Smells Like Pleasing Worship

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Our holiness is expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship.

Genesis(33) (Part of the Origins(31) series)
by Marc Webb(38) on June 13, 2021 (Sunday Morning(211))

Faith(13), Obedience(19), Worship(12)

Smells Like Pleasing Worship

What is your favorite smell? There are so many to choose from but here’s a few: freshly cut Christmas trees, a rose, lavender, vanilla, fresh bread baking in the oven, freshly popped popcorn, fresh brewed coffee, bacon, freshly cut grass, meat barbequing on the grill, that new car smell, freshly baked chocolate cookies. What would be your least favorite smell? Again there are a lot to choose from and some are very unsavory. I will try to stick to the least unsavory ones and you can use your imagination for the worst smells you’ve ever encountered. A full kitchen trash bag or dumpster, sewage, rotten milk or rotten food, plastic burning, car exhaust, bleach.

As we all know, humans have five senses: touch, sight, hearing, taste and smell. Our sense of smell is considered to be the strongest. Here are some facts about our sense of smell: it is the first of all our senses to develop. Even before we are born, our sense of smell is fully formed and functioning. Our scent cells are renewed every 28 days, so every four weeks you get a new “nose.” A woman’s sense of smell is much stronger than a man’s. Our sense of smell is the most closely linked with memory. We can remember smells with 65% accuracy after a year, while our visual recall is only about 50% after three months. One of our most evocative smells from childhood is crayons. A survey found that 85% of all people remember their childhood when they caught the smell of Crayola crayons.

The Bible also talks about the sense of smell. In 2 Corinthians 2:14-15, Paul says that Christians, as we spread the gospel of Jesus Christ wherever we go, we are the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ. To those who accept Jesus as their Lord and Savior we are the fragrance of life but to those who reject him we are the fragrance of death. ​​ In Psalm 141:2 the psalmist says, “May my prayer be counted as incense before You; the raising of my hands as the evening offering. He was remembering the sacrifices that the priest would make on the altar of incense while the Israelites were praying each morning. When we are praying pure, holy and fervent prayers in Jesus’ name, those prayers become a fragrant and sweet odor to the Lord. In Philippians 4:18, Paul called the gifts that the church at Philippi sent him a fragrant aroma, an acceptable sacrifice, pleasing to God. In Ephesians 5:1-2, Paul says we are to imitate God by living a life of love for others just as Christ loved us and sacrificed himself on a cross for us. Jesus’ act of love and sacrifice was an offering to God as a fragrant aroma, just as our love for others would be to God, as well.

Last week, Pastor Stuart taught us about God’s perfect timing as Noah patiently waited for the flood to end and the earth to become dry so he, his family and the animals could leave the ark. They had been in the ark for over a year and after landing on the mountain range of Ararat Noah sent out a raven and dove to check the dryness of the earth. Finally after the third time when the dove didn’t return Noah knew that the water had dried up from the earth. But it still took almost another month and a half until the surface of the ground was completely dry. All during this time, Noah did not take it upon himself to leave the ark. He waited on the Lord. Isaiah 40:31 says “those who wait upon the Lord will renew their strength, they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not faint.” Now “waiting” on the Lord doesn’t mean we sit idly by but it means to “bind together” with God. It’s the idea in John 15 to be connected to the vine which is Jesus. Some of the ways that we can be connected to Jesus is by being in God’s Word, being in prayer and by being focused on the Lord through true and genuine worship. As we wait upon the Lord we are connected to Him and are renewed and strengthened. I see this “waiting on the Lord” in Noah. He could have rushed out as soon as the dove didn’t return. The circumstances on the earth looked suitable for them to leave the ark but that was no guarantee that God wanted them to leave yet and begin their new life. I think Noah was so tuned into God and his will for him that he waited for God’s perfect timing to be revealed.

This morning we finally see Noah, his family and the animals leave the ark and the first thing Noah does is build an altar and sacrifice burnt offerings to the Lord. God smells Noah’s sacrifice and it was a pleasing aroma to him. What was it about Noah’s sacrifice and worship that was pleasing to God? What are the ingredients of our worship that pleases God and shows we are striving to live daily, holy lives? Those are the questions we will answer this morning as we study our passage which brings us to our big idea: our holiness is expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship. Let’s pray and commit our time together to the Lord. Heavenly Father, we ask that you pour out your Holy Spirit upon us as we study your Word. Open our hearts and minds and give us supernatural insight. Use your Word this morning to teach us, rebuke us where needed, correct us and to train us in righteousness. In Jesus’ name, Amen.

There are two points this morning. Our first point is God’s command & Noah’s obedience and is found in Genesis 8:15-19. This is what God’s Word says, “Then God said to Noah, “Come out of the ark, you and your wife and your sons and their wives. Bring out every kind of living creature that is with you—the birds, the animals, and all the creatures that move along the ground—so they can multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it.” So Noah came out, together with his sons and his wife and his sons’ wives. All the animals and all the creatures that move along the ground and all the birds—everything that moves on land—came out of the ark, one kind after another.

Finally, after a little over a year, God commands Noah to come out of the ark with his family. We notice two things. One, this is the first and only time God talks to Noah while he is in the ark, and two, God is still only talking with Noah. God commands Noah to bring out every living creature that was with him in the ark. Then God commands them to multiply on the earth and be fruitful and increase in number on it. This reminds us of God’s command in the garden to be fruitful and multiply. The multiplying of creatures on the earth had been stymied by the flood but now God is rebooting creation.

As we have seen before, in the story of the Flood, it follows the same pattern as God speaks and Noah obeys. Noah has waited on the Lord’s perfect timing and now obeys God’s command to come out of the ark with his family. He is followed by all the animals, the crawling things and the birds, one kind after another. We notice that God is restoring not only the population but orderliness in the world after recreating through the flood. Later on in our scripture, we will see God continuing to restore his order on the earth.

Because Noah was righteous and blameless in his generation God chose him to recreate humanity on a recreated earth. All through the story of the flood Noah has shown his faith and has been obedient to what the Lord commanded time and time again. His obedient faith is played out again as he disembarks from the ark followed by his family and the animals and his faith is counted to him as righteousness. His righteous and holy life was expressed through his obedient faith. As we strive to live holy lives set apart from the world, we must follow the example of Noah and be faithful and obedient to God as well. That brings us to our first next step on the back of your communication card which is to follow the example of Noah in having an obedient faith in response to God’s Word and commands.

Our second point is Noah’s worship and God’s response and that is found in verses 20-22. This is what God’s Word says, “Then Noah built an altar to the Lord and, taking some of all the clean animals and clean birds, he sacrificed burnt offerings on it. The Lord smelled the pleasing aroma and said in his heart: “Never again will I curse the ground because of humans, even though every inclination of the human heart is evil from childhood. And never again will I destroy all living creatures, as I have done. “As long as the earth endures, seedtime and harvest, cold and heat, summer and winter, day and night will never cease.”

We see Noah’s holiness and righteousness in his expression of faith as he responds to God’s deliverance from the ark and his salvation from the flood. Imagine that you are Noah and you have just been stuck in the ark floating on the water for over a year with your family and all the animals. What would be the very first thing you might do as you step onto dry land? I can imagine that I would be so happy that I would kiss the ground. On May 21, 2021, a number of Indonesian fishermen were rescued from a boat that had been taking on water for three days off the coast of Western Australia. They were visibly emotional and kissed the ground beneath them as they got on dry ground.

This reminds me of a trip Judy and I took to Chicago a number of years ago. One night we needed to go from one end of town to the other so we took a taxi cab. I don’t remember exactly how long the ride took, maybe 15-20 minutes. And I really didn’t have a strong opinion about the ride except that I had no idea that the back seats of cabs were so small. But I could tell that Judy on the other hand was not enjoying the ride. In fact when the taxi cab finally reached our destination and we all got out of the cab, we found Judy face down on the ground by the curb and it looks like she is kissing the ground. She was so thankful for God’s deliverance from that cab. At least that’s what we all thought. In reality as she got out of the cab, probably in a hurry to get as far away as possible, she tripped on the curb and went straight down. No matter what Judy was definitely very happy to be out of that cab.

Noah’s first thought as he gets out of the ark for the first time in over a year is Godward. He wanted to worship the Lord in gratitude for saving him and his family. And his first act of worship was to build an altar and sacrifice some of all the clean animals and birds as burnt offerings on it. Goldingay says, “The building of an altar is significant in that it means proclaiming Yahweh’s name over an area. It signifies that this area belongs to Yahweh and recognizes this place as a place where Yahweh has acted.” And Hamilton adds, “The point is that Noah’s first act indicates his faith that God brought him through the flood.”

We are reminded of when God commanded Noah to take both clean and unclean animals on the ark. He was preparing Noah to have the capability to make these sacrifices. These sacrifices were burnt offerings which meant the entire animal or bird was sacrificed on the altar. Burnt offerings are probably the oldest and most common of all the OT sacrifices. Reverence, petition, gratitude, dedication and atonement are all expressed in burnt offerings. By sacrificing the entire or whole animal on the altar it meant Noah was totally committed to the Lord. Noah’s righteousness and holiness was expressed by his faith, his obedience and now his total commitment to the Lord in worship. Our righteousness and holiness is also expressed by our faith, obedience and total commitment to the Lord in worship. (BIG IDEA)

We see God’s response to Noah’s total commitment to Him. It says the Lord “smelled” the pleasing aroma. This is the only time in scripture that the Lord is said to have “smelled” a sacrifice meaning that God approved of Noah and his worship. If God had refused to smell the fragrance of the offering it meant he wasn’t pleased. The aroma of Noah’s sacrifice was “pleasing” or “soothing.” “Soothing” sacrifices have a restful or pacifying effect on God. God’s righteous anger at sin is “appeased” or “soothed” by sacrifice. Mathews says, “Noah’s worship soothed the broken heart of God which had been injured by man’s wickedness. The “soothing” aroma is best reflected in the idea of “rest.” Yahweh “smelled” the rest-inducing odor of Noah’s sacrifice which reminds us of the meaning of Noah’s name. Pastor Stuart mentioned it last week in his message and it comes up again here. Lamech named his son Noah because he hoped Noah would bring rest to mankind from the labors of his hands. Here it is implied that Noah’s sacrifice has had a restful, soothing and pacifying effect on God. Noah’s worship was authentic, genuine, reverent, and was offered with clean hands and a pure heart which made it acceptable and pleasing to God. That gives us an important principle that God is pleased when his people genuinely worship Him. That is what God is looking for in our worship. Is our worship authentic, genuine, reverent and offered with clean hands and a pure heart? If we are striving to live daily, holy lives our worship will be all those things. (BIG IDEA)

One of the commentaries told a story about a girl in a youth group who was preaching on this passage and the title of her message was “Stink for God.” He was a little worried where she was going with that but she made her point. “Stink for God” means to live a life that God would take notice of because of our total commitment to him in worship. That brings us to our second next step on the back of your communication card which is to live a life that God would take notice of because of my total commitment to him in worship.

Next we see that in response to Noah’s worship the Lord makes a promise. Notice he doesn’t voice his promise to Noah but only in his own heart. Maybe he didn’t want Noah to be prideful thinking he was the one who caused God’s promise to be made. Through the entire story of the flood it has been God doing the moving. It has been God giving his grace to Noah, his family and the animals. It was not because of anything Noah did but totally because of the grace and mercy of the Lord.

God’s promise was three-fold. First, the ground will never be cursed again because of man. This didn’t mean that the curse the ground received from Adam and Eve’s sin would be reversed or taken away. It meant that the ground would not be cursed any further. The next statement can be difficult to understand what God meant. The NIV says “even though” every inclination of his heart, (talking about man) is evil from childhood.” The NASB says “for” the intent of man’s heart is evil from his youth.” The first may be saying that another judgment will not solve the problem of the human heart because it will always be evil from childhood, so God says he will never again destroy all living creatures. The second seems to imply that human hearts are wicked, will persist in sin and not learn the lesson of the flood but God in his grace determines to never again destroy all living creatures as he has just done.  ​​​​ 

I like how Wiersbe in his commentary puts it. He says, “Perhaps both are true but the important thing is God spoke these things in response to Noah’s sacrifice and the sacrifice was a picture of the sacrifice of Christ. On the basis of the atonement accomplished by Christ on the cross God could withhold judgment because justice had been met.” Noah’s sacrifice of burnt offerings may have been seen by God as an atonement for a wicked world that would continue in sin after the flood. God would continue to show his grace and mercy to a lost world and withhold judgment because justice had been met by Noah’s sacrifice.

The second promise God makes is that he will never again destroy all living creatures by flood. God will still deal with our individual sin and we still receive judgment through the consequences of our sins but we will not experience universal destruction by flood again. Noah was totally committed to God and God is totally committed to the human race. This commitment is not based on us being worthy, in fact, God makes this commitment knowing that our heart would be evil from our childhood. Noah and the rest of humanity will have a sense of security in that they will not have to worry about building an ark every time it rains.

The third promise God makes is that there would be no further interruption of the cycle of nature. In the beginning at creation God established an order to the world as he created day and night and the sun and moon. The earth was created in an orderly fashion to sustain life on a continual basis. But because of humanity’s sinfulness and wickedness, the flood halted those rhythms and chaos was again upon the earth. In re-creating the earth God reestablishes its order and rhythms as it was at the beginning.

This restoration of order and rhythm is seen in four couplets that express extremes. These testify to the resurrection of predictability on the earth that is necessary to sustain life on it. First, seedtime and harvest. Each year there will be a time of plowing and seeding and later there will be a time to harvest. Second, cold and heat. This may be talking about an extension of the seasons and go along with the next couplet, summer and winter. At creation God created an expanse or firmament to separate the waters below from waters above. This canopy seemed to create a “hothouse effect” on the earth which may have been why people were living longer lives before the flood. It is also possible that the canopy caused the earth to be warmer overall than it is now. With the flood, God took the canopy away and now there will be more diverse temperatures, cold and heat, summer and winter. Lastly, we see there will be day and night continuously. God’s three-fold promise addresses the three foundational functions started at creation: agriculture, weather and time. Mathews says, “They are all at the command of God who guarantees their punctual arrival giving security to the world and its inhabitants. To say that the earth will continually go from one of these extremes to the other without end means we don’t have to worry about those things as we live our lives.” Balance has now been restored and God promises that it will never cease as long as the earth endures.

Play-Doh was originally invented as a substance to remove soot from wallpaper, and it wasn’t until decades later that it was marketed as a product for children. And now, in a manner of speaking, Play-Doh is returning to its roots. The latest Play-Doh innovation is a product line entitled “Grown Up Scents,” and according to Play-Doh general manager Leena Vadaketh, it’s designed to appeal to the sensory cravings of adults. Notable examples include the floral ambiance of a “Spa Day” or that strong smell of suburban success — freshly cut grass, for the “Lord of the Lawn” in your life. There’s “Overpriced Latte,” and “Mom Jeans,” a fragrance vaguely described as that of “clean denim” and “Grill King” which smells like the wafting odor of smoked meat.

Just as we are soothed by familiar aromas, God is pleased and soothed by our holiness expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship. What should the pleasing aroma of worship “smell” or look like? Paul describes it in Romans 12:1-2, which says, “Therefore, I urge you, brothers and sisters, in view of God’s mercy, to offer your bodies as a living sacrifice, holy and pleasing to God—this is your true and proper worship. Do not conform 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.”

This passage contains all the elements of pleasing worship. First, there is the motivation to worship: “in view of God’s mercy.” God’s mercies are everything He has given us that we don’t deserve and the knowledge and understanding of those mercies should motivate us to praise and thank him. Second, the manner of our worship: “offer your bodies as a living and holy sacrifice.” This means giving all of ourselves to God; we are to give up control of our hearts, minds, hands, thoughts, attitudes and turn them over to Him. How do we do this: “by the renewing of your mind.” This means replacing the wisdom of the world with true wisdom that comes from God. We are to worship Him with our renewed and cleansed minds. There is only one way to renew our minds, and that is by the Word of God. To know the truth, to believe the truth, to hold convictions about the truth, and to love the truth will naturally result in “pleasing” worship. Pleasing worship is done in Spirit and in truth meaning we worship from the heart and in the way God has designed. Pleasing worship is God-centered worship meaning it is reserved for God alone because he is the only one who is worthy of our worship. "Worshiping" out of obligation is displeasing to God and is completely in vain. He can see through all our hypocrisy. Pleasing worship is not confined to only what we do in church but should be a daily lifestyle. Pleasing worship is the acknowledgment of God and all His power and glory in everything we do. Pleasing worship is all about glorifying and exalting God. The highest form of praise and pleasing worship is obedience to Him and His Word. If we are striving to live daily, holy lives it will be expressed through the pleasing aroma of our worship.

As the praise team comes to lead us in a final song this morning, let’s pray: Holy God, we want our worship to be a pleasing aroma to you. Help us to live a life that you would take notice of because of our total commitment to you in worship. Help us to follow the example of Noah and let our faith and obedience be counted as righteousness. Help us as we strive to live a life of holiness and I pray that we would leave here changed and transformed by your Word and ready to serve you in all the ways you have called us to. In Jesus’ name, Amen.