Matthew 22:15-22


            I want to admit right up front, I’m not much of a chess player. And even though I’m not like those professional players who win in no time flat, I have won a few games in my time. Now granted, it was usually against someone like my kids who really have no idea what they are doing. I will admit, it is an interesting game of strategy, but I just have never really gotten into it and don’t remember all the various rules involved. I do think it is amazing though how fast some people can play the game. It’s like they know exactly what the other person is going to do before they do it.

            I thought at one point that I could beat my nephew. I knew he was good at computers but I didn’t think he was much of a board game player, let alone the game of chess. Before I knew it, I realized that while he is not one of those professional players, I didn’t stand a chance. A couple of minutes after we started, that one-word no one wants to hear came out of his mouth, “Checkmate”. Needless to say, I was stunned. I sat there like, “No way! How did this happen?” I sat there trying to figure out a way in which he wasn’t right and I could try to survive a little longer. He just sat there and grinned and chuckled.

            The thing is, I thought I was doing pretty good. I had a few of his key players, I was getting closer to his king, but nope. But when I challenged him again, he just kept outmaneuvering me. His various moves and his willingness to sacrifice some of his pieces was just to bait me. Through his moves and his anticipation of what I would do, he moved me into his little trap and as he picked me apart, I started to feel rather uncomfortable.

            Talking about issues of faith can feel just like this. The culture, the people we talk with who may not agree with us, they can make us feel uncomfortable when a matter of faith or God comes up. And so we may compromise a position a little, give a pawn up or some other chess piece, thinking it isn’t a big deal. We can still win the discussion. But when we just keep giving in, we keep falling into their little trap. This happens because we don’t want to offend someone, we don’t want to hurt their feelings. We want everyone to like us. We want to feel accepted.

            The thing is though, Peter in his first letter tells us that as Christians we should always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have (1 Peter 3:15). He also goes on to say that we should do it with gentleness and respect. We should do it, as I was taught in Seminary, with patience and tact. Now I know that’s not always the easiest thing to do though. But the thing is, we are called stand on the Word of God. We’re told to trust in God above all things and we know from His Word and His promises that He won’t lead us astray. But for some reason, when we use God’s Word to defend our faith against social issues, the people want to make us feel uncomfortable. They want us to compromise. And when we do, they back us into a corner and tear us apart.

            Internally they have their game plan all figured. “If they say this, I’ve got them. If they go here, I’ve got them. He’s playing right into my trap.” And when they think they have you, they say to themselves, “Ha! Ha! I got you! Checkmate! What do you say now?”And before you can say anything, they say that you’re a bigot, that your insensitive, that you’re too out of touch with reality.

            You know, Jesus finds Himself in our Gospel reading in the same impossible position as we often do. Our Gospel reading takes place in the midst of Holy Week, in the midst of those days leading up to Jesus’ crucifixion. Jesus is in the temple teaching the people and rebuking the religious leaders. Matthew even tells us in the beginning of our text that “the Pharisees went out and laid plans to trap {Jesus} in His words. They sent their disciples to Him along with the Herodians” (22:15-16). Now the fact that the Pharisees are willing to tag team their attack against Jesus with the Herodians ought to tell us something right away. These two groups, they don’t get along with each other at all. They are always at odds in how things should be run and who is in charge. And yet here they are working together.

            They come together and Matthew says they are trying to trap Jesus in His words. They want to make Jesus look like a fool, like a criminal so that they can arrest Him and get rid of Him without the people getting upset with them. So essentially, the disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians are playing a verbal game of chess. Internally they’re like, “Let’s see how we can trip Him up. Let’s make Him think that we’re really doing this because we are actually concerned when we really aren’t. Let’s butter Him up a little, let’s blow some smoke up Jesus and then move in for the attack.” Then they say, “Uh, excuse us. Teacher, we know you are a man of integrity and that you teach the way of God in accordance with the truth. You aren’t swayed by men, because you pay no attention to who they are. Tell us then, what is your opinion? Is it right to pay taxes to Caesar or not?” (Matthew 22:16-17).

