Our bible study in Luke’s gospel continues this morning with Luke 22:54-23:25.
Author Archives: steve
Who Is Competent For This?
Smells are powerful. Fragrances, whether good or bad, have this powerful ability to make us remember the past and tug at our emotions. Whenever the service ends and the candles are put out I remember when I was a boy. I remember smelling the same scent at the end of each service. This, to me, was the smell of amen. We said our final amen with our mouths. But we smelled amen in that candle smoke.
Smells are powerful. And the apostle Paul knew this. That’s why he speaks about smells in these words this morning. He writes: “14 But thanks be to God, who always puts us on display in Christ and through us spreads the aroma of the knowledge of Him in every place. 15 For to God we are the fragrance of Christ among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing. 16 To some we are an aroma of death leading to death, but to others, an aroma of life leading to life. And who is competent for this?” (2 Corinthians 2:14–16 HCSB)
In these words Paul brings up the Roman Triumph. What is a triumph? Picture a victorious Roman general. He comes home and there’s a big parade. He goes out front in a big, fancy chariot. Behind him follows the army. And after the army the captives follow. And at the very end is the captive general. And as this group of people processes through the city there are people filling the streets with smells. They are burning sweet incense. They are throwing fragrant flowers down. The air is filled with wonderful, pleasing smells.
And these smells lead to two effects for those marching forward in this procession. First, for the winning general and his soldiers, these fragrant flowers and smells are a reminder that they are the victors and they are finally home once again. But they accomplish the opposite for the losing general and his soldiers. Second, For that losing general knows that every fragrant flower and sweet smell is the promise that at the end of this procession he will have his head cut off. It’s not a reminder of life. It’s a reminder of death.
And Paul tells the Corinthians that that’s what he and his fellow called servants of the word are like. They are the fragrance of Christ. To one group that sweet smell is the smell of death that leads to death. Unbelievers hear God’s word of sin and forgiveness and it a promise to them that if they don’t repent not only will they die, but when they die they will burn in hell forever. To the other group That sweet smell is the promise of life. To believers it is the promise that all those who believe in him will have their sins forgiven and will be with him in heaven forever.
And then Paul ends with this question: Who is competent for these? Who can handle what this fragrance of Christ brings? Who is competent enough to handle the hatred that people have for Jesus when you preach the gospel? Who is competent to handle the sweet joy believers have when they know their sins are forgiven? And the simple answer is: No one. There is no apostle, prophet or pastor who has ever been worthy to share that sweet message about Jesus. For all of us fail as pastors. When unbelievers hate faithful preachers because they say that those who reject Jesus will go to hell, those very same preachers can’t handle the rejection. And at the same time, when people hear that sweet message of salvation that Jesus died for them and then they are thankful to and kind to the pastor for sharing that message with them, there too the pastor fails. He begins to think that he is the sweet fragrance instead of Jesus.
Who is competent for these? What pastor and preacher is competent to not be bullied by those who hate God’s word and at the same not be tempted to think that the success comes from him and not from Christ? No one—there is no pastor or preacher who is competent. We all fall and fail.
And The same is true for parishioners too. There are those temptations there for you too. If there’s a wedding sermon or a funeral sermon, there’s always that uncomfortable feeling that it’s o.k. for the pastor to preach about sin. But does he have to speak about that sin? Does he have to make that sin hurt our consciences? Does he have to say that all those who do not believe in Jesus will go to hell?
What person in the pew is competent? This is true when it comes to what unbelievers might hear from the pulpit. And it’s also true when it comes to what believers hear too. I see this most clearly when a pastor leaves and a new pastor comes along. There’s that call meeting. And one guy stands up and says that what we need is a younger pastor. If we have a younger pastor we can get our families back. Another guy stands up and says that what we need is an older pastor. Those young guys make too many rookie mistakes. And all of that is so misguided. For a church does not endure or grow because of the age or aptitude of the pastor.
Who is competent for these? None of us are. And this fact leads us to confess our sins. This fact leads us to repent of the times we have have thought that hearing about our sin was like smelling death. We repent of the times that we thought that our salvation was because of our pastor, not because of our Savior. And that leads us to one final question this morning. If neither the man in the pulpit nor the people in the pew are competent, then who is? Paul tells us: “17 For we are not like the many who market God’s message for profit. On the contrary, we speak with sincerity in Christ, as from God and before God. 1 Are we beginning to commend ourselves again? Or do we need, like some, letters of recommendation to you or from you? 2 You yourselves are our letter, written on our hearts, recognized and read by everyone. 3 It is clear that you are Christ’s letter, produced by us, not written with ink but with the Spirit of the living God—not on stone tablets but on tablets that are hearts of flesh. 4 We have this kind of confidence toward God through Christ. 5 It is not that we are competent in ourselves to consider anything as coming from ourselves, but our competence is from God. 6 He has made us competent to be ministers of a new covenant, not of the letter, but of the Spirit. For the letter kills, but the Spirit produces life.” (2 Corinthians 2:17–3:6 HCSB)
Paul says that his competence is not from him, but instead, from Christ. And even more specifically, the competence of your pastor comes from the gospel. For if I stand up here in this pulpit and say, “you’re bad, now be good,” then how am I different than any godless, unbelieving motivational speaker? How am I different than any televangelist peddling God’s word for profit? But if I share with you that your sins of not wanting to hear about your sin and your sin of thinking that success comes from your pastor and not your Savior, that all those sins are forgiven. If I share that message with you, then you know that here in this church is where you belong. For here is where the gospel is preached. Here is where you know that your sins are forgiven. For where you sinned, Jesus did the opposite in your place. We are unable to handle people pushing back and against Jesus. But he did so perfectly. We are unable to not attach success to a person instead of our Savior. But Jesus always perfectly attached the focus and faith of all to himself, where it belonged. And he did this in our place so that our rebellion would be replaced by his faithfulness. We hear that message here in this church. And so also, we hear of our Savior Jesus was wasn’t just faithful in our place, he also was punished in our place. He endured the hell we deserve and then died. And when he rose from the dead he promised and proclaimed that this curse of sin no longer clung to us.
If you are hearing both law and gospel, sin and grace, then you know your pastor is competent. For the same law and gospel you are hearing he is sharing with himself. And so we, along with Paul, ask that question: Who is competent for all these? None of us are. Instead, our competence is found in Christ—in the message that in him our sins are forgiven. Amen.