A Sweet Perfume
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Smell. It is a powerful sense. A familiar smell can immediately bring back memories that seemed long forgotten and transport us to another place and time. To me, there is nothing more pleasant than the aroma of an apple pie baking in the oven, freshly cut roses, or the smell of a baby's head just after a bath. There are many unpleasant odors that we encounter on a daily basis as well. I won't go into naming them, but I am sure that even as you read this your mind has already conjured up a few good examples. Millions of dollars are spent each year on perfumes, scented lotions, and bath products to ensure that we are always smelling our best. But did you know that there is a particular fragrance that God desires for us to wear? It is the fragrance of a life offered as a "living sacrifice".
In Old Testament times, lambs were slaughtered and then burned upon the altar as a sacrifice to make atonement for the sins of the people. As the offering burned, it emitted a sweet aroma that was pleasing to God. Over and over in the book of Leviticus, when the act of sacrifice is mentioned, it is followed by the phrase, "it is a burnt sacrifice, an offering made by fire, a sweet aroma to the Lord." In the New Testament, we see a different kind of sacrifice. First, we see the ultimate sacrifice carried out by the Lord Jesus Christ, who offered Himself as an atonement for our sins. Ephesians 5:2 states that Christ's sacrificial death on the cross gave forth a sweet-smelling aroma to God. Jesus was the perfect and final atonement sacrifice, so how can our lives emit an aroma that is pleasing to God? Romans 12:1 gives us the answer: we must offer ourselves as living sacrifices. You may be wondering how one can be a living sacrifice when, in the Old Testament and with Jesus, death was always a requirement. Well, there is a death involved, but it is not one of a physical nature. Instead, it is the death of self.
John 12:1-3 gives a beautiful illustration of what this means. John chapter 11 tells of the sickness and death of Lazarus and how Jesus miraculously raised him from the dead. Chapter 12 follows with a dinner at the home of Lazarus and his sisters, Mary and Martha. In love, adoration, and gratitude for bringing her brother back to life, Mary brings out a pound of very costly perfume - about a year's wages worth - and lavishly pours it all out on the feet of Jesus. Why? Well, imagine for a moment that you are Mary. A few days ago, your brother was lying dead in a cold, dark tomb. It seemed like the most hopeless of situations. But then, because of an encounter with Jesus, your brother is now alive and well, sitting at the table and dining with His Lord! We can only imagine the joy that filled the room that night. Likewise, we are dead in our sin with no power in and of ourselves to escape eternal death and condemnation. But a simple encounter with Jesus Christ, by accepting His sacrifice on the cross as payment for our sins and asking Him to be our Lord and Savior, changes all of that! Through Him, those of us who have accepted Jesus as our Lord and Savior have been brought from death unto life and can now sit at His table, feasting on His grace! In light of what Christ has done for us, it seems only natural that our response should be like that of Mary. Mary gave the most costly thing she had for her Lord, and as she anointed His feet with sweet perfume, she bowed low in humility, wiping them with her own hair. You see, at that moment, Mary died to self. She did not care what those around her thought of the spectacle, but wanted only to give the best of what she had as an offering to her Lord. This is the fragrance that pleases God most - a life given in total surrender to Him, saying, "not my will, Lord, but Yours!" This is when God can truly begin to work not only in but through our lives. If you note the last line of John 12:3, you see that it says, "And the whole house was filled with the fragrance of the oil." Not only does a life yeilded to God bring forth a sweet aroma to Him, but that aroma permeates our lives as well. All around us, everywhere we are - home, work, school - that sweet aroma fills the air, touching everyone with whom we come into contact.
I had an aunt who loved the fragrance Shalimar. It was the only perfume she ever wore and she wore it every day without fail. It was her signature fragrance. Wherever she went that wonderful scent followed, and to this day, I can't smell that perfume without thinking of her. To me, she is Shalimar. I am not the only person who felt this way. She once told me that while on a cruise she met a blind man. He asked her what perfume she was wearing and told her how nice it smelled. Over the course of their trip they became friends, sharing many of their meals and activities together. When the cruise was over they said their goodbyes and she really didn't think of him again until a couple of years later when, on another cruise, she felt a tap on her shoulder and heard a familiar voice say, "Hello there, Shalimar!" She turned to see that the voice belonged to the blind man she had met a few years earlier. When she expressed her amazement at how he had known she was there, he simply said, "I'd know that wonderful fragrance anywhere!"
Just like my aunt and her Shalimar, the fragrance of a life lived in total surrender to God affects those around us in a powerful way. Even someone who is spiritually blind can sense the wonderful aroma of Jesus in our lives when we die to self and yield to Him. Not only is this aroma pleasing to God, but it is a witness to the world around us. And if we make the offering of ourselves as living sacrifices a daily practice, that sweet perfume soon becomes our signature fragrance. May this be our prayer. I can't think of a more wonderful compliment than that when we are present, the beautiful fragrance of Jesus fills the room!
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