And Noah builded an altar unto the LORD; and took of every clean beast, and of every clean fowl, and offered burnt offerings on the altar. And the LORD smelled a sweet savour; and the LORD said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake; for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth; neither will I again smite any more every thing living, as I have done. While the earth remaineth, seedtime and harvest, and cold and heat, and summer and winter, and day and night shall not cease. (Genesis 8:20-22)
These verses contain a very interesting phrase. "And the Lord smelled a sweet savor" (v.21). The word "savor" (reah) occurs 46 times in the Old Testament and it comes from the same root word for man's spirit or inner being (ruah). The word "sweet" is nihoah and carries with it the idea of rest (the name "Noah" means rest). So it seems as if Noah offers a sacrifice and "the soul of God was at rest" (many King James Bibles have a footnote that reads "a savor of rest"). God had been judging the world through the flood, but just as the Ark came to rest on Ararat, so God is comes to rest because of the sacrifice. Unlike the first week of Creation when God rested from creating, in our text God rests from judgement.
Noah and his family step off the ark into a dark world. The atmosphere continued to rage as it does today, the earth was covered in mud and slime as a consequence of condemnation for man's sin. It must not be forgotten that Noah and his family were, by nature, "evil in their thoughts continually." For this reason, the first thing Noah does upon leaving the ark is to build an altar and offer a sacrifice. Then we read, the sacrifice was a "sweet savor" to God. God rested from holy judgment.
How can we understand the satisfaction and approval of God for sinners like us? The key comes from understanding the sweet savor of the sacrifice. What does this aroma represent? The sacrifices of the Old Testament all point to the work of Christ and the aroma to God's approval of, and satisfaction in, the person and work of Christ. When one comes to faith in Christ, when one "kisses the Son," like Noah laid hold of the sacrifice, he is covered with sweet aroma of Christ and the judgment of God ends --- forever. Why?
I. The sweet savor of Christ covers the reek of sin . .
This is why aroma plays such a big part in the sacrificial system of Old Testament worship. A "smell" or "aroma" had to mask the stench of sin in God's people when they approached Him.
(A). The sacrifices in Leviticus were said to be a "sweet savor" to God (Leviticus 1:13).
(B). There was an altar of incense in the Tabernacle and later the Temple (Exodus 30).
(C). If on the Day of Atonement the Holy of Holies was not filled with the smell of incense prior to the High Priest entering, the High Priest died (Leviticus 16:13).
Some of the Roman Catholic traditions include the use of incense or sweet fragrances in their holy days. These solemn rituals of incense waving visually portray a spiritual truth that is often missed in Catholicism. "But thanks be to God, who always leads us in triumph in Christ, and manifests through us the sweet aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. For we are a fragrance of Christ to God." (II Corinthians 2:14-16).
"In Christ" you are a pleasure to God, a sweet aroma unto Him, because Christ covers you with His righteousness. This understanding of the beauty and glory of Christ as a cover for us, and His very Person as a sweet aroma in us, should then lead us to understand that . . .
II. The sweet savor of Christ calls for resistance to sin . . .
If God loves the fragrance of Christ, and He does (II Corinthians 2:16), and if your body is the Temple of the God, and it is (II Corinthians 6:16), then does He not drive out stench?
"Being confident of this very thing that He who began a good work in you will perform it (carry it on to completion) until the day of Jesus Christ" (Philippians 1:6).
In the Jewish book Mishnah in Avot (5:5) it states that there were no flies in the area of the Temple, nor was a snake or scorpion ever able to harm anyone anywhere in Jerusalem as long as the Temple stood. Though we are not sure of the accuracy of this statement because the Mishna is not God's inspired Word, wouldn't it be just like God to dispel any reminder of Satan (that old serpant, the Lord of the flies "Beelzebub," and the scorpion) from the place where Christ resides?
Some might object, however, and say, "I'm a believer, but there is still the residue of sin in me, and frankly, sometimes it is more than residue. I can't seem to conquer that habit that plagues me, I can't seem to get victory of that sin that pulls me down, your words are not encouraging to me because I still "feel my sin" so deeply. Why is God not driving out my sin completely?"
III. The sweet savor carries the reminder of the Savior . . .
God has a purpose for not driving out sin from your life the moment Christ takes up residence in your soul. Your journey with Christ involves being greatly vexed by sin in order for you know Christ even better. When you smell the stench of sin in your life (and by the way, others often smell your stench faster than you smell it), it is revealed by God to cause you to see your incredible need of Christ in you.
Are you sick because you have done something that has not only embarrassed you, it has shamed you? What is the answer? Very simply put, great sinners have need of a great Saviour. What Jesus Christ has done for you is a "sweet savor" to God. Has evil stained you? Grace shall shower you. "But where sin abounds, grace super abounds" (Romans 5:20).
The evidence of the sweet aroma of Christ in you is the desire to remove the stench of sin from your life. Notice, it is not the absence of sin that is evidence of Christ's presence, but the desire for your life to exude the sweet aroma of Christ. God's people are capable of the grossest sins of the world, but the difference is clear --- God's people have smelled Christ, and will not linger long in the temporal sweetness of sin that quickly turns into the foul odor that taints the soul.
If you are a believer in Christ, and you are struggling with sin, don't let the enemy deceive you. He will seek to convince you that God is not interested in your woship. He will seek to bully you into believing God has no enjoyment in your presence before Him. The great deceiver, like always is only half right.
Sin causes God to move in judgment and condemnation.
But the sweet aroma of Christ covers His people. God loves nothing more than to cease from judgment because of the beauty and glory of His Son. Sinner, don't stay away. Boldly approach the throne of grace.
Come covered with the aroma of Christ.
"When I stand before the throne, dressed in beauty not my own, When I see thee as thou art, love thee with an unsinning heart, then, Lord, shall I fully know, how much I truly owe." Robert Murray M'Cheyne.