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We Have an Altar


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We Have AN Altar

“We have an altar where those who served in the tabernacle have no right to eat” Heb 13:4-7.
We have an Altar. Not we should have one, but that we do. This proclamation is so suggestive and meaningful that it demands our full attention.
Do we as Priests by virtue of the new covenant have an altar that we are required to minister at?
If so what purpose do I come? And what is required of me when I come to this altar?
To understand what Paul was saying we must look at the altar to see what we may learn.

The leader of a Christian Political Party appeared in court in NZ charged with sexual offences including the rape of a girl under 12. In court he appeared to be fighting back tears.
For years he fronted as a morally conservative Christian. He was a prosecutor for the police in abuse cases. How different things could have been had he maintained his personal altar. My heart felt deeply for his victims; and his family as the tragic consequences of his actions played out. God will forgive and restore the penitent, furthermore he will forget. But the unforgiving world is keeps records and never forgets.

DO YOU HAVE AN ALTAR?

You may say, “What are you talking about? I’m not sure that I understand what you mean”.
I’m talking about the most important aspect of your Christian life.
The Altar speaks of reconciliation and adjustment that come to us by way of substitutionary sacrifice.
Psalm 50: “Gather my people together, those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice”.

Psalm 103: “Forget not all his benefits, bless the Lord oh my soul.
Every benefit I have ever received came by way of the Altar.
Every benefit we can ever hope to profit by can only come by way of the Altar.
If it comes by another way it will eventually harm me.

When Israel lived around the Altar they were times of peace and prosperity. Sadly in this regard they failed miserably to maintain the Altars and suffered the due consequences. When the Altars were neglected, and allowed to fall into disrepair they were severely chastened by the Lord, and savaged by their enemies.

THE ALTAR, THE SACRIFICE AND THE TABLE

God has left us in no doubt as to what the nature of our relationship with Him is founded upon, when He said in Psalm 50:1, “gather my people together those that have made a covenant with me by sacrifice”. Sacrifice is central to everything we possess, and all we do. We approach God through the sacrifice of His Son and all business with God is transacted around this holy theme. No other method is acceptable to God.

Every offering pointed forward to the perfect sacrifice of Jesus Christ. The lives of the patriarchs and Israel revolved around the altar of sacrifice. Noah, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob, Moses, Joshua, Gideon, Samuel, David and all these men, under varying circumstances raised altars. They turned times of tragic sorrow, or great joy; of victory or defeat into opportunities for raising an altar. When they sinned and had been overcome they always returned to the altar. These men were always building altars. And so also should we, for we too have an altar.

Hebrews 13:10 “We have an altar, where they have no right to eat that serve the tabernacle.” An altar stood for the benefits of the sacrifices. In Christianity, as well as being a place to meet with God it stands for the benefits of the death of Christ. Paul also goes on to compare the sacrifice of animals to that of Christ; the animals being burnt without the camp, prefigures Christ being crucified outside the gates of Jerusalem. From Moses time careful instructions were given for the raising of private altars. It was not just ceremonial; it was central to everything.

The whole nation camped around the tabernacle with the Altar guarding the way to the presence of Jehovah. Today the Mosaic ritual has been superseded, except that essential element that the altar symbolized has remained.

When they built an altar what did it mean? At the altar they “got back (returned) to God.” As they watched the sacrifice being devoured by fire “they thought about what they were doing”- and what was that? They were slaying the sacrifice for the readjustment of spiritual things; to make a new beginning; to worship Him for making it possible. It was made of common old earth and stones. Just bread and wine is all it takes. But the symbolism is mightily powerful.

It speaks of the availability of God to whomever, wherever, whenever.
Neither race nor creed nor station in life could deny any man. All that the altar speaks of points to the covenant memorial feast of the Lord’s Supper.
• It was a meeting place between God and man.
• It expresses our unshakable belief in God.
• It is an admission of our constant need for God.

It is a place where God will listen too, and answer the human heart in its great need.
You don’t have to come; you can choose to make your own decision about that. But one thing you cannot do is choose the consequences of your decision.

• It shows when we come of our desire for Him.
• It demonstrates our submission to Him.
• It is where we draw strength from.

They were sustained as long as they ate of the offering. It typified the atonement through Jesus Christ and the remembrance feast He instituted with two elements, bread and wine John 6:53-58. In every case after the altar was restored there was advancement. And everywhere that there was advancement and progress the presence of an altar was found. One of the first signs of revival was the repairing of altars and erecting new ones. When the altars were used they were times of prosperity, 1 Corinthians 10:13.

Any blessing, any prosperity even though it comes from God and was intended for me, (and God most certainly does want to bless me) that does not lead me to erect an altar of acknowledgement and thanksgiving will eventually harm me.

We can find no record of Lot ever building an altar, why? Because the altar speaks of submission and sacrifice, and so God separated Abraham from Lot. Just as God gave strict instructions for the building of altars, so too has He given stern guidelines in regard to how we must approach ‘this table’ of examination and remembrance. When Adam and Eve sinned God banished them from the Garden. Then, lest they also put forth their hand and take and eat of the tree of life and live forever in their sinful state, He placed Cherubims by a flaming sword to protect the way to the tree of life.

Genesis 3:22-24. “And the Lord God said, Behold, the man is become as one of us, to know good and evil: and now, lest he put forth his hand, and take also of the tree of life, and eat, and live for ever. Therefore the Lord God sent him forth from the Garden of Eden to till the ground from whence he was taken. So He drove out the man; and He placed at the east of the Garden of Eden Cherubims, and a flaming sword which turned every way, to keep the way of the tree of life.”

The consequences had Adam partaken of the tree of life are too terrible to contemplate. We must never forget that this remembrance Supper that we are called to commemorate is a feast with consequences. Just as surely as God ordered cherubims and a flaming sword to guard the way to the tree of life, so too has He given explicit instructions by the manner in which we are to come.

There is a way of approach to the place where we remember with thankful hearts His redeeming sacrifice. “Who shall ascend into the hill of the Lord? He that hath clean hands, and a pure heart, and hath not lifted his soul up unto vanity or sworn deceitfully”. So also must we approach the Lord’s Table? We come to examine ourselves, to settle accounts with God and with one another. It is here that by confession and forgiveness we can be readjusted, and find grace to help in times of need. It is here that our souls are refreshed. The consequences are not just negative, but positively glorious, strengthening and healing, so we can say with the psalmist “you have prepared a table for me in the presence of my enemies; you have anointed my head with oil; and my cup runs over.”

Think of those words, “in the presence of my enemies.” It’s a table for “me”, where “my” cup runs over. Every enemy is silenced here, and not only dumbfounded, but also defeated. It’s the place of healing, miracles, and restoration.

God’s Food

Leviticus 21:6.
“Present the offerings made to the Lord by fire, the (bread) food of their God.” Here God identified the offerings of the priests as His food, not that God needed actual meat and grain to eat, but it pointed to His claim on the sacrifice. The satisfaction He sought ascended to Him through the obedience of prescribed worship laid down in the Tabernacle sacrifices. He wanted worship. As often as His people expected to eat, God expected His portion of the sacrifice. If this is what He requested under the “Shadow of better things to come”, how much more He desires it from us this side of the cross.

Picture if you will the priest taking the sacrifice and slaying it. Then he divides it according to God’s command to Moses. As it burned ascending as a sweet smelling savour the Lord consumes his portion. The priests’ portion is roasted upon the altar and then consumed. Thus God is satisfied and the priesthood is sustained by the same sacrifice. All the work at the altar pictured God’s work in Christ. The implied message is clear; God wants to be richly rewarded with worship. It is like food to Him. He wants it lovingly prepared; constantly remembered; generously and gratefully offered. Nothing but Christ satisfies Him.

We Too Must Feed On Him.
John 6: 53, 63. “Then Jesus said unto them, Verily, verily, I say unto you, except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink His blood, ye have no life in you; For my flesh is meat indeed, and my blood is drink indeed. It is the spirit that comes alive, the flesh profits nothing, the words that I speak unto you are spirit and they are life.”

Since the cross no better food than Christ can be found for God’s servants because He is the essential ingredient that makes true worship possible. Those who commune with God know the value of Jesus flesh and blood. Sadly we often offer Him a plate filled with things He never ordered, such as a sermon and song service where no table is present. Adulterated food will not do for God. What the Father seeks are people that are consumed with loving gratitude for the Son of His love that offered Himself by the Eternal Spirit unto God for our salvation.

1 John 1:3. “That which we have seen and heard declare we unto you, that ye also may have fellowship with us: and truly our fellowship is with the Father, and with His Son Jesus Christ.”

Real fellowship implies much more than just sharing our lives with one another. Our fellowship is also with the Father and the Son. It must include them in fact. How can this become a reality in our lives? It has been made possible through the Father’s unspeakable gift to us, His beloved Son in whom He is well pleased, memorialised often with bread and wine by grateful saints. Fellowship that does not lead us to worship the Father thus misses the mark. “True worshippers will worship the Father in spirit and truth, for the Father is seeking such to worship Him” John 4: 23.

Old Testament saints understood that sacrifice was central to worship, and it is wrong to assume that Christian worship is any different. Although our Lord Jesus made one final sacrifice for sins never to be repeated, we are to offer what Peter calls spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God by Christ Jesus. This can only be done when one’s whole attention is focused upon God’s unspeakable gift around a table with two elements, bread and wine, as we are lost in wonder, love and praise.

Hebrews 13:15.
“By Him therefore let us offer the sacrifice of praise to God continually that is, the fruit of our lips giving thanks to His name.”

When we worship or pray in the Spirit two things happen. Jesus is being exalted, and we are being ushered into another environment. The law of displacement in physics tells us that when you fill a container with water it displaces what was there before. Worship Him and He becomes the focus of our attention. He has given us His attention all our lives and even before, but in worship He gets ours. This sets up His throne in our midst and brings a response by a Spirit empowered word. John 6:63. With the high praises of God in our mouth and a two edged sword in our hand let us go to Him. Psalm 149:6; Colossians 3: 1-2.

Judges And Kings

People who ignore history often find themselves reliving it. 1 Corinthians 10:13. The history of Israel after the deaths of Moses and Joshua was a very sorry one indeed. Had Israel continued on with what Joshua had started when they first entered the land all would have been well, but the flesh can never be trusted? Accordingly the book of Judges is a distressful story of failure. Repeatedly Israel turned their back on Jehovah and worshipped idols, and just as frequently He delivered them into the hands of their enemies.

The book of Judges not only tells of repeated failures; but it also tells us of several spiritual revivals in the mercy of God. From time to time men of faith were raised up such as Gideon but sadly they were few and far between. Under King David came the greatest revival of them all to that point in time. Everything was in ruins when Jehovah took him from the sheep folds, and made him King over his people. The priesthood was corrupt and spiritually bankrupt. The king of the peoples choice, Saul, had been slain and the exceptional Jonathan with him. “Then the Lord awakened as a mighty man that shouted by reason of wine” (Psalm 78:65).

In David at Mount Zion He gave Israel a new start in grace and favour. At long last the Ark was back in Jerusalem among God’s people. It was a time of great joy and jubilation.

The ordinance of King David to bring back the Ark is found in 1 Chron 15: 22-28. However the effects of this like every revival were temporary and purely transient.

Shortly after the house that Solomon built was dedicated then God in all His glory came down for the King and all the people to witness, and although His visible presence was in the midst it wasn’t long before they went a whoring after idols. Solomon who commenced his reign with such promise would soon rebuild the “high places” and through his wives allow idolatry to be re-established in Israel. After the kingdom had been divided there was a revival under Jehoshaphat, but like all its predecessors it too was short lived.

Two Great Passovers

Two great commemorative Passovers are recorded in the Old Testament. The first was during the reign of King Hezekiah, the second during King Josiah’s reign. Let’s see what instruction we can receive from the Lord, with regard to the restoration of these two Passovers by both these kings. Hezekiah’s was the first Passover to be kept in Jerusalem since the division of the Kingdom after the death of Solomon 260 years before 2 Chronicles 30:5, 26. It seems almost unimaginable that the people of God could have neglected for so long this memorial feast commanded by the Lord, but they had Exodus 12: 24.

There were many shortcomings in its observance, for which Hezekiah humbly sought the pardon of Jehovah (2 Chron 30:18-20). But it was a move in the right direction that resulted in a great revival.

The Passover is kept under King Josiah.
One hundred years had passed since Hezekiah’s revival. None of the kings of Israel had kept such a Passover as Josiah did. There had in fact never been a Passover kept like it since the days of Samuel the prophet. Josiah was careful that everything should be done in strict accordance with the written word. It was during this period, the thirteenth year of Josiah’s reign that Jeremiah commenced his ministry Jeremiah 1: 2.

Josiah’s Activities Are Powerfully Instructive. 2 Chronicles 34:3-7.
At the age of 16 Josiah turned to God. For the next four years he became increasingly aware of the conditions around him. His position as king made him feel that it wasn’t sufficient to get his personal life in right standing with God, but he felt also that he must purge the land of it’s abominations and lead the people back to God.

Its not our duty in this day and age to go around with axes and hammers to destroy everything that is hateful to God as Josiah did. The lord will deal with all this in due course. Our present duty is twofold. First to examine all our ways and associations by the word of God, and secondly to use our influence to help others return to the true paths. Bold testimony is called for in regions where the truth is most needed.


How far I wonder are we prepared to move out from the warm shelter of the institution we might have founded to promote our personal ministry. We have made life within our ghettos very comfortable places to dwell in. See and note well how Josiah began by purging Judah of its “high places.” (2 Timothy 2:20-21).

The high places were an expression of the self-will of people who were under the binding influence of Satan. God would choose His own centre for worship. He always has and always will. And there the tribes of Israel were to bring their sacrifices and offerings. Shiloh in Ephraim was Jehovah’s first dwelling place (Jeremiah 7:12). Later He chose Zion (Psalm 78:60-68).

During the years of confusion after the Ark fell into the hands of the Philistines, even pious people worshipped at “high places.” Samuel did this (1 Samuel 9:12-25). But such practices became sin after the Temple was built and filled with the cloud of Jehovah’s presence. It is difficult to imagine, that after all that Solomon had experienced of God, he would lead the way in that great sin when he built high places for Chemosh and for all the gods of his pagan wives. (1 Kings 11:1-8).

Turning to ourselves, have we learned to be obedient in all things to the word of God, or are we merely offering lip service, in particular, to the subject of this book? We seem to have taken matters into our own hands in this day and age when it comes to how we worship; where we worship; and who we wish to listen to, and who we don’t. The wonderful blessings that Christ will afford are largely unknown by people who choose such a course.

Surely He has not left us to our own devices in matters so sacred and important! He, who was so precise even down to the smallest details of service and worship connected with His earthly people, is not indifferent in His dealings with His heavenly saints! Surely He has spoken! Are we willing in the spirit of humility to search His Holy Word with care and ask Him for grace to obey what’s written regardless of the cost?

Our answer can be found in this most profound yet simple conversation that took place at a well between the Lord and a Samaritan woman in John 4:21-24. His pointed and most heart-searching words should make us all feel the seriousness about having to do with God.

She desired to learn from Him where God could be found, for there was much controversy concerning this subject. Her fathers had for centuries worshipped on Mount Gerizim, but the Jews had argued that in Jerusalem was the place where men ought to worship. She was stating her difficulty to the one who could best answer it.

Here standing before her was one who had come from Heaven to lead willing hearts into sweeter communion than had ever been known. He said, “Women believe me.” Oh that we would be willing to believe every word that comes from His gracious lips. Instead many listen to the voices of the religious and follow them blindly. “Woman believe me, the hour cometh when you shall neither in this mountain, nor yet in Jerusalem, worship the Father”.

The day for religious material centres is past. Those who point to one and speak of it as the “house of God” are two thousand years behind the times in their thoughts. God will be satisfied with nothing but worship from the overflowing hearts of those who are in conscious relationship with Him as His children. “Worship in spirit and truth” is what He desires, and (“the Father seeks such to worship Him”).

Choreographed and rehearsed musicals are no substitute for true worship. Expensive décor and ritualistic services are an offence to Him, for they are relics of Paganism and Judaism. Any simple building, even a humble home will suffice as meeting places for God’s saints during the Christian era.

The true rallying centre is indicated in Matthew 18:20, “Where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” It is not saying that gatherings must be limited to two or three, but it is saying beware of the “high places” where true koinonia around a simple table, with bread and wine upon it is disregarded.

Every place where He has been snubbed and replaced by some contrived religious service, revolving around a personality in a pulpit, must change. We may not be called upon to destroy them as Josiah did in his day; but it is our bounden duty to return, and to be obedient to all things in the Word of God. I draw your attention once again to the purpose of this article. “Do this in remembrance of me.” Are you doing it? Do you do it “oft”? Will you continue to do it “until He comes”?

Josiah lived in the twilight of Israel’s national history. We too are living in the late evening of the history of the Christian witness on earth. For Israel the time for judgment and destruction and banishment was near. For the whole earth a great shaking is upon us. He who is pure and Holy will shortly spew out of His mouth the unreal portion that profess to be Christians and are not (Revelation 3:22). The fruitless branches will be cut out of God’s olive tree. (Romans 10:22).

IN RETROSPECT

Some of you may feel that some of the statements here are perhaps a little too strong, in particular where reference was made to many saints who have been weakened and in some cases even died because of wilful sin in the body of Christ. In closing allow me to draw to your attention to an incident in the life of the Israel, “The Church in the wilderness.”

Joshua 22:20. “Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel, and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.” This passage is in reference to that day when 3000 men suffered an embarrassing defeat at the hands of a small force belonging to the king of Ai. The account is recorded in Joshua 7.

Although only one man sinned, the consequences of his trespass had far reaching effects upon the whole nation of Israel, as we shall see. Joshua knew nothing of Achan’s treachery as they took counsel together to attack Ai. Yet their best-laid plans were to mean nothing because Joshua 7:1 states, “The Children of Israel committed a trespass in the accursed thing.” Not all of them sinned, but one man did commit a trespass bringing disgrace upon all the people of Israel.

Joshua 6:18 “Keep yourselves from the accursed thing lest you become accursed and make the camp of Israel a curse and trouble it.” As a result of Achan’s sin the anger of the Lord was kindled against all Israel. An “accused thing” was anything ordered to be devoted to destruction. In the case of Jericho everything was to be utterly destroyed, only the silver the gold, and vessels of brass and iron” were to be spared, they were then consecrated unto the Lord and placed in the Lord’s treasury vs. 19. All the best intentions of the leaders will not avert the tragedy that is about to unfold. And so they made their preparations to take the city vs. 2–5, but it would be to no avail, for they were shamefully defeated. “Therefore they could not stand before their enemies because they were accursed Vs 12.”

Joshua 23:10 “And the men of Ai smote them.”
About thirty-six men died in the first assault. Then they chased the remainder and continued to smite more of them vs. 5, and so great fear fell upon all the people.

This tragedy never would have occurred if all of Israel had stayed free from sin. One man’s trespass brought about this defeat and caused the death of more than thirty-six men of war. That day many women became widows and their children fatherless. Joshua and the elders rent their garments and lay all day until even upon their faces before the Ark of the Covenant. As they sought the Lord as to why this had befallen them, Joshua began to cry and to protest to God. His complaint sounds similar to the murmuring of Israel at the waters of Marah.

How often we attend seminars looking for answers to our problems, and cures for our ailments while refusing to consider the sin factor. The Lord’s response was short and to the point and should have been obvious to Joshua from the first. “Why are you lying upon your face Joshua?” “Stand on your feet; Israel has sinned!” Neither prayer meetings nor fasting will resolve this problem.

Vs 13 “You can’t stand before your enemies until you take away the accursed thing from among you.” He that covers his sin will not prosper — if I regard iniquity in my heart the Lord will not hear me — that your prayers be not hindered — Israel had sinned and so must be judged and cleansed. So they began to trace the sin to the culprit. How long it took to find him among two million people we don’t know, but it could have taken several days. During all that time the culprit could have come forward and acknowledged his sin. Instead he continued to cover it up until it was too late for him to come and receive mercy as provided for under the law of the “trespass offering.”

Leviticus 5:1-6. Under this law any person who was aware of sin and kept silent by failing to report it to the elders was adjudged an accessory to the crime. I believe it would have been impossible for Achan to hide in his tent what he had stolen from the Lord and keep the knowledge of his sin a secret from every member of his family. They were in collusion with him without a doubt, and for this, they too would perish with him.

Joshua 22:20. “Did not Achan the son of Zerah commit a trespass in the accursed thing, and wrath fell on all the congregation of Israel, and that man perished not alone in his iniquity.”

These three things stolen by Achan, a goodly Babylonian garment; 200 shekels of silver; and a wedge of gold weighing 50 shekels are suggestive by their very nature. Over the years we have witnessed a growing emphasis on silver and gold by most pastors for no good purpose, and we are only seeing the tip of the iceberg.

Sadly, too much preaching has revolved around materialism. Is it any wonder that the Christianity is going nowhere when the place where the real culprit ‘sin’ can be dealt with is shamefully ignored? The remedy is not difficult to find. All that it requires is for us to humble ourselves and return to the centrality of the cross to meet with Christ and each other around two elements, bread and wine.

If this were done often, then all would be well. The supremacy of the “Table” in our gatherings cannot be challenged. It is of paramount importance that we recognize this fact; for it is here that we will find grace to help us to make life changes. And so the Lord waits at the table for us to come. He is unwilling to expose sin in His children and so He gives us space to repent.

“Let A Man Examine Himself, And So Let Him Eat”.
“Do I expect these systems and their ministers that depend largely upon the three things Achan stole to change?” No I don’t, I’m not that stupid. Is that then a good enough reason not to speak out? I think not.

One thing we all can do is encourage one another to break bread in our homes with our families and with serious seekers of The Truth; The Way; The Life which is Jesus Christ! We should do it, and do it “oft” in remembrance of Him to whom we owe everything. Under no circumstances should we allow anyone or anything to prevent us from meeting with Him at this feast that He has prepared and invited us to attend. For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there “I AM” in the midst. This is Christ in the midst of His people.

To the saints in Ephesus He said “I have this against you; you LEFT your first love; the love feast at His Table. “Remember therefore and DO the first works OR ELSE.

We commenced this article with a declaration taken from Hebrews 13: 4-7 “we have an Altar”.
Let’s try and see what does this mean?

It is the place where we may draw nigh to God.
It is imperative that we come, because it is NOT an optional extra.
We need to build a personal Altar in our hearts, and live beside it all our lives. We need to come oft for re-adjustment.

For how long must I continue to come to this altar?
Until He comes for us personally or collectively.

What must I bring to the Altar?
We need a perfect sacrifice;
We need a Priest.
We need ‘Fire’ the conviction of the Holy Spirit.

In Moses day it was the responsibility of the priests to keep the fire alive from camp to camp. “He offered Himself by the Eternal Spirit”.
What will we find when we come? We will find forgiveness and grace to help in times of need.


The sacrifice must be perfect.
WHY, because a perfect God demands one.
It is the only place that His demands are fully satisfied.

 
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Shaun Kearney
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