Growing up, I had a good friend named Danny. He and I got together regularly and spent our days playing Tennis, football, Star Wars, or any number of other activities. I have a number of great memories hanging out with Dan at his house or mine. Of all the great memories I had at his house, though, I also had some significant moments that were memorable, but not so great. For instance, the time I fell down his stairs while sleep walking, or the time I got sick to my stomach at Birch Lake with his family after drinking too many Nehi Grape sodas (can’t bring myself to drink a grape soda since that day . . . been 30+ years). I was thinking today about another one of the difficult but memorable moments I had at Dan’s house: the day I learned I needed to wear deodorant.
I was probably 11 or 12 years old, and had spent the day playing tennis at the courts near Danny’s house. After our match, we headed back to his house and were watching some TV. I still remember the stench that filled my nostrils. I was wearing a sleeveless shirt that day, freeing up the smell to waft upward. I first looked for their dog to see if Casey was the culprit, but no dog was around. I was the dog . . . and I smelled terrible. When I got home that day I remember using my dad’s deodorant to try to cover the smell. It helped, but ultimately a shower and better hygiene for this newly hormonal boy were what was needed.
I was thinking about this today as I read Luke 20:45-47. In these verses, Jesus got a good “wiff” of the religious leaders of His day, and He did not like what He “smelled.” These religious leader’s internal character smelled like a dog . . . even if they had tried to cover the scent with copious amounts of Old Spice. Listen to how Jesus describes them in these verses:
And in the hearing of all the people He said to His disciples, “Beware of the scribes, who like to walk around in long robes, and love greetings in the marketplaces and the best seats in the synagogues and the places of honor at feasts, who devour widows’ houses and for a pretense make long prayers. They will receive the greater condemnation.”
Though the Scribes spoke in fancy/lengthy prayers, had impressive titles, and wore religious regalia, their hearts were sick and stinky . . . and one day God would hold them accountable for their actions. God was not impressed that the religious leaders’ focus of their lives was on themselves: their fancy attire, their preferential treatment in public settings, their material benefit by exploiting the poor among them. The perfume of religious language could not cover the stench of their character to the senses of the Savior.
The truth of the matter is, Jesus sees through our charades as well. We may be able to fool some around us by spouting theological answers or voicing lengthy prayers, but we will never fool God with this line of thinking. Jesus knows exactly who we are. He came not just to give us a different smelling perfume, but to clean us from all the stink of our unrighteousness. He does not want us to smell clean, He wants us to be clean. That is why He was born . . . that is why He lived a righteous life . . . that is why He died on the cross for our sins . . . to actually clean us in His righteousness from the inside out.
The application to this story is two fold . . . one for the Christian, and one for the person who is still investigating the claims of Christ:
For the Christian: Do not settle for a perfumed Christian experience. Do not merely give lip service to the change that Christ has brought about. By faith, live into it! You are clean in Christ, live consistently (in the power of the Spirit) with that clean identity. For someone who has been a Christian for a long time, it is easy to sound like a Christian, but it is more difficult to actually walk by faith the life we profess. In the power of the Spirit, as cleaned people, we can not just talk about the Christian life, we can live it. Don’t just talk about how care for the poor is important, care for the poor. Don’t just talk about forgiveness, forgive others who sin against you. Don’t just talk about how God has a plan for sex and marriage, live according to that plan.
For the Seeker: Do not be turned off by hypocrites you see in the church. Sometimes we see a fake and we feel the need to exact judgment on the fake by pointing out their flaws. We can rest easy that God is not fooled by the perfume. He is big enough to take care of all the judging so we don’t have to. Instead of looking to others failures, look instead to the Savior Himself. He is the One we are called to follow and He is the One who is authentic to the core. Giving our lives to Him never opens us up to His hypocrisy because in Him, none exists.
At Christmas time, we celebrate the humble birth of the Savior. He was born in a smelly stall so that He might bring real cleansing to us all. Praise God He camed to cleanse deodorized hypocrites like me.