2 Corinthians 2:14-16 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. And who is equal to such a task?
We all know a bad smell when we come across one. Our nose may twitch once or twice before the full force of the smell hits us. Whether it is rotting food or being downwind of a pig farm or the hint a baby needs to be changed, our nose tells us that something unpleasant is nearby. We try to identify the source of the smell and remove the scent.
We can also smell the pleasant scents of freshly baked chocolate chip cookies or brats on the grill or Easter lilies in church. We enjoy these fragrances and want more of them.
In 2 Corinthians chapter 2, the apostle Paul talks about Christians being the “aroma of Christ,” as they live their lives in the world. For some people our aroma is offensive because they are offended by Jesus and His cross. For others, our Christian aroma reminds them of Jesus and they want more of this fragrance of life.
Paul writes: “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. 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.”
When Paul mentions the smells of a triumphal procession, he is referring to when Roman generals and emperors returned from a victorious war, they led a triumphal procession through the streets of Rome. Their horses were draped in garlands of fresh flowers. Incense was burned along the way in honor to their Roman gods. Their temples were filled with the burning of sacrificial animals for thanksgiving to Mars, the god of war. To those along the parade route, this was the aroma of victory.
But at the end of the parade, enemy soldiers were stumbling along, filthy, sweaty, wrists tied behind their backs, ankles chained to each other, heads bowed. They smelled the flowers and incense and sacrifices, too. Those smells signaled that they were headed to the gallows or the gladiatorial games. For them, this was the aroma of death.
The same aroma made some glad and others gag.
The apostle Paul is assuring the Christians in Corinth that in the midst of all the sexual perversions among the city’s inhabitants, the temples and sacrifices to false gods, and false preachers in Corinth, they were victorious in Christ. The Corinthian Christians could look at all the apostles who appeared to be defeated with so many problems, setbacks, and trials. But with Christ’s Gospel as their flag bearer, they were actually leading a triumphal procession through history.
The coming of Christ’s Gospel always has an effect. In some it is the sweet aroma of life and victory delivered in this message. For others, through their own fault, it is the stench of death and damnation because they rejected the message and it’s saving benefit.
Where are you in this procession? Are you drawing people to Christ with the sweet incense of the Gospel demonstrated in your words and life? Are you repulsing and repelling people who reject the sweet aroma of Christ’s salvation? Are you giving off any kind of smell at all?
Non-Christians have been irate the past few weeks because of Indiana’s recent religious freedom law. They are enraged that Christians would hold to their biblical values and refuse to bake a cake or make pizzas for a gay wedding. To unbelievers, that is the stench of death.
A high school senior recently won a court battle against an atheist group in New Jersey to keep reciting the words “one nation under God” in the Pledge of Allegiance in her school. The atheist group challenged the Pledge of Allegiance because they felt the words “under God” were discriminatory toward atheist students. To the atheists, any reminder that we are under God’s authority is the stench of defeat.
Your co-workers wonder why you belong to a “strict church” like Epiphany and the WELS. Your friends ask you why you believe in such politically incorrect ideas such as closed communion and only men as pastors. Your teenage daughter is upset with you because you censor music, movies and boys. Your grown son won’t speak to you because you don’t approve of him living together with his fiancé. To all of these people who oppose you and your Christian values, you are giving off the stench of doom.
While unbelievers smell the aroma of death – when we see Christians standing up for the sanctity of marriage, for the honor of our Creator, and for the truths of Scripture – we smell the fragrance of life.
But, ask yourself, “What kind of smell am I giving off?” Sadly, too often no one smells anything when they are around us. On a physical level, that’s a good thing! That means you are showering and using deodorant. But on a spiritual level, that’s not a good thing at all!
Do you keep silent when your family members are living an outwardly unchristian lifestyle? Do you keep your faith a secret when friends are bad-mouthing your Savior? Do you hunker down as our nation implodes with open sexuality, gay marriage, and abortion on demand?
Atheists, pagans, and unbelievers cannot understand and do not appreciate Jesus as their Savior from sin. So they work overtime to banish Christ’s name from their classrooms, remove Him from their textbooks, and delete any mention of Him in society. Any whiff of Christ drives them into a feeding frenzy. So they penalize, punish, and persecute all those who trust in Christ’s care and compassion.
