By L&T Columnist Gary Damron
When a person comes to faith, often there’s a feeling that he’ll be giving up something – bad habits, bad associations or practices. Those around the Lord were asked to relinquish things they loved, and which were good for them, in order to receive something far better.
The symbolism and imagery in the first chapter of John, rich with meaning, set the stage for Jesus’ ministry on earth. Many people had followed John the Baptist as he preached. He told them outright that he was not the Messiah, the one they were seeking, but was preparing the way for him. John the Baptist and Jesus were cousins, born a few months apart, yet John said, “I did not know him” (John 1:33). Until the Spirit settled on Jesus, John didn’t recognize him as the One he’d been preaching about.
At least two followers of John the Baptist became Jesus’ first disciples. They’d traveled with John but left without hesitation when he pointed out, “Behold the Lamb of God!” (John 1:36). They wanted to be where Jesus was, and John willingly turned them over. Any pastor should be willing to have his people follow Jesus rather than himself.
The term Lamb of God held meaning to those with Jewish heritage who’d heard since childhood of the Paschal Lamb, the sacrifice which brought deliverance to their people. Centuries before as Moses prepared to lead the Israelites out of Egyptian captivity, he instructed them to kill a lamb without blemish, and spread its blood on their doorposts that the tenth plague might spare their households.
They may have also remembered Abraham’s faith, even earlier in their history, as he prepared to sacrifice his only son Isaac. “Then Abraham lifted his eyes and looked, and there behind him was a ram caught in a thicket by its horns. So Abraham went and took the ram, and offered it up for a burnt offering instead of his son” (Genesis 22:13).
It’s interesting that in the second part of the phrase, “…who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) used the singular tense. We need not only to have our sins forgiven, but to have the sin, the nature that causes us to do the things we hate, taken away. Only a pure, sinless sacrifice would be sufficient for that. The baptism that John had practiced was a symbol, a rite of purification, but did not bring purification. The Spirit baptism of Jesus would be not a dunking or a sprinkling, but saturation like water in a sponge, filling the one baptized with His peace and purity.
The coming of the Holy Spirit was foretold in John chapters 1, 14, 15 and16, and begins to come to pass when the disciples find the empty tomb in chapter 20. The imminent promise is found in Acts 1:5: “’For John truly baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit not many days from now.’”
In order for the disciples to receive the saturation and power they needed, the One they loved had to go away so that the Spirit of God could be with them – and us – always.