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Monday, September 16, 2013

"Maryam and Marziyeh: A beautiful fragrance of Jesus."

"But thank God! He has made us His captives and continues to lead us
along in Christ's triumphal procession.
Now He uses us to spread the knowledge of Christ everywhere,
like a sweet perfume. Our lives are a "Christ-like fragrance," rising
up to God.
But that fragrance is perceived differently by those who are being saved
and by those who are perishing.
To those who are perishing, we are a dreadful smell of death and doom.
But to those who are being saved, we are a life-giving perfume."
           ( 2 Corinthians 2: 14-16)

Recently I had the wonderful privilege of interviewing, Maryam Rostampour and Marziyeh Amirizadeh, authors of the incredible book, "Captive in Iran." Maryam and Marziyeh were guests on my blog talk radio program, "The Cross in the Desert," which is broadcasted live on the internet every Thursday afternoon.
"Captive in Iran" was a life-changing book for me as a Christian. It challenged my commitment and walk with Christ and taught me many valuable lessons on what it means to suffer and be persecuted for my Christian faith. 
Maryam and Marziyeh's powerful story is nothing short of a miracle! For 259 days they endured sickness, endless hours of interrogations, the threat of execution by hanging, but didn't focus on their desperate condition. Instead, they turned their prison captivity into an amazing opportunity for the gospel! 
Evin Prison became their church! Although Maryam and Marziyeh were imprisoned because of handing out bibles all over Iran, they refused to remain silent but prayed and shared Christ with all of the other women prisoners. Many of the other inmates came to them asking for prayer and inquiring why they were in prison. For nearly a year they reached out with compassion and love to political prisoners, drug addicts, lesbians and prostitutes who were spiritually empty and desperate for answers. Islam had not satisfied their heart's longing and many of them found a new life, a new beginning by accepting Christ as their lord and savior.
What was it that attracted these prisoners to Maryam and Marziyeh? It's really very simple.
Maryam and Marziyeh are humble, dedicated followers of Christ with a heart of mercy and compassion like their Savior. They are a beautiful fragrance of Jesus!
The Bible teaches that God is pleased to use us as His ambassadors, those who proclaim the life changing gospel of Christ to hungry and thirsty souls desperately searching for meaning in their lives. God says that we are a like a "sweet smelling perfume," and a fragrance of Christ. Our lives are to have a beautiful, sweet smelling aroma that will be attractive to the hurting and broken people that are all around us.
In 2 Corinthians 2:14-16, The Apostle Paul paints a vivid picture of a conquering Roman general riding into the city after winning a major conquest. There was a parade and a huge celebration, called the Triumph where the general was honored with a large procession. Walking behind the general were two groups of people, the slaves and the condemned. The group of slaves were beginning a new life of total obedience to the Roman empire, while the condemned group were on their way to a certain, vicious death. Ironically, the human race is divided into to these two groups, those who are being saved and those who are perishing.
During the procession, the sweet and attractive aroma of burning incense could be smelt all over the city. Crushed flowers were strewn on the ground under the hooves of horses.
Paul uses this illustration to point out to us that like the Roman general, we too are victorious because of the great triumph won by Christ as the cross. Christians are part of the great triumph and procession, daily going out into the marketplace proclaiming the glorious good news that Jesus has forgiven all of our guilt and shame. As ambassadors of Christ our lives are to be characterized by His mercy and compassion. Our lives should carry the sweet smelling perfume of life, a persuasive aroma drawing and attracting people to our message.
Under the Old Testament, the priest poured the fragrant anointing oil all over his clothes and garments so that everywhere he went he carried the fragrance of his commitment to the ministry. In the same way Christians are called to carry the message of the gospel with great dignity and humility so that wherever we go we carry the fragrance of God's truth to a hurting and broken world.
Paul goes on to point out that to, "those who are being saved,"  that is, those who are seeking the truth, we are to them the sweet smell of life. However to those who reject our message and have no desire to hear the truth, to them, we are the smell of death.
Listening to the incredible testimony of Maryam and Marziyeh, it is easy to see why prostitutes,
drug addicts and political prisoners were drawn to them. Their lives were characterized by mercy and compassion. They were bathed in the sweet smelling aroma of the beauty and love of Christ.
What kind of fragrance are you giving out to people? Are they attracted to your message?
Do you have a sweet smelling aroma that flows out from a life of compassion and mercy?
I want to close with the Message translation of this passage of Scripture. I think it best sums up how we are to look as ambassadors of Christ.

In the Messiah, in Christ, God leads us from place to place in one perpetual victory parade.
Through us, he brings the knowledge of Christ.
Everywhere we go, people breathe in the exquisite fragrance. Because of Christ, we give off a sweet scent arising to God,
which is recognized by those on the way to salvation, an aroma redolent with life,
but those on the way to destruction, treat us more like the stench from a rotting corpse."