You are about to cross the Grand Canyon – not the famous 10-mile wide and one-mile deep canyon in Arizona, but the 400-year-long canyon of Holy Scripture. At the precipice of Malachi, there are solemn sounds of departure and corruption (2:8) and the ominous last word “curse.” Then, you launch out over a chasm of deep silence until the towering cliffs of the New Testament finally appear. In this cavernous void, there are no new prophets or new revelation from God. The wise man wrote, “Where there is no vision, the people perish” (Prov 29:18). So, what then will you find as the New Testament comes into sight? Will there be any devoted people of God left?
Matthew and Luke focus on a faithful few still waiting for times of refreshing in Israel. There is an older couple – Zachariah and Elizabeth, a younger engaged couple – Mary and Joseph, an older gentleman – Simeon, and an older widow – Anna. Each of them displays noble virtues, but Anna stands out as a model for all believing women and especially for those senior saints who have entered widowhood.
Anna experienced three civil statuses during her life of over 106 years. Dr. Luke records her living as a single woman, a married woman for seven years, and a widow for 84 years after that. Through all these significant changes, Anna set apart each stage for God.
Luke simply describes her singlehood as the “time of her virginity.” In all the dark years of silence, the immoral Roman culture had surrounded and infiltrated the Jewish people. Culture may have pressured her otherwise, but Anna chose to conserve and lift up her purity as a cherished value for God.
As for her marriage, Luke simply writes that she “lived with her husband” (NIV). In the Jewish world, marriage had degenerated to something far from a sacred covenant (Mal 2:14). The teaching of Rabbi Hillel had permeated Jewish culture so that the Pharisees asked the Savior, “Is it lawful for a man to put away his wife for every cause?” (Matt 19:3). Against current liberal thinking, Anna clearly understood God’s will that, “a man [shall] leave his father and his mother, and shall cleave unto his wife: and they shall be one flesh” (Gen 2:24). Therefore, she sanctified her marriage before God with unwavering commitment to never separate, but instead pursued greater and greater closeness “with her husband.” May every married believer today follow this model of marital faithfulness and friendship.
Then came the longest stage of almost eight and a half decades as a widow. While she may have been open to remarriage “in the Lord” (1Cor 7:39), she certainly did not see her civil status as inferior or limiting. She seems to have understood what Paul later wrote, “Every man hath his proper gift of God, one after this manner, and another after that” (1Cor 7:7). Seeing her situation from God’s perspective, she embraced her widowhood as a gift from the Lord just as much as she had singlehood and marriage. This amazing attitude freed her to be positive, joyful, and effective for him.
Anna clearly put a high premium on learning the Word of God. Four hundred years had passed and, while God had not given new revelation, Anna was considered a “prophetess” (Luke 2:36). She clearly was not an official, public preacher, but rather a woman who knew God and could share insight into Old Testament Scripture. She had disciplined herself to be like the man in Psalm 1, whose “delight is in the law of the Lord and in His law doth he meditate day and night” (Psa 1:2). Having sisters who give themselves to the knowledge and understanding of Scripture is an equally priceless commodity in assemblies today.
There is no surprise then, when Luke says she “departed not from the temple.” This is an imperfect verb indicating that the inertia of good, godly habits of gathering in the house of God carried with her to the end of her days. Surely, though, as she approached the century mark she must have thought of retirement. Who would fault her? But, Anna continued as she “served God with fastings and prayers night and day” (Luke 2:37). It is possible that she even participated in the twice-weekly fasts of the Pharisees (Luke 18:12) and in the morning and evening prayers each day at the temple.
Thank God for every Anna-like sister today who, in twilight years, maintains this priority of worshiping and serving God with self-sacrifice and prayer. Age may limit senior sisters so that they cannot serve as in former years, but their worship and service is still needed and appreciated.
Living as a widow brings many challenges. Luke says that she was “far advanced in years.” If she married at 16, lived with her husband for seven, and then completed 84 years as a widow, she must have at least celebrated her 106th birthday. Older years bring health concerns that can be extremely trying for senior saints. Yet, Anna never let her advanced age become an excuse for lacking in faithfulness to God’s Word, God’s house, and God’s people.
Were there not nights when tears flowed, as she longed to have her husband again? It would only be natural and normal for her to feel the loss keenly and often. But again, this spiritual woman never let her emotional pain become justification for backing off or backing away from her commitment to the Lord.
Luke often mentions widows including Anna, the widow of Sarepta, the widow of Nain, the persistent widow, the widow offering two mites, the widows in Jerusalem (Acts 6), and weeping widows when Dorcas died. James had likely witnessed his mother Mary become a widow at a young age. Later, he wrote, “Pure religion and undefiled before God and the Father is this, To visit the fatherless and widows in their affliction” (James 1:27). James was extra sensitive to “their affliction” of loss, financial lack, and loneliness. Widows today can still face empty houses, days of no one with whom to talk, and bills with no funds to pay. May God make us all more sensitive to the tremendous emotional and financial challenges of widows today.
Some folks can be grumpy, but Anna “gave thanks likewise unto the Lord” (Luke 2:38). They say older people don’t handle change well and can revert to the self-centeredness of a second childhood. Anna resisted this temptation by actively finding things for which she could give thanks to the Lord. A grateful heart is a joyful heart and thus Anna maintained a lovely, sweet spirit due to her appreciative attitude.
Far from only speaking about herself or complaining about problems, Anna kept her kind disposition by regularly “speaking of Him” (Luke 2:38). She filled her heart with thoughts of the Messiah, and made Christ the focus of her conversation. She was a unique centenarian who was not stuck in memories of former days. Instead, she “looked for redemption in Jerusalem” when God’s plans would be realized.
Anna was of the tribe of Asher, which means “happy” (Brown, Driver, and Briggs). She clearly lived true to her tribal heritage, even in her golden years, “rejoicing in the Lord always.” Perhaps her daily prayer was, “Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in Thy sight, O LORD, my strength, and my redeemer” (Psa 19:14). May God help every believer to strive for the noble virtues of this smiling, spiritual, senior sister.