The Kingdom Movement
A Literary & Pastoral Study Guide to the Gospel of Matthew
The Inspiration of Matthew,
On the King's Errand
Devotional Reflections on Matthew's Gospel
Understanding the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit in Action: Mt.3:13 Ė 4:11
3:16 After being baptized, Jesus came up immediately from the water; and behold, the heavens were opened, and he saw the Spirit of God descending as a dove and lighting on him, 17 and behold, a voice out of the heavens said, ĎThis is My beloved Son, in whom I am well-pleased.í 4:1 Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil... 10 Then Jesus said to him, ĎGo, Satan! For it is written, ĎYou shall worship the LORD your God, and serve Him only.íí
Anne Mansfield Sullivan is one of my heroes. Anne came from the Perkins Institution for the Blind in Boston, having never completely recovered from an eye infection that left her half-blind, to the home of Helen Keller in Alabama. At that time, Helen Keller was seven years old, without sight and hearing because of an illness that befell her at age two. No one knew what was going through Helenís mind. No one was able to help her. But Anne entered into Helenís silent, isolated, private world. Anne had heard of this poor child, and she came to teach her, to help her communicate, but above all, to love her. For three hard years, Anne worked with Helenís sense of touch, teaching her to read and write in Braille. It was a difficult, painstaking experience day after day. Yet Anne had unbending dedication. She pleaded with Helen to learn. She advocated with others on Helenís behalf. In three years, Helen learned Braille. By sixteen, Helen could speak well enough to go to prep school. Eventually, she graduated cum laude from Radcliffe College in 1904. Anneís contribution to Helenís life was immense. Listen to what Helen Keller later wrote about Anne: ĎHave you ever been at sea in a dense fog, when it seemed as if a tangible white darkness shut you in, and the great ship, tense and anxious, groped her way toward shore with plummet and sounding-line, and you waited with beating heart for something to happen? I was like that ship before my education began, only I was without compass or sounding-line, and had no way of knowing how near the harbor was. ĎLight! Give me light!í was the wordless cry of my soul, and the light of love shone on me in that very hour...I felt approaching footsteps. I stretched out my hand as I supposed to my mother. Someone took it, and I was caught up and held close in the arms of her who had come to reveal all things to me, and, more than all things else, to love me.í
Anneís role in Helenís life is one of the greatest analogies to the Triune Godís role in our lives. I make this analogy because very often we have questions about God as a Trinity. Iím only going to touch lightly on the topic. But this passage about the baptism and temptation of Jesus is a great introduction to who God really is. Here we read about the Sonís baptism, the Fatherís booming voice, and the Spiritís descent. This is relevant to us because so often we think that there is some dark, mysterious side of God that is not good, not caring, and just out for Godís own glory even at our expense. But, in this passage, the whole Triune God is shown, and we see no dark side in God.
Who is the Son? He extends himself to us in our spiritual darkness and fog, which we had brought upon ourselves. Anne Sullivan knew how to help Helen Keller because they shared a similar condition. But Jesus does more than that: He knows how to help us because he shares our same nature. The Son took human nature to himself for us in the womb of a young Jewish woman named Mary, betrothed to Joseph (Mt.1:18 Ė 25). He did this to bring God and humanity together in his own person. As we see in this passage, the Son is baptized for us. When he was baptized, he confessed sin, just like everyone else who was baptized. But he had not sinned and he did not do this for his own sake. Instead, Jesus repented because our common human nature needed to repent, and he did it for us, even though he didnít need to it for himself. At his baptism, he demonstrated his relationship with the Spirit, who was adjusting Jesusí human nature to make it a home for the Spirit to live within. Then, as he walked out with the Spirit into the lonely wilderness, Jesus resisted his flesh Ė that corruption in our human nature that rebels against the loving God Ė for us. And as we see in this story, the Son retells our stories in his own story. In the wilderness, Jesus resisted the devil for us, because we had succumbed. He redirected the human heart towards God the Father, for us. Through his life, death, and resurrection, he did for us what we could never do on our own: He healed, cleansed, and transformed his own human nature, to reconcile it with the radically other-centered nature of God. What the Son does flows out of who the Son is: he is the perfect expression of the Father, who has now joined human nature to his divine nature in order to do the Fatherís will.
