Of all the folktales that circulated in Europe in the centuries past few were more widespread or popular than that of Dr Faustus, a brilliant alchemist, living in Germany, who began to delve into witchcraft and finally made a pact with the Devil. For 24 years he would have everything he wanted but at the end of that time the Devil would claim his soul. The story was popularised in England by Christopher Marlowe in Dr. Faustus, (1604) and in Germany, two centuries later, in Johann Goethe’s Faust.
The Devil kept his promise and for 24 years Faust enjoyed fame, knowledge and the satisfaction of every desire. But the years rolled quickly by and Faustus was gripped with terrible foreboding as the end drew near. On his last night he met a fearful death as the Devil claimed his soul for damnation. The drama attracted an artist who committed it to canvas. He depicted Faustus and the Devil playing chess and he entitled it ‘Checkmated.’ The game is over and the Devil has won. He gloats across the chess table at the doomed Faust whose face is rigid with terror.
The picture hung in a French gallery and many people came to see it. One day a chess master came to view it. He gazed at it intently for hours. Suddenly the silence was broken by his cry, ‘It’s a lie! The game is not over! The king has another move!’ The chess master saw what everyone else had missed that in the picture Faustus still has his king, who can yet bring victory out of seeming disaster.
On the first Easter, the enemies of Jesus were jubilant. The chief priests, the scribes and the Pharisees, had all conspired to put Him to death. How they hated Him! He had done mighty works. He had healed the sick; He had cast out demons from the tormented; He had calmed the storms and raised the dead. But they rejected Him, branded Him a blasphemer and brought about his arrest, trial and execution.
The Romans, thinking Him just another rabble-rousing nationalist, were glad to see him dead. So the Jews and the Romans celebrated while the body of Jesus lay on the cold slab in Joseph’s tomb. They had triumphed! He was gone! He was dead! He was buried! He would not come back! His followers were scattered. He would soon be forgotten. The brief story of Jesus of Nazareth had ended in the tomb.
They were all wrong! The game was not over! The king had another move! The King of Heaven raised His Son Jesus from death, to live forever in the power of an endless life, Christians have been celebrating that great event for two thousand years! In all our lives, in every difficulty, in every need, in every heartbreak, in all of life’s darkest hours – our King is with us and He always has another move!
Revd Dr Herbert McGonigle,
formerly Lecturer in Historical Theology & Church History,
Nazarene Theological College, Manchester