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A SWEET SAVOUR
(SERMON #52 ON THE BOOK OF GENESIS)
A sermon written by Dr. R. L. Hymers, Jr., Pastor Emeritus
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake…” (Genesis 8:21; p. 16 Scofield).
We have seen that the focus of the Bible is on the sacrifices rather than on Noah himself. We have seen how some great and godly commentators mistakenly turned their attention to Noah’s godliness and Noah’s prayers. Rather than commenting on the sacrifice itself, they turned their attention to Noah and his piety and prayers.
I think this is a real problem in our day. And it appears to be getting worse and worse. Christianity today seems to center more and more on man’s “feelings” and “doings” – and less and less on the objective, external sacrifice of Christ; and so they have
“worshipped and served the creature more than the Creator”
(Romans 1:25; p. 1192).
Christianity is not centered in feeling justified but in being justified. There is a need to feel guilty enough to come to Jesus, but I do not believe a converted person has to feel justified forever after, at all times. Faith may fluctuate and flicker sometimes. But the Apostle does not tell us we are saved by faith. He says we are “saved through faith” (Ephesians 2:8). It is not faith itself that saves us. It is Christ who saves us. When we have been “saved through faith” in Christ, we may afterwards at times feel that we do not have enough faith, and that may be true. But we are not saved because of faith, but through it. And although our faith may sometimes be dim by reason of our Adamic nature, which still exists after we are converted, yet we remain justified because we
“are kept by the power of God” (I Peter 1:5; p. 1311).
Remember that the Disciples asked Jesus,
“Who then can be saved? And Jesus looking upon them saith, With men it is impossible, but not with God: for with God all things are possible” (Mark 10:26-27; p. 1059).
God makes saving faith possible. And, so, when a man is saved through faith in Jesus, he “hath everlasting life, and shall not come into condemnation, but is passed from death unto life” (John 5:24) – whether he always feels that he has passed from death to life or not, because,
“This is the Father's will which hath sent me, that of all which he hath given me I should lose nothing, but should raise it up again at the last day” (John 6:39; p. 1123).
This is true because Jesus said of all true converts,
“I give unto them eternal life; and they shall never perish”
(John 10:28; p. 1129).
Those who come to Jesus are then,
“Kept by the power of God” (I Peter 1:5).
All of this shows that we are not saved by our present feelings after conversion (or before) but through the gift of faith given to us at the time we are justified in Christ Jesus. Thus, when a man is given saving faith in Jesus by God, He does not take it back. And from then on the convert rests in Jesus and His sacrifice on the Cross. His faith may fluctuate, after conversion, but his salvation will be secure in Christ Jesus. Which takes us back to our text regarding Noah’s sacrifice:
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour; and the Lord said in his heart, I will not again curse the ground any more for man's sake…” (Genesis 8:21).
The focus of the text is not on Noah’s continuous, perfect faith or obedience, but on Christ, pictured in Noah’s sacrifices. Thus, the central point of our text is on how the sacrifices affected God.
We can see two main ideas in our text: (1) the sacrifices pointed to the sacrifice of Christ; and (2) the sacrifices, thus, appeased the wrath of God.
I. First, the sacrifices of Noah pointed to the sacrifice of Christ.
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour…” (Genesis 8:21).
The older translation of 1599, in The Geneva Bible, gives the words “a sweet savour” as “a savour of rest.” It could also be translated as “an aroma of rest.” The comment in the Geneva Bible says, “thereby he showed himself appeased and his anger to rest” (The 1599 Geneva Bible, Tolle Lege Press, 2006 reprint, note on Genesis 8:21). Martin Luther said,
The Hebrew term means a “savor [or aroma] of rest.” This means that God rested from his anger and was reconciled. Someone might ask why Moses merely says that God smelled the savor of rest, and not rather that he acknowledged Noah and his offering. It seems to me that this way of speaking indicated that God was so near at hand that he could…smell the sacrifice. By this Moses means to indicate that it was very pleasing to Him…Moses used this mode of speech in order that we might…understand God’s grace (Martin Luther, Th.D., Luther’s Commentary on Genesis, Zondervan Publishing House, 1958 reprint, volume I, p. 157).
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour” (Genesis 8:21).
Matthew Henry made this point clear when he said,
Herein he [God] had an eye, not so much on Noah’s sacrifice as to Christ’s sacrifice of himself, which was typified and represented by it (Matthew Henry’s Commentary on the Whole Bible, Hendrickson Publishers, 1996 reprint, volume I, page 55).
The type is Noah’s offering. The fulfillment of the type is Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross, which is given in the New Testament in Ephesians 5:2, as Matthew Henry pointed out a little later in his commentary.
“Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour”
(Ephesians 5:2; p. 1254).
Once again, I must say that Noah’s sacrifice pointed forward to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. Today the Lord’s Supper points backwards to Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. The Old Testament sacrifices pointed forward to Christ. The Lord’s Supper points backward to Christ.
“For I have received of the Lord that which also I delivered unto you, That the Lord Jesus the same night in which he was betrayed took bread: And when he had given thanks, he brake it, and said, Take, eat: this is my body, which is broken for you: this do in remembrance of me. After the same manner also he took the cup, when he had supped, saying, This cup is the new testament in my blood: this do ye, as oft as ye drink it, in remembrance of me. For as often as ye eat this bread, and drink this cup, ye do shew the Lord's death till he come”
(I Corinthians 11:23-26; p. 1222).
When we partake of the Lord’s Supper, we eat the bread, which is done “in remembrance” of Him, to remind us that Christ’s body was nailed to the Cross to atone for our sins. Then we take the cup, as Christ said, “in remembrance of me.” The cup reminds us of Christ’s Blood, which was shed on the Cross to cleanse us from our sins.
