Every once in a while, something I read in the Bible jumps off the page at me. When this happens, I’ve learned to listen up, because chances are, God has something He wants to tell me.
Like last week. I was reading Genesis and came to the part where Noah gets off the ark and immediately builds an altar to the Lord. He took one of every kind of clean animal and every kind of clean bird (how many must that have been? I’m thinking it was quite a few animals!) and sacrificed them as burnt offerings to the Lord. As the smoke rose toward heaven, it was to the Lord a “pleasing aroma” (8:21). Some Bible translations say a “soothing aroma.” That’s the part that caught my attention: The Lord, though He is Spirit, somehow smelled that offering and, incredibly, it brought Him pleasure.
Yes, I know that, lacking a nose, God probably didn’t smell that offering literally. So that description was probably an anthropomorphism (like the fancy word?). But that’s not what fascinated me. What fascinated me was that there was something Noah could do that, even after all the terrible judgment of the flood, brought God pleasure. It even “soothed” God somehow. How could that possibly be?
Still pondering this a few days later, I decided to look for other places in Scripture where God enjoyed a pleasing aroma, or where people made offerings to the Lord that brought Him pleasure. I discovered that among the many offerings required by Levitical law several ones specifically produced pleasing aromas to the Lord. These included offerings for atonement, for consecration, to fulfill vows, ones offered at appointed festivals, and those made as an act of freewill. However, none of this seemed to help me much.
“But how can I provide a pleasing aroma to You, Lord? We don’t do sacrifices anymore.”
I’m glad you asked, He seemed to say. Don’t worry so much about what the occasion of the offering. Look at the offering itself.
No Holding Back
So I did. And I noticed a lot. First, I observed that the entire animal was sacrificed. Not just the fat. Not just the innards. Not just a hind quarter. The entire thing. Its meat was not eaten because the animal was completely burnt up. All of it belonged to the Lord. Nothing was held back for the person who offered it.
A Costly Sacrifice
I then recalled that in that culture, meat was expensive, served rarely, and usually just for special occasions. To sacrifice an entire goat or cow was truly a sacrifice. It was costly. It could no longer breed. It could no longer give milk. It could not feed or profit the family.
Only the Best
I also noticed that the animal was to be perfect and in its prime. It was to have no blemishes whatsoever. Only the best for God—no second-rate offerings for Him.
Frequent and Many
Finally, I noticed that there were a lot of these sacrifices. For sin. For giving thanks. For worship. For celebration. In the Old Testament, it seems like every time you turn the page, someone is sacrificing an animal, or more commonly, a bunch of animals, to God.
My thoughts then turned naturally to Jesus. Jesus was the perfect sacrifice. The best. The Lamb without blemish or defect. He gave Himself up entirely for us. He held back nothing. For the Father to sacrifice His Son cost Him everything. Truly, we were ransomed “not with perishable things like silver or gold, but with the precious blood of Christ.”
What must God have felt when the aroma of that offering, the sacrifice of His precious only Son on the cross, wafted to heaven? When I try to imagine that, I am moved to tears. And I want to return thanks.
“How, Father?” I asked. “Compared to Jesus’ offering, what could I possibly give You? What could I give that would be a pleasing or soothing aroma to You?”
And He brought to mind Ephesians 5:2: “Be imitators of God as beloved children and live in love, as Christ loved us and gave Himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Amazing. It seems that my fragrant offering is as simple—and as difficult—as that. It all boils down to love. It’s giving up my whole self, in love and sacrifice to God and others. A living sacrifice. God finds pleasure in that.
I am challenged by this. Sure, I love God. And yes, I love people, too. But not the way Jesus does! I withhold. I save back something for myself. Sometimes I’m reluctant to give my all, or to give my best. My offerings are often blemished by self-protection and pride.
So, in this Lenten season, I’m talking with God about these things. Thanking Him for giving Jesus as the perfect, complete, costly, once-for-all sacrifice. And asking Him to help me offer Him a gift of love that, like Jesus, is a fragrant offering to Him. And, incredibly, I believe that even that intention of my heart is pleasing to Him.