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  • Writer's pictureRMB

The Smell of Christ

Certain smells we love.

Wood smoke in a campground on a summer evening. The smell of freshly baked bread. These are pleasing smells to us, happy and calming.

What kind of smell does God like? Ephesians 5:2 says that when Jesus gave himself for us, this was

a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.

Christ’s death was like a smell that God breathed in deeply and which gave him joy.

Now, Jesus’s dying, his blood being poured on the ground, probably didn’t have much of an odour—and if it did, it probably wasn’t that pleasant. To understand this “fragrant offering,” we turn to Leviticus. It describes the many kinds of offerings that God invited from his people. They would bring into the LORD’s presence a gift of grain, a measure of oil, or a choice animal.

A sacrifice like this was meaningful. For it was costly, highly prized by the person worshiping. This is why they brought flour that was finely ground—high quality stuff—or an unblemished animal. Or even the very first products you’d collected in the harvest, the part of the crop that you’d be most inclined to keep for yourself after all your hard work—yet you gave it away. Sacrifices come at a price.

More important than the cost of the sacrifice was the spirit of the person who brought it. These gifts were a way of saying to God that they were thankful for his gifts, or sorry for sins, or that they needed his help in a season of trouble.

Point is, the person sacrificing had to bring it with his whole heart.

Whenever a sacrifice was placed on the coals of the altar, the smell of burning went up to heaven. Imagine the aroma of burning animal flesh or burning incense. Leviticus says that such an offering would ascend “as a sweet aroma to the LORD.”

God doesn’t have a physical nose on a physical face. But it meant that a sacrifice was pleasing and acceptable. To him, this sacrifice gave off a good smell because the relationship was right, because God knew that the worshiper’s heart was loyal.

Through all the centuries of Old Testament worship, there was never an offering that got a 10/10. Every sacrifice was still presented by a sinful person. God was merciful and He accepted the gifts of his people—even delighted in them—but only because He knew one day Christ was going to do it perfectly.

Christ presented himself to God. He brought no choice animal or grain, but brought himself. Though a sinless man, and though God in the flesh, Christ laid himself down on the altar of the cross. And to the LORD, the sacrifice of Jesus was wholly pleasing; it was a “fragrant offering.”

It means that Christ our High Priest was entirely acceptable to God. For He gave what God really wanted: He gave his whole heart, promptly and sincerely. During the years of his life, Christ offered obedience to his Father that was perfect, flawless, unblemished. He was:

The Lamb of God, without sin and without spot!

Then in his death, Christ endured God’s wrath against our sin. Jesus carried out the full sentence, with no reprieve. This was a costly sacrifice, one that cost Jesus everything. And God accepted it. On that day there was no smoke that curled into the sky, yet Christ’s gift rose to heaven as a most pleasing fragrance.

Breathe it in: this is the glorious gospel. Paul in 2 Corinthians 2:16 calls this truth the aroma of life, leading to life. Because God accepted what Christ did, God now accepts us, sinners though we are.

The fact is, we used to be a stench in God’s nostrils, revolting and repulsive on account of all our sins. We were like a backed-up sewer. We were like a weeks-old roadkill. But by faith in Christ, we have become to God a sweet-smelling aroma: like coffee freshly-brewed or like the blossoms of the magnolia.

One beautiful way that we experience this is through prayer. God listens to our prayers and takes delight in them.

I wonder if we sometimes picture God receiving our prayers in the same way we get an unsolicited email, a spam message on your phone.

Are your prayers an irritation to God?

The wonderful truth is that God the Father delights in our prayers. In Psalm 141, David pleads for God to take notice of his words: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you” (v. 2). David knows incense is something God enjoys, for He commanded that it be burned twice every day. God’s law said that it had to be made from a particular blend of spices so that it would give off a pleasing scent: like the best potpourri.

David says that just as the smoke of incense rises up to God in his temple, so the prayers of his people rise up: “Let my prayer be counted as incense before you.” God takes notice—He hears your humble requests at the dawn of another day, your confessions of sin, your cries for his help. God is pleased with our prayers, for it’s the offering up of our soul to the LORD. Now, like fragrant incense, our prayers delight him and God answers them!

This means that when you pray today or tomorrow, you don’t have to doubt or hesitate, or wonder if it matters. We have every reason to be confident, to be constant. Christ makes our modest prayers, our simple requests, like a pleasing aroma to the Father.

Keep sending up your prayers—today, too—for such a life of prayer will be a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.   


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