The Devil’s Gambit
Written August 2017
Matthew 4:1-11 (ESV) Then Jesus was led up by the Spirit into the wilderness to be tempted by the devil. 2 And after fasting forty days and forty nights, he was hungry. 3 And the tempter came and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, command these stones to become loaves of bread.” 4 But he answered, “It is written, “‘Man shall not live by bread alone, but by every word that comes from the mouth of God.'” 5 Then the devil took him to the holy city and set him on the pinnacle of the temple 6 and said to him, “If you are the Son of God, throw yourself down, for it is written, “‘He will command his angels concerning you,’ and “‘On their hands they will bear you up, lest you strike your foot against a stone.'” 7 Jesus said to him, “Again it is written, ‘You shall not put the Lord your God to the test.'” 8 Again, the devil took him to a very high mountain and showed him all the kingdoms of the world and their glory. 9 And he said to him, “All these I will give you, if you will fall down and worship me.” 10 Then Jesus said to him, “Be gone, Satan! For it is written, “‘You shall worship the Lord your God and him only shall you serve.'” 11 Then the devil left him, and behold, angels came and were ministering to him.
I love playing chess. My grandfather taught me how to play when I was 7 or 8 years old and I guess I have had a love for the game ever since then. I was part of the chess club in eighth grade and my friends and I regularly played in high school as something fun to do to pass the time during breaks or lunch. Now, don’t get me wrong, please do not confuse my love for playing chess for skill. On my best day I have mediocre to fair skills, on my worst I struggle to beat the beginner level of chess on the computer. Win or lose, though, I really enjoy playing the game when I get a chance.
For those that might be unfamiliar with chess, it is a board game played on a checkered game board with 64 squares arranged in an 8×8 grid, the same as a checkerboard. Each player has 16 pieces: eight pawns; 2 rooks; 2 knights; 2 bishops; 1 queen; and 1 king. Each of the different types of pieces have a distinct way of moving and attacking other pieces. The objective is to checkmate the opponent’s king by placing it under an inescapable threat of capture. To this end, a player’s pieces are used to attack and capture the opponent’s pieces, while supporting each other.
In chess there are numerous openings and strategies that are employed to defeat an opponent. One of the openings that has been used for almost 500 years is something called a “gambit.” A gambit is a chess opening in which a player, more often White, sacrifices material, usually a pawn, with the hope of achieving a resulting advantageous position.
Simply put a gambit is when someone sacrifices a piece in order to gain an advantage. Interestingly, the word gambit comes from the ancient Italian word gambetto, meaning “to trip.” Let that sink in. A gambit is when an opponent tries to trip you up by supposedly giving you something good only to find out that in taking something you gave up so much more.
The devil is the master of the gambit.
In Matthew chapter 4, Jesus is being tempted by the devil and 3 times the devil places a gambit in front of Christ to take but three times Christ refused. Christ knew the game the devil was playing and refused to exchange His holiness for the devil’s happiness.
First the devil put forth the idea that Christ could change the rocks about them into bread. Scripture even states that Christ had fasted and was hungry. Undoubtedly too, Christ could. Amongst the many miracles that Christ would do this one would certainly have ranked among the least spectacular if there was such a thing. What would Christ have gained and lost in this gambit. He would have gained a full belly and the strength which would come through the sustenance of the bread but he would have lost His reliance upon God the Father for His needs and denied God’s all-satisfying and all-sufficient goodness. Jesus would have fulfilled His wants apart from God’s will and in doing so would have said God is not worthy to be trusted to meet our needs. Jesus would have gained a few crumbs but the devil would have gained the victory.
The devil uses this gambit on us as well. We all have desires in our lives, and for the most part these desires are not bad. There are physical desires like food and shelter as well as spiritual desires to be loved and feel valued in society. Nothing is wrong with these desires, it is in fulfilling these desires that the devil lays his trap. You see there are two ways to fulfill the desires of our hearts, God’s ways, or the wrong way. Usually the devil’s gambit in this aspect of our lives comes in the way of speed over patience.
For teenagers and young adults that desire to be loved, in a relationship, and with someone the devil offers those relationships and says do whatever you want and get it now and they gain some fleeting pleasure in exchange for their purity the chance for greater intimacy in marriage and their obedience to God against practicing sexual immorality.
For adults the desire to be in a good job or to move up in a company is good but so often the devil offers it quickly in the form of white lies and deception. For those that take the easy path and lie on a resume or falsify documents or fib about their performance instead of going down the path of honesty, they gain the position but lose their integrity, tarnish their character, and begin down a path of continuing the same behavior. Little is gained, much is lost.
The get it now gambit is something we are confronted with constantly as the devil will always make an easy path towards pleasure, success, or achieving a goal. But be warned the benefit is small and the cost is great.
Along with the get it now gambit is the control gambit. In verses 5 and 6 the devil tempts Jesus to to jump off the temple and allow himself to be rescued by angels thus showing all of Jerusalem that He was the Messiah. The devil even quoted Scripture from Psalm 91 about how God was a God of protection. The gambit that was offered was the opportunity to try and control God. By jumping from the temple’s pinnacle Jesus would have been saying “God by my actions I am going to control what You do.” However by doing this Jesus would also be saying God I don’t trust You. What would be gained, a sense of independence, what would be lost the testimony that God is completely trustworthy. The devil said whole point of the jump was to show that God was faithful to His promises the reality was that the jump would have been a manipulation of God’s promises for a selfish means. The point in which we try and force God to do anything we are in effect saying that God is not God. By the way, that is one of the devil’s goals for our life.
