PastorRodney’s Weblog

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

Advertisements

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

2 Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ

04/08_2Corinthians 2:14; God’s Triumph in Christ ; Audio available at: http://www.ephraimbible.org/Sermons/20180408_2cor2_14.mp3

2 Corinthians 2:14. We are coming to the heart of the letter, the meat of what Paul wants to say. He wants them to understand the true nature of Christian ministry; what it means to be a minister of the gospel. It is not what they think. Corinth is enamored with power, prestige, persuasive speech, popularity. This is not the nature of Christian ministry.

Overview of the Introduction

So far, in the introduction to this letter, he has blessed God who, in the midst of affliction brings comfort, in order to comfort others who are sharing in the sufferings of Christ (1:3-7). He explained (1:8-10) the afflictions they experienced in Asia, afflictions so severe they despaired of life itself, but this was to wean them from self-sufficiency and cause them to rely completely on God. He invites his readers to help him by prayer (1:11). He appeals to his own clear conscience, that in all of life he follows as a ruling principle the grace of God. And he looks forward to that final day when the church will boast in their apostle, and he will boast in them (1:12-14). He defends his changing travel plans in this light, that his goal was to extend them grace, and that God’s gracious answer to us is always yes in Christ. He anchors their hope in the concerted operations of the Father, Son and Spirit in securing our acceptance (1:15-22). He tells them that his decision not to visit them earlier was for their joy, to spare them; and his letter was to communicate his abundant love for them (1:23-2:4). In the context of his seeking to spare them a painful visit, he urges them not to cause further pain to the individual who had repented of his sin, but rather to forgive, comfort, and re-affirm your love for him (2:5-10). He warns that the enemy is always on the offensive, and unforgiveness is a favorite foothold (2:11). In 2:12-13 he lets them know of an opportunity; an open door in the Lord for preaching the gospel, but because of the turmoil in his spirit, he said goodbye and headed on to Macedonia to find his co-worker. He doesn’t come right out and say it, but it was the Corinthian church that was the cause of his unrest. He had sent Titus to Corinth to help work things through, and to bring news of their response to his previous letter. He loved this church so deeply, that he couldn’t take full advantage of a gospel opportunity because he was emotionally torn over this church.

The Missing Thanksgiving

What comes next is quite unexpected. We would anticipate a scolding for their causing a missed gospel opportunity in Troas. We would expect a stern rebuke for their self-centeredness and insensitivity to God’s work.

Instead, in verse 14 he gives thanks to God. “But thanks be to God.” This is the missing thanksgiving from the introduction of the letter. That would have been a glaring omission to anyone familiar with Paul’s letters. Normally, he introduces himself, he addresses his readers, he asks God’s grace and peace to be on them, and then he thanks God for them. But in 2 Corinthians, he omits the thanksgiving, and instead blesses God who brings comfort in afflictions.

For this thanksgiving, he uses the normal word for ‘grace’ in the sense of freely given gratitude to God. Instead of anger and frustration over a missed opportunity, Paul’s heart overflows with thanksgiving to God.

The Roman Triumph

And the content of this thanksgiving is even more shocking. He does not thank God for what he is doing in his readers, but rather what God is doing in and through his apostles. And he uses a startling picture.

2 Corinthians 2:14 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.

The triumphal procession was very well known in the Roman world. Ancient Greek and Roman literature record over 300 of these triumphs The returning victorious general whom the senate had granted the right to a triumph entered Rome standing on a high, two-wheeled chariot drawn by four horses.

Josephus describes the triumph for Vespasian and Titus after their victory in the Jewish war.

and when they had put on their triumphal garments, and had offered sacrifices to the gods that were placed at the gate, they sent the triumph forward, and marched through the theatres, that they might be the more easily seen by the multitudes.

