|Rembrandt:Hannah and Simeon in The Temple (public domain)
I like the fact that the story that I am going to reflect on next, happened eight days after Jesus’ birth. The story unfolds in days, weeks, months and years.
If you are like me and have been excited about the new year, with all of its possibilities, you might also be vulnerable to disappointment or being overwhelmed about just the thought of your dreams coming true. Your feet come down to touch the earth so to speak and you wonder if your dreams will ever come true.
The thing is that your future or destiny is not just about you and your dreams, desires and imagination. It is about God taking you beyond your dreams, desires and imagination into His for you. Mary and Joseph, the shepherds, and now here Simeon and Anna lived their lives one day at a time, in humility, and God did something spectacular, which is recorded in the book.
We do dream, we do imagine, we do plan, but we do it all with God and God takes us into something and through and it happens in minutes, hours and days that become weeks, months and years. God is in the present and the future, walking with us in the present and preparing us for the future.
We never need to be worried about tomorrow, but live each day with God. If I worried constantly about the future, I would never be able to participate with God in the present, where He is preparing me for the future.
What if your past was a mess? You missed opportunities, failed at things, ruined relationships, got fired, lost money, betrayed people or were painfully betrayed, suffered losses of any or many kinds and have had a blown up and shredded life.
Not a problem for God.
God deals with us in the present and heals us, forgives us, delivers us and saves us from all our sin and all the sin that has been done against us. Then God has a future for us and hope always and begins to change us. He will help us with our regrets and give us comfort in our grief.
Luke, chapter two:
When the eight days were completed for His circumcision, He was named Jesus—the name given by the angel before He was conceived. And when the days of their purification according to the law of Moses were finished, they brought Him up to Jerusalem to present Him to the Lord (just as it is written in the law of the Lord: Every firstborn male will be dedicated to the Lord) and to offer a sacrifice (according to what is stated in the law of the Lord: a pair of turtledoves or two young pigeons).
There was a man in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. This man was righteous and devout, looking forward to Israel’s consolation, and the Holy Spirit was on him. It had been revealed to him by the Holy Spirit that he would not see death before he saw the Lord’s Messiah. Guided by the Spirit, he entered the temple complex. When the parents brought in the child Jesus to perform for Him what was customary under the law, Simeon took Him up in his arms, praised God, and said:
You can dismiss Your slave in peace,
as You promised.
For my eyes have seen Your salvation.
You have prepared it
in the presence of all peoples—
a light for revelation to the Gentiles
and glory to Your people Israel.
His father and mother were amazed at what was being said about Him. Then Simeon blessed them and told His mother Mary: “Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
There was also a prophetess, Anna, a daughter of Phanuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was well along in years, having lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and was a widow for 84 years. She did not leave the temple complex, serving God night and day with fasting and prayers. At that very moment, she came up and began to thank God and to speak about Him to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.
When they had completed everything according to the law of the Lord, they returned to Galilee, to their own town of Nazareth. The boy grew up and became strong, filled with wisdom, and God’s grace was on Him.
In this part of Jesus’ story, the overall picture is how Jesus fully entered into humanity. He went fully in so that he could fully take sin out. And he did all these things or had all these human experiences not because he had to, but because he wanted to.
Jesus is the key of God that unlocks mankind from sin and opens the way to relationship with God. To do this, God’s way is the incarnation, where Jesus lived out a fully human life. An in so doing, Jesus is fully in touch with humanity, not just a God The Creator, but as part of his own creation, entering into it to redeem it.
Jesus was born in the usual way and was also circumcised as was usual and dedicated to God, as was usual for every firstborn male.
Simeon, Your slave
The appearance of Simeon and Anna was unusual and unexpected.
Simeon represents the old order welcoming and blessing the new order. This is the proper or honorable or dignified way that the old should treat the new. But so often, even in Jesus time and up through today, the old is hostile, having dishonor and showing contempt and murderous jealousy towards the new.
A couple things about Simeon’s words: Simeon had the highest relationship with God, as slave to master. When we walk with God, as his slaves, we are walking in an intimate trust, because God is the ultimate good master.
So much of our relationships with God is wanting God to do what we want God to do. And we hope, pray and believe that most and maybe all of it is good stuff, that we want God to do. But that really is not a slave to master relationship.
