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1. Birth of John the Baptist
1Forasmuch as many have taken in hand to draw up a narrative concerning those matters which have been fulfilled among us, 2even as they delivered them unto us, who from the beginning were eyewitnesses and ministers of the word, 3it seemed good to me also, having traced the course of all things accurately from the first, to write unto thee in order, most excellent Theophilus; 4that thou mightest know the certainty concerning the things wherein thou wast instructed. 5There was in the days of Herod, king of Judaea, a certain priest named Zacharias, of the course of Abijah: and he had a wife of the daughters of Aaron, and her name was Elisabeth. 6And they were both righteous before God, walking in all the commandments and ordinances of the Lord blameless. 7And they had no child, because that Elisabeth was barren, and they both were now well stricken in years. 8Now it came to pass, while he executed the priest's office before God in the order of his course, 9according to the custom of the priest's office, his lot was to enter into the temple of the Lord and burn incense. 10And the whole multitude of the people were praying without at the hour of incense. 11And there appeared unto him an angel of the Lord standing on the right side of altar of incense. 12And Zacharias was troubled when he saw him, and fear fell upon him. 13But the angel said unto him, Fear not, Zacharias: because thy supplication is heard, and thy wife Elisabeth shall bear thee a son, and thou shalt call his name John. 14And thou shalt have joy and gladness; and many shall rejoice at his birth. 15For he shall be great in the sight of the Lord, and he shall drink no wine nor strong drink; and he shall be filled with the Holy Spirit, even from his mother's womb. 16And many of the children of Israel shall be turn unto the Lord their God. 17And he shall go before his face in the spirit and power of Elijah, to turn the hearts of the fathers to the children, and the disobedient to walk in the wisdom of the just; to make ready for the Lord a people prepared for him. 18And Zacharias said unto the angel, Whereby shall I know this? for I am an old man, and my wife well stricken in years. 19And the angel answering said unto him, I am Gabriel, that stand in the presence of God; and I was sent to speak unto thee, and to bring thee these good tidings. 20And behold, thou shalt be silent and not able to speak, until the day that these things shall come to pass, because thou believedst not my words, which shall be fulfilled in their season. 21And the people were waiting for Zacharias, and they marvelled while he tarried in the temple. 22And when he came out, he could not speak unto them: and they perceived that he had seen a vision in the temple: and he continued making signs unto them, and remained dumb. 23And it came to pass, when the days of his ministration were fulfilled, he departed unto his house. 24And after these days Elisabeth his wife conceived; and she hid herself five months, saying, 25Thus hath the Lord done unto me in the days wherein he looked upon me, to take away my reproach among men. 26Now in the sixth month the angel Gabriel was sent from God unto a city of Galilee, named Nazareth, 27to a virgin betrothed to a man whose name was Joseph, of the house of David; and the virgin's name was Mary. 28And he came in unto her, and said, Hail, thou that art highly favored, the Lord is with thee. 29But she was greatly troubled at the saying, and cast in her mind what manner of salutation this might be. 30And the angel said unto her, Fear not, Mary: for thou hast found favor with God. 31And behold, thou shalt conceive in thy womb, and bring forth a son, and shalt call his name JESUS. 32He shall be great, and shall be called the Son of the Most High: and the Lord God shall give unto him the throne of his father David: 33and he shall reign over the house of Jacob for ever; and of his kingdom there shall be no end. 34And Mary said unto the angel, How shall this be, seeing I know not a man? 35And the angel answered and said unto her, The Holy Spirit shall come upon thee, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow thee: wherefore also the holy thing which is begotten shall be called the Son of God. 36And behold, Elisabeth thy kinswoman, she also hath conceived a son in her old age; and this is the sixth month with her that was called barren. 37For no word from God shall be void of power. 38And Mary said, Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to thy word. And the angel departed from her. 39And Mary arose in these days and went into the hill country with haste, into a city of Judah; 40and entered into the house of Zacharias and saluted Elisabeth. 41And it came to pass, when Elisabeth heard the salutation of Mary, the babe leaped in her womb; and Elisabeth was filled with the Holy Spirit; 42and she lifted up her voice with a loud cry, and said, Blessed art thou among women, and blessed is the fruit of thy womb. 43And whence is this to me, that the mother of my Lord should come unto me? 44For behold, when the voice of thy salutation came into mine ears, the babe leaped in my womb for joy. 45And blessed is she that believed; for there shall be a fulfilment of the things which have been spoken to her from the Lord. 46And Mary said,
My soul doth magnify the Lord,
47And my spirit hath rejoiced in God my Saviour.
48For he hath looked upon the low estate of his handmaid:
For behold, from henceforth all generations shall call me blessed.
49For he that is mighty hath done to me great things;
And holy is his name.
50And his mercy is unto generations and generations
On them that fear him.
51He hath showed strength with his arm;
He hath scattered the proud in the imagination of their heart.
52He hath put down princes from their thrones,
And hath exalted them of low degree.
53The hungry he hath filled with good things;
And the rich he hath sent empty away.
54He hath given help to Israel his servant,
That he might remember mercy
55(As he spake unto our fathers)
Toward Abraham and his seed for ever.
