Lent 2018: See the Lord's Salvation: Day 26

The Incense Altar


Today's Text: Exodus 30:1-38, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, 1 John 2:24-27

Scripture Reading: Exodus 30:1-38, 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, 1 John 2:24-27

For years now, my mother has worn patchouli.

It smells like the woods, with a tinge of smoke and a hint of something floral. Even days after she’s visited Nashville, her invisible signature lingers on the pillow where she slept, on the scarf she borrowed, on the blanket on the couch—reminding me that we were together. I’m not sure if I love the fragrance, or if I love that it reminds me of her. But I do know this: when I smell patchouli in a store, it doesn’t smell the same as does when it’s on my mom.

In Exodus 30, the Lord outlines a series of rich, holy, and sacred instructions for the altar of the tabernacle. He includes a recipe for anointing oil and a recipe for incense. I don’t know about you, but in the age of essential oil popularity, the thought occurred to me that I could probably whip up a batch, just to see what it smelled like. But it’s clear through His instructions that these items are meant to be special. They’re exclusive and not to be shared far and wide; they are recipes never to be mixed outside of the church. “Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord” (v. 37). God is ensuring that the only time His people will smell these rich fragrances is in His presence.

Psychologists have found that our sense of smell is closely linked with memory. Perhaps that’s why, when I think of my grandmother, I can still remember the tart scent of her cold cream that she’d pat on her face every night. It’s why at Christmas, I stock up on Balsam Fir candles, to extend the season just a bit longer. Fragrance is a powerful force. It helps us remember. It activates emotion. It recalls stories. It brings us back. It transports us. It slows us down. It comforts.

God knows this. He knows our spiritual as well as our physiological needs—because He created every part of us, including our sense of smell. Isn’t it beautiful to consider that God wants to activate all of our senses as we interact with Him? He isn’t limited to the spiritual realm, but wants our physical bodies to experience His presence, too.

Just like my mother’s patchouli oil leaves a trace, as followers of Jesus, we carry the fragrance of Christ with us everywhere we go. “For we are to God the pleasing aroma of Christ among those who are being saved and those who are perishing” (2 Corinthians 2:15). Priests no longer have to whip up a batch of something sacred; because of Christ’s work on the cross, now we ourselves are sacred.

As you go about your day, pay attention to the sweet smell of that apple, the bitter fragrance of coffee, the grassy scent of sweat on your children. Even in life’s mundane moments, our sense of smell can remind us of our God and His extravagance.


Claire Gibson is a writer whose work has been featured in publications including The Washington Post and Entrepreneur Magazine among many others. An Army kid who grew up at West Point, New York, Claire is currently growing roots in Nashville, Tennessee, with her husband, Patrick, their son, Sam, and their dog, Winnie. Her debut novel, Beyond the Point, will be published next year.

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  • Peony Noirr


  • Rachael Brunelle

    Can we talk about how frankincense is a part of the perfume spoken about here….and one of the gifts given to the new born king is frankincense?! God is in the details people! That is awesome!

  • Loved this lesson today! I am constantly amazed at the handiwork and intricacies of our Father. Reading about sense of smell drew me back to smells that stir up memories in my mind of loved ones and of childhood. These are God’s sweet reminders to us. I loved the connection you made with sense of smell and remembrance of our Holy God.

  • Hannah Steele

    How wonderful to remember that because of Jesus, we are the distinctive aroma.

  • Sarah Kelnhofer

    Thanks for this reminder! I struggle with judging myself based on “success” or “failure” – but God has already jusged me APPROVED.

  • Kaitlyn Reed

    When you receive Jesus as your savior you start smelling like Christ’s aroma from that instant. That never stops, even in our sin we are covered by His blood and what He did for us. Ladies, let us not “want” to be the fragrance of Christ, let us live knowing we ARE the fragrance of Christ and make that truth motivate us to walk worthy of bearing that aroma.

  • Denise Powers Fabian

    How can I ever get my arms around this multi-faceted God of the universe who is extravagant to every detail for my pleasure in His presence?

  • Lizzieb85

    I’m a day behind. But that’s what Grace day is for, right?

