The video above is a children’s TV show called Bear In The Big Blue House (Stop right now and watch the video before proceeding). As you see Bear (yeah that’s his name) is a big, fluffy, loveable bear with a calm demeanor and a keen sense of smell. As a parent of four children I have watched my fair share of Bear In The Big Blue House episodes (quite honestly this was a very tolerable show). I remember when my oldest was just a little baby she would crawl right up to the TV and wait when Bear would welcome you into his house he would stop mid sentence and start sniffing. He would sniff the air and proceed to sniff the camera (as if sniffing the person watching the show) and would step back and say something like, “You smell like pancakes. Did you have pancakes for breakfast today?”
Whenever I watched this show ( it has been a while) I used to spiritualize it a bit and I would ask, “What kind of ‘spiritual’ aroma do I emanate as a Christian?” When I walk into a room do I have the fragrance of Jesus? Does the way I talk, act and treat others reveal the sweet aroma of Jesus that attracts others to him or am I a repulsive stench of hypocrisy that pushes people away from him?
Isn’t it amazing the power smell has to identify objects and even people? What is your first response when opening your refrigerator and pull out a jug of milk that has been in there for a while and you are not certain if it is still good or spoiled? Maybe the expiration date is a few days past or that same day and you would hate to throw away a perfectly good jug of milk. Don’t you open the cap and smell it to see if it is good or bad? Usually it doesn’t take much to know the milk has gone bad. Or how about when someone hands you a loaf of fresh baked bread you sniff in the wonderful aroma which ultimately triggers your taste buds before digging in.
Spiritually speaking the way we live our lives and treat others emanates a spiritual aroma. Today we will look at a text where Jesus speaks of the spiritual aroma we are to emanate so people will identify us with him.
Read John 13:31 - 35
Verse 31- 32: Now with Judas out of the picture the process which leads to Calvary has begun. Judas has left and now Jesus begins his “Farewell Discourse” to his disciples to prepare them for life without him around.
Now Jesus can be glorified (magnified, honored made renown) through his impending crucifixion, death, resurrection and ultimately ascension. In the Passion Jesus will be magnified and in his obedience the Father will be magnified as well.
Verse 33: “My little children”… This is a term of endearment and affection. He is speaking as a loving Father would speak to his children who would be departing and not returning. Jesus begins the task of preparing his disciples for his soon departure (through death and resurrection). He will soon be handed over to the authorities to be tortured and crucified. In his death he will be going where they cannot go (yet). Jesus will be returning to the Father. He is returning to where he belongs and where he rules and reigns. The disciples cannot go with him; this is a trip and destination that can only be reached by the road paved with torture, pain and sacrifice.
Verse 34 - 35: “A new commandment…” Jesus now lays out what he expects his followers to do in his absence. In his commentary on John D.A. Carson hits the nail right on the head concerning reality of this new command, “The new command is simple enough for a toddler to memorize and appreciate, profound enough that the most mature believers are repeatedly embarrassed at how poorly they comprehend it and put it into practice.” Sadly but truthfully Carson is right. Jesus’ command for the disciples is to love one another the way he loved them. We know Jesus showed his great love for his disciples in the foot washing ceremony but it wasn’t the washing of the feet that he was referring to. The foot washing points directly to the death of Jesus and the disciples would soon see the importance of loving each other in the manner that Jesus truly loved them.
Jesus tells them why it is important for the disciples to love each other in this way. He says that in loving each other with a sacrificial and self-less love people will know you belong to Him. Essentially he is saying you are going to be on display for the world to see and the way you treat each other will speak volumes as to who you follow. If I may use some license here by saying Jesus in a way is saying people will know you by your spiritual aroma. Love for one another needs to be the fragrance you emanate as a disciple. He is giving them a life command and not one that they are to keep once and then move on… love must be displayed among them forever so people will see they belong to Jesus. Some have cited here that according to Tertullian who wrote about a century later than this Gospel about the love of Christians in his day. It is stated that the Pagans marveled at the love of the Christian fellowship, especially as it faced some intense persecution. Tertullian wrote, “See how they love one another! ... How are they ready even to die for one another!” This is an amazing quote. If it is true (which there is no reason for it to not be) then it is a shame to see that the Church over the centuries or Christians for that matter no longer astonishes the world with the extraordinary love we should have for one another.
