A pleasing aroma

Sweet Smelling Aroma


2 Corinthians 2:14-17

 14But 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. 15For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life. And who is equal to such a task? 17Unlike so many, we do not peddle the word of God for profit. On the contrary, in Christ we speak before God with sincerity, like men sent from God.


Isn't that the most amazing thing that we are to God the aroma of Christ! And that God is using us to spread the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ!

That is more than just beautiful writing. The use of the imagery of a pleasing aroma is used a lot in the bible and I want to look at just a few examples which demonstrate what smells good to God and therefore how that should influence our lives as Christians.


Our first example is of Noah and we’re going to read a couple of verses about what Noah did after the great flood.

Gen 8: 20-21

 20 Then Noah built an altar to the LORD and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. 21 The LORD smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: "Never again will I curse the ground because of man, even though every inclination of his heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done.


This is the first example in the bible of what smells good to God. The important thing to note in this example is that Noah wasn't told to build an altar to the LORD. He just got on and did it. He didn’t build the altar and make the sacrifice because he had done something wrong that he wanted God to forgive him for. He just built an altar and sacrificed to the Lord because that was what he wanted to do. And we read that the burnt offerings, the sacrifices that Noah made were a pleasing Aroma to the LORD.


Our next example is from Leviticus. Leviticus is the book of the Old Testament that records all the laws that God gave to the nation of Israel. Leviticus also describes all the sacrifices that the people were to make and the reasons that they were to make those sacrifices.


Leviticus 1:1-9

 1 The LORD called to Moses and spoke to him from the Tent of Meeting. He said, 2 "Speak to the Israelites and say to them: 'When any of you brings an offering to the LORD, bring as your offering an animal from either the herd or the flock.

 3 " 'If the offering is a burnt offering from the herd, he is to offer a male without defect. He must present it at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting so that it will be acceptable to the LORD. 4 He is to lay his hand on the head of the burnt offering, and it will be accepted on his behalf to make atonement for him. 5 He is to slaughter the young bull before the LORD, and then Aaron's sons the priests shall bring the blood and sprinkle it against the altar on all sides at the entrance to the Tent of Meeting. 6 He is to skin the burnt offering and cut it into pieces. 7 The sons of Aaron the priest are to put fire on the altar and arrange wood on the fire. 8 Then Aaron's sons the priests shall arrange the pieces, including the head and the fat, on the burning wood that is on the altar. 9 He is to wash the inner parts and the legs with water, and the priest is to burn all of it on the altar. It is a burnt offering, an offering made by fire, an aroma pleasing to the LORD.


The book of Leviticus is full of sacrifices that the nation of Israel was to make. There were sin offerings which were sacrifices that the people were to make when they sinned unintentionally. There were guilt offerings which were sacrifices that the people were to make when the broke the rules of the law unintentionally. The sacrifices that were prescribed for this were to make Atonement for the sins that had been committed. That is to make the people right with God. But the bible never describes these types of sacrifices as having pleasing aromas to the Lord.


However the verses we have just read are about freewill offerings. These are offerings that people chose to offer to God. Not because they were guilty of a sin, but because they wanted to bring an offering to God, just like the offering that Noah made.

Like any of the other sacrifices, freewill offerings had to be perfect without blemish. But they are the only offerings that are described as being “an aroma pleasing to the LORD”. A freewill offering didn’t have to be an animal. There were also freewill offerings for the Israelites to bring the first fruit of the harvest and offer them to the Lord. But they always had to be the best of whatever was being offered. So the best animal without blemish. Or the first fruits of the harvest straight out of the field.


Leviticus also explains what would happen to the Israelites if they disobeyed God and did not keep his Laws.  

Lev 26:27-31

 27 " 'If in spite of this you still do not listen to me but continue to be hostile toward me, 28 then in my anger I will be hostile toward you, and I myself will punish you for your sins seven times over. 29 You will eat the flesh of your sons and the flesh of your daughters. 30 I will destroy your high places, cut down your incense altars and pile your dead bodies on the lifeless forms of your idols, and I will abhor you. 31 I will turn your cities into ruins and lay waste your sanctuaries, and I will take no delight in the pleasing aroma of your offerings.


