and for that matter, the tribe of Asher did not get lost. Please note this well! As far as God is concerned, there are no "lost tribes" of Israel. In fact, over three decades after Anna, a member of the tribe of Asher saw the Christ-Child at the First Christmas, the Lord Jesus Himself affirmed that as far as God is concerned, there are no "lost tribes" of Israel. Speaking solemnly and specifically to His disciples about their future reward for following Him, the Lord Jesus said: "Truly I say to you, that you that have followed Me, in the regeneration when the Son of Man will sit on His glorious throne, you also shall sit upon twelve thrones, judging the twelve tribes of Israel" (Matthew 19:28). There was no thought in our Lord's mind about the completeness of Israel as the chosen people of God. Fifth, the Bible gives us a glimpse into Anna's personal tragedy. In a few vivid words, the Bible shares Anna personal tragedy in life. It is a moving one. You see, she was widowed at the time in the ancient world when widowed women were particularly vulnerable and powerless and treated poorly. Remember how the Lord Jesus criticized some of the Pharisee who made a show of their piety while devouring widows' houses (see Mark 12:40). Also, our Lord's parable of a persistent widow, probably drew on the all-too common experience of first century women who were left alone when their husbands died (see Luke 18:1-5). As you can see, a widow's life was hard. She often found herself helpless and homeless. No doubt, Anna's personal tragedy included being left alone to fend for herself in a world that was hostile to widowed women. Not only that, her personal tragedy also included sorrow and sadness of losing a loved one, not to speak of her shattered dreams of raising a family, of having a fruitful and fulfilling and happy marriage (remember she is from the "happy" family in Israel), of serving the Lord together with her husband for a long time to come, of seeing their children and grandchildren grow before their eyes. All these dreams were abruptly shattered. I can't tell you how many times she visited her husband's graveside to weep over him and her shattered dreams.
Though she was definitely a young widow, yet she never married again, but continued a widow to her dying day, which is stated here in honor of her. The Bible's reference to 84 years probably means she was an 84-year old widow at this stage of her life, not that she had been widowed that long. Since if she had been widowed 84 years after a seven-year marriage, she would have been at least 104 years old (that is, if we assumed that she married at the age of thirteen as was common in ancient times). Whether she was 84 years old or 104 years old, the point of Luke's story is that Anna was a woman who had lived with personal tragedy for a very long time. Some of you can identify with that. She had lived with sorrow and sadness, heartache and hardship. But as we shall see soon, she didn't let her personal tragedy define the rest of her life. What about you? What would you say is your personal tragedy in life? How long have you lived with it? A long time? Years? Months? Are you letting your personal tragedy define the rest of your life? Or are you genuinely desiring for Jesus to set you on the path of triumphing in your tragedy or trials?
Having presented to us a brief but blessed personal description of Anna, the Bible now begins to relate to us Anna's remarkable story of triumph in tragedy. In fact, the Holy Spirit led Dr. Luke to present it in a thoughtful and thorough manner so that we will not miss the point of His message to us! As such, the Holy Spirit now directs Luke to turn our attention to the perseverance of Anna.
Perseverance of Anna in verse 37b.
You see, when we experience personal tragedy, our natural tendency is to give up on life and give up on the Lord! We want to call it quits! We want to throw in the towel! We want to walk away from the God we know! "God, I quit! I can't take it anymore!" Chances are you have said it a few times in your life, if not more. I have said it a number of times in my walk with God. But you see my friend, those who triumph in tragedy are not people who quit on God or walk away from God. Rather, they are those who press in on God in the strength and power of the Spirit. They are those who persevere in their devotion to God. They are those who pursue God even in the tough and trying times in reliance upon the Holy Spirit. Anna was one of those people. Would you please see that for yourself in the second part of verse 37. The Bible says: "She never left the temple, serving night and day with fastings and prayers." Literally, this reads: "Who withdrew not from the temple with fastings and petitions serving night and day." I tell you friends, Anna was a woman of persevering devotion to God in spite of all her personal tragedy. In fact, few are the people in the Bible whose persevering devotion to God is described in this way. Actualy, the temple mentioned here is Herod's temple which was quite large and included rooms for various uses. Anna may have been allowed to live in one of them because of her unusual status as a prophetess. The Bible's key point here is that Anna spent her waking hours attending and worshiping the Lord her God in the temple. Whenever the temple doors were opened, Anna would make the most of the opportunity to connect with God. You see, for Anna, going to the temple was not merely a rule or a regulation to follow, or a ritual to perform. Rather, it was her way of expressing, enriching, and enjoying her personal intimate relationship with the One true God of Israel and of the universe. In fact, Anna was the ideal widow described in 1 Timothy 5:5. There we read these words: "Now she who is a widow indeed and who has been left alone, has fixed her hope on God and continues in entreaties and prayers night and day." This was exactly what Anna was doing. She was a widow of persevering devotion to God. She was pressing on in God. She was pursuing God with all her heart and with all her soul and with all her mind. I tell you friends, Anna's great age did not deter her from serving and pursuing God.