5. Now it is impossible to describe the multitude of the shows as they deserve, and the magnificence of them all; …and all brought together on that day demonstrated the vastness of the dominions of the Romans; for there was here to be seen a mighty quantity of silver, and gold, and ivory, …and did not appear as carried along in pompous show only, but, as a man may say, running along like a river. …The images of the gods were also carried, being as well wonderful for their largeness, as made …[of] very costly materials; and many species of animals were brought… The men also who brought every one of these shows were great multitudes, and adorned with purple garments, all over interwoven with gold; … Besides these, one might see that even the great number of the captives was not unadorned, while the variety that was in their garments, and their fine texture, concealed from the sight the deformity of their bodies. But what afforded the greatest surprise of all was the structure of the pageants that were borne along; for indeed he that met them could not but be afraid that the bearers would not be able firmly enough to support them, such was their magnitude; for many of them were so made, that they were on three or even four stories, one above another. The magnificence also of their structure afforded one both pleasure and surprise; for upon many of them were laid carpets of gold. There was also wrought gold and ivory fastened about them all; and many resemblances of the war, and those in several ways, and variety of contrivances, affording a most lively portraiture of itself. For there was to be seen a happy country laid waste, and entire squadrons of enemies slain; while some of them ran away, and some were carried into captivity; with walls of great altitude and magnitude overthrown and ruined by machines; with the strongest fortifications taken, and the walls of most populous cities upon the tops of hills seized on, and an army pouring itself within the walls; as also every place full of slaughter, and supplications of the enemies, when they were no longer able to lift up their hands in way of opposition. Fire also sent upon temples was here represented, and houses overthrown, and falling upon their owners: … Now the workmanship of these representations was so magnificent and lively in the construction of the things, that it exhibited what had been done to such as did not see it, as if they had been there really present. On the top of every one of these pageants was placed the commander of the city that was taken, and the manner wherein he was taken.” [Flavius Josephus: The Jewish War. VII. 3-7]

One author describes: “The part of the procession which entered the city ahead of the triumphator’s chariot gave the spectators an idea of the victory. Not only were spoils of war carried along – weapons, gold, silver and jewellery – but also pictures of battle-scenes, of towns conquered, and boards with the names of the peoples subjugated. …White oxen, to be sacrificed to Jupiter, were brought along. The procession marched to a flourish of trumpets. …Aromatic substances were also carried. The chained prisoners, the most prominent of whom were as a rule killed in the dungeon before the sacrifice was made to Jupiter, walked right in front of the triumphator. …The chariot was followed by the Romans who had been liberated from slavery, wearing the pileus of the liberti. The soldiers, wearing laurel-wreaths on their heads and singing songs deriding their commander, brought up the rear. [Versnel, 1970, p.56-57, 95; cited BECNT p157-8]

Josephus continues: “6. Now the last part of this pompous show was at the temple of Jupiter Capitolinus, whither when they were come, they stood still; for it was the Romans’ ancient custom to stay till somebody brought the news that the general of the enemy was slain. This general was Simon, the son of Gioras, who had then been led in this triumph among the captives; a rope had also been put upon his head, and he had been drawn into a proper place in the forum, and had withal been tormented by those that drew him along; and the law of the Romans required that malefactors condemned to die should be slain there.

God Triumphs Over Us

This is the background of Paul’s jarring thanksgiving:

2 Corinthians 2:14 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?

God takes center stage. God is the conquering general. God is the one the parade is for. God is worthy. The triumph is to recognize him, giving thanks and praise to him.

But where is Paul and the apostles? Where does Paul see himself? Over this there has been much debate. Does Paul see himself as a soldier in God’s army, who helped him to win the battle? This is how Tyndale translated it ‘thankes be vnto God which alwayes geveth vs the victorie in Christ;’ and the King James followed: ‘which always causeth us to triumph in Christ’. There is a big question if that is even a legitimate translation linguistically or grammatically, and that hardly fits. The apostles didn’t help God win the victory.

Does Paul see himself as a defeated enemy, conquered by God, displayed as a trophy of war, being led to his execution? As troubling as that sounds, that fits the evidence much better. Paul was an enemy of the cross. In his own words, “I persecuted the church of God violently and tried to destroy it” (Gal.1:13) until Jesus conquered him on the road to Damascus while he was “still breathing threats and murder against the disciples of the Lord” (Acts 9:1).

