Sermon by Pastor Ron Thomas

"The Tabernacle: Celebrating
The God Who Comes Near"

Rodgers Baptist Church
801 West Buckingham Rd. - Garland, TX 75040

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Preached 6/4/2008

The Tabernacle: Celebrating The God Who Comes Near
Lesson Eight: The Golden Altar Of Incense, The Place Of Prayer

Key Verse: Exodus 25:8. "And let them make me a sanctuary; that I may dwell among them."

Text: Exodus 30:1-10. "And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it. 2 A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same. 3 And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about. 4 And two golden rings shalt thou make to it under the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal. 5 And thou shalt make the staves of shittim wood, and overlay them with gold. 6 And thou shalt put it before the vail that is by the ark of the testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the testimony, where I will meet with thee. 7 And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. 8 And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations. 9 Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shall ye pour drink offering thereon. 10 And Aaron shall make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the LORD."

Introduction: Just recently, an article was published in a New England paper entitled, "Hindu students lack prayer space on MIT campus." Actually, there is space available on campus, but not the kind of space required for Hindu worship. Hindu students attending MIT complain that when they want to hold a religious gathering, they have to plan ahead. Why? First, before they can pray, they must transport their deities and place them in the room. Second, Hindus sit on the floor to pray, so all chairs and tables must be emptied from the room beforehand. Third, Hindus say that there are some deities they cannot worship without fire, and candles are prohibited from most rooms on campus for obvious reasons. Fourth, Hindus must remove their shoes before they pray, which are known to block hallways. They also argue that Hinduism is probably the fourth or fifth most common religion at MIT, and that the Hindus attending Harvard received their special prayer place last year. What a contrast between eastern religions and Christianity! I am reminded of Paul's words to the Thessalonians in I Thessalonians 1:9 which says, "For they themselves shew of us what manner of entering in we had unto you, and how ye turned to God from idols to serve the living and true God."

In Matthew 6:6, Jesus spoke of a secret or private place to pray. He said, "But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly." The word "closet," can be most any room available, as long as it provides a little privacy! It is a great thing to have a personal, private place to pray, but it is not required. Usually, private prayer is better prayer than public prayer, because it is not concerned with what people see and hear. Private prayer is usually more honest and genuine. Our text speaks of a special private place set aside where prayers were offered before the Lord God of Israel. Oddly enough, this place of prayer involved smoke and fire!

The golden altar of incense is the third piece of furniture in the Holy Place. Like the other pieces of furniture, it was made of acacia wood and overlaid with pure gold. The golden altar of incense stood higher than the other pieces of furniture in the Holy Place. It was three foot tall and eighteen inches square. Like the bronze altar, the golden altar had four horns at the top corners, except these horns were overlaid with pure gold. Like the table of shewbread, the golden altar was decorated with a crown of gold. There were two rings of gold on two sides of the altar, through which two golden poles could be inserted for the purpose of transporting it when the Tabernacle was moved. The golden altar of incense stood just outside the thick curtain or vial that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place.

The golden altar was built for the purpose of burning incense. Incense means to blow or to breathe. The rising sweet smoke from burning incense, gives off a pungent aroma. It represents our prayers, praise, and worship. The incense was burnt on pieces of hot coal, which the priests removed in a censer or fire pan from the altar of burnt offering in the courtyard. Twice a day as the priests entered the holy place to service the golden lampstand, they would renew the burning coals and the incense on the altar.

The incense used at the golden altar was unique. The sacred incense prescribed for use in the wilderness Tabernacle was made of costly materials which were contributed by the congregation. This divine formula was a fourfold mixture of rare spices, some of which are not identifiable today. No one could duplicate this incense for personal use. It could only be used for worship in the Holy Place. The composition of this special incense is listed in Exodus 30:34-38. "And the LORD said unto Moses, Take unto thee sweet spices, stacte (stack'- tee) , and onycha (oh-nigh'-kah), and galbanum (gal'-bun-um); these sweet spices with pure frankincense: of each shall there be a like weight: 35 And thou shalt make it a perfume, a confection after the art of the apothecary, tempered together, pure and holy: 36 And thou shalt beat some of it very small, and put of it before the testimony in the tabernacle of the congregation, where I will meet with thee: it shall be unto you most holy. 37 And as for the perfume which thou shalt make, ye shall not make to yourselves according to the composition thereof: it shall be unto thee holy for the LORD. 38 Whosoever shall make like unto that, to smell thereto, shall even be cut off from his people." The incense on the golden altar would burn continually. Once a year on the day of atonement, coals from the altar were taken in a censer, or fire holder, together with two handfuls of incense, into the Most Holy Place, where the incense was made to smoke before the mercy seat of the ark of the covenant. Leviticus 16:12 reads, "And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail."

The golden altar of incense, speaks of the present, heavenly ministry of Jesus as our personal High Priest and intercessor. At the brazen altar in the courtyard, Jesus died for us on Calvary. At the golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, Jesus has ascended into Heaven, and is interceding for us. The brazen altar in the courtyard, speaks of the death of Jesus Christ. The golden altar of incense in the Holy Place, speaks of the living, resurrected, ascended Jesus. These two altars give us the complete gospel. Jesus can ever intercede for us, because of His atoning work on the cross of Calvary! Hebrews 9:24 reads, "For Christ is not entered into the holy places made with hands, which are the figures of the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us."

As we consider the golden altar of incense, each part bears a message worthy of our consideration.

Like the table of shewbread, the composition of the golden altar of incense speaks of the twofold nature of Jesus Christ as our High Priest. The acacia wood overlaid with pure gold, represents His humanity and deity. This makes Jesus the perfect High Priest. Hebrews 2:16-18 says, "For verily He (Jesus) took not on Him the nature of angels; but He took on Him the seed of Abraham. 17 Wherefore in all things it behoved Him to be made like unto His brethren, that He might be a merciful and faithful high priest in things pertaining to God, to make reconciliation for the sins of the people. 18 For in that He himself hath suffered being tempted, He is able to succour (help) them that are tempted." Recently I have been visiting the hospitals and on two occasions came across people with broken legs, who are wearing the Ilizarov external fixator. Seeing these people, I was immediately moved to speak to them and encourage them! Why? I have been through that particular trial! It is the same with every trial. When we pass through certain trials and sufferings, we are better able to sympathize and comfort others who are going through the same trials and afflictions. Jesus having lived and suffered in the flesh, is sympathetic to our sufferings, trials, temptations, and afflictions! Notice Hebrews 4:14-15. "Seeing then that we have a great high priest, that is passed into the heavens, Jesus the Son of God, let us hold fast our profession. 15 For we have not an high priest which cannot be touched with the feeling of our infirmities; but was in all points tempted like as we are, yet without sin. 16 Let us therefore come boldly unto the throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy, and find grace to help in time of need."

The crown of the golden altar. The crown on the golden altar of incense speaks of the high office of Jesus Christ as our sinless, resurrected, glorified eternal High Priest, who continually makes intercession for us. As the sinless, Son of God, Jesus is a better High Priest. Jesus wasn't a victim of sin and suffering. As the Son of God, Jesus was victorious over sin and suffering! Unlike earthly high priest, Jesus never sinned, never had to offer a sacrifice for His own sin, and never had to die for His sin. Jesus died for our sins, and as the resurrected Savior, lives on eternally to intercede for us! Hebrews 7:22-28 expresses this truth. It says, "By so much was Jesus made a surety of a better testament. 23 And they truly were many priests, because they were not suffered to continue by reason of death: 24 But this man, because He continueth ever, hath an unchangeable priesthood. 25 Wherefore He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them. 26 For such an high priest became us, who is holy, harmless, undefiled, separate from sinners, and made higher than the heavens; 27 Who needeth not daily, as those high priests, to offer up sacrifice, first for his own sins, and then for the people's: for this He did once, when He offered up Himself. 28 For the law maketh men high priests which have infirmity; but the word of the oath, which was since the law, maketh the Son, who is consecrated for evermore."

The four horns of the golden altar. The four horns at the top corners of the golden altar bear a twofold message.

First, the four horns speak of Christ's ministry extending to the four corners of the earth. As our High Priest, Jesus prays continually for His own, no matter where they are or what circumstances they find themselves. When Peter was about to experience the greatest trial and temptation of his life, Jesus attempted to prepare him for it, and told him that He would pray for him. Luke 22:31-32 reads, "And the Lord said, Simon, Simon, behold, Satan hath desired to have you, that he may sift you as wheat: 32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren." Jesus knew that Peter would fail his test, but prayed that he would be preserved through it and in the end, better for it!

Second, the four horns on the altar speak both of the power and provision of prayer. The fact that these four horns were covered with blood from the daily sin sacrifice and on the day of atonement, reveals that prayer is a blood bought privilege. We cannot approach the golden altar of incense until we deal with our sin at the brazen altar. We cannot afford to take the privilege of prayer lightly. Also, when we confess our sins to Jesus, they are forgiven and cleansed and covered by the blood! I John 1:8-9 reads, "If we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us. 9 If we confess our sins, He (Jesus) is faithful and just to forgive us our sins, and to cleanse us from all unrighteousness." Notice I John 2:1-2. "My little children, these things write I unto you, that ye sin not. And if any man sin, we have an advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous: 2 And He is the propitiation for our sins: and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."

No matter where we are on the earth, no matter what time of day or night, we are connected to the throne room of Heaven! Our High Priest, Jesus Christ hears and answers our prayers. The prayers of the saints can topple godless governments, open prison doors, heal the sick, lift and renew hearts and minds, change hearts and minds, and greatest of all, save the lost!

The incense of the golden altar. The incense is a symbol of prayers of the saints going up to God as a sweet fragrance. Psalms 141:2 says, "Let my prayer be set forth before thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." As the sweet smoke of the incense rises heavenward, we can be sure that God in Heaven, highly regards and is pleased by our prayers. We get a view of this in Revelation 8:3-4. "And another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. 4 And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel's hand." From this vivid, futuristic scene, we can draw encouragement and boldness, concerning the usually quiet activity of prayer.

God desires His house to be a place of prayer. Isaiah 56:7 says, "Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer: their burnt offerings and their sacrifices shall be accepted upon mine altar; for mine house shall be called an house of prayer for all people." A church is measured differently by God. Men measure a church by the size of its membership, by it's activities or programs available, or it's building. God sees things differently! In Matthew 12:12-13, it says, "And Jesus went into the temple of God, and cast out all them that sold and bought in the temple, and overthrew the tables of the moneychangers, and the seats of them that sold doves, 13 And said unto them, It is written, My house shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves." Obviously prayer is a priority for Jesus when it comes to His church! If prayer is a vital component of the Christian life, it makes sense that the place where Christians assemble, would be a house of prayer!

Today, incense is burned in Hindu and Buddhist temples, as well as in certain so called "Christian churches." There is no basis for this practice in Scripture. Study the Gospels, the book of Acts, and the New Testament letters to the churches, and you will not find censers listed, much less required for church services. There is no record of it in the history of the early churches! It was not until the latter part of the sixth century with Gregory the Great, that we find incense being used in Catholic church services! Why is incense not required? Jesus Christ as the prefect sin sacrifice and High Priest, has fulfilled the Law, replaced the need for sacrifices, as well as the need for an earthly priesthood!

The burning coals on the golden altar. Leviticus 16:12-13 reads, "And he shall take a censer full of burning coals of fire from off the altar before the LORD, and his hands full of sweet incense beaten small, and bring it within the vail: 13 And he shall put the incense upon the fire before the LORD, that the cloud of the incense may cover the mercy seat that is upon the testimony, that he die not." The incense is ineffective, until it comes into contact with the hot coals on the altar. The incense was fueled by the fire from the altar. The prayers on our lips are ignited by the fire of passion, sincerity, in our hearts. This fire in our prayers is described by Paul in Ephesians 6:18 as he writes from prison. "Praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit, and watching thereunto with all perseverance and supplication for all saints."

The altar of incense was located just outside the thick curtain separating the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place. We are never closer to the heart of God, than when we are praying. Charles Stanley is known in part for his 30 life principles. Life principle # 8 says, "Fight all your battles on your knees, and you win every time." Are you accessing God through prayer as you should? God wants an intimate relationship with you more than anything else you can give Him. Prayer is the way to enter that close relationship. Call upon Him now!

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