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Preaching from the Pulpit of Ephraim Church of the Bible

2 Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God

04/15_2Corinthians 2:14-16; The Aroma of Christ to God ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180415_2cor2_14-16.mp3

2 Corinthians 2:12 When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord, 13 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.

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. 15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. Who is sufficient for these things?

Paul’s spirit had no rest in Troas because of the unresolved tension in his relationship with the Corinthian church, so he said goodbye and headed to Macedonia, leaving behind an open door of gospel ministry.
Yet instead of expressing his frustration, or rebuking them, he thanks God who always triumphs over us in Christ, and who displays the odor of the knowledge of Christ through us in every place.

The triumph put on display the military might of Rome. A triumphing general in a display of his victory would parade the spoils of war through the streets of Rome, along with the chief enemies he conquered and any Roman citizens he had freed. This parade would appeal to all the senses, with blasts of trumpets, the clanking of weapons, the rumble of horses and chariot wheels, and songs of soldiers, with gold and silver and jewels, with colorful banners and garments, even with clouds of fragrant incense wafting through the streets.

Paul sees himself as a conquered enemy of Christ, but now a glad participant in the parade. The triumph had a political aspect, increasing the fame and promoting the popularity of the triumphing general. And Paul is glad to promote and display the fame of his new Lord.

Spreading the Knowledge of Jesus in Every Place

God is displaying the odor of the knowledge of Christ through the apostles in every place. God is triumphing and God is spreading. These are the two main verbs in the sentence; triumphing and spreading. ‘Spreading’ translates a word that at its root means to show or shine out, to make manifest, to cause to appear, to display. But what is put on display is something invisible; a smell, the odor of the knowledge of him; hence the translation ‘spread.’ The odor of knowing Jesus is made perceptible through them. The scent of knowing him is being sensed everywhere through the ministry, especially through the suffering of the apostles.

And this speaks to Paul’s itinerary. The Corinthians accuse Paul of changing his plans on a whim. God is marching Paul around in triumph. God is the one ultimately dictating where the apostle goes and when and for how long. God through the apostles is spreading the aroma of the knowledge of Christ in every place. Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria, the ends of the earth. God intends that the scent of knowing Jesus be smelled in every place through the lives of his people. Paul makes his decisions as best he can, with a view to the advance of the gospel and the good of God’s people. And I’m sure he questioned; ‘should I have walked away from an open door for the gospel? Should I have toughed it out and stayed?’ And yet he can sleep at night thanking God that God is spreading the fragrance of Jesus in every place though him.

The Aroma of Christ to God

Notice what kind of smell this is, where it comes from, and who smells it. In verse 14 and again twice in verse 16 he uses a neutral word for smell; an odor. As we will see in verse 16, this could be a pleasant odor or a foul one. But in verse 15 he uses a distinctly positive term, with the prefix ‘good.’ This is a pleasing smell.

And the source of this pleasing aroma is Christ. The apostles are not going around spreading the knowledge of themselves everywhere. They are spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus. They are making him known. They are spreading his fame. Everywhere they go, they smell like Jesus, and Jesus smells like sacrificial service for the good of others.

Ephesians 5:2 And walk in love, as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

The apostles are being crushed and poured out as the fragrant aroma of Christ. When the saints of Caesarea urged Paul to avoid the dangers that awaited him,

Acts 21:13 Then Paul answered, “What are you doing, weeping and breaking my heart? For I am ready not only to be imprisoned but even to die in Jerusalem for the name of the Lord Jesus.”

He tells the Philippians:

Philippians 2:17 Even if I am to be poured out as a drink offering upon the sacrificial offering of your faith, I am glad and rejoice with you all.

The smell of genuine Jesus shaped ministry is a life broken and crushed and poured out for the sake of others.

And notice who is smelling this pleasing aroma.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God…

The smell is the smell of Christ, and it is a pleasing fragrance to God. In the Roman triumph, incense was burned creating a fragrance to attempt to please the Roman gods. In the Old Testament, sacrificial animals offered in faith on the altar were said to be a pleasing aroma to God. Ephesians 5:2 uses this sacrificial imagery when it says that Jesus “gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”

God is smelling the life of the apostles, and to him it is a pleasing aroma. Their weakness, their suffering, their afflictions, their ‘not my will but yours be done’ smell like Jesus to the Father. And this is well pleasing to the Father.

Remember in Genesis 27, when Isaac thought he was going to die, so he sent his firstborn son Esau to hunt and bring him game so that he could bless him, and Isaac’s wife and his other son Jacob schemed to deceive him? Rebekah dressed him up in Esau’s clothes, and put goat skin on his hands and neck. Isaac was suspicious; he said “The voice is Jacob’s voice, but the hands are the hands of Esau.” It wasn’t until “he came near and kissed him. And Isaac smelled the smell of this garments and blessed him and said, ‘See, the smell of my son is as the smell of a field that the LORD has blessed!”” It was the aroma of Esau that pleased his father, and caused him to bless him. It is the same with us, although there is no deceit. We are clothed with the clothes of our older brother, clothed in the righteousness of Christ, and we have the smell of Christ about us, and when the Father smells the pleasing aroma of his only Son on us, we are included in the inheritance that belongs to Jesus.

Two Kinds of Noses

The sense of smell is a powerful sense. I was driving through town the other day, and someone somewhere was barbecuing. I don’t know who or where or how far away, but I smelled it through the rolled up windows of the car. And it smelled wonderful. I thought about trying to locate the source and inviting myself over for dinner. Just last week my nose woke me up. The savory smell of sausage and bacon was wafting from the kitchen all the way up the stairs to our bedroom.

The sense of smell is an interesting one. Smells are perceived differently by different people. There are these little glass plug-in fragrance things that are supposed to make your house smell nice. And some of them I like. But I have noticed that certain aromas I can’t handle. It’s not just that I don’t like the smell. It’s that when I walk into the room, I feel like my throat is closing off and I can’t breathe anymore. To other people it smells pleasant. But I have to leave the room.

This aroma of Christ is one kind of aroma, and it is always pleasing to the Father. But there are two kinds of noses in the world.

2 Corinthians 2:15 For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, 16 to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life. …

This is the same dividing of humankind Paul pointed out in the beginning of 1 Corinthians.

1 Corinthians 1:18 For the word of the cross is folly to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God.

There are those who are perishing, and those who are being saved. There is no third group, no neutral category. The word of the cross divides humanity into two groups.

1 Corinthians 1:23 but we preach Christ crucified, a stumbling block to Jews and folly to Gentiles, 24 but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.

Christ crucified divides humanity. There are those who are perishing, to whom Christ crucified is foolishness, a stumbling block, an offensive aroma of death. And there are those who are called, those who are being saved, to whom the word of the cross is the power of God and the wisdom of God, a sweet fragrance from life to life. In 1 Corinthians he contrasts wisdom with foolishness, power with weakness. Here in 2 Corinthians he compares this to the sense of smell.

He is talking about how things are perceived. It is the same word of the cross that is perceived by some as foolishness, which is perceived by others as wisdom and power. It is the same smell of the knowledge of Christ that is perceived among some as the smell of death to death, and by others as the smell of life to life.

In the Roman triumph, there were often two groups. There was the conquered enemy led captive and put to open shame, and the smells of the triumph would be for them the smells of death to death. They had been conquered in battle, and now they were being marched as slaves, likely to their deaths. And then there were the Roman citizens who had been living as slaves to the enemy. They too were led in the triumph, but the sights and sounds and smells would mean something entirely different to them. To them, this was the smell of an end of slavery; it meant liberty, freedom, victory. They owed their freedom and their allegiance to the conquering general. This was the smell of life to life. They had been rescued, saved out of slavery to the enemy, and were now being restored to their homeland as freed men. Same fragrance. Same odor. Two very different perceptions, depending on which side of the battle you were on.

What Nose Have You?

How Jesus smells to you, how the word of the cross sounds to you is a good test of what category you are in. Do you hear the gospel message, the word of the cross; that the Omnipotent God became human to die a shameful death that we deserved in order to rescue us; does that sound like foolishness, a fairy tale, nonsense? Do you take offense at the implication that you are so bad a sinner that you deserve to die? That you are utterly incapable of contributing to your own rescue? Does all the talk of death and blood and crucifixion seem like a morbid fascination?

Or does the message of Immanuel, God with us, come to rescue us from our sins, not only make sense, but fill your heart with joy? Do you, as the old hymn goes, ‘cling to the old rugged cross?’ How do the words of this old hymn, penned in 1771 by William Cowper smell to you?

1 There is a fountain filled with blood
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains…

2 The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away…

3 Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its pow’r,
Till all the ransomed Church of God
Be saved, to sin no more…

4 E’er since by faith I saw the stream
Thy flowing wounds supply,
Redeeming love has been my theme,
And shall be till I die…

[William Cowper, 1772]

There is a fountain filled with blood; Drawn from Immanuel’s veins; And sinners, plunged beneath that flood; Lose all their guilty stains. Is that the sweet aroma of life and hope? Does your soul resonate with those words, or is that distasteful and offensive imagery to you?

Here is just one verse of another hymn written just over 100 years later; ‘Tis so sweet to trust in Jesus’

2 O how sweet to trust in Jesus,
just to trust his cleansing blood;
and in simple faith to plunge me
neath the healing, cleansing flood!

[Louisa M. R. Stead, 1882]

Is it sweet to you to be plunged beneath the cleansing blood of Jesus, to trust him, to depend on him completely? Is the blood precious to you? Is the cross to you a symbol of foolishness and death, or a symbol of life and power?

Gospel Call

This is one way to diagnose where you stand with God. The fragrance of the knowledge of Jesus, who he is, why he came, what he did, the message of the cross, smells different to different people. To some it is the stench of death and it results in death, to those who are perishing. To others, to those who are being saved, it is the sweet fragrance of life and it results in eternal life.

Which is it to you? If it is sweet to you, thank God! He has given you the ability to savor the knowledge of Jesus rightly. And if you are in the other category, if you can’t honestly say that the cross is precious to you, that would seem to indicate that you are perishing.

But here is some good news for you. God loves to take those who are perishing and rescue them. Ask God to give you a heart to receive the word of the cross as wisdom and power for salvation. Ask God to give you a nose to smell the fragrance of the sufferings of Christ as the sweet aroma of life to life. Ask God to save you. Ask God to grant you to perceive Jesus as life, and receive his free gift of life.

Pastor Rodney Zedicher ~ Ephraim Church of the Bible ~ www.ephraimbible.org

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April 17, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment