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Posts Tagged ‘New Testament prophetesses’

A Note About the Holy Spirit and Women:

In his Gospel, Luke wrote stories that especially show us how Jesus considered women as His disciples with the same privileges as men. Luke often told his stories in pairs of women and men with the women coming off looking a bit more positive. When the men in the stories come off looking rather negative, it is because Luke is deliberately trying to destroy the ungodly stereotypes that existed at the time of the New Testament. Luke is trying to even out the playing field for female followers of Christ.

An example of this is the pairing of Zacharias and Mary at the beginning of his Gospel. Both Zacharias and Mary are approached by angels. Zacharias doubts the angel when he is promised that his aging wife Elizabeth will conceive and bear their son, John the Baptist. God punished Zacharias for his lack of faith by causing Zacharias to lose his ability to speak. Should Zacharias, a priest responsible for teaching people about God, not have remembered Sarah, Rebekah, and Hannah from the Scriptures? Zacharias should have known that nothing is impossible for God.

Mary, on the other hand responded to her angel with, “I am the Lord’s servant. May your word to me be fulfilled.” As we saw in a previous lesson, Mary’s song, the Magnificat, shows that she knew how many great things God had done for His people. Luke demonstrates that women have strong faith.

In the book of Acts, Luke makes evident that the Holy Spirit commissions women to service in His kingdom as well as men. In his history of the early church, Luke shows how men and women work together in the kingdom of God taking the Gospel message of forgiveness and peace with God to the lost. The Holy Spirit fell on all believers at Pentecost, men and women. Women were gifted equally to serve in the church. Women as well as men were persecuted for the sake of the Gospel.

We will share two stories in the coming weeks demonstrating how women were called to serve in the kingdom. First we will look at a story from Luke’s Gospel – Anna the prophetess. Our second story is from the book of Acts and is also about women with the gift of prophecy – the daughters of Philip.

 

Anna –  the first New Testament Prophet

Please turn with me to Luke 2:36-38:

 There was also a prophet, Anna, the daughter of Penuel, of the tribe of Asher. She was very old; she had lived with her husband seven years after her marriage, and then was a widow until she was eighty-four. She never left the temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying. Coming up to them at that very moment, she gave thanks to God and spoke about the child to all who were looking forward to the redemption of Jerusalem.

 Many people wonder why so few people in Israel recognized Jesus as the Messiah when He was born. They had been watching for Him. Daniel the prophet had practically set the date. The Jewish leaders had been studying the prophecies and were anticipating the arrival of the Savior. When John the Baptist began his ministry, the Scriptures tell us that the people were “in a state of expectation” and wondered whether or not John himself was the coming Messiah. (Luke 3:15). The fact is that the people were looking for their Messiah.

So, why did they not recognize Jesus as the Messiah? It is because they were looking for powerful military leader or a mighty politician who would become a conquering king. They expected Him to arrive with great fanfare amid loudly proclaiming throngs of people.

But, He was born in a stable. So, among the Israelites, only humble people like shepherds, and Mary and Joseph, and Simeon and Anna recognized Him.  Of course, the very wealthy Magi that we read of in Matthew’s Gospel recognized Him. But they were foreigners and Gentiles, and God gave them a special revelation. Otherwise, only very lowly people knew that this baby Who was born in Bethlehem was the Lord Jesus.

God had given the shepherds the witness of the angels. Mary and Joseph had also been told what was happening by angels.

The Holy Spirit caused Simeon and Anna to recognize that the baby that Mary and Joseph brought to the temple for His circumcision was indeed the One Who would bring salvation to all peoples, even Gentiles.

When he received Jesus, Simeon blessed the baby and his parents. While he was doing this, Anna came by “at that very moment” and began giving thanks to God.

We have only these three verses about Anna in the Bible, yet they tell us a lot about her.

Anna was a prophetess. In the Old Testament we see three other women who were referred to as prophetesses. What is significant here, is that Anna is standing as a prophetess during the time of the transition between the Old Covenant and the New Covenant. This devout servant of God is the one to whom God trusted the revelation concerning the coming of His Son.

It is striking that Luke makes sure to record that one of the two witnesses to the birth and validation of the Messiah was a woman. Jewish law required that there be two witnesses to validate a claim. In those days, women were not allowed to be witnesses. But, God had blessed this woman and called her to be a testimony to His Son.

Another thing we know about Anna is that she must have been an unusually faithful believer. She came from the tribe of Asher. That tribe was part of the Northern Kingdom. The northern ten tribes had become apostate over the years. They even had built their own temples and changed the Old Testament to suit their new laws. They had their own priesthood and they had intermingled with the surrounding pagans and offered corrupt sacrifices. So, at some point, God must have dealt graciously with Anna and her family to move them to the Southern Kingdom where they could worship at the true temple in Jerusalem.

Truly, Anna had an amazing faith. She believed the Old Testament promises. She took the Scriptures seriously. She knew in her heart that Messiah was coming and was probably praying that it would happen soon.

We are told that Anna was a widow, and very aged. Widows had a very tough time in Israel. They were virtually guaranteed a life of poverty. So Anna must have been living just on charity or perhaps very frugally on the remnants of her family’s inheritance. Either way, she led a chaste and sober life, praying and fasting day and night.

Luke tells us that Anna “never left the temple.” (Luke 2:37) Apparently she lived right on the temple grounds. There were apartments in the outer courts, sometimes used as temporary housing for priests who were doing their annual service. Perhaps Anna was permitted to live there because of her lifetime of faithfulness and her steadfast devotion to the Lord. The people had also recognized her spiritual gifts and observed how she had been using them in the Lord’s service.

God graciously answered her prayer that the salvation of God’s people would come. When she was walking in the temple and overheard “at that very moment” Simeon blessing the child, she knew at once that the baby in Simeon’s arms was the promised Messiah. She began praising God. She did not stop there. Her message for the rest of her life would be that the Messiah has come! She thus became one of the first witnesses for Christ!

We really don’t know what became of Anna after this. She probably did not live long enough to see Jesus during His ministry. But we can be sure that this elderly, dignified, quiet, devoted woman proclaimed Christ for as long as she lived.

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On the next day we left and came to Caesarea, and entering the house of Philip the evangelist, who was one of the seven, we stayed with him. Now this man had four virgin daughters who were prophetesses. (Acts 21:8,9).

In the last few weeks we have noticed that Luke the evangelist includes the stories of many women in his Gospel and in the book of Acts. In this story Luke makes a special mention of women, even though at first glance it seems so unnecessary to the story. But Luke has wider purposes in all of his narratives. He packs a lot of truth in each one.

In this part of the book of Acts, Paul is on his way to Jerusalem. Paul has taken the Gospel to many cities and preached many times about Jesus and salvation to both Jew and Gentile. He hopes to go to Rome some day.

Before Jesus ascended to Heaven, He told the disciples that they would take the Gospel to Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, and even to the remotest part of the earth (Acts 1:8). The remotest part of the known earth at that time was Rome. Paul would eventually get there. God would take him to Rome in an unexpected way. Paul would be arrested and tried unfairly. He would ask as a Roman citizen to present his case to Caesar. The Roman officials would send him to Rome as he requested. You can read all about this in the last 10 chapters of the book of Acts.

On the way to Jerusalem, a prophet named Agabus told Paul that he would be arrested and he begged Paul not to go there. Paul and AgabusAgabus gave his prophesy at the home of Philip the evangelist. Luke tells us that Philip had four virgin daughters who were living with him who also prophesied. We are not told exactly what they prophesied, or even if they also cautioned Paul about going to Jerusalem. We only know that Luke thought it was important to mention them.

Let’s give a little background to the story. Philip is said to have been “one of the seven”. This means that he was one of the original deacons that we read about in Acts 6. At that time there was a problem in the new young church. The Gentile widows were not given the same amount of care as the Jewish widows and some were complaining. The leaders of the church came up with a solution – men of good reputation, wise, and honest would be chosen to take care of the widows. These men were the first deacons, and Philip was one of them. We know then that he was a good disciple and must have had some leadership ability to have been chosen for such a responsibility.

Philip was also given credit for helping to start the evangelistic effort in Samaria. As Philip spoke to the citizens of Samaria many came to believe and “there was much rejoicing in that city” (Acts 8:8).

As usual in Luke’s writings, though we are not told much, we can infer a lot. Luke has a way of really telling so much more if we read all of the Gospels and Acts. Other examples of women that Luke has included in his writings are Anna, another prophetess, and Mary the mother of John Mark. If you read the stories about these women, posted on this blog, you will see what I mean. Careful study reveals much information. You must also pay attention to every word that Luke uses; each word is a description of a large portrait.

So there are some things we can deduce about Philip’s daughters thanks to Dr. Luke’s careful research and gifted writing.

If you had read Acts 2:17 for example, you would have learned that Peter told his Jewish hearers that a prophesy in Joel had just been fulfilled at Pentecost:

And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I will pour out of My spirit on all flesh; Your sons and your daughters shall prophesy. (Joel 2:28,29)

When you read the passage about Philip’s daughters you will recall that Peter said this, and will see that Luke is assuring you that indeed it came to pass that “daughters shall prophecy”.

An interesting fact to note is that these women are already second-generation Christians. Their father was a devout, well-known disciple and he must have been a godly father too. These girls desired to worship and serve God as their father did.
Why did Luke make a point to mention that these girls were virgins? There is much speculation, but perhaps Luke wanted to show that God might call women to other tasks besides the traditional ones of marriage and motherhood. We do not know that these young women didn’t get married later. On the other hand, like Paul and other male disciples, they might have chosen to remain single in order to devote their lives to serving God.

New Testament WomenWe don’t know how many children Philip had, but these four daughters were following the Lord using the gifts that the Holy Spirit had given them.

What kind of prophesies were the daughters giving?

In its most basic meaning prophecy is giving the Word of God. In the Old Testament times, the prophets heard from God and delivered the message to the Israelites and sometimes to the nations around Israel. These prophecies were not only God’s current teachings but they also contained predictions about the future. The prophets reminded the Israelites that there were blessings for obedience and punishments for disobedience.

In the transition time for the new Church that we read about in the book of Acts, there are some predictions, such as the one by Agabus who warned Paul not to go to Jerusalem. Many of the references about prophecy are to prophecies that have been fulfilled. For example, all through Luke’s Gospel we read that the coming of Jesus was in fulfillment of God’s promises to save His people. The apostles and other writers spent much time showing how Jesus fulfilled those prophecies.

Prophecy today is still seen as “giving the Word of God”. However, we have the Word of God in the Bible. We don’t need any more special audible revelation from God. Today’s prophets are those who can take the Word of God and teach it clearly to others. In a way they can also “predict”. By that I mean that they can certainly still tell God’s people, as did the prophets of old, that there are blessings for obeying God and there will be big trouble if they don’t.

Philip’s daughters were at the very least encouraging the Church with their wisdom from God’s Word. These women were examples given to us by Luke that there were some changes in the new religion known as “the way”. Christian disciples will be made up of men and women. Women will be allowed to do many things that they were denied in Judaism. When the Holy Spirit came He gave gifts, including prophesy, to men and women. The Gospel will transform lives – religiously and socially. Women will no longer be second-class citizens. They will do their part in the life of the Church.

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