Summary: Paul paints a word picture of believers, as former enemies conquered by grace, as conquerors, and as a fragrant aroma.
Note: I lit a piece of incense at the beginning of my sermon...also this has some Christmas references, but is not a Christmas sermon per se.
Some of you may be familiar with the Grand March from Verdi's opera Aida. In the first act there is an elaborate, triumphant procession to mark the victory of the Egyptian army over the Ethiopians. I saw a staged production and it appeared that hundreds of people were marching past Pharaoh's reviewing stand...that is, until I realized they were going behind the stage and coming back around!
The Romans also held lavish victory parades, which were major events. A triumphant arch would be constructed, and the Roman Legion would march through the Imperial City with all the theatric pomp and circumstance Rome could muster. There were wagons laden with the spoils of war. Marching with the conquerors would be musicians, singers, incense bearers, and slaves scattering flowers. There'd be a massive victory banquet. The highest honor a Roman General could receive was to lead one of these parades, dressed in a regal purple robe with gold embroidery. There were also scenes of utmost despair and dishonor, as the conquered army, now prisoners, were paraded before the people, bound in chains, behind the chariots of the conquerors. This is likely the image Paul had in mind when he wrote to Corinth.
Christmas is a time of triumph, yet Jesus certainly didn't appear like a conquering king...because His kingdom wasn't of this world. But one day,m when He returns, it will be in triumph. Every knee will bow before Him, and the King of kings will reign forever.
Who are we in this imagery? Paul is either describing us as the victors or the ones conquered. In a way, both images are true.
We come to Christ as prisoners, vs 14...
I used to serve as prisoner escort for soldiers headed to the Disciplinary Barracks at Fort Leavenworth, Kansas. We took commercial aircraft to get there. On one flight, a civilian woman sat next to one of our prisoners and, not knowing he was incarcarated (we kept a low profile; we were in uniform but he wasn't cuffed), she tried to engage him in conversation: “So where are you headed? How long will you be there?” His vague and evasive answer were pretty comical. He was politely trying not to reveal his true status.
What's our status? We think of ourselves as followers, not prisoners. Yet when we come to Christ, we come surrendering. We yield to Him, because He has conquered our hearts. Paul describes unbelievers as enemies of God, which we were. Those being led in triumphant procession in Rome were being led to their death. At the end of the parade, Romans executed their conquered foes as a sacrifice to the gods. Their death was to reveal the glory of the one who conquered them. Bonhoeffer says, “When Christ calls us, He bids us to 'come and die'.” We die to sin and self and are born-again. Paul declared, “I die every day” (I Cor 15:31). We who were God's enemies have been happily defeated, overcome by grace. Our defeat magnifies the majesty and sovereignty of God.