The poor old rickety geezer could have played the part of the "crooked little man" of nursery rhyme books. He hobbled with his cane into the Home-Style Cafe of Hannaford, North Dakota, and took his favorite seat at the end of the counter. Unfortunately, he reeked of bad odors, from the bar and pool-hall next door, to his wardrobe, limited to a once-white shirt and wool trousers (even on hot summer days), topped with his classic fedora. I don't know if he was widowed, with no family to look after him, or a bachelor cowboy in decline. But, obviously, he was sadly in need of someone to care for him. When he, routinely, ordered a Stetson-brand cigar, and lit it, I breathed a sigh of relief. The cigar smoke became like incense, covering up all the unpleasant smells that arrived with the man.
On another bright morning, on the other side of the world, my co-worker Carol and I entered the ward at the 93rd Evac Hospital, lugging our heavy combat-booted feet. To reach our nurses' station at the center of the X-shaped ward, we had to walk the aisle between two rows of army cots. As we did, on this particular day, we were suddenly startled by one of our patients as we passed the foot of his bed. "Oh! Smell the perfume!" he said, with a look of sunny bliss resting across his face as he lay with his face to the ceiling, eyes closed. Carol and I looked at each other. "Are you wearing perfume?" "No, are you?" "We aren't wearing perfume," we told him. A momentary flash of bewilderment swept his face. But, then he sank back into that blissful smile. "Then, it's just that womanly smell!"
While these are somewhat embarrassing stories to tell, they serve to illustrate some thoughts from Scripture. Our sin, rising up to the nostrils of the Almighty, could be likened to the foul smell of a neglected old man that nobody wants to approach. Perhaps that is why incense has been a part of worship since the days of the tabernacle in the wilderness. Repentance, bringing our sin to the mercy seat, is a smelly business. Truly, God sees beyond outward appearances to the heart of one of his beloved creatures, but, the stench of sin in those who are perishing requires a covering of incense.
In a spiritual sense, it is the difference between death (stinks) and life (sweet savor). Yet, surprisingly, some seem to keep running away from the life that is offered! We find an example of such resistance in Amos 4:10 "I have sent among you the pestilence after the manner of Egypt: your young men have I slain with the sword, and have taken away your horses; and I have made the stink of your camps to come up unto your nostrils: yet have ye not returned unto me, saith the LORD." We might ask, what does it take, then, to get somebody's attention! We can see the consequences of sin in the lives of others, just as the Israelites saw what happened to the Egyptians under a Pharoah who feared not God. So, if we experience some of that same pestilence (the "stink" coming into our own nostrils), we might ask ourselves if we could be off track and in need of checking the map of God's Word for directions in life.
If the stink doesn't get our attention, surely the sweet smell of incense, perfume, or just plain soap-and-water cleanliness is the ticket! As the sacrificial lamb did in the temple, Jesus took all our loathsome sin on Himself at the cross. Once and for all, in the breaking of His own body, the penalty for sin was paid. The broken Body released the fragrance of His suffering on our behalf. Instead of the stench of death, the perfume of life was made available.
As part of the Body of Christ, we have that perfume in our own hearts. As we are broken to service, the fragrance is released through the cracks, and "the house was filled with the odour of the ointment." (John 12:3) And so, we bring the fragrance of Jesus with us into our world.
After I left Vietnam, another army-nurse friend moved into my vacated quarters. She told me, later, that the room (which I had decorated from my Sears' and Penny's catalogs) made her lonesome for me. She said that sometimes she could even pick up a hint of my perfume. That thought illustrates the impact that Jesus can have, perfuming the world through our lives, even to the point of leaving a trace fragrance behind us when we are gone. As we are drawn homeward by the aromas of this holiday season, God grant He will use the sweet savor of the Savior in us to draw the lost of the world home to the Father.
Eph 5:1-2 - Be ye therefore followers of God, as dear children; And walk in love, as Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour.