Pastor Scott Andrews | October 8, 2023
In 1956, Billy Graham founded a national Christian magazine called Christianity Today. Here’s the cover of the first edition. It has a current monthly circulation of around 130,000 print copies, plus a website that no doubt attracts many readers. It started out more conservative than it currently is – I think even they would agree they are more moderate than they once were.
I share that with you because, a week ago Friday, September 29, Alliance Bible Fellowship appeared in one of its articles. The article was reporting on the departure of some Christian and Missionary Alliance churches from the denomination after the C&MA’s national meeting during which they made changes in church polity, that is, church governing structure. I’m not going to get into that this morning – you’re welcome to listen to the statement I made on July 30, or you can read our complementarian statement.
But, let me just make a side comment or two. I know the elders’ decision to separate from the C&MA surprised, concerned, dismayed or even hurt some of you. That was not our intent – and I am deeply sorry that it has. Allow me, if you would, to make one clarifying statement. The crux of the matter for us was not so much the changes in polity, who can be called pastor and who can be ordained, but the repeated refrain from national leadership that such changes would allow women to do things previously prohibited – namely, to preach and teach men in the gathered assembly that we call church. That was troubling to us, and we felt a departure from the clear teaching of Scripture. But as I said in my statement, it is not our desire to impugn the integrity or work of the C&MA, and I appreciate their gospel focus – nationally and globally. And I trust God will continue to use them in the days ahead. So again, the crux for us was the seeming push for women to be allowed to do that which Scripture prohibits.
By the way – another side comment – I am deeply thankful for our women’s ministry under the leadership of Shawna Duvall. They are currently doing a Bible study written by Shawna and Laura Warder entitled, “What is a Woman?” That’s incredible – and frankly, a culturally appropriate topic in today’s stunning gender confusion. I’ve listened to some of the talks – they’ve been fantastic – and I could not be more proud, impressed and thankful.
Which actually takes us to the end of the aside and back to Christianity Today. What I want to draw your attention to is the title of the article, “A Handful of Churches Split from the Christian and Missionary Alliance over Women in Ministry.” That’s not actually true and a bit misleading. To be clear, we love women in ministry. We want women in ministry – within the prescribed boundaries of Scripture – that’s all. So again, if we’ve hurt you, please hear my heart. It is not our desire to devalue women, but simply to submit to the authority of Scripture.
What’s my point – where am I going with this? Anyone who reads the gospel of Luke will find that author makes much of women at a time when culture did not. Women were marginalized – more, they were considered one of the lowest rungs of the societal ladder. We’ve talked about this. The Scripture, Jesus Himself clearly elevates women, and we should do the same. I’ve told you that Luke mentions many women by name – in a favorable way. To this point, he has made much of Mary and Elizabeth – and today, a prophetess named Anna.
Now remember, I told you last week some suggest that what we have in Simeon and Anna was satisfying the biblical command from Deuteronomy that a fact, a testimony be verified or confirmed by two or three witnesses. Simeon and Anna serve as those two witnesses as to the person of Jesus Christ. Don’t miss it – a man, and a woman, heretofore unknown – representing all humanity – ascribing glory to God for the coming of His Messiah – that is, the unfolding of God’s eternal plan of salvation commenced in the birth of a baby. Luke even mentioning Anna was outside of normal and cultural protocols and expectations. But he did it, because Jesus came in a way you would not expect to people you would never pick.
I said the following in our second sermon in Luke three months ago, but it bears repeating. An important theme in the gospel of Luke is found in answer to this question: what kinds of people does Jesus love, does Jesus call to Himself? Well certainly, all kinds of people, but Luke includes people not highly esteemed in first-century society – women and children, the sick and the poor, the sinner and disreputable. Luke gives a very significant place to women. Three-eighths of the people mentioned in Luke are women. That’s incredible – at a time when the rabbis said it was a sin to teach women. Jesus did. Luke refers to ten women the other gospels don’t even mention.
We read of Elizabeth, the mother of John; Mary, the mother of Jesus; Mary and her sister Martha; Mary Magdalene and Johanna and Susanna. There are women he does not name, but Jesus knew them: the widow of Nain, the woman who anointed Jesus’ feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair, the daughters of Jerusalem, etc. The fact is, Jesus elevated women in a culture which devalued them.
