John’s Gospel is very different from the other four. While Matthew, Mark, and Luke follow the life of Christ more or less chronologically, the literary style of John is one that paints a picture of Jesus. It starts out with a discourse on the Word becoming flesh, and then from there we get recordings of a number of the very words Jesus spoke. A large chunk of the book is just what happened the night before Jesus was crucified.
The first reference to joy in John comes in 3:29, but for context I am going to share 3:28-30. In this passage, John the Baptist (not the same John who wrote the book) is being questioned about Jesus, how everyone is abandoning him to follow this new teacher.
You yourselves bear me witness, that I said, ‘I am not the Christ, but I have been sent before him.’ The one who has the bride is the bridegroom. The friend of the bridegroom, who stands and hears him, rejoices greatly at the bridegroom’s voice. Therefore this joy of mine is now complete. He must increase, but I must decrease.
John the Baptist compares himself to the best man at a wedding. There are lots of references in scripture to Christ as the bridegroom and the Church (as in, the body of believers) as the bride. His job was done – he had prepared the way for the Messiah. And now he says that his joy is complete.
That complete joy can only come from knowing that the work is done, that you’ve done your job and now are handing it off. I think we got a glimpse of that the day our daughter died. Our job as her earthly parents was finished. We were handing her off to Jesus.
I have to say I’m a bit envious of John the Baptist. He got to see his work complete without having to witness the death of someone he loved. Of course, there’s that whole beheading thing, so maybe I’m not so jealous of him…
In smaller ways, each Sunday when our congregation gathers for Sunday school and worship, it’s finding that completion of joy. We work all week to prepare for the experiences. Sometimes things work according to plan. Other times we have some problems that come up. But every time, the Spirit speaks to the people and our joy is complete, knowing we have done our work well and can watch what God does with it. What a joy to see Him work in the lives of His people!