(Before reading this post on doing Matthew 3:13-17, please make sure to read our post on hearing Matthew 3:13-17. You can also see a quick overview of our DOTW Bible study method.)
4. What action does God take in Matthew 3:13-17 toward others?
God is Trinity: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. So whenever we ask about the actions of God, we should always make sure we are attentive to the actions of each person within the Trinity. In this passage, all three persons of the Trinity are seen in action!
In verse 16, the Spirit of God descends like a dove and rests on Jesus. This is not only God the Holy Spirit communing with God the Son. It’s also God’s Spirit resting on human flesh! Christ comes in order to unite human nature to divine nature in himself. His own flesh is sinless, but he takes upon himself all of our sin so that, when we participate in his death and resurrection, the Holy Spirit may come to rest on us also.
In verse 17 a voice from heaven says, “This is my beloved Son, with whom I am well pleased.” This is the voice of God the Father, testifying to God the Son. To whom is he testifying? He testifies to us. We can say that the action God the Father takes in this passage is to reveal his son by testifying to us of his son’s identity. Often when we pray we like to tell the Father our needs and concerns, and this is appropriate because he is our father and he cares for every hair on our heads. But how often do we pray, “Father, testify to me about your son. Reveal him to me.” That is the Father’s greatest joy, and we would do well to pray like this.
In verses 15 and 16, we see God the Son’s action. What is that action? He Submits himself to a human being for baptism in order to fulfill all righteousness. What humility! His action is entirely for us. There was no personal need that He was fulfilling for himself; rather he was setting things right for the human race. He was baptized so that every human being can be fixed. In this action, he who is without sin humbles himself to the lowest level of humanity: that of the repenting sinner.
5. What action does God call me to take toward God? Toward others?
There is no command or action that God explicitly gives to us in this passage. Later in the scriptures he will call us to be baptized so that we can be united with him in his death and resurrection, receiving the Holy Spirit so we can enter into the fellowship of the Trinity. But in this passage we are purely spectators. We watch as God reveals himself to us as Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. We see the Son identify himself fully with sinful humanity through baptism. We see the Holy Spirit rest upon human flesh, and we realize as believers, “Now he rests upon my flesh, too!” And we hear the Father testify that Jesus is one of us but is also one with him. To try to do something at such a moment would be like Peter trying to build a tabernacle when he saw Jesus transfigured. There are some moments that God just permits us to watch while he does his work.
6. What actions did I take?
Ask yourself: Is God giving me an opportunity today to simply watch him while he works? Before we do any word, we do well if we watch the Word do the word. God is always doing the word. We can occupy our time fully by watching him do it. We simply need to become knowledgeable about his character and attentive to him and we can see it more and more. We can foster our awareness of God doing the word, not only during times of prayer but also during the most ordinary moments of our day. Brother Lawrence practiced this constant awareness and communion with God, even as he washed the dishes. He said,
The time of business does not with me differ from the time of prayer; and in the noise and clutter of my kitchen, while several persons are at the same time calling for different things, I possess God in as great tranquility as if I were upon my knees at the Blessed Sacrament. (Brother, Lawrence, The Practice of the Presence of God, Wildside Press, 13).
Baptism signifies that God lives within us and is in the process of fixing us and setting things right. But it is important for us not only to focus on the “us” he is fixing or the things he is setting right. Let us take time to marvel at him and to invite others to do the same. In our conversations with others, we can direct our attention and theirs to God’s actions in the situation, not only our own or those of other human actors. As we discuss the events of the day—whether politics or what happened at school or work or what is happening in our relationships—we can ask ourselves and each other, “What is God saying at this moment? What is God talking about? How is God resting upon us? How is God humbling himself before us? How is God identifying himself with us?”
While I was doing dishes with my daughter, I engaged her in a spiritual conversation like this, and our eyes were both lifted up above the dishes and to the Lord!