The Story of Jesus (Part 1 - the early years)

A harmony of the Gospels, in simple English suitable for new readers, compiled by John McNeil.


"The Story of Jesus" contains material from all four Gospels. Everything in the Gospels is included; however, where verses from two different Gospels are virtually identical, only one has been chosen. Where two verses contain similar material, but from different viewpoints, they are harmonised as best as possible.

What the Bible is about

The Bible is a collection of 66 small books written by at least 40 different men. These books were written a long time ago, by men who believed God told them what to write.

The Bible tells us who God is, what He is like, and why He made the earth and all the things on the earth. It tells us why He made people like you and me.

The most important thing the Bible tells us is that God loves us, even though very often we do not want to listen to God. Often we try to do things our way instead of the way God wants us to do them. This makes him sad, and sometimes angry. But God still loves us even then, and tries to get us to listen to him.

It is hard to understand what God is like, because He has no body that we can see. That is why he sent his son Jesus to live with us.

Jesus was born just over 2000 years ago in a country we call Israel. He came to teach us what God is like, to heal us from the things that make us sick, and to show us how to live in a better way.

When he was about 33 years old, Jesus was killed by men who hated him and who did not want to believe he was God's son.

But he did not stay dead. Jesus came back to life again, and is still alive now.

The Bible says we need to believe that Jesus is God's son. And we need to ask Jesus to be our Lord. This means we will do things the way he tells us. If we do this, the Bible says that God makes us his sons and daughters also, and when we die we go to live with him.

We have four stories about Jesus. They were written by four men: Matthew, Mark, Luke and John. Matthew was a tax collector; Mark was a young man when he first met Jesus. We do not know what work he did then, but later he travelled to other countries telling people about Jesus. Luke was a doctor. John was a fisherman.

In these stories, Matthew, Mark, Luke and John often tell about the same things. But each man also saw or heard about different things. When we put the four stories together, as I have done here, we get a good picture of Jesus. It starts at the time just before he was born, and finishes with what happened just after he went back to Heaven.

Why the story was written
(Luke 1:1-4)

Dear Theophilus,
Many people have written down the story of Jesus, and what happened because he came. These writers got their information from the followers of Jesus and from others who saw everything that happened.

But I thought it would be very good if I checked carefully to make sure all the details in these stories were right. And then I decided to put it all into a story you can follow easily. It is all true, and I know it will help you to understand better the things about God and Jesus that you have already heard.

What Jesus did before He came to earth
(John 1:1-5)

In the beginning, before the world was made, there was just one God - God the Father, and with him Jesus Christ, who was called the Word. Jesus was also God right from the very beginning, alongside the Father. Together they made the stars and the planets and our world. God the Father planned it all, and Jesus spoke the words that made it happen. There was not a single thing that Jesus did not make.

It was Jesus who gave life to all things, and this life is our light. The light shines in the darkness, and although the darkness does not like the light, it can never put the light out.

God sends a messenger
(John 1:6-9)
God sent a messenger, whose name was John. He came to tell people about this light, so that everyone could hear the message and believe it. John was not the light. John was the man who came to tell about it, because the light was coming, the real light who would make people see the truth.

Only a few people believe the message
(John 1:10-13)
But even thought Jesus made the world, and everything in it, people did not recognise him. They did not want to understand who he was. He came to his own country, to his own home. But even though they belonged to him, most people did not welcome him. Some people did make Jesus welcome. They believed who he was, and trusted him to save them. Jesus gave these people the right to become God's children. They did not become God's children because their parents were important, or because they did good things. Only God could do it.

The story begins
(Luke 1:5-7)
In the days when Herod was king of Judea, there was a priest whose name was Zechariah. Zechariah's job was to work in the Temple in Jerusalem, and he was in the team of priests called by the name of Abijah. The name of Zechariah's wife was Elizabeth, and she came from the family started by Aaron, the brother of Moses.

Zechariah and Elizabeth lived good lives in God's sight. They were careful to do everything that God wanted. But they had no children, because Elizabeth was not able to have any. And now they were both very old.

An angel tells Zechariah that Elizabeth will have a baby
(Luke 1:8-24)
One day, Zechariah was doing his work as a priest in front of God because it was his turn to be at the Temple. (Each day, the priests chose someone to burn incense on the altar inside the Temple. This time, Zechariah was chosen, and he went inside.)

