Last week I had the privilege of attending another church’s Men Conference. While there I reconnected with old friends and met some new ones. During one of the sessions, the speaker mentioned the incredible memory invoking power of the sense of smell. It was interesting to me because I agree so much with the sentiment that all of our senses have an emotional pull on us, either toward heaven or toward secular pursuits. I believe that we should treat the Bible with care, using all five senses to meet Jesus in the Bible. John wrote about the one “which we have heard, which we have seen with our eyes, which we have looked upon, and our hands have handled.” (1 John 1) Hearing, sight and touch—we should see Jesus in the Bible; we should hear Jesus in the Bible, and we should touch Jesus in the Bible. We should even taste Jesus in the Bible! The Psalmist wrote, “O taste and see that the LORD is good.” (Psalm 34:8)
But what about the sense of smell? I believe that the sense of smell is uniquely strong in bringing back to our remembrance days of old. The speaker talked about a certain cologne and how the smell took him back in time. That was very moving for me, because I believe that is true and a cautionary tale. I have three “smells’ on my bathroom counter. One is Old Spice. It’s what my grandfather wore. Another is Skinbracer. That was my dad’s sent. The third is Oak. (Oak has replaced Polo, as my pastor’s salary cannot afford Polo anymore.) I wear either Old Spice or Skinbracer about every day. But I only wear Oak when I go out with Patty. That is my smell when I am with her. The genesis for that (back when I was an engineer and it was Polo) dates back to the days when I was pursuing her. When I was single I wore Polo all the time. It was very vogue back in the 80's!!!!! To me there is something associated with the hunt about Polo. But the smell of Old Spice makes me think of a grandpa and something not very alluring to women of a certain age. I’m through with the pursuing now, so if you smell me wearing Polo (Oak) Patty will not be far away. It might be silly, but my though is that any female smelling me with Skinbracer on is only going to be reminded of her grandpa, not some sexy beast. (I know. Polo or not, what woman could resist alllllllllll of this!?) But I will also say that ministers are especially susceptible to sexual sin because the Satan loves to see clergy fall that way. So it is probably more for me; the smell of Oak and Polo now remind me that I am a one-woman-man, and she is close by my side.
What does that have to do with “smelling” Jesus in the Bible. It harkens back to my favorite post resurrection story, which is found in John’s Gospel. Jesus is on the shore, cooking breakfast for the disciples who are out fishing. When they got to shore the Bible says that, “they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread.” (John 21:9) Jesus cooked fish on a charcoal fire. He could have done what He did when He fed the 5,000 men, (not including women and children) and simply said “Fish.” No, He cooked on a charcoal fire. Why? Smell. Admit it, there is something about the smell of a charcoal fire. Remembrance associated with smell. He needed Peter to remember. The word translated here charcoal is anthrakia. It is only used two times in the Bible, here and in John 18:18 where Peter was at Jesus’ trial, warming himself by a…want to take a guess?...charcoal fire. Peter’s greatest collapse in faith, his greatest failure, his most despised memory was of denying Jesus three times. And I think when Peter got out of the boat and ran to shore, the charcoal fire was there to bring that episode flooding back to his memory, through the power of smell. Jesus needed Peter to emotionally reconnect with that moment of failure, so the stark contrast of his restoration and calling would stand out in great relief with his failure. In essence Jesus was saying to Peter, you failed; now get over it and feed my sheep.
The power of smell. Our speaker had it right, and it is a great reminder to me that I need to hear Jesus in the Bible, to see Jesus in the Bible, to touch Jesus in the Bible, to taste Jesus in the Bible…and to even smell Jesus in the Bible.