“And as they were eating, Jesus took bread, and blessed it, and brake it, and gave it to the disciples, and said, Take, eat; this is my body. And he took the cup, and gave thanks, and gave it to them, saying, Drink ye all of it; For this is my blood of the new testament, which is shed for many for the remission of sins” (Matthew 26:26-28; p. 1037).
We take the bread and the cup “in remembrance” of Christ on the Cross. This is done because we constantly need to be reminded of Christ’s sacrifice on the Cross. That’s why we take the Lord’s Supper “in remembrance” of Christ.
In this dispensation, the Lord’s Supper points backwards in time, to the sacrifice of Christ on the Cross. But the Old Testament sacrifices, including the sacrifices of Noah, pointed forward in time to Christ suffering and dying to pay the penalty for man’s sin. That is why
“the Lord smelled a sweet savour” (Genesis 8:21).
It was because God saw in Noah’s sacrifice the coming sacrifice of His only begotten Son.
“As Christ also hath loved us, and hath given himself for us an offering and a sacrifice to God for a sweetsmelling savour”
This leads us to the second point.
II. Second, the sacrifices of Noah, thus, appeased God’s wrath.
“And the Lord smelled a sweet savour” (Genesis 8:21).
The Geneva Bible of 1599 brought out this thought by translating this text as “The Lord smelled a savor of rest.” The Geneva note says, “Thereby he [God] showeth himself appeased and his anger at rest” (The 1599 Geneva Bible, Tolle Lege Press, 2006 reprint, note on Genesis 8:21). Dr. Ryrie said that the verse means literally, “a smell of satisfaction” (Charles C. Ryrie, Ph.D., The Ryrie Study Bible, Moody Press, 1978, note on Genesis 8:21). The Lord smelled an aroma of rest and satisfaction.
This means that God saw the coming sacrifice of His Son, the Lord Jesus Christ, in the sacrifices of Noah and was satisfied, His anger rested, His wrath was propitiated or appeased. I John 4:10 says,
“Herein is love, not that we loved God, but that he loved us, and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins”
(I John 4:10; p. 1324).
Again I John says,
“He is the propitiation for our sins” (I John 2:2; p. 1322).
“Jesus received God’s judgment and wrath against sin in his own person, fully absorbing that judgment by his death” (Spirit of the Reformation Study Bible, Zondervan Publishing House, 2003, note on I John 2:2). Concerning I John 4:10, Dr. Gill said,
‘Tis necessary that [man’s] sins be expiated, or atonement be made for them, which is meant by Christ’s being a propitiation for them; that the justice of God should be satisfied…and that the wrath of God, which sin deserved, be averted or appeased (John Gill, D.D., An Exposition of the New Testament, The Baptist Standard Bearer, 1989 reprint, volume III, p. 647).
That was why God “smelled a sweet savour,” a “savor of rest” and “satisfaction” (Genesis 8:21). It was because He saw in Noah’s burnt-offerings a picture, a type, of Jesus dying on the Cross to satisfy His justice and to appease His wrath against sin. His wrath “rested” when He smelled the aroma of Noah’s sacrifices – because they pictured the atonement of Christ on the Cross. Joseph Hart made this very clear when he wrote,
In guilt’s dark dungeon where we lay,
Mercy cried “spare” and justice “stay.”
But Jesus answered, “Set them free!
And pardon them and punish me.”
(“The Gospel” by Joseph Hart, 1712-1768).
I cannot think of a better way to explain this to you than to read these words from Spurgeon:
When I was under conviction of sin I had a deep and sharp sense of the justice of God. Sin, whatever it might be to other people, became to me an intolerable burden…I knew myself to be so horribly guilty that I remember feeling that if God did not punish me for sin, He ought to do so…I felt that… the sin that I had committed must be punished…
I had heard the plan of salvation by the sacrifice of Jesus, but…it came to me as a new revelation, that Jesus was declared to be “the propitiation for our sins” (I John 2:2)…
Jesus has borne the death penalty on our behalf! Behold the wonder! There He hangs upon the cross! This is the greatest sight you will ever see…There He hangs, bearing pain unutterable – the Just for the unjust – that He might bring us to God. Oh, the glory of that sight! The innocent suffering! The Holy One condemned! The Ever-blessed made a curse! The Infinitely Glorious put to a shameful death! The more I look at the sufferings of the Son of God, the more sure I am that they must meet my case…Jesus’ loving self-sacrifice can swallow up the mountains of our sin, all of them…God will save the sinner because He did not spare His own Son. God can pass [over] your transgressions because He laid those transgressions upon His only begotten Son…
If you believe on Him, I tell you, you cannot go to hell, for that [would] make the perfect sacrifice of [no] effect. If the Lord Jesus Christ died in my [place], why should I die also?... Oh, that you may have grace given you…to look away to Jesus, Who is the fountainhead of mercy to guilty man!...Let us…trust our souls once for all to Him who shed His blood for the guilty. We will be saved by the…same Saviour. If you perish trusting Him, I must perish too. What can I do more to prove my own confidence in the Gospel which is set before you? (C. H. Spurgeon, “A Just God,” Chapel Library, Pensacola, Florida).
That is a good application of our text. In his conversion experience, Spurgeon discovered that God's judgment must fall on Jesus, “the propitiation for our sins” (I John 2:2). For that to happen, you must turn to Jesus, come to Him, rely on Him. When that happens, the wrath of God will be appeased and your sins will be cleansed by His Blood.
Come, ye sinners, lost and hopeless,
Jesus’ blood can set you free;
For He saved the worst among you,
When He saved a wretch like me.
And I know, yes, I know,
Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.
And I know, yes, I know,
Jesus’ blood can make the vilest sinner clean.
(“Yes, I Know!” by Anna W. Waterman, 1920).