March 23, 1997

A PLEASING SACRIFICE

Yet it pleased the Lord to to crush him and cause him to suffer. Isaiah 53:10

Who was most pleased by the suffering and death of Jesus?

Was it the soldier who got lucky in the dice game at the foot of the cross? He won the robe that Jesus had been wearing. He could add it to his wardrobe or else sell it. Either way, he had something extra to show for his day’s work.

Or was it, perhaps, the mob who howled insults at Jesus as he hung there? Mobs always have a lust for blood. They enjoy it when convicted criminals get the death penalty. This mob was no different. They knew Jesus was a rotten rabble-rouser. They knew he came from nasty Nazareth. It was good to be rid of him, and fun to watch him suffer the pain he deserved.

Or what about the leaders who arranged the crucifixion? Jesus had been a problem for them, and as they watched him die, they felt the pleasure and smugness that people always feel when a big problem is taken care of.

Who was most pleased by the crucifixion of Jesus? None of the people I’ve just mentioned. They had their reasons for being pleased, but the one most pleased by Jesus’ death was God. God? Yes, God! The Bible says in Isaiah 53:10, “It pleased the Lord to crush him and cause him to suffer.”

Isn’t that’s a shocking statement? Some Bible translations try to ease the shock a bit. They don’t say, “It pleased the Lord to crush him. They say, “It was the Lord’s will to crush him.” That’s a milder way of putting it, but even that is shocking enough. After all, saying, “It was the Lord’s will” is just another way of saying, “The Lord wanted this. The Lord wanted to crush him.” But as strong as that sounds, the original is even stronger. The old King James Bible is most accurate when it says, “It pleased the Lord.” It was his will, yes, but it more than that. It was his pleasure. It pleased the Lord to crush him.

Not only did this please the Lord, but the Lord is the one who made it happen. God didn’t just watch as Jesus was crushed by someone else. God himself crushed Jesus. Isaiah 53:10 doesn’t say that it pleased the Lord that he was crushed. Isaiah says, “It pleased the Lord to crush him.” God did it. He crushed him, says the Bible, and caused him to suffer. It doesn’t say God allowed him to suffer. It says God caused him to suffer. In the words of the King James Version, “he hath put him to grief.”

Pastor and author John Piper tells of a friend who was preaching at a prison the night before Good Friday.

During his message on the death of Christ, he stopped and asked the inmates, “Who do you think killed Jesus?” One said, “The Jews.” Another said, “The soldiers.” Another said, “Pilate.” Another said, “Judas.” The preacher said, “No, I don’t think you’re right.” They said, “Who then?” He said, “His Father killed him.”

There was silence. Then he read from the Bible, “The Lord was pleased to bruise him; he has put him to grief.” Jesus was not swept away by the wrath of uncontrolled men. He was bruised by his Father… This terrible truth held the attention of the inmates–some of whom knew what it was like to be rejected and “bruised” by an angry, unjust father. They were eager to hear why God would do such a thing.

You also might be wondering: Why would God do such a thing? Why would he take pleasure in crushing his own Son? Wouldn’t God be cruel and sadistic to delight in doing something so awful?

Let me say right away: God is not an abusive father. His pleasure in crushing Jesus was not the vicious glee of a brutal, overpowering parent inflicting pain on his unwilling, helpless child through brute force. God the Father never forced anything on his Son. He never put Jesus through anything that Jesus was unwilling to bear. Last week on this program we saw that nobody took Jesus’ life from him. He laid it down of his own accord. All the pain he suffered, he accepted freely. Jesus suffered and died, not because anyone forced him to do it, but because he chose to do it. He was a willing sacrifice. So whatever we say about Jesus’ death, we must never say that God is a cruel Father who crushed Jesus against his will.

Still, there’s no denying that in some sense, the death of Jesus was pleasing and satisfying to God the Father. Yes, Jesus was a willing sacrifice, (choosing to offer himself), but he was also a pleasing sacrifice (offered up by God and pleasing to God). “It pleased the Lord to crush him and cause him to suffer.” Why did it please God to do that?

In a few days it will be Good Friday, the day Christians commemorate the crucifixion of Jesus. Isn’t it a bit odd to call it Good Friday? And isn’t it almost offensive to say God was pleased to crush and crucify his own Son? Well, on today’s program we’re going to see why this pleased God. We’ll see why God himself considers Good Friday so good and so satisfying.

There was never any sorrow like Jesus’ sorrow, and yet the Bible says that it pleased the Lord to crush him. In another place the Bible says, “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” (Ephesians 5:2). What does it mean to say that Jesus death was a fragrant offering, a sacrifice pleasing to God?

Well, in order to see why Jesus’ death was a pleasing sacrifice, we first have to know what a sacrifice is. A sacrifice is where a person or animal is killed and offered up in place of someone else. To those of us who pride ourselves on being progressive, the whole idea of sacrifice may sound primitive. But to God, apparently, a proper sacrifice is pleasing.