    Anyway, in today’s passage I was a bit taken aback by the fact that the men had to pay so no plague came upon them. I was like, what?! But reading on I see that it was to provide for the workings of the tabernacle. How sad that God had to, essentially, strong arm the people into giving. He does not do that for us. Just another example where there is freedom in Christ. We have the Holy Spirit to convict us on spiritual matters.

  • I praise the Lord that he helps me through my ailments, both physical and psychological, after 38 years of nursing, losing my oldest son when he was 18 years old, both sons had/have AD/HD and two hip replacements. I just started using a difusser to help me relax at night and wake up during the day. God has helped me through all my hard times, and I’m grateful for that.
    I remember the wisemen bringing Myrrh to the Holy family, in a sermon I heard the Myrrh was to be used for his burial. God has given his son for us.

  • Chrissy E

    I thought the same thing at first, about whipping up my own batch, until I read the instructions not to. :) I can imagine both are quite unmistakable scents, set apart both in fragrance and purpose.

    • Deborah Craytor

      I thought that, too. I don’t think we would be subject to excommunication or death if we did so, but the prohibition still applies to us, according to David Guzik: “This shows that the work of the Holy Spirit is never to be imitated. There is to be no place for encouraging a man-made imitation of the gifts or operations of the Holy Spirit. To do this denies the holiness of the Holy Spirit, regarding His work as something we can do just as well on our own.”

  • This week one of the Gospels at daily Mass was from the Sermon on the Mount in St. Matthew’s Gospel where Our Lord says that He has come to fulfill the Old Law. This dovetailed so well with my thoughts throughout the readings on the Ark, tabernacle, the priesthood, the altar and the incense. I have been particularly struck by how much of the rituals in our Catholic worship are completions or fulfillments of the worship in the Old Covenant. All of those visible signs of worship are still important — the incense, the anointings with oil (chrism) and so on, because as human beings we need to experience God through our senses, not just spiritually.

  • This study reminded me of how contagious sin is. How it spreads unholiness like an oil spill or an epidemic. Everything in the Tabernacle had to be purified in order for God to dwell there. Utensils, furniture, priests. The image of incense made me think of purifying the air. Even the air has been touched by sin. Yet the holiness of Jesus is also contagious. Jesus interacted with people who had leprosy. Instead of contracting their illness, Jesus healed them. Even though He was surrounded by temptation on Earth, Jesus never sinned. Instead He took our sins upon Himself, conquering death and rising to life.

  • Great great lesson today. Everyone’s comments are beautiful.

  • Courtney Javier

    The OT passage also reminded me of Mark 14:3-9 where Jesus is anointed at Bethany. He was set apart as a holy sacrifice for us!

  • Kendra Pope

    Such a great reminder! We carry a “fragrance” by our attitudes and actions every where and to everyone, including the people in our own lives. I want to be the fragrance of Christ, not Kendra nor anything else that distracts from holy things.

    • Gina Jo

      I love your comment. I agree I want to be the fragrance of Christ not the fragrance of Gina or anything else. Father God give us the strength to be the beautiful fragrance of your son. In your son’ holy name, Jesus Christ, amen.

    • Kaitlyn Reed

      If you’ve committed your life to Christ you already are the fragrance of Him, regardless of your works :)

  • Victoria Park

    “He knows our spiritual as well as our physiological needs—because He created every part of us, including our sense of smell.”. I loved this part of the message. I have struggled with mental health issues most of my life, and its comforting to remember that the complexities of my mind and psyche are no mystery to God and that he can still work with this broken vessel.

  • Speaking of kids, what is been heavy on my heart last 24 hours is my son. Most of his friends are already taking SAT and AC T test for college. I know his heart was set to go to college and now he doesn’t even know. We are separated from his dad and this is been hard on him. I. as his mom , want him to be successful and not to struggle. He had his heart set on a Christian college six hours from here. Could you pray for God’s will. And I know, that I know that God does have a plan I just need to calm down.

    • She Reads Truth

      Hi Mari, thanks for sharing! We’re praying for you and your son during this time. -Margot, The SRT Team

      • Mari

        Thank you Matgot! I’m so glad I checked back on SRT to see this! It means so much to me. And you know what’s funny? He wore the The college sweatshirt where he hopes to go. He got three compliments today. He goes to a public school

  • Our family calls it “the ratatouille moment”. It’s a kids movie.
    You know the scene where the old man taste the ratatouille and it brings him back to the memories of his mother.