While he was inside, a great crowd of people were outside praying. They always did this when it was the time to burn incense. Suddenly, Zechariah saw an angel (a special messenger) sent by God. The angel was standing at the right-hand side of the altar where the incense was burned.

When Zechariah saw the angel, he thought something must be wrong and he felt afraid. But the angel said to him, "Do not be afraid, Zechariah. God has heard your prayers. Your wife Elizabeth will have the son you have asked for. And you are to call him John.

"You will have great joy and happiness when the baby is born, and many others will be very glad too. For he will be one of God's great men. He must not drink any wine or strong drink. Even before he is born the Holy Spirit will be getting him ready to do a special job for God. From the time John is born, the Holy Spirit will be inside him, teaching John what to do, and helping him to do it.

"He will make many of the people of Israel want to believe in God again, and to do what God asks. A special day is coming when God will send a king to set his people free. John will go ahead of this king, getting the people ready for him to arrive. When John does this, he will be strong and mighty, like Elijah the famous prophet who did many great things a long time ago. He will make fathers love their children again. If people have been living bad lives, John will make them change, so they start living God's way. God wants everybody to be ready for the time when his special king arrives, and John's job is to get them ready."

Zechariah said to the angel, "How do I know that you are telling the truth? I am an old man, and my wife is also too old to have a baby." The angel answered, "I am Gabriel, one of God's special messengers. He sent me to give you this good news. But you have not believed me, even though this will happen just as I have said. So you will not be able to speak. You will have to keep silent until my promise comes true."

All this time, the people outside were waiting for Zechariah to come back out. They were wondering why he was taking such a long time in the Temple. When he came out, he could not speak a word to them. He could only make signs with his hands. Then they knew he had seen something wonderful inside the Temple.

At the end of the week, Zechariah finished his work at the Temple, and went home.

Some time later, his wife Elizabeth became pregnant. She did not leave her house for five months. This was her way of saying thank you to God for giving her a baby. "How good the Lord is to me," she would say. "At last people won't laugh at me because I have no baby."

The angel tells Mary she is going to be the mother of Jesus
(Luke 1:26-38)

When Elizabeth was six months pregnant, God sent the angel Gabriel to a town in Galilee called Nazareth. He had a message for a young girl whose name was Mary. Mary had not yet slept with any man, but her parents had promised that she would marry a man called Joseph. He was from the family started by King David a long time ago.
The angel came to Mary and said, "Special greetings to you, Mary. God is with you. He has put you ahead of all other women, and given you great honour." Mary was very worried by the angel's words, and wondered what he meant by talking to her like this.

The angel said to her, "Don't be afraid, Mary. God loves you very much, and plans to do something very special with you. Listen! God is going to make your pregnant, and you will have a baby boy. You will call his name Jesus. He will be great, and will be called 'the son of the most high God'. The Lord God will make him into a king, just like King David was. And he will be king over Israel for ever - his kingdom will never end."

Mary said to the angel, "How can this happen? How can I have a baby, when I am not married and I have never slept with a man?"

The angel answered, "The Holy Spirit will do it. He has all God's power, and he will rest over you like a shining cloud to start the baby inside you. Because of this, the child will be called holy, and the Son of God.

"And listen! You remember your cousin Elizabeth. She was too old to have a baby and people made fun of her because of it. Even so, six months ago she became pregnant. Whenever God makes a promise, it will always come true. Nothing will stop it from happening."

Mary said, "I am the Lord's servant. Let it happen to me just as you say." And the angel left her.

Mary goes to visit Elizabeth
(Luke 1:39-45)

Soon afterwards, Mary got ready and hurried to a town in the hill country of Judea. She went into Zechariah's house, and there greeted Elizabeth. When Elizabeth heard Mary's greetings, the baby inside her moved. The Holy Spirit filled Elizabeth, and she cried out in a loud voice, "God has indeed given you favour above all other women! And how much he has favoured the baby you will have!

"Why has this great thing happened to me - that the mother of my Lord should come to me? For as soon as I heard your greeting, the baby inside me jumped for joy. You believed that God would do what he said. How happy you are because of it."

Mary sings a song of praise
(Luke 1:46-56)

Mary sang,
"My heart is overflowing with praise for the Lord,
And my spirit it jumping for joy because God has saved me.
Though I was just a poor servant girl, he noticed me. From now on everybody will call me the happiest woman,
because the mighty God has done great things for me.
His name is holy.
Down through all time, God is kind to those who worship him, even though they do not deserve it.
But he stretches out his mighty arm, and scatters proud people people and all their plans.
He has thrown mighty kings down from their thrones, and lifted up lowly people that the rest of the world thinks nothing of.
He has filled the hungry with good things, and he has sent the rich away empty.
he has helped his servant Israel because he promised long ago to look after Abraham and all his family forever."

Mary stayed with Elizabeth about three months, then she went back home.

John the Baptist is born
(Luke 1:57-66)

The time came for Elizabeth to have her baby, and it was a boy. Her neighbours and family soon heard how wonderfully kind God had been to give her this baby. They all rejoiced with her.

When the baby was eight days old, the family came to circumcise him (cut off the fold of skin at the end of his penis). They were going to name him Zechariah, the same as his father. But his mother said, "No! He will be called John." They said to Elizabeth, "But there is no-one else in all your family with that name!"

They made signs to the baby's father, Zechariah. They asked him what name he would like the boy to have. Zechariah made a sign that he wanted something to write on. Then to their great surprise he wrote, "His name is John." Straight away Zechariah was able to speak again, and he began praising God.

All the neighbours were filled with fear and wonder. And the news of what had happened spread around all the hill country of Judea. Everybody who heard it thought about it for a long time. They asked themselves, "What is this child going to be?" Because it was very clear God was helping and protecting him in a special way.

Zechariah has a message from God
(Luke 1:67-79)

The Holy Spirit filled Zechariah, and gave him a message from God. Zechariah then told the people:

"Let us praise the Lord, the God of Israel. He came to the help of his people, and set them free.
He has given us a mighty helper - a king from the family of David who will save us. God's messengers told us long ago that he would do this:
He promised to save us from our enemies and from the hands of all those who hate us. He said long ago that he would be kind and care for our fathers, and their fathers, and now he has remembered. It was a special agreement that he first made with Abraham - a promise God said he would never break. And this was the agreement: That when God saved us, we had to serve him and not be afraid of others. We must not follow the way the rest of the world does things, but do things God's way for the rest of our lives.
You, John my little one, will be called a messenger of the most high God. You will go ahead of the special king God is sending, to get people ready for him to come. You will tell people how God will save them. Because God is loving and kind, he will forgive the wrong way they have lived. A light from Heaven is going to visit us and bring a fresh new day.
It will shine on all those who live in the dark shadow of death, and guide our feet so we find the straight path of peace."

The little boy grew up and became strong. He learned to understand clearly what God wanted, and to do it. Later, he lived out in the desert, until the day came when he was to start the job God had for him.

An angel speaks to Joseph in a dream
(Matthew 1:18-24)

Now this is what happened when Jesus Christ was born:

Mary's parents had promised that she would marry Joseph. But before they were married, she found out that the Holy Spirit had made her pregnant.

Joseph, to whom Mary was promised, was a man who always did what was right. It would be a disgrace for Mary if Joseph told everybody that she was pregnant before she was married. Joseph did not want this to happen, to he made plans to end their marriage agreement secretly, without any fuss.

While Joseph was thinking about this, one of God's angels appeared to him in a dream. The angel said, "Joseph, son of David, do not be afraid to marry Mary. It is the Holy Spirit who has made her pregnant. She will have a son, and you must call him Jesus, because he will save people from their sins."

All this happened so that what God had promised through another messenger (Isaiah) would come true. This messenger had written:

"Look! A young girl will become pregnant and have a son, even though she has not slept with a man.
He will be called Emmanuel, which means 'God is with us'.

When Joseph woke up, he did what the angel had told him. He married Mary, but he did not have sex with her until her son was born; and Joseph called him Jesus.

Jesus is born
(Luke 2:1-7)
About this time, the Roman Emperor, Caesar Augustus, sent out an order that everyone must have their names written down by the government. It was the first time the Emperor had ordered this, and it was done while Quirinius was governor of Syria.

Everyone had to go back to the town from which their family came so their names could be written down. Joseph travelled from Nazareth in Galilee to a town called Bethlehem in Judea. Bethlehem was the family home of King David. Joseph had to go there because he came from the family of David. He took with him Mary, his new wife. It was very nearly time for her baby to be born.

While they were in Bethlehem, that time arrived. And she gave birth to her first child, a boy. She wrapped him in a baby's cloth, and laid him down in a manger (a small box from which animals eat their hay or straw). She had to put him there because there was no room at the inn for them to stay.

Angels bring good news to some shepherds
(Luke 2:8-20)

In that part of the country, some shepherds were out in the fields at night taking care of their flocks of sheep. Suddenly an angel appeared among them, and a very bright light shone around them to show that God was there. The shepherds were badly frightened, but the angel said to them, "Do not be afraid. I have good news for you - news which will bring great joy to all the people. God's special king, who will save people, has been born today in David's town, Bethlehem. this is how you will find him. You will find that baby wrapped in a baby's cloth, and lying in a manger."

Suddenly, the angel was joined by a great army of heaven's angels. They were praising God, and saying:

"Give honour and praise to God, in the highest heaven, for the great and wonderful thing he has done.
And let there be peace on earth among those people who have made God pleased."

When the angels left them and went back into heaven, the shepherds said to one another, "Let us go over to Bethlehem and see this thing that has happened, which the Lord has told us about."

So they hurried off, and found Mary and Joseph, and saw the baby lying in the manger.

When the angels saw Jesus, they told everyone what the angel had said to them about the child. Everyone who heard the shepherd's stroy were filled with wonder.

But Mary remembered all these things, and thought a lot about them. And the shepherds went back to their fields, singing praises to God for all that they had heard and seen. It had been just the way the angel had told them.

Jesus is given his name
(Luke 2:21)

When the baby was eight days old, he was circumcised. He was then given the name Jesus. This was the name that the angel had given to Mary when he first told her she was going to have a baby.

Mary and Joseph take Jesus to the Temple
(Luke 2:22-38)

Thirty-three days later, it was time for Mary and Jesus to go to the Temple. The Law of Moses told Mary to do this to show she was quite clean after having the baby, and to bring the child to God's Temple. So Joseph and Mary took Jesus to Jerusalem. They did this because God said in these laws: "If a woman's first child is a boy, he will be wanted by God for a special job." They also went to the Temple to give God two doves or two young pigeons, as the laws asked them to do.

Now there was a man living in Jerusalem whose name was Simeon. He was a good man who loved God very much and tried to do everything God asked. And Simeon was waiting for the king who would save Israel. The Holy Spirit had told Simeon that he would not die before he had seen the special king God had promised.

That day, Simeon felt the Holy Spirit tell him to go to the Temple. When Joseph and Mary brought in the little child Jesus, to do what the law said, Simeon took the baby in his arms. Then he gave thanks to God, and said:

"Lord, you have kept your promise, and now I can die happy.
With my own eyes I have seen the king you have sent to save Israel.
You have shown him to the world.
He will be a light to show the rest of the people in this world your ways, because they do not know you. And because of him, these people will give praise and honour to the people of Israel."

The child's father and mother were very surprised at the things Simeon said about Jesus. Simeon asked God to be good to the parents. Then he said to the baby's mother, Mary" "Listen! God will use this child to lift up and help many people of Israel. But many will also come crashing down and be destroyed. He will be a sign from God but many people will speak against him. This will show how bad are the thoughts that they try to keep secret in their hearts. And sadness that is like a sharp sword will stab your own heart."

A woman who heard messages from God and whose name was Anna was also there in the Temple that day. She was the daughter of Phanuel, and came from the Jewish tribe of Asher. She was very old. Anna had been married for seven years when her husband died, and now she was 84 years old. She never left the Temple, but every day and every night she worshipped God, often going without food so she could pray. While Simeon was talking to Mary and Joseph, Anna came up to them. She too gave thanks to God for the baby, and she spoke about him to all the people in Jerusalem who were waiting for the special king God had promised.

Joseph and Mary go home to Nazareth
(Luke 2:39)

Joseph and Mary finished doing all the things that they were asked to do by the Law of Moses. Then they went back home to Galilee, to their own home town of Nazareth.

Wise men come to visit Jesus
(Matthew 2:1-23)

When Jesus was born in Bethlehem, in the land of Judea, Herod was king of the province. Not long after, wise men who studied the stars came to Jerusalem from a country away to the east. They asked, "Where is the baby who is born to be king of the Jews? We have seen his star in our country to the east, and we have come to worship him."

When King Herod heard what they said, he was very upset. And so was everyone else in Jerusalem. Herod called all the chief priests and men who taught the law. He asked them, "Where does the Bible say that this king will be born?" They answered, "In the town of Bethlehem, in Judea. The prophet Micah wrote: 'And you Bethlehem, in the land of Judea - you are not just an unimportant village among the big towns of Judea. Because a leader will come from you, and he will rule over my people, Israel.'"

Then Herod called the wise men to a secret meeting, and he found out from them the exact time when they first saw the star. Then he sent them to Bethlehem, saying, "Go and look carefully for the child. When you find him, come back and tell me, so that I can come and worship him, too."

The wise men listened to the king, and then left. On their way, they saw the same star again. It went ahead of them, until it stopped over the place where the child was. When they saw the star, they were filled with great joy. They went into the house, and saw the child with his mother, Mary. They fell down on their knees and worshipped him. Then they opened their bags of treasure and offered him presents of gold, and frankincense, and myrrh.

The wise men prayed to God about what they should do next. God warned them in a dream not to go back to King Herod, so they went back to their own country by another road.

Joseph takes Jesus and Mary to Egypt
(Matthew 2:13-15)

After the wise men had gone, one of God's angels came and gave a message to Joseph in a dream. The angel said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and run away to Egypt. Stay there until I tell you to come back. King Herod is about to start looking for the child, because he wants to hill him."

So Joseph got up straight away. Even though it was still night, he took the child and its mother, and went to Egypt. They stayed there until Herod died. This happened so that what the prophet Hosea had said many years before would come true. God had told the prophet to say: "I have called my Son to come out of Egypt."

Herod kills the children
(Matthew 2:16-18)

Herod became furious with anger when he found out the wise men had fooled him. He gave orders to his soldiers to kill every boy in Bethlehem and the country round about who was two years old or under. He chose two years old because of what the wise men had told him about the time they first saw the star.

So what the prophet Jeremiah said would happen, came true:
"A voice was heard in Ramah,
Crying and weeping loud and long.
Rachel is crying because her children have gone.
She will not let anyone comfort her,
because they are all dead."

An angel tells Joseph to come back home
(Matthew 2:19-23)

After Herod died, an angel gave another message to Joseph in a dream. He was still in Egypt, and the angel said, "Get up, take the child and his mother, and go back home to Israel, The people who wanted to kill the child are all dead."

So Joseph got up, took the child and his mother, and went back to Israel. But when he arrived, he heard that Archelaus the son of Herod was the new king of Judea. Joseph was afraid to go there, and while he was asleep one night, God told him to go somewhere else. So he took his family and went to live in Nazareth. He did this so that what the prophet (Isaiah) had said many years before about God's special king would come true.

The prophet had said: "He will be called a Nazarene."

Joseph and Mary take Jesus to Jerusalem
(Luke 2:41-52)

Every year, the parents of Jesus went to Jerusalem for the Feast of the Passover. When Jesus was 12 years old, they went again as they usually did. When the feast was ended, they started to go back home. But the boy Jesus stayed behind in Jerusalem. His parents did not know this; they thought he was with other people travelling in the group. They travelled a whole day before they started to look for him among their friends and relatives. When they did not find him, they went back to Jerusalem, looking for him up and down all the way.

After three days they finally found him. Jesus was in the Temple, sitting with the Jewish teachers, listening to them and asking questions. All the people who heard him could hardly believe how much he understood, and the clever answers he gave to their questions.

When Joseph and Mary saw him, they were amazed; and his mother said to him, "son, why have you done this to us? Your father and I have been dreadfully worried trying to find you." Jesus said to them, "Why did you have to look for me? Don't you know that I have to do what my Father tells me - the things that he cares about?"

They did not understand what he was trying to say to them. So Jesus went back with them to Nazareth, and did everything they asked him to do. And his mother remembered all these things and kept them as a special treasure in her heart.

And as Jesus grew up to be a strong man, he also became very wise. God (his Father) was very pleased with him, and everybody who met him thought very highly of him.


© Copyright John McNeil 2001, all rights reserved. No part of this publication may be reproduced or distributed in any form or by any means without the prior written permission of the author. He may be contacted at:
Or at: 36B Stourbridge St, Christchurch 8024, New Zealand.