Only God Wins
Big Idea: they think they’ve won - But only God wins
Who’s a chess fan here? Any chess fans? I wouldn’t call myself a fan but I know how a horsie moves around board and if it came down to it, I could probably put up just a little bit of a fight.
When you play chess - or other games for that matter - it’s all too easy to think you have the cunning plan of the century, to think that you have set things up just so carefully, that you’re right on the cusp of winning - one move away from checkmate.
It’s all too easy to think that, and then to have your opponent make a move you’d overlooked and boom! It’s all over! Who’s been there?
The Bible is really a library of books held together by one cover and as a church we’ve been working our way through one of them, the Gospel of Luke, bit by bit for the last few years now. The Gospel of Luke is a book written by a guy unsuprisingly called Luke, a doctor with an eye for detail who tells us the story of Jesus’ life.
You’ll be pleased to know we’re getting really near to the climax of the story now. Today we’re going to hear Luke set the scene for the final critical sequence of events. And really what he’s doing here is like showing you a chess board, showing you the pieces, showing you how everything seems to be set up for the endgame - for a win, a dark victory.
Today we’re going to hear Luke set the scene for the final critical sequence of events. And really what he’s doing here is like showing you a chess board, showing you the pieces, showing you how everything seems to be set up for a victory, a dark victory.
Rachel’s going to come and read to us now - we’re reading from Luke chapter 22, that’s page 1057 in these blue bibles, and look for the big 22. We’re reading just the first section of that chapter. Luke chapter 22, page 1057.
Reading: Luke 22:1-6
So as the moment of truth approaches, Satan makes his move. But let me hit pause for a moment right there.
In the Bible, Satan is the personal name for God’s supernatural enemy. The word Satan, which is Hebrew in origin, literally means “adversary” - but when the Bible talks about Satan, it’s referring to a specific, personal, supernatural being: God’s adversary.
Are we really going to talk about supernatural evil spirits? Is it reasonable to even discuss things like this in sophisticated twentyfirst century Scotland? You might well be thinking this was this just an attempt by naive pre-modern people centuries ago to explain things they didn’t like when they didn’t know any better.
Well, first off, we should be cautious of writing them off as naive simpletons who would believe just about anything because they understood so little. It was a long time ago, sure, and some of the ideas they had for how to explain things were pretty crazy - you can probably think of examples - but they weren’t stupid. When they acknowledge evil supernatural beings, they have reasons for doing so. They don’t blame anything and everything on them. I mean here, Luke hasn’t mentioned Satan since chapter 13. And a lot’s happened that you might imagine would be pinned on him.
Second, even in our modern sophisticated world, you might be surprised just how many people are pretty confident there are good and evil supernatural beings kicking around. If no-one believed things like this any more, perhaps we would have a better reason to question it. But here’s a 2015 UK survey for you: 82% of respondents said they believed in the supernatural. 82%! 68% said they had personally experienced a supernatural event. It’s actually a dominant belief, even in twentyfirst century Britain.
So even if you’re certain there’s no such thing, because you’ve never experienced it and it doesn’t have a place in today’s chemistry or physics, the fact that so many others believe and have even personally experienced such things should perhaps give you pause for thought. Maybe, just maybe, you’re not smarter than everyone else.
Ultimately for us as a church, we believe this because we believe the Bible is a trustworthy and authoritative source. It tells us there is an evil spirit called Satan, that he is God’s enemy, that he has significant powers, that he’s been working to ruin things in God’s creation right from the beginning. It’s not a popular topic or a cheery one, but it’s there.
for The wouldn’t confuse We’re seriously guilty of “chronological snobbery” sometimes: arrogantly believing we’re so much smarter, so much wiser; that we, finally, are the generation who actually get it.
Evil in people for sure - but there is something more; perhaps you have experienced it
Bible speaks of an active, personal evil in the world
So Satan makes his move. Now one of the questions I had about this passage is “why like this?” I mean, if Satan wants to get rid of Jesus, aren’t there better ways, aren’t there so much easier ways of doing that?
An evil with significant power
Enemy of everything good who’s tried to ruin things from the beginning
Well, to start with, Satan can’t beat Jesus head to head - or he would. Think about this: if he could just step in and take Jesus out himself, surely he would have done that ages ago, right? Why is that? because Jesus has supernatural defence in his pocket - and Satan knows it: in Jesus tells us he can call on his Father and at once have twelve legions of angels at his disposal. And at this time it seems a legion was 6,000 soldiers. So that’s a SWAT team of 72,000 angels ready to defend him. A frontal assault is out of the question. Satan can’t afford to go head-to-head.
And he can’t “turn” Jesus either - that’s what the story of Jesus’ temptation back in chapter 4 shows us. Satan tried offering Jesus all sorts of things, offering him the world if he’d just come to heel. He’s tried that and failed: Jesus is pure. Though tempted like us, he doesn’t fall. Luke tells us at the close of that encounter Satan left Jesus, left him until “an opportune time” - until the right moment.
So he can’t go head-to-head, and he can’t turn him. But there are still plenty of options - why go for Judas, one of Jesus’ 12 chosen core followers? I mean, why not just take over someone with a sword as Jesus was passing? Peter had a sword on that fateful night in Gethsemane. Or spook a horse and run him down with an out-of-control cart? That sort of accident happened often enough.
But Satan has waited a long time for the right moment. Why is this, with Judas, the right move?
Waited a long time for the right moment - and now it’s come
I think it’s carefully planned to inflict maximum damage. Satan doesn’t just want Jesus dead - he hates every good thing God has planned and has done. He wants to destroy it all - and I think this move has an evil logic to it.
Use one of the inner circle to betray - they’ll never trust each other again. Or Jesus for picking him.
Why not just take over someone with a sword?
Have Judas betray Jesus to the chief priests, those meant to protect and nurture God’s people - and they destroy the only one who could have rescued God’s people from his grasp.
But I think this is a carefully planned move:
Use those appointed by God as part of his salvation plan to sabotage and ruin that very plan. There’s an evil logic to it.
Have a key insider stab him in the back
Have the people’s leaders mastermind his death
Evil beauty to destroying God’s rescue plan using the very people it is intended to rescue
So Satan enters Judas. That’s the way doctor Luke explains what’s happened and it’s the language of possession. Let’s take just two minutes to cover some questions off around this. Class is in session: Possession 101
Did Judas “leave the door open” for Satan? Was he particularly vulnerable? Could he have resisted Satan’s entering in if he wanted to?
Alas, I don’t know the answers to those questions. The Bible doesn’t always tell us everything we want to know about these subjects - it just tells us everything we need to know. Here’s what we do see: Satan is after all of Jesus’ twelve core followers - v31 - but Jesus tells Peter he’s prayed for him, and he’s certain Peter won’t fall. So Jesus seems to have the power to stop Satan doing things like this. And Jesus, when he’s teaching his followers to pray, teaches them to pray “deliver us from Evil” - which can mean personal evil, the evil one - so God has this power to prevent it too.
Once Satan has entered Judas, does Judas become a puppet? No
Why do I say that? Well first of all, Judas seems to act inline with his character even after Satan has entered into him. Over in John’s gospel we learn Judas does not care about the poor, but is in fact a thief and used to help himself to Jesus’ cash. Here we don’t see him betray Jesus because he hates him - he’d do that for free; it’s for money. Matthew’s gospel records him asking “what are you willing to give me?...” “show me the money”, he says. Judas is still Judas - in it for the money. If Jesus isn’t going to make him rich, perhaps betraying him will.
Second, the Bible holds Judas responsible: Luke goes to pains to show it’s Judas doing the betraying, not Satan hiding under his flesh. v47 narrates “the man who was called Judas” arriving to betray, emphasising he’s a man. in v48 Jesus addresses him as Judas - where other times he just speaks directly to the evil spirits inside people. It’s Judas doing it. In as things unfold we hear Judas lamenting “I have sinned” and the chief priests declaring “that is your responsibility.” In it’s described as “his wickedness”
So it looks Like Judas is held responsible - because he’s not just a puppet, he’s still Judas. Just worse.
What about us? Could you or I be possessed this way? Do we have the power to resist him?
tells us if we submit to God and resist the devil he will flee from us. tells us to take up the shield of faith with which we can extinguish all the flaming arrows of the evil one - it’s pictorial, but it’s clear with faith we can withstand his attack - or stand our ground, as puts it.
But I think it’s even more encouraging to know there’s a fundamental difference between Judas’ situation and that of a Christian today: every Christian has a “no vacancy” sign up! tells us everyone who belongs to Christ has the Spirit living within them. If the Spirit is living within you, there’s no way Satan could enter in.
That said, Satan is spoken of as specifically obstructing Paul, one of Jesus’ first followers in - so we would be foolish to think he has nothing to do with us any more. Why would Jesus instruct us to pray for deliverance from the evil one if it wasn’t an issue, right?
I’m sure there’ll be more questions - and more questions I can’t answer - pigeonhole away! But we need to move on. This isn’t the main thing here.
Let’s zoom out again and see the whole chessboard: Remember, Luke is setting the scene for us as the final climax of Jesus’ story approaches. Lots of things are happening at once, and that’s just one of them.
We’ve talked about Satan making his move, entering into Judas. He thinks his moment’s come. The chief priests, enemies of Jesus who’ve been waiting for an opportunity think their moment’s come too: finally they have a way to take Jesus down: an insider who can lead them to Jesus away from the crowds.
We also need to notice it’s nearly Passover - v1 - just days away from the Jewish festival celebrating their supernatural escape from slavery in Egypt centuries ago.
Each year - even still today - Jewish people gather together to share a special meal which mirrors the meal their forefathers ate on the night of the exodus. They remind themselves of the story: They’d been slaves in Egypt for hundreds of years but the time had come for God to deliver them. They were told to sacrifice a lamb, mark their doorways with its blood - a bit gruesome, right - and then prepare to leave, eating one last meal in haste, dressed for action, ready to head out. While they ate, God visited destruction on their captors - but because of the blood of the lamb on their doorways, destruction would pass over them - hence, Passover - and in the morning, they’d go free.
This is in the background as these final events in Jesus’ story unfold. There are huge crowds gathered in Jerusalem to celebrate the festival, to remember how God freed his people.
And the other thing going on is with the religious leaders, bitter enemies of Jesus by this point. They’re watching and waiting for an opportunity to take him down. They can’t do it in the sight of the crowds because Jesus is so popular.
One thing is Satan making his move, entering into Judas. He thinks his moment’s come.
That’s the setup: Passover; Leaders looking for an opportunity; Satan entering Judas. And now the story starts to really accelerate. Satan thinks his moment’s come: he can crash this whole thing at just the moment they’re remembering God’s deliverance! The religious leaders think their moment has come: they have a way to take Jesus down finally - an insider who can give them Jesus away from the crowds.
The chief priests, enemies of Jesus who’ve been waiting for an opportunity think their moment’s come too: finally they have a way to take Jesus down: an insider who can lead them to Jesus away from the crowds.
The irony of Israel’s religious leaders literally making a deal with the devil is lost on them.
Can’t beat him head to head
Can’t trap him
An insider and a quiet place - temple guard ready to execute
Don’t know who they’re dealing with - Satan himself, dancing to his evil tune
They all think it’s checkmate. Doesn’t look like there’s any way out for Jesus as the trap closes. But they’ve all overlooked something - the reality is that they’ve all lost. They just don’t know it yet.
But they’ve all lostJudas: got his money, but dead in a field in a week. Chief priests: can’t stamp out the Jesus virusSatan: when Jesus rises; more so when Jesus returns.Don’t know who they’re dealing with: the Suffering Servant, obedient to deathThe Passover Lamb, sacrificed so others liveThe Good Shepherd, lays down his life only to take it up againThe Son of Eve, who will crush Satan’s headOnly God wins in the end
Judas? Well he betrays Jesus, and he gets his money - but he’s dead in a field before Jesus’ story has even run its course.
These chief priests think they’ve won as they manipulate the authorities and the people, and see Jesus killed on a cross - but then come the rumours that he has risen, and they’ll soon find no matter what they do, they can’t stamp out the Jesus virus as it spreads. A few decades later, their entire religious centre, everything they were working to preserve, is utterly destroyed by the Romans - as we heard about last week.
Satan, God’s enemy, thinks he’s won as he watches God’s people turn on themselves. I imagine he gloats as Jesus is betrayed, tried, abused and crucified. But three days later, when Jesus rises from the dead, he must understand that in fact he has lost. And one day, when Jesus returns, that defeat will be completed.
Ranged against Jesus, they all think they’ve won - but they just don’t know who they’re dealing with. The Bible is filled hints, shadows, pictures, and foretellings of what will happen here but they’ve not paid attention; they’ve not understood; they’ve not believed. Even at the height of the Passover festival, somehow they’ve missed that shadow:
Jesus is the true Passover Lamb, sacrificed, and his blood poured out. But because of Jesus’ sacrifice, his people will not be destroyed - they’ll be set free! His death wins freedom for his people.
Jesus is the Suffering Servant, described by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years before: the punishment that brought us peace was on him, tells us; it was the Lord’s will to crush him. He bore our punishment so we could know peace with God. His death was not an accident, but a plan.
Jesus is the Good Shepherd, as he himself says in : He lays down his life for those he loves. But Jesus also tells us he lays it down only to take it up again. His death was not the end.
The Good Shepherd, lays down his life only to take it up again
Jesus is the Son of Eve, the one who will finally crush Satan’s head as tells us right back at the beginning of the whole story. Satan gets a blow in - he hits Jesus, wounds Jesus. But that’s just half of what it says: “you will strike his heel”. Oh Satan hear the rest: “he will crush your head.” It is not Satan who’s won here, but Jesus. Endgame.
Only God wins in the end
Awesome - in the proper sense of the word. What does this have to say to you and me, here today?
Well, if you wouldn’t call yourself a Christian here today, we’re really glad you’re here. The one thing I really want to say to you today is only God wins in the end.
You might think you’re winning at life - things are going your way. You might think you’ve got your plans, and they’re working out, and you can see the way forward, and in just a few more moves, you’re going win - however you imagine that: Rich. Comfortable. Connected. Happy.
Maybe it’s early in the game for you and that all seems a long way off. Maybe it’s late game for you and you’re just one step away. Maybe you wouldn’t say so much that you’re winning, but at least you’re not losing. You’re getting away with it, still in the game.
But it’s not the end of the story yet. Every one of us is always just one move away from death, just one move from that endgame. I don’t know what’s ahead for you or for me, but one thing is certain: you’re going to die at some point.
But you’re not seeing the whole story. Every one of us is always just one move away from death, just one move from that endgame. I don’t know what’s ahead for you or for me, but one thing is certain: you are going to die at some point.
And then however you’ve been doing in this game of life won’t matter one little bit. The story’s told of a funeral of rich old lady where the minister is asked “how much did she leave?” “everything” is his answer. On that day, winning in this life is irrelevant. The only win in the end is God’s win. The only game that truly matters is his.
Are you playing the wrong game today? Are you in it just to win in this life? You are thinking far too small. Your horizons are far too limited. There are far greater things at stake.
The good news of Christianity is that God invites you to share Jesus’ win in the only game that truly matters. Come and learn with us what Jesus has done, and share with us in what Jesus has won. True freedom - even from death. True community - even with God. True joy - in His goodness and good plans. Talk to someone today.
Non-c: no-one wins but God.
Non-c: no-one wins but God.
You might think you’re winning at life
#Or at least not losing: getting away with going your own way
What about if you would already call yourself a follower of Jesus? I think for us so often it feels like we’re losing. We’re losing when things aren’t going our way at work, or at school. We’re losing when it rains on our holiday. We’re losing when our significant other lets us down. We’re losing when things don’t move as quickly as we want. We’re losing when we don’t get that breakthrough we hoped for.
But it’s not the end of the story. Always just one short move (death) from the endgame
The only win is God’s win
I want to challenge you - and me - this week to try and grab hold of our thoughts when that feeling, that emotion of loss, of disappointment, hits us. And to try and remember the bigger picture, the bigger story: that Jesus has won.
Yeah it might rain on your holiday. Yeah people might let you down. Yeah you might not get that promotion. But do you know what? Jesus won. Endgame.
And wonderfully God wins for us all: suffering servant, passover lamb, good shepherd
It might look like the enemy has the upper hand, like there is no reason for hope, like the church is losing, like the world is going to hell. It might look like that - but remember this story and remember this truth: he’s got this. This is his game. And Jesus has already won.
But only God wins in the end.
They can make all the plans they like, make all the moves they like. It might look like all is lost. But only God wins in the end.
Only God wins in the end. They can make all the plans they like, make all the moves they like. It might look like all is lost. But only God wins in the end.
You want to win? Join Jesus and you can’t lose.
To try and dig down on them and consider what they say about our picture of winning. What they say
Christian: crushed by looking for wins apart from God
When we define our own “win” and go after that
What is winning for Christians? SO often comfort, success, significance, security.
Why don’t I get what I pray for? Because no-one wins but God.
We think we can win, but we’ll find only God wins.
The way to win is to share His goal.
can’t surprise God; he knows the secret plans, he already has a greater plan that anticipates them.