What If We Still Stank?
A sermon based on 2 Corinthians 2:14-16a
Sunday, April 19, 2015 – Easter 3C
What's the worst smell you can think of? A diaper pail? A dirty port-a-potty? A bucket of fish guts? A… well, I'll stop there and leave it to your imagination. Got it? Thinking of the worst stank ever?
Now, what's the best smell you can think of? The cologne or perfume of a significant other? The smell of fresh baked bread? Or of cinnamon rolls baking in oven? Of freshly brewed coffee, first thing in the morning? Or of bacon frying in the pan? Mmmmm….
I suppose that two people could be smelling the exact same smell and to one person it's an awesome smell, but to another, it's disgusting. Like liver and onions frying in the pan. Not for me. Gross. But mom loves liver and onions. To her it's a delicious smell. Or the same goes for pickled herring. I can hardly think of a worse smell. Mom loves it. One pastor I know detests the smell of Easter lilies. It makes him gag. But to other pastors it's the smell of Holy Week done and the joyous victory of Easter.
This morning, the Apostle Paul tells us that we all smell. Though we used to smell of the stink of death to God, now we smell like Christ. And to some, to the enemies of Christ's church, that smell is disgusting. But to us, it's the smell of victory. Our text for this morning is from 2 Corinthians 12:14-17…
14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.
We Used to Stink So Bad
What is the worst smell you can imagine? Let's hear a few of them. [Call on a few names.]
The worst smell I've ever smelled in my life is one I'd never experienced until I came here. It wasn't until I moved to Alaska that I smelled the stink of rotting fish fermenting in a garbage can. After my first halibut trip I didn't know any better. I tossed the carcasses in the garbage can in my garage and thought nothing of it for a few days. When I finally took the garbage to the dump (in my van), I couldn't get the smell out of the van for weeks. It was like I was living an episode of Seinfeld.
But that still wasn't the worst smell. A year later I started dip netting. And was left with dozens of fish carcasses. I'd since learned the lesson not to leave it in the garage overnight. So I took them to the dump right away where I found that special dumpster designated just for rotting fish.
And when I opened the lid of that dumpster, I almost lost my lunch at the putrid smell. Swarms of flies buzzed around my head as I emptied my trash as quickly as I could gagging the whole time.
Now that stench—that smell of death of rotting fish—must have seemed like the scent of roses compared to the stench of sins that fills the nostrils of God. In the filth of our sin, we must be like the Nile in the days of the plagues: "The fish in the Nile died, and the river smelled so bad that the Egyptians could not drink its water. Blood was everywhere in Egypt." (Exodus 7:21) That's our smell of death that must make God gag. Proverbs 13:5 (NIV) says, "The righteous hate what is false, but the wicked make themselves a stench and bring shame on themselves."
And how wicked we are when we deny that we belong to Christ in order to fit in, since we know that smelling like him might stink to others. How wicked we are when we choose not to follow Jesus, even though we know he's the victor, because we think it might make our social life stink. How wicked we are when we put our putrid selfishness ahead of God's will.
Our rebellion before God must seem like the rebellion of the Israelites when they collected too much manna in direct opposition to God's will: "Some of them paid no attention to Moses; they kept part of it until morning, but it was full of maggots and began to smell." (Exodus 16:20)
How we must have stank before God with the reek of death! And, in our sin, we deserve the fate of the rebellious Israelites of whom God said, "I sent plagues among you as I did to Egypt. I killed your young men with the sword, along with your captured horses. I filled your nostrils with the stench of your camps, yet you have not returned to me," (Amos 4:10) In our sin, we deserve to gag forever in the eternal stink of hell.
How we must have stank before God with the reek of death! But not any more. Now we smell so good to God because…
We Smell Like Christ
Can you imagine the smell in the camp of Israel near the tabernacle? Every day countless animals were slaughtered there. And if you've ever smelled an animal opened up, a moose or a deer, you know it's not the most pleasant smell in the world. Can you imagine the aroma of the burning hair, the burning flesh, the burning offerings made at the altar of the Lord? I imagine that it wasn't a very pleasant smell. At least, it wouldn't be to us.
But do you know what God says of those smells over and over again in Leviticus and Numbers? Thirty-five times in those two books, God calls such sacrifices, "a pleasing aroma," or "an aroma pleasing to the Lord." What might stink to us, is an wonderful fragrance to him.
And you know that every one of those sacrifices was really pointing ahead to the once for all sacrifice that Jesus made for us. Paul wrote in Ephesians 5(:2), "Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God."
Christ sacrificed himself on the cross. He was tortured to death, nailed to those beams of wood. His blood was shed, and I doubt that the smell on Calvary was a pleasant one. But to God, it was a fragrant offering. What seems to stink—the death of the perfect, sinless God-man—is a beautiful smell to God. And it's what we now smell like to him. For, "we are to God the aroma of Christ…"
When God takes a whiff of us, he doesn't smell the B.O. of sin or the stank of death anymore. He smells Jesus. He smells Jesus' sinless life. He smells Jesus' perfection. We smell wonderful to God! "We are to God the aroma of Christ…"
That Smell Stinks to Some
But that smell isn't a fragrant aroma to everyone. Two people might smell the same scent and have a completely different response.
To one person, the fishy smell of salmon may stink to high heaven with an oily stink that doesn't wash off easily. But to another, to the commercial fisherman, for example, that smell of fish may smell exactly like cash.
That's what Paul is talking about when he writes, "God… through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of [Christ]… For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life."
In the days of the Roman Empire, a parade would be thrown for the conquering general. And in that triumphal procession, as the conqueror traveled through the streets of the city, people would burn fragrant incense and strew flowers along the way, the odor of both filling the air. But the conquered general, caged in the front of that procession, that smell meant death. He knew what would happed to him and to his troops at the end of that parade. They would be executed in a public display of the victor's dominance. The smell of incense and flowers was the smell of death.
That's what we smell like to those who oppose Christ. We smell like him. And to them, he smells like judgment. He smells like death. They know that they have not done right by God, but rather than admit it and confess their sin and plead for his mercy, the stand proud in their sin. And so, to them, we Christians, who speak the truth, even when we speak the truth in love, we reek. We stink of death because all they smell in us is the Law. And they know that Christ will be their judge and the truths we believe will be their ultimate demise.
You stink to them, dear friends. And they will persecute you for it. They will try to rid the earth of the stench that we are to them. But it's no matter to us. We aren't intimidated. We aren't scared. Instead, we rejoice! Because we know that no matter what they do, we still smell like Jesus. And to us…
That Smell is So Sweet to Us
Let's go back to that Roman parade. Now, while the smell of incense and flowers was the smell of death to the conquer-ed general and his men, that scent meant something completely different to conquer-ing general and to the citizens of his country. To them, that smell of incense and flowers wasn't the smell of death, but the smell of victory, the smell of life! The enemy would not kill them. The enemy would be killed.
To us, the smell of Christ is the most wonderful, fragrant, aromatic smell there ever could be! To us, the smell of Christ is the smell of life! We know that our conquering hero won. We heard last week how he completely dominated Death. We know that he's destroyed our sin, defeated the devil, and has become our conquering hero! And like the citizens that watched the parade, we know that we did nothing to contribute to the victory. Our conquering hero did it all and gives to us the spoils of war as his gifts, tossing to us his forgiveness, peace with God, every blessing of this life, the glory of the life to come!
What a sweet, sweet smell that Jesus is to us! Far better than the smell of cinnamon rolls in the oven or of bacon frying in the pan! Far better than the smell of cash or the smell of victory in some small struggle in this life! To us Jesus is the smell of life itself! Take a deep breath. Smell the victory that he won for us! Smell the refreshing scent of forgiveness of sins! Smell the calming scent of peace with God! Smell the invigorating aroma of heaven itself that will be ours one day soon!
And now, in thanks to him for that sweet, sweet smell, we make our lives a fragrant offering to him. We offer our time and our gifts to Jesus, which Paul described as, "a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God." (Ephesians 4:18) In fact, we offer our very selves to him. "I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship." (Romans 12:1)
To some, that will make us stink. But to God that will be "an aroma pleasing to the Lord," as we live our lives to thank him who, "loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God." So go scent the world, dear Christians, with the aroma of Christ! In his name, dear friends, amen.