Today, we celebrate Palm Sunday, the day when Jesus rode triumphantly into Jerusalem, just before Passover, and just before His Last Supper, and just before His crucifixion, death as a man, and His resurrection by God the Father. What a huge remembrance we have today of the reception, in triumph, of Jesus by the people waving palm fronds, and laying their cloaks on the ground before him as he rode in on the donkey. What a huge remembrance of the triumph of God, Jesus and the Holy Spirit as they defeated Satan, who had arranged for the crucifixion of Jesus, and so publicly humiliated Satan and his evil team by the resurrection of Jesus. It is that remembrance of triumph that we celebrate today and it strengthens in us the hope in Jesus Christ that, ever more so because of the events of this week almost two thousand years ago, we know in faith will not disappoint us.
The principal text for our message today is one of those passages of Scripture that speaks about that triumph of Jesus, and also speaks about how God views us when we embrace the triumph of Jesus over Satan, join Team Jesus, and live our lives for Jesus instead of living lives of doubt, rebellion and even outright opposition to Jesus as an atheist, idolator or agnostic. This principal text for our message today is one of those challenging passages from Scripture that calls us out, that calls us to evaluate, truthfully and honestly, whether we are standing on the Rock of Jesus Christ, and how firmly we are anchored there, and whether we are living in His triumph, in the choices and decisions we have been making in the living of our lives. I don’t always like these challenging passages. I don’t always like to have to evaluate whether there is another layer of my flesh, of my sin or idolatry or rebellion (all pretty much the same), between me and that Rock of Jesus Christ. I don’t always like to have to hold up the searchlight, and the searching mirror, of the Holy Word of God, to look at myself in that mirror. I know that I don’t look too good in a regular mirror with just the bathroom light on, but it is always with some fear and uncertainty that I accept the challenge, again, of self-evaluation, of self-examination, in the brilliant light of the Holy Word of God. And so it is today, and in preparation of this message to all of us from the Holy Spirit.
This is not a time for me to judge you, or for us to judge each other. This is a time, here on Palm Sunday 2011, as we enter the holiest of holy weeks, for each to examine, evaluate and judge himself or herself.
Are you up for the task today? I am. So, if you are, let’s get started.
Our principal text for the message today is from II Corinthians 2: 14-16a, “Now, thanks be to God who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death, leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.”
This passages challenges us to evaluate two things in our lives: (1) Are we always allowing ourselves to be led in triumph in Christ? And (2) Do we stink, to God, or do we stink to those who are without Christ? If you stink to God, then you can bet that He is not leading you, or that you are unwilling to be led by Him, in perpetual, unceasing triumph in your life. So, the title of our message asks us, today, “Are You Smelling Good?”
We are going to talk about “Triumph” first, and then we will discuss what our “Fragrance” is and who notices it.
Now, the concept of “Triumph” always engages us in thoughts about conflict and competition or battle. That always means that there has to be at least two sides, in order for there to be a conflict or a competition or a battle. In spiritual terms, the terms God most cares about, this concept of “Triumph” has to do with His conflict, and His competition, with Satan and his evil powers, for the allegiance of the hearts and souls of the men, women and children of this Earth.
And so, in spiritual terms, we understand that we are caught up in this supernatural battle, and that we are required to choose sides. God, Himself, requires us to choose sides, either to be on His side or to be on Satan’s side. It is like at the Alamo in 1836, when Lt. William Barret Travis drew the line in the sand, and the men there had to decide which side they were on. It is like the way that Joshua challenged the Israelites, in Joshua 24: 14-15, “Now, therefore, fear the Lord, serve Him in sincerity and in truth, and put away the gods which your fathers served on the other side of the River and in Egypt. Serve the Lord! And if it seems evil to you to serve the Lord, choose for yourselves this day whom you will serve, whether the gods which your fathers served that were on the other side of the River, or the gods of the Amorites, in whose land you dwell. But as for me and my house, we will serve the Lord.”
You see, there really is no middle ground; you must choose one or the other. In God’s Grace, in each generation, in each life, God has often, but not always, afforded us a sort of holding ground, which has been really a holding time, as we make up our minds about which choice we are going to make. In God’s sovereignty, God limits that time and we never know how long our holding time will last. His patience is not unlimited, and the sooner we get the choice made, if it is for God, then the sooner we can get busy doing that for which He actually created us in the first place!
And when we have made that choice, so full of eternal consequences, we need to understand the nature of the battle, and that battle is so well-described in Ephesians 6: 12, “For we do not wrestle against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this age, against spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places.”
In II Corinthians 10: 3, we find this same principle addressed in this language, “For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ . . . .”
Even though this big wrestling match is all about supernatural warfare, there is an essential and somewhat tricky part to this big wrestling match. It is this: When we are in the match, we are in the flesh, and part of the resources we have to fight with, in that supernatural warfare, are our fleshly resources of body and soul (emotions, will and intellect). But we often have to fight against our own flesh to be good wrestlers in that big, supernatural wrestling match.
