Smells are among the most powerful forces in human experience. Smells are so powerful they can instantly change one of life's best moments into one of life's worst moments. Or, they can change one of life's worst moments into one of life's cherished moments.

Consider two illustrations. Illustration one: your whole life your dream vacation has been a leisurely visit to a tropical paradise. After planning and saving for years, you arrive in the place of your dreams filled with anticipation. Flowers are blooming. The sky is deep blue. The sun is brilliant. The sights and sounds are mystical. The breeze is gentle, warm, relaxing. The ocean has a hypnotic color and clarity you have never seen. The whole experience is so wonderful you feel like you are in another world. Every sensory experience exceeds every expectation.

But the first night there, the whole town experiences the worst sewage catastrophe possible. Sewage in a tropical climate is stifling! That night the overwhelming smell of sewage penetrates your room. The next day when you go to eat, the smell of sewage is everywhere. You step outside, the smell of sewage "knocks you down." No matter where you are or what you do, the smell of sewage is everywhere.

How long will you stay? Will you ever forget that odor? Can you ever disassociate that odor from that place? Does the odor destroy your dream?

Illustration two: inescapable necessity forces you to make a trip you literally hate to take. Everything goes wrong. You are stuck in a strange, dreary airport for six hours while a flight is delayed. When that flight finally leaves, it flies through horrible weather. Your rental car breaks down on a deserted road in the middle of nowhere ten miles from a house. You decide to walk for help. A mile from the car a sudden, intense rain storm soaks you with cold rain. You decide to go back to the car. When you turn around, you see a truck speeding away from the car. Someone broke a window and took everything.

The rain finally stops, and you walk for help. You are angrier and more disgusted than you ever remember being. Miles from the car, you approach a house and smell the most wonderful food aromas you ever smelled. The people invite you in and feed you. The food tastes as wonderful as it smelled.

Will you ever forget that aroma? Will you always remember how wonderful the food was? Will that aroma always be of one of life's wonderful moments?

2 Corinthians 2:14-16 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing; to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life. And who is adequate for these things?

  1. Smells played a very critical role in Old Testament acts of worship before the nation of Israel existed and after the nation of Israel existed.
    1. Before Israel existed, God "smelled" the smoke of animal sacrifices as an "odor of sweet smell."
      1. For example, one the first things Noah did when he left the ark was to offer many animal sacrifices to God (Genesis 8:20,21).
      2. The smoke and aroma of those burning sacrifices was "smelled" by God as a "soothing aroma."
      3. After Israel existed, incense played a key, important role in Jewish worship.
      1. There was an altar of incense used to burn incense in the tabernacle and later the temple (Exodus 30).
      2. On the second most important day of worship each year (the day of atonement), if the most holy place was not filled with the smoke and aroma of incense before the high priest entered, he died (Leviticus 16:13).
      3. Some "smell" had to mask the stench of sin when God's people approached Him.
    2. Throughout the entire Old Testament, smells and aromas were an extremely important part of worship.
      1. To honor God, you had to approach Him with sweet, soothing aromas.
      2. Only the right aroma could remove the stench of evil in sinful people.
      3. It has always been true that the natural stench of evil is the smell of death.

  2. After the crucifixion and resurrection of Jesus, those who trust Christ are the soothing, sweet smelling aroma that God "smells."
    1. In the 2 Corinthians 2:14-16 reading, Paul used a known experience to teach a powerful point.
      1. In the time of crisis a Roman general took several Roman legions and attacked the enemy.
      2. When the war ended, the victorious Roman general and his troops would return to the city of Rome.
      3. To honor the general and to celebrate the victory, Rome would have what they called the triumphal march.
        1. The whole city would line the parade route.
        2. The streets were lined with burners that produced clouds of incense.
        3. All the defeated, condemned captives were paraded through the streets with the general and his troops.
        4. To those captives, the clouds of incense were the horrible smell of death.
        5. To the victorious Romans, the clouds of incense was the wonderful smell of victory.
    2. In Paul's illustration:
      1. God organizes the triumphal march.
      2. Christ is the conquering general.
      3. To all people who accept Christ's liberation and salvation, the incense is the aroma of freedom from sin and death.
        1. They have been freed.
        2. The smell is the sweet smell of holiness and purity produced by liberation from the power of evil.
        3. To them, Jesus Christ is the aroma of life.
      4. But to all people who love ungodliness, evil, and the unholy, the incense is the aroma of certain death.
        1. They are the soldiers of evil marching to their eternal deaths.
        2. They hate holiness, and purity, and Christ, and God.
        3. To them, Jesus Christ is the aroma of death.

