I recently read a story about a painting called “Checkmate” painted by Friedrich August Moritz Retzsch that used to hang in the Louvre Art Museum in Paris.
The painting depicts a chess match between the devil and Goethe’s Dr. Faust, who had sold his soul to the devil. It appears as if the devil has won. Faust has only the king, the queen, and a weak pawn left. The look on Faust’s face is one of abject despair. From across the chessboard the devil leers at him in anticipation of his expected victory. Ready to say, Checkmate!
A tour guide was taking a group through the gallery explaining the painting and its meaning. As the group moved on to another room, a young man who was a chess Champion from Russia stayed behind to study the painting. Suddenly, the tour group heard a shout from two corridors away, “It’s a lie! It’s a lie! The King has another move!”
I’m not a chess player. Nor do I know for certain the accuracy of this story. But I do know the King. And I know the devil is going to lose. The King and those on His side will win.
In one of the great “I AM” statements in the Bible Jesus said, “I am the resurrection and the life. He who believes in Me, though he may die, he shall live. And whoever lives and believes in Me shall never die.” (John 11:25-26).
The Master made this affirmation to Martha following the death of her brother, Lazarus. When Jesus heard that his friend Lazarus was sick and that Mary and Martha called for him, he waited two days before leaving for their home in Bethany.
When he arrived, Martha met him and said, “Lord if you had been here, my brother would not have died.”
Jesus responded, “Your brother will rise again.”
Martha thought he was referring to the final resurrection and expressed faith that he would rise again in the last day.
But Jesus had other plans. There was no need to wait. Because He who was “the resurrection and the life” had arrived. This audacious claim moved their hope from some far off event to the present time. Following his prayer to the Father, Jesus cried, “Lazarus, come forth!” And indeed he did.
It is ironic that as they journeyed from Bethany to Jerusalem, the apostles were concerned about Jesus’ safety. And theirs as well. They might be killed. Yet, they stood in the presence of life. But didn’t fully comprehend it.
On Friday, when Jesus died on the cross and was buried in Joseph’s tomb, it seemed that His life was over. Fearing for their own lives, the disciples ran like scalded dogs. Hiding behind close doors, they fearfully wondered what would happen next.
But Sunday erased their fears and resorted their hope. Jesus proved beyond all doubt that he was “the resurrection and life” as he rose from the grave.
Man’s greatest fear has always been death. And his greatest desire is the hope of life beyond. Homer Hailey in his book That You May Believe expressed it this way.
“The great pyramids of Egypt are monuments to man’s effort to provide for the future. Buried with the Pharaohs in these magnificent tombs were articles and servants to be used in the next world. From these gigantic tombs of one of the greatest of ancient civilizations to the burying grounds of the prehistoric American Indians, one finds artifacts buried with the dead to be used by them in the next life.”
“All of these,” observed Hailey, “are mute witnesses to man’s desire to live beyond this life; but until the coming of Jesus Christ, there was no clear positive voice that carried assurance of a resurrection.”
In the midst of a dying world Jesus makes this claim of resurrection and offers the hope of eternal life to you and me.
Checkmate, devil! You lose.
It may be Friday. But Sunday’s coming!
–Ken Weliever, The Preacherman