It was a run of the mill pastoring day.
I woke up.
Drank some coffee and kissed my wife.
I got to church.
Drank some coffee.
Talked to more parents.
And had a good conversation about Jesus.
About 3 hours into the day, I went into the 4-year-old room.
I saw some friends playing with the Duplo’s and thought I would join them in constructing a gigantic Duplo station wagon.
As I started putting them together, I turned to the friend next to me and said, “What do you think of my car?”
The friend scrunched his face up.
I said, “You don’t like it? I thought it was pretty cool.”
Again – he turned his face away from me.
I said, “I’m sorry you don’t like it. What should I change?”
And my friend said, “It’s not your car….”
“It’s your stinky breath.”
Over the few weeks we have been in our sermon series called FRESH and talking about how to FRESHEN up our own lives. We discussed our FRESH identity, our FRESH start, our personalized FRESHNESS in baptism, we talked about our FRESH purpose and our FRESHNESS of speech.
But…how do you bring FRESHNESS to those who aren’t you?
How do you tell someone else about their need for FRESHNESS?
How do you tell someone that their spiritual life – is kinda like coffee breath – it stinks?
Today’s lesson is called a Breath of Fresh Air in the Heart of North Raleigh. Our goal is to consider how we can bring the FRESHNESS that Jesus provides to our family, friends and community. Before we do that, a prayer: Lord, strengthen us by the truth, your Word is truth. Open our eyes to see what you want us to see, our ears to hear what you want us to hear and our hearts to believe what you would have us believe. Amen.
I. God’s Biggest Air Freshener
The section of God’s Word that we’ll study this morning comes from 2 Corinthians 2. It’s a letter written by a pastor named Paul to a church in Corinth. Important to note – the Corinthian community was a community that wreaked of ungodliness.
Because it was a market city that was all about the major dollar, it had issues with greed, fraud, and theft.
Because it was a bustling with many kinds of people it also had issues with hatred, racism, and bigotry.
Because it was influenced by fertility idols, it also had issues with sexual immorality, lust, and rape.
Because it was far apart from the true God, it had issues with unbelief, guilt, and shame.
Sound like any countries you know?
Sound like any communities?
And so, Paul writes to the believers in Corinth and explains to them how God wants them to FRESHen up the place. He starts by explaining how he has been freshening up places in his travels:
Now when I went to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ and found that the Lord had opened a door for me, I still had no peace of mind,because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I said goodbye to them and went on to Macedonia. (v.12-13)
This is an interesting start to this section. Paul wanted to go to a place called Troas. He says, “God opened a door” for him. Whether that means that someone offered him a ride on his carriage or let him borrow a horse, I don’t know. But Paul goes. He travels hundreds of miles to get to Troas because he really hoped to find Titus, a ministry partner of his, at work in Troas. But when he got to Troas – Titus wasn’t around. He had gone the entire trip just to find the guy and he wasn’t there.
Some might call that trip worthless.
Look at what he writes:
But thanks be to God, who always leads us as captives in Christ’s triumphal procession and uses us to spread the aroma of the knowledge of him everywhere. (v.14)
Triumphal Procession. In the early 1st century, that was pretty common. As countries battled for control of other countries, they would celebrate a war victory with a parade! They’d parade the troops. They’d parade the prized stallions. They’d have trumpeters trumpeting the trumpets, drummers drumming the drums and trombonists tromboning the trombones.
But the big part of the parade was the spoils:
Soldiers would wheel in carts filled with gold – spoils of war.
Soldiers would march with foreign stallions – spoils of war.
Solders would march with captivities, tied together, marching in front of them – spoils of war.
Jesus says that we are his victory spoils.
He defeated sin.
He defeated guilt.
He defeated shame.
He defeated Satan himself as he bore our sins on that cross.
And now – we are HIS victory spoils
And He is parading us to showcase HIS Victory.
To put it another way – because we are a part of Christ’s victory parade – we are also the aroma of Christ.
Another common sight (or rather smell) among 1st century victory parades would be incense burners! As people cheered and music played, incense bearers would twirl incense carrying sticks and let the smell of victory permeate the air. In addition, women would dance and throw flower petals into the air in order to welcome their conquering heroes. Again – the sweet aroma of victory would linger.
A modern version of this might not be as pleasant. It’d probably have the smell of gasoline from all the cars that are carrying the local Parks and Rec float, the smell of little pieces of unwrapped candy that float dwellers would throw towards the crowd – and maybe the smell of the horses as they walk around.
Still – regardless – the smells are associated with a parade. They are associated with a celebration!
Believers are the aroma of Christ.
An aroma of forgiveness, with a hint of joy, and the lasting airs of grace.
God wants us to share that forgiveness, that joy, and that grace with others!
That was Paul’s excitement when he talked about his travels. Even though the goal was to go see Titus…and he didn’t get to see Titus, but that didn’t mean his trip was worthless.
Because everywhere he went, he was paraded as Christ’s victory spoils.
As he walked on the path to Troas, he stopped to provide for the needs of an old beggar with a few coins – while telling him about how Jesus took care of his own need of forgiveness.
As he stopped by a local watering hole and waited behind a woman with 4 screaming children, he got their attention and told stories about Jesus’ miraculous power over death – even his own!
When he made it to Troas and grabbed a bite to eat at the local restaurant, he talked with the waiter about how Jesus is the bread of life and how he had filled him spiritually.
When he got to Troas and saw that Titus wasn’t there, he didn’t just turn and leave – he took the opportunity to parade himself as victory spoils for Christ – to tell about how Jesus had mercifully saved him…
…and could save others too.
You are also the aroma of Christ.
Let that aroma permeate the air wherever you go.
Share the message of Jesus.
Share the joy of salvation!
II. One Man’s Potpourri
But…I need you to be aware of one thing as you go to share this message.
Not everyone is going to like it.
It’s like potpourri. Do you know what potpourri is? (It’s a pot filled with pourri…I think). Really, it’s a bag filled with supposedly good smelling things. Usually it’s things like pine twigs, pieces of bark infused with essential oils and cinnamon sticks. You put it in a bowl and it gives a sweet smell to the house.
Or at least…it gives off a smell.
I remember one time someone was so excited to have me smell their potpourri. I’m pretty sure that potpourri must have been called: “Mowing the Lawn while Sweating.” It wasn’t pleasant.
I didn’t love it.
But that person did.
What’s pleasant to some people’s nostrils is repugnant to others.
It’s the same with the aroma of Christ. Look at what Paul writes: We are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. To the one we are an aroma that brings death; to the other, an aroma that brings life. (v.15-16)
Maybe you’ve noticed that.
Maybe you’ve noticed that sometimes the person you share a Bible passage with on Facebook puts a big THUMBS UP by it and others put the ANGRY face.
Maybe you’ve noticed that some people appreciate your holiday card with a religious passage; others tell you to stop or they’ll report you to HR.
Maybe you’ve noticed that some people are thankful when you share the Gospel with them; others tell you to “keep that religious mumbo jumbo to yourself.”
Here’s the reality:
The message of Jesus smells…great to BELIEVERS, but awful to REJECTERS.
For instance, think about the message of John 3:16.
“God so loved the world that he gave his only Son that whoever believes in him will not perish but have eternal life.” (John 3:16)
To the rejecter, it’s the smell of death:
“I’m a sinner? You’re telling me that I need a Savior? You’re telling me that I’m not good enough? You’re telling me that I need God’s help? You’re telling me that without Jesus I won’t be saved!?!”
Smells like a rat.
Get that garbage away from me.
But to the believer, it’s a smell of life:
“I have a Savior? His name is Jesus/ He died for all of my sins? He has completed forgiven me, completely rid me of guilt and absolutely guaranteed that I will have life?!?
I want to soak it in.
Tell me more…
The message of Jesus smells great to WHO BELIEVE, but awful to WHO REJECT.
Expect different reactions.
III. Another Reason to Be a Good Smell…
But…that doesn’t mean you should stop sharing Jesus.
When someone is mean about it…
When someone doesn’t listen…
When someone makes you feel uncomfortable just because you were trying to invite them to church…
That doesn’t mean you should stop being the aroma of Christ.
Our Old Testament lesson today was a unique lesson. Often, we read poetry or narratives. It isn’t often that we read a recipe for ceremonial incense:
Pure frankincense – all in equal amounts.
Then grind it up into a powder and place it in the altar area.
Use it to burn incense to the Lord.
But did you know this recipe comes with a warning?
Take a look:
Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people. (Leviticus 30:38)
Do you get it?
This incense was for God.
This aroma was for God.
And it’s the same with you and me.
The aroma of Christ that permeates from our lives it isn’t for OUR SAKE, but for GOD’s!
We don’t share the message of Jesus in order to feel good about ourselves.
We don’t stop sharing it when people reject it.
We don’t do the things we do at Gethsemane to feel good about ourselves, to glorify our own desires, to impress others with what we do at church or in anyway to give glory to us!
We share Jesus for God’s sake.
And that’s important.
Because when we start sharing Jesus for our own glory, it can easily become some strange version of work righteousness. It can become a thing you do IN ORDER To make God like you.
It can become something that you do in order to earn God’s approval.
In order to cover up the stench of your sins.
And I get it. The stench of our sins is great.
There are sins from years ago that still have a stench.
There are day to day sins that make the day stink.
There can be relationship sins that just make the whole day smell awful.
And try as we might, we can’t cover it up!
And He didn’t use a bottle of perfume.
He didn’t burn a stick of incense.
He didn’t cover us in Glade Plugins.
He sacrificed himself to cover up the stench of our sins.
And I’ll tell you what – his blood was so powerful – that God doesn’t even smell a hint of your sins anymore.
Like an incredible, divine, righteous incense, God doesn’t smell even a hint of your sins.
Only the pleasing aroma of Christ’s sacrifice!
IV. What Now?
And now? He wants to cover up your neighbor’s sins by bring the message of his forgiveness to them through you.
1) Be Fragrant…EVERYWHERE!
Paul’s language says, “spread the aroma of the knowledge of Jesus…EVERYWHERE.” (v.14)
That means we aren’t just being fragrant here in worship.
It’s not a one hour a week aroma that happens in this particular building.
Be fragrant with Jesus’ love EVERYWHERE.
At the Valentine’s Dinner.
At the President’s Day Luncheon.
At Sola Coffee café!
2) Be Fragrant…ALWAYS!
God doesn’t want you to be one of those timed air fresheners – that goes off once a week and freshens things for a few minutes, but then quickly fades into general bathroom funkiness.
God wants you to be a long-lasting air fresheners. One of the ones that is always letting off a beautiful aroma.
Always changing the air around them.
Always connecting others to Christ.
Let me tell you – you have opportunity to do so later today.
You’ll have interactions.
Make use of those interactions.
Share the love of Jesus.
3) Combine Odors
Have you ever been to a football locker before? It’s pretty stinky. Practice gear. Practice socks. Practice pads. Washed once a week. Steeped in sweat, grass stains, blood, and general YUCK!
If you want to make a football locker room smell good, you need more than just one of those little Christmas Tree air fresheners.
You’ll need hundreds.
To make our world smell better – it’s gonna take more than just you.
It’s going to take all of us.
To make this community of North Raleigh fragrant with the message of Jesus…
It’s going to take all of us.
This is why that kind of language is used in Paul’s letter. He says: We…are the pleasing aroma. We...are an aroma that brings life…God uses US to spread the aroma.
This is a together thing.
This is a YOU thing.
This is a ME thing.
This is an ALL OF US TOGETHER thing.
That means you are a part of something BIG.
You are a part of a new wave in the Raleigh community.
We have something amazing to offer.
We have something incredible to offer.
We’ve said it like this Plant the Message of Jesus in the Hearts of North Raleigh.
A brief, Biblical paraphrase of that is to Bring a Breath of Fresh Air to the Fragrance of North Raleigh!
And it’s a fresh air – that saves eternal lives. Amen.