I am a Christian pastor who wishes to bring glory to God in all that I do, and to help people through my writing to know Him better.
Introduction: Never Too Old to Serve
An article from the Magazine 'Our Daily Bread' had this to say about getting older:
"History records that many people made some of their greatest contributions to society after the age of 65. The Earl of Halsburg, for example, was 90 when he began preparing a 20- volume revision of English law. Goethe wrote Faust at 82. Galileo made his greatest discovery when he was 73. At 69, Hudson Taylor was still vigorously working on the mission field, opening up new territories in Indochina. And when Caleb was 85, he took the stronghold of the giants (Josh. 14:10-15).
God never intends for us to retire from spiritual activity. The Bible says we can "still bring forth fruit in old age." Even as Jesus kept the "best wine" for the last at the wedding in Cana (John 2:10), so He seeks to gather the most luscious clusters of the fruit of the Spirit from the fully ripened harvest of our lives. You may be sure God wouldn't keep you on this earth if He didn't have a worthwhile ministry for you to accomplish. So keep on serving the Lord!"
As part of the narrative in relation to the birth and early life of our Lord Jesus, the Gospel writer, Luke, gave us the account of two older people and their encounter with the Christ-child.
In our 21st-century youth-obsessed world sometimes we discount the contributions that older people can and do make in our society. However, God never does. And, by inspiration from the Holy Spirit, we have recorded these accounts of two people who waited a very long time to be able to identify our Lord upon His arrival on this earth. And what they did is now forever a part of the greatest story ever told; the story of God becoming man in order to save us from sin and give us eternal life.
Let's examine these wonderful people of God and see what we can learn from their lives that we can apply to us today.
I. Background of the Story
Let us begin by giving some background to the stories being unfolded in Luke chapter 2. First of all, Joseph and Mary are in the Temple in Jerusalem. They are there for two reasons.
Firstly, after the birth of a male-child, the mother was considered ceremonially unclean for seven days. And then she had to stay at home for another thirty-three days. On the fortieth day a purification sacrifice was required to be offered by the law of Moses.
The second reason this young Jewish couple was there is because a firstborn male or female child had to be redeemed. Each firstborn baby was regarded as holy or consecrated to God. The firstborn of animals was sacrificed. However, the firstborn of men and women had to be redeemed when they were one month old by a payment of 5 shekels. So being the good Jewish couple that they were, Mary and Joseph were at the Temple to do what the law required.
It is while they were there that they met Simeon and Anna.
II. Simeon's Story
The first person that we encounter in this narrative is Simeon. He was known as a devout and righteous man who was "looking for the consolation of Israel."
For those who are unfamiliar, the term 'Messiah' means 'anointed one and was a word that was used of prophets, priests and kings who were anointed for service. The term 'Christ', in Greek is the equivalent name.
Since the fall of the Northern Kingdom of Israel in 722 B.C to the Assyrians. and of Judah and it's capital of Jerusalem in 586 B.C. to the Babylonians, there arose, in the years that followed, an anticipation of an anointed king who would deliver the people out of bondage and bring them back the former glory that they once knew. During the time of Jesus, the Christ, the oppressing nation was the Roman empire.
However, though not everyone recognized the significance of Jesus' birth, there were a few that did, and Simeon was among them. This phrase, 'the consolation of Israel', is a Messianic title derived from such Old Testament passages as Isaiah 25:9; Isaiah 40:1,2 and Isaiah 66:1-11. Simeon was looking for that promised Messiah who was to soon be revealed.
Further, it was told him by the Holy Spirit that he would not die until the had seen the Lord's Christ (26). We don't really know how long he'd been waiting for the promise to be fulfilled but we know that this event in the temple is it. He came, by the leading of the Holy Spirit, into the temple and saw Mary and Joseph with the baby Jesus. He immediately took the Christ-child into his arms and blessed God.
Then he gives a psalm which has become very famous by it's Latin name from the Latin Vulgate translation of the Bible. The first two words are "Nunc Dimittis", which means "Now you dismiss."
"Now, Lord, You are releasing your bond-servant to depart in peace, according to your Word. For my eyes have seen your salvation, which you have prepared in the presence of all people. A light of revelation to the Gentiles, and the glory of your people Israel."
It is hard to imagine the joy of this man who had anticipated such a great and meaningful event for so long. And finally he sees it. Simeon, as a devout man, must have dreamed of this day since it was promised to him. And now he had fulfilled the reason for his existence. He was one of a handful of men and women chosen to reveal the coming of the anointed one, the King of Israel and Savior of the world!
And now he was ready to depart this earth. He was a man whose life was fulfilled.
However, before he left the amazed couple, he specifically turned to Mary and gave a prophecy that would be a concern to any mother.
After blessing them, he gives her this prediction:
"Behold, this child is appointed for the fall and rise of many in Israel, and for a sign to be opposed. And a sword will pierce even your own soul- to the end that thoughts from many hearts may be revealed." (34-35).
Simeon is mentioning here the hatred many would have for Jesus as the Messiah and their rejection of Him, leading to our Lord's crucifixion. He is a stone of stumbling to those who reject Him. However, those who accept Jesus as their King will be raised up.
And the prophecy also included a prediction about Mary herself. The sword mentioned here that would pierce her soul is undoubtedly a reference to the grief that she would experience in seeing her own Son hanging on a cross and dying in agony.