One simple command Jesus gives to his followers that still apply to us today. This new command was not just for the eleven disciples… it carries over to us modern day disciples as well. If this is the one command Jesus gave us then why are we failing so badly at keeping it? When you look at Christianity today are you awed by the superior and jaw dropping love that followers of Jesus have for one another? I am not. If anything I am more ashamed at the stench of hypocrisy, hatred, and legalism so many have been emanating for so long. * Please note that I am not saying love is non-existent in the body of Christ because it is (I personally have witnessed and have been a recipient of this love as I am sure you have as well). What I am saying is that for so long the world has associated Christians with negative things and not because of our love for one another. It seems more and more people are thinking, “They will know you are Christians by your hypocrisy, back biting, feuding, and moral failure.” Christians should be somewhat ashamed of what Christianity has become in certain aspects. Instead of being identified as a group of Christ followers who know how to love properly we are being associated with hate, hypocrisy and elitism. Someone wrote, “The badge of Christian discipleship is not a cross worn around the neck or lapel, or some distinct type of clothing. Anyone can profess by these means. The true mark of a Christian is love for his fellow brother.”
What is interesting is the love Jesus speaks of is not the kind of love we have been accustomed to here in the America. It is not the feel good strong attraction and emotion you have towards someone. It is also not defined as the absence of conflict and getting along with one another. I think we sometimes confuse love with toleration and keeping the peace. Jesus says, “Love one another: just as I have loved you, you also are to love one another.” How is it that Jesus loved his disciples? With sacrificial love Jesus gave a model to the Christian community as to how we should love.
What does sacrificial love look like? A few chapters later in John Jesus re-iterates the command to love one another as he loved the disciples and continues with “Greater love has no one than this, that someone lay down his life for his friends. You are my friends if you do what I command you.” Really? This is sacrificial love? Yes! I don’t think Jesus is implying that we go around and die for each other by throwing ourselves in front of buses or jumping off cliffs. It is the attitude of love we are to have… loving others as yourself and being willing to give your life for someone if it means it will glorify God.
When we look at the cross of Jesus it isn't intended to make us feel good about ourselves and to ensure that we will have a nice comfortable life. The cross of Christ was intended to bring glory to Jesus and to the Father and ultimately bring life to those who believe. The willingness and obedience of Jesus going to Calvary speaks volumes as to his love and full commitment to his people. The cross wasn’t an example of Christ’s love for us it was the essence of his love. The cross was Jesus’ love in action. We have heard the saying, “Actions speak louder than words” and this is truly the case in Jesus and the cross. This is an awe inspiring love, it is an unbelievable love, it is the kind of love that is motivated and given by the Spirit so we can in turn love our brothers and sisters in Christ as Jesus loved us.
So the question I leave with you today… “What kind of aroma do you emanate?” Is it the sweet aroma of love for one another that attracts others to your savior or is it the stench of death, decay and repulsion? “What is the badge you wear to associate with Jesus?” Is it the true and genuine sacrificial love for others in Christ or is it hypocrisy, hatred, and backbiting? My prayer, hope and dream for this congregation is that we would be a body of believers who are known for our genuine love for one another and that it would be a love motivated and spurred on by the Holy Spirit. Would you join me daily as I pray for us to become people who have an pleasant fragrance of true Christian love?
Jeff has been in full-time ministry for thirty years. He currently serves as Executive Director at Anchor House Ministry at SeaPort Manatee in Palmetto, FL and he is a part-time Campus Pastor at West Bradenton Southside in Bradenton, Florida.
Jeff Has authored A Lent Devotional (A Spiritual Journey to Lent) an Advent Devotional (The Advent of Jesus) and a devotional on the book of James (James: Where Faith and Life Meet). All three are available on Amazon.
He is married to Carrie and they have four children, Micaiah, Gabe, Simon, and Berea.
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