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Author:Dr. Wes Bredenhof
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Congregation:Free Reformed Church of Launceston, Tasmania
 Tasmania, Australia
 
Preached At:Providence Canadian Reformed Church
 Hamilton, Ontario
 
Title:The Redeemer of God’s people finally appears to the elderly Anna
Text:Luke 2:36-38 (View)
Occasion:Christmas Day
Topic:The Incarnation
 
Preached:2014
Added:2015-12-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Note:  all songs from the 2014 Book of Praise

Hymn 19

Hymn 15

Psalm 79:1-3

Psalm 92:1,2,6,7

Psalm 79:5

Scripture reading: Luke 2:1-35

Text:  Luke 2:36-38

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of Christ,

There are those who say that the Bible does nothing but dishonour women.  As I was preparing this sermon, I came across an article entitled, “Why Women and the Bible Don’t Mix.”  The author argues that the Bible is responsible for much of the oppression of women over the centuries.  Taking some verses out of context and badly misinterpreting others, the author insists that the Bible teaches men to have a low view of women. 

Nothing could be further from the truth.  God’s Word repeatedly honours women, especially godly women.  Just in general, think of Proverbs 31 and its praise for the excellent wife.  In particular, we can think of how Scripture portrays Ruth or Hannah in the Old Testament.  There was not only Deborah in the book of Judges, but also Jael the woman who used a tent-peg in a creative way.  All of these women are held up in honour in the Old Testament.

As we get into the first pages of the New Testament, the same can be said.  We see Mary, a godly young woman who had found favour with God.  We see Elizabeth, an older woman who together with her husband Zechariah was “righteous before God, walking blamelessly in all the commandments and statutes of the Lord.”  Throughout the New Testament, we see these sorts of women spoken of in positive ways.

In our text on this Christmas morning, we encounter another exceptional godly woman.  Anna was an elderly woman who dearly loved God and it showed in her life.  At first glance, our text seems to focus all our attention on Anna.  It’s almost as if the baby Jesus isn’t even there.  He’s only explicitly mentioned once, right at the end of verse 38.  Then the temptation is there to think that this text is all about Anna and her only.  As a preacher, you’re tempted to preach a sermon about how Anna was such a godly woman and how she’s such a great example to Christian women today.  If I did that, we would all be missing the main point here.  The main point is not to reveal stuff about Anna or about what a godly woman looks like.  The text might do that along the way, but it’s not the main point.  The main thing here is what God is doing through his Son Jesus Christ as he appears in the temple for the first time.  We need to keep our eyes fixed on Christ and how he is being revealed here through this prophetess.     

So on this Christmas morning I preach to you the Word of God.  We’ll see how the Redeemer of God’s people finally appears to the elderly Anna.  We’ll see how she:

  1. Worshipfully waited for him
  2. Worshipfully witnessed to him

To understand our passage, we need to fill in the background.  The background goes way back into the Old Testament.  You know about King David and you know about his son King Solomon.  Perhaps you also remember what happened during the reign of Solomon’s son Rehoboam.  The kingdom split into two:  a northern kingdom of Israel and the southern kingdom of Judah.  Luke 2:36 tells us that Anna was from the tribe of Asher.  Asher’s territory was in the very far north-west corner of the Promised Land.  So the tribe of Asher was part of the northern kingdom of Israel.  For many years, this kingdom was ruled by wicked men.  Moreover, the people themselves lived wicked and ungodly lives.  Scripture tells us about how these people turned away from God, worshipped idols and otherwise just did whatever they pleased.  Second Kings 17:9 says, “And the people of Israel did secretly against the LORD their God things that were not right.”  However, God was not sleeping when all that was going on.  He noticed and he acted.  He first sent prophets to warn them to repent.  When that didn’t work, he took a more drastic step.  Yahweh used a pagan king to chastise his people. 

In the year 722 BC, King Shalmaneser of Assyria conquered the northern kingdom of Israel.  Once he had conquered the people, he exiled them to Assyria.  The ten northern tribes, including Asher, they were all shipped off to that far-away land.  It’s described in 2 Kings 17.

Now this is important for our text because these tribes never came back.  Have you ever heard of the “Lost Tribes of Israel”?  There was a later exile to Babylon and that involved the southern kingdom of Judah.  A number of those people did return.  But there never was any mass return of the ten tribes from the north.  Asher never returned to the Promised Land.  There are several theories about what happened to the “Lost Tribes of Israel.”  The most believable is that they were absorbed or assimilated into the Assyrian population through inter-marriage and so on.  Remember, these exiles were not the most devout people -- they were hardened idolaters -- and so it wouldn’t be surprising that they simply continued their unbelieving ways in Assyria and ending up losing their Jewish identity altogether within a couple of generations.

But that leaves us with the problem of Anna and her tribe of Asher.  Under the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, Luke was an extremely careful historian.  There’s no possibility that he was being sloppy here.  Anna did come from the tribe of Asher – Scripture plainly presents it as an historical fact and so we just accept it at face value.  There are a couple of possible solutions to the question of her ancestry.  One is to remember that, when the Assyrian exile took place in 722 BC, the Assyrians didn’t take absolutely every single person out of the land.  The poorest of the poor were left behind, perhaps about 10% of the population.  It’s possible that Anna and her father Phanuel’s family were left behind in the land.  Another possibility is suggested by Jewish rabbinic tradition.  The Talmud says that during the days of King Josiah, the prophet Jeremiah brought back some of the exiles from Assyria, a very small number.  Some of those exiles could have been from the tribe of Asher, Anna’s forefathers.  Either way, it’s extremely surprising to be here at the beginning of the New Testament and encounter a woman from the tribe of Asher. Whatever explanation we adopt, she’s part of a remnant – a very tiny left-over from a tribe mostly gone.

She is evidence of God’s grace – in fact, the name Anna means “grace.”  The vast majority of her forefathers lived in sin and earned the wages of sin.  They fell under the covenant curse of God.  But here is one woman who survived and lives now in faith and dependence on God.  Her very presence in the temple was an amazing testimony to God’s mercy.  In his sovereign grace, he saw to it that there would be a believing remnant even from the tribe of Asher.  Just when you think that all hope is lost – the ten tribes are gone -- God comes and reveals how he providentially guides history for his purposes.  He led everything up to this point, to this point where Anna from Asher would be at the temple on that very special day when Jesus appeared.

God waited until almost the end of her life to bring this day.  Luke is clear that she was a very old woman.  Earlier in life she’d been married – she had a husband for seven years and then he died, leaving her a widow.  On that day in the temple, she could have been 105 years old.  If she was married at 14 (as many Jewish girls were), and then we add 7 years of marriage, plus 84 years after that, we end up at the age of 105.  However, there is another way of reading the original Greek text and that’s the way the ESV goes.  With that reading, she was 84 years old that day.  Either way, Anna is an old lady, well-advanced in years. 

How she was spending all those years is described in the second part of verse 37.  Luke says, “She did not depart from the temple, worshiping with fasting and prayer night and day.”  That doesn’t mean that she lived in the temple.  No one was allowed to live in the temple.  What it means is that she spent most of her time there.  You could say it was like a second home for her.  On any given day, if someone were to ask “Where’s Anna?” the answer would be “the temple.”  You’d always find her in the temple courts, specifically in the Court of Women. 

What did she do there every day in the temple?  She was “worshiping with fasting and prayer.”  It would be easy to glance over these words.  You could quickly read over them and miss something important here.  Again, we need to think of the bigger biblical picture.  When did God’s people fast and pray?  Generally speaking, fasting and prayer took place when there was great trouble.  The trouble could be personal or individual, but it could also be national.  People fasted because their hearts were so broken that either they couldn’t eat or eating just didn’t seem appropriate.  Many times prayer and fasting were associated with sin, with confession, repentance and a plea for deliverance.

Why was Anna engaged in all this fasting and prayer?  Here we need to remember another important part of who she was.  Luke tells us that she was a prophetess.  In the Old Testament, prophets were sent to God’s people to convict them of sin and urge them to repentance and faith.  During the period between the Old and New Testament, prophecy had entirely disappeared.  Then Anna appears, a prophetess.  Her prophetic ministry is simple at first:  worshipfully fast and pray every day in the temple.  What was God revealing through that?  She was fasting and praying because God’s people were in need of the Redeemer.  Her family history included the exile and so she knew the wages of sin is death.  She knew God’s grace in preserving a remnant.  Now she looked around her and still saw a people who hadn’t really understood their sin and their need for redemption.  There were so few who longed for the coming of the Redeemer.  This grieved her and that led her to her simple fasting and prayer in the temple every day.  She was waiting and praying for salvation to arrive.  She was waiting for the Messiah to redeem his people.

Through Anna, God was working to send a message to his people:  you are sinners and you need a Saviour to bring you peace with God.  All of you should be waiting expectantly for the Messiah to come, the One who can finally deliver you out of darkness and bring you into the light.  God heard the prayers of this godly woman and others like her.  In the fullness of time, he sent his Son into this dark world to bring redemption and gospel hope.  As Anna stood there that very day, she saw the Redeemer with her own eyes.

Loved ones, Anna’s worshipful waiting in the temple with her fasting and prayer stands as a testimony for each one of us too.  Here God is speaking to all of us and saying, “How sad it would be if any of my people were to carry on living in sin and fail to see their need for a Redeemer.”  It was sad in the days of Anna – it led her to fasting and prayer.  That was before Jesus appeared.  It would be even sadder today, after Jesus has come into this world.  If you were to hear the gospel and continue to live a wicked life, never repenting from sin, it would be even sadder – heart-wrenchingly sad.  You have heard that the Son of God humbled himself and became one of us, the King of kings born in a manger.  You know how that baby Jesus grew to be an obedient Son.  His obedience is credited to all who believe in him.  You know how that baby grew to be a man who let his body be nailed to a cross.  The gospel promises that through his wounds you are healed.  You know how he was raised from the dead again, sealing the victory over sin and death for all believers.  How terribly sad it would be for any of us to hear all that good news and just turn away with indifference – as Christ’s minister, I plead with you not to.   Don’t be indifferent to the gospel of your salvation, but embrace it in faith.   

It is very easy to let this day, this occasion, get smothered with sentiment.  Christmas is a time of family and good times, all kinds of traditions, and so on.  These things aren’t necessarily bad in themselves.  But if you find yourself getting more excited about the day as a day than you ever would about the gospel, you may be in need of some self-examination.  Brothers and sisters, let’s use this day to remember that Jesus Christ had to come into this world as one of us for a reason.  The reason is our sin, our rebellion against God.  Let’s then use this day to be reminded that the birth of Christ is part of the gospel, good news for sinners like us.  As we look to this Saviour in true faith, there’s no sadness, but great joy.  The great joy is in the gospel, in the Saviour who finally appeared for the redemption of saints like Anna, and like us.                   

The prophetess Anna not only worshipfully waited for the Redeemer of God’s people.  When he finally appears to her in the temple courts, she worshipfully witnesses to him.  We see that in verse 38 of our text. 

After a lifetime of waiting, she finally sees her Redeemer.  What a moment that must have been!  What joy she must have felt!  It seems that she must have first witnessed Jesus’ encounter with Simeon.  She would have heard his praise and his prophecy.  Then it’s her turn.  Luke says that “she began to give thanks to God.”  At first, that doesn’t look all that remarkable.  We could say, “Sure, she gave thanks, this is what she was waiting for and so this is the expected response.”  But again, there’s more here than first meets the eye. 

When Luke says that Anna gave thanks, he uses a word in Greek that is used nowhere else in the New Testament.  In fact, even outside the Bible it’s an unusual word.  Why would the Holy Spirit lead him to use this unique word?  The answer has to do with the Old Testament.  The Old Testament was originally written in Hebrew.  It was later translated into Greek -- we call that translation the Septuagint.  The Greek word for “give thanks” in verse 38 was also used in the Septuagint, in Psalm 79:13, “But we your people, the sheep of your pasture, will give thanks to you forever; from generation to generation we will recount your praise.”  With this word, Luke is connecting Anna and what she’s doing here to Psalm 79.  Psalm 79 is about the destruction of Jerusalem and the city’s need for redemption.  The Psalm cries out with longing and waiting in verse 5, “How long, O LORD?  Will you be angry forever?”  The Psalm begs God to send salvation in verse 9, “Help us, O God of our salvation, for the glory of your Name; deliver us and atone for our sins, for your Name’s sake!”  Psalm 79 really could be described as the prayer of Anna and others like her who were waiting for the redemption of God’s people.  Now that the redemption has come, Anna responds just like described in verse 13 of Psalm 79.  She responds by beginning to give thanks to God.  She joyfully brings her gratitude before the LORD in his temple.                                                   

With her thanks, she was witnessing to all around her that God had heard the cry of his people.  As a prophetess, she was doing what Lord’s Day 12 speaks about:  confessing his name.  She was announcing to one and all that the God who graciously preserved her family as a remnant in Israel also graciously heard her prayers and brought the Redeemer to deliver from evil and atone for sin.

