The Tabernacle: A Picture of God Calling Us Further
Praise the Lord! In a previous article, we had a good introduction where we were exposed to all the furniture of the tabernacle. In this article, we would like to look at our first complete piece of furniture: the bronze altar. Before we begin, let’s read Exodus 27:1-8:
“You shall make an altar of acacia wood, five cubits long and five cubits wide—the altar shall be square—and its height shall be three cubits. You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horn shall be of one piece with it. And you shall overlay it with bronze. Also you shall make its pans to receive its ashes, and its shovels and its basins and its forks and its firepans; you shall make all its utensils of bronze. You shall make a grate for it, a network of bronze; and on the network you shall make four bronze rings at its four corners You shall put it under the rim of the altar beneath, that the network may be midway up the altar. And you shall make poles for the altar, poles of acacia wood, and overlay them with bronze. The poles shall be put in the rings, and the poles shall be on the two sides of the altar to bear it. You shall make it hollow with boards; as it was shown to you on the mountain, so shall they make it.” (Exo. 27:1-8)
Before we get into the details, we should look at the overall picture of the tabernacle. Think about this tabernacle as the most complete message that God has given to His people. If you look at the tabernacle, you can get lost in all the details, such as where the horns are and how all the boards are placed, but if you look at the overall picture, you see God’s message, saying, “Come further; just come further.”
We get this message when we see just how many different pieces of furniture are in the tabernacle. With each piece, there are ways to experience and worship the Lord at this tabernacle. And eventually, at its center is this secret place. Where did God meet Moses; where did God speak to the priest; where was He enthroned? He was enthroned above the cherubim. It is the highest place. It’s even called the holy of holies. From this place comes a message to us: “I want more. I want more fellowship with you, I want to increase our union with you, I want to have more oneness with you.”
If you ever thought for a moment, I am finished. I have experienced everything that I need to experience in my Christian life, then you need to look at the tabernacle. The tabernacle will tell you that there is something more. There’s something more! There’s always something more, until we are brought into the very presence of God—to the shekinah glory to where the Lord is enthroned above the cherubim. And as we experience each piece of furniture, we will say, “Wow! I have tasted something of the divine life. I have tasted something of God’s judicial work on me. I have tasted something of God and I have never, ever tasted anything else on the earth like that.” Even then we’ll go on and realize, “Oh! There’s yet another piece of furniture!”
You may go through seasons of your life, and you may think “Wow, that is it! That’s the height of my Christian life!” But then God says, “No, no, no, no. Come forward. Come forward.” In the rest of this article, we will see that there are three pictures that encapsulate this call to “come forward.”
Union with God: The Outer Court
Almost all of the Israelites could go to the outer court. The priests would also go there to interact with the bronze altar (which we will get into further on). The outer court is a picture of “union with God.” It shows that we are united with God. You get a sense, “Wow, I’m united with God!” And that is the most basic Christian experience. What can I say if I am in the outer court? Number one: “I have God!” Number two: “I am united with God!” When you go to school, you’re united with God. When you’re with your wife, you’re united with God. When you’re doing the dishes, you’re united with God. When you’re in the meeting, you’re united with God! Let’s all say that together: I am united with God! I have God; I am united with Him; I am joined to Him. Oh, isn’t that a great experience?
The Holy Place
Many, many Israelites will have the experience of the outer court; every Israelite has a right to go in. But then God will say, “You know what? There is something more. There’s something more than having My presence as you wash the dishes. There’s something more than praying to Me and finding your car keys.” There’s something more than feeling sad and saying, “Jesus, I’m sad,” and then all of a sudden, “Whooo! I feel good!” God will say, “Come on. Come on.” Why? He wants you to enter into the holy place. Maybe some people think, “Yeah, I have God! Ah, I’ve got it!” But God says, “No; I want you to come here.” Once I was talking to someone about the Lord, and I said “I want you to believe in Jesus,” and she said, “I knew everything I needed to know about God by the time I was five years old.” I appreciate this person, but, at the same time, there’s something more.
God’s Provision and Supply
The holy place is a picture of mingling with God. When you go into the holy place, you find that there is a lot of bread there! There are over one-hundred pounds of bread on the showbread table. There is also a lampstand with a light that shines on you, and you begin to be beaten by God into a shining testimony. These are individual experiences, yet somehow we also experience it all together. Then you begin to pray at the incense altar and something works on your being. You realize, “Oh, I am mingled with God. Somehow my thoughts have become His thoughts. My emotions are able to be opened and used by our Savior.” From that process, there’s an expression in prayer. This is mingling with God in the holy place.
Then still, there’s a call that says, “Come on, come on.” Some people will say, “Oh, I’m bored with the meetings. I’m bored with my Christian life. I’ve read the bible enough.” But are you mingled with God? God is saying, “Come. Can you come? Can you come?”
Further Still: The Holy of Holies
From the holy place, there is an even further invitation. The third picture is incorporation with God in the holy of holies. Most people don’t even realize what happened when they believed in Jesus. They think, “Hey! I believed in Jesus, and I will have a better life! I believed in Jesus so I’ll have my sins cleansed.” These are good things, and your salvation will give you a better life—but it won’t give you an easy life. God will say, “You have no idea what kind of place this salvation will bring you. One day you will bear the image of the firstborn Son of God! And you’ll be glorified with Me! That is just one capstone of incorporation. Come on! I invite you.”
Experiences of the Tabernacle are Lifelong
Each of these stages is profound. You can’t say, “I am in the holy place. Oh, you’re at the altar? That’s just for babies!” No, you can’t say that. Or if you’re touching the holy of holies a little bit, you can’t say, “Ah, you’re still at the showbread? That’s like you’re in first grade!” No, you can’t say that. Every stage is complete, but every stage also beckons you to something more; each stage is drawing you in. You can look at the most basic believer. That believer has a complete experience of the Lord, but at the same time, there is also a draw: “Let’s go further. Let’s go further.” How does that work? I don’t know how it works. But there’s something there.
I’ll just read this paragraph from our outline: “Each of these stages has judicial and organic elements. There are judicial elements because in every stage of growth, blood is needed. There are organic elements because the divine life of Christ operates in every stage to give us a simple love unto Christ.” I’d like to talk a bit about the bronze altar, and then I’ll talk a little bit about the paragraph.
The Bronze Altar
Not The Glory We Expect
That altar is the first thing that a person would see upon entering the tabernacle. The scene surrounding the altar is very different from the holy place. In the holy place, the metals are gold and silver. You see bread and a beautiful covering above you made of blue, purple, and scarlet. You don’t see any bronze. It’s a beautiful place. If you’ve ever been to a castle or palace in Europe they have gold leaf in the woodwork. I recommend everyone go there to see what it’s like—it’s so bright! It’s so bright. If you looked at the holy place, you would know that it is beautiful! It’s really, really fine craftsmanship. And the 12 loaves of bread make you feel all warm inside. That’s the experience of the holy place. But that is not the first thing you see when entering the tabernacle.
After wandering around the outside of the tabernacle, seeing nothing but the same boring white cloth, not knowing where to go, boom you see color! The gate of the tabernacle is made up of blue, purple, and scarlet. Just look for what’s attractive, and that’s the entrance. On the other side of the gate, you would think that God would put up a good advertisement, like some gold that could just shine! But instead the first thing you see is an altar.
Portraying the Altar in Use
I’d like to portray that altar for a little while. The nice illustrations you find online are like bulldozers on the lot of a bulldozer sales place. You see the clean bulldozer with no paint coming off of it, and it’s really nice. But if you look at a bulldozer in the construction site, it’s muddy. There are all kinds of filth covering a used bulldozer. Certain illustrations of the altar remind me of a bulldozer on a showroom floor. I think this altar was seen like this by just a few people: Moses and Aaron. When this altar was used, it looked really different. Let me try to portray that scene.
