Developing our Spiritual Senses #4: SMELL

We are onto the fourth session in a series about ‘Developing our spiritual senses’. We’ve already had ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’, ‘God has nice things to say’ and, last time, ‘Seeing things from God’s perspective’.


Today we are looking at the sense of smell and I’ve called this session ‘Being the aroma of Christ.’ In the Bible there’s a story about a time when a woman anointed Jesus with perfume. It can be found in Luke 7:36-50

Jesus Anointed by a Sinful Woman

“36 When one of the Pharisees invited Jesus to have dinner with him, he went to the Pharisee’s house and reclined at the table. 37 A woman in that town who lived a sinful life learned that Jesus was eating at the Pharisee’s house, so she came there with an alabaster jar of perfume. 38 As she stood behind him at his feet weeping, she began to wet his feet with her tears. Then she wiped them with her hair, kissed them and poured perfume on them.

39 When the Pharisee who had invited him saw this, he said to himself, “If this man were a prophet, he would know who is touching him and what kind of woman she is—that she is a sinner.”

40 Jesus answered him, “Simon, I have something to tell you.”

“Tell me, teacher,” he said.

41 “Two people owed money to a certain moneylender. One owed him five hundred denarii, and the other fifty. 42 Neither of them had the money to pay him back, so he forgave the debts of both. Now which of them will love him more?”

43 Simon replied, “I suppose the one who had the bigger debt forgiven.”

“You have judged correctly,” Jesus said.

44 Then he turned toward the woman and said to Simon, “Do you see this woman? I came into your house. You did not give me any water for my feet, but she wet my feet with her tears and wiped them with her hair. 45 You did not give me a kiss, but this woman, from the time I entered, has not stopped kissing my feet. 46 You did not put oil on my head, but she has poured perfume on my feet. 47 Therefore, I tell you, her many sins have been forgiven—as her great love has shown. But whoever has been forgiven little loves little.”

48 Then Jesus said to her, “Your sins are forgiven.”

49 The other guests began to say among themselves, “Who is this who even forgives sins?”

50 Jesus said to the woman, “Your faith has saved you; go in peace.”

The sense of smell is a powerful tool for bringing up emotions and memories. What are you smelling like today? Maybe you are wearing your favourite perfume,  Maybe your clothes smell a little of the delicious food that you’ve prepared to for lunch time, or maybe you didn’t get time for a shower this morning and don’t smell so fresh!


In the room where Jesus was having a meal in our story, there were lots of men eating together. There would have been some nice smells hanging around from the food, there might have been a few interesting smells of the men who were eating too. It was a hot country they were in after all! But when the woman entered she brought with her a different smell.


This woman had lived a sinful life, the Bible doesn’t give us more detail. She knew that she was an outcast and that these men didn’t like her. But that didn’t stop her from coming in to see Jesus. He was much more important to her than their stares of disapproval. She brought with her an alabaster jar of perfume which she poured onto Jesus’ feet after washing them with her tears and drying them with her hair.


Imagine how the Pharisees must have reacted to this. Certainly the smell in the room would have changed with this perfume. To some of them it might have reminded them of this woman and the bad things she’d got up to, some of them probably knew her personally. They were not happy to have her there at all.


But to Jesus it was a sweet smell. He explained to the Pharisees that she had been forgiven much and therefore she was more extravagant in her gratitude to Jesus. She didn’t care what other people thought of her or about the social conventions of the day, she just wanted to do this act of thanksgiving to Jesus.

Jesus’s little story that he tells to Simon the Pharisee to explain about this woman’s actions is very clear. If you’ve been let off a big debt you’ll be more grateful to the one who let you off. And here Jesus is talking about forgiveness of sins. This woman had done a lot of bad things, but God had forgiven her and she knew that and was so thankful to him. The Pharisees on the other hand often thought themselves already above sin and therefore they couldn’t understand her behaviour.


How much have we been forgiven? And how thankful are we to God for forgiving us. Certainly the older I get, the more stupid things I’ve done and the more I’m starting to understand just how amazing this forgiveness is that God has for us. We’ve all sinned, done something wrong that hurts ourselves, others or God. God is always there waiting for us to turn to him, confess and put ourselves right before him and to give us his forgiveness afresh.