When I am God’s slave, I live crucified in Christ, at God’s beckon call, forever and always waiting on and looking to God. I am not bitter, because I am so aligned with the hope of God. Simeon was awaiting the consolation of Israel and today’s slaves of God are awaiting the rise of the bride of Christ.
Simeon rightly identified this baby as God’s Salvation. Jesus is God’s salvation. God was not after starting a religion or the best philosophy, but about saving us. And Jesus came to save Gentile and Jew: everyone. It’s salvation for all ya’ll.
And Simeon’s word to Mary is momentous:
“Indeed, this child is destined to cause the fall and rise of many in Israel and to be a sign that will be opposed— and a sword will pierce your own soul—that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed.”
Jesus causes, will cause, many to fall and rise in Israel. Jesus promotes nobodies and says “I don’t think so” to a lot of fakers. When you see Jesus or are confronted with or by him, you ave to make a choice and it will either be promotion or demotion, a rising or a falling spiritually.
Jesus will be a sign that will be opposed. They ended up killing him and then later killed his followers. And today, it still goes on that people are being killed because they follow Jesus.
The real Jesus
We in my culture and in our time, I think have by and large misrepresented Jesus and how he fits into history and how that works out today. I was recently reading Philip Yancey’s book, The Jesus I Never Knew; and I am interested in another book by Patrick Henry Reardon, called The Jesus We Missed. In these books, the authors talk about the historical Jesus.
What that means is that they try to get at what he was really like, based on the texts of scripture in the contexts of the times and and the culture. In Bible interpretation, this is simply called exegesis: bringing out of the text what the text means. We also want to get into the text, so that we can see, hear and smell the world that the text comes out of.
For example, when we see a film on Jesus or when we present Jesus to a group of people, are we going to make Jesus smile all the time, be tall and handsome, and have very clean clothing, skin and hair? The Bible does not say he smiled all the time, nor does it say he was tall and handsome, nor does it say that he had long, flowing and glistening brown hair.
This is a testimony of a man, a very intelligent man, who met Jesus in mid-life, after having had many life experiences, and his conversion is authentic in my opinion. And this man was a broken man, like we all are; who followed Jesus for the rest of his like, in his brokenness:
I was absolutely thunderstruck by the reality of the man I found in the Gospels. I discovered a man who was almost continually frustrated. His frustration leaps out of almost every page: “What do I have to say to you? How many times do I have to say it? What do I have to do to get through to you?” I also discovered a man who was frequently sad and often depressed, frequently anxious and scared…. A man who was terribly, terribly lonely, yet often desperately needed to be alone. I discovered a man so incredibly real that no one could have made Him up.
….The Jesus of the Gospels– who some suggest is the best-kept secret of Christianity– did not have much “peace of mind”, as we ordinarily think of peace of mind in the world’s terms, and in so far as we can be His followers, perhaps we won’t either. (M. Scott Peck, Further Along The Road Less Travelled, p. 160, 1993)
How do we stop portraying Jesus and a smiling, winsome, happy-go-lucky man who enjoyed hugging people? Let Jesus take you into real life and then show and tell Jesus there.
Anna a prophetess
Anna was a prophetess, a daughter, a wife and a widow for the vast majority of the life: she was very old, especially for the first century times. She was addicted to God. Her life was fasting and prayer, at the temple.
Don’t let anyone tell you that women can not preach or have ministries that go public. Anna was a prophetess and she was a woman. Notice that she was a prophetess and she constantly prayed.
Prophets are intercessors and intercessors are prophets much of the time or at least some of the time. Do you love to pray? My guess is that you may very well also be prophetically gifted and you may not know it or recognize it. Are you prophetic? You probably are also gifted to be an intercessor.
In a common sense sort of way, God does not give prophets prophecies just to play with or think about or speak about or write down or publish. We do all those things, but we also must pray about the words or pictures that God gives us, as prophets. Talk to God about what God talked to you about and God might tell you more. That is prayer.
And the pitfall of both intercessory prayer and prophetic ministry is getting mad and judging the people or God, when your prophecy is not taken up or is not agreed with or is not seen to be coming true, or coming to pass.
Another side-note is that perhaps 50% to 90% of personal prophecies, given to Christians by well meaning other Christians are false. Think about how the best hitters in baseball get a hit one third of the time. That mans that everyone below that top tier gets hits one fourth, one fifth, one tenth or less of the time.