We must do the same. Please, while we want to be submissive to the Scripture in our complementarian approach, there is no place for demeaning and devaluing women. There is no place for misogyny. There is, contrary to the title of the article, a significant place for women in ministry. And Anna serves well as a prototype.
So, let me remind you where we are in the birth narratives of two baby boys – John and Jesus. Both births were announced by angels. The announcement to Mary resulted in her song of praise. The birth of John resulted in Zacharias’ song of praise. That’s all in chapter 1. When we get to chapter 2 – John fades into the background, as he will do later in life. He’s not even mentioned in chapter 2.
But in chapter 2, we read of the birth of Jesus in Bethlehem, per biblical prophecy. We read of the angelic announcement of His birth to the shepherds, who were keeping watch over their flocks by night. We read of the angels’ song of praise at His birth, of the shepherds’ visit to the manger, and of Mary treasuring all these things in her heart.
Then, last week, we read of Jesus’ naming and His circumcision, per OT law, on the eighth day. We read of the family’s trip to the Temple – forty days after Jesus’ birth – Mary for purification, Jesus for presentation to the Lord – both in accordance with OT Law.
Then, while they were at the Temple, we found a righteous and devout man named Simeon, who had been looking for the consolation or comfort of Israel – which the believing remnant knew would be found in the coming of the Messiah. Not only that, the Holy Spirit had revealed to Simeon that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Christ.
And in walks Joseph and Mary, carrying forty-day-old Jesus – like six weeks old. The Spirit revealed to Simeon this was the One for whom he had been waiting. Simeon took Jesus in his arms and blessed God, praising Him for His salvation – that would be not only for the Jews, but also for the Gentiles. I suggested Simeon’s song should be important to us, since it is our salvation song. He ended by warning – prophesying that a sword would pierce Mary’s heart, and indeed it did, ultimately when she stood at the foot of the cross.
Which brings us to our text this morning – the second witness through testimony as to the person and arrival of Jesus, the Christ. Read it with me – Luke 2:36-40.
In three short verses, this woman is a hero of the faith. As with Simeon, we learn little about Anna, since they are both never mentioned before, and never mentioned again. But here we find them in the eternal Word of God, giving witness to the Christ. Let me outline the text:
- The Introduction of Anna (36-37)
- The Praise and Witness of Anna (38)
- The Family’s Return to Nazareth (39-40)
Let’s meet Anna. Her name is actually Hannah (not sure why they translate it Anna), the same as Hannah in I Samuel 1-2 who gave birth to Samuel. Anna was a prophetess. Meaning, she had meaningful ministry – dare I say, she was a woman in ministry. Now, a prophet or prophetess is one who gives revelation from God – either proclaiming truth from God, that is, forthtelling, or revealing truth – perhaps future – from God, that is, foretelling. Don’t miss that – prophets in the OT often did both – forthtell and foretell. But their message was divinely inspired from God.
There are obviously lots of prophets in the OT – many OT books bear their names, like Isaiah, Jeremiah and Ezekiel – plus what we call the Minor Prophets. But, there are some prophetesses mentioned in the OT as well, Miriam, Deborah, Huldah, and Isaiah’s unnamed wife. There is only one named prophetess in the NT – and that is Anna. Others, however, are referred to: for example, in Acts 21, we find the daughters of Philip were prophetesses, and Paul speaks of women prophesying in I Corinthians 11.
The point is, there were male and female prophets who spoke or proclaimed the truth given them by God. There is no issue with that – spiritual gifts, like teaching and prophecy are given to men and women. Paul simply regulates the gift of teaching – exegeting Scripture – and exercising authority in I Timothy 2. So to be clear, it is not issue for complementarians to acknowledge the equal spiritual gifting of women and to allow women to exercise their gifts, to include the gift prophecy – Anna did – right here, in this text. So we must not only accept it, but affirm it. To Anna was given the great privilege of announcing the birth of the Messiah to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem. To the remnant that understood and held onto the hope that Christ was coming. Not unlike like Mary Magdelene would carry the news of His resurrection back to the disciples.
Well, what else do we know about Anna? She was the daughter of Phanuel of the tribe of Asher. It’s interesting to note, Asher is one of the so-called Ten Lost Tribes of Israel. It is true that the ten northern tribes taken in captivity by the Assyrians did not return. But it is also true that there were some left in the land, and apparently kept their genealogies intact. Of course, we find in Revelation 7 in the future, the 144,000 Jews that are sealed by God come 12,000 from each tribe of Israel, to include Asher. So they’re apparently not lost to God.
Anyway, we find that she was married – probably at a young age as was customary, maybe 14 years of age – and was married for seven years. But then she was widowed and never remarried. Verse 37 is a bit ambiguous – we don’t know when she saw Jesus, if she was 84, or if she was a widow for 84 years. If the latter, then she would have been up to 105 years old. Not unheard of at that time. Regardless, the point is, she was married, likely as a young age, stayed married for seven years, her husband died, and for a long time thereafter, she remained a widow.
But, what did she do during those widow years? She never left the temple – which is a way of saying, she was there all time – serving night and day. Serving who? Well, based on what she did, she was clearly serving the Lord. And how did she do that? With fastings and prayers. Fasting is simply when you put aside God’s good gifts to, first, tell Him that He is more important than His gifts, and second, to seek something from Him. As one commentary said, to say to God that all is not right, and seek Him to move His hand.
There are some thoughts, applications, I have about Anna. First, both Simeon and Anna were old – Luke tells us Anna was well advanced in years. In his song, Simeon suggested God could dismiss him in peace, now that he had seen the Lord’s salvation – suggesting an old age. Why would God call these two aged saints to be credible witnesses to the coming of Christ? Because they didn’t live in a youth culture. Because back then, age was rightly honored and valued. We look at this story and say, couldn’t God have found better witnesses than old, wrinkled saints approaching senility? Apparently not. Which communicates an important biblical truth – a life of faithfulness to the Lord, gaining the wisdom of age, is to be honored and valued.
Perhaps we, too, should seek the wisdom of the aged and value them. I’m encouraged to hear there are actually some young people – college students – who hang out in Connection Group 4 – you know, the Last Class. That’s not only good and proper, it’s right. You say, you’re only saying that because you’re old. Whatever. Let’s value the elders among us.
But that leads to the second thing I’ll say – Simeon and Anna didn’t check out. They were old, yet available to God for this most important task, to serve as credible witnesses to the coming of Christ. So, elders among us – don’t check out. You can rest when you go to Connection Group 5.
Third, being single, either through being widowed or never married, is not, should not be a deterrent to serving the Lord. Paul even says in I Corinthians 7 being single is to be preferred because it allows singular devotion to God. All that to say, we, too, should value those single among us, and seek to emulate their faithful service. Of course, that means, single people, you are not lesser – you have a unique opportunity to serve God, day and night. Singleness is not a handicap – so serve well.
And fourth, have you ever thought of fasting and praying as service to God? Think of it – it makes much of God, communicating our need to/of God. He wants us to pray, to spend time with Him. And fasting, putting aside His good gifts, like food, and seeking His face is a good thing to do. It demonstrates dependence. You say, how much? I don’t know – but we see Anna did it day and night for years.
Which brings us to our second point, the praise and witness of Anna – that is, she is the subject of praise and witness – she is not the object of praise and witness. Unlike Simeon, we don’t know what she said, but we read at that very moment – that is, when Simeon had Jesus in His arms and was praising God and warning Mary. At that very moment she came up and began giving thanks to God. How did she know what was going on? Perhaps God revealed it to her as He had Simeon – in fact, some suggest this is why she is called a prophetess, because God revealed to her who Jesus was. And when she came to that realization, that understanding, she did two things:
First, she began giving thanks to God. It’s in the imperfect tense, which means it was an ongoing action. She kept on giving thanks, praising God for what He had done in sending His Son. Which begs a question: How can the gift of God’s Son and salvation ever grow old? How can we not continually offer up the gift of praise, of thanksgiving, for what He has done?
But second, notice she continued – again, imperfect – she kept on speaking of Him to all those who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem – shorthand for Israel. The redemption of Israel is the same as the consolation of Israel of which Simeon spoke. The consolation of Israel would come through their redemption which comes through Jesus Christ. So think of it this way – Anna’s life was about worship and witness.
Do you know Him that way, as your comfort and as your redeemer? Does such truth move you to the point of perpetual thanksgiving and praise? Further, do you tell others, and keep telling others, of the good news of the first coming of Jesus as Savior and of His promised second coming as Judge?
Well, let’s move to our last point – the Family’s Return to Nazareth. Now, Luke leaves out a couple of stories with which we are familiar – related storis. The first is the visit of the wisemen, which caused Herod to slaughter all the babies under of the age of two in Bethlehem – hoping to kill Him who was born King of the Jews. The second is the consequent flight to Egypt of Joseph and Mary with Jesus, when warned by an angel of the coming slaughter.
It’s possible Luke didn’t know about these stories, doubtful, given his careful investigation. It’s possible he left it out since Matthew already covered it. But more likely, as a careful historian, the stories did not suit his theological purposes. Now, as a result some want to suggest the timeline is messed up – meaning, contradiction in the Bible. But they can be easily reconciled. There are lots of plausible explanations of the timing between Matthew and Luke – most likely being after the trip to the Temple and the visit with Simeon and Anna, they went back to Bethlehem for a bit, but were warned by the angel, fled to Egypt, then returned to Nazareth. Luke simply telescopes the narrative.
But we what we do read is, when they had performed everything according to the Law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own city of Nazareth. Don’t miss, as we suggested last week, that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law, not only in His actions during His lifetime, but to include the actions of His parents as in infant. Yes, it speaks to their godliness, but more, Luke’s point seems to be that Jesus perfectly fulfilled the Law in every respect.
And so, He grew up in the nothing town of Nazareth, causing many to question His messiahship – even causing Nathaniel to ask, can any good thing come out of Nazareth. But we know, don’t we, Jesus came in way you would not expect to a people you would never pick.
Last verse, verse 40. Listen, creeds and systematic theologies include chapters based on the truth of this obscure verse. The Child continued to grow and become strong, increasing in wisdom. This is an amazing mystery. Says one author, “The meaning of hypostatic union is much easier than the term sounds, but the concept is as profound as anything in theology.” I can give you the theological definition, simply stated: in the hypostatic union, the Son of God took on flesh such that He was 100% God and 100% man – two natures in one undivided person. He wasn’t God wrapped in flesh – He was a man filled with all the fullness of deity – fully man, fully God. He had all the attributes common to humanity except one – sin. But as a man, He was hungry, He was tired, He slept, He ate, He grew, He became strong, He grew in wisdom, Hebrews even says He grew in obedience. All that means is He, like any child, learned obedience. That doesn’t mean He was ever disobedient, but He did learn obedience.
We must be very careful in our conceptions of Jesus not to erase His humanity, nor diminish His deity. He was fully God when He came and took on flesh, and He was fully man. Two natures, one person. When we read in Philippians, He emptied Himself, there is no direct object. We simply try to fill in the blank with our finite understanding. We suggest, perhaps rightly, that He emptied Himself of the use of His infinite attributes, and He certainly limited the glorious display of those attributes, since no man can see God in His fullness and live. But we must never suggest Jesus emptied Himself of His deity. That, in my estimation, is a damnable heresy.
But the verse here stresses the humanity of Jesus. He continued to grow and become strong. Think of that – the God of the universe came into the world He created, as an infant. He couldn’t walk, He couldn’t even crawl yet. He couldn’t talk. He couldn’t use His father’s shop tools. He couldn’t feed Himself, He was dependent on a teenage girl to nurse Him. He cried when He was hungry – that’s the way babies communicate. He needed to be changed and burped. He eventually rolled over to His parents’ delight. He teethed, which hurt His mouth – the one used to speak this world into existence. He eventually smiled, and it wasn’t gas. One day He took His first tottering step. He learned to turn the razzberries and bubbles and goo’s and ga’s into syllables, then words. This was God in the flesh.
He increased in wisdom, speaking of spiritual, mental and relational growth. Certainly wisdom is the proper application of knowledge – so Jesus had to learn – what? Knowledge. Everything. I’m not going to get into when Jesus became self-aware of His divinity – He certainly knew by the time He was twelve, as we’ll see next week.
My brothers and sisters, Jesus humbled Himself and came in the form of a servant, was found in likeness as a man. And He humbled Himself to death – even death on a cross. So, when Simeon held Jesus in his arms and praised God for the salvation He held; when Anna saw the infant child, she could not help but thank God. And we know so much more, post cross and post resurrection, than they did. Should not our praise be most constantly sweet.
Oh, and the grace, the favor of God was upon Him. After all, God will one day say, This is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased. Do you understand all that? I don’t – but I know enough to know that God loves us an awful lot to send His Son as a baby. That Jesus sacrificed more than His life when He came. He became one of us, that He might bring us to God. How can we not be eternally grateful, and tell others this good news?