But now I come to You; and these things I speak in the world so that they may have My joy made full in themselves. (Jesus’ final prayer, as recorded in John 17.)
Just what is this joy that the Son speaks about with the Father? Before ever there was a world filled with people, what delighted the Son more than anything? (And, I might ask, what has been the Father’s greatest joy from eternity past?)
I believe it was and is their relationship with each other. The life that they shared (which I like to call eternal life). And that’s what makes Jesus’ request all the more remarkable. The joy that was set before him – the joy that enabled him to endure the cross – was the prospect of bringing us into the family, to be able offer us eternal life.
God is love, and the nature of love is other-orientation. Love loves giving itself away. Sharing. Including. There is not greater source of joy for a God who IS love. Our Shepherd is the exact image of his Father. Thus his ultimate desire is to include his sheep in the relationship he enjoys with the Father.
Those who have been discipled to be like their Master (like the apostle John) will re-present that desire in their work as under-shepherds (see 1 John 1:3). Which is to say, that is our role as those who serve the flock that God has entrusted to us.