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In the Wilderness: An Aroma Pleasing To God

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Christians and their worship is are a sweet aroma to God.

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Text: Numbers 15:1-3
Theme: Christians and their worship is are a sweet aroma to God.
Date: 03/01/2020 Title: InTheWilderness-07.wpd No:
In chapters thirteen and fourteen of the Book of Numbers, the congregation of Israel—all
2.5 million people—are encamped on the southern edge of the land of Canaan. God has promised to give it to them and to fight on their behalf. Canaan represents all of the promises of God to generations of Abraham’s descendants, but the people of Israel experience none of God’s blessings. All they see are giants in the land, not the glory of the Lord. They believed the minority report of the ten spies, and ignore the prompting and encouragement of Joshua and Caleb. After accepting the majority report the people turn on Moses in fury, exclaiming, “Did you bring us into the desert to die?” God’s anger at the fearful Israelite mob is as great as their anger at Moses. Because of faithlessness and rebellion an entire generation’s future is fixed ...
“The LORD said to Moses and Aaron: 27 “How long will this wicked community grumble against me? I have heard the complaints of these grumbling Israelites. 28 So tell them, ‘As surely as I live, declares the LORD, I will do to you the very things I heard you say: 29 In this desert your bodies will fall—every one of you twenty years old or more who was counted in the census and who has grumbled against me. 30 Not one of you will enter the land I swore with uplifted hand to make your home, except Caleb son of Jephunneh and Joshua son of Nun. 31 As for your children that you said would be taken as plunder, I will bring them in to enjoy the land you have rejected. 32 But you—your bodies will fall in this desert. 33 Your children will be shepherds here for forty years, suffering for your unfaithfulness, until the last of your bodies lies in the desert. 34 For forty years—one year for each of the forty days you explored the land—you will suffer for your sins and know what it is like to have me against you.’ 35 I, the LORD, have spoken, and I will surely do these things to this whole wicked community, which has banded together against me. They will meet their end in this desert; here they will die.”” (Numbers 14:26–35, NIV84)
Just in case they’re hard of hearing, five times in nine verses God tells the generation that came out of Egypt that they won’t make it into Canaan—they’ll die in the wilderness. And thus forty years of wandering begin. But God will not abandon them.
Chapters fifteen to the end of the book are devoted to telling the story of Israel during their forty years of wandering. The four major events that take place are 1) Korah’s Rebellion, mentioned in chapter sixteen, 2) Moses’ spiritual failure at the Meribah when he strikes the rock in anger, 3) King Balak of Moab’s attempt to hire a renowned prophet named Balaam to curse Israel, and 4) the census of the new generation of Hebrews who will take the land of Canaan.
The majority of the closing chapters of Numbers, however, deal with updated laws concerning ritual sacrifices. It seems like fairly boring stuff to us, but it’s full of spiritual application if we’ll look for it. There are 613 laws given in the Torah—the first five books of the Old Testament, and simply referred to as the Law by the Jews. One-hundred and fifty of those laws deal with sacrifices. Only kosher, domesticated animals could be used—cattle, sheep, goats, and doves. Besides animals, people brought offerings of their first fruits to the Tabernacle, which included wheat, and barely, olive oil and wine. Chapters 15, 19, 28 and 29 are almost exclusively about how and when to offer sacrifices unto God. A phrase heard repeatedly concerning these offerings is that they are an aroma pleasing to the Lord. It’s used eighteen times in these four chapters. Whether it’s a burnt offering or a wine offering, or an offering of fine flower, these sacrifices are an aroma pleasing to the Lord.

