The Fragrance of the Knowledge of Christ

Dan Norcini

“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. 15 For we are to God the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the aroma of death leading to death, and to the other the aroma of life leading to life. And who is sufficient for these things? 17 For we are not, as so many, peddling the word of God; but as of sincerity, but as from God, we speak in the sight of God in Christ.” (2Cor 2:14-17 NKJV)

In this second epistle of Paul to the church at Corinth, the great apostle paints an image that would be quite familiar to the people of his day, but which is mostly lost to us in the modern era. To understand what he is saying, we hearken back to the days of the Roman Empire, and to the high esteem in which the citizens of its ancient capital held their conquering Generals.

It was a custom that a Roman commander returning to the capital city, after a victorious campaign against one of the Empire’s enemies, would return in a triumphal parade through its main street leading to the Capitoline Hill. Generally, the procession would consist of his captives and the spoils of war, followed by his army, with the conqueror himself bringing up the rear in a beautifully adorned chariot drawn by four horses (most often white a symbol of victory in and of itself). More often than not, incense bearers would walk alongside his chariot or surrounding it both front and rear, the odor from their burning censors wafting across the scene and spreading amongst those who lined the street to behold the wondrous spectacle.

Paul uses this imagery in a two-fold manner. First, he views himself as one of the captives, having been conquered by the Lord Christ, formerly a fierce enemy, now in the chains of love to his Master, his conquering Lord.

“Lift up your heads, you gates,
And be lifted up, you ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
8 Who is the King of glory?
The LORD strong and mighty,
The LORD mighty in battle.
9 Lift up your heads, you gates,
And lift them up, you ancient doors,
That the King of glory may come in!
10 Who is this King of glory?
The LORD of armies,
He is the King of glory. Selah”
(Psalm 24: 7-10)

Not only is he a captive, but secondly, he is also a spoil of the war plucked out of the kingdom of darkness from the devil and his agents, who were thoroughly crushed and broken by the mighty Christ, the King of Glory, and then paraded through the spiritual realm as his helpless captives!

“Christ stripped the spiritual rulers and powers of their authority [disarmed/despoiled the rulers and authorities]. With the cross, he won the victory and ·showed the world that they were powerless [publicly shamed them; made a public spectacle of them; like a triumphant general displaying his captives in a victory parade].” (Col 2:15 EXB)

Thirdly, he portrays himself and those bearing the true gospel message, as incense bearers.

This is the image I wish to focus on for the immediate.

Notice what Paul says about the proclamation of the gospel message to lost sinners. To those being saved, it is an “aroma of life leading to life”. To those perishing, it is an “aroma of death leading to death”.

The image would have carried great power to the Corinthian readers of his day. To the Roman soldiers, the Roman citizens, the general, the commanders, centurions, etc. that scent filling the air around them, spoke of victory, of triumph, of honor, of greatness and splendor. Paul says that to God, the gospel message rises to His throne as a beautiful incense of the glory of His Son, as it is declared among the peoples. The gospel message, the true gospel, not the watered-down version spoken in far too many American churches these sad days, declares the Glory of God in pardoning sinners. Why? Because it magnifies and exalts all of His wondrous attributes and especially glorifies His Beloved Son, the Lord Christ.

The Gospel is first and foremost about Christ! His person, His work, His kingdom, His love, His condescension, His faithfulness, His majesty. Whenever Christ is preached, that word ascends to the throne of heaven as a pleasing aroma.

“This is my beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased”, was the Father’s declaration concerning His dear Son, both at His baptism in the river Jordan and again at His transfiguration before Peter, James and John. That which speaks of Christ, therefore is well-pleasing to God Most High.

Think about all the vileness, the perversion, the corruption, the wickedness that fills this world, these things which seem to be so rapidly increasing in this our nation, and the stench it must produce if viewed as a scent that drifts upward into the heavenly realm. Then consider the opposite – the faithful declaration of Christ!