Bible Commentator William Barclay shares this powerful insight about Anna. "She was old and she had never ceased to hope. Age can take away the bloom and the strength of our bodies. But age can do worse-the years can take away the life of our hearts until the hopes that once we cherished die and we become dully content and grimly resigned to things as they are. Again it all depends on how we think of God. If we think of Him as distant and detached, we may despair; but if we think of Him as intimately connected with life, as having His hand on the helm, we too will be sure that the best is yet to be and the years will never kill our hope." Excellent insight.
Actually, Anna's life persevering devotion to God is a fulfillment of the prophecy in Isaiah 62:6-7. There we read: "On your walls, O Jerusalem, I have appointed watchmen; all day and all night they will never keep silent. You who remind the LORD, take no rest for yourselves; and give Him no rest until He establishes and makes Jerusalem a praise in the earth." As a prophetess, Anna was not only fully aware of this prophecy, but in reliance upon the Holy Spirit, she faithfully lived out its fulfillment in her life to the praise of God's glory. Oh what an awesome example of perseverance Anna is to us! She gave no rest to herself and gave God no rest. That is true perseverance. Please notice how the Bible speaks of Anna's persevering devotion to God. It tells us that Anna never ceased to pray. She lived a life of prayer. She gave herself to prayer. She was devoted to prayer-doing so with fastings and petitions or supplications. You see, the Pharisees fasted often and made long prayers. But they served themselves and their own ego, pride, self-importance, and greedy desires in their fastings. But in contrast, Anna not only did that which was good, but did it from a good heart, and with a good goal-that is, the glory and honor of God. Before the Lord Jesus would teach, men always ought to pray and not lose heart (see Luke 18:1ff), Anna was living it out in her life. Before the Holy Spirit led Paul to instruct Christians to pray without ceasing (see 1 Thessalonians 5:17), Anna was demonstrating it in her life.
Please be reminded again of the simple buy significant lesson of Anna's life. Her life of persevering devotion to the true God of Israel was characterized by the practice of never ceasing to pray. This, I tell you friends, set Anna on the path of experiencing triumph in tragedy. But may I ask: what about you, believer in Jesus? Are you relying on the Holy Spirit to demonstrate persevering devotion to Jesus even in your tough and trying times? If Jesus were to measure and make know your level of persevering devotion to Him in the difficult times in your life, would it be something that brings a smile to your face or shame to you? In spite of her personal tragedy, Anna never ceased to pray and Anna never ceased to worship.
Bible Commentator Matthew Henry draws this relevant application from Anna's life. He writes: "It is a pleasant sight to see aged Christians abounding in acts of devotion, as those that are not weary of well-doing, that do not think themselves above these exercises, or past them, but that take pleasure in them, and see more and more need of then, till they come to heaven.? How true this was in Anna's life. She took more and more pleasure in acts of devotion- worshiping the Lord, communing with God, drawing closer to God.
Having vividly shown us the perseverance of Anna, the Holy Spirit now leads Dr. Luke to speak of the passion of Anna.
Passion of Anna in verse 38a.
You see, Anna had known sorrow and sadness, and yet she had not grown bitter. She did not blame Ggod for the tragedy in her life. But you say: how do you know that? Well, I'm so glad you've asked! Please listen carefully now! A bitter person constantly complains. A bitter person blames God and other people for the trials, troubles, and tragedies in his or her life. You know people like that and I know people like that. They are a poison to be around. You know people like that and I know people like that. But that's not what we see Anna doing here. Would you please listen carefully to what the Bible says in the first art of verse 38. "At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God." Once more Luke points out the providential timing. He did that earlier in chapter 2:27 in the case of Simeon. God does all things beautiful in His time. Anna came up to this little cluster of people just at the right time. You see, God reveals His secret purposes in history to humble servants who continually live in His presence (cf. Amos 3:7; Luke 24:53). Anna is at length abundantly rewarded for her persevering devotion to God.
At the exact moment Joseph and Mary brought the Child Jesus to the temple, and Simeon took Him into his arms and blessed God, Anna, who had been a regular worshiper at the temple, could not miss the opportunity. She was led by the same Spirit who led Simeon to see the Christ-Child. Anna, like Simeon, had a very intimate personal relationship with God. As such, God granted to her the blessed insight of recognizing His Son, her Messiah. I tell you friends, the greatest blessing of persevering devotion to God is the blessing of God revealing Himself to the believer. Here, God rewarded Anna's life of unceasing prayer and worship, by revealing the Messiah to her at the First Christmas. What a special and sweet moment it was for Anna who had known sorrow and sadness! This sweet and special moment led Anna to express her gratitude to God.
In describing Anna's thanksgiving to God, the Bible uses a rare and rich verb. The word is "anthomologeomai." It is used only here in the Greek New Testament. It also means "praise," "publicly express thanks," "to acknowledge fully," "to celebrate fully in praise with thanksgiving." The point of all this is that, Anna's passion in life had become one of celebrating God fully in praise with thanksgiving. Her passion in life had become one of publicly expressing thanks to God. Her passion in life had become one of praising and acknowledging God fully. Do you know someone like that today-who overflows with thanksgiving to God, not only when life is all great and good, but also filled with heartaches and hardships?. Through the power of the Holy Spirit at work in Anna's life, we see her thanking God fully, faithfully, and freely. The point of all this is that, Anna had attitude of gratitude even at this late stage of her life. Do you see for yourself Anna's triumph in tragedy? Please listen! she triumphed in tragedy by blessing God, not blaming God. By giving thanks to God, not grumbling against God. By praising God, not pouting to God. By celebrating God fully, not complaining against God. Please take note of this! God preserved Anna's story at the First Christmas to show us how to triumph in tragedy! If you are depending on the Holy Spirit to commit yourself to blessing Jesus, giving thanks to Jesus, celebrating Jesus, and praising Jesus, God Almighty, will also work graciously in your life to experience triumph in your tragedy to His glory and for your good.
Bible Commentator William Barclay shares this practical and powerful insight on Anna's life of Triumph in Tragedy. He writes: "Anna was a widow. She had known sorrow and she had not grown bitter. Sorrow can do one of two things to us. It can make us hard, bitter, resentful, rebellious against God. Or it can make us kinder, softer, more sympathetic. It can despoil us of our faith; or it can root faith ever deeper. It all depends how we think of God. If we think of Him as a tyrant we will resent Him. If we think of Him as Father, we too will be sure that a Father's hand will never cause His child a needless tear...The years had left Anna without bitterness and in unshakable hope because day by day she kept her contact with Him who is the source of strength and in whose strength our weakness is made perfect." Anna life's of gratitude rooted her faith ever deeper in the Lord her God You see, God used her trials and tragedy to shape and strengthen her faith in Him.
Several years ago, a tourist in Maine was watching a farmer build a stone wall. After a few moments, he inquired about the wall's strange dimensions. It was 4 feet high and 5 feet wide. The farmer explained, 'I'm building it like this so that if it ever blows overs over, it will be taller than it was before.' No doubt, the industrious fence-maker said this with tongue in cheek, yet there is a good lesson to be drawn from this story. Even though the storms of trial may seem to blow over us, the Lord uses such experiences to make us "taller" than we were before.~ From Daily Bread, November 1, 1994. This is exactly what God did in Anna's life life. She grew "taller" in her faith in God through trials and overflowed with gratitude to Him. Anna's attitude of gratitude even at this late stage of her life can be summed in the words of the Christian Poet by name Sorrell: He writes: "I thank You, Lord, for trials sore, that taught me how to trust You more, for when I found no other stay, I learned to lean on You each day."
Does it seem as if God has abandoned you in the midst of your great trials? A divorce? A death in your family? Health problems? Housing crisis? A job loss? Jail time? A prodigal son or daughter? Persecution? Please remember this! God uses such experiences to teach us how to trust Him more and make us "taller" than we were before.
Having shared the personal description of Anna, having spoken of the perseverance of Anna, having spelled out the passion of Anna, the Holy Spirit now leads Luke to set before us the proclamation of Anna.
Proclamation of Anna in verse 38b.
The proclamation of Anna is the crowning moment of Anna's story of Triumph in Tragedy. Although Simeon and Anna were very old, they had never lost their hope that they would see the Messiah, the Christ, the Anointed One. Led by the Holy Spirit, they were among the first to bear witness to Jesus at the First Christmas. You see, God gave Anna the glorious and blessed privilege of recognizing Jesus as the long-awaited Messiah. This privileged recognition of Jesus at the First Christmas led to her proclamation! Please notice that the story of Anna does not with Anna telling us about her problems, her pain in life, not even about how she persevered in life, but about her proclamation of Jesus to others. That, I tell you friends, is triumph in tragedy. Anna's life mission is now telling others that Jesus. And so her story with these lovely and life-changing words: "and continued to speak of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."
Anna spoke of Jesus to all that believed the Messiah would come and looked for redemption in Jerusalem-the holy city of God's chosen people. But here, Jerusalem stands for Israel as whole as a whole. Notice the Bible says she spoke to all the faithful ones in Jerusalem who were expecting redemption. She didn't leave any of them out. She knew where to find them or they knew where to find her. She joyfully and jubilantly told them all the good news that, she had seen the Lord's Messiah!
The Greek verb translated "speak," comes from the verb "laleo." It has a deep meaning in the original language. It means "to speak and thereby assert," "to proclaim," "communicate something to someone." Please listen! Anna may be an old widow! She may be frail and feeble! Her physical strength may be failing and fading. But please make no mistake about this! When she speaks about Jesus to others, she does so with great authority. She speaks with conviction about Jesus. She communicates with confidence about Jesus. You see, when you know Christ, you can't help but speak about Him to others!
I like Anna! She didn't join a "widow's support group" to talk about her trials of widowhood. She simply committed her life to speaking about Jesus after recognizing Him at the First Christmas as the Messiah! Has graciously revealed to Jesus to you? Has God opened your eyes to recognize that Jesus is the way and the truth and life? If so, it is now turn and my turn to speak and thereby assert that Jesus is God's perfect solution to our sin problem. Will you rely on the Holy Spirit to share the Good News to a lost and dying world? Will you commit yourself to speaking about Jesus to others, not only during this Christmas season but throughout the rest of your life even to your old age-leaving a legacy of being known as a man or woman who speaks of Jesus? Our world is filled with with tragedy today. Death and destruction are around us as wars are being waged in many parts of the world. Many are distressed, discouraged, depressed, disillusioned, and despairing of life. They need to see that through Jesus Christ, they too can experience triumph in tragedy.
Please let me assure you with these parting words. Jesus is willing to set you on the path of experiencing triumph in your trials and tragedy-to live a triumphant and thriving life to the praise of His glory. If you are a believer in Jesus Christ, you can enter this path today. Whatever you call your tragedy in life-loneliness, loss of a loved one, loss of your health, loss of your job, family problems, financial challenges-Jesus can set you on the path of triumphing in your tragedy. Tell Jesus today that you need His forgiveness for often wanting to quit on Him, to walk away from Him, blaming Him, instead of blessing Him in the midst of your trials. Trust Jesus today to empower you in a fresh way to live a triumphant, thriving life of thankfulness to Jesus in your trials.
If you are not a believer, in Jesus Christ, may I humbly say to you that you cannot experience triumph in your tragedy in life! Why? Because triumphing in your trials or tragedy begins with a personal saving relationship with Jesus. Come to Jesus today just as you are! Confess to Jesus today that you are a sinner headed to hell if you were to die today. Call on the name of Jesus of Jesus with simple childlike faith that He died on the cross for your sins, that He was buried to put away your sins, and that He rose from the dead on the third day to bring you into a right standing with a Holy and righteous God.