I. GOD IS FOND OF THE SMELL OF SACRIFICES

1. according to the Law of God, the sacrifices of His people are a sweet smell to God
a. in some cases, these sacrifices would smell just like meat being grilled over coals on a summer’s evening
b. but we’re also told that the grain offering and the wine offering also constitute a pleasing aroma to the Lord
2. the very first mention of God smelling the aroma of a burnt offering is found in Genesis 8:21 when Noah offered a burnt offering of clean animals after leaving the Ark
a. we are told that it was a pleasing aroma to God
b. it was pleasing because it was a propitiation for sin
c. God was pleased with the sacrifice and promises never again to destroy the Earth through a flood
3. in Exodus, Leviticus, and Numbers God lays out the various sacrifices that Israel is to offer for sin
a. these offerings represented a personal and material surrender to the Creator of the universe
b. they were meant to be expressions of worship from hearts filled with praise, devotion, and repentance of sin
c. that kind of worship was a pleasing aroma to God ... it still is
4. I must admit, that I still prefer the King James Version’s classic rendering of this phrase: a sweet savour unto the Lord—a smell that puts a good taste in your mouth
a. of course, what pleases God is not simply the small of roasted meat or burning grain mixed with herbs and spices
b. as in Noah's offering, what pleases God is the commitment to offer worship from a sincere heart in His name as He commanded—the Lord is honored and pleased by the faithfulness of the one who present the offering
5. that’s what these chapter in Numbers are all about ... worship

A. WHAT PLEASES GOD IS WORSHIP FROM THE HEART

1. well that begs the question: What is worship from the heart, and how does it please God?
2. worship has a very specific purpose
a. it is not about making you feel good
b. it is about honoring, magnifying, glorifying God
“When all the elders of Israel had arrived, the priests took up the ark, 4 and they brought up the ark of the LORD and the Tent of Meeting and all the sacred furnishings in it. The priests and Levites carried them up, 5 and King Solomon and the entire assembly of Israel that had gathered about him were before the ark, sacrificing so many sheep and cattle that they could not be recorded or counted. 6 The priests then brought the ark of the LORD’s covenant to its place in the inner sanctuary of the temple, the Most Holy Place, and put it beneath the wings of the cherubim. 7 The cherubim spread their wings over the place of the ark and overshadowed the ark and its carrying poles.” (1 Kings 8:3–7, NIV84)
3. in this passage we see what worship really is
a. it's not what we think it is
1) public Scripture reading may lead to worship, but it is not worship
2) praying may prepare the heart for worship, but it is not worship
3) singing psalms, and hymns, and spiritual songs can ready the soul to worship, but it is not worship
4) fellowship with the saints may encourage worship, but it is not worship
5) preaching the word may convict us about worship, but it is not worship
b. what is worship then?
4. 1st, Worship Is Putting God in His Rightful Place
a. when the priests arrived at Jerusalem they picked up the Ark of the Covenant and brought it into the newly built temple
b. once there, it was placed within the inner sanctuary called the Holy of Holies
1) God's place was in His temple in Jerusalem
2) it was the religious, political, social, and cultural center of the nation of Israel
c. worship, then, is the believer placing God at the center of his or her life
1) worship makes us aware of who God is—Sovereign Lord—and reminds of that we are—Sinners lost and undone
“Do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit, who is in you, whom you have received from God? You are not your own; 20 you were bought at a price. Therefore honor God with your body.” (1 Corinthians 6:19–20, NIV84)
2) worship is bowing before God's glory and majesty and admitting that He is God and has every right to be God, and that we're not God and have no right trying to be God
5. 2nd, Worship Is Sacrificing Before the Lord
a. might I suggest to you this morning, that until you've sacrificed, you've not truly worshiped
1) Solomon sacrificed sheep and cattle beyond count
b. what have you sacrificed unto the Lord lately?
1) might I suggest that the very best sacrifice you can offer God today is your right to yourself?
c. when Jesus called his disciples, he called men who were willing to forsake everything to follow him
1) that fundamental requirement has not changed
ILLUS. The German theologian, Deitrich Bonhoeffer wrote: "To follow Christ, is to die."
d. Jesus said it like this ... "If anyone would come after me, he must deny himself and take up his cross daily and follow me." (Luke 9:23 NIV)
6. God Is Fond of the Smell of Sacrifices Which Means He Is Fond of Worship

II. GOD’S PEOPLE ARE TO BE A SWEET SMELL TO HIM

1. in the New Testament, Paul the Apostle borrows the language of sacrifice to talk about how we should live as imitators of Christ
a. his sacrifice was a pleasing aroma to God and so our sacrifices to Him

A. CHRIST’S SACRIFICE WAS A PLEASING AROMA TO GOD

“and live a life of love, just as Christ loved us and gave himself up for us as a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.” (Ephesians 5:2, NIV84)
1. God the Son’s propitiatory, atoning sacrifice for the sins of God’s Elect was considered a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God
2. this verse is a clear-cut reference to the cross
a. it makes the death of Christ more than the public execution of a criminal
b. the cross was the brazen altar where the Lamb of God was offered as the burnt sacrifice
1) but the sacrifice of Christ was seen by the Father as infinitely higher and greater than all the combined millions of animals sacrificed by Israel over the millennia
2) Christ’s sacrifice was the end of all sacrifices—the once for all sacrifice that all they other pointed to, and as the final, perfect Lamb of God, the Father simply says, In him I am well pleased
c. that sacrifice takes away the sin of God’s Elect
“ ... we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.” (Hebrews 10:10, NIV84)
3. every sacrifice that was offered in the Old Testament by God’s command pointed to Jesus
b. because of the substitutionary, vicarious death of Christ upon the cross the believer is to offer themself as a living sacrifice as we strive toward Christ-likeness

B. OUR LIFE IN CHRIST IS A PLEASING AROMA TO GOD

“For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing.” (2 Corinthians 2:15, NIV84)
1. Paul tells the believers at Corinth that, as a believer, he carries around the aroma of Christ which is pleasing to God
a. Paul is not the source of the aroma, it comes from the Christ who is in him, and from the message about the cross of Christ
ILLUS. I have to say it, but as sinners, we’re like Jr. High kids going through puberty who haven’t yet discovered the benefits of deodorant. Jr. High kids often have no idea how offensive their body order can be. They don’t have an accurate perception of the potency of their sweat glands. So it is with us in our sin before a holy God.
1) we don’t have a clue as to how offensive our sin is to God
2) even in your best moments, your best deeds on your best days are not able to be a pleasing aroma to God
3) the stench of a sinner’s sin is so offensive, that only the aroma of His son’s death can overpower the grievous stench of our sin
2. when we become a sacrifice as Jesus became a sacrifice it is a sweet aroma to God
a. but our sacrifice is not unto death, but unto life
“Therefore, I urge you, brothers, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as living sacrifices, holy and pleasing to God—this is your spiritual act of worship. 2 Do not conform any longer to the pattern of this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your mind. Then you will be able to test and approve what God’s will is—his good, pleasing and perfect will.” (Romans 12:1–2, NIV84)
b. the Christian is to be a living sacrifice
1) our death and resurrection in Christ is like a fragrant smell to God
a) when you Accepted Christ, Believed upon his name, and Confessed him as savior, Christ came into your life through the Holy Spirit, and you became the aroma of Christ to the Father
b) like Paul, it is not the aroma of your goodness or righteousness that God smells, but the life of His crucified son in you that He smells
ILLUS. The sense of smell is closely linked with memory, probably more so than any of our other senses. The reason is that our olfactory system is located in the same part of our brain that effects emotions, memory, and creativity. Scientists who study the olfactory system say, “Smells Ring Bells.” The smell of Lilac always transports me back to my maternal grandmothers home. She loved the small of lilac and regularly wore it. When God smells the aroma of Christ in us, it transports Him back to that moment at Calvary, where the stench of death, and sweat, and blood permeated the air, and where the Son cried out, “It is finished” and the Father’s redemptive work was accomplished. That’s what God smells on us ... and it’s pleasing to Him.
3. at the moment of your conversion, you became a living sacrifice
a. our calling as a Christian is to be a continuous sacrifice

