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Author: Rick VanderHorst
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Congregation:Grace Canadian Reformed Church
 Winnipeg, Manitoba
 www.grace.canadianreformed.ca
 
Title:Led in triumphal procession in Christ
Text:2 Corinthians 2:12-17 (View)
Occasion:Regular Sunday
Topic:Life in Christ
 
Preached:2023-02-10
Added:2024-02-14
Updated:2024-02-14
 

Order Of Worship (Liturgy)

Reading: 2 Corinthians 1:1-2:4

Text: 2 Corinthians 2:12-17

Singing: Ps 47; Ps 103:4; Hy 35:2,3; Hy 52:1,3,4; Ps 118:2,4; Hy 61

* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rick VanderHorst, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.


Beloved congregation of the Lord Jesus Christ,

One feeling I’m sure most of us dislike is the feeling that life is out of control. Do you every feel that way?

You live everyday sort of flying by the seat of your pants, hoping to hold things together.

Even worse than that, some of us may feel at times that our lives are one defeat after another.

 

But if you ever have that feeling, realize that you’re not alone in this.

The Apostle Paul at times felt this way too –

Study his life and you’ll find a lot of chaos and seemingly lots of defeats.

He describes some of his sufferings in 2 Corinthians 11 and he says,

He faced imprisonments, countless beatings, often near death, five times receiving forty lashes less one, once he was stoned, Three times he was shipwrecked, in danger from robbers, in danger in the wilderness, in hunger and thirst, often without food, etc.

 

But even though he experienced all these things, he did not need to despair.

In fact, Paul could still rejoice. He could still thank God.

This is something he expresses also in our text.

Paul could thank God because no matter what, God always led him in triumphant procession in Christ.

And as we hope to see, this is something God also does for us.

 

Give thanks to God who always leads us in triumphant procession in Christ

We’ll look at how we

1) Are led in triumphant procession by God

2) Spread everywhere the fragrance of Christ

 

The church at Corinth was established on Paul’s second missionary journey.

Even though the Lord used Paul to form this church, Paul experienced a rocky relationship with them.

It’s clear from his writings that the Corinthian church had many struggles:

They struggled with divisions,

They were plagued by dangerous doctrinal errors.

At times they fell into serious sins,

They gravitated towards false teachers and so called ‘super apostles’.

 

 

The time between the writing of 1 and 2 Corinthians was an especially trying time in their relationship.

We’re going to go through some of the background here because it will help us understand this text.

 

Paul was in Ephesus when he wrote 1 Corinthians.

He delivered that letter to Corinth by the hand of Timothy.

The news Timothy eventually brought back to Paul was not good.

Some in the Corinthian church had not reacted well to his letter.

Others had not repented of their sexual immorality.

Thus, Paul felt he had to come to this struggling church himself to give them some tough love.

In our reading from 2 Corinthians, he calls it his “painful” visit.

 

After returning to Ephesus, Paul had planned to visit them again and told the church as much.

However, after some time, Paul couldn’t bear the thought of making another painful visit.

And so, Paul thought it best to write to them instead – a letter that is now lost.

He mentions this letter in our reading and he says,

he wrote the letter out of much affliction and anguish of heart and with many tears.

This letter, splashed with Paul’s own tears, was sent to Corinth via the hand of Titus.

 

After sending Titus away, Paul endured much anxiety about the Corinthian church.

How would they react to his stern letter?

Would they truly repent of the sins that plagued them?

Would their relationship with Paul be broken beyond repair?

 

That brings us to the opening words of our text.

He writes in verses 12 and 13

“When I came to Troas to preach the gospel of Christ, even though a door was opened for me in the Lord,

my spirit was not at rest because I did not find my brother Titus there. So I took leave of them and went on to Macedonia.”

 

Although these words sound merely like some travel details, they actually affirm Paul’s care for the Corinthian church.

A wonderful opportunity for effective ministry opened up for him in Troas.

However, despite that open door, Paul had to move on.

He had been anxiously waiting for Titus to come back from Corinth.

But it was not really Titus he was worried about.

Rather, Paul was anxious to hear about the Corinthian church.

