Don’t you just love it when you read a Bible passage you’ve read a hundred times before and suddenly your spiritual eyes are opened and you see an old, old story from a shiny new perspective? (Nod here to my Granny’s fave hymn: “I’ve heard an old, old story, how a Savior came from Glory …”). Remember that precious gem from the tattered and beloved hymnal, “Victory in Jesus”?
Great. Now we’re both going to be humming it all day.
Anyway, my “ah ha!” moment came in the form of a question after I read Ephesians 5:2: “Christ loved us and gave himself up for us, a fragrant offering and sacrifice to God.”
Yeah, sure, I’ve long embraced the gist of the verse – that Jesus, God’s one and only holy son, willingly gave himself as a sacrifice on the cross for the payment of our sins so that we could enjoy fellowship with Papa God now on Earth and for all eternity in heaven. But one small phrase has always puzzled me when I unpacked that verse word for word to ponder its meaning: fragrant offering. What does that mean, exactly?
Fragrant? Really? I can’t imagine any possible fragrance in the whole horrid ordeal of Good Friday’s murderous crucifixion except the stomach-churning, putrid odor of Jesus’ blood and body fluids mixed with sweat, tears, and dirt from the screaming mob and the grody, grimy soldiers shoving each other to gather around and watch Him die.
Yet the word “fragrant” implies a pleasant aroma, not a rancid stink.
And then I ran across the story recorded in Mark 14 where Mary of Bethany (there were a lot of Mary’s in the Bible, but this one was the sister of Martha and Lazarus, whom Jesus had raised from the dead only weeks before Jesus himself was laid in His own tomb) approached Jesus at a dinner party in Bethany and astounded everyone by pouring a jar of super expensive perfume over Jesus’ head.
In my mind’s eye, I picture the thick, rich, ultra-sweet smelling liquid (Spikenard) saturating Jesus’ hair, then flowing down his shoulders, arms, torso, even onto his legs and feet, blanketing every part of him with Mary’s fragrant love offering. And probably slapping awake the dull senses of the men-folk who were more used to the earthy smells of dust, animals, grime, and body odor on a daily basis (not too many showers were taken in that culture).
Although some of the disciples were quick to rebuke Mary for filling the room with the potent aroma of the rare ointment in such a “wasteful” manner, Jesus himself was moved and blessed by her fragrant offering, responding, “Let her alone; why do you bother her? She has done a good deed to Me. She has done what she could; she has anointed My body beforehand for the burial … wherever the gospel is preached in the whole world, that also which this woman has done shall be spoken of in memory of her” (Mark 14: 6,7,9 NASB).
Wow. Mary’s fragrance offering was a BIG DEAL to Jesus. Enough so that He proclaimed it a faith memorial to her forever and ever.
Mind you, this happened only a matter of days before his crucifixion. So think about this … the penetrating aroma that had saturated Jesus’ hair and body at the Bethany dinner was likely still lingering as Jesus’s skull was impaled by the crown of razor-sharp thorns and his tender back was torn open by Roman whips. The blood and sweat that dripped down his body intermingled with that produced by huge spikes driven into his hands and feet. That odor would be nauseating. Disgusting.
How could that possibly be construed as a “fragrant offering and sacrifice to God” ? (Eph. 5:2).
I like to think (in my vivid imagination) that somehow, Jesus, as he hung there suffering the vileness of ultimate evil, could still catch a faint whiff of Mary’s love offering. That maybe, just maybe, a tiny remnant of that sweet aroma, the proof of a faithful woman’s devotion, clung to his hair and gave some small comfort to his soul.
The scent of love intermingled with the stench of all that hate.
In the light of Eph 5:2 and the closing scripture below, does this scenario I’ve imagined sound possible to you, dearest BFF?
Well, we’ll never know for sure. At least on Earth. But I like to think it could’ve been so. And I’d like nothing better than to think that somehow my own fragrant offering of love, like Mary’s, could be detected by Jesus on that cross.
Have a pensive Good Friday and a blessed Resurrection Day, my friend. May we carry the fragrance of our love for Jesus with us everywhere we go.
“Thanks be to God, who always leads us in His 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 among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to the one an aroma from death to death, to the other an aroma from life to life” (2 Corin. 2:14-16 NASB).