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December 4, 2005
Isaiah 40: 3-5
Please turn in your Bibles to the book of Isaiah, chapter 40, and follow along as I read verses 3-5.
3 A voice cries out: "In the wilderness prepare the way of the LORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God.
4 Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.
5 Then the glory of the LORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the LORD has spoken."
Amen. The Word of God. Thanks be to God.
Bob and Karen Tosterud of Vermillion, South Dakota have the perfect Christmas candle. It is a candle that not only reminds you of Jesus, but actually smells like Jesus, so they say. While other candles offer the aromas of fruit or spices, the Tosteruds claim to have invented a candle that, when lit, gives off the fragrance of Christ himself; hence, they have named their candle, “His Essence.”
People buy jewelry with the inscription WWJD, meaning “What Would Jesus Do.” Now the Tosteruds say you should be concerned about WWJSL meaning, “What Would Jesus Smell Like?” People go to the Holy Land to walk where Jesus walked; now, thanks to Bob and Karen Tosterud, you can smell like Jesus smelled.
They got the idea from Psalm 45, which is a royal wedding psalm, which refers to the bridegroom as having robes that are “fragrant with myrrh and aloes and cassia” (45:8). The Tosteruds interpret this passage as a messianic psalm that describes the smell of Jesus at the Second Coming. In other words, when all things converge on Christ, when the universe is consummated in the cosmic lord, he will smell like myrrh and aloes and cassia—so the Tosteruds say.
The South Dakota couple combined these scents and, with the help of a candlemaker, began to produce “His Essence” candles. Each candle sells for about 18 dollars, which seems a little expensive to me, but the Tosteruds can’t keep them on the shelves. They started with a first run production of 768 candles in the fall of 2004, but once the word got out, they sold more than 10,000 “his essence” candles.
All this strikes me as blasphemous, obscene, and yes comical. What next? Is someone going to come out with a Jesus After Shave? I suppose that is not likely since first century Jewish males did not shave, but then what do I know? I never would have thought that anyone would want to produce Jesus scent either. Actually, I suspect that “His Essence” candles are more abut capitalism than Christianity. This is more about money than Jesus.
To give the Tosteruds some credit though, they can reply that since no one knows what Jesus will smell like when he returns, their guess is as good as any. Which is true, but most of us find the very notion of a Jesus scent offensive, and it misses the point.
We are not to be concerned with what Jesus will smell like in the Parousia. We are to be concerned about how Jesus told us to live in preparation for the Parousia.
He Smelled Human
But “His Essence” candles may cause you to raise a related question. Granted that we do not know what Jesus will smell like at the Second Coming, but what did Jesus smell like when he walked the earth 2000 years ago? Here we have some grounds for a reply. He smelled like a human being, because he was a human being. He walked like us, he talked like us, he ate like us—he was human in every aspect, even down to smell.
Some months ago, in a sermon on the Apostle’s Creed, I mentioned that this was the greatest stumbling block to believers in the first and second centuries. In that time, there was a large and powerful group in the Christian church that we now call Gnostics. The Gnostics were much influenced by Greek philosophy, and they regarded the world, the physical flesh and the body, as imperfect, impure, and even evil. God the Father whom Jesus taught us about did not make the world; rather, he sent Jesus to save us from the world.
The Gnostics did not believe that Jesus was actually born at all. They rejected the whole birth narrative of the gospels. The Gnostics thought the world was evil and any material body was evil. Thus, they said that God would not dirty himself by actually taking on a human body. Jesus was not a man at all; he only appeared to be a man. When we read of Jesus walking and talking with the disciples, that was an illusion.
Understand here, the Gnostics did not have any problem affirming that Jesus was God. Their problem was in accepting that God became a specific human being, Jesus of Nazareth.
Now the Gnostics were a powerful group. They had Gnostic gospels and Gnostic scriptures. They did not claim to be Gnostics, they called themselves Christians and they claimed to have the true interpretation of Christianity. They said Christ was only God and never a human being at all.
After a long and often desperate struggle, the church rejected the Gnostic way of thinking and affirmed the complete humanity of Jesus. Jesus was conceived through the action of the Holy Spirit was born an actual baby and grew to be an actual man. That is basic Christianity. Jesus of Nazareth was a human being who was also God incarnate.
Now we have a modern version of the Gnostic problem. The Gnostics could not believe that God would manifest himself in a human being. Today, many people have the same problem. They say, Jesus was a good man, a great teacher, he said some things we ought to listen to. These folks will often say that they believe in God. They may even say that they can see indications in the world that the world is moving toward a final destiny. We hear that sort of thing all the time today, and it sounds pretty good, but it is not Christianity.
Christianity says that God manifested himself in a human body, in the flesh, in Jesus. The Apostle Paul expresses that basic truth when he says in Philippians, “Though he was in the form of God, [he] did not regard equality with God as something to be exploited, but emptied himself, taking the form of a slave, being born in human likeness. And being found in human form” (2:6-7).
