Key people



Zechariah, a Jewish priest, was told before anyone else that God was setting in motion his own visit to earth. Zechariah and his wife, Elizabeth, were known for their personal holiness. They were well suited to doing a special work for God. But they shared the pain of not having children, and in Jewish culture this was considered not having God’s blessing. Zechariah and Elizabeth were old, and they had stopped even asking for children.

One day while on duty at the Temple in Jerusalem, Zechariah received an unexpected blessing. He was chosen to be the priest who would enter the Holy Place to offer incense to God for the people. Suddenly, much to his surprise and terror, he found himself face to face with an angel. The angel’s message was too good to be true! But the news of the coming Savior was eclipsed by doubts his own ability to father the child the angel promised him. His age spoke more loudly than God’s promise. As a result, God prevented Zechariah from speaking until the promise became a reality.

The record of the prayer in Luke 1 is our last glimpse of Zechariah. Like so many of God’s most faithful servants, he passed quietly from the scene once his part was done. He becomes our hero for those times when we doubt God and yet are willing to obey. We gain hope from Zechariah’s story that God can do great things through anyone who is available to him.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Known as a righteous man

    • Was a priest to God

    • One of the few people to be directly addressed by an angel

    • Fathered John the Baptist

Weakness and mistake

    • Momentarily doubted the angel’s promise of a son because his own log age

Lessons from his life

    • Physical limitations do not limit God

    • God accomplishes his will, often in unexpected ways

Vital statistics

    • Occupation: Priest

    • Relatives: Wife: Elizabeth Son: John the Baptist

Key verses:

    • “Zechariah and ELizabeth were righteous in God’s eyes, careful to obey all the Lord’s commandments and regulations. They had no children because Elizabeth was unable to conceive, and they were both very old” (Luke 1:6-7)

Zachariah’s story is told in Luke 1.


In societies like Israel, in which a woman’s value was largely measured by her ability to bear children, to be without children often led to personal hardship and public shame. For Elizabeth a childless old age was a painful and lonely time but still she remained faithful to God.

Both Elizabeth and Zechariah came from priestly families. For two weeks each year, Zechariah had to go to the Temple in Jerusalem to attend to his priestly duties. After one of those trips, Zechariah returned home excited but speechless. He had to write down his good news, because he couldn’t give it any other way. And what a wonderful surprise he had for his wife:Their faded dream would become an exciting reality! Soon Elizabeth became pregnant, and she knew her child was a long-hoped-for gift from God.

News traveled fast among the family. Seventy miles to the north, in Nazareth, Elizabeth’s relative Mary also unexpectedly become pregnant. Within days after the angel’s message that she would bear the Messiah, Mary went to visit Elizabeth. They were instantly bound together by the unique gifts God had given them. Elizabeth knew that Mary’s son would be even greater than her own, for John would be the messenger for Mary’s son.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Known as a deeply spiritual woman

    • Showed no doubts about God’s ability to fulfill his promise

    • Mother of John the Baptist

    • The first woman besides Mary to hear of the coming Savior

Lessons from her life

    • God does not forget those who have been faithful to him

    • God's timetable and methods do not have to conform to what we expect

Vital statistics

    • Occupation: Homemaker

    • Relatives: Husband: Zechariah. Son: John the Baptist. Relative: Mary.

    • Contemporaries: Joseph, Herod the Great

Key verses

    • "Why am I so honored, that the mother of my Lord should visit me? When I heard your greeting, the baby in my womb jumped for joy. You are blessed because you believed that the Lord would do what he said" (Luke 1:43-45). Elizabeth's story is told in Luke 1:5-80.

Elizabeth’s story is told in Luke 1:5-80


When Joseph and Mary took the eight-day-old Jesus to the Temple for his circumcision, they had two unexpected but delightful encounters. Well-worn examples of patient waiting met them—Simeon and Anna. Both of these godly saints recognized Jesus' identity as the Messiah. Simeon and Anna give us a picture of godly expectation in an environment ripe with expectations.

Simeon was certain he would see the Messiah m h before he died. We don't know how surprised he was to discover the Savior as a baby in Mary's arms. We do know that he recognized Jesus and gave God praise for his faithfulness. When Simeon saw the baby, he considered his life complete.

Simeon's exuberance caught Anna's attention. She was another regular in the Temple. Anna's brief marriage ended in widowhood and she spent the remainder of her eighty-four plus years serving as a prophetess. Anna overheard Simeon's prophecy about Jesus and immediately added her own excited words of praise for the Savior.

