In last Sunday’s sermon we saw how God’s real mission and method in the conquest of Jericho is still his mission and method today. While we do not go around declaring cities to be “devoted to destruction” and burning them down after the people flee elsewhere, we saw that God’s real mission was the salvation of many people who were connected to Rahab and that his means of accomplishing this would be through the faithfulness of his people.
It’s interesting that the two spies who had met her were sent into the city to find her and this was after the “battle” had taken place. After “they devoted all in the city to destruction, both men and women, young and old, oxen, sheep, and donkeys, with the edge of the sword”, Joshua sent the two spies to find Rahab. If this Ancient Near Eastern warfare rhetoric—“with the edge of the sword”—were to be understood as literal slaughter, anyone could have found Rahab and her family: “Just find the only living residents of Jericho and bring them out.” Most of the people in the city survived and most left the city to go elsewhere. It is into this blur of people running to and fro that the two spies have to find Rahab. Only Rahab, however, could identify those who belonged to her—her father and mother, brothers and sisters, cousins and nieces and nephews. Quite a few people were saved because of Rahab, Israel’s first missionary.
As we saw on Sunday, when the Israelites marched around Jericho once a day for six days and then seven times on the seventh day, this was a culturally relevant way to proclaim something significant, both to those inside the fortress, and to all those who would hear of this: the God of Israel was now here, and the time to worship him is now. Just as the Hittite king would travel with armed soldiers and priests, so the ark of the covenant—the visible throne of the invisible God—traveled with armed soldiers and priests. This royal procession declared that everyone should recognize and worship the one true King, the God of Israel. It was through the faithfulness of his people, the very ones who obeyed him in what appeared to be a silly military strategy, that God would give them the victory. Thus they paraded the goodness of God.
We see a similar parade in Paul’s second letter to the Corinthians.
But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him 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.2 Corinthians 2:14–16a ESV
Paul says that wherever we are, wherever we go, we are being led in triumphal procession. That is, we are being paraded around by God. Notice, however, that we are not the victors in this parade, just as Israel were not the victors in their parade. God is the one who has won the victory in Christ. Paul’s allusion is to the Roman triumphal celebrations in which a victorious Roman general would parade through the city streets with his spoils of war, whether gold or silver or jewels, along with defeated kings and other dignitaries and enemy soldiers in chains. In God’s triumphal procession, we are those defeated, for we once were his enemies. Yet, completely unlike a Roman triumphal procession wherein defeated soldiers were executed at various points along the parade route, we are God’s trophies put on display. Not only are we the vanquished, we are his spoils of war!
Just as God worked through the faithfulness of Israel to give them the land and save Rahab and her extended family, so God works through us to bring about his purposes. Paul says that God spreads “the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere”. We are the fragrance of Christ, for God has rescued us and reconciled us to himself. Paul is clear: whether we’re around those who are also followers of Jesus or we’re around those who do not believe in Jesus, we are the aroma of Christ. To those who love him, we are the fragrance of life, but to those who do not love him, we are the stench of death. What is interesting is that the actual aroma is the same. Our “scent” does not change based on who we are currently around. It doesn’t become pleasant simply because we’re around fellow believers any more than it becomes unpleasant simply because we’re around unbelievers. The aroma stays the same. It is the perception of others that varies. Those who recognize Christ in us as fellow believers love Christ and his people. Those who recognize Christ in us as unbelievers neither love Christ nor his people.
Our role in this is to make sure we are not producing our own odor. We produce our own stench when we pursue idols, seeking to find our identity in something other than Jesus. For many, their unwavering allegiance to either a political party or a politician imparts a distinct aroma. Like the aroma of Christ, some will find this aroma pleasing and others will find it offensive, depending entirely on whether or not they agree. Whether they agree with your political party or not, no one will find the aroma of politics to be a thing that draws them to Christ. Since God’s work in this world is to draw men and women to Christ, unwavering allegiance to a political party is not the work of God.
Whether a person finds his or her identity in politics or power or pleasure or possessions or popularity, this is what that person’s fragrance will be. If you roll around in a pile of rose petals, you’ll take on the fragrance of roses. If you roll around in a pile of dog poo, well, you get the idea. We all recognize that one of these is pleasant and the other is not. Neither of these, however, is the fragrance that God is spreading around the world. As he was doing in the conquest of Canaan, so God is doing in the world today— working to bring salvation to every tribe and language and people and nation and his method for spreading this knowledge of Christ is the faithfulness of his people.
God is at work in this world, spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere, and the very means he uses to accomplish this is us. God is calling us to be faithful witnesses to Jesus Christ and him crucified. We must strive to not bear the aroma of a political party or of a sports team or of our own annoying habits. We must strive to bear the aroma of Christ, and this comes about through our faithfulness to him. God’s method of revealing himself to the world hasn’t changed. He still uses the faithfulness of his people, whom he parades around in triumphal procession as trophies of his grace and mercy. If God can claim a guy like me as his own, that’s good news for the entire world.