A Fragrant Aroma
As we begin today, I want you to think of some of the most powerful smells or fragrances you have ever experienced.
For example, if I mentioned Mackinaw Island or Mackinac City, does a certain smell come to mind above all others (and I’m not talking about the horses)? Could it possibly be Mackinaw Fudge? They pump that smell out into the streets with big fans as they make it on those marble top tables. And even if you don’t like fudge, you love smelling it.
Or maybe you’re more of a flower person. You love going to garden centers or floral shops just to breath the air.
And speaking of breathing the air, what would life be without the visiting the local farm and all those wonderful fragrances you can experience? Ever driven by a farm when they are fertilizing? It might be those cow pies that are literally hitting the fan as they fling it all over, or it could be that liquid form of slurry that is so pungent you dare not roll down your windows. You can smell it for miles down wind.
I recall one time visiting a farm in the thumb of Michigan and as a side business this farm produced eggs with 20,000 chickens. Now, being a guy from the city, I had never been in a building before with 20,000 chickens. But it is a smell you will never forget as it seems to cling to your hair and clothing.
For you dog lovers, how many of you have experienced that surprise late at night when your dog returns to the house after encountering a skunk? That’s always exciting before going to bed don’t you think? Nothing like a late-night trip to the store for tomato juice. And as powerful as that smell is for us that makes our eyes water, keep in mind your poor dog, whose eyes look bloodshot at this point as they try to rub it off their fur on the grass, is suffering more.
Did you know a dog has 50 times more smell receptors in their nose than we do (6M/ 300M) and the part of their brain devoted to smelling is 40 times greater than ours? And don’t you just love it when your bathtub is all red and you’re trying to rinse off your dog and they start shaking and spraying water all over before you can grab a towel?
Final fragrance. Try to guess this one. If you were around to watch TV in 1967, there was a new after shave being introduced that year that drove women wild and included in the box were instructions for self-defense. Does anyone remember those commercials for Hai Karate?
Well, I tell you all these crazy stories for a reason, because it is going to tie in with our Scripture and message for today that I’ve entitled A Fragrant Aroma. You see, the Apostle Paul had a special word he was trying to convey to the Christian church at Corinth. And to make his point, so that everyone would understand, he told them – they as believers were a fragrant aroma to other people. The question was – what type of aroma? What kind of fragrance did they give off? Was it a pleasant smell that drew people closer, or a repugnant odor that drove people away? And it’s a question I believe, for we who claim to be Christian, need to ask ourselves today. So, let’s explore what the Apostle Paul might have been talking about centuries ago and how we might apply his inspired words to ourselves in 2020.
Let’s begin by looking at our Scripture from 2 Corinthians 2:14-16a.
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; 16 to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life….
Well, let’s see what God may reveal to each of us. The Scripture reminds us that we as Christian believers should be a sweet aroma of Jesus, a fragrance of Christ, first to God the Father, and then to those around us. And it is because of Jesus, and through Jesus, that we are continually led in His triumph.
Now many commentators believe that when Paul mentions this idea of a triumph, he did this for a reason, for the benefit of his Gentile readers in Corinth, to actually give them a mental picture, an image they could understand and then apply to their faith in Christ. You see, in the Roman culture, the highest honor a victorious Roman general could ever receive was called a Triumph. It was a procession of victory granted only by the Roman Senate. Well I believe, Paul was making an analogy, a spiritual comparison of how Christ leads us, as His followers, in His great triumph.
Let me give you a little historical background from commentator William Barclay who explains how a Roman triumph took place and what conditions had to be met for a general to receive this high honor.
- “First, the general must have been the actual commander-in-chief in the field.
- Second, the campaign must have been completely finished, the region pacified and the victorious troops brought home.
3rd. At least five thousand of the enemy must have fallen in one engagement.
4th. A positive extension of territory must have been gained, and not merely a disaster retrieved or an attack repelled.
And 5th. The victory must have been won over a foreign foe and not in a civil war.”
And even after all of these great achievements were accomplished, the Senate still had to vote to approve the honor. For a Roman citizen, it was an event that may happen only once in a lifetime.
On the day of the Triumph itself – a great procession filled the city streets and those walking along would be state officials, the magistrates and senators, followed by the trumpeters and musicians with lyres. Then the spoils taken from the captured land were paraded by for all to see, followed by white oxen for sacrifice and the priests swinging censers of burning incense. The foreign captives were marched along in chains with lictors (soldiers with whips) behind to keep them in order. Flowers were strewn about and the great general was dressed in purple. His tunic was embroidered with golden palm leaves, his toga had golden stars, and a laurel wreath placed upon his head. He held an ivory scepter with a Roman eagle in his hand while riding a chariot pulled by four horses. A slave stood behind him holding the crown of Jupiter above his head. Behind the general rode his family and his army of soldiers proclaiming his triumph as they marched through the streets row after row.
At the close of the processional amidst great celebration, the captives were led forward to prison to later be executed. Now this is what I want you to catch. To the captives, the conquered foes, the sweet-smelling aroma of burning incense, and the fragrance of strewn flowers that filled the air, was not a reminder of life with all its excitement and enjoyment to be lived out in fullness, but a reminder of the inevitable, that death was at the end of the trail and life would be no more.
So, when we read 2 Corinthians, chapter 2, perhaps the spiritual analogy Paul was trying to emphasize for all of the Gentile Christians in Corinth, was the fact Jesus triumphed over sin and death and both physical and spiritual death (that is, the enemy we all face) was defeated at the cross. Jesus now walks in triumph leading captive His conquered foes (both death and Satan) and Jesus’ troops (the Church, the Body of Christ) march behind Him proclaiming His victory. No longer is death, our enemy, to be feared, for with Christ there is life and we who follow Him shall be dressed in white robes. We shall cheer Jesus’ triumph as we walk the streets of gold, clothed with a new immortal body that shall never again experience pain or injustice, thirst or hunger.
Can you see how a Roman citizen would understand the imagery of a triumph?
And what does Paul mean when he speaks of our lives being a fragrance of Christ to both the saved and the perishing?
If we can truly say that we are a fragrance of Christ to those about us, using Paul’s spiritual analogy, we become an aroma of eternal life to some, and to others, an aroma of death. Not that we have done anything wrong, but some refuse to acknowledge their sense of smell. Let me explain.
You see, there are some who have smelled the victory of Christ in you. They know you have it. There is something different about you. Your fragrance lingers with them, it convicts them as the Holy Spirit attempts to work in their lives. But for some reason, call it an intellectual pride, a self-centered I’m just fine on my own and I don’t need any outside help, or simply an unwillingness to believe or give up any control to God’s will and ways, they reject the Christ they see in you.
To us, who place our hope in Christ and believe Jesus is the answer that the world desperately needs, we don’t understand their refusal, their rejection, because it doesn’t make any logical sense to us. Why would anyone throw away the gift of life that is offered so graciously and so completely and so sacrificially for all eternity?
We, as Christ’s followers, are gripped with the knowledge that one day the inevitable will come, the trail on this earth will be over. We will either experience spiritual life with God or spiritual separation away from God. For we understand what the Scripture says that one day all of us will face judgment, where every knew will bow and every tongue will confess that Jesus is Lord.
I want you to look at the world right now. Look at how people are living for themselves, doing what is right in their own eyes. Look at the number of people who do not care about how their actions impact others or the consequences their actions may bring.
On July 17th, there was a story about a 40-year-old California man, who received by fraud, nearly $9M from the Payment Protection Program designed to assist small businesses with a forgivable loan from the Federal Government. The purpose of the loan – to help employees. However, the $9M was all a big scam. This man had no employees. He had no companies. He lied, making false claims and altering documents. He was discovered spending 100s of thousands of dollars gambling in Las Vegas.
On July 27th, a 29-year-old Florida man received $3.9M, again a scam, and bought a $318,000 Lamborghini sports car. Did he think no one would notice a fancy car like that in his drive way?
August 5th, a guy from Texas, also 29, received $1.6M. He bought an SUV, a pickup truck, a Rolex watch, some real estate, and spent thousands and thousands of dollars at night clubs and strip clubs.
On Thursday, July 30th, in Chicago, Illinois, a state trooper went to a Dunkin’ Donuts restaurant for a cup of coffee. When he took the lid off to let it cool, he found a giant wad of spit floating on top. Why would you do that to any person? Guess what? Somebody got arrested.
On Sunday, August 2nd, at a Burger King in Florida, a woman was upset that she had to wait in a long drive-thru line to get her order. A new Burger King employee, age 22, who had just started working there three days earlier (after probably getting an earful at the window), refunded the woman’s money to her and asked her to leave. Seven minutes later the woman’s boyfriend (age 37) showed up and started fighting with the 22-year-old. The two of them were separated and that’s when the 37-year-old got his gun out of his car and shot the man dead.
Do you find that shocking at all? That’s because you value life. But according to the latest Barna Group research that surveyed 2,000 people across America, only 39% of the people surveyed believe that human life is sacred; that human life is intrinsically valuable. That means, according to this survey (came out in June), 6 out of 10 Americans don’t believe human life is sacred, that it has value. How did we arrive at the point where 61% of Americans don’t value life?
So, if I am angry, I will just act out any way I want to. I don’t even think about the consequences of my actions. Why? Because I don’t have a moral compass. I don’t have any self-control holding me back. I don’t operate by any rules like the Ten Commandments. Life is not about the golden rule and treating others with respect and valuing them. Life is all about me and what I can get right now.
And oftentimes when we hear these stories on the news that seem too unbelievable to be true, and we wonder what in the world is going on? Why is this happening? And we can throw out various theories to consider. We can cast blame on certain areas as the major cause. We can discuss things like lack of education and lack of parenting and poverty and racial injustice and each year all 50 states along with the federal government try to fix problems with band-aids of throwing in more tax money and we have books and TV programs featuring the latest self-help programs.
Let me ask you, have we ever figured out a solution that lasts a lifetime? From my perspective, and you don’t have to agree with me, I don’t think any program will have a lasting result for all people, until we first acknowledge we have a spiritual problem. I believe, this country, this world desperately needs the Lord. And yet ironically, what we so desperately need that would give us hope and purpose and true life is what is being rejected. People need the forgiveness of Christ. People need a new start and a new heart. People need the Holy Spirit living within them Who can transform their inner character and make them whole.
You see, I believe, to have a great nation, a great country where possibilities abound and you feel a sense of pride along with safety, that nation needs to be made up of great people. And to have a great people, it needs to start with great families, for the family is the centerpiece and foundation for any society. The family helps to shape society as a whole. But as you know, great families come about through great individual adults working as a team, teaching great values and morals to their children and grandchildren. And where do we pick up those great values and morals? Only when that individual adult or youth is willing to make a great commitment to a greater God, Who in turn, can bless them and guide them all of their days. It begins with the Lord!
So why am I telling you all of this? It is not to frighten you, but to help you realize how important you are. This world desperately needs the Lord and you, as a Christian, as a follower of Jesus, who knows the difference between right and wrong, you are the very one God is going to use to touch some lost soul for the kingdom of heaven. You don’t have to reach masses of humanity. You just need to influence one for Jesus. And that’s where the fragrance of Christ comes in.
When I leave someone’s home, or place of business, or time of relaxation such as at a sporting event, is there a fragrance of Jesus which seems to linger on long past the time of my departure? Is there an aroma of joy, and peace, and love, and faith, and encouragement all about me? Do I seem optimistic about the future and through the trials and heartaches of life, do I demonstrate a greater hope? Do people see something different in me because the Holy Spirit lives within me?
We need to remember that we grow in the image of those we love. And if we desire to grow into the image of Jesus, if we desire to produce a fragrant aroma of Christ to our heavenly Father and to those about us, we must have a desire to fall in love with Christ and a desire to spend time with Him as loving friends do. For as we spend daily time with Christ, we become more like Him. And the good news is, God will use you and me as people sense the Spirit of Jesus about us, the fragrance of Christ.
I need to brag about my wife Lisa a little bit. A couple of decades ago when we lived in Ann Arbor and served in that community for seven years, Lisa worked as the lunchroom supervisor at Mack Elementary School with other adults under her wing of leadership. When it came time to leave that community and serve another church, one of the comments I heard continually by parents and the staff at Mack School, was how much they were going to miss Lisa. Lisa had an ability to be firm in a loving way with the students at Mack and was extremely patient with their goofiness. She knew all the children’s names, from kindergarten to grade 5. And many of the parents felt comfortable talking with her about their particular child and asking her advice. You see, Lisa had the fragrance of Christ about her that said I am approachable. You can talk to me. I will listen to you. I will respect you even when I disagree with you. I will love you as a child of God even when you are a royal pain.
My hope is that in the five years we have been together there has been a fragrance of Christ about me that instead of repelling you away it has drawn you closer to our Lord and has encouraged you and motivated you and challenged you to go deeper in your walk with Christ.
I want you to know after 40 years in the ministry and working with hundreds of families as they said goodbye to a loved one, I still believe Jesus is the only way, the truth, and the life. He is the one Who made that claim and I believe Him because of the resurrection. Let us serve Him together in whatever years we have before us. And one day in heaven we shall march in triumph together and God will honor our faithfulness as we realize we did the right thing all along.
O GOD, MAY WE BECOME MORE AND MORE THE FRAGRANCE OF CHRIST, SO THAT THOSE WE MEET AND DON’T KNOW JESUS YET, MAY BE DRAWN TO THE JESUS THEY SEE IN US AND DISCOVER THAT HE TRULY IS THE SAVIOR OF THE WORLD! AMEN.