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Growing Old, Like Anna

29/12/2021

A Useful, Godly Old Age

Luke 2:36-38 Now there was one, Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher.

The events of Bethlehem had passed, all happening in God’s appointed time. Galatians 4:4 Mary had given birth to her son, the promised baby, who was conceived by the Holy Ghost in the womb of a virgin. Jesus was eight days old when his parents brought him up to Jerusalem, as was customary among the Jews, for his ritual circumcision. Luke 2:21-23 It’s at this point that Anna appears in the Temple courts, and there before her an old man is holding a baby, speaking to the baby’s mother. Anna instantly recognised that this baby was different! He was the promised Messiah!

But who was Anna? We know nothing about her, except what we learn in this little snapshot. Yet in this little three verse synopsis, Luke has amazingly drawn us a wonderfully complete character sketch. Let’s see what we can learn about Anna, and how we might apply those lessons to our lives. See:-

1. Her Gracious Old Age.

Some people talk about ‘growing old graciously – others prefer to grow old disgracefully!’ Anna was definitely one of the former, she was an older woman characterised by a spirit of grace! Proverbs 16:31

Her impeccable character. She was of a great age, and had lived with a husband seven years from her virginity; 37 and this woman was a widow of about eighty-four years. Anna had been married once, a long time before this. She’s now 84 years old, and had only been married for seven years when her husband died. Widows had a special place in the Jewish religion, and later in Christianity too. In the Jerusalem church, the widows were cared for, and the first deacons were elected especially to make sure that the widows and the needy were looked after. READ: 1 Timothy 5:3-7  James 1:27  Anna embodied true widowhood.

Her outspoken faithfulness. We are told that Anna was a ‘prophetess.’ We can be sure that she was seeking God’s face, and declaring His will to those within reach of her voice. So, a godly, faithful older woman with a ministry from the Lord. Being old is not being useless!

Her love for God’s House! who did not depart from the temple. Anna loved God’s house, not because she was hoping that attendance there would gain her merit with God, but because she loved the Lord, and wanted to be in his presence, in the place of worship.

So, Anna was an older woman, a woman characterised by her godly life and her desire to be in the place where God was being worshipped. The Psalmist summed up people like her, in Psalm 92:13 We should take a moment or two to see how the Lord led her to develop this godly character…

2. Her Godly Lifestyle.

Paul writes, “Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling!” Philippians 2:12. Our salvation must be ‘out-worked!’ What has happened inside us, that infusion of life and grace, must come to the surface and issue in a changed life, in good works and in godliness. Look at Anna’s life as an example:-

Her self-denial. but served God with fastings. Anna was a godly woman, but she was part of God’s covenant people before Christ’s atoning sacrifice on the cross. Yet there is an element of the Christian life in her life. In her own self denial, in her mortification of the pleasures of sin in her life, she is mirroring in advance, the later teaching of Christ to his disciples. He told those who followed him in, Matthew 16:24 Luke 9:23-27 Anna served God with ‘fastings.’ She crucified the flesh, and kept her own fleshly desires under control.

Her prayer life. and prayers night and day. Anna prayed night and day! She continually communed with her Lord, – as she would with her best friend. A hymn-writer: We love the house of prayer, wherein thy servants meet; and thou, O Lord, art there thy chosen flock to greet. How did she occupy those long hours of prayer? I wonder what she prayed for?

• About her personal needs? As a widow she would have had nothing of her own. There was no social services, no safety-net, no job… She would have come to the Lord, seeking help and trusting in him!

• On behalf of others? She would surely have prayed for other in her own condition.

• For the fulfilment of God’s promises to Israel. We know that she was expecting the immanent incarnation of the Messiah, so like all Godly Jews at that time she would have been fervently praying for the establishment of God’s kingdom.

• Her witness. and spoke of Him to all those who looked for redemption in Jerusalem. When she encountered Christ – as a baby – she had met the master! She worshipped the God, in human flesh, who had created the world, the redeemer of Israel, the one promised by the prophets. How could she not tell others? There must have been a number of people like her in Jerusalem and she kept company with them, and she shared the revelation of God with them.

What an example Anna was! In her old age she was a godly example to others and to us. In 1522, Martin Luther was asked to preach the eulogy at the funeral of a pastor at the town of Zwickau, in Germany. People watched as the professor of theology entered the pulpit, expecting a wonderful, masterly composition of words. Luther didn’t disappoint them, but his tribute was one single sentence. He said, “What we preach, he lived.” That said it all! If that could be said of me at my funeral, I think I’d be happy enough! (To be fair, I think so would the attendees!)

3. God’s Gift – Her Reward.

Anna received a rich reward for all her diligence in God’s service, before she left the world. 38 And coming in that instant she gave thanks to the Lord. Anna’s reward was to see the Lord! What a reward that is. For us, too, there is a reward, not dissimilar to that Anna received. The psalmist contrasts the rewards of the wicked with the reward of the one who has been made righteous before God, Psalm 17:14-16 As for me, I will behold thy face in righteousness: I shall be satisfied, when I awake, with thy likeness. It would be well for all Christian women to ponder the character of Anna, and learn wisdom from it. Our reward, like Anna’s will be to see his face, one day in glory.

As that hymn-writer wrote, We love to sing below for mercies freely given; but O we long to know the triumph-song of heaven. Lord Jesus, give us grace on earth to love thee more, in heaven to see thy face, and with thy saints adore.

Bob McEvoy January 2022

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