 

Because he didn’t find Titus in Troas, Paul felt compelled by his concern for the Corinthians to move on to Macedonia to search for Titus there.

Finally, Paul and Titus met up in Macedonia, with Titus bringing both good news and bad news.

The good news was that Paul’s tear-filled third letter had brought about the desired repentance.

The bad news was that the Corinthians still had some misgivings about Paul.

They suspected him of being doubled minded.

After all, Paul had not come to them himself like he said he would.

They also continued to gravitate towards some false teachers.

 

This is what led Paul to write the letter we call 2 Corinthians.

He wanted to show the sincerity of his ministry and to affirm his love for the Corinthian Church.

This also gave him further opportunity to teach them the gospel of Christ.

 

That’s also why we have the words in our text like we do.

Listen to me Corinthians, he’s saying.

I left behind a golden opportunity to preach the gospel in Troas and it’s all because I wanted to hear about you.

Doesn’t that show my care for you?

Doesn’t that show the sincerity of my ministry to you?

 

And, yes, it’s true, things didn’t work out as originally planned – Paul didn’t visit Corinth himself.

But that’s the way it often went in his ministry.

It’s as Proverbs 16:9 says,

“In his heart a man plans his course, but the LORD determines his steps. 

And the LORD often led Paul through difficult things.

Think of what we read in 2 Cor 1.

In Asia (likely Ephesus) Paul experiencing great hardship.

He was so utterly burdened beyond his strength that he despaired of life itself.

At Troas he left behind a golden opportunity to preach the gospel because of the overwhelming anxiety he felt about the Corinthian church.

When he came into Macedonia from Troas, Paul would encounter even more hardship.

Through all this, Paul probably felt like he was flying by the seat of his pants, jumping from the frying pan into the fire.

 

But notice what Paul says next in our text.

He does not despair about all this chaos and hardship.

Instead, he gives thanks to God.

As he says, “I took leave of them in Troas and went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession.”

Now THAT sounds like a strange reaction from Paul.

He recently seemed to suffer so much affliction and even defeat.

Why does he say God is leading him in triumphal procession?

 

In order to understand this, we need to know about an important event in the ancient world.

This event was called the Roman Triumph.

The Roman Triumph was essentially a victory parade for a Roman General after a war.

This event has been called ‘a spectacle of epic proportions’.

If you wanted to see Pomp and Circumstance, this victory parade was it.

I need to express my thanks to Dr. William DenHollander for providing me with the details.

He describes the Roman Triumph like this,

Before the procession entered the city, the city itself was made ready. The temples were thrown open, festooned with garlands and smoking with incense. The people lined the parade route, which wound through or past every building that could serve as a vantage point for the spectators……Josephus claims that not a soul could be found indoors when the Flavians celebrated their victory over the Jews. The first [of the parade] to enter the city through the Triumphal Gate was the Senate, followed by a group of trumpeters. Behind these forerunners came the heaps of spoils from the enemy, carried along on floats…[with] re-enactments of particular battle scenes…On the heels of the floats came the prisoners, specifically chosen for their ‘stature and beauty’…a Ragged bunch of enemies would hardly reflect well on the triumphing general. Instead, the enemy and rivers of spoil were paraded along to magnify his victory and encourage the crowds to celebrate the might of Rome.

At the end of the parade, the captive enemies were executed, and celebrations commenced.

 

We don’t have anything equaling this in our day and age.

Perhaps the closest thing to it today are the victory parades made by winning sports teams.

Argentina recently won the World Cup of soccer beating France in the finals.

When the team came back to Argentina, huge crowds came out to celebrate the victory.

If their victory parade was more like the Roman triumph, you would have the defeated French team as part of the procession, paraded along in humiliation.

At the end of the parade, you might have a dunk tank.

Each member of the French team would sit on the dunk-tank seat while Lionel Messi shot soccer balls at the target dunking them one after another to the loud cheers of the crowds.

 

Now Paul uses the image of the Roman Triumph here in our text.

Thanks be to God who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, he says.

But the really interesting part of his language is this:

Paul places himself as one of the defeated soldiers in Christ’s triumphant procession.

God planned out this triumphant procession,

Christ is the victorious General,

Paul is the defeated captive.

One translation makes this clear when it says,

“But thank God! He has made us his captives and continues to lead us along in Christ’s triumphal procession.”

 

This is how Paul describes his relationship to Christ.

He was once an enemy of God and of his Son.

But the Lord Jesus conquered Paul on the Damascus Road, converting him by his power.

As a believer, Paul now was a captive of Christ.

 

This is also how Paul describes his ministry as an apostle.

Yes, Paul was led here, there, and everywhere by Christ.

God brought him through terrible suffering and affliction, sometimes beyond his own ability to endure.

Through this, Paul’s life and journeys as an apostle might seem haphazard to human eyes.

But the reality was despite the apparent chaos, Paul was being led in a well-thought-out victory parade planned by God the Father and worked out by Christ.

 

Notice that Paul gives thanks to God for these things.

It was a supremely good thing that he became a captive of Christ.

In the Roman Triumph, the enemies of the general were executed at the end of the parade.

But being a captive of Christ was different.

Being a defeated captive of Christ actually brings life. 

And even if Paul would lose his earthly life in service to Christ, which he eventually did, he still had eternal life through this conquering king. 

It’s the upside down perspective of the gospel – in defeat to Christ there is victory.

 

The use of this image also helps us as Christians.

We can describe ourselves in the same way as Paul does.

We have been conquered by Christ – and that is a fantastic reason to thank God!

If we had not been conquered by Christ we would still be lost, in unbelief, in slavery to the devil.

But Christ has come to us,

 he has subdued our stubbornness and unbelief

He has broken our hardness of heart and he has rescued us from death.

Being a captive in Christ’s triumphal procession brings us true life – eternal life.

 

Furthermore, we too are in Christ’s triumphant procession.

Yes, we are in that procession as conquered captives, but that’s a good thing!

God is the one who leads our lives in Christ.

He is leading our lives for the glory of the conquering king – God’s Son.

Our lives too might seem chaotic, uncertain, and painful at times, but the reality is God is leading us in a well-thought-out victory parade for the glory of God’s Son.

 

This is at the heart of Paul’s teaching in Romans 8 also.

In that chapter Paul says,

“We might go through trouble, calamity, persecution, hunger, danger, or even be threatened with death. As it is written we are as sheep to be slaughtered.

But in all these things we are more than conquerors through him who loved us.

As God leads us in this life, he leads us also for the increase of Christ’s victory in this world.

 

2) Spread everywhere the fragrance of Christ

 

Having described himself as a captive in Christ’s triumphant procession, Paul continues on in our text:

He says,

“So I took leave of them [in Troas] and went on to Macedonia. But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spread the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.”

Paul could rejoice and thank God.

No matter where he was or where he went, God used him to spread the knowledge of Christ.

 

He describes this action as spreading a smell – the fragrance of Christ.

This image may very well be connected to the one we just looked at – the Roman Triumph.

As the victory parade went through the city, fragrance from the flowers and the burning incense at the temples filled the streets.

To those on the winning side, it was the smell of victory.

To the conquered enemies, it was the smell of defeat and death.

 

In any case, this image describes Paul’s ministry and the preaching of the gospel.

The preaching of the gospel receives a two-fold response – some believe and some do not.

To those who do not believe the gospel, the message of Christ has the odor of death.

But to those who do believe, the message of Christ has the sweet fragrance of life.

 

This truth is highlighted in our confessions.

LD 31 describes the keys of the kingdom.

The kingdom of heaven is opened and closed by the preaching of the gospel.

To those who believe the kingdom of heaven is opened wide and they are brought in.

To those who do not believe it is proclaimed that God’s wrath rests on them as long as they do not repent and believe in Christ.

 

The Canons of Dort teaches the same thing in chapter 1:

Article 3 on the Preaching of the Gospel says,

So that men may be brought to faith, God mercifully sends heralds of this most joyful message to whom he will and when he wills. By their ministry men are called to repentance and to faith in Christ crucified.

Then the very next article notes there is a two-fold response

The wrath of God remains on those who do not believe this gospel. But those who receive it and embrace Jesus the Saviour with a true and living faith are delivered by him from the wrath of God and from destruction, and are given eternal life.