What a tragic commentary this is on the state of so much of the American church! Instead of filling the heavens with the scent of Christ, speaking of His glory, His majesty, His love, His greatness and worth, we instead get gooblygook about God wanting you to be happy, to be a success, to secure wealth, prosperity and the fulfillment of your dreams, etc. We get everything EXCEPT CHRIST!

No wonder love for Christ was waxed cold among so many. To love something, one must gaze upon its beauty and find delight in it. How can that happen when far too many self-appointed “ministers” never hold Him up to view?

Could it be that they themselves spend so little time of their own gazing upon Him? After all, when one truly spends time sitting at the feet of Jesus, they speak of Him whom their soul loveth. To gaze upon Christ through faith and to behold Him is to discover that which is more valuable and lovely than all that this world can ever hope to offer.

“Your eyes shall behold your Teacher”. (Isaiah 30:20) is a promise of the New Covenant.

This is heaven on earth now and the true hope of the child of God in the future– to behold their Master and Friend, their Glorious Lord, upon departing from this world, when their time on earth is done.

To those who speak of the “pearly gates” and the “streets of gold” as if those things are what make heaven desirable – these know nothing of Christ, being carnally-minded and obsessed with things that have no meaning or existence in the realm of the spirit.

But we digress and must come back to our text…

Those who are being saved – To those that are hungry and thirsty for righteousness, to those who are weary and heavy-ladened with the guilt of sin, to those brokenhearted and downcast, there is not a sweeter aroma to be found anywhere in this sin-cursed world, than the free pardon of sin at the hands of a righteous yet merciful Judge all on account of the work of Christ upon the cross.

It is the news of a complete justification, a perfect righteousness credited to them through faith in Christ, a title to a heavenly inheritance, the adoption into the family of God as His sons and daughters, a Great High Priest who ever liveth to make intercession for them and who carries them in his arms as their Great Shepherd, a “Yea and Amen”, to all the covenantal promises and One who declared He will “never leave or forsake them”!

What a great salvation this is! Freely given, not because of something God foresaw within us, for these is nothing in us that would ever commend us to God, but rather purely a result of His amazing grace and love!

However, lest we forget the other part of Paul’s imagery, the gospel message is also an “aroma of death leading to death” for some. Let’s go back to our image of the triumphal procession in the text. Whilst the gospel message was a sweet scent, a pleasing aroma to those being saved, on the other hand, to the captives, no doubt bound in chains, that odor was but a terrifying prelude of their imminent death or bondage. Rather than a delight to the senses, it signified death and misery coming to meet them.

Put yourself in the place of one of these vanquished peoples, paraded through the streets of Rome. You have been marched for a long distance, bound in chains, no doubt mistreated, hungry, thirsty, exhausted from the march, and covered in dirt and perhaps even your own blood. As you trudge along, you are insulted and cursed at by bystanders along the processionary route. As the incense censors are lit, you near the final destination of the triumphal parade, the scent of the incense rushes into to fill your nostrils. What terror! What despair! What ruin is now about to greet you!

Dear reader, understand what the apostle Paul is saying; let your mind take this in. The GOSPEL MESSAGE WHEN DECLARED AMONG MEN ALWAYS PRODUCES AN EFFECT.

While we most often think its effect is to see the souls of men being saved, it never returns to God void. It has an effect as well even WHEN IT IS REJECTED!

The same message, when received, brings life and salvation. When rejected it brings ruin and misery.

As the apostle stated in Galatians:

“God is not mocked, whatsoever a man sows, that he shall reap”. (Gal 6:7).

To reject Christ, to spurn the salvation which He provides, is to make a mockery of that which glorifies both Him and His Heavenly Father.

-God is under no obligation whatsoever to bring the gospel to any people. It is a privilege granted by Him to bring this light of truth into the darkness of any people. Consider during the days of the apostle Paul’s missionary journey.

