The Father’s Good Pleasure: Delighting with God in the Secrets of Heaven
At that time Jesus said, “I praise You, Father, Lord of heaven and earth, because You have hidden these things from the wise and learned and revealed them to infants. Yes, Father, because this was Your good pleasure.” (Matthew 11:25–26)
In this spontaneous prayer, we glimpse a rare public moment between Jesus and the Father. The gospel writers frequently mention that Jesus would go away to pray alone, going to great lengths to find privacy for this purpose. He would go into the wilderness, pray all night long, or even take a stroll across the Sea of Galilee.
But we’re not often privy to his prayers. He went away. Matthew and the others couldn’t follow him to that secret place. And so we don’t really know what Jesus’s prayer life looked like.
That makes this passage particularly special, because Jesus prayed out loud in the company of his disciples and other onlookers. He prayed from the overflow of his heart, giving us a sense of what his prayer life looked like the rest of the time as well.
And that sense is beautiful. It is in fact a sense of overflow, of an ongoing communion with the Father that strengthened Jesus and filled him with joy. Jesus was in touch with the “good pleasure” of God and therefore shared in that pleasure.
Later, of course, Jesus’s prayer life would involve loud cries and sweating drops of blood; at other times, he wept and lamented. His walk with the Father was not one-dimensional.
But we know from this passage that Jesus knew, by experience, a truth undeniable and absolutely necessary to our success in the kingdom — that “the joy of the LORD is your strength” (Nehemiah 8:10, ESV).
Rejoicing in Trial
This moment is especially interesting because of its context: Jesus was moved to exclaim praise right on the heels of judgment and lament, and in a circumstance where he was being questioned and even judged.
Anyone who has been through misunderstanding, rejection, or persecution knows how painful they are. These experiences don’t naturally lead to praise and rejoicing. Yet Jesus knew the secret of transcending trouble by communing with the Father and sharing in his joys and pleasures.
The task of Jesus on this earth was an incredibly difficult one, but we shouldn’t conclude that he accomplished it by gritting his teeth and muscling his way through. Rather than human determination, it is joy — a joy shared with God through His Spirit — that empowers and inspires the greatest obedience. How else to withstand rejection, misunderstanding, ugly accusation, unjust arrest, and ultimately crucifixion, if not through the secret and sustaining happiness of God?
The apostle Peter, one of Matthew’s companions, would later exhort believers to do the same: with their eternal hope firmly in mind, they were to rejoice in times of trial and testing. In fact, rejoicing in trial is a common theme in the New Testament, and it would seem its writers learned it directly from Jesus’s example.
“Praise the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ,” Peter wrote to believers in challenging circumstances:
According to His great mercy, He has given us a new birth into a living hope through the resurrection of Jesus Christ from the dead and into an inheritance that is imperishable, uncorrupted, and unfading, kept in heaven for you. You are being protected by God’s power through faith for a salvation that is ready to be revealed in the last time. You rejoice in this, though now for a short time you have had to struggle in various trials so that the genuineness of your faith — more valuable than gold, which perishes though refined by fire — may result in praise, glory, and honor at the revelation of Jesus Christ. You love Him, though you have not seen Him. And though not seeing Him now, you believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because you are receiving the goal of your faith, the salvation of your souls. (1 Peter 1:3–9, emphasis mine)
The Joy of Sharing Secrets
Peter and Matthew share a similar emphasis not only in telling us to rejoice in trials but also by rooting that joy in sharing God’s secrets — we rejoice because of a salvation “ready to be revealed”; because of the praise, glory, and honor to come at the “revelation of Jesus Christ.” Though we don’t yet see him, Peter says, our faith in the secret God has shared with us enables us to “rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy.”
In this passage in Matthew, that’s very much what Jesus is doing. There is a special joy in sharing with someone else a knowledge that isn’t public, especially when you share it with someone who is dear to you, or when the knowledge is particularly wonderful.
There is also, as Jesus clearly recognizes, a pleasure to be found in keeping secrets, and in only selectively sharing them. And of course, there’s a special honor and joy in being in on the secret.
From what Jesus said here — and from several Old Testament passages as well, such as Proverbs 25:2 (“It is the glory of God to conceal a matter”) — we know that God feels this pleasure just as we do.
But rather than using his secrets to manipulate or gain power with an influential in-crowd, as we might tend to do, God is secure and powerful in himself, and he doesn’t need to use secrets as leverage. Instead, he delights in sharing them with the helpless and open-hearted. Jesus praised the Father because he had revealed the secrets of the messianic kingdom and the reality of divine visitation “to infants.”
According to Jesus’s prayer, God delights in revealing secrets to children — and conversely in giving old snobs who think they know everything their comeuppance. There is a mischievousness to him, like that of a grandfather who prefers to spend his time with the children and not in a boardroom trying to impress his contemporaries.
Years ago I went to see a speaker who, during the break in his day-long presentation, avoided the crowds of grown-ups who wanted to talk with him and instead sat on the steps at the front of the church and made paper airplanes with the children. They proceeded to fly them through the sanctuary, in thirty minutes of pure delight.
Jesus’s prayer here shows us many things — about God, about ourselves, and about the nature of the kingdom. Not least of these is a sense that God doesn’t take himself too seriously. G.K. Chesterton wrote in Orthodoxy, “We have sinned and grown old, and our Father is younger than we.”
Even in the midst of pain and trials, fellowship with God invites us into an experience of life that is young, that is full of hope and joy — a way of living that can laugh at the pride and so-called wisdom of the wise. It is not that God fails to understand the seriousness of the issues at hand, but rather that he is both so joyful in himself and also so much more aware of his ultimate victory that delight is always appropriate — for him and for his people.
At times we can recognize the holiest people in the room by asking the question, “Who’s laughing?”
Jesus found delight and pleasure in sharing secrets with the Father. We too are invited into his joy — though not seeing Him now, we believe in Him and rejoice with inexpressible and glorious joy, because we are receiving the goal of our faith, the salvation of our souls.
This is Part 200 in a series on the Gospel of Matthew, which you can access here. Unless otherwise marked, quotes are from the Holman Christian Standard Bible.
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