Ever since 7th grade I have loved playing chess, and for many reasons. Here is one: I would rather stalemate than lose. But not Jesus: he purposely lost the game so that we would both win. Let me explain, if I can:
In the game of Chess, a stalemate occurs when one player gets the others’ king in a position where everywhere the king tries to move he puts himself in check, or, “line of fire” and that’s illegal. If this happens it is because there are no other pieces for the player with the stalled king to move – they’re all taken or blocked and it’s his turn to move but he can’t. And since the attacking opponent cannot move until his opponent does – which he can’t, the game is stalemate. Why? Because neither party has the authority or power to move. Neither party, by rules of the game, can overcome the stalemate.
Jesus lamented over the Jews saying, “O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, the one who kills the prophets and stones those who are sent to her! How often I wanted to gather your children together, as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you were not willing. See! Your house is left to you desolate” (Matthew 23:37-38). Israel is unwilling to make a move toward her Messiah and Jesus can’t move toward her to rescue her because she is unwilling. Jesus wants to save her but he can’t because she does not want to be saved – thus, there is a stalemate! Neither party can do anything. Neither party is getting what they want. Israel is not getting what she wants, her Messiah, because she is not willing to come to Jesus, the only Messiah for Israel; and Jesus is not getting what he wants, his Jewish Remnant, because he is not willing to do anything more than to wait and hope. If Israel is to be saved, someone must be willing and have the authority to break out of the stalemate.
A student of Matthew’s gospel may object to the sincerity of Jesus’ desire to save Israel since Jesus was the one who hid the truth from them by speaking in parables, insuring that judgment would fall upon them as Isaiah foretold (Matthew 13:10-15; Luke 8:10). But God’s Divine initiative to judge his people with spiritual blindness because of their sin does not invalidate His desire to save them. God can be both severe and desirous at the same time. But this is no game! We are not simply gazing at carved inanimate objects on a board; we are staring with sorrow at generations of Jews, millions and millions of them who have come under a severe blindness from God. Our humble comfort is that it was not total and that it was not without a good purpose! (Romans 11:25).
More broadly speaking, if Jesus only offers himself and does nothing more for our unwilling hearts then everyone loses. Someone has to be unwilling to suffer the stalemate any longer, and this someone has to have the power and authority to break position. The question is: Who is this someone? The answer is Jesus! “. . . For not all (physical) Israel belong to (spiritual) Israel”, and, “And in this way all Israel will be saved”, that is, both Jew and Gentile who have been chosen by God (Romans 9:6ff; 11:26-27). It is true, no one will see Jesus as the Messiah unless the Father causes you to see who Jesus is (Matthew 11:27; 16:17). In order for anyone to see Jesus as her Messiah he must be made to see with new eyes. This is where the stalemate ends – and it ends with God who refuses to be resisted any longer (Romans 9:19-24). For everyone, both Jew and Gentile, our only hope is God’s sovereign initiative to give us a willing heart, without which, no one has any ability or desire to do what they need to do (Deut. 30:6; Jer. 31:33-34; 33:19-26; John 6:37ff).
I said earlier that Jesus can’t do anything but hope and wait. That would be true if Jesus was not sovereign and merciful. It would be perfectly just of Jesus to only offer himself to people who are unwilling – but that’s the problem, sinners will always be unwilling. But it would be merciful if he would “break position” and “pour on the house of David and on the inhabitants of Jerusalem the Spirit of grace and supplication; then they will look on Me whom they pierced. Yes, they will mourn for Him as one mourns for his only son, and grieve for him as one grieves for a firstborn” (Zech. 12:10). The Stalemate Is Canceled By Sovereign Grace! It is gracious indeed for God to offer salvation to unwilling sinners (Romans 10:21). But it is Sovereign Grace that goes beyond the mere offer (Romans 11:27) that makes unwilling sinners willing (John 6:37ff; 10:16, 26-30; 17:1-10)!
I’m so thankful that Jesus cleverly overcame a stalemate that would have cost me my eternal soul . . . he out-maneuvered my rebellion against him and graciously won the game on my behalf by losing his life so that I could live. It’s a win-win!