However, we now know that she also experienced the unique joy, 3 days later to see her son alive and well again. But all she knew, at this point, was the sad part of that future. And we can imagine that it disturbed her greatly.
Now with the end of this prophecy, Simeon leaves the scene, making way for the next player in this eternal drama. That person is Anna.
III. Anna's Story
And just who is Anna? Well Scripture calls her a prophetess. This probably refers to a woman who spoke God's Word as a teacher of the Old Testament rather than a source of revelation.
It tells us she was the daughter of Phanuel from the Jewish tribe of Asher. Her name means 'grace and favor' and her father's name means 'face of God'. His name may be a play on words, since Anna was among the first to recognize the face of God when she saw the infant Jesus.
One major thing that we learn about her is that she is a widow whose husband had died after seven years of marriage. And she is now advanced in years. She is at least 84 and possibly more.
The Bible says that she never left the temple as she served there night and day with fasting and prayer. This is not an indication that she lived and slept there. It rather indicates how it was the center of her whole life. However, she might have had her living quarters on the temple grounds. There were several such dwelling places for priests in the outer court. And because of her unusual status as a prophetess, she may have been allowed to live in one of them.
We see from all of this that Anna is a holy woman. And her concentration for the remaining years of her life was God alone.
She, like Simeon, had waited a long time for this moment in history to arrive. And her faith and patience were rewarded by getting a glimpse of God in the flesh.
She immediately gives thanks to God for what He has allowed her to see and speaks of Him to all those who "were looking for the redemption of Jerusalem."
What a wonderful way to spend the remaining time in your life. We don't know how much longer she lived after this event. However, we can certainly guarantee that until her last breath she used her time on this earth constructively. She spoke of the Christ-child that she had been blessed to witness being carried into the temple that day. And we can presume that many believed because of her testimony.
III. Lessons Learned from these Precious People
So what can we learn from these beautiful old saints who dedicated their lives to the Lord and the coming of His Christ? Of course, there is the obvious we've already hinted at in talking about their stories. It is the importance of serving God at any age. If the Lord has given you breath, He wants you to use it to proclaim His glory.
Older saints give us something to strive for. They show us that it isn't just important how we start out our spiritual lives. It's important how they end as well. We see so many people who begin well and end poorly. What an inspiration to see someone who loves and serves the Lord all the days of their lives.
These older saints also tell us that the best part of our lives, the most productive and the part that brings out our purpose, may still be ahead of us. When we say that our best days are still ahead at any age as Christians, most think that we are merely talking about going to Heaven and living for eternity. However, Simeon and Anna show us that they may also include some precious moments on this earth as well that we may still have ahead of us.
Then there is the idea of waiting on the Lord. Both of these godly people waited a long time for the moment of Jesus' birth. God has His own timetables for His plans and no amount of trying to rush things will make Him deviate from His perfect will. We have to pray and wait on the Lord. Faith is sometimes shown in the waiting and believing that all things truly do work together for good to those who know and love the Lord.
And God will eventually reward that long-term faith in His Word. It may or may not be in this life. But it certainly will be in the next.
We further see that God uses people to share His good news to the world. He could have used angels, and to some extent He did. However, what happened on that first Christmas day with the angels was not an every-day event. But the shepherds that they spoke to were certainly everyday people, as were Simeon and Anna. These people played their part in the time in which God had them living. Now it is up to us to continue their legacy.
We can't go back and see the Christ-child. However, we can still confess to the world the Christ that we have met through faith. And He is the same Lord who promised to come again and receive to Himself all that have accepted Him as Lord and Savior by faith in His death, burial and resurrection for our sins. We don't have a baby to talk about. We have the Lion of Judah and the King of the Universe.
If I had to give one word for how to describe these elderly saints, Simeon and Anna, it would be faithfulness. They did their duties day in and day out expecting God to fulfill His promises at last. They didn't waver from doing what they believed to be God's will for their lives, even after years had passed. This reminds me of a story by an unknown author that I read recently. It goes like this:
An elderly preacher was rebuked by one of his deacons one Sunday morning before the service. "Pastor," said the man, "something must be wrong with your preaching and your work. There's been only one person added to the church in a whole year, and he's just a boy."
The minister listened, his eyes moistening and his thin hand trembling. "I feel it all," he replied, "but God knows I've tried to do my duty." On that day the minister's heart was heavy as he stood before his flock. As he finished the message, he felt a strong inclination to resign.
After everyone else had left, that one boy came to him and asked, "Do you think if I worked hard for an education, I could become a preacher and perhaps a missionary?"
Again tears welled up in the minister's eyes. "Ah, this heals the ache I feel," he said. "Robert, I see the Divine hand now. May God bless you, my boy. Yes, I think you will become a preacher."
"Many years later an aged missionary returned to London from Africa. His name was spoken with reverence. Nobles invited him to their homes. He had added many souls to the church of Jesus Christ, reaching even some of Africa's most savage chiefs. His name was Robert Moffat, the same Robert who years before had spoken to the pastor that Sunday morning in the old Scottish kirk.
Lord, help us to be faithful. Then give us the grace to leave the results to you."
Like the old preacher who preached the gospel to Robert Moffat, and like Simeon and Anna, we are given a task to do. And the results of our faithfulness will last for eternity. May we strive to follow their example. Then God will be pleased and will use us for His glory. And that indeed is a life worth living!
© 2020 Jeff Shirley