I teach a Bible Study at Mercy Logan County Hospital in Guthrie, Oklahoma. A few weeks ago, I was waiting on the group to gather and opened my Bible to read a random passage or two. I ended up opening my Bible to Leviticus 1. Yuck! Surely there aren’t any threads (repeated themes) in Leviticus 1. I was wrong. There actually are several, but the one that caught my attention was the phrase “an aroma that is pleasing to God.” After each type of sacrifice was mentioned, it would concluded with the phrase, “an aroma that is pleasing to God.” That brief thought changed my thinking about the sacrificial system. I had always pictured it as gory and stinking. Of course, there were parts of the preparation for sacrifice that were offal (Bible joke), but beef or lamb on an open fire must have smelled amazing.
Reading the Bible is a multi-sensory experience! You can touch it, hear it, see it, taste it and even smell it. The book of Leviticus is one of the best examples of smelling the Bible. One of the threads that runs throughout the book of Leviticus is the phrase, “an aroma that is pleasing to God.” After each sacrificial process is described, we find that reminder that the sacrifice is an aroma that is pleasing to God. Carrying out the Levitical Law smelled good! Outside the Temple, there was the smell of beef, mutton and grain being prepared over the coals of the Brazen Altar. Inside the Temple, there was the smell of the fresh showbread and the fragrance of the incense in front of the veil to the Holy of Holies. I realize there was a lot of details to the process and parts of the rituals were gory, but the smell of the sacrificial system would have been enjoyed by everyone, especially the Levites who got to eat a portion of the meat and grain.
Why was the smell of the Sacrificial System so pleasing to God? For one thing, making each sacrifice was an act of obedience. God was very specific in how each sacrifice was to be made. God specified where the blood was to be poured out, what was to be laid on the altar and what was taken outside the camp. The call of the priests and the people was to follow God’s directions. As the priests followed the meticulous instructions for the procedure that was to be followed, they got to smell the sacrifice that was being made for the remission of sins. The focus of the sacrifice was not on what the priests were doing. The shedding of the animal’s blood was a reminder of God’s faithfulness in keeping the blood covenant He had made with Abraham. It was celebrating the Hope that God would bring salvation to His people. If God didn’t keep His Word, all Hope is gone.
The burnt offering, meal offering, peace offering, sin offering and the trespass offering were all reminders that God would always be faithful to His people and would provide the means back to God. The sacrificial system was fulfilled in the ultimate sacrifice of the Lamb of God, Jesus. What a wonderful promise! That is the easy part. The hard part is realizing, “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (II Corinthians 2:15). Paul reminds us that we are called to smell like Jesus! When people are around us, the presence and love of Christ should permeate our lives. Our lives are a Christ-like fragrance rising up to God, both for believers and unbelievers. That call is impossible to fulfill without Christ!
We live in a world where our values have been turned upside down! What is right is now wrong. What is wrong is now right. Worse yet, our culture will only accept their belief system to be right. If you disagree, you are seen as a “hater.” How can we continue to smell like Jesus when the culture thinks Jesus’ teachings stink?
One of the hardest dimensions for me is, “Instead, speaking the truth in love, we will in all things grow up into Him who is the Head, that is, Christ” (Ephesians 4:15). When I know something is wrong, I have a tendency to want to debate the issue. Debating requires that there be a winner and a loser. I need to be right! Have you noticed how things escalate when you do that? Voices get louder, name-calling begins (moron, stupid, idiot, etc.) and anger sets in. Unfortunately, when we lose our cool, we also lose our effectiveness.
Back in the old days, Phil Donahue (you may need to google him) was the only talk show host on television. The topics that were discussed would range from relevant to bizarre. One of his favorite things to do was to have preachers on the show. The drill was always the same: start a discussion on a controversial topic and get under the preacher’s skin. If he could make them mad, Phil won the battle. The only exception to that method was Billy Graham. Mr. Donahue could never get Billy to take the bait. Billy never raised his voice or debated. He just spoke the Truth. Phil had a respect for Dr. Graham that he didn’t show to any other preacher.
The key to Billy Graham’s success on a talk show was the same as in his evangelist outreach and his personal life. He let the Truth do the work for him. Dr. Graham knew what he believed and why he believed it. Billy knew he didn’t have to debate the Truth. He allowed the Truth of Christ to do the work for him. When he was preaching, Billy Graham’s favorite phrase was, “The Bible says.” Please know that I understand how hard that is when biblical values are being trampled on every day. It has always been true that people want to find acceptance in their sin. I don’t want to be changed. I want you to accept my actions as right! Does that mean that we just lay down and let the world run over us? No! It does mean that Christ must lead us in knowing what to do and say. God used John Wesley’s ministry to speak to the abolishment of slavery, close down debtors’ prisons and even improve health care. His best selling book was on medicine.
In 2011, I was preparing to retire from pastoral ministry. In order to become a chaplain, I had to take a Clinical Pastoral Education class in OKC. I drove down from Bartlesville once a week to sit with six other people in a small group setting. Just so you know, I hate small group discussion groups. I did everything I could to keep everyone talking, but me. I thought the course would be easy, because part of the class was on preaching. I’ve got this! I preached my first class sermon. The teacher said, “Wow! You must be one of the top preachers in your denomination. That was excellent.” I faked a humble reply. Then one of my fellow students asked, “Why are you so angry? You preached on forgiveness, but you sounded angry.” Of course, I denied having any problems.
I thought I had covered up my emotions and moved forward with my plan to keep everyone else talking. It worked until the class on practicing Non-Anxious Presence. If you have ever watched The Mentalist, you have seen non-anxious presence in motion. The main character, Patrick Jane, never let anything that was said to him get under his skin. You could insult him, belittle him and call him names, but he responded with the truth of the case. The teacher had the gall to tell me that the issues I was having with two people in the church were partly my fault!! I had let them get under my skin. I fell into the trap that had been set for me. No one saw what was happening. They only saw how I responded to what was happening.
I learned the lesson too late for the situation I was facing, but with God’s help, I am still trying to learn that winning an argument may make you feel better, but it does nothing for the person you are arguing with. As Christians, we still must stand up for the Truth, but we need to know the Truth so He can help us stand. As a Hospice Chaplain, my role is not to initiate a conversation with the patient or their family. I know it sounds weird, but I am not an evangelist. My role is to listen for the opportunities God places before me. I wait for the open doors He provides. It has been amazing to watch Christ work!
Do you and I smell like Jesus? What a hard task is before us! What an impossible task without Christ. Lord, help us to speak and live the Truth, even if no one seems to be listening.