We see this already in the first book of the Bible, the book of Genesis. God became so disgusted with human sin that he washed everything away with a great flood. Only Noah and his family were spared and kept safe in a huge boat, the ark, along with a pair of each kind of animal and seven pairs of each kind suitable for sacrifice. After the waters of the flood finally went down, Noah and his family and all the animals came out of the ark. “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord, and … he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: ‘Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done” (Genesis 8:20-22). The stench of sin still clung to those who survived the flood, but the sweet smell of sacrifice was pleasing to God, and he promised never again to unleash such such global destruction.

Later, when Israel became a nation, God commanded his people to offer a variety of sacrifices. Depending on the occasion the offering might be a bull, a sheep, a goat, or a dove. It had to be a perfect specimen, free from any defect. Those who offered the sacrifice would begin by laying their hands on the animal’s head to place their sins on it and mark it as their substitute. Then the animal would be slaughtered.

Its blood would be poured on the altar. In some cases the blood would also be sprinkled or smeared on the people for whom the sacrifice was offered. Through this the people learned that the only way a holy God could receive and bless them despite their guilt was that the blood of a substitute had been applied to them. God said, “I have given [the blood] to you to make atonement for yourselves on the altar; it is the blood that makes atonement for one’s life” (Leviticus 17:11).

Once the blood was applied, the animal or some part of it would be burned on the altar. This, God told Moses, would be “an aroma pleasing to God.” Read the first few books of the Bible, and you’ll come across that phrase over and over: “a pleasing aroma,” “an aroma pleasing to the Lord.” Why does God speak that way? What’s his reason for talking about the sweet smell of sacrificed animals? And why, in the New Testament, does he speak the same way about Jesus, saying that Jesus “loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God”?

What kind of God is this? What kind of God would like the smell of burning flesh? What kind of God would consider his Son’s death a fragrant sacrifice? Maybe you’d rather not hear about a God like that. You may like to hear how the Lord saved Noah from the flood, but you don’t like to hear how he was pleased by the aroma of Noah’s sacrifice. You may like to hear how the Lord used Moses to rescue Israel from Egypt, but you don’t like to hear how the sacrifices in the law of Moses were a pleasing aroma to God. You may like to hear that Jesus loved us, but you don’t like to hear that he gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God. But like it or not, that’s what the Bible says. You need to come to terms with these things if you want to know God as he is and not just as you imagine him.

The sacrifice of Jesus is supremely pleasing to God. As for the “pleasing aroma” of those earlier sacrifices, they had no power to please God or to pay for sins in and of themselves. They were pleasing to God only to to the extent that they provided a whiff of the great sacrifice yet to come. The Bible says:

“It is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins. Therefore, when Christ came into the world… he said: ‘Sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them (although the law required them to be made). Then [Jesus] said, ‘Here I am, I have come to do your will.’ … And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all” (Hebrews 10:4-10).

Jesus’ sacrifice is supremely pleasing to God. Why? First of all, simply because God is pleased with his Son and with anything he does. The Father said of Jesus, “This is my Son, whom I love; with him I am well-pleased” (Matthew 3:17). All that the Son is and all that he does brings infinite pleasure to God the Father.

By the same token, the Son’s greatest pleasure is to do his Father’s will. Jesus’ greatest desire is to magnify and show forth his Father’s glory, just as the Father’s greatest desire and pleasure is to magnify and show forth his Son’s glory. God the Father never does anything that will not ultimately glorify his Son, and Jesus never does anything that will not ultimately glorify his Father. So if the Father was pleased to crush his Son, and the Son willing chose to be crushed, there must be something about it that glorifies both Father and Son.

In fact, Jesus spoke over and over of his upcoming death, not so much as humiliation, but as glorification. He said,

“The hour has come for the Son of Man to be glorified… Now my heart is troubled, and what shall I say? ‘Father, save me from this hour’? No, it was for this very reason I came to this hour. Father, glorify your name!”

Then a voice came from heaven, “I have glorified it, and will glorify it again” (John 12:23-28).

In the same way, the night before Jesus was crucified, he prayed, “Father, the time has come. Glorify your Son, that your Son may glorify you” (John 17:1).

How do Father and Son glorify one another through the terrible sacrifice of the cross? How can there be glory and satisfaction in something so hideous? In his outstanding book, The Pleasures of God, John Piper has a chapter on God’s pleasure in the death of Jesus. In that chapter Piper tells this parable:

Once there was a land ruled by a wicked prince. He had come from a foreign country and enslaved all the people of the land and made them miserable with hard labor in his coal mines across the deep canyon. He had built a massive trestle for the trains that carried his slaves across the canyon to the mines each morning, and it was heavily guarded.

Two men were still free in this kingdom–one old and the other young. They lived on an inaccessible cliff overlooking the trestle. They hated the trestle. As last they resolved together to blow it up and destroy the slave labor of the enemy prince. They planned and they prayed and they reminded themselves of the reality of heaven.

The night came when the deed would be done. Their hearts were pounding with joy. It was a hard plan. It would be possible to time the trek of the trestle guard so that the explosive could be carried quickly to the vulnerable spot on the trestle. But there would be no time for the carrier of the explosives to return. It was certain that he would be seen and the plan foiled if he tried to return. To make sure the trestle blew up the two men agreed that the young man would detonate it by hand on the trestle. He would blow up with it.

But they believed in heaven, and they loved the people of the land. And so the honor of the sacrifice made their hearts leap with joy. The hour came. They folded up the map of their strategy, stood from the table and embraced each other. When the young man got to the door, he turned with the explosive strapped to his back, looked at the old man, and said, “I love you, Father.” And the old man took a deep breath–with joy–and said, “I love you too, Son.”

That’s only a story, of course, but it shows how something can be awful and wonderful at the same time. The death of one means the deliverance of many. The father’s heart swells with joy and love for his son, even as his eyes fill with tears at giving him up. The son delights in carrying out his father’s plan to rescue the people they love, even as he trembles that it means death for himself and grief for his father. Their most grievous deed is also their most glorious.

So it is with the sacrifice of Christ: it is the most grievous and the most glorious thing God has ever done for his world. In Isaiah 53 the Bible leaves no doubt that God was pleased to crush Jesus. It leaves no doubt that through Jesus’ sacrifice God was bringing about a great deliverance. It leaves no doubt that Jesus was suffering not on his own behalf but for us. And it leaves no doubt that death would not be the end of him, that he would not merely remembered and honored for his sacrificial death but that he would be glorified in resurrection life. God took pleasure in the sacrifice of his Son, and he also took pleasure in raising him and prospering him and giving him all eternity to enjoy his Father’s pleasure and to enjoy the many people he had saved.

Here’s how Isaiah 53 puts it:

Yet the Lord was pleased to crush him and cause him to suffer, and though the Lord makes his life a guilt offering, he will see his offspring and prolong his days, and the will of the Lord will prosper in his hand. After the suffering of his soul, he will see the light of life and be satisfied; by his knowledge my righteous servant will justify many, and he will bear their iniquities. Therefore [says God] I will give him a portion among the great… because he poured out his life unto death… For he bore the sin of many and made intercession for the transgressors.

Obviously, then, God’s pleasure in crushing Jesus was not the pleasure of an abusive, sadistic father. God’s immediate purpose was to rescue his sinful people by transferring their guilt and punishment to the only one who was able to pay for it. And his ultimate purpose was to glorify his Son and himself through accomplishing such a great salvation. His means of doing so was through the miracle of divine substitution: God the Son taking on a human nature as a substitute for sinful humanity.

As one writer puts it, “The biblical gospel of atonement is of God satisfying himself by substituting himself for us. The concept of substitution may be said, then, to lie at the heart of both sin and salvation. For the essence of sin is man substituting himself for God, while the essence of salvation is God substituting himself for man. Man asserts himself against God and puts himself where only God deserves to be; God sacrifices himself for man and puts himself where only man deserves to be.”

God wanted to show forth his glory by lavishing joy and honor on sinful people. But sin is an insult to his glory. If God simply ignored our sin, he would be acting as if his own glory and holiness didn’t matter. But if he simply vented his wrath on sinners, he would be wiping out the very people he loved and chose for himself.

To undo such an infinite insult and give God the infinite glory that is his by right, only an infinite sacrifice would do. Only the fragrant aroma of such a sacrifice could please God as much as the stench of sin displeased him. And what sacrifice could bring infinite pleasure to God? Only the sacrifice of the very Son he loved and took such pleasure in.

In going to the cross, Jesus paid an infinite tribute to God’s offended glory and poured out the infinite riches of God’s love. In crushing his Son, the Father said to all the world: “This is what my honor is worth. This is what it cost me to befriend sinners like you.” At the cross, God harmonized his pleasure in his own holiness with his pleasure saving his people.

God was pleased with what the sacrifice accomplished, and that gave him all the more reason to be delighted in his beloved Son for offering the sacrifice. Jesus had obeyed him perfectly and given himself completely. No creature would ever suffer anything so grievous or accomplish anything so glorious as this.

And so even as God laid our sins upon Jesus and turned his face away and gave him up to be sacrificed, he loved his Son with a splendid joy and took fierce satisfaction in him. He rejoiced afresh in how completely his Son loved him. He rejoiced in how the value of his Son’s sacrifice completely outweighed the dishonor of his people’s sins. He rejoiced that he would raise Jesus up and give him the name that is above every name. And he rejoiced in all the people who would look to Jesus and rest in his love and give him glory. It was indeed a pleasing sacrifice.

PRAYER

Holy Father, we bow before the mystery of your majesty and mercy at the cross. We marvel that in your holy love it pleased you to crush your Son. We are in awe, Lord Jesus, that you loved us and gave yourself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

And now, dear God, we repent of the ways we have offended your majesty and dishonored your holy name. In your mercy, Lord, look not at us but at the substitute you provided, the pleasing sacrifice of your Son. Forgive us and receive us for his sake. By your Spirit draw us to Christ, and dwell in our hearts through faith, that your Son’s glory may shine in us and bring pleasure to your heart and glory to your name. Amen.

By David Feddes. Originally broadcasted on the Back to God Hour and published in The Radio Pulpit.