The control gambit comes very subtly in our own lives. It usually is presented in the tempting form of doubt, disobedience, and manipulation. How many times has the easy pathway of doubt been presented to us in our lives because things have not gone our way? We didn’t get the job we wanted, the cancer came back, the speeding ticket did not get thrown out. Then the opportunity comes our way to not trust God, His promises, or His presence. We are being given the opportunity to throw all of that away and embrace the sweet chance to worry and do whatever we want to get our way. We gain a chance to run away from God, but if we run away from God guess who we are running towards? We might gain a little smug happiness when we say I don’t need God but we lose the comfort and the peace in being close to God as we run from Him.
The control gambit can also come in the form of disobedience. We know that we ought to worship regularly, give regularly, forgive regularly, pray regularly, avoid evil and embrace good, or whatever and the opportunity comes to disobey. We know that it is wrong but we have in the back of our minds if God really didn’t want me to do this then He wouldn’t have allowed these chances to come into my life in the first place and if He doesn’t want me do this then He will stop me supernaturally. Did you see it? Disobedience and manipulation. I can control God and manipulate God and His promises to my own benefit. That is putting God to the test saying I am going to do this and if God wants to stop me He would have never let this happen to me or He’ll take care of it after the fact.
When we take this gambit we gain the fleeting pleasure of sin and lose the trust we had in God and the closeness we enjoyed in His presence. On paper it seems so easy to see yet how often do we take this foolish gambit when we avoid praying, avoid worship, partake of sin, push the very boundaries of the commands of Scripture just to see if God will intervene. The control gambit also tells us we can control God if we simply try but in reality we are exchanging a fleeting feeling of power for the reality that we just pushed God away from our lives.
The final gambit is the one I call the world gambit. I say the world gambit because it is just that. It is when the devil offers us the world but if we take it we would lose everything. In verses 8 and 9 the devil allows Jesus to see all the kingdoms of this world, either through a vision or top a very high point and offers them to Jesus if He would bow down and worship him. In essence the devil was saying Jesus I know these one day will be Yours, but if you are a king who would you stoop to be a servant, if you are Messiah why go to the cross, get it now, all it will cost is you bowing to me. Had Jesus done this He would have exchanged His end time exultation from the Father for the right now exaltation of a snake. He would have exchanged God’s plans for the devil and been unworthy of the cross.
The world gambit is a play for the most sought after thing of your heart and it is the most dangerous and tempting gambit of them all. It promises you all the things you have ever wanted but it will cost more than you ever imagined. This gambit doesn’t always come as a get it right now event, sometimes it is a subtle long term gambit but it comes and promises great things but delivers disaster.
For some it is the promise of great wealth, just work hard and don’t get involved with church and people take it and the kingdom of God suffers, the family falls apart, souls drift far from God but wealth and business success is there.
For others it is a life free of illness and great healthy living for all of your days, the cost is focus every bit of your energy on staying healthy and doing things for yourself. In reality your body is strong and your spirit is weak because all that is cared about is your physical self and not your eternal soul.
Countless people live taking this gambit from the devil. The question is are you?
I have often wondered how many of us would take this offer from the devil if he came and offered it to us. Here is the offer, that he would make sure our kids grew up healthy and strong. They would suffer no great injury throughout their life which would leave them disabled, they would suffer no great illness like cancer which could take their life. They would do well in school and graduate college and get good jobs. They would meet someone special that and would fall in love and be wed and they in turn would have good healthy children which would bless you as a grandparent. They would live good long lives and be great children to you throughout your life. The only cost is that they would give up the chance of ever knowing Christ as their Savior.
Would you take it?
Would you believe me if I told you that more people than you could ever imagine have already taken it?
I am gob smacked at the incredible lengths I have seen parents go to in order to give their children any number of the things listed above. I’ve seen parents spend obscene amounts of money on special fruits and vegetables and go to great lengths to make sure they children have the right nutrition in their bodies so they can grow up free from cancer or illnesses but do absolutely nothing to expose them to the Bread of Life.
There are parents who do everything in their power to pour knowledge and education into their child’s mind to give them the knowledge of the universe itself but avoid the knowledge of God like the plague. There are parents who do everything to train their children to have great relationships with others but do not teach them to have a relationship with God.
There are parents who make sure their children are present at every sports event so their bodies can grow and become strong and they can know the value of teamwork but do little to show them the value of the body of Christ.
In the world gambit you get what your heart wants. Your kids are great, you have the perfect job, you have a full bank account, you are illness free, but you are spiritually bankrupt.
Your kids can knock a ball out of the park but they did not answer the call of Christ when He was knocking on their hearts.
You have the job everyone envies but you missed your chance to be part of the body of Christ.
You have money to burn but money cannot buy your way into heaven.
You are healthy but do not know the Great Physician.
Let us remember that outside of Christ we have no hope of having a magnificent and fulfilling life, but in Christ we already have the greatest life possible.
Today, have you fallen for one of the devil’s gambit? The good news is that unlike chess you can take moves back. In chess that would be called cheating in life it is called repentance. We all have times where we falter but it is in those times where we realize or faults and seek the forgiveness of Christ and repent we find the amazing grace of God and are able to get our lives back on track again.
Dear Jesus, thank You for the amazing example You gave in overcoming the temptations of the devil. Thank you for revealing his tricks and his schemes. Help us to spot those tricks that are used on us and help us to avoid taking the gambits of the devil. Help us we pray to overcome them and to have in our lives practices that honor You above all. Help us to never exchange the fleeting pleasures of this world for the amazing lives you have promised us if we simply follow you in humble obedience. Amen.