Paul describes the apostolic ministry in 1 Corinthians 4

1 Corinthians 4:9 For I think that God has exhibited us apostles as last of all, like men sentenced to death, because we have become a spectacle to the world, to angels, and to men. …13 …We have become, and are still, like the scum of the world, the refuse of all things.

And in 2 Corinthians 4 he says:

2 Corinthians 4:8 We are afflicted… perplexed… 9 persecuted… struck down… 10 always carrying in the body the death of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. 11 For we who live are always being given over to death for Jesus’ sake, so that the life of Jesus also may be manifested in our mortal flesh.

This was the Corinthian problem. They viewed the ministry and the Christian life as a triumph; they expected to ‘have all they want …to become rich …to become kings and reign’ (1Cor.4:8), and they expected a leader who was powerful and polished, a man of status who carried himself well, a rhetorical genius, a victorious general. Instead, Paul comes “in weakness and in fear and much trembling,” “I …did not come …with lofty speech or wisdom. For I decided to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ and him crucified” (1Cor.2:1-3). Paul is not the victor. He has been conquered by Christ. The NIV translates it this way: “who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession”

How the Victory was Won

Paul has been captured, and God’s power is displayed in his weakness (2Cor.12:9). And he is being ‘exhibited …like men sentenced to death’ (1Cor.4:9). In some ways, Paul’s life and testimony is like a pageant or a portrait being carried along, a vivid mural displaying the triumph of Christ over his enemies.

Right here in the context (v.11), there is a reference to the war between Satan and God; we are not to be ignorant of his designs and outwitted by Satan. We are to defeat him by forgiving one another.

We must keep in mind how Jesus won this victory.

Colossians 2 is the only other place in the New Testament where this word ‘triumph’ is used. Paul warns there:

Colossians 2:8 See to it that no one takes you captive by philosophy and empty deceit, according to human tradition, according to the elemental spirits of the world, and not according to Christ.

And then he talks about Christ, and how we are united with Christ.

Colossians 2:13 And you, who were dead in your trespasses and the uncircumcision of your flesh, God made alive together with him, having forgiven us all our trespasses, 14 by canceling the record of debt that stood against us with its legal demands. This he set aside, nailing it to the cross. 15 He disarmed the rulers and authorities and put them to open shame, by triumphing over them in him.

God triumphed over Satan and the demonic hordes, he disarmed them of their ability to accuse us by ‘forgiving us all our trespasses, by nailing it to the cross.’ God triumphed over his enemies, he put them to open shame, by allowing Christ to be ‘despised and rejected by men …as one from whom men hide their faces’ (Is.53:3). He canceled the record of debt that stood against us by nailing it to the cross.

Isaiah 53:5 But he was pierced for our transgressions; he was crushed for our iniquities; … 6 …the LORD has laid on him the iniquity of us all. …10 Yet it was the will of the LORD to crush him; he has put him to grief; …

God triumphed over his enemies in Christ, by having Christ put to death in the place of rebels and enemies against him. And he took an enemy like Paul and transformed him and put him on display as a trophy of his grace. And he ‘showed him how much he must suffer for the sake of his name’ (Acts 9:16). And through people like Paul he ‘spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere’

Paul, as he loves to do, seems to mix his metaphors. He is a captive conquered by God in Christ, he has died with Christ, yet he is raised with Christ and his life is a mural displaying God’s triumph; and in his sufferings, he becomes an incense bearer in the triumphal procession; he spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere. Fragrant herbs must be crushed or ground or burned to release their sweet smell.

And he thanks God that it is so. God is worthy to be praised, because God is spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ everywhere through the weakness and afflictions of his apostles. Paul’s passion is to make Christ known everywhere, and if he must be crushed to release this sweet odor, then thanks be to God! This is what authentic Christian ministry looks like; this is what authentic Christian ministry smells like.

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

April 10, 2018 Posted by | 2 Corinthians, podcast | , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment