Saturday, December 22, 2012

Three Wise Women

Lesson 40 - December 23, 2012
But (which becometh women professing godliness) with good works. 1 Timothy 2:10

     It is Christmas and I was thinking of the three wise men that came to give gifts to the Son of God and I got to thinking that there were also three wise women that played a very important part around the birth of Jesus.  God has blessed women through out the Bible - in fact, Christianity is the only religion that gives honor to women. Women also played some very important roles in the furthering of God's kingdom.  Jesus had both male and female followers; and while eleven of the twelve men fled after Jesus' arrest, His faithful female disciples bravely remained steadfast.  One wise individual observed, “Women were the last at the cross and the first at the tomb.”
  While we don’t know much about the wise men, we do know that, according to Scripture, there were three wise women… three godly women who played pivotal roles in the unfolding of the Christmas story.  Someone wrote, “Three wise women would have…asked directions, arrived on time, helped deliver the baby, cleaned the stable, made a casserole, brought practical gifts and there would be Peace on Earth." 
     Elizabeth, Mary, and Anna were three very different women, in different ages and stages of life.  One was single, one was married, and one was widowed.  One was just beginning to experience life, one was coping with the challenges and changes of mid-life, and one was coming to the close of the end of life.  Too often we casually read over these familiar words of Scripture, barely noticing these women. Yet each one in her own way set a powerful example for us to follow today.” And I would agree.  So today as we celebrate Christmas at Simferopol Baptist Church, we are going to do an in study of the lives of these three wise ladies. Elizabeth is mentioned first, so let’s look at her.

Elizabeth: A Wise Mature Woman - Luke 1  Elizabeth’s name means “One whose oath is with God.”  She was the daughter of a priest and her husband was a priest.   She was a descendent of Aaron.
1.   Elizabeth was wise in the way she walked before God (Luke 1:6)  Zacharias and Elizabeth were joined together (1+1=1).   They were committed to each other, and they lived for God and for each other.  They were “righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord.”  Wow -- what a statement to be said about Elizabeth and her husband!  They controlled their thoughts, their minds, their tongues, and their behavior -- diligently seeking to please the Lord faithfully in all they did.  The verse also says that they were blameless.  This means they were not only faithful but they offended no one.  They lived honestly before God and men. 
2.  Elizabeth was wise in the way she responded to the unfairness of life.  God is always good but life is not always fair.  From a human perspective, Elizabeth was not given what she expected.  Growing up -- she had dreams of having a godly husband and many children.  But life had not totally turned out the way she had planned. -- she experienced a terrible unfairness.  In spite of the godly way she lived, her years of faithful obedience to God's laws, and her prayers and devotion to God, many years had passed and Elizabeth and Zechariah still remained without a child.  Infertility today is a tragedy.  However, back then it was thought to be the judgment of God. Jews looked upon children as a gift from God and a "heritage from the Lord" (Psalm 127:3).  Babies / children were valued as if they were gold.

  For decades Elizabeth had been barren in a culture in which a woman's worth was measured by the number of children she produced.  She alludes to this cultural mindset in Luke 1:25 as she responds to her pregnancy by saying, “The Lord has done this for me in these days He has shown His favor and taken away my disgrace among the people.”
  Prior to this miraculous pregnancy that occurred late in her life, Elizabeth had every opportunity to be hurt, angry… even bitter.   BUT she was not.  Can you imagine how heartbroken she might have been but this is not a sin.  I am sure that year after year Satan tried his tactics with her to discourage her and make her depressed - and even blame God.  But Elizabeth wisely refused to listen to the ‘father of lies’. Instead, she disciplined herself to listen to the Spirit of God, the Spirit of Truth. When life was unfair, instead of running from God, she ran to Him. She believed God's Word.  She trusted His heart.  She embraced His timing.
  She was not the first woman in Scripture who reacted to heartbreak this way.  The important thing is how you react to trials and tribulations.  How did the women react below react?
· Sarah -- Genesis 18:12  - she laughed with doubt.
· Rachel -- Genesis 30:1 - she turned on her husband (Jacob) and screamed, "Give me children, or I'll die!”  
· Hannah -- 1 Samuel 1:7 - she responded to her barrenness by weeping inconsolably and refusing to eat.
· Remember how Job's wife responded to the unfairness of life?  What was her advice to Job?  Curse God and die." (Job 2:9)
3.  Elizabeth was wise in her counsel   Luke 1:41-45  When Mary arrived at Elizabeth’s house, Mary was afraid of what people would think of her.  She was bone-tired from her travels.  She was looking for refuge. But yet Elizabeth was there to give her encouragement. There was a lot Elizabeth could have said but she was wise and immediately gave her blessing on Mary and the baby.  Elizabeth was humble and recognized Mary’s submissiveness to the Lord.  Wow -- us older women should pattern our life around Elizabeth.