We wildly celebrate those guys that get a hit one third of the time and strike out, fly out or ground out two thirds of the time. New Covenant prophets miss it often too. But they get it right sometimes, so we live in this paradoxical tension in prophetic ministry.
Many prophecies are false today, but prophets who prophesy falsely are not false prophets. There are false prophets, but prophetic people who miss it or get it wrong are not false people and it is a massive mistake to get rid of, discount or despise prophecies. The reason we have that verse, “despise not prophesying”, is because we are tempted to.
This all boils down to the conclusion that “there must be a better way”, and there is. The better way is not to eliminate the gift of prophecy, but to develop it and support it.
Also, God can give a prophecy that does not come true, because it was an invitation that a person or a people did not answer and sometimes negative prophecies are a call to intercede to stop a bad thing from happening.
Also being a prophet has nothing to do with being a teacher who talks about Bible prophecy.
And I don’t believe that Anna was like Isaiah, Jeremiah, Obadiah or John the Baptist. She was not writing the Bible nor called to speak to a whole nation. But she was the real deal and genuinely a prophetess, because the Bible says so. I trust Luke and his sources.
We don’t have to debate whether women can have a public ministry, the same as men. It has already been settled by the scriptures, cover to cover; and the answer of course is “yes”.
There is also a difference between being called by God to do something and calling yourself. It has been hard always in most places for women who are called by God to go do something where men have mostly been called, many men called by God and many more men who have called themselves.
There are women that God has called to public ministry who are given a hard time by men who actually have not been called to those public ministries, but have called themselves. Then there are women who have mistakenly called themselves to a public form or role of ministry, who God has not called, of whom men who have also not been called to that office, role, or function are calling into question.
The way I see it, is that women, like Anna, who was perhaps known in some circles as a prophetess, are authentically called by God and are living out that calling in private mostly, but also ministering in their gift in public at times, maybe rarely and maybe frequently. She might make men who don’t see women ever as being in that role, uncomfortable. They might say she is the exception to the rule.
Fair enough, we say. So, we have a list of women teachers, healers, prophetesses, preachers and evangelists. These are all exceptions to the “men only” rule. As time goes on, other girls and ladies receive a calling to public ministry and we say, they are also exceptions.
It also depends on how you define ‘exceptional’. I hope that each day is exceptional, but many days are not great. And a percentage of the population is exceptional in some way. That is how I see ‘exceptional’.
Some people believe God does not heal miraculously today and the gifts of the Spirit died out with the apostolic age or the first and perhaps second century. Many of these people believe God can and sometimes does heal today, but it is the exception to the rule. Except with extremely narrow minded people, these people would definitely pray for God’s healing for themselves or for someone else in need of help in their bodies.
With that same mindset, some people see an Anna as ‘an anomaly’. Others might say that since Anna was a prophetess and remember the sermon from Joel 2 that Peter gave on the birthday of the church and women sharing the prophetic ministry, that all women can prophecy and I totally agree.
My point is that yes, women can and do have special callings and ministries. And there are more than five offices that God can and does call people into. The question is what is God calling you into??
There is this ongoing debate about women in ministry. But the real question is on an individual basis, what is God call you to do? I understand what you want to do and that is fine and I know God understands your desires, but what is God calling you to do?
That is the question. I am assuming that Anna was not what we call a “wanna be”. She was a prophetess.
If you feel or believe or are coming to believe that you are called as a prophet or a prophetess, then start using your gift and when you move from prophesying to the boards in the garage or the trees in the back forty, then move up to prophesying to the pets in the kitchen, you will be ready to try it on people. When you do, get some feedback and circle back to your secret place of prayer and live in God’s presence and try it some more with the boards, the trees, the pets and then with open hearted, forgiving and loving people who don’t offend easily.
Get a sponsor, a coach, a father or a mother in the faith who themselves is either prophetic or has a heart for the prophetic. Practice your humility before your gift, so that it is natural for you to say, “I’m not sure this is God… “, or, “I don’t know what this means, but…..”, or, “I saw or heard _____, and I don’t know what it means”.
Realize that you can have pure and real revelation but have no idea and easily mistake the application. Also realize that you as a prophetic person can take in false revelation, and it does not make you a bad person or a false prophet, but human and a small ‘p’ prophet, and it is probably a good idea to not ever even call yourself a prophet. Let others say that.
I think an applicable song to close with is Be Thou My Vision: