And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem.
(Luke 2:38 KJV)
Would you still love God if you lost everything?
Anna, a widow in the New Testament, reminds us of Who our first love is. If we have more concern for human relationships than our relationship with God, we can experience major consequences.
“If anyone comes to me and does not hate father and mother, wife and children, brothers and sisters—yes, even their own life—such a person cannot be my disciple. And whoever does not carry their cross and follow me cannot be my disciple (Luke 14:26-27).
Whoa. Whoa. Is Jesus calling us to hate others?
Absolutely not. Based on the commandment He deems the second most important–to love others as ourselves (Matthew 22:39)–He definitely isn’t calling us to hate others. Based on the Word, we know that God loves and cherishes community, unity, and relationships.
Now why does Jesus use the word “hate” here? He’s giving us a comparison. That is, we are commanded to love God in a way that is immeasurable in comparison to our love for others. This makes sense that He would tells us this, looking back at our first commandment:
Jesus replied: “‘Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.’ This is the first and greatest commandment (Matthew 22:37-38).
It’s okay to cherish relationships. They are blessings in our lives, and God is gracious to provide them. They are additions. But if we are to truly cherish and care for the things God has given to us, we need to have a strong foundation in Him. Following God shapes our minds and hearts in a way that allows us to love others as we ought to.
Anna is a remarkable woman in the Bible who, honestly, lost everything. Yet, based on her life, it’s evident that she understood this concept of loving God. Despite the tragedies she faced, Anna’s love for Him brought fulfillment not only to her but to others, and the Lord didn’t let this go without a special blessing.
(Reference: Luke 2:36-38)
And there was one Anna, a prophetess, the daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Aser: she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years, which departed not from the temple, but served God with fastings and prayers night and day. And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:36-38 KJV).
Anna only appears in these three verses in Luke, but we can learn so much from her and about her in this moment.
First and foremost, we learn that Anna is a woman of God based on her descriptions.
Prophetess (Luke 2:36)
This doesn’t mean that she dabbled in a form of fortune-telling or foreseeing the future. A prophet was a person who spoke the Word of God (meaning prophetess was a woman who spoke the Word of God). From this, we know right away that she was known for proclaiming God’s Word to others. Perhaps she was considered a teacher or encourager in the temple to other women.
Of the Tribe of Asher (Luke 2:36)
This tribe was an example of God’s grace. In the Old Testament, when Israel had split into “Israel,” the apostate northern kingdom, and “Judah,” the southern kingdom, both nations were consumed by idolatry and corruption. Later, the Assyrians conquered Israel and took many as captives. The tribe of Asher (descended from Asher, son of Jacob) was the remnant who escaped this, having either migrated before the conquest or were part of the few exiles who returned from captivity. So, Anna had a great heritage stemming from the tribe of Asher, who served a reminder of God’s faithfulness in the midst of chaos.
Now, I’m going to skip forward slightly. In addition to being a prophetess and of the tribe of Asher, Anna could be found serving God.
And she . . . which departed not from the temple, served God with fastings and prayers night and day (Luke 2:37).
Anna took her relationship with the Lord seriously. She stayed in the temple. We’re not given further information about this, but perhaps she was given accommodations to live there–especially since she was pursuing a purpose, as she was serving God and proclaiming His Word.
An important detail is that she had made a routine of fasting and praying 24/7. Can you imagine the beauty of such a close relationship with God? She knew that loving the Lord was a choice and had to be followed with actions. Anna made it a habit to seek Him diligently.
Now, let’s look earlier in the passage:
…she was of a great age, and had lived with an husband seven years from her virginity; And she was a widow of about fourscore and four years (Luke 2:37).
Anna lived a life of tragedy and devastation–and still, she had dedicated her life to pleasing God. She was now of old age, but she had been married young–only for seven years–then her husband passed away. She’s not noted to have children, and now she had been widowed for 84 years!
Also, being a widow in this society was not easy whatsoever. Marriage was necessary for survival and security for a woman during these times. Without a husband or sons, a widow would more than likely live a life of poverty. There were very limited opportunities for such a woman. So, we know that Anna had to live a simple life, without excess. To emphasize the hardship and poverty a widow–especially older ones–faced, Paul even acknowledged the burden by encouraging widows to remarry while they were young:
So I counsel younger widows to marry, to have children, to manage their homes and to give the enemy no opportunity for slander. Some have in fact already turned away to follow Satan. If any woman who is a believer has widows in her care, she should continue to help them and not let the church be burdened with them, so that the church can help those widows who are really in need (1 Timothy 5:14-16).
Understanding this context, Anna’s circumstances seemed to guarantee a life of suffering and loneliness. Nevertheless, as we’ve read previously, her life was anything but that.
Anna was honoring the Lord. She had no distractions, no longer any relationships or material possessions to sacrifice, but she was literally sacrificing all of her time and even her nourishment through prayer and fasting to the Lord. And she was being taken care of. The Lord provided her a place in the temple, she had contact with others who she probably discipled, and she had a deep relationship with God. She was being nourished by God Himself–and then, she had an encounter with Jesus that few others experienced.
A Love that Bears Fruit
This closeness to the Lord bore amazing blessings.
And she coming in that instant gave thanks likewise unto the Lord, and spake of him to all them that looked for redemption in Jerusalem (Luke 2:38).
This type of intimacy with Christ is so special because we are able to know God, to know His voice, His mind. Anna herself had this intimacy with Him, as she recognized her Lord–because she knew His characteristics so well. Through her time spent with Him, she had a heart that was prepared to meet her Messiah. She was probably praying about uniting with Him, and her prayers had been answered. In fact, she was one of the first people to see Jesus when He was born.
The very instant when Anna is introduced in Luke 2 is when Christ was born and Simeon had spoken a prophecy about the infant Jesus:
Then Simeon blessed them and said to Mary, his mother: “This child is destined to cause the falling and rising of many in Israel, and to be a sign that will be spoken against, so that the thoughts of many hearts will be revealed. And a sword will pierce your own soul too.” (Luke 2:34-35)
When Simeon spoke of Christ, Anna knew it was Him–the Messiah she had been waiting for–and she instantly went to meet Him and became a witness of His birth.
It’s interesting that there are accounts of people in the Bible who did not recognize Jesus. For instance, remember the Samaritan woman from Part 2? At first, she had no idea she was talking to Jesus, even though He knew everything about her and made that known, showcasing a knowledge–and compassion–only the Savior had. Though there were rumors of His coming, people perhaps expected Him to come in some sort of spectacle, if He was truly the Son of God. However, instead Jesus lived humbly and was even born into the world in a lowly way–in a stable.
I believe that Anna’s opportunity to come in and see her Savior was one example of how God honored her faithfulness and love for Him. Though she lived a simple life and had experienced great loss, she had unspeakable joy and security because she knew her Lord–a type of joy she had to share with others.
Just seeing Jesus once–and as an infant–was enough for Anna to speak about Him to those who were also seeking Him (Luke 2:38). Again, she displays a gift of discernment that was born through her time with the Lord. Just as she recognized Christ, she recognized others who desired redemption through Him and spoke directly to these people. One woman’s faith and diligence impacted many lives. Yet, we often we feel need to see God manifest Himself several times before we obey Him.
Lastly, I love that Anna met Jesus in the midst of her daily routine of serving Him. She had no time to make herself look “good” or suddenly become right before Him. Her love for God was evident and her heart was already in the right place. She was eternity-minded, with her Savior as her main preoccupation. This is a sincere passion for the Lord that one cannot fake–especially not before Him.
What would Jesus find you doing if He was ready to “meet” you? Would you be ready?
“WHAT ABOUT ME?”
Love is patient, love is kind. It does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It does not dishonor others, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs (1 Corinthians 13:4-5).
Imagine that kind of love!
Focusing on romantic love, let’s think back on Anna’s life. A life that honored God, despite tragedies, particularly her loss of a husband at a young age, then being single for pretty much the rest of her life–not even having any kids of her own to keep her company. This would be a nightmare for most people. Many do desire marriage, and that’s perfectly fine. Marriage is created by God, so it’s a God-given desire and blessing. However, the issue is when a desire becomes an idol, a seeking-after-fulfillment kind of thing.
Anna’s story is a reminder of the realities of life. Anything can happen. Even the worst things. Not everything goes according to plan. In fact, things often don’t. If we hold onto people and things so tightly, our world would shatter in a way that seems irreparable if we lose them. Why would this happen? Because we were putting these things or people in a position that only God can fill. He’s the One who is eternal and without fault. So, while people naturally come with their own ups-and-downs, misunderstandings, and hurts, God is stable.
When we realize that others in our lives aren’t God, we are in the best position to love them. We will not expect things that people cannot give, and when there are slip-ups, we have a Christ-centered perspective on how to handle them. That’s why we are called to love God more than anything else. God knows how much we need Him, as He can truly fill our longings. When we love Him above all else, we are able to pour out a selfless love to others that has pure intentions–as opposed to a fragile “love” that only seeks for its own and is easily shaken up or disappears in conflict.
I urge you to put God first. He will give you the eyes and ability to love others in many different scenarios as He has loved us.
He will take care of you.
But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you.
(Matthew 6:33 KJV)