How many of you play chess? I’m absolutely no good at it, but occasionally it is fun to play against a computer program set on “easy”. I don’t play often. When I do, it’s purely for recreation.
However, to others chess can be serious business or a passion. I once had the privilege of visiting a royal palace in India. One courtyard in particular impressed me. It was laid out like a giant chessboard with alternating squares of red and white. At two opposite ends were elevated balconies which overlooked the board. The emperor would sit in one balcony. Visiting monarchs would sit in the balcony on the opposite side. They would play against each other using real people for pieces. The stakes were sometimes very high. If you won, it might mean that you gained territory from the other king. If your opponent captured your queen, she had to join his harem. Similarly, depending on how the game went, you would gain or lose the services of the councilors and courtiers who occupied the squares on the board.
One of the strategies a master chess player will sometimes use, is that of sacrifice. He deliberately lets his opponent take a piece for no obvious reason. It may not seem to make sense. Why weaken your own hand by giving up a piece? However, as the play develops, it turns out that the sacrifice put him in just the right place to exploit the other person’s position. The sacrifice becomes the key to victory. He turned an apparent weakness (losing a piece) into overwhelming strength.
In a sense, all of mankind was in the same fix as the people occupying the squares on that royal chessboard. God and Satan faced each other across the board. The stakes were high. The play would not just determine who our master would be, but was for our very souls. Whoever won would control our eternal destiny.
For a long time, it looked like Satan was winning. God opened the game by placing mankind in a wonderful garden. Satan enticed Adam and Eve to sin and got them kicked out of the garden. God responded to man’s resulting wickedness with the flood while sparing righteous Noah and his family. Satan countered with the Tower of Babel. To offset that, God chose Abraham and his descendants the Israelites to proclaim righteousness. Satan’s reply was to get the Israelites tied up in idolatry and exiled from their homeland. God sent Jesus to show us how to live. Satan arranged to have Him killed.
Move and counter-move, all through history it looked like Satan had the upper hand. It appeared that he was successful in undermining and undoing everything God attempted. But unknown to Satan, God was playing a deep game using a strategy He’d decided on before the game even began. Just when things looked hopeless, the perfect time came for God to sacrifice the most important piece on the board. God took death – Satan’s own weapon – and used it against him. Because of that one move, the game is over. Sure, there’s still some movement on the board, but it’s only cleaning up the details. God has declared “checkmate!” and there’s nothing Satan can do to get out of it.
Interestingly enough, our word “checkmate” comes from the Persian “shah mat” which means “the king is dead”. At God’s command, King Jesus sacrificed His life to “checkmate” Satan and, in doing so, give us life.
The winning move took everyone by surprise. Paul writes to the Corinthians, “When I came to you, brothers, I did not come with eloquence or superior wisdom as I proclaimed to you the testimony about God. For I resolved to know nothing while I was with you except Jesus Christ and him crucified. I came to you in weakness and fear, and with much trembling. My message and my preaching were not with wise and persuasive words, but with a demonstration of the Spirit’s power, so that your faith might not rest on men’s wisdom, but on God’s power. We do, however, speak a message of wisdom among the mature, but not the wisdom of this age or of the rulers of this age, who are coming to nothing. No, we speak of God’s secret wisdom, a wisdom that has been hidden and that God destined for our glory before time began. None of the rulers of this age understood it, for if they had, they would not have crucified the Lord of glory.” (1 Corinthians 2:1-8 NIV)
Each week we gather to remember and to celebrate the winning move which conquered death and broke Satan’s power. The bread we eat and the juice we drink remind us of the sacrifice which won the game. Yet, there’s also a lesson we can learn from it: Often the only way for us to overcome the opposition we face is through sacrifice. God turns our weakness into strength. Speaking of Jesus the Apostle Paul writes, “For to be sure, he was crucified in weakness, yet he lives by God’s power. Likewise, we are weak in him, yet by God’s power we will live with him to serve you. (2 Corinthians 13:4 NIV)
Are you losing in the game of life? Do you see no way out of your situation? Then, sacrifice self and ambition so that His power may “checkmate” the forces which are against you.
Today as we eat and drink, let’s not only remember God’s winning move, but ask ourselves what we need to sacrifice in order to win.