Do you keep silent as the devil’s minions shout down the name of the Savior? Do you allow the forces of evil to push you around?
Sadly, we often don’t give off much of the aroma of Christ. Neither the unbelievers, nor the Christians around us really realize that we are Christians. We just go through the motions of our Christianity. We may appear very Christian on Sunday morning, but appear to be just like everyone else the rest of the week. We say all the right prayers, speak all the right confessions, sing all the right hymns, but all the while that our lips are moving, our hearts are far away. Like the Christians at the church in Laodicea, who were neither hot nor cold in their faith, we are often lukewarm in our dedication toward Christ (Revelation 3:15-16). In athletic terms, we are the spiritual equivalent of the guy who packs a king-size Snickers bar and a Dr. Pepper in his gym bag.
As Christians, we often feel the very real weight of representing Christ to others. Our worries, sins, and frailties can overwhelm us. We face the very real appeal to not give off too strong a smell so that others will not sense our Christian scents. Still, we can take heart that Christ Jesus is always sufficient and that His message of forgiveness for us is also a sweet fragrance to all who trust in Him.
Temple sacrifices in Corinth produced smells we would associate with grilling meat or cooking bread. The pleasing aroma of Christ’s sacrifice on the cross covers the stench of our sin.
When unbelievers catch any whiff of the faint iron smell of Jesus’ divine blood, they are repulsed. That smell of blood means they aren’t good enough on their own. But for the Christians, that is the sweet scent of atonement. For us it means that we aren’t good enough on our own … but Jesus is. We’re like a teenage boy trying to cover his B.O. with Axe. We douse ourselves in the fragrance of Christ’s blood. Christ’s blood has won the victory over our sin.
When atheists sniff the sickly sweet smell of burial spices, they are delighted by the aroma, for to them it means that Jesus is dead and buried in the grave. For us, it is a sad smell that means that the Lord of life died for His fallen creation. However, we know those seventy-five pounds of spices that were wrapped in linen around Jesus’ body did not have much time to work. For our Lord was only in the grave about 36 hours. That bouquet of spices reminds us that our Savior is alive. Christ’s resurrection has won the victory over death.
The pagans have no idea what to do with the simple smell of broiled fish. To them it means nothing at all. To us that smell doesn’t mean a Friday fish fry in Racine. Rather, it is subtle hint that Jesus is not a ghost. He is alive – human flesh and divine soul. With that risen body and soul, our victorious Christ descended into hell to proclaim His triumph right in front of the devil’s face. The scent of broiled fish reminds us that Christ has won the victory over the devil.
These smells remind us that Christ’s enemies – our enemies – of sin, death, and the devil, are tied up, chained to each other, heads bowed in defeat, being dragged in the Lord’s victory parade.
In the Book of Revelation, we – Christ’s soldiers – are privileged to receive a glimpse of the final battlefield. We join with the great multitude in heaven proclaiming, “Our Lord God, the Almighty, reigns. Let us rejoice and give him glory” (Revelation 19:6-7). All hell will break loose as all heaven comes forth. The two will collide in the ultimate battle between good and evil. Left standing amidst the smoke and thunder is the Son of God. All His enemies are laid at His feet. He is the Lamb who was slain … but now reigning on His throne.
We, the soldiers are in the triumphal procession. Let us march.
As we march through this life and into eternity, let us give off the aroma of Christ. Others will smell it and be appalled. Some others will smell it and be excited. And still others will smell it and be intrigued.
As the Holy Spirit molds us into the likeness of Christ, the aroma of the Savior flows freely from us and into the world around us. When this happens, when people get a whiff of these things in our lives, they wonder where these actions came from.
When they’re told that Jesus is the source, the Holy Spirit can use that moment to share the miraculous life, death and resurrection of the Savior with a lost soul and bring him or her from darkness into the Redeemer’s marvelous light.
We cannot be bothered by the reactions to our Christian aroma. All we can do is let the aroma of Christ waft from us out into the world. For some, it will be the stench of death. But for others – like us – it is the ever-so-sweet fragrance of life. Amen.