The Keeping Power of Jesus
One of my favourite Christmas movies is The Muppet Christmas Carol. The normal adaptations of Dickens' famous novel are all quite dark; somehow the Muppets seem to get the balance right. But one of the songs featured in Dickens' original telling is perhaps the oldest Christmas carol we still sing today, God Rest Ye Merry Gentlemen.
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
Let nothing you dismay
Remember, Christ, our Saviour
Was born on Christmas day
To save us all from Satan’s power
When we were gone astray
O tidings of comfort and joy
Comfort and joy
O tidings of comfort and joy.
It's a fun and punchy song, but it is packed with powerful truth from scripture. The challenge we have, however, is that English has morphed a bit from the 16th century. But notice this line:
To save us all from Satan's power when we were gone astray.
That is actually not too difficult to understand. The phrase we were gone astray looks back to a time when we were not walking with God; before we were in God's kingdom, we were absolutely under the influence and power of the devil.
The good news is that 1 John 3:8 says that 'The reason the Son of God appeared was to destroy the works of the devil'. This is what he's up to; destroying the power of darkness: he dealt the death blow through his crucifixion and resurrection, and he's going to wrap it all up when he returns.
In the man time, he has delivered us from the domain of darkness (Colossians 1:13) and from this present evil age (Galatians 1:4). Even though we used to follow the prince of darkness (Ephesians 2:1-3), we have now been delivered. And that's good news.
But another line in this song is worth reflecting on. The opening line says:
God rest ye merry, gentlemen
This doesn't mean that God's going to rest, and it doesn't mean that God is going to make the merry gentlemen rest. Rather, the word rest means to keep, to hold on to, to preserve. This is a statement of God's keeping power - to hold on to us in the midst of the ups and downs of life.
In John 17:12, Jesus says that he kept all that the Father had given him, he guarded them and didn't lose any of them. Now that he is leaving, in John 17:11, he asks the Father to keep them in his name, and in John 17:15, to keep them from the evil one.
So three questions come up: first, does God have the power to keep us?; second, if he does, will he?; third, does he answer Jesus' prayer? Let's start at the end: I believe he does answer the prayers of Jesus - 100% - because I believe Jesus prays perfect prayers and that he and the Father are completely in line and that whatever the Son prays the Father does. In other words, there is a 100% correlation between what Jesus prays and the Father does.
Second, as to the first question, yes: of course God has the power to keep us ... he's God. But the key question is the third one - will he? Or might he lose some of us along the way. If we believe that the Father answers Jesus' prayers, then we'll answer, 'Yes he will'. But we don't have to deduce the answer, there are other scriptures that point us to God's keeping power.
One of the key ideas that animates the prayer of Jesus is the high price he paid to obtain us. According to Acts 20:28, we were obtained by Jesus at the price of his own blood. Think about that: God paid the highest price possible - the highest price that has ever been paid for anything, anywhere, anyhow: the blood of Jesus. The value of something is determined by the price paid for it. We are deeply precious and value to Jesus.
Think about two objects: a plastic token you get at the supermarket, and a diamond ring you've been saving for 13 years to purchase. Which one would you take better care of? Which one would cause you more bother if you lost it? Which one, if you did lose it, would you look for until you found it?
Jesus has so much invested in us, there is no way he is going to lose us. Now, when I use the word 'us', there are two ways to look at it. From the human perspective, it is those who have repented and believed the gospel - these are those who will be saved (Acts 2:41, Acts 16:31). From God's perspective, it is those he has predestined to adoption (Ephesians 1:4-6). Don't get hung up on trying to understand how God's election and human responsibility work together in salvation. Either way, the point is that God will bring safely home those he has obtained with the blood of Jesus.
As I wrap this up, look at this powerful promise from the Bible:
Now to him who is able to keep you from stumbling and to present you blameless before the presence of his glory with great joy.
God is not only able to keep us from stumbling - to mess up so bad we can't make it home - he is able to bring us safely into his presence. If he can, will he? Of course!
Remember, the good news for believers is not only the saving power of Jesus, that he delivered us from darkness. It's also the keeping power of Jesus, that he will keep us and protect us and bring us safely home. That's really good news.