How do we express our gratitude to the Lord for his forgiveness?


Would we do something extravagant like this woman did, going against what would be considered ‘normal’ for those around us? Do we let the Holy Spirit guide us and walk on the paths he has for us? Is our aroma one of perfume poured out at Jesus’s feet, or is it more like the Pharisees, looking on in disgust at such a performance?

The Apostle Paul talks about being the aroma of Christ in 2 Corinthians 2.


‘14 But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumphal procession in Christ and through us spreads everywhere the fragrance of the knowledge of him. 15 For we are to God the aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing. 16 To the one we are the smell of death; to the other, the fragrance of life.’

Paul talks here about an aroma, or a smell that all the Corinthians would have understood in the day.  After a great Roman victory, the soldiers came back home to a big parade, their horses draped in garlands of fresh flowers and an additional fragrance, not as familiar to us, – burning incense.  As people lined the roadway, the smell of flowers and incense meant, “Victory!”


But at the end of the parade enemy soldiers were stumbling along, filthy, sweaty, wrists tied behind their backs, ankles chained to each other, heads bowed. They smelled the flowers and incense, too.  But for them the aroma meant defeat and signalled they would probably soon be killed.


Jesus, in his death on the cross, brought about a victory for us over sin and death. By believing that He died for us and that through him our sins have been forgiven and we can have a living relationship with our Father God in heaven today and then eternal life when we die, we too live in victory. He sacrificed himself for us and we must make sacrifices for him, to share his love with those around us who don’t yet know of his love for them.


Other people can smell our aroma, whether it’s good or bad. And they can also smell our spiritual aroma. When we are living with Jesus as Lord in our lives, listening to him, looking for God’s perspective and doing the things he guides us to do, others will see it, and smell it in us. And to them it will either be a fragrant smell that encourages them and brings life, as they want to find out more and know Jesus for themselves, or it will be a horrible odour that will drive them away.

As we live for Christ and seek to share him with others, some people will hear the gospel and all they will hear is death. They look at the cross and all they see is death. They see no life. No hope. No future. No joy. And so they turn away. And if they turn away forever, they die. They are the people who don’t believe, they don’t see Christ as precious. They don’t see his suffering as a treasure. They don’t smell his death for sinners as the sweetest fragrance in the universe. It’s not a satisfying fragrance, it’s simply the smell of death.

But, those who are being saved smell the death of Christ as the aroma of life. They see in his death the substitute that they so desperately need before God. The son of God dying in their place is the fragrance of life. So they don’t turn away. They believe in him, receive him, embrace him and treasure him and they live – forever. Smelling Christ as the aroma of life gives life.


Roses don’t need to apologize for their scent even if some people are allergic to it.  We Are the Aroma of Christ with no apologies.  Will some react as though they are allergic to us?  Maybe!  But it’s not our job to worry about the reaction.  The garlands on the horses and the incense that burned in a Roman victory parade just had an aroma, and they couldn’t help it.  We are in the victory parade to heaven, We Are the Aroma of Christ, and we care enough to do whatever it takes to waft that aroma in the direction of everyone we meet.


As the Holy Spirit works in us and fills us up with more and more of God’s love, it overflows to touch others. As we listen to God and share his love with those around us, some people might reject it, but some will accept it and want to know more. God calls us to love people as he loves us. In 1 John 4v19 it says (one of my favourite verses):


Thinking back to the woman who poured perfume on Jesus’s feet. How do we demonstrate that love that we have for God? What is the Holy Spirit guiding us towards doing this week to share God’s love and Christ’s victory on the cross with someone in our lives?


Let’s pray. Father God thank you that when we come to you, you forgive us and forget our sins. Thank you that you love us and want us to share that love with others. Fill us with your Holy Spirit afresh as we wait on you now and give us a sense of how we can be the aroma of Christ to those around us this week. In Jesus’ Name, we pray. Amen.

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