She not only gave thanks to God, she also witnessed directly to people.  Both the vertical and horizontal are included here.  She could not stop speaking about what she had seen and heard.  She could not stop speaking about Jesus, the long-awaited Redeemer.  She spoke to “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  That tells us that there were others who were waiting.  There were not very many, but there were Jews like Anna and Simeon who eagerly looked forward to the Messiah.  They were “waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.” 

That expression is not about the military or political deliverance of a city from Roman control.  Instead, it’s parallel with what was said about Simeon back in verse 25.  Luke says that Simeon was “waiting for the consolation of Israel.”  The consolation of Israel and the redemption of Jerusalem are the same thing.  As the spiritual center and capital, Jerusalem stands for all Israel. The “consolation of Israel” was an expression drawing on Isaiah 40.  The Messiah would come with comfort or consolation for God’s people, bringing them peace, pardon, and reconciliation.  There would be peace with God – her warfare against him would be over.  There would be pardon from God – he would pardon her iniquity.  There would be reconciliation with God – he would give blessings to his people, instead of punishment.  All of that is included also in the expression “redemption of Jerusalem.”  If we take our cue from Psalm 79, the “redemption of Jerusalem” goes further and speaks of forgiveness, compassion, deliverance, atonement, and vindication.  This expression is pregnant with all these gospel encouragements.  When you were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem, you were waiting for God’s people to experience the salvation promised in the gospel from the beginning.    

To everyone who was waiting for the Messiah to come with that redemption, Anna witnessed with words.  She wanted all of them to know that salvation was at hand.  She wanted them to share her joy.  She wanted to encourage them with the good news that God had heard their prayers. 

Now it might be tempting to jump from Anna to our lives.  It might even be tempting to say that just as Anna witnessed to Christ’s coming as a prophetess, so we’re called to witness to Christ’s coming as prophets today.  But hold on one second.  Let’s not be too quick.  First of all, note that Anna was not speaking to unbelievers here.  Elsewhere, Scripture does encourage us to be witnesses for Christ and to speak of him to whomever we can, including and especially the lost.  We absolutely have that calling.  But that’s not something you can take away from this text.  Instead, note carefully whom Anna was speaking with:  “all who were waiting for the redemption of Jerusalem.”  She was encouraging those who were already believers, who were already expectantly waiting the Redeemer.  Her witness here was to believers, not to unbelievers.  So, if we draw some connections and make some application it has to follow the contours of our text. 

Loved ones, on this Christmas Day, as prophets we can each encourage one another as believers with the good news that our redemption has come.  Salvation from sin and all its ugly consequences is here.  Our Redeemer made his appearance on this earth.  He appeared to the elderly Anna and gave her great joy, today he comes to us in his Word and he still gives us great joy.  The same Saviour that filled Anna with gratitude continues to be our Saviour – Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, and today, and forever.  He has come from the redemption of his people – he has delivered us and atoned for our sins.  The one who came as a baby didn’t remain a baby, but went to the cross for our redemption.  Some day he will make a second appearance on this earth and that too will be for our salvation.  Brothers and sisters, let’s encourage one another with this good news today and every day.  AMEN.

Prayer:

Heavenly Father,

We are truly thankful to you for the gift of your Son, our Lord Jesus.  Thank you for sending him to take on our human flesh.  With Anna, we praise you for this gift of the Messiah.  Thank you for what you did in her life, preserving her family and her so that she could see Jesus face to face.  What grace you showed to her!  And you’ve shown the same grace to us.  You’ve allowed us to hear the voice of the Good Shepherd again today.  Father, we want to hear his voice and respond only with faith.  Please help us with your Holy Spirit so that we would never be indifferent to your Word, but always embrace it with love and delight.  We also plead for your help in being able to live and speak as prophets, also encouraging one another with the good news of our redemption through Jesus. 

Please continue to bless us today as we celebrate Christ’s birth with our family and friends.  Please keep us safe and above all, please keep sin and temptation far away from us.  We ask you to help us all have a godly and joyful time today and over the next few days.  May your great Name be honoured in us and among us.

We also pray for those for whom this is a difficult time of year.  We think of those mourning the loss of loved ones.  We think of those among us who have loved ones with health concerns.  We pray for those who may have financial burdens or other family difficulties.  Father, please also be near to all of them and give them comfort, strength, and a measure of joy.  We pray through Christ Jesus our Saviour, AMEN.

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Dr. Wes Bredenhof, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.

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