The Story of Jesus

Birth Of A Prophet

While the people prayed in the temple, the priest Zacharias entered the holy place to burn incense on the golden altar. Zacharias did not always serve in the temple. Since there were so many priests, they divided into twenty-four groups. Each group took its turn at serving in the temple.

Zacharias had left his home in the hill country

of Judah to serve with the Abia group of priests. All the men in Zacharias' family had been priests, for they were descendants of Aaron, the first priest of Israel. Even his wife Elizabeth came from a family of priests.

Both Zacharias and Elizabeth loved and served the Lord. Like all their people they looked forward to the coming of the Savior.

When the two were younger, they had prayed much that God would give them a baby. No child had been born. Even though they were old now and childless, they continued to serve God faithfully.

Twice each day, in the morning and in the evening, Zacharias took the censer of burning coals from the great altar. Then he went into the holy place alone to offer incense upon the golden altar of God.

This time as Zacharias entered the holy place he saw an angel. Zacharias was so afraid that he fell to the ground.

"Do not be afraid, Zacharias," the angel said, "for your prayer is heard. You and your wife will have a son. You will name him John. Many will rejoice with you when he is born. He will never drink wine or strong drink. God's Spirit will be in him. He will have the spirit and power of Elijah to make the people repent of their sins and serve God."

Zacharias listened eagerly, yet the angel's promise seemed too wonderful to be real. He asked, "How can I know this is true? I am an old man, and my wife is getting up in years." The angel answered, "I am the angel Gabriel who stands in the presence of the Lord. He has sent me to tell you this good news. Because you did not believe what I told you and asked for a sign to prove my words true, you will not be able to speak another word until the child is born." Then the angel disappeared as suddenly as he had come.

The people standing in the court of the temple wondered why Zacharias stayed in the holy place so long. At last he came out. The people waited for him to speak, but he could not say a word. He made motions to show them he could not talk. The people believed Zacharias had seen a vision from God.

When the Abia group of priests had finished their turn at serving in the temple, Zacharias returned to his home in the hill country of Judah He had not been able to say a word since the angel visited him in the holy place. Now Zacharias believed the angel's promise.

A few months later, in a little home in the hill country of Judah there was great rejoicing. A son had been born to Zachari'as and Elizabeth, just as God had promised. The neighbors and relatives were almost as happy about the baby as Zacharias and Elizabeth were.

According to the Jewish custom babies were named when they were eight days old. On the eighth day neighbors and relatives came. They advised, "Call him Zacharias after his father."

How surprised they were to hear Elizabeth say, "No, do not call him Zacharias; his name is John."

"Why do you want to call him John?" they asked. "You have no relatives by that name." Because Zacharias had been speechless since the day the angel spoke to him in the temple, they made motions to ask him what he wanted his son named.

Zacharias understood what they wanted. He motioned for a writing tablet. When they brought it, he wrote in plain letters for all to read, "His name is John."

"How strange!" the people thought. Then all at once Zacharias was able to speak again. He praised God for giving them this wonderful baby.

News of the baby's birth spread throughout the hill country, and people often talked about him. "What kind of child will he be?" they wondered. They had heard how the angel told Zacharias that the child would be born. And the people talked about how Zacharias had been unable to speak from the time he saw the angel until the baby was named John. Surely all these things were very strange.

Zacharias was filled with wisdom from God, and he told his neighbors and friends about his little son. Zacharias praised the Lord.

To the little baby he said, "You, my child, shall be called the prophet of the Highest, for you will go before the Lord and prepare his ways. You will teach the people of salvation by the remission of their sins, through the tender mercy of our God."

And Zacharias said many other things about John. Later his words came true, for the Spirit of God had put these words in his heart. As long as Zacharias lived, he cared for his son. How proud he was to see the boy grow tall and strong! As John grew he liked best to be out of doors.

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