Connections 01.08.2023: Who Jesus Is

Matthew 3:1-17

The four Gospels record many similar depictions of Jesus’s life, death, and resurrection, and each writer also includes unique parts of Jesus’s story. When we study the Bible, we remember that the similarities and differences between the Gospels are important. We take care not to smoosh the four Gospel accounts into one indistinguishable tale; the four different points of view give a fuller picture of Jesus than any single writer could convey. They show many dimensions of Jesus, and they also show the consistency of who Jesus is.

All four Gospels record John the Baptist’s baptism of Jesus, but only Matthew includes this aside: “John would have prevented him, saying, ‘I need to be baptized by you, and do you come to me?’” (3:14) This reminds me of John 13, the only place in the Gospels that tells of Jesus washing his disciples’ feet on the night before his crucifixion. When Jesus knelt to wash Peter’s feet, John’s Gospel says that the well-meaning disciple protested and insisted he should be washing Jesus’s feet instead. Peter’s instinctive response was to serve the Lord instead of being served by him.

Matthew’s “last supper” scene in chapter 26 does not include Jesus’s humble action or Peter’s confused good intentions. But here, at the very beginning of Jesus’s ministry, Matthew records a similarly surprising exchange between Jesus and his cousin John the Baptist. John seems to know that Jesus holds true authority to baptize and to proclaim redemption and forgiveness and the nearness of the kingdom of God. It’s no wonder John protests and insists that he should be baptized by Jesus instead. It’s no wonder John’s instinctive response to Jesus was to be baptized instead of being the baptizer.

But in answer to John’s protest, Jesus says, “Let it be so now; it is proper for us in this way to fulfill all righteousness” (3:15). Then he moves into the water.

Amid all the similarities and differences of the Gospel accounts, one consistent thing about Jesus—for his whole life long—is how he defies expectations. He defies even the expectations of those who know him best: those who prepare his way and those who walk with him on the way. Here at the riverbank, even before the voice from heaven proclaims, “This is my Son” (3:17), Jesus “fulfills righteousness” not as the baptizing authority but as the humble recipient of his cousin’s ministry. Jesus’s whole life is full of surprises. The Gospel writers may all take different views and tell different stories, but they all tell this: that Jesus’s unexpected words and actions show us exactly who he is. We may never know what to expect of him, but we can know him.


  • As we begin a new year, many of us may be reflecting on who we are and planning changes to help us get closer to who we hope to become. We may even make New Year’s Resolutions about how we want to follow Jesus more faithfully. How do Jesus’s surprising actions help us see the ways we can follow him in humility and service?
  • How are Jesus’s unexpected teachings and actions an expression of who he is? How do those around him (and how do we) come to know him through the ways he takes them by surprise?
  • As you think about ways that you are growing in this phase of your own life, what is consistent about your own character? Do you feel led to make changes, or to speak and act in ways that are most true to who you truly are? What does Jesus’s model of consistent character teach you?
  • People who have been active in church and in Bible study for many years may feel that they know Jesus quite well. Are there stories of Jesus that still surprise you? What is something you thought you understood about Jesus that you have been questioning or curious about lately?
  • Do you tend to equate faith with certainty? Do you feel discomfort at the idea of being surprised by Jesus’s words and actions, either in the Bible or in your own life?

Nikki Finkelstein-Blair is the lead editor of Connections. She is a graduate of Samford University and Central Baptist Theological Seminary, and as a military spouse has had nine (at last count) different hometowns in the past 20 years. She and her husband Scott and sons Sam and Levi live in the Washington D.C. area. In recent years, Nikki has written Smyth & Helwys curricula as well as devotionals for and Baptist Women in Ministry. She weaves clergy stoles, knits almost anything, and dreams of making her dreadful novel drafts into readable books. She blogs about faith and making things at


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