The altar is five cubits by five cubits by three cubits (seven-and-a-half feet by seven-and-a-half feet by four-and-a-half feet). And it is a severe scene. If you were an Israelite coming into the tabernacle, the first thing you would see at the altar is a big pile of ashes. On top of that pile of ashes are bird crops, feathers, and coals. And if you looked at the altar you would see plumes of smoke rising up from it. It would be a very smoky place. Then, think about the wood, the fat, and the flesh burning. There is a lot of fire, and it’s hot. The fire does not go out, so the bronze altar would be extremely hot and very smoky. And right next to it you see a dirty pile of ash. There’s no advertisement of glory in that.
Around the altar, as the priests sacrifice the animals, they take most of the blood of, say, the sin offering, and put it in a bowl. For the other pieces of furniture, they take some of that blood and sprinkle it with their finger; but here, they pour the blood out around the altar. Consider, how many pints of blood are in a bull? I don’t know, but it may be about five, or six, or seven gallons of blood. And if you have fifty bulls for that day, that might be two-hundred gallons of blood being poured out around the altar. I don’t know what happened with all that blood, but they poured it out all around the altar. Furthermore, they would take some of the blood that was from that bull and put it on the horns of the altar. So take a look at the altar: it’s got dried blood encased around it, a whole moat of blood poured out around its base, and right up next to it you see this ash pile with burnt wood, burning flesh, bird feathers and the crop—there may have been fifty or one-hundred birds that were sacrificed just in the last hour or two, and you would see the whole pile of feathers and crop with the ashes.
The Altar’s Impression
When you looked at that altar you would have a certain impression. You might look around and see three, or four, or five, or six people there, all laying their hands on the sacrifices of the animals. I don’t know if they would do it sequentially or in parallel. The offerer lays his hands on the bull or sheep, takes a knife, and slits the animal’s throat. He keeps his hand on the animal’s head and feels the life of that animal going out. A bowl beneath collects the blood. Maybe you see a sheep dying or a bull kicking, and then it’s slain and cut up, and all the parts are stacked on the altar. Then you see the smoky death scene. It’s ashen. It’s hot. You see the priest here working hard to lug the livers and kidneys and fat of the sin offering up onto the altar. And you realize, “You know what? This is a severe place. It’s a severe place. And it requires blood.”
A person who is coming into this place might realize that it’s not cheap to be here. There is something of judgment that is necessary. There is something that is dirty, hot, and bloody which is necessary to enter this place. And this is the first thing that God wants every Israelite to see. If you look at the whole scene, you feel, “Wow, there is something here that is severe.” And if it could speak it might say something like, “BEWARE. This is a harsh place.” And there should be a realization that there was one person who went through all of that for your entrance.
The Altar as a Picture of Jesus’ Sacrifice
When we talk about the altar, this is the first thing we must mention: think of all that judgment and how there was one person who went through all of that. All of it. The burnt offering that was put on that altar is a good picture of the Lord Jesus Christ put on that altar. With many offerings, the whole thing was not put on the altar; but with the burnt offering, it was killed, the head was cut off and put in order on the wood, the internal organs were taken out and washed, the leg was washed, the whole thing was cleansed and made right and put in order on the altar, and then the whole thing was consumed. Now you might wonder, “Who could do something like that?” Then you realize, in a certain sense, only Christ. Only Christ. I am not getting into the experience of God by any other way. It can only be this way.
There’s something about the experience of every Christian where you should make a promise to the Lord, “I will never forget this picture. Never.” Because the sacrifice that was made on that altar is for your sin. You can never forget the cleansing of your past sin. A verse in Hebrews says that blood was sufficient to satisfy the righteousness of God. You see that blood is here; blood is all over the place, and there’s a severity to that. Even when you go into the holy place you see blood—there is blood on the incense altar. You realize, “Wow, I am in this place, and there is still something about the altar that is the basis of my being here. I’ve graduated to mingling with God, but I have not graduated from the blood of Christ.” Even in the holy of holies, once a year the high priest went in there and sprinkled the blood seven times on the mercy seat. Even when you go into that holy of holies, you realize, I have not graduated from the blood of Christ.
Once I asked a brother what exactly