Mary: A Wise Young Lady  Luke 1:46-48  Why do you think God choose Mary?  Why pick her for this important task?  Why bestow on her the honor of serving as the mother of the Messiah?  Obviously, we don't know the mind of God. His thoughts are not ours so we can't know the complete reasoning behind His decision.  However, I do believe that there are some insights in what Scripture tells us about Mary that provide us with at least a partial answer to these questions.  There are at least three reasons Mary may have been selected.  In reality, they’re “Three Prerequisites” when it comes to God’s choosing to use anyone to do something great. They are a pattern that we’re all to follow.  So Why did God choose Mary?
1.  God chose Mary because she had the right attitude about herself.  Mary was not a proud young lady - she was humble.  She did not believe she deserved this honor that God had bestowed on her in any way.  Luke tells us that she was “troubled” by the fact that Gabriel said she had “found favor with God.” This just didn't seem right to her. It didn't make sense. She thought, "Why should I be highly favored. Surely, you have the wrong 'Mary'.  You must be at the wrong place."
  We continue to see Mary's humility expressed in her song of Christmas recorded for us in Luke 1:46-55.  In verse 48 she sings that God “has been mindful of the humble state of His servant.” In verse 52, “He has brought down rulers from their thrones but has lifted up the humble.” As we read through her song, we see that Mary doesn’t think that she’s important.  She never brags about herself.  God is the only one that she magnifies - He is the subject of her praise and rejoicing.
2. God chose Mary because she had the right attitude about God’s Word.  Mary cherished Scripture. She treasured its wisdom. This is seen in the fact that the lyrics of her impromptu song of Christmas recorded in verses 46-55 contain at least fifteen direct quotes of the Old Testament.  
  Back then the printed Old Testament was a luxury.  Peasants like Mary would not have had actual written copies. That means she’d have had to memorize Old Testament Scriptures as her parents taught them to her through the years. Her song proves that that’s exactly what she had done. She had hidden God's Word in her heart.   Psalms 119:11 - Thy word have I hid in mine heart, that I might not sin against thee.
  Mary didn't just memorize scripture, she believed the promises of God's written Word, even when others around her did not.  A few watched and waited for the fulfillment of God's promises and Mary was one of them.
3. God chose Mary because she had the right attitude about God’s will.  Her attitude was such that she said “Yes” to God's will for her life.  She was completely receptive to His commands, even if that meant she’d endure difficulty or danger.  She didn’t say, “Lord, can I get back to you on that?”
  In Luke 1:31-38 Mary was submissive  Her response in verse 38 was immediate and brief, only one short sentence yet very important and meaningful. “Behold the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word.”  Handmaid means a slave - a bond servant.  She was willing to give herself completely / willingly / available to God regardless of the price.  God’s Word was her will.  She surrendered totally to obey God.  She would serve as He willed - according to his Word.

Anna: A Wise Elderly Woman. This is the last of our three wise women.  Anna was a lady who had waited a very long time for the first Christmas.  She was not like most women of her time, for she chose a different path  Her name means “Gracious”.  She was a prophetess.  This was most unusual.  There had not been a prophet in Israel for over 300 years.  Also, women leaders in those days were very rare.  However, she was someone who was known for the way she listened to God's still small voice -- someone He used to proclaim His Word to others -- someone who, like Mary, believed God's promises.

      Another point that needs to be mentioned is the fact that by the time the first Christmas arrived, Anna had already lived a very long time. Some Bible translators have carefully handled their description of Anna's age by translating verse 36 as, "she she was of a great age."   I believe that she was at least 84 years old.
     Anna was also a widow and had been one for a long time. Widowhood has always been difficult, but in that day, it was particularly difficult.  It virtually guaranteed a life of terrible poverty.  But for some reason, Anna never remarried; an unusual decision for someone in her situation to make back then. Some think her husband was the love of her life, so much so that she just couldn’t bring herself to share her life with another.
  Anna had led a very frugal, pure, and sober life. And this leads me to point out the place she’d chosen for her home.   Luke 2:37 says, "She never left the Temple but worshiped night and day, fasting and praying."  The Temple must have been a spectacular place to live because the Temple King Herod built in Jerusalem was the crown jewel of that city.
1.  Anna never gave up on life.  There have been times in my life and in most of your lives that you just wanted to just give up -- climb back in bed, pull the covers over you head and stay there.  Sometimes life can get hard.  Maybe like Anna, your husband is dead, your children have move away and have families of their own.  Finances are difficult.  Sometime you get lonely, sick and exhausted.  But like Anna, we need to remain faithful.  The victory that God has promised WAY outweighs the negatives.  Just think of Anna and how for at least 60 or more years she was able to share her faith with so many  people. God's timing is truly perfect. We must never give up.  Hebrews 12:1-3
2.  Anna had excellent spiritual vision  Thousands of priests were running around doing God's business that day, yet only Anna and Simeon, saw when the Messiah of God in the form of a tiny baby arrived.  Why?  Why did these two old people see what others missed?  It wasn't that other people in Israel weren't looking for a Messiah.  Some were -- and you would think that the tribe of Aaron, the priestly tribe would be.  But their spiritual eyesight wasn't as sharp as Anna's because they were looking for the wrong kind of deliverer. 
     The Pharisees were looking for a king which would descend from the lineage of David.  A King who would revive all the glories of the past and free them from Roman bondage.  But Anna knew the child instantly and gave thanks.  She was the Lord’s servant, so the Lord guided her life step by step. She saw what others missed due to their spiritual blindness.
3.  Anna never stopped worshipping God.  Scripture says that Anna never left the temple but served “God” with fastings and prayers night and day.  This either means that she had been given some kind of room at the temple or this meant that she was at the temple -- worshiping God every day  -- never missing a service.  Anna’s hope was in Him and in Him alone.
     God reveals Himself to those who do not depart from Him. This woman has served God for many years, and she is prepared to meet her Messiah.  For the elderly and lonely who wonder what they can do to serve God, Anna's is a wonderful example

Conclusion:  Just like the three women mentioned above, every lady in this class is unique. -- different women, in different ages and different stages of life and different levels of spiritual growth.   But yet we all have the same opportunities to choose whether we serve the Lord or ourselves.  At this Christmas time, let us decide to give our all to Him!