C. THE AROMAS GOD LOVES MOST

1. The Aroma of Our Prayers
a. in the Old Testament, God commanded the priests of Israel to continually burn aromatic incense — made from a blend of five exotic spices — on the golden altar inside the Holy of Holies
b. but it wasn't simply the fragrance itself that pleased God, but what it represented: the constant prayers of his people
1) in fact, the incense, associated with the people's prayers, was so pure and sacredly sweet to God that any deviation from what God had explicitly commanded was met with swift death, as Nadab and Abihu found out (Leviticus 10:1–2)
c. just as God prescribed a specific recipe for the incense, he also prescribes specific prayers for believers today — prayers of:
1) Thanksgiving (1 Timothy 2:1)
2) Forgiveness (1 John 1:9)
3) Intercession (1 Timothy 2:1)
4) Praise and adoration (Psalm 148:1–14)
5) Utter dependence (Matthew 7:7)
6) Seeking wisdom (James 1:5)
7) Petitions and supplications (1 Timothy 2:1; Philippians 4:6)
8) Seeking peace (Philippians 4:6–7)
9) Salvation (Romans 10:9–10)
d. these particular prayers, in fact, are so pleasant and precious to God that he lovingly collects them in "golden bowls" in heaven
“And when he had taken it, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” (Revelation 5:8, NIV84)
2. The Aroma of Our Repentance
a. in addition to burning incense, Israel was also required to sacrifice certain types of animals to atone for their sins
1) but, again, it wasn't the aroma from the sacrifices that pleased God as much as what it represented: repentance, clean souls, changed lives
2) if performed properly, these sacrifices were "a pleasing aroma to the Lord" (Numbers 15:3)
b. over time, however, Israel became careless with their sacrifices, for which God sternly rebuked them
““The multitude of your sacrifices— what are they to me?” says the LORD. “I have more than enough of burnt offerings, of rams and the fat of fattened animals; I have no pleasure in the blood of bulls and lambs and goats. ... 13 Stop bringing meaningless offerings! Your incense is detestable to me. New Moons, Sabbaths and convocations— I cannot bear your evil assemblies.” (Isaiah 1:11, 13 NIV84)
1) the principle is the same for today's believers
2) God doesn't want "vain" confessions — mere remorse — but genuine repentance that comes from truly humble and contrite hearts
“The sacrifices of God are a broken spirit; a broken and contrite heart, O God, you will not despise.” (Psalm 51:17, NIV84)
ILLUS. Martin Luther famously wrote in the first of his ninety-five theses, "When our Lord and Master Jesus Christ said ‘Repent,' he intended that the entire life of believers should be repentance." Repentance is not peripheral to a life of worship. It's at the very heart, which is why God sees repentance as especially fragrant.
3. The Aroma of Our Witness
a. in 2 Corinthians 2:14–16, the apostle Paul charges Christians to spread "the fragrance of the knowledge of [Jesus Christ] everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life."
b. the knowledge that we proclaim is that Jesus Christ was crucified for the sins of sinners, and all who repent and appropriate his sacrificial death on the cross through faith will be saved by God's grace
c. while our witness always spreads the fragrance of Christ, it's not always received the same by its hearers
1) to those who are being saved, we are the aroma of Christ himself
2) to those who are perishing, we are the stench of death
d. regardless of our hearer’s reactions, however, our testimonies produce a powerful fragrance which God delights in, for truth always smells good to God
1) nothing pleases him more than to see his Son glorified in the courageous testimonies of those he came to save
4. The Aroma of Our Love
“Greater love has no one than this, that he lay down his life for his friends.” (John 15:13, NIV84)
a. the greatest act of love ever performed was when Jesus voluntarily offered up his life for the sins of his people, suffering untold emotional, spiritual, and physical pain on a Roman cross
1) "It was the will of the Lord to crush him" (Isaiah 53:10), but Christ gave up his life willingly (John 10:18)
2) and in being crushed, Christ's loving sacrifice gave off the sweetest, most sacred of fragrances
How do you smell to God? Unfortunately, we can become like Israel in our worship lives. Over time, Israel tended to cheapen the practice of sacrifice. Often, it became nothing more than an eternal and superficial act of ritual which had little impact upon the spiritual life of the giver. Legalistic conformity to the pattern of worship, can never substitute for the sweet aroma of heart-felt repentance and faith.
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