Think for a moment about something that you love to smell. Is it a fresh pound cake baking in the oven or perhaps bacon frying in a pan? Maybe it is the aroma of coffee or spiced tea brewing? Perhaps it is the smell of freshly cut grass or a puppy. Each of us can identify smells that bring us pleasure.
Have you ever considered that there is an aroma that pleases God? Let us look to the Old Testament tabernacle and the furnishings within it to find the aroma that brings pleasure to our God.
In Exodus 30 we are told about the golden altar and the incense that was to be burned upon it. The altar of incense stood within the Holy Place, just outside the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies. On this altar, Aaron, the priest, was to burn fragrant incense every day while he went about his duties. The last part of verse 35 says that the incense was to be “salted, pure, and sacred.” This incense was to be considered holy to the Lord and was reserved solely for this purpose. The Hebrew word used for perfume, is ‘qetoreth’ and it means incense or perfume, but it also means “sweet smoke of sacrifice”.
The Holy of Holies was the place where God met with the high priest who represented the Israelites. So, if the Holy of Holies is where God ‘lived’ among the Israelites, then the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was, in essence, God’s front door. The altar of incense, then, became God’s doorbell for Moses and Aaron. The incense that burned continually on the altar offered up a pleasing aroma to God and signified that the Israelites were obeying God’s command for the tabernacle.
What does all this mean for us today? Every part of the Old Testament tabernacle points forward to Christ and his redeeming work on the cross. When Christ died on the cross, the veil in the temple that separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies was torn in two - signifying that God’s front door was now always open to all who would accept Christ as their personal Savior.
In Revelation 5:8 we are told the significance of the incense, “And when he had taken it (the scroll) emphasis mine, the four living creatures and the twenty four elders fell down before the Lamb. Each one had a harp and they were holding golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.” There it is. The incense, burned continuously by Aaron in the Old Testament tabernacle, pointed forward to the prayers that we offer up to God. Our prayers, like the incense, should be salted, pure, and holy. They are the sweet smoke of sacrifice and are a pleasing aroma to God.
Our prayers should always be offered with a sense of reverence and awe before God. They should be pure and should come from a heart that longs to please God and follow His commands. Often our prayers will be a sacrifice, especially when they are prayed according to the will of God rather than our own will.
Oswald Chambers’ words concerning prayer are especially poignant. He said, “Prayer does not fit us for the greater works; prayer is the greater work." Jesus knew this and showed us His absolute dependence upon prayer many times during His days on the earth. Luke 5:16 (NIV) tells us that “He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” Luke’s account of Christ’s prayer in the garden of Gethsemane imparts to us the importance of prayer in the life of Jesus. In this passage we find Christ not only going to His knees in prayer prior to being betrayed and crucified, but also telling Peter, James and John to pray so that they would not fall into temptation. Jesus knew the importance of prayer in the life of a child of God.
Our prayers serve to bring our will into conformity with the will of the Father. When our prayers glorify Christ Jesus and seek the will of the Father, they are fragrant incense to the Lord.