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Sunday, November 20, 2016

Motion Granted

“Yet it pleased the Lord to bruise him; he hath put him to grief.”
(Isaiah 53:10, KJV)

“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased.”
(Matthew 3:17, KJV)

Not only the King James Version but many English translations of the Bible, old and modern, use the word “pleased” in both verses, accurately reflecting the meanings of the relevant words in each original language. Both the Greek and Hebrew words translated “pleased” have wide semantic ranges and are frequently rendered as “pleasure” or “delight”.

Still, it seems obvious to us that there are two very different kinds of pleasure in view here.

Down in the Jordan

The use of “pleased” in Matthew seems quite natural, doesn’t it? The Father looks down on his Son standing in the Jordan River and feels absolutely compelled to make a clear distinction between the Holy One of God and the “brood of vipers” among which his Son has chosen to (symbolically) repent under the hand of John. Jesus, as always, is doing the will of his Father: living the same life, passing through the same circumstances, even undergoing all the same rites as his fellow Hebrews. These “children” share in flesh and blood, so he takes part in the very same things they all do. Today, that means baptism.

Can he help it if remarkable things happen when he’s just being himself?

So Jesus comes up out of the water and the Holy Spirit descends like a dove and rests on him. “Well pleased,” says the Father: eudokeĊ. We have no difficulty substituting “delighted” here, do we?

Putting the Son to Grief

In Isaiah, however, the use of “pleased” seems a little harder to account for. If nothing else, common sense and experience inform us that human fathers who take delight in their sons are appalled and stricken when those children come to serious injury. We would expect no less of God the Father, would we? Thus the phrase, “pleased [chaphets] to bruise him” sounds more than a little jarring to the modern religious ear.

The three hours of darkness that fall on the land, the tearing of the temple curtain from top to bottom, the earthquake, the splitting of rocks and the opening of the graves of the saints — all these testify that the Father was very displeased indeed with those who had laid wicked hands on his Son.

No, if the Father was pleased at the cross, it was in a very different sense.

May It Please the Court …

The phrase “May it please the court” is still heard occasionally, a holdover from a time in which the word “pleasure” was often a synonym for “will”. No attorney using it imagines for a second that his request will bring a goofy grin of delight to the face of the jurist in front of him. What he means is that he hopes the judge will rule in his favour; that it might be the court’s will to give him the answer he hopes for.

Likewise, the Father’s delight at the cross is in the accomplishment of his good and perfect will, not in the suffering of his Son. As Isaiah puts it only a few verses later:
“When his soul makes an offering for guilt,
he shall see his offspring; he shall prolong his days;
the will of the Lord shall prosper in his hand.
Out of the anguish of his soul he shall see and be satisfied.”
Satisfied. Entirely satisfied. The Heavenly Court is truly pleased, folks.

Shaking the Epochs

The guilt of not just a man, a woman or even a nation is to be atoned for, but the entire family of man throughout all of human history. In fact, a new sort of family entirely is to come out of this terrible exercise, a truth of tremendous benefit to you and to me, his “offspring”. The Son is to rise in resurrection life, his days prolonged eternally — though of course nobody standing around the cross of the Lord Jesus can foresee this despite the fact that he has clearly stated it again and again. This will of God is not just to be grudgingly executed, but to prosper under the hand of the Son, and there is full and complete satisfaction to be derived from his spotless sacrifice.

If God takes pleasure in the tremendous, epoch-shaking accomplishments of the Lord Jesus Christ, we can hardly be surprised. But can we really envision God delighting in the process of his Son’s abuse? In his bruising?

I think not.

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