            After they ask Jesus this question, they’ve got to be thinking “Ha! Ha! We got you! If Jesus goes here, we’ve got Him. If He says this, and goes here, He’s playing right into our trap! Ha! Ha! Checkmate Jesus! You’re done for.”

            But they very quickly forget who they are dealing with. Jesus is not just any ordinary teacher, but One who literally perceives all things. He’s like the master chess player. And internally you can just see the wheels turning. In His mind, Jesus has to be like, “If I say that they should pay taxes, they will ….” Or “If I say that they shouldn’t pay taxes to Caesar, they will …” Matthew says that “Jesus, knowing their evil intent, said, ‘You hypocrites, why are you trying to trap me? Show me the coin used for paying the tax.’ They brought Him a denarius, and He asked them, ‘Whose portrait is this? And whose inscription?’” (22:18-20). Jesus puts himself in the position His opponents want Him to be in. And then Jesus goes in for the attack. Jesus says, “Give to Caesar’s what is Caesar’s, and to God what is God’s” (22:21). The disciples of the Pharisees and the Herodians are amazed and go away.

            And while it appears that Jesus has won the day … He has only won the battle for that particular piece. Next the Sadducees are going to come after Him, and then the Pharisees. They keep coming and coming, trying to back Jesus into a corner. But Jesus keeps chalking up victory after victory.

            The thing is, while it seems like Jesus is constantly winning, there is a deep, more cosmic battle going on. God’s Word is being challenged. The disciples of the Pharisees, the Herodians, the Sadducees, the Pharisees themselves … they are just pawns, they are just pieces in a much larger game.

            You see, the bigger game is one where the winner takes all. Satan wants you to compromise yourself, your beliefs, your faith so that he can attack you and ultimately defeat you. Satan wants to make you feel so uncomfortable in trying to defend your faith that you eventually just give it up all together. Giving up your faith, following Satan … that move only leads to eternal destruction.

            But on the other side of the board, God is using His pieces to advance His kingdom. And while some of His pieces have been sacrificed, while some of the prophets of old were beaten, pushed into a corner, and taken out … God continues to press on. God, in His great wisdom, is willing to sacrifice His most humble pawn. God willing sacrifices His own Son, He sacrifices Jesus on the altar of the cross. In that move, Satan is ecstatic, is elated, and filled with extra energy as all there is left is the King. “Checkmate! I’ve got you now God!

            Do you know what happens in chess when the pawn makes it all the way to the other end of the board? The pawn is promoted! On Easter morning, the humble pawn, our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ is promoted! He rises from the grave glorified, He is made perfect. He rises from the dead as the true King of kings and Lord of lords. In that resurrection, Satan, who thought he had won the game, is ultimately defeated. The name of Jesus is ultimately exalted as the name above all names, the name at which every knee will bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord, to the glory of God the Father (Philippians 2:9-11).

            And we carry that name with us, wherever it is that we go. As we confront the issues of society, as we address the issues which butt up against our faith and the Word of God … we can stand tall, we can stand confident that, even though Jesus has ascended up into Heaven and is above and beyond the mess of this world … He continues to rule. He rules over and deeply loves the world He created, died for, and will remake.

            You and I, we are humble pieces in the grandest game. The victory of Jesus, that is your victory. No matter what happens, when Christ returns, your body will be promoted. It will be raised up, made new, and you will get to live in the awesome glory of the new heavens and earth to come.

            So be bold with your faith. If it requires you to offend someone, then offend them but do it with gentleness and respect. Stand firm on the Word of God. Your Savior, He has sent His Holy Spirit to live and dwell in you, to give you the words to say when you need them. God is with you and in you and goes with you. He will bring you to the end of the game when He will finally say to sin, death, and Satan … Checkmate! Amen.

            The peace of God, which surpasses all human understanding, guard your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus our Lord, now and forever. Amen.


Add a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *