INTRODUCTION TO NEW TESTAMENT WOMEN AND TIMES
In our last studies we looked at how various Women of God were used through the different ages of the Old Testament. We discovered that these women had gifts of leadership, music ministry, prophecy, hospitality, and mercy.
We also discovered that by looking at the time chart of different periods in church history, how women were more prominent in the pre-monarchy age, and became less active through the monarchy and Second temple age.
It is important that we grasp this, as we will see throughout the studies on the New Testament women how Jesus ministry is trying to get back to God’s original plan for women.
Obviously there was a gap between the Old and New Testaments and we don’t have much to go on. However there is one woman mentioned that helps us to bridge the gap. Her name is Anna.
Reading… Luke 2: 25 –38
Anna is mentioned very briefly in verses 36 –38, nevertheless, the fact that she is mentioned in this passage shows how important her presence was when the parents presented Jesus to the Lord. These two or three verses give us an insight into this woman, and perhaps show us a little about the character she portrays.
We are told that Anna was a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. The mention of which tribe she belonged to, allows us to see that she knew her lineage, and other people also recognised her by that.
She was an old lady who had been widowed after only seven years of marriage, and spent all her time in the temple fasting and praying. This woman of God displays a few characteristics that can help us in our walk with God;
Anna had tremendous faith in her God. When she found herself widowed at an early age it seems she looked to God for the next stage in her life. Whatever happened between her and God at the time of her husbands death we can’t be sure, but one thing we can be certain about is that she committed her life fully to God, she chose to stay single, and chose to commit her life to prayer and fasting, and serving God in her community. Her life revolved around the temple. She had lived through the Second Temple time, and was now living in the new temple which had been given a make-over by Herod. She had obviously listened and taken in scripture over the years, as she knew about the prophecies regarding the Messiah. Her life was one of dedication to God, and this is manifest in her continual prayer and fasting.
Why did she find it necessary to fast? I believe there are three reasons for this.
1. To fully devote herself to prayer without distraction. (2 Samuel 12:15-16 David fasted and prayed when the child was ill. He did everything he could to plead with God to let the child live.) How do we avoid distraction?
2. To express her enthusiasm and commitment for the requests she was making. She had passion and was committing herself fully to her requests, just as Paul and Barnabas did in Acts 14: 23. (praying and fasting as they appointed elders in the churches) showing commitment to what they are praying for..
3. To follow the Jewish custom. ( Luke 18: 11-12 The Pharisee praying about himself saying, “I fast twice a week, and give a tithe .”) There were specific days in the Jewish calendar for fasting.
Whatever her reason, there is no doubt that she believed that fasting would give her the extra dimension in prayer. We may think on reading this at first that she fasted every day over the 84 years. If that had been the case she wouldn’t have survived. She was sensible and fasted at the given times in the Jewish community.
What would she be praying for that she felt she needed this extra dimension to her prayer-life? The answer is written in the passage we read in Luke 2. This woman was praying for the redemption of Israel. She was praying for the coming Messiah. She is an example of intercessors of prayer. She had a great burden for her people, and intercedes for them. She is praying on their behalf and pulls out all the stops to do so.
Today God needs women to pray.. Women like Corrie-ten Boom and Catherine Marshall. These women knew what it meant to experience the supernatural presence and power of God. Prayer for them was a second language.
Sadly today, many women would rather spend time in front of the TV watching soap opera’s, instead of developing their prayer-life. Our prayer-life is not just for our benefit, but for the benefit of others – not only now but for generations to come. We need to develop our prayer-life – we don’t pray enough
Anna was committing herself to fasting and prayer - not for herself, but for others. She is saying to God, “ look this is a serious issue and I need your intervention, therefore I’m going to do all I can in prayer and trust You to answer my prayer.
This was a woman of great faith. This wasn’t just the faith which had been passed down the generations, this was a personal relationship with her God. She had obviously heard scripture being read day by day for years, and in all probability had most of it memorised. There are three characteristics that stand out in Anna’s life.
1. Patience – Proverbs 14:29. “ Those who are patient have great understanding.” She was applying this old scripture to her life. For Christian women today Romans 12: 12 says, “be joyful in hope, patient in affliction, faithful in prayer.” This verse mirrors Anna’s faith and is one we can take on board our daily walk with God.
2. Perseverance – 1Tim. 4.16. “Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them, because if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers.” Anna persevered, and this verse in Timothy could easily have been written for her as this was what she did. She watched her life and her doctrine, and not only did she reap the benefits, but so did others around her.
3. Determination – 2 Chron 15:7. “As for you be strong and do not give up, for your work will be rewarded.” How many years had she prayed and fasted for? She never gave up, she had the quiet determination to keep going. Galatians 6:9. “Let us not become weary in doing good, for at the proper time we will reap a harvest if we do not give up.” Once again Anna is a good example of this verse. She never gave up and experienced the harvest in God’s time.
There is no doubt that it was Anna’s faith that allowed her to be in the temple on that special day when Mary and Joseph presented Jesus to the Lord. She had committed her life to this occasion for years. Perhaps she didn’t have the same assurance from the Lord that Simeon had, that he would see the Messiah before He died.
Anna was just delighted to be present at that ceremony, but before she did anything else, she thanked God. Luke 2:36-38.It would have been so easy for her to get caught up with the excitement of what Simeon was saying, but she didn’t. Her first reaction was to give thanks to God. Once again she was placing God first in her life, just as she did when her husband had died.
Many people refer to the woman at the well of Samaria as the first woman evangelist, but I can’t agree with them. Why? Because as soon as Anna thanked God for the Messiah, she went out and told all the people who were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem the Good News. This was the first proclamation of the Gospel of Christ, and Anna began to reap the harvest.
It could have been so easy for Anna to shut herself away, become depressed, and feel sorry for herself. Instead she dedicated her life to God. Here was a widow taking the words of Isaiah 61v 1-3 quite literally to her heart, and allowing God to bind up her wounds, and choosing to spend the rest of her life praying and encouraging others.
We need to learn from her example, and make ourselves available for God to use our prayer-life in the Kingdom of God. We don’t need tragic circumstance to make us commit ourselves to His service, we just need to open ourselves up to receive His love, and the commitment will be our natural response to a faithful and loving God.
Psalm 37:4. “Delight yourself in the Lord and He will give you the desire of your heart.” Anna had that heart of desire for prayer. We too have a responsibility to pray for the coming Kingdom, to pray for our nation, and we too have the responsibility to pray for each other. We need to learn to intercede.
Intercessory prayer is bridging the gap between the person and God. What is God saying... He wants us to increase our prayer-time. God needs an army of prayer warriors like Anna. People to replace the women of the 40’s and 50’s like C.T. Boom and Catherine Marshall. He needs women today to commit themselves to interceding for others. Are we ready to take up the task?
I want to close by reading from Ezekiel 22:30 - 31 (NIV) 30“I looked for a man among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none. 31So I will pour out my wrath on them and consume them with my fiery anger, bringing down on their own heads all they have done, declares the Sovereign LORD.”
What God is saying in these verses is, “ I needed somebody to pray, and I couldn’t find anyone who would, so I had to destroy the land”. All He needed was one person to fill the gap and pray! One person could have made a difference. One person does make a difference. Could that person be you?
I looked for a woman among them who would build up the wall and stand before me in the gap on behalf of the land so that I would not have to destroy it, but I found none.
Let’s make the difference and increase our prayer-time with God!
GROUP QUESTIONS FOR DISCUSSION
1. Anna had lived through the changes that took place in the temple, going from the old Second temple into the new in Herod’s temple. How easy is it for us to accept changes in the church, and what can we learn from Anna’s example?
2. After her husbands death Anna committed herself to being around the temple, worshipping, praying and fasting day and night.
A) Do you think that this type of commitment is possible for women today who have family responsibilities?
B) Do these verses imply that women who are widowed and single perhaps have more time to devote themselves to God in this way?
3. Anna fasted and prayed. Why is fasting so important, and in what situations in our lives would we be prepared to fast?
4. There are people who have the gift of intercessory prayer, and people who pray for others. Is there any difference between the two?
5. The characteristics that Anna showed were patience, perseverance, and determination. As Christian women do we find ourselves following her example when we face difficult circumstances?
6. The first thing Anna did when she recognised the baby Jesus as the Messiah was thank God, and then went out to tell others. Are we so excited by God answering our prayers that we go out and tell others what God has done for us? Do we see this as evangelism, or do we have to do more?
7. Anna could easily hidden herself away, but she chose to spend her life surrounded by God’s family at the temple.
A) How important is it to surround ourselves with church family when we are going through difficult times?
B) What kind of support can the church family give at distressing times in people’s lives?