“They passed through the Phrygian and Galatian region, after being forbidden by the Holy Spirit to speak the word in Asia; 7 and after they came to Mysia, they were trying to go into Bithynia, and the Spirit of Jesus did not allow them;” (Acts 16:6-7 NASB)

God has a time in His own mind, in which He decides which peoples will be privileged to receive the light of truth in their sin-darkened nation. As Ecclesiastes states:

“There is an appointed time for everything. And there is a time for every event under heaven.” ( Eccl 3:1)

Consider the spread of the gospel in the past. How many long centuries passed before the Gospel was brought to the New World? How about China? How about middle and southern Africa? The list could go on. When the time was right, God raised upon messengers to declare its message to these nations and regions. Prior to that, they were left in sin and darkness.

For that matter, the entire world outside of the nation of Israel under the Old Covenant, was left without the truth of God’s Words.

“He declares His words to Jacob, His statutes and His ordinances to Israel. He has not dealt thus with any nation; and as for His ordinances, they have not known them. Praise the Lord!” (Psalm 147 19-20)

If one happened to live during this time period, the only place on this globe where the true knowledge of God was to be found, was within the nation of Israel. During the plagues of Egypt, thick darkness covered the entire land, EXCEPT for in Goshen, the part of the land in which the Hebrews dwelt. Light most often in Scripture is used as a figure of speech to denote truth. In the case of the plagues, it was designed to signify that only among the Jews, did the light of truth exist – all else was in darkness.

This is what the apostle John is stating when he writes:

“The whole world lies in the power of the evil one”. (1 John 5: 19)

Satan’s kingdom is called the “kingdom of darkness” (Col 1:13) to signify that no spiritual truth exists within it.

This is the reason why Israel was punished so severely. They failed to appreciate the great privilege that had been granted to them on account of the Patriarchs, Abraham, Issac and Jacob, and lapsed into apostasy and idolatry.

They instead heaped contempt on their privilege by running after false gods and eventually degrading themselves to the point where they killed their own Messiah when He came unto them.

Which brings us back to understanding “the aroma of death leading to death”. When a people, any people, who have been privileged to hear the word of the gospel or the Word of Christ, as Paul refers to it in Romans 10, should they spurn this gospel, should they ignore it, or worse, should they outright mock it and heap hatred upon its contents and upon those who have been saved by it, God will repay them to their face. That “scent” which has filled their land, now becomes an aroma of death unto death against them.

To mock the gospel, to treat it with contempt, to wage war against it and those who adhere to and cling to it, is to mock Christ Himself and to denigrate, as much as lies within them, His work upon the Cross wherein He sacrificed Himself. This rejected gospel, then brings about the judgments of God upon that people.

Jesus said as much to the Jews of His day, when as He was approaching the city of Jerusalem, just prior to His crucifixion, He told them:

“41 When He approached Jerusalem, He saw the city and wept over it, 42 saying, “If you had known on this day, even you, the conditions for peace! But now they have been hidden from your eyes. 43 For the days will come upon you when your enemies will put up a barricade against you, and surround you and hem you in on every side, 44 and they will level you to the ground, and throw down your children within you, and they will not leave in you one stone upon another, because you did not recognize the time of your visitation.” (Luke 19: 41-44)

They had a “time of visitation” when Truth walked in their midst, when light had shone into their generation, when they were graced with the person of Christ Himself, and they mocked Him, rejected Him and eventually killed Him.

The ruin inflicted upon that nation was foretold in Matthew 24, Luke 21, Mark 13 and in the book of Revelation, and was given a vivid amplification by the Jewish historian Josephus. I would refer the reader to those places to see how God repaid their rejection of His Son and His truth.

I submit that this is the place at which our nation of America has arrived. More and more I see it drifting to a paganistic world view and away from its Judeo-Christian foundation especially as it deals with the gospel of Christ and the attitude toward Christians among its elite ( elites in their own minds and estimation but crooked and perverse in the sight of God). The gospel of Christ is hated by these and their followers, that which is sacred and was once held in esteem is mocked, and nearly every passing day we see it descending further into debauchery and uncleanness.

