Revive Our Hearts Podcast

Leslie Basham: Here’s Nancy Leigh DeMoss.

Nancy Leigh DeMoss: You know our culture; just look at the magazines, the advertisements. It doesn’t esteem old age, does it? It esteems youthfulness. You either have to be young, or you have to work very hard and pay a lot of money to look young. And it gets harder and harder, as some of us can attest!

But the world does not place value on the wisdom of age, on maturity. God places great value on the wisdom that can come with age if you’ve been following Christ and practicing His principles in your life.

Leslie: This is Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss for Friday, December 21.

Nancy’s been teaching a series called The King’s Dedication. In the series we’ve been introduced to Simeon, someone I now consider to be an unsung Christmas hero. But this series gets better. We’re about to meet a second unsung Christmas character. Here’s Nancy.

Nancy: I’ve always enjoyed studying the lives of women in the Bible; men as well, but I find that God often gives me insights for my life as a woman by studying the women.

We’ve done a number of series on Revive Our Hearts in the past. We come today to a paragraph in the Christmas account in Luke’s gospel that gives us a bio-sketch of another godly woman.

I have been so blessed. Only three verses in Scripture tell us anything about her. But those verses are chock full of insight and have been very challenging to my life as a woman. In fact, I’ve decided this is who I want to be like when I grow up. This is the kind of woman I want to be.

Let me just reset the scene, because we’re jumping into a context here. Jesus has just been born in Bethlehem, and according to the Law of Moses, when He was 40 days old, Mary went to the temple for a purification ritual. She took her Son, along with Joseph, the child’s adopted father, to the temple to be dedicated to the Lord.

When they came to the temple, God sovereignly by His Spirit drew to the same place at the same time two people who had been waiting for Christ to come to earth. Their longings and hopes and desires were fulfilled when they saw the child Jesus.

During the last several sessions, we’ve been looking at the life of Simeon and how he was so delighted—he could die in peace now because he had seen God’s salvation. He had been waiting for the consolation of Israel; now he had seen Christ.

When he met Mary and Joseph and the baby, he spoke these words, this hymn of praise—Simeon’s Song of Praise. Then he prophesied some difficult words that show us that Christ’s life was to be one of suffering for the salvation of the world and that, as His followers, we would experience suffering as well.

In this scene they are joined by another believer, this time a woman. Let me begin reading in Luke 2:36-37.

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, and then as a widow until she was eighty-four, [Or as some of your translations say, “and then as a widow for eighty-four years.” We’ll talk about that in just a bit.]

She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day. 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.

Remember we said that in this temple there were lots of things going on—lots of busyness, lots of activity, lots of hubbub, sacrifices being made, lepers being dealt with, people dealing with purification rites and issues and bringing money.

The Court of the Women and the gate at the end of that Court of Women, the Gate of Nicanor on the entrance into the part of the temple where only men could go; there were a lot of activities taking place—a lot of noise, a lot of sacrifices, noises of animals being bought and sold and killed, the smell of blood—I mean, there was just a lot of hubbub going on.

But we center in on this little cluster of people who have come together. The rest of the world is milling around, passing by, no clue what’s going on.

Isn’t that like the way so many people go to church—hubbub, milling around, talking about lots of things, doing their religious deeds, but no clue of what’s really going on or that God is here in the midst of His people? They’re oblivious.

But here’s a cluster of people whose hearts are attuned. They know what’s going on. God in His providence orchestrates this scene. Mary and Joseph and the baby are there, and Simeon and Anna are brought to the temple at exactly the same time that Mary and Joseph come into the temple with the baby.

You couldn’t have scripted this. You couldn’t have made this happen, apart from God by His Spirit drawing them all together at this time. He moves both a man and woman to testify to the fact that the Messiah has been born.

Both Simeon and Anna prophesy in partial fulfillment of a prophecy we read about in Joel 2:28-29 that says, “And it shall come to pass afterward, that I will pour out my Spirit on all flesh; your sons and your daughters,” Simeon and Anna, “shall prophesy, your old men shall dream dreams, and your young men shall see visions. Even on the male and female servants in those days I will pour out my Spirit.”

Now, we won’t see the full fulfillment of that prophecy until Christ returns. But at the first advent of Christ, there at the incarnation, we saw a partial fulfillment of this as the Spirit of God was poured out on His servants, male and female, to proclaim who Christ was and what He came to do.

Like Simeon, who we’ve looked at over the last several sessions, the only thing we know about Anna is what is found in this passage. This is the only reference to her in the Bible—just three verses, but so rich.

Anna’s name means—does anybody know what it means? Anna means “grace” or “gracious.” It’s the same word as the name we read about in the Old Testament of Hannah, the mother of Samuel. Hannah and Anna—Grace or Gracious One.

I particularly like that name because Nancy also means the same thing. It comes from the same word, grace or gracious one. I know that I want to be a woman of grace. I certainly have been the recipient of abundant, overflowing grace of God.

When you as a woman are the recipient of God’s grace, it will make you a gracious woman. We see that Anna was a recipient of God’s grace, but she also expressed God’s grace by being a gracious woman. Gracious is consistent with what we read about Anna in this passage about her life and her character.

We’re told that she was a daughter of Phanuel. Sometimes we might say, “Is it worth pointing out these details?” I take the perspective when I read Scripture that if it’s in the Bible, it’s a detail that God inspired for some reason.

I may not know the reason, but there’s no insignificant detail in the Bible. Every jot and tittle, every word of the Scripture is inspired by God and is profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, so that we may be complete [see Matthew 5:18 and 2 Timothy 3:16-17].

So I like to bore down into some of these details and see what they might have to say to us. The fact that she was the daughter of Phanuel—the name Phanuel means “face of God.” In fact, in the Old Testament you remember that incident in Genesis 32 where Jacob wrestled with the angel of the Lord (who was in fact a representation of God Himself, an expression of Himself)?

God blessed Jacob, and then “ Jacob called the name of the place Peniel,” or Phenuel, a related word here, “saying, ‘For I have seen God face to face, and yet my life has been delivered’” (Genesis 32:30).

There’s something awesome and fearful about seeing the face of God, in any limited sense which we’re permitted to see it, and realizing that He by His mercy would spare us from the experience.

“Face of God”—that’s the name of Anna’s father. Phenuel’s daughter Anna saw the face of God in Jesus Christ. The meaning of her father’s name was fulfilled in her life, and she experienced and expressed his grace. Anna: Grace or Gracious One.

She was of the tribe of Asher. That’s not a tribe we hear a lot about, of the twelve tribes of Israel. That was one of the ten tribes of the northern part of Israel. You remember the northern ten tribes had been taken into captivity hundreds of years earlier. Those tribes had been dispersed, and most of those people had been assimilated into other cultures.

They never returned to the Promised Land as the southern tribes did. The southern tribes went into exile for seven years, and God brought them back to the land. The northern tribes never returned. But a few people did—a remnant out of the north God preserved.

When the southern portion, Judah, returned from exile, there were apparently some few from the northern tribes that came back as well; and aren’t we glad that Anna of the tribe of Asher had been allowed! Her family line had been allowed to come back in so that she could play a role—a bit part, admittedly, but an important role.

We’re told that she is a prophetess. Scripture talks in the Old Testament about a number of prophetesses: Miriam, the sister of Moses and Aaron; Deborah; Huldah.

The New Testament refers to Anna as a prophetess. It talks about the four daughters of Philip who prophesied in the book of Acts [21:8-9]. Theologians differ greatly about what exactly is meant by an Old Testament or a New Testament prophet or prophetess, and they differ as to which are such functions in the Body of Christ today.

I’m not going to go into all of that. I will just say a few things that we can know. Vine’s Expository Dictionary, which is one of the tools I use a lot in my study, says that "it is the forth-telling"—not just foretelling, but the forth-telling—"of the will of God, whether with reference to the past, the present, or the future.":

John Macarthur, whose study Bible makes a similar point, says, “This refers to a woman who spoke God’s Word. She was a teacher of the Old Testament.” So at least we know her to have been one who had unusual spiritual insight and understanding of the Scripture.

Where does that come from? From God; from the Holy Spirit. The natural mind cannot understand the things of God [see 1 Corinthians 12:14]. God’s Spirit had illuminated her mind and given her understanding, and she had proclaimed that truth to others. She taught the Word of God, presumably to other women or in conversation one-on-one with other people she had contact with.

This spiritual gift of prophecy—whatever it may mean, however it may be applied then and now—as with every other spiritual gift, is given and enabled by the Holy Spirit. It’s the Holy Spirit of God who enables us to understand His Word and enables us to speak and declare it to others.

The purpose of this gift, as with every other spiritual gift given to us in the body of Christ, is for the benefit of other believers, for the edification or the building up of others in the body of Christ.

Paul speaks specifically of this gift, prophesying, in 1 Corinthians 14:3. He says, “The one who prophesies speaks to people for their upbuilding [or their edification] and encouragement and consolation [or comfort].” Certainly Anna used this gift of prophecy in that way.

So we’re told she was a prophetess, and then that she was advanced in years. How advanced in years was she? We know that she had been married for seven years. The verse tells us that.

Then the Scripture says, in the translation I’m using (English Standard Version), that she was “a widow until she was eighty-four.” I’m no scholar or expert here, but based on the study I’ve done, I think some of the other translations may be accurate. Other translations say that she was a widow for 84 years after her husband died.

So it’s not clear for sure whether she was actually 84 years old—she’d been a widow for many years, one way or the other—or more likely that she had been a widow for 84 years. If the latter is true, she was married probably as a young girl.

In that culture she would have been married easily at 12 or 13 years of age. Then she was married 7 years until her husband died. So she would have been maybe in her late teens, perhaps twenty years old when her husband died. And then she’d been a widow for 84 years.

Do the math. This makes this woman somewhere about 103 or 104 years old. She may have been 84 if you take that translation. She was at least 84, and may have been 103, 104, or older. The literal translation here where it says she was advanced in years says she was “very old in her many days.” She was an old woman. She was elderly (and I don’t think she would have minded us saying that).

It’s interesting how many older people, older believers, are featured prominently in Luke’s account of the events surrounding the birth of Christ, the incarnation. Elizabeth and Zechariah, the parents of John the Baptist, who were past child-bearing years; they were older—it says they were older in Luke 1:7.

Simeon we’ve talked about. The Scripture doesn’t say he was old, but it’s likely that he was. He was apparently close to death, at the end of his life. And then Anna, who we’re told was “very old in her many days.”

It’s interesting that these four believers, really Old Testament believers bridging to the New Testament, were among the most receptive to the advent of Christ—the only ones who were not only receptive, but they were perceptive. They recognized Christ. I see in Elizabeth and Anna two elderly women who are models for us as women.

You know our culture; just look at the magazines, the advertisements. It doesn’t esteem old age, does it? It esteems youthfulness. You either have to be young, or you have to work very hard and pay a lot of money to look young. And it gets harder and harder, as some of us can attest!

But the world does not place value on the wisdom of age, on maturity. God places great value on the wisdom that can come with age if you’ve been following Christ and practicing His principles in your life.

I want to remind those of us who are younger women and those who are older women (you decide which you are) that older women can have great spiritual wisdom, impact, and fruitfulness.

If you’re a younger woman, that means you need to listen to and solicit the wisdom of older women. If you’re an older woman, that means God isn’t done using you. Your life is not through. There’s usefulness yet to be had for you; and we see that in spades as we go through the life of Anna.

We also see that not only was she advanced in years, but she was a widow. She had lost her husband at a young age, possibly even when she was still a teenager, and then faced the rest of her life alone. This was in a culture when it would have been very difficult for a woman to survive as a widow unless she had a relative who could provide for her support.

She’s a woman who really would have had to trust God. She’d been through a lot. She knew about loneliness. She knew about being alone and being perhaps close to destitution at points. We don’t know those details. Her parents had undoubtedly died by now, if she was 103 or 104. Certainly her parents had died by now. She was alone in the world, humanly speaking.

But that aloneness put her in a position where she gravitated to the Friend who sticks closer than a brother. She gravitated to the Lord.

As I studied her life, I thought of the verse from Psalm 73 that says, “Whom have I in heaven but you? And there is nothing on earth that I desire besides you” (verse 25). Here’s a woman who found God to be her great desire and enough to take her all the way through old age—many, many years, decades, as a widow.

I hope that’s an encouragement to some of you who may be widows, and many women in this room who will at one time or another face the season of life that is widowhood: God is the God who can sustain through each season of life.

One of the things I love about Anna is that she was a woman who was faithful to the Lord in each season of life. Each season of life had for her, as it does for us, its different responsibilities and its different challenges. She was faithful in each of those, and she found God to be sufficient for her in each of those life seasons.

There are actually three life seasons mentioned in these verses that Anna went through. It doesn’t give us great detail about them, but it alludes to them.

First of all, she went through a period of time, not long, but where she was single as an unmarried woman never having been married. She didn’t live that way many years, but it says that until she married she was a virgin.

So here’s a woman who found God’s grace, unlike many unmarried women today who are sexually active, who are violating God’s principles and thinking nothing of it. Even within the church we see this happening. Here’s a woman who was a virgin until she got married. It takes God’s grace to do that. It takes God’s grace to be faithful to God in that unmarried season of life.

Then she went through the season of being a wife. Again, only seven years that she lived as a wife, but it says she “lived with her husband seven years” until she became a widow. Here’s a woman who was faithful “until death do us part.”

It doesn’t tell us how she lived as a wife, what kind of wife she was; but looking at what kind of older woman she was, I think we can speculate that she was a woman who was faithful as a wife. Surely she grew in those years spiritually, but she was a woman who lived with her husband until she became a widow. She was faithful in the marriage season of life, in being a wife.

And then in what, for her, was the longest season of her life, as a widow for 84 years, perhaps; she lived in dependence on the Lord. She served Him all the way until the finish line.

Here’s a woman who, as we’ll see over the next few sessions, did not become reclusive. She didn’t become bitter. She didn’t become a crusty old cantankerous lady. She didn’t waste her life flitting around from one activity to another. She lived a life that was purposeful; it was intentional; it was fruitful, and it was God-centered—as a single, unmarried woman, as a wife, and as a widow.

As a result, her life has had an impact on multiple generations, including (aren’t you glad?) our lives today.

I don’t know what season of life you may be in right now, maritally or otherwise. We have women in this room who are in many seasons of life, from younger to older—different marital status, different work and home status, different seasons that God has called us to.

The question is: Are you being faithful, and are you finding God’s grace in the midst of whatever season you’re in right now?

As you look to the future, can you look to the future without fear, knowing that God will be enough for you in each season of life? And doesn’t it challenge you (it does me, as I think about Anna’s life) to realize that if I’m faithful to God and find His grace to be sufficient in this season of life, wherever God has put me, that my life will be fruitful and will have an impact on other lives, perhaps for generations to come?

Don’t underestimate the significance of your faithfulness to God in this season of life. You may think, “My life is obscure. It’s not touching anybody. I’m at home with these three little kids all day long, day in and day out. My life’s not touching anybody.”

Anna may have thought that for years. “My life’s not touching anybody.” Here’s this widow, alone; yet her life is touching us today in God’s providence. It’s been preserved for us.

Your life will go on and bear fruit, potentially for generations to come, if you will be faithful to God in whatever season He has placed you now and in whatever seasons He has ahead for you.

Leslie: Nancy Leigh DeMoss has been challenging women to expect great things from God no matter what season of life we’re in. Today’s important message is part of a series called The King’s Dedication. You can listen to this portrait of Anna again by ordering the series on CD or MP3 CD. When you do, you’ll get some additional minutes of teaching we didn’t have time to air.

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Anna, the character we met today, stayed very busy as she matured. Hear about the ways she served when we pick this series back up on Monday. We hope you have a meaningful weekend serving the body of Christ in church this Sunday, and then be back for Revive Our Hearts.

Revive Our Hearts with Nancy Leigh DeMoss is an outreach of Life Action Ministries.

All Scripture is taken from the English Standard Version unless otherwise noted.

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