  3. We sinful people get used to the smell of evil, but the holy God never does.
    1. We humans get so accustomed to the smell of common evils that we do not "smell" them.
      1. The ungodliness that we classify as horrible has an awful odor.
      2. The ungodliness that is common place all around us has less odor all the time.
      3. The ungodliness that is acceptable does not even have an odor.
      4. The ungodliness that we find pleasurable actually smells good to us.
    2. Consider some illustrations.
      1. To many Christians, homosexual acts, prostitution, rape, forced human bondage, incest, abortion, murder, and violent crime have a horrible odor that really turns most Christians off.
        1. Many can't stand to be around "those kinds of people."
        2. Many believe the gospel cannot help "those kinds of people."
      2. To many Christians, adultery, "living together" arrangements, "one night" stands, white collar crime, recreational drugs, and gambling have some odor--but the odor is not that bad.
        1. It would be bad to do those things openly.
        2. But if we can do those things secretly and quietly with "the right people," its okay--"no big deal."
      3. To many Christians, deceit, greed, jealousy, selfish ambition, and hate do not have an odor, but those who wrote the New Testament, who understood Jesus and his teachings said:
        1. Deceiving a person insults God (Matthew 5:33-37).
        2. Greed is idolatry, an actual act of worship to a false god (Colossians 3:5).
        3. Jealousy and selfish ambition are ungodly arrogance (James 4:14).
        4. Hate nourishes murder and destroys eternal life (1 John 3:15).
      4. To many Christians, "getting high" on alcohol, "getting high" on recreational drugs, entertainment that is sexually stimulating, unholy experiences that give pleasure, vulgar language, and immoral jokes actually smell good.
        1. "Those things are just a part of life."
        2. "If they don't smell bad to me, they cannot possibly smell bad to God."

  4. In the Judaism of the New Testament and the early centuries beyond, a man could divorce his wife but a woman could not divorce her husband.
    1. A few exceptions were allowed.
      1. In the exceptions, the woman could not actually divorce her husband, but she could demand that her husband divorce her.
      2. If my memory is correct, there were five circumstances in which a wife could force her husband to divorce her.
    2. I remember one clearly.
      1. If her husband's occupation was tanning animal hides, she could demand a divorce.
        1. Tanning animal hides was a process that involved horrible odors.
        2. The stench was so penetrating that the odor actually permeated his skin.
        3. Literally, the odor could not be washed off--no matter how much he cleaned himself, even when he could not smell the odor, he still stunk.
      2. If his wife could not tolerate the odor, she could demand a divorce.
    3. We lived in West Africa for four years.
      1. After three years, some of our African friends felt close enough to us to be quite honest instead of kindly polite.
      2. Once we asked them what was the most difficult thing they did with the missionaries.
      3. They said the hardest thing they had to do was visit us in our homes.
        1. Shocked, we asked why.
        2. Respectfully, they replied, "You people smell so bad. The odor is almost more than we can take."
        3. How ironic! We bathed every day, used deodorant every day, we used lotions, and we put on clean clothes every day.
        4. We had showers; they did not. We could afford deodorant and lotions; they could not; we could afford to buy enough clothes to change frequently; they could not.
        5. Yet, we were the ones who smelled so bad they had trouble coming into our homes.
      4. We did not stink to us--we smelled good to us. Yet, we smelled awful to them.
        1. Why? Because of our diet.
        2. Missionaries ate a lot of meat; we could afford to.
        3. They could not afford meat very often.
        4. When you eat a lot of meat, your body secretes offensive odors in societies where most people do not eat meat.

The spiritual truth: every human stinks to God. Sin makes us stink. There is enough evil ingrained in all of us to make each of us give off a horrible odor to God. Our diet included evil every day of our lives, and the evil makes us stink to God.

Only one thing can remove the odor: God's forgiveness administered through Jesus' cleansing blood. When a person trusts God's acts in Jesus' death, the blood of Jesus removes the odor. God will remove the odor from any person who enters Jesus and lives in Jesus.

"Preacher, do you know what is wrong among Christians? I'll tell you what is wrong. We have a huge behavior problem in the church."

I certainly agree that Christians have a huge behavior problem, but that is not the foundation of our problems. The foundation is this: too many Christians do not trust God. They were not baptized because they trusted God. Trust had little to do with their baptism. They did not want a holy or a pure life. They still do not want a holy or a pure life. They love some forms of evil. They want the smell of evil, not the smell of purity and holiness. To them, the greatest option in all life is to smell like evil and stay out of hell.

When you look at your personal holiness and purity, are they more important to you today than a year ago? Is your purpose to "get used" to the smell of evil in your life? Or, is the purpose to let God cleanse you every day of your life so that you have the smell of holiness and purity?

David Chadwell

West-Ark Church of Christ, Fort Smith, AR
Morning Sermon, 7 January 2001

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