Whilst some may see these things as cause of its moral decline, Scripture would declare otherwise. Most certainly sin has consequences and does indeed bring with it judgment from the Judge of Heaven and Earth, but what many do not grasp, is that one of the most severe judgments rendered against a people who reject the gospel, is leaving them in their sins and a judicially hardening of their hearts to further wallow ever deeper into the cesspool they have created.

The ancient Israelite wanted their meat and clamored for it, so the Lord gave it to them in the form of quail until they literally choked on it.

This is the way that God deals with gospel-rejecting reprobates. His gospel is precious to Him and He will render a recompense to His enemies. Its message now becomes an aroma of death leading to death. It has an effect, but its effect is now to bring ruin to them; no longer is it salvific to them.

I should state here and be quite clear – once the gospel is rejected and mocked, there is NO REMEDY for that people. It is one thing to ignore the gospel – that is an evil enough, but it is altogether another thing to actively mock and attack it. Consider – the only remedy for their situation is the very thing that they hate and despise. How utterly terrifying a condition is! How miserable are such a people! They are dead even while alive.

What makes matters worse for them is that those thus judicially sentenced, are not in the least aware of their peril. The incense has filled the air, but in their case, their sense of smell no longer functions in keeping with Paul’s imagery.

While I pray for individuals I no longer offer prayers on behalf of this nation as a whole. As God once told Jeremiah, concerning the nation of Israel in his day:

“The word that came to Jeremiah from the LORD, saying, 2 “Stand at the gate of the LORD’S house and proclaim there this word, and say, ‘Hear the word of the LORD, all
you of Judah, who enter by these gates to worship the LORD!’” 3 This is what the LORD of armies, the God of Israel says: “Amend your ways and your deeds, and I will let you live in this place. 4 Do not trust in deceptive words, saying, ‘This is the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD, the temple of the LORD.’ 5 For if you truly amend your ways and your deeds, if you truly practice justice between a person and his neighbor, 6 if you do not oppress the stranger, the orphan, or the widow, and do not shed innocent blood in this place, nor follow other gods to your own ruin, 7 then I will let you live in this place, in the land that I gave to your fathers forever and ever.

8 “Behold, you are trusting in deceptive words to no avail. 9 Will you steal, murder, commit adultery, swear falsely, offer sacrifices to Baal, and follow other gods that you have not known, 10 then come and stand before Me in this house which is called by My name, and say, ‘We are saved!’—so that you may do all these abominations? 11 Has this house, which is called by My name, become a den of robbers in your sight? Behold, I Myself have seen it,” declares the LORD.

12 “But go now to My place which was in Shiloh, where I made My name dwell at the beginning, and see what I did to it because of the wickedness of My people Israel. 13 And now, because you have done all these things,” declares the LORD, “and I spoke to you, speaking again and again, but you did not listen, and I called you but you did not answer, 14 therefore I will do to the house which is called by My name, in which you trust, and to the place which I gave you and your fathers, just as I did to Shiloh. 15 I will hurl you out of My sight, just as I have hurled out all your brothers, all the descendants of Ephraim.

16 “As for you, do not pray for this people, and do not lift up a cry or prayer for them, and do not plead with Me; for I am not listening to you.” (Jer 7: 1-16 NASB)

May our Good Lord grant understanding to those who read this and may it make us diligent to make our calling and election sure. Do not allow the spirit of this age to infect your heart but discipline yourself for the purpose of godliness. We are truly living in perilous times.

Be of good cheer however knowing that the Lord Christ can and will keep and preserve you. Stay close to Him who is your refuge from the storm of evil and madness that has descended upon this land.

Dan Norcini SS April 9, 2024

This entry was posted in Bible, Eschatology, Norcini. Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply