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Monday, February 15, 2016

O come to the altar

 Often I'm the one who has to learn lessons the hard way, who has to have life lived her way, even if it means being in pain. Jane Austen once said that, "I wish, as well as everybody else, to be perfectly happy; but like everybody else, it must be in my own way." I want it my way, because at least then I'll feel some odd sense of control if I know that I am putting myself through this pain, this misunderstanding. At least I can kid myself into thinking I'm in control. 

And yet through this selfishness, God whispers His truths to me. The word altar keeps coming to me. Through the old testament, the new testament, recently a song, in small group, random conversation... God keeps whispering to me the importance of altars. And as I was listening to a song that my brother recommended the other day, His truth hit me. 

Altars were used for a plethora of purposes in ancient times, though namely sacrifices and ebenezers (reminders of Gods faithfulness). The Old Testament, especially Leviticus, goes into great lengths and detail to describe to the people how perfect their offerings must be before the altar of God. Everything must be cleaned, prepared in a holy manner, without blemish, with the finest and most precious sacrifice. These sacrifices were precursors to the real Sacrifice, and God demanded that His people use the most innocent blood of animals, because one day His Son, the most undeserving innocent in Creation, would willingly be our portion, our sacrifice, because of His great love for His people. Therefore, these Old Testament offerings, while nothing close to the purest sacrifice in Christ, would at least be a representation of something clean, pure, blameless and precious, not deserving of sacrifice. 


The other use for altars were monuments built to remember the goodness of God. The Israelites built them continuously throughout their history as reminders that God was with them, that He was good, faithful and that His promises were everlasting, even if His people forgot them. To build these altars, they would take broken things, random things and drag them, no matter how heavy or awkward, to create an altar to God. Rocks, wood, fragments, pottery, pieces of things, big and large, they would drag, and this would serve as their memory to remember Him. 


These two altars, sacrificial and reminders, are so very different... and yet you cannot appreciate one without the other. In my life, as I hopelessly try to hide my sin, to burry it or ignore and try to be happy on my own terms, God says, "No. This is not the purpose of sin. This is not where I want your sin, buried or hidden. I want all of it. I want all of you with your broken pieces and I want you to put them  in a pile and give them to me."       


Oh but it's painful, God. 


Jack Hayford, in his book A Time for Altars, says this: 


"What it takes to build an altar are rocks, broken things. The geological application is relevant: there are volcanic explosions in our lives, seismic events, the grinding of life. You can take hard things and arrange them before the Lord or you can drag the rocks around and be burdened by them. Or when you’re frustrated at lugging them around, you get mad and throw them at somebody else. The way you build an altar is to bring those hard, broken things before the Lord and put them there.


The price of altering is that you have to pour your life out over it: Lord, I come and present myself to You. At the altar, the price was paid for renewal when we've been at a distance, for securing hope that we may have thought was lost, and for receiving promise even if its in an unpleasant environment. As we come to the Table, we come to the ultimate altar, where the ultimate promise and provision is incarnate in the Lord Jesus Christ Himself." 


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These broken pieces are what He desires. Psalm 51:17 exemplifies our hearts in Davids anguish before the Lord, "My sacrifice, O God, is a broken spirit: a broken and contrite heart you, God, will not despise."


And this is where our sacrificial altar becomes an ebenezer to Him. When a sacrifice was to be presented before the Lord, a high priest, from the tribe of Levi, needed to present the offering because he was qualified and called by God as an intercessor for the people. They were the middle ground between the Israelites sin and God. But when Christ came, he became the Great High Priest, so that no more intercession was necessary. The most beautiful and painful truth of His priesthood is that He didn't present an innocent animal... He presented Himself. Through His precious blood, by His bloody wounds, He presented a perfect sacrifice so that our sacrifices could be our brokenness. 


Does this not astound you? We don't have to come before God with an innocent sacrifice or try to clean our heart because Christ has enabled us to come as we are, with broken things, offering our crushed hearts to Him. And what's even more beautiful is that through our acknowledgement of Christ and our realization that He has become our altar and our sacrifice, God sees our shattered, tattered and torn self as whole, complete and pure. Because God turned His face away from His own Son, He can look at us and see holiness through the Spirit and redemption.   


This is why He doesn't allow me to hide anything. 

This is why He doesn't allow me to live life on my own. 
This is why He requires my broken pieces; to create an altar.
This is why we can come to the altar. 
This is why He is our offering
Our sacrifice. 
Our redemption. 
Our high priest. 
Our altar. 


•••



"O come to the altar

The Father's arms are open wide
Forgiveness was bought with
The precious blood of Jesus Christ" 

O Come to the Altar

Elevation Worship

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