 

Notice how Paul uses the image of a smell or an aroma to describe this two-fold response.

Our sense of smell is a powerful sense and can evoke a strong reaction within us.

Just think of different smells you can smell in life -

Some of them you love, some of them you hate.

Smells can also trigger memories in your mind.

One scent I love is the smell of freshly baked bread.

I remember when I was child coming home from school to find my mom baked some bread.

The wonderful smell filled your nose as soon as you entered the home.

 

So smells can be powerful and produce strong reactions within us.

What’s also interesting is that some smells are experienced differently by different people.

With one fragrance, one person can love it and another hate it.

Think for a moment of entering the building of an indoor pool.

You can instantly smell the chlorine filling the air.

Some of you might hate that smell.

But perhaps some of the children love it:

That’s because the smell is associated with going down slides, splashing in the water, jumping off diving boards, and the like.

 

To use another example, think of a dairy farm.

My best friend in Grade 1 lived on a dairy farm.

I remember going there for the first time.

When I got out of the van, I couldn’t believe the bad stench.

I said something to the effect of,

“Oh Yuck, how could you ever live here, it stinks!”

 

But then I remember him saying to me, “I like that smell.”

And I couldn’t believe my ears. He could he ever like that smell?

But for my friend, it was a smell associated with swinging on the Tarzan rope in the hay loft.

It was a smell connected with times of eating ice cream after moving irrigation pipes in the field.

In short, it was the smell of home!

 

Paul says, ‘spreading the knowledge of Christ is like that. Some people love it and some hate it.”

To those who are perishing, the message of Christ is the smell of death.

But to those who are being saved, the message of Christ is the smell of life.

 

This brings up two questions for each of us sitting here today:

The first one is this:

What does the message of Christ smell like to you?”

Does it have the fragrance of life?

Or does it have the odor of death?

If it has the odor of death, that’s a warning to you.

It’s a warning to repent and believe in Christ before you perish.

Ask God to give you a new spiritual sense of smell.

 

And you know what? He can do it.

Think again only of our physical sense of smell.

Some things we might hate the smell of before, we might learn to actually like.

Over the years, including the many times I spent at my friend’s house, I actually came to appreciate the smell of a dairy farm.

Who would have thought that after my first reaction in Grade 1?

The same can happen to anyone who first rejects the gospel. God can change us.

 

But if the message of Christ has the fragrance of life to you, then rejoice!

The gospel smells like life to those who are being saved.

 

The second question for us this afternoon is this:

Are you spreading the fragrance of the knowledge of Christ wherever you go?

That’s what Paul did.

Whether he was in Ephesus or Troas or Macedonia, he spread that fragrance.

It was like a natural scent that he spread everywhere.

 

Does that describe you too?

Now you might think, well Paul was a missionary, it was his job.

And in some respects that’s true.

But the reality is, God can use us all to do this.  

In fact, Christians can’t help but spread the fragrance of Christ because Christ lives in us.

 

There are some churches that are scent free buildings. You can’t wear perfume or cologne.

But there’s one scent that should not be missing in any church – and that’s the aroma of Christ.

There should be a strong fragrance of Christ among us.

How do we do that?

We spread that fragrance in how we speak and act.

When you speak and act as sincere Christians you will spread the knowledge of Christ.

People will be able to tell there’s something different about you.

And you can spread this fragrance of Christ especially in telling others about the saviour Jesus!

 

Make it your aim to do this, beloved.

Women and girls, are you wearing the perfume of Jesus as you live your life?

Men and boys, are you wearing the cologne of Christ as you live your life?

Maybe you don’t wear cologne to work – who wears cologne on the jobsite?

But this cologne we should put on everyday.

 

Who is sufficient for these things? Says Paul.

Certainly we don’t do this perfectly.

But by God’s power, we can do this more and more.

And by God’s grace, many more will join in the triumphant procession of Christ. Amen.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 




* As a matter of courtesy please advise Rick VanderHorst, if you plan to use this sermon in a worship service.   Thank-you.
(c) Copyright 2023, Rick VanderHorst

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