And I am no longer in the world, but they are in the world, and I am coming to you. Holy Father, keep them in your name, which you have given me, that they may be one, even as we are one. While I was with them, I kept them in your name, which you have given me. I have guarded them, and not one of them has been lost except the son of destruction, that the Scripture might be fulfilled. But now I am coming to you, and these things I speak in the world, that they may have my joy fulfilled in themselves. (John 17:11–13, ESV)
I enjoy watching baseball, especially when a pitcher can shut out the other team. But there are simply times that no matter how good the pitcher is doing he must be pulled from the game. Maybe he is on a pitch count in order to preserve him for his next start, or possibly he has some form of tightness developing that the coach doesn’t want to risk losing him over. What happens during this process is that the coach will come and take the ball from the pitcher, give him a pat on the back for his excellent effort and then put the ball in the glove of the next pitcher when he arrives to the mound. As the retiring pitcher sits down with his lead intact he hopes that the new pitcher will be able to maintain. This is the best case scenario, but there are many more games I’ve seen where it doesn’t work quite this way. Either the pitcher has lost control and he is pulled for another pitcher with better control, or the pitcher has put the game at risk and then it all breaks loose when the incoming pitcher is unable to bail him out. This is how it is with man. Man is not perfect. He cannot control every pitch. He is limited in strength and endurance, and he definitely cannot evade the swing of every batter.
But the Father and the Son are not this way. God the Father sent God the Son into the world to bring salvation to man. He did exactly what He was supposed to do which included taking the ones chosen by the Father as His own and training them in preparation for the time He would leave. He did this exactly as was intended and He did not lose a single one (give up a single run) except the one He was intended to give up who was known from the beginning of time to be the one would betray Him. The time had now come for Him to return to the Father, and the Son handed them back to the Father.
He had kept them as one and Jesus was praying to the Father that He would continue to keep them that way. Jesus was physically present to do this for them, and now it was time for the Father to guard them in His absence. He prayed this in their presence so that they might know exactly what He intended, and that they might even know His joy fulfilled in them.
Twisting up the baseball analogy a bit (as weak as it is), let’s look at Jesus as the starting pitcher. He was sent in from the team’s dugout for a specific number of innings according to the will and under the instruction of the coach. He pitched perfectly throughout His part of the game, and when it was time for Him to return to the dugout, the coach handed the ball off to His relief, caring for them as He did the starter. When Jesus left the game was not over. In many ways it had just begun, and the disciples were the first ones given to take up the work left to them in His absence. And knowing that God is still firmly in control we also know that Jesus is standing right there by His side as even we take our turns in His service.
Of course, the big difference is that the Father and the Son are God and we’re not. They are absolutely perfect powerful and we are totally dependent and fallible. But the amazing thing is that God has chosen us to be His and to be useful for Him to accomplish His perfect will. We may throw a few too many balls and hit a batter now and then, but it is God who keeps us in the game knowing all the time the final score, and according to His perfect Word there will be great rejoicing at the end.