The tricky part of this flesh issue is captured in Romans 8: 8, “. . . those who are in the flesh cannot please God.” Now, why did Paul have to come to that conclusion? Paul laid out his reasoning in Romans 8: 2-7, “For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has made me free from the law of sin and death. For what the law could not do in that it was weak through the flesh, God did by sending His own Son in the likeness of sinful flesh, on account of sin; He (God) condemned sin in the flesh, that the righteous requirement of the law might be fulfilled in us who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For those who live according to the flesh set their minds on the things of the flesh, but those who live according to the Spirit, (set their minds on) the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death, but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God; for it is not subject to the law of God, nor indeed can be.” That is why Paul concluded, in Verse 8, “So then, those who are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Paul, again, in II Corinthians 1: 17, addressed the problem with the flesh issue this way, as he had just explained his intention to come to see the good people of Corinth, “Therefore, when I was planning this, did I do it lightly? Or the things I plan, do I plan according to the flesh, that with me there should be Yes, Yes and No, No? But as God is faithful, our word to you was not Yes and No.”
In Jesus’ prayer at the end of the Last Supper, in John 17, at Verse 2, Jesus proclaimed His truth that God had given Jesus authority over all flesh, so that Jesus should give eternal life to as many as God had given Him. This “flesh” over which Jesus had been given such complete authority leads us right back to what I have called the tricky part of us that is essential to our human-ness, our “flesh”. But, according to Romans 8: 8, that flesh is so unpleasing to God when we are living “in the flesh”. And that is what makes it so tricky for us to participate in Jesus’ triumph, because our flesh is essential to our being but it is unpleasing to God. Yet, for God’s eternal purposes, He gave Jesus authority over all flesh. And who are numbered in that “as many” as, to whom, He should grant eternal life? It is all those in the scope of “all flesh” and that is all men, women and children. So, Jesus has that authority over all flesh, all people, and has the power to grant eternal life to all people.
How does Jesus evaluate people and exercise His authority over them, even unto the granting of eternal life? As Paul learned from Jesus, and wrote in Romans 3: 19-22a, “Now we know that whatever the law says, it says to those who are under the law, that every mouth may be stopped, and all the world may become guilty before God. Therefore, by the deeds of the law no flesh will be justified in His sight, for by the law is the knowledge of sin. But now the righteousness of God apart from the law is revealed, being witnessed by the Law and the Prophets, even the righteousness of God, through faith in Jesus Christ, to all and on all who believe . . . .” So, we see clearly that Jesus bases His evaluation of our faith in Him and, as in our message last week, He imparts to us, through our faith in Him, the righteousness of God, and in that righteousness of God, and not of the works of our flesh, we are granted eternal life in Christ! Hallelujah!!
Now, going on with life, like Paul, we have to take this principal (that “those who are in the flesh cannot please God”), that nothing of or from the flesh justifies us in God’s sight, as we consider the ways in which we plan our lives, and that is one reason this passage is so challenging to me, and I suspect, to you. So, here is your challenging question Number One for today: “Are you making your plans based on your flesh and its desires, or based on God’s purposes, calling, equipping, anointing and blessing?”
As we read in II Corinthians 2: 14, God always leads us in triumph in Christ. But what does that triumph look like? That is given to us in Colossians 2: 15, “Having disarmed principalities and powers, He (Jesus) made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it.”
Guess what? We can’t accomplish that triumph over Satan and his evil forces, not in our flesh. Although we are required to choose sides and to participate, the battle itself, the conflict and competition of God with Satan, is not ours. When David went out to fight Goliath, David took a weapon, a slingshot and stones, and he used the weapon, and the rock struck the giant Philistine in the head and killed him. But, even so, God’s salvation for His people then came not from the use of the sword and the spear but from the effect God caused the weapon to have on Goliath, and the precise path of travel and momentum with which the rock struck Goliath in the forehead. See I Samuel 17: 47, where young David explained it publicly to Goliath, this way, “Then all this assembly shall know that the Lord does not save by sword and spear; for the battle is the Lord’s and He will give you into our hands.”
Like us today, David was engaged in that battle. It was a battle in the flesh and also a supernatural battle, as are all battles. David understood, in his chronological youth but in his spiritual maturity, that day on the battlefield facing Goliath between the two armies, that same thing which, many years later, when he prayed blessings over the Lord, at the time of the assemblage of materials for the great temple that Solomon actually built, and said this, I Chronicles 29: 10 11, “Blessed are You, Lord God of Israel, our Father, forever and ever. Yours, O Lord, is the greatness, the power and the glory, the victory and the majesty; for all that is in heaven and in earth is yours; Yours is the kingdom, O Lord, and You are exalted as head over all.” David knew in his youthful maturity that, even though it required of David a choice, a spiritual maturity, single-mindedness and courage to be in the battle on God’s side, that both the battle and the victory were the Lord’s! On that fateful day with Goliath, the Lord supernaturally won the battle, and in so doing, did what is described in Colossians 2: 15, he disarmed principalities and powers, He made a public spectacle of them, triumphing over them in it. David subordinated his flesh to the will of God, and put his own flesh at the risk of death to engage in the battle on God’s side, at God’s direction. Because David did so, God brought forth the triumph over the enemy, and He did the same thing from the grave after the crucifixion of Jesus, and, again, made a public spectacle of Satan and his gang.
Get your fleshly house in order. Understand that Jesus has authority over all flesh and that, as said in Acts 2: 17 (based on Joel 2: 28), “And it shall come to pass in the last days, says God, that I shall pour out of My Spirit on all flesh . . . .” God’s Spirit is here, now, for us, so that between Jesus and the Holy Spirit, if we get our flesh out of the way, and get on the right side of this supernatural war, and stay there with maturity and self-discipline and courage, we will participate in the daily and eternal triumph of Jesus Christ!
Now, it time to turn to this “Fragrance” thing. Our principal text for today, II Corinthians 2: 14-16a, says that “God always leads us in triumph in Christ” and then it says “and through us diffuses the fragrance of His knowledge in every place. For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. To the one we are the aroma of death, leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life.”
God sees a direct connection between the “triumph in Christ” and the “fragrance of Christ” and this passage challenges us to figure out this direct connection. We have studied this morning the connection of our flesh, and its subordination, to God’s intent always to lead us in triumph in Christ. Now, let’s see how the “fragrance of Christ” is really another way of the same analysis, and of how that is the direct connection.
The passage itself makes clear that, to God, while He is leading us in triumph in Christ, he is at the same time through us diffusing – fancy word for “spreading” – the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ in every place. You know how, sometimes, when you learn something really cool, and when you are really cool (so you think) and hip, you might say, about the great revelation you just learned, this one word, “Sweeet!” Right, that word describes a fragrance, so what you are saying is that this revelation of knowledge smells good, it is Sweet!. And this Sweetness, this fragrance, of the knowledge of Christ is not just diffused around us but through us and in every place. So, because it is diffused through us, we are the sprayer, the perfume mister so to speak, and we actually smell Sweet! How Sweet is that?
And our Sweetness, our fragrance actually travels “in every place”. It is not body order, but spiritual odor, that God smells in us; He smells our spiritual fragrance, and He likes it because it is the spiritual fragrance of his beloved Son, Jesus, actually in us. To God, it changes the way our flesh smells and makes us, despite our flesh, pleasing to Him! Again, Hallelujah! And this spiritual odor is consistent – iy smells the same to all – or as this passage puts it, “among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing.” The difference is in the interpretations of the smell: To God, to us, and to those who are being saved, it is “the aroma of life leading to life”. But to those who are perishing, and you can be sure to Satan and his gang also, it is interpreted as “the aroma of death, leading to death”.
So, here is that connection: if we choose faith in Jesus, if we, like David, subordinate our flesh to God’s will in Jesus, and make the choices and take the risks of our lives that way, then God will, like the Master Baker, sniff around and over us and say, “Sweeet!” Because He is smelling the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ that we have adopted by choice into our very core beings, so that our flesh is subordinated to and controlled by our faith in Christ, and our knowledge of Him and His truth. As Jesus prayed, that fateful hour in the Garden in Holy Week, Luke 22: 42, “Father, if you are willing, take this cup from me; yet not my will, but yours be done.” If we have placed our faith in Jesus, and have grown in wisdom and maturity and stature in our faith, so that we, too, are willing to subordinate, to yield, our will to the will of the Godhead, then that Sweeetness diffuses out of us and all see us, including God, as Christians, as “Little Christs” as we were first called at Antioch (Acts 11: 26). And that Sweetness draws them into the kingdom, or not, depending on how they have chosen to accept or reject the convicting guidance (John 16: 13, 8) of the Holy Spirit.
So, the second, big, challenging question of today, which is really the same question, just put another way, as that first, big challenging question of today, is “Are you smelling good?”
Well, as you evaluate, examine and judge yourselves, in the light of the knowledge of Christ, take your time and see how your onion layers are doing, and whether you need to peel off some more layers of smelly onion to get to the Sweetness way down below those fleshly layers. Call in the Holy Spirit to guide you to a truthful answer for you, personally, in your life. Pay attention during and throughout this Holy Week. It is an especially apt time in which to look in God’s searching mirror, with the bright searchlight of His word and the convicting guidance of the Holy Spirit, and see what you find. Two Questions: (1) Are you making your plans, making the daily and hourly decisions of your life based on your flesh and its desires, or based on God’s purposes, calling, equipping, anointing and blessing? And, (2) Are you smelling good?
I leave you with those two questions – really it is one question: Are you prepared to come after, to follow, Christ and therefore to deny yourself, to deny your flesh, and to pick up your cross and follow Christ? (Mark 8: 34) This is a good week for you and me to study that big question.
God bless you and amen+