So we can see that the way in which a sacrifice is offered and the reason it is offered is more important to God than what the actual sacrifice was. The sacrifice could be 50 of the best most valuable lambs. Or it could be several tonnes of wheat, but that wouldn’t matter if the person offering it had been worshipping idols. If the person or indeed the whole nation of Israel were offering the sacrifice whilst being disobedient to God. If they were breaking God’s laws and not being faithful to God the God would take no delight in the sacrifice. That sacrifice would not please God. So whilst it may be a sacrifice that should have smelled good to God, actually it would be something that would not give God any pleasure.


The prophet Hosea emphases this point. Speaking to Israel he says:


Hosea 6:6

 6 For I desire mercy, not sacrifice,
       and acknowledgment of God rather than burnt offerings.


We see from this verse that the actual sacrifice wasn’t what God desires at all. What God desires and has always desired is the acknowledgement that He is God. That he is the only God.



This principle is repeated in the New Testament.


Mark 12:28-34


 28One of the teachers of the law came and heard them debating. Noticing that Jesus had given them a good answer, he asked him, "Of all the commandments, which is the most important?"

 29"The most important one," answered Jesus, "is this: 'Hear, O Israel, the Lord our God, the Lord is one. 30Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength.' 31The second is this: 'Love your neighbour as yourself.' There is no commandment greater than these."

 32"Well said, teacher," the man replied. "You are right in saying that God is one and there is no other but him. 33To love him with all your heart, with all your understanding and with all your strength, and to love your neighbour as yourself is more important than all burnt offerings and sacrifices."

 34When Jesus saw that he had answered wisely, he said to him, "You are not far from the kingdom of God." And from then on no one dared ask him any more questions.


Jesus in this response is saying that the most important principle that was detailed in the Old Testament law is to Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind and with all your strength. And to 'Love your neighbour as yourself.'


And Jesus affirms the answer of the teacher of the law that these two commandments are more important than all the burnt offerings and sacrifices that were detailed in the Law of Moses in the Old Testament. Again it is not the sacrifices that God desired. God desires that we love him with all our hearts, all our soul and all our minds and that we love our neighbour as ourselves.


I have already explained how our first few examples of sacrifices that were pleasing to God were freewill offerings. That is offerings that the people didn’t have to give but gave because they wanted to. So now let’s have a look at a couple of New Testament examples of freewill offerings.


Philippians 4:16-18

16for even when I was in Thessalonica, you sent me aid again and again when I was in need. 17Not that I am looking for a gift, but I am looking for what may be credited to your account. 18 I have received full payment and even more; I am amply supplied, now that I have received from Epaphroditus the gifts you sent. They are a fragrant offering, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God.


The apostle Paul had received help from the church at Philippi in the form aid when he was on one of his missionary journeys. Paul describes theses freewill charitable gifts of the believers as being a fragrant offering and acceptable sacrifice pleasing to God. Again like before the church at Phillipi didn’t have to give Paul anything, but this was something they wanted to do. A freewill offering.

When Paul is writing to the Corinthian church about giving he writes the following:

2 Corinthians 9:7 (New International Version) – Can expand with other verses from this chapter

7Each man should give what he has decided in his heart to give, not reluctantly or under compulsion, for God loves a cheerful giver.

This just emphasises the point that what God wants if for giving to be free will, not because someone tells us to.

This then is a principle that we can apply to ourselves. When we give, whether the gift is our time, or our money or anything else, the gift should be given by our own free will, rather than because we are compelled to and give grudgingly. That gift then is something that that smells good to God and is pleasing to him.


As in all things though the best example of a fragrant offering pleasing to God is Christ himself:

Ephesians 5:2

 1Be imitators of God, therefore, as dearly loved children 2and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


Like all of the other offerings we've read about that are pleasing to God, Christ's offering was a free will offering. But rather than just being a part, a tithe or a single good deed, Christ gave everything. Whilst he was alive on earth his life was an offering of service to the Lord continually doing the will of God at every opportunity. And several times God's response was


Luke 3:22
“You are my Son, whom I love; with you I am well pleased."


His life therefore was our ultimate example of how to smell good to God and please him, and as Christians we to should be looking to give up our own self and instead let ourselves be filled with the fragrance of the knowledge of God which we will spread everywhere we God.

Jesus did however go further than we ever could and in his death, he was the ultimate freewill offering, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.


John 12:1-11

Jesus Anointed at Bethany

 1Six days before the Passover, Jesus arrived at Bethany, where Lazarus lived, whom Jesus had raised from the dead. 2Here a dinner was given in Jesus' honour. Martha served, while Lazarus was among those reclining at the table with him. 3Then Mary took about a pint of pure nard, an expensive perfume; she poured it on Jesus' feet and wiped his feet with her hair. And the house was filled with the fragrance of the perfume.

 4But one of his disciples, Judas Iscariot, who was later to betray him, objected, 5"Why wasn't this perfume sold and the money given to the poor? It was worth a year's wages." 6He did not say this because he cared about the poor but because he was a thief; as keeper of the money bag, he used to help himself to what was put into it.

 7"Leave her alone," Jesus replied. " It was intended that she should save this perfume for the day of my burial. 8You will always have the poor among you, but you will not always have me."


Let me give you a bit of background to this event. We read in Luke 10:38-41 about a previous visit by Jesus to the house of Mary and Martha. On this occasion Martha was busy doing the work preparing the meal. Whereas we read that Mary was sat at Jesus’ feet listening to Jesus as he taught. When Martha asks Jesus to tell Mary to come and help her in the kitchen, Jesus responds that actually Mary is doing what is more important. That it is more important to listen to the words of Jesus than to concern oneself with the mundane things of this world.

Later on in John 11 we read about house Jesus raised Lazarus from the dead. We read in verse 2 that Lazarus was the brother of Mary, the same Mary who read about in chapter 12 pouring perfume on Jesus’ feet.

So we realise that Jesus was very close to this family, Mary, Martha and Lazarus. And we also start to realise that they will have heard a lot of Jesus’ teaching and that they had a strong faith.

Jesus quite often talked to his disciples about his own death and what he would have to go through. For example : Mark 10:32-34

 32They were on their way up to Jerusalem, with Jesus leading the way, and the disciples were astonished, while those who followed were afraid. Again he took the Twelve aside and told them what was going to happen to him. 33"We are going up to Jerusalem," he said, "and the Son of Man will be betrayed to the chief priests and teachers of the law. They will condemn him to death and will hand him over to the Gentiles, 34who will mock him and spit on him, flog him and kill him. Three days later he will rise."


I believe that Mary would have heard Jesus speak like this. But unlike the other disciples I think that she took this to heart in did something about it. So coming back to John chapter 12 I put it to you that Mary knew that Jesus was about to be betrayed and put to death. She knew that this was her last chance before the Passover and these events to anoint Jesus. In the parallel account in Mark 14:8-9 it says:

8She did what she could. She poured perfume on my body beforehand to prepare for my burial. 9I tell you the truth, wherever the gospel is preached throughout the world, what she has done will also be told, in memory of her."

So Mary believing that Jesus was going to be put to death shortly did what she could beforehand to prepare Jesus for his burial. It is an act of love and devotion to her Lord. But also an act of faith, believing that what Jesus said about himself would come true.


So one last thought to conclude our study. We have learnt that sacrifices that are fragrant and pleasing to God are those that are given of our own free will. We give them because of our love and devotion to God and because it is what our faith drives us to do. Not because we are compelled to give them by a third party. And we have learnt that the offerings that God desires us to give are those that involve loving the Lord of God with all our heart, soul and mind and loving our neighbour as ourselves.

Romans 12

 1Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God's mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual[a] act of worship. 2Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God's will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.

Paul therefore urges us to give our very bodies and lives as living sacrifices to God. By which he means that all the things we do and think should be devoted to God as our spiritual act of worship. And in order to do this we should renew our minds. Any to renew our minds we must feed it with the word of God and by acting on what we’ve learnt.


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