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February 23, 2020

Sermon II Corinthians 2:15 . . .“Paul said:  ‘We are the aroma of Christ to God’”

“Paul said:  ‘We are the aroma of Christ to God’”

II Corinthians 2:15

Grace to you and peace from God our Father and from our Lord and Savior Jesus.

Smells are big business.  In fact, they’re so big, the fragrance industry generates as much as $20 billion a year around the world, developing and selling the scents that go into our laundry detergents, soaps and shampoos, not to mention air fresheners, after shaves, and perfumes.

Do you know what are the most expensive perfumes in the world?  Coming in at number eight is Joy by Jean Patou.  And why not?  Holding the scent of twenty-eight dozen(!) roses and 10,600 jasmine flowers, it’ll cost you right around $850 per ounce!  And you better snap one up, because they only make fifty bottles a year.

But if that’s not enough for you, you could always spring for number five on the list--Clive Christian #1.  Its top notes are made from thyme, cardamom, Sicilian mandarin, nutmeg, lime, and bergamot.  The heart notes are a combination of lily of the valley, rose, jasmine, ylang-ylang, and heliotrope (whatever that is!).  The base notes are amberwood, cedarwood, and sandalwood.  And to end it with a splash, this lovely eau de parfum is housed in a handmade crystal bottle, complete with a 24-carat gold plated sterling silver neck.  Well, it better be nice for $2,150 an ounce!

And finally, coming in at number one is the best, the brightest, and the most luxurious perfume of all--the DKNY Golden Delicious--worth every penny!  The top of the bottle bears the image of the New York City skyline, proudly bearing a four carat rose-cut diamond, a three carat oval-cut ruby, as well as a fabulous array of pink diamonds, white diamonds, and yellow sapphires from all over the world.  But you better save up your pocket change, for this one will cost you right around $1 million!

Like I said, smells are big business.

Let me, for just a moment, suggest some other smells, to see what memories they might conjure up in your mind.

What do you think of when I say the words “freshly mown grass”?  Does it take you back to your childhood, to a baseball game or a football game?  How about a new box of Crayola Crayons, with that amazing assortment of colors all lined up in little rows, or a box of Barnum Animal crackers?  Those are such interesting smells.

How about baby powder?  Or moth balls?  Or shoe polish?  Or freshly brewed coffee?  Or suntan lotion?  Or Fruit Loops?  Or hot cinnamon buns right out of the oven?  Or how about the smell of a new car?  They say that the human brain can accurately distinguish between as many as ten thousand different smells.

In ancient times, doctors even diagnosed illnesses based on how their patients smelled.  Typhoid fever smelled like baked bread, TB like stale beer, measles like freshly plucked feathers, yellow fever like a butcher shop, and plague like honey.

Even cities have smells!  They say that London smells like peppermint, Honolulu smells like plumeria, Buffalo, New York smells like Cheerios, Hershey, Pennsylvania smells like chocolate, and the island country of Madagascar smells like french toast (that comes from all the vanilla they grow there).

The Bible talks about smells too.  You know what Noah did just as soon as he got off the ark?  The Bible says he built an altar and sacrificed some of every clean bird and animal from the ark.  Then it says:  “And when the Lord smelled the pleasing aroma, He said in His heart, ‘I will never again curse the ground because of man.’”

And when God commanded us to worship Him, He even gave us a recipe for smells.  He said in the book of Exodus:  “Take sweet spices, stacte and onycha and galbanum, and pure frankincense, with equal amounts of each.  You shall make of these an incense according to the art of the perfumer, pure and holy.  And you shall beat some of it very fine, and put it before the Testimony in the Tabernacle of meeting where I will meet with you.  It shall be most holy.”

And interestingly enough, in our text for today, the apostle Paul talks about smells too.  Turn with me to page 1226 as I read the words of our text.  II Corinthians chapter 2, starting at verse 12:  “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there.  So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.  But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.  For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.  Who is sufficient for these things?  For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

Last week, we spent some time in Paul’s first letter to the Corinthians, what he later called his “severe” letter and his “sorrowful” letter.  But it was a letter he had to write, because, if anything could wrong at a church, it did go wrong in Corinth.

But this letter, his second letter, is entirely different.  Instead of admonishing them for being mere infants in Christ, and condemning them for their lack of faithfulness, fruitfulness, and love, now he praises them for walking in the footsteps of Christ.

As he says in chapter 1:  “Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God.”  And he wrote:  “On the day of our Lord Jesus, you will boast of us, as we will boast of you.”

Now here in chapter 2, Paul tells of both the joy and the sorrow he held in his apostolic heart.  As he said in verse 4:  “For I wrote to you out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears, not to cause you pain but to let you know the abundant love that I have for you.”

Then in verse 12, he says even more:  “When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there.”

Still in spite of the sadness he so often held in his heart, he went on to say, in verse 14:  “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”

It’s easy to say that Paul was very much a man of his time and culture.  He used word pictures that his readers could easily understand.  In his letter to the Ephesians, for example, he compared the armor of God to the armor of a Roman soldier.  He said:  “Be strong in the Lord and in the strength of His might.  Put on the whole armor of God, that you may be able to stand against the schemes of the devil.”  And he compared the Christian race to an Olympic race.  He wrote:  “Do you not know that in a race all the runners run, but only one receives the prize?  Run in such a way as to win the prize.”  And he wrote:  “I don’t box as one beating the air.”

So it is here in verse 14:  “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.”

Historians tell us that whenever a triumphant Roman general returned home, he brought some of the conquered country with him.

At the head of the procession were his own state officials and senate.  Then came a line of trumpeters, followed by the spoils of war, a white bull prepared for sacrifice, and captive leaders of the conquered land.  Then came musicians playing harps and priests swinging censers, burning sweet-smelling incense, followed by the conquering general and his family.  Finally, at the end, marched his army shouting, “Triumph!  Triumph!  Triumph!”

And as Paul thought about Christ and all He had done for him, he couldn’t help but write, in verse 14:  “But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Him everywhere.”

You may not realize this, but wherever you go, you leave a smell.  I don’t mean that kind of smell (at least hopefully not!).  I mean the kind of smell that says you’re a Christian.

For as Paul would have us understand, all of humanity can be divided into two very distinct and different groups--those who are on the road to salvation, and those on the road to destruction.  And the smell, the perfume, the aroma, that we leave behind says who we are and what God has done.

Even more, both the victors and those who are perishing smell the aroma, one that has a very different meaning for each group.  For the victorious army and its people, it reminds us of joy and triumph.  But for those on the path to destruction, the fragrance is a cold reminder of defeat and death.

That’s what Paul meant when he said, in verse 15:  “For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to other a fragrance from life to life.”

So let me ask--what smell, what aroma, are you leaving behind?  Is it one that shouts grace and triumph, or is it one that speaks of sin and death?

As Paul wrote in verse 16:  “Who is sufficient for these things?”  To put it another way, “Who is equal to such a task?”  “For we are not, like so many, peddlers of God’s word, but as men of sincerity, as commissioned by God, in the sight of God we speak in Christ.”

In nineteenth century Denmark, in a small town, an old man lived with his two daughters.  He was the pastor of a small group of Lutherans, and his daughters led a humble life.  When he died, they continued his legacy.  They kept the church going and helped the poor.

Then one day, a ragged-looking woman named Babette showed up at the sisters’ door, holding a letter from a friend.  She spoke only French and had fled from Paris with her life.  And the letter asked if they’d be so kind as to take her on as a maid, since she had lost her husband and son in the war, and had nowhere else to go.  The sisters agreed.

At first, they were wary, but they soon came to realize that Babette was good and strong and kind.  The girls and the poor loved her cooking.

Then one day, as the sisters were planning a celebration of what would have been their father’s one hundredth birthday, Babette discovered she had won the lottery in Paris.  And she asked if she could return to Paris for a few days, to purchase everything she needed for the feast.  The sisters reluctantly agreed.

Days later, strange bottles, boxes, and ingredients began to arrive at the house.  Then when the day finally came, the guests arrived, and they sang the father’s favorite hymns.

And they sat down to eat.  And as they joined in one course after another, they ate food they had never tasted before, and drank the finest wine.  When the meal was done, everyone stepped outside to sing under the stars.

After the guests had left, the sisters found Babette in the kitchen, surrounded by piles of dirty dishes, pots and pans.  They thanked her for the fine meal and for all of her hard work.  That’s when she admitted that she had once been the head chef at one of Paris’ finest restaurants.

Then when they asked if she would return to Paris now that she had the money, she said she’d never go back, for she had spent her entire winnings on that one meal.  She had given it all away.

We have a Savior who’s given everything away.  Born in a stable, laid in a manger, crowned with thorns, and pierced with nails, He is Lord and Savior of all.

As Paul once wrote to the Philippians:  “Though He was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied Himself, by taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men.  And being found in human form, He humbled Himself by becoming obedient to the point of death, even death on a cross.”

 

Dear Father, out of Your rich and undeserved mercy, You have chosen even us to follow You.  Lead us in Your triumphal procession that we may spread the fragrance of Your grace everywhere we go, for Jesus’ sake.  Amen

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