Anna discovered that God can make every passage of life meaningful and useful. The long years of widowhood were also effective years of worship and service. Both she and Simeon dedicated their lives to God and were rewarded in ways we can only fully appreciate if we are willing to live the same way.

As you interact with people at various stages of life todas/, think about the development of your relationship with God. When talking to a younger person, ask yourself: "How was God involved in my life at that age?" When noticing someone older ask: "How do I want my relationship with God to mature by that point in my life?"

Strengths and accomplishments

    • Exercised faithful anticipation regarding God's promised Messiah

    • Did not hesitate to give praise to God for his work in the world

    • Both spoke from the powerful authority of their faith and age

Lessons from their lives

    • God does give to some of his faithful followers a deeper insight and clarity about his plans

    • There were those in Israel who did recognize Jesús

    • Advancing age does not invalidate a person's usefulness in God's purposes

Vital statistics

    • Where: Jerusalem

    • Contemporaries: Joseph, Mary, Herod the Great

Key verses

    • "The Holy Spirit was upon [Simeon] and had revealed to him that he would not die until he had seen the Lord's Messiah. . [Anna] never left the Temple but stayed there day and night, worshiping God with fasting and prayer" (Luke 2:25-26, 37).

Simeon and Anna's stories are told in Luke 2:21-38.


Motherhood is a painful privilege. Young Mary of Nazareth had the unique privilege of being mother to the very Son of God. Yet the pains and pleasures of her motherhood can be understood by mothers everywhere. Mary was the only human present at Jesus' birth who also witnessed his death. She saw him arrive as her baby son, and she watched him die as her Savior.

Until Gabriel's unexpected visit, Mary's life was quite satisfactory. She had recently become engaged to a carpenter, Joseph, and was anticipating married life. But her life was about to change forever.

Angels don't usually make appointments before visiting. Feeling as if she were being congratulated for winning the grand prize in a contest she had never entered, Mary found the angel's greeting puzzling and his presence frightening. What she heard next was the news almost every woman in Israel hoped to hear—that her child would be the Messiah, God's promised Savior. Mary did not doubt the message but rather asked how pregnancy would be possible. Gabriel told her the baby would be God's Son. Her answer was the one God waits in vain to hear from so many other people: am the Lord's servant. May every-thing you have said about me come true" (Luke 1:38). Later her song of joy shows us how well she knew God, for her thoughts were filled with his words from the Old Testament.

When he was eight days old Jesus was taken to the Temple to be dedicated to God. There Joseph and Mary were met by two devout people, Simeon and Anna, who recognized the child as the Messiah and praised God. Simeon directed some words to Mary that must have come to her mind many times in the years that followed: "A sword will pierce your very soul" (Luke 2:35). A big part of her painful privilege of motherhood would be to see her son rejected and crucified by the people he came to save.

We can imagine that even if she had known all she would suffer as Jesus' mother, Mary would still have given the same response. Are you, like Mary, available to be used by God?

Strengths and accomplishments

    • The mother of Jesus, the Messiah

    • The one human who was with Jesus from birth to death

    • Willing to be available to God

    • Knew and applied Old Testament Scriptures

Lessons from her life

    • God's best servants are often ordinary people who make themselves available to him

    • God's plans involve extraordinary events in ordinary people's lives

    • A person's character is revealed by his or her response to the unexpected

Vital statistics

    • Where: Nazareth, Bethlehem

    • Occupation: Homemaker

    • Relatives: Husband: Joseph. Relatives: Zechariah and Elizabeth. Children: Jesus, James, Joseph, Judas, Simon, and daughters.

Key verse

    • "Mary responded, 'I am the Lord's servant. May everything you have said about me come true.' And then the angel left her" (Luke 1:38).

Mary's story is told throughout the Gospels. She is also mentioned in Acts 1:14.


Jesus singled out three of his 12 disciples for special training. James, his brother John, and Peter made up this inner circle. Each eventually played a key role in the early church. Peter became a great speaker, John became a major writer, and James was the first of the 12 disciples to die for his faith.

The fact that his narre is always mentioned before John's indicates that James was the older brother. Zebedee, their father, owned a fishing business in which they worked alongside Peter and Andrew. When Peter, Andrew, and John left Galilee to see John the Baptist, James stayed back with the boats and fishing nets. Later, when Jesus called them, James was as eager as his partners to follow.

James enjoyed being in the inner circle of Jesus' disciples, but he misunderstood Jesus' purpose. He and his brother even tried to secure their role in Jesus' Kingdom by asking Jesus to promise them each a special position. Like the other disciples, James had a limited view of what Jesus was doing on earth, picturing only an earthly kingdom that would overthrow Rome and restore Israel's former glory. But above all, James wanted to be with Jesus. He had found the right leader, even though he was still on the wrong timetable. It took Jesus' death and resurrection to correct his view.

James was the first of the 12 disciples to die for the gospel. He was willíng to die because he knew Jesus had conquered death, the doorway to eternal life. Our expectations about life will be limited if this life is all we can see. Jesus promised eternal life to those willing to trust him. If we believe this promise, he will give us the courage to stand for him even during dangerous times.

Strengths and accomplishments

    • One of the 12 disciples

    • One of a special inner circle of three with Peter and John

    • First of the 12 disciples to be killed for his faith

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Two outbursts from James indicate struggles with temper (Luke 9:54) and selfishness (Mark 10:37). Both times, he and his brother. John, spoke as one

Lesson from his life

    • Loss of life is not too heavy a price to pay for following Jesus

Vital statistics

    • Where: Galilee

    • Occupations: Fisherman, disciple

    • Relatives: Father: Zebedee. Mother: Salome. Brother: John.

    • Contemporaries: Jesus, Pilate, Herod Agrippa

Key verses

    • "Then James and John, the sons of Zebedee, came over and spoke to him. 'Teacher,' they said, 'we want you to do us a favor."What is your request?' he asked. They replied, 'When you sit on your glorious throne, we want to sít in places of honor next to you, one on your right and the other on your left'" (Mark 10:35-37).

James's story is told in the Gospels. He is also mentioned in Acts 1:13 and 12:2.


Many older brothers and sisters have an irritating tendency to take charge, a habit developed while growing up. We can easily see this pattern in Martha, the older sister of Mary and Lazarus. She was used to being in control.

The fact that Martha, Mary, and Lazarus are remembered for their hospitality takes on added significance when we note that hospitality was a social requirement in their culture. II was considered shameful to turn anyone away from your door. Apparently Martha's family met this requirement very well.

Martha worried about details. She wished to please, to serve, to do the right thing—but she often succeeded in making everyone around her uncomfortable. Perhaps as the oldest she feared shame if her home did not measure up to expectations. She tried to do every-thing she could to make sure that wouldn't happen. As a result, she found it hard to relax and enjoy her guests and oven harder to accept Mary's lack of cooperation ín all the preparations. Martha's frustration was so intense that she finally asked Jesus to settle the matter. He gently corrected her attitude and showed her that her priorities, though good, were not the best. The personal attention she gave her guests should be more important than the comforts she tried to provide for them.

Later, following her brother Lazarus's death, Martha could hardly help being herself. When she heard Jesus was finally coming, she rushed out to meet him and expressed her inner conflict of disappointment and hope. Jesus pointed out that her hope was too limited. He was not only Lord over death; he was the resurrection and the life! Moments later, Martha again spoke without thinking, pointing out that four-day-old corpses are well on their way to decom-position. Her awareness of details sometimes kept her from seeing the whole picture, but Jesus was consistently patient with her.

In our last picture of Martha, she is once again serving a meal to Jesus and his disciples. She has not stopped serving. But the Bible records her silence this time. She has begun to learn what her younger sister already knew—that worship begins with silence and listening.

Strengths and accomplishments

Known as a hospitable homemaker

Believed in Jesus with growing faith

Had a strong desire to do everything exactly right

Weaknesses and mistakes

    • Expected others to agree with her priorities

    • Was overly concerned with details

    • Tended to feel sorry for herself when her efforts were not recognized

    • Limited Jesus' power to this life

Lessons from her life

    • Getting caught up in details can make us forget the main reasons for our actions

    • There is a proper time to listen to Jesus and a proper time to work for him

Vital statistics

Where: Bethany

Relatives: Sister: Mary. Brother: Lazarus.

Key verse

    • "But Martha was distracted by the big dinner she was preparing. She came to Jesus and said, 'Lord, doesn't it seem unfair to you that my sister just sits here while I do all the work? Tell her to come and help me” (Luke 10:40).

Martha's story is told in Luke 10:38-42 and John 11:17-45.