  • Julia MacCready

    Please pray for me today, I walked into sin last night and am doing what I can today to make sure I am not tempted to do so again. I want to be the fragrance of Christ, but right now I feel like I smell like the lust of the world. Please pray for me to stay strong and abide in Christ and let Him redeem me.

    • Leslie Warnick

      Praying for you. God loves you. He knows your heart. Let Him in.

    • Pam Gillett

      It’s so bold of you to reach out and confess! Praying for you. I know God will do mighty things. Jesus is our Redeemer.

    • Brandi

      Praying for you sweet sister. Remember we are forgiven. There is now no condemnation for those who are in Christ because He has set us free from the law of sin and death! Rom 8:1&2

      • Mari

        Wow, Kathy thank you so much for this. This is exactly what I needed to hear. Especially when you say” am I being that pleasing aroma”. Life has been so hard for me for the past 6 to 8 months and I sometimes wonder about this.

      • Mari

        Sorry Brandi, The above message was meant for Kathy, I think there was a glitch.

    • Lauren Klouda

      Lifting you up in prayer Julia. You are loved.

    • Mari

      Of course Julia we your sisters will pray for you. Stay strong. And remember what Jesus did for all of us at the cross

    • Hayley Sheldon

      Stay brave Julia! The Lord will sustain you!

    • Leslie Limardo

      We’ve all been there at some point or another! God is so good and merciful! My favorite line was always get behind me Satan! I know those moments too well! God is always with you!

    • Tanya Herrera Rodriguez

      Julia, God loves you soooooooooooooooooooooooooooooo much! There’s not enough o’s to encompass the infinity of his love. The fact that you already confess and want to pivot from temptation, means that you’re halfway there! The other half is me by Jesus and he’s already forgiven you! How precious is that? So let’s get the voice of the accuser to understand who God is and that he stands up for you!

    • Kaitlyn Reed

      When you receive Christ as your savior you immediately gain the aroma of Him, because of what He did not because of anything you did. Your sin doesn’t take away that! You are the fragrance of Christ to God, always. You need to know that! And confessing your sin is a great way to allow God to work in your heart. He has already conquered the sin for you, you’re victorious through Him.

    • Becky

      You are so loved and cherished.

  • Fragrance is often like a time machine to me, just a hint of the right scent can send me immediately into another season of life, most often good seasons. Scent is so important that when my father passed away my sisters and I all grabbed a shirt of his from the unwashed laundry, can’t tell you the number of times I’d just sit with that shirt, deeply remembering my father. 17 1/2 years later, I still have that shirt, though it lost its fragrance years ago but, to compensate, each time I walk into a home improvement store I am immediately reminded of my Dad, and that makes me smile from ear to ear. When my mom died, I received a small bottle of her perfume, just a little spray into the air would instantly make me cry and instantly make me happy. It is profound what scent can do and even more profound that God used it to connect us to Him all those years ago and uses it still to gift us fond memories. He designed us in such a way that He knows just what we need and uses it well to provide. Even more amazing that He chooses to reside in us and connect with us by being a part of what we smell, what we go through and what we do all by making US Holy. How often I forget that I am that valuable to God! Prayerful that as I go through the day I remember that God resides in me, that the fragrance of me, that being with me provides the same emotions for Him that I receive when reminded of my earthly parents. He is a Father who is always gifting, and even as I sit here with too little sleep this week and hair that reflects it, I am with God. Praying that my moment to moment, my day to day that I observe the little gifts around me, that I deeply connect with God in me and that I live out each day thankful in action, deed and word to Christ because He made it all possible.

  • Laura Barthelmess

    ❤️ Love!

  • Churchmouse

    I’m reminded of the anointing of Jesus with the precious and expensive perfumed oil. The woman was condemned for being so frivolous. I wonder if Judas smelled the lingering aroma when he betrayed Jesus with a kiss? I wonder if the high priests and Pontius Pilate noticed the unusual fragrance around Jesus? I wonder if the soldiers stopped the flogging for a second, pondering the source of a smell that was not death? What about Simon of Cyrene – was there a lingering of that perfume on the cross beam he carried? Did the centurion at the foot of the cross notice? Did Joseph of Arimethea inhale it deeply as he gave Jesus into His mother’s arms? Did Mary pray that she would always remember that odor rather than the odor of blood? Was the tomb filled with that sweet smell? And oh, does the fragrance of His Holy Spirit emanate from me?

  • Julie Whitacre

    I was struck by the I John passage as well. He speaks so much about abiding, and I am just starting to understand a tiny bit of what He is talking about. There is a way for His Word to abide in us, even deeper than reading and hearing the Scriptures, to welcome it into our innermost parts. I want that to be a very present reality in my life!

  • Julie Whitacre

    I was struck by the passage from I John 2

  • I noticed in Exodus 30 that “15 The rich are not to give more than a half shekel and the poor are not to give less when you make the offering to the Lord to atone for your lives.” Not only was He paying careful attention to the rites and rituals of the temple, His eyes were always on the people who would be there. This verse shows that all are equal in His eyes and no one can earn favor with God through money. A good reminder when it’s so easy to write a check to charity versus investing yourself.

    • Elle

      That’s such a good point. I was stuck on how much half a shekel is and if that would be hard for the poor people to pay or not. But it’s also super notable that the rich people aren’t allowed to give more. No one can pay extra for more salvation and we are all equal in that.

  • I love to cook. Preparing food for my family and friends is my happy place. My husband works in our basement and often when I begin preparing supper he will come up and say that something smells so good. I laugh because it is usually just onion and garlic simmering in olive oil.
    This reading today has made me think about aromas. I never really thought about how that affects us so deeply. In my case, my aroma is my food which is my gift of love to others. I don’t wear scents, but I make them.
    I like what Claire said about fragrance. It is a powerful force. I long to be a pleasing scent to God and to others around me. I don’t want to be a foul odor that repulses people.
    My prayer is that God will use me to attract others to Him. I pray that He will use my offering of food, love, myself, to bring Glory and Honor to Him our God most High.

  • Ashley Russell

    Love this! ♥️

  • Kelly Chataine

    The gift of our senses is a beautiful gift. Since my husband fell, he has not been able to smell which severely limits his ability to taste and enjoy food.
    Thanking God for all of His many gifts. Those gifts that come to mind often and those that are often taken for granted. God is good all the time! All the time God is good!

  • God goes into such detail in describing exactly how He wanted His tabernacle, His dwelling place to be set up. He spare no expense. He had them use the best of what they had. I can’t even imagine how beautiful it must have been when it was set up in the desert; right there in the middle of the camp. As I read these instructions I am reminded of Paul’s words in 1 Cor. 6:19-20. “Or do you not know that your body is a temple of the Holy Spirit within you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, but you were bought with a price. So glorify God in your body.” That is a rather awesome and at the same time terrifying thought. God has always had a dwelling place and now, because of Jesus, He has chosen to make His dwelling place within me and you. That is so awesome, but when I think about all the ways that I don’t take care of my body, this temple that God has chosen to dwell in, it brings me to my knees to ask for forgiveness. Forgiveness for the fact that I don’t always take care of myself physically, but even more, forgiveness for the fact that there are so many ways I don’t take care of myself spiritually and emotionally. Am I being a pleasing aroma? Am I living in such a way that I am glorifying God with my body? I am so thankful that I don’t have to go through all the rituals and cleansing that the priests had to go through to be able to enter the presence of God. His presence is always with me. Lord, help me to glorify You with every part of my body – with what my eyes look at, what my ears listen to, what my mouth says, what my hands do – may every part of me, body, mind, and soul, be given totally and completely to You.

    • Patti

      Wow, Kathy. Exactly what I was thinking and even more, exactly what I needed to read! Thank you so much. :)

    • Chris Gruhlke

      Thank you Kathy! A great reminder for us all.

    • Kay

      Kathy, thank you for sharing your thoughts and putting mine into words!

    • Serena Engler


    • Kristen Vetter

      Thank you for sharing this!

    • Cassie Kendall

      I was thinking something similar through these last few days- how we are to be set apart for holiness. Everything is special, every detail matters. Anything we ignore and become lazy with will tear us further and further away from God’s perfect ideal. Every thought and microscopic thing we do can take us closer TO Him or further FROM Him.

  • I love how the 1 John passage refers to the Holy Spirit. Maybe the anointing oil of the tabernacle was a foreshadowing of the Holy Spirit?

Further Reading...