check mate | John 19.12-16
From then on Pilate sought to release him, but the Jews cried out, “If you release this man, you are not Caesar’s friend. Everyone who makes himself a king opposes Caesar.” So when Pilate heard these words, he brought Jesus out and sat down on the judgment seat at a place called The Stone Pavement, and in Aramaic Gabbatha. Now it was the day of Preparation of the Passover. It was about the sixth hour. He said to the Jews, “Behold your King!” They cried out, “Away with him, away with him, crucify him!” Pilate said to them, “Shall I crucify your King?” The chief priests answered, “We have no king but Caesar.” So he delivered him over to them to be crucified. John 19.12-16 | ESV
Pilate so desperately wanted to cut Jesus loose. But the religious assemblage at his door wouldn’t let him off the hook – they set the hook all the harder into his political jaw: “You let this man go, then you’re no friend of Caesar! Anyone posturing himself as ‘king’ is defying Caesar to his face – and so, ‘friend,’ how can you just sit there and do nothing?”
In this chess game of politics, they just shouted,“Check!”
Pilate refused to be cornered. He brought Jesus out one more time, moving the proceedings to the final political chessboard – the Great Stone Floor (though the locals called it “the High Slab”). The sun was just making its way over the horizon, but for Pilate it was high noon. Passover was on the doorstep. Pilate makes his move. “Look, he’s one of your own – and he’s your king!” That just got them started into another round of loud chanting, “Away, away – nail him to a cross!” Pilate makes his final move: “Your king? Really, shall I crucify your king?!” One loud priestly chorus answers him: “Caesar is our only king!”
Pilate was done. There was nothing else to do but surrender the “king.” He handed him over as they wished for crucifixion. MAV (Mike’s Amplified Version)
A high stakes political chess match with cosmic consequences.
That’s how this tragic scene plays out.
Move and counter move.
Check and check mate.
You feel the hapless desperation of Pilate to free Jesus – caught between the fear of what the death of this mysterious “god-man” might cost him personally and the fear of the political fallout if he spared him.
How hard he tried to escape both.
Matching his desperation is the hardened determination of the religious crowd to have their way. How fitting that in its final act the “game” moves to the huge chess board of Gabbatha, the Pavement, the High Slab – which was evidently composed of large square stones arranged like a mosaic. So easy to see Jesus as the mere pawn moved around by self-supposing “kings” – for that is how he allowed himself to be used, though he was, in reality, the only King on the board.
Perhaps the disciples’ prayer is the most fitting way to conclude this week’s reflection – as a reminder that ultimately there is only one Hand that plays on this or any chessboard in life:
“Sovereign Lord, who made the heaven and the earth and the sea and everything in them, who through the mouth of our father David, your servant, said by the Holy Spirit,
‘Why did the Gentiles rage,
and the peoples plot in vain?
The kings of the earth set themselves,
and the rulers were gathered together,
against the Lord and against his Anointed’—
for truly in this city there were gathered together against your holy servant Jesus, whom you anointed, both Herod and Pontius Pilate, along with the Gentiles and the peoples of Israel, to do whatever your hand and your plan had predestined to take place.” Acts 4:24-28 | ESV
Where on the chessboard of your life do you most need the reminder that God’s hand is sovereign?
Lord, when the power struggles of life threaten to drag me down and under, lift my eyes to see once again that it is Your Hand that is sovereign in each and every move; and let this not lull me into a fatalistic sleep, but invigorate me with fresh passion to engage in the game of life. Through your mercies. Amen.