The prophet Isaiah poetically describes this coming of God in human form. Chapter 40:2 speaks of preparing the way, “making straight in the desert a highway for our God.” Note that the highway is not for people but for God. The way is being prepared for the appearance of God. In the New Testament, the preparer of the way is primarily John the Baptist, the immediate predecessor of Jesus, but Isaiah takes a larger a view. Isaiah says in v4, “Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain.” Now I know that this is poetry, but we have a sense here of the whole earth, the whole of creation, preparing for the coming of God. Isaiah says in v5, “the glory of the LORD shall be revealed.” This glory of the Lord is the messiah. The Greek word for messiah is Christ, and note that Isaiah already speaks of Christ in God language. Isaiah hints at the coming of God incarnate in Jesus.
Why a Human Incarnation?
Now we might ask: Why would God do such a strange thing? Why would the creator of the universe incarnate himself in his creation in human likeness? Why would the cosmic Christ become the Babe of Bethlehem? The answer is that this is God’s best way to talk to us. We are human beings. When God wants to talk to us, he comes as a human being. It has to be that way. God is not a human being. We cannot really imagine what God is. We speak of God in terms of his actions in this world. We speak of God as creator and sustainer. We speak of God’s purpose in the world and in our lives. But you realize none of that really describes God at all or more accurately, it describes God only in relation to us and to the world. And I suspect that is the best we can do. We can only think about God in human terms, after all we are human beings. So when God would communicate with us, he appears to us in a way that we can understand, as a human being.
Christ-creator had to become the babe of Bethlehem in order to speak God to us. That is what the disciples ultimately realized. It took them awhile. If you read the gospels, they could not figure Jesus out for the longest time. But they finally figured out that when they saw Jesus they saw God, and that has been the affirmation of the church ever since. When we talk about Jesus, we are talking about God.
The Value of Matter
Now there are some consequences to that affirmation. For example, God incarnate in a human body implies the importance of the body. In rejecting Gnosticism, Christianity asserted the value of the physical, the value of the world. The Babe of Bethlehem is the Word made flesh. Christ immersed himself in matter; therefore, matter is not evil. The body is not something we need to overcome, the body is something that we need to sanctify to the cause of Christ. The world is not something inherently evil. The world is something we need to sanctify to the cause of Christ.
Now I know that some Christian teaching advocates abandoning the world and the body. This teaching says, we are going to go to heaven one day, our body is going to rot in the grave, and this old earth is going to turn to dust and ashes, so we should stress heavenly things not earthly things. But Christianity has never taught that the ultimate fate of the body and the world is dust and ashes. We affirm the resurrection of the body. We affirm that the whole universe is converging on a resurrection in Christ.
The time we live in is called the Church Age. It is a period that began in the first century with the Resurrection and Ascension of Christ. This period will end with the Parousia, the Second Coming.
During this time, during the Church Age, when believers die, their souls go immediately to heaven to be with Christ, and their bodies go into the grave, but the Church Age is a temporary state, and we look forward to a reunion of body and soul in the Parousia. At funerals, we stress that the believer goes to be with the Lord. I have done a multitude of funerals. I sometimes feel that I have done too many funerals, but I have probably said at every funeral I have ever done, to the folks there, “You don’t have to worry about your loved one; your loved one is with Jesus.”
We need to remember that funerals are not for the dead, funerals are for family and friends, and family and friends need that reassurance at that time, and it is the truth. When believers die their soul goes to heaven, but heaven is not a final destination, heaven is a way station. Our final destination is the union of body and soul in Christ at the end of this age.
We often speak of earth as a transient state that will soon pass away. We sometimes forget that heaven is also a transient state that will soon pass away. Heaven and earth are part of the current state of things, and they are both temporary. The Bible does not regard the state of being a disembodied soul in heaven as an acceptable fate for a human being.
In chapter 15 of I Corinthians, the Apostle Paul has written a long chapter, 58 verses, about our ultimate fate. He begins the chapter by telling us that he has some good news for us. He says, I have something you need to know about. And then he proceeds to talk about not heaven but the resurrection of the body. His argument is that on Easter morning the tomb was empty. Christ was bodily resurrected. When we believe on Christ, we are in Christ, and we have the same promise, the promise of a bodily resurrection.
Now the resurrection body will probably not be the same as this present body. Paul speaks of our resurrection body as a “spiritual body”—which seems like a contradiction in terms. But the point is that Christ who was incarnated in matter will at the end of time redeem matter. He will also redeem his people, not just their souls, but their whole being.
In 1 Cor. 15, Paul says, At the resurrection, this perishable body, that is, the body as we currently know it, will put on imperishability, and this mortal body will put on immortality. We often speak of our immortal soul, but do you realize that your soul only becomes immortal when your body becomes immortal? That is, in the resurrection. That is the good news Paul is talking about. That is why he can say in verses 54-55, “"Death has been swallowed up in victory. Where, O death, is your victory? Where, O death, is your sting?” the death that has been swallowed up is the death of the body. At the end of time, there will be no more physical death. That is the promise of the resurrected Lord. Believe on that promise, hold to it, treasure it, never let it go. Amen.
If you have questions or comments, email Tony Grant
Copyright 2003 York Associate Reformed Presbyterian Church
Last modified 02/27/06