To the Lovers of God
I am writing for you, mighty lover of God, an orderly account of what Jesus, the Anointed One, accomplished and fulfilled among us. Several eyewitness biographies have already been written, using as their source material the good news preached among us by his early disciples, who became loving servants of the Living Expression. But now I am passing on to you this accurate compilation of my own meticulous investigation based on numerous eyewitness interviews and thorough research of the story of his life. It is appropriate for me to write this, for he also appeared to me so that I would reassure you beyond any shadow of a doubt the reliability of all you have been taught of him.
Angelic Prophecy of the Prophet John’s Birth
5During the reign of King Herod the Great over Judea, there was a Jewish priest named Zechariah who served in the temple as part of the priestly order of Abijah. His wife, Elizabeth, was also from a family of priests, being a direct descendant of Aaron. 6They were both lovers of God, living virtuously and following the commandments of the Lord fully. 7But they were childless since Elizabeth was barren, and now they both were quite old.
8-9One day, while Zechariah’s priestly order was on duty and he was serving as priest, it happened by the casting of lots (according to the custom of the priesthood) that the honor fell upon Zechariah to enter into the Holy Place and burn incense before the Lord. 10A large crowd of worshipers had gathered to pray outside the temple at the hour when incense was being offered. 11All at once an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing just to the right of the altar of incense.
12Zechariah was startled and overwhelmed with fear. 13But the angel reassured him, saying, “Don’t be afraid, Zechariah! God is showing grace to you. For I have come to tell you that your prayer for a child has been answered. Your wife, Elizabeth, will bear you a son and you are to name him John. 14His birth will bring you much joy and gladness. Many will rejoice because of him. 15He will be one of the great ones in the sight of God. He will drink no wine or strong drink, but he will be filled with the Holy Spirit even while still in his mother’s womb. 16And he will persuade many in Israel to convert and turn back to the Lord their God. 17He will go before the Lord as a forerunner, with the same power and anointing as Elijah the prophet. He will be instrumental in turning the hearts of the fathers in tenderness back to their children and the hearts of the disobedient back to the wisdom of their righteous fathers. And he will prepare a united people who are ready for the Lord’s appearing.”
18Zechariah asked the angel, “How do you expect me to believe this? I’m an old man and my wife is too old to give me a child. What sign can you give me to prove this will happen?”
19Then the angel said, “I am Gabriel. I stand beside God himself. He has sent me to announce to you this good news. 20But now, since you did not believe my words, you will be stricken silent and unable to speak until the day my words have been fulfilled at their appointed time and a child is born to you. That will be your sign!”
21Meanwhile, the crowds outside kept expecting him to come out. They were amazed over Zechariah’s delay, wondering what could have happened inside the sanctuary. 22When he finally did come out, he tried to talk, but he couldn’t speak a word, and they realized from his gestures that he had seen a vision while in the Holy Place. 23He remained mute as he finished his days of priestly ministry in the temple and then went back to his own home. 24Soon afterward his wife, Elizabeth, became pregnant and went into seclusion for the next five months. 25She said with joy, “See how kind it is of God to gaze upon me and take away the disgrace of my barrenness!”
Angelic Prophecy of Jesus’ Birth
26-27During the sixth month of Elizabeth’s pregnancy, the angel Gabriel was sent from God’s presence to an unmarried girl named Mary, living in Nazareth, a village in Galilee. She was engaged to a man named Joseph, a true descendant of King David. 28Gabriel appeared to her and said, “Grace to you, young woman, for the Lord is with you and so you are anointed with great favor.”
29Mary was deeply troubled over the words of the angel and bewildered over what this may mean for her. 30But the angel reassured her, saying, “Do not yield to your fear, Mary, for the Lord has found delight in you and has chosen to surprise you with a wonderful gift. 31You will become pregnant with a baby boy, and you are to name him Jesus. 32He will be supreme and will be known as the Son of the Highest. And the Lord God will enthrone him as King on his ancestor David’s throne. 33He will reign as King of Israel forever, and his reign will have no limit.”
34Mary said, “But how could this happen? I am still a virgin!”
35Gabriel answered, “The Spirit of Holiness will fall upon you and almighty God will spread his shadow of power over you in a cloud of glory! This is why the child born to you will be holy, and he will be called the Son of God. 36What’s more, your aged aunt, Elizabeth, has also become pregnant with a son. The ‘barren one’ is now in her sixth month. 37Not one promise from God is empty of power, for nothing is impossible with God!”
38Then Mary responded, saying, “This is amazing! I will be a mother for the Lord! As his servant, I accept whatever he has for me. May everything you have told me come to pass.” And the angel left her.
Elizabeth’s Prophecy to Mary
39Afterward, Mary arose and hurried off to the hill country of Judea, to the village where Zechariah and Elizabeth lived. 40Arriving at their home, Mary entered the house and greeted Elizabeth. 41At the moment she heard Mary’s voice, the baby within Elizabeth’s womb jumped and kicked. And suddenly, Elizabeth was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit! 42With a loud voice she prophesied with power:
“Mary! You are a woman given the highest favor
and privilege above all others.
For your child is destined to bring God great delight.
43How did I deserve such a remarkable honor
to have the mother of my Lord come and visit me?
44The moment you came in the door and greeted me,
my baby danced inside me with ecstatic joy!
45Great favor is upon you, for you have believed
every word spoken to you from the Lord.”
Mary’s Prophetic Song
46And Mary sang this song:
“My soul is ecstatic, overflowing with praises to God!
47My spirit bursts with joy over my life-giving God!
48For he set his tender gaze upon me, his lowly servant girl.
And from here on, everyone will know
that I have been favored and blessed.
49The Mighty One has worked a mighty miracle for me;
holy is his name!
50Mercy kisses all his godly lovers,
from one generation to the next.
51Mighty power flows from him
to scatter all those who walk in pride.
52Powerful princes he tears from their thrones
and he lifts up the lowly to take their place.
53Those who hunger for him will always be filled,
but the smug and self-satisfied he will send away empty.
54Because he can never forget to show mercy,
he has helped his chosen servant, Israel,
55Keeping his promises to Abraham
and to his descendants forever.”
56Before going home, Mary stayed with Elizabeth for about three months.
The Birth of the Prophet John
57When Elizabeth’s pregnancy was full term, she gave birth to a son. 58All her family, friends, and neighbors heard about it, and they too were overjoyed, for they realized that the Lord had showered such wonderful mercy upon her.
59When the baby was eight days old, according to their custom, all the family and friends came together for the circumcision ceremony. Everyone was convinced that the parents would name the baby Zechariah, after his father. 60But Elizabeth spoke up and said, “No, he has to be named John!”
61“What?” they exclaimed. “No one in your family line has that name!”
62So they gestured to the baby’s father to ask what to name the child. 63After motioning for a writing tablet, in amazement of all, he wrote, “His name is John.”
64Instantly Zechariah could speak again. And his first words were praises to the Lord.
65The fear of God then fell on the people of their village, and the news of this astounding event traveled throughout the hill country of Judea. Everyone was in awe over it! 66All who heard this news were astonished and wondered, “If a miracle brought his birth, what on earth will this child become? Clearly, God’s presence is upon this child in a powerful way!”
67Then Zechariah was filled to overflowing with the Holy Spirit and he prophesied, saying:
68“Praise be to the exalted Lord God of Israel,
for he has seen us through eyes of grace,
and he comes as our Hero-God to set us free!
69He appears to us as a mighty Savior,
a trumpet of redemption from the house of David, his servant,
70Just as he promised long ago
by the words of his holy prophets.
71They prophesied he would come one day and save us
from every one of our enemies
and from the power of those who hate us.
72Now he has shown us the mercy promised to our ancestors,
for he has remembered his holy covenant.
73-75He has rescued us from the power of our enemies!
This fulfills the sacred oath he made with our father Abraham.
Now we can boldly worship God with holy lives,
living in purity as priests in his presence every day!
76And to you I prophesy, my little son,
you will be known as the prophet of the glorious God.
For you will be a forerunner,
going before the face of the Master, Yahweh,
to prepare hearts to embrace his ways.
77You will preach to his people the revelation of salvation life,
the cancellation of all our sins, to bring us back to God.
78The splendor light of heaven’s glorious sunrise
is about to break upon us in holy visitation,
all because the merciful heart of our God is so very tender.
79The word from heaven will come to us
with dazzling light to shine upon those
who live in darkness, near death’s dark shadow.
And he will illuminate the path that leads to the way of peace.”
80Afterward, their son grew up and was strengthened by the Holy Spirit and he grew in his love for God. John chose to live in the lonely wilderness until the day came when he was to be displayed publicly to Israel.