56And Mary abode with her about three months, and returned unto her house. 57Now Elisabeth's time was fulfilled that she should be delivered; and she brought forth a son. 58And her neighbors and her kinsfolk heard that the Lord had magnified his mercy towards her; and they rejoiced with her. 59And it came to pass on the eighth day, that they came to circumcise the child; and they would have called him Zacharias, after the name of the father. 60And his mother answered and said, Not so; but he shall be called John. 61And they said unto her, There is none of thy kindred that is called by this name. 62And they made signs to his father, what he would have him called. 63And he asked for a writing tablet, and wrote, saying, His name is John. And they marvelled all. 64And his mouth was opened immediately, and his tongue loosed, and he spake, blessing God. 65And fear came on all that dwelt round about them: and all these sayings were noised abroad throughout all the hill country of Judaea. 66And all that heard them laid them up in their heart, saying, What then shall this child be? For the hand of the Lord was with him. 67And his father Zacharias was filled with the Holy Spirit, and prophesied, saying,
68Blessed be the Lord, the God of Israel;
For he hath visited and wrought redemption for his people,
69And hath raised up a horn of salvation for us
In the house of his servant David
70(As he spake by the mouth of his holy prophets that have been from of old),
71Salvation from our enemies, and from the hand of all that hate us;
72To show mercy towards, our fathers,
And to remember his holy covenant;
73The oath which he spake unto Abraham our father,
74To grant unto us that we being delivered out of the hand of our enemies
Should serve him without fear,
75In holiness and righteousness before him all our days.
76Yea and thou, child, shalt be called the prophet of the Most High:
For thou shalt go before the face of the Lord to make ready his ways;
77To give knowledge of salvation unto his people
In the remission of their sins,
78Because of the tender mercy of our God,
Whereby the dayspring from on high shall visit us,
79To shine upon them that sit in darkness and the shadow of death;
To guide our feet into the way of peace.
80And the child grew, and waxed strong in spirit, and was in the deserts till the day of his showing unto Israel.
And Zacharias said to the angel Next follows the doubt of Zacharias, and the punishment which the Lord inflicted on his unbelief. He had prayed that he might obtain offspring, and now that it is promised, he distrusts, as if he had forgotten his own prayers and faith. It might, at first sight, appear harsh that God is so much offended by his reply. He brings forward his old age as an objection. Abraham did the same; and yet his faith is so highly applauded that Paul declares, he
“considered not his own body now dead, neither yet the deadness of Sarah’s womb,” (Romans 4:19,)
but unhesitatingly relied on the truth and power of God. Zacharias inquires how, or by what proof, he might arrive at certainty. But Gideon was not blamed for twice asking a sign, (Judges 6:17, 37, 39.) Nay more, we are shortly after this informed of Mary’s objection, How shall this be, since I know not a man? (ver. 34,) which the angel passes over as if it contained nothing wrong. How comes it then that God punishes Zacharias so severely, as if he had been guilty of a very heinous sin? I do acknowledge that, if the words only are considered, either all were equally to blame, or Zacharias did nothing wrong. But as the actions and words of men must be judged from the state of the heart, we ought rather to abide by the judgment of God, to whom the hidden secrets of the heart are naked and opened, (Hebrews 4:13.)
Unquestionably, the Lord beheld in Zacharias something worse than his words may bear, and therefore his anger was kindled against him for throwing back with distrust the promised favor. We have no right, indeed, to lay down a law to God which would not leave him free to punish in one the fault which he pardons in others. But it is very evident that the case of Zacharias was widely different from that of Abraham, or Gideon, or Mary. This does not appear in the words; and therefore the knowledge of it must be left to God, whose eyes pierce the depths of the heart. Thus God distinguishes between Sarah’s laugh (Genesis 18:12) and Abraham’s, (Genesis 17:17,) though the one apparently does not differ from the other. The reason why Zacharias doubted was, that, stopping at the ordinary course of nature, he ascribed less than he ought to have done to the power of God. They take a narrow and disparaging view of the works of God, who believe that he will do no more than nature holds out to be probable, as if his hand were limited to our senses or confined to earthly means. But it belongs to faith to believe that more can be done than carnal reason admits. Zacharias had no hesitation with regard to its being the voice of God, but as he looked too exclusively at the world, an indirect doubt arose in his mind if what he had heard would really happen. In that respect he did no slight injury to God, for he went so far as to reason with himself, whether God, who had undoubtedly spoken to him, should be regarded as worthy of credit.
At the same time, we ought to know that Zacharias was not so unbelieving as to turn aside wholly from the faith; for there is a general faith which embraces the promise of eternal salvation and the testimony of a free adoption. On the other hand, when God has once received us into favor, he gives us many special promises, — that he will feed us, will deliver us from dangers, will vindicate our reputation, will protect our life; — and so there is a special faith which answers particularly to each of these promises. Thus, it will sometimes happen, that one who trusts in God for the pardon of his sins, and for salvation, will waver on some point, — will be too much alarmed by the dread of death, too solicitous about daily food, or too anxious about his plans. Such was the unbelief of Zacharias; for while he held the root and foundation of faith, he hesitated only on one point, whether God would give to him a son. Let us know, therefore, that those who are perplexed or disturbed by weakness on some particular occasion do not entirely depart or fall off from the faith, and that, though the branches of faith are agitated by various tempests, it does not give way at the root. Besides, nothing was farther from the intention of Zacharias than to call in question the truth of a divine promise; but while he was convinced generally that God is faithful, he was cunningly drawn by the craft and wiles of Satan to draw a wicked distinction. It is all the more necessary for us to keep diligent watch: for which of us shall be secure against the snares of the devil, when we learn that a man so eminently holy, who had all his life maintained strict watchfulness over himself, was overtaken by them?