Who is the Holy Spirit? He is the one who establishes a bond Ė in fact, Augustine suggested that he is the bond Ė between the Father and all the Fatherís children. Anne was able to empathize with Helen and then establish certain words and concepts in her mind so that Helen could come out of herself and relate with Anne and others. But the Spirit does more than that: He searches and knows us more deeply than we know ourselves, even helping us groan the wordless cries of our souls. He prepared a new language of communication with the Father in the very flesh of Jesus, so that we could share in that holy language, and with the Spirit eventually in us, be drawn out of ourselves into Jesus and into Jesusí own holy relationship of love with the Father. The Spirit appeared in this passage as the manifestation of the Fatherís joy and pleasure in the Son. He anointed Jesus, marking him out as the highest and final king, as the historic kings of Israel and Judah were anointed by a priest or prophet. The Spirit came upon Jesus to depict the bond that he has already made in the physical body of Jesus between Godís divine nature and our human nature. The Spirit led Jesus into the wilderness to face the temptations that the devil used to corrupt humanity, and empowered Jesus to overcome those temptations. The Spirit demonstrates here how he will be at work in Jesusí people, to take the new, God-soaked humanity Jesus will perfect, and draw us into it. That is, the Spirit will come into us when we repent of our resistance to God; he will draw us into Jesus so we can hear Fatherís pleasure pronounced over us as daughters and sons of his; he will take the love between the Father and the Son and pour it into us. The Spirit slowly establishes a new language in our hearts and minds Ė the language that he shares with the Father and the Son. The Spirit, eternally the bond of love between the Father and the Son, will extend the love of the Trinity outward into us, and become the bond of love between Jesus Christ and us, for in and through Jesus, we will become one with the Father as well. What the Holy Spirit does flows out of who the Holy Spirit is.
Who, then, is the Father? The Father is the masterful architect who originally and lovingly designed every detail of humanity, who patterned us after his eternal Son, to live in relationship with him through his eternal Spirit. Anne did not cause Helenís blindness, of course, but instead labored to help her live with that condition. But the Father does more than that: The Father, though he did not cause our fallen condition, labors to not just help us live with our infirmity, but to undo it and heal it. The Father extended himself to us in the person of Jesus, as one of us, in our wounded and hostile condition. In this passage of Scripture, the Father, by the Spirit, expresses himself and his heart for us through Jesus, who represents all of us. He loudly announces his love for Jesus, for us, so we could eventually sense the quality of his voice and the true feelings of his heart for us. He takes immense pleasure in Jesus and expresses that here, so we would know how much we longs to take immense pleasure in us through Jesus. He affirms the confession of sin that Jesus makes, on behalf of his human nature and ours, affirming that Jesus is revealing human nature transparently and honestly, so that we, too, as we live and grow in Christ, might hear the Fatherís affirmation over our confessions of sin. The Father does not increase the distance between himself and Jesus, as if to make Jesus prove repentance further, but speaks to close that distance and sends the Spirit to affirm that no such distance even existed; this, too, is meant for us, that we might find the same thing to be true for us in Jesus. He anoints Jesus as the long-awaited true king of Israel and the world, for us, because he has long wanted to anoint us as his heirs, to reign with Jesus as his royal children over this world. He blesses Jesus, because he wants to bless all humanity by connecting each of us to Jesus by the Spirit. What the Father does flows out of who the Father is.
The Father, Son, and Spirit are all for us. There is not any part of God that is against us (Romans 8:26 Ė 39), even a sliver. Contrary to a popular misconception, the Father is not against us. So the Father does not use the Son as a 'shield' to protect us from his wrath. Instead, the Father, Son, and Spirit all target the corruption of sin in us. They are all against the corruption of sin within our human nature, not our personhood. Like a surgeon cutting the cancer out of our bodies, because of his love for us, they work together to heal us.
Furthermore, God does not tempt us with evil or use evil (Jas.1:13) and He certainly is not the source of evil; He is only goodness and life; He is against evil, even human evil. When we talk to non-Christians, we are not hiding something dark, sinister, or arbitrary about God behind our backs. When we have private conversations with ourselves where we doubt Godís trustworthiness, there is no place in God where those doubts can truly stick. Let them fall to the ground. We can turn with confidence to God in the fullness of who He is. We can look full in his face, in the face of Jesus, and see His holy goodness and love all the way through, without end. Here in the baptism and wilderness story of Jesus, we see Father, Son, and Spirit working for us and for our salvation. Letís stretch out our hands to this Triune God. He has appeared in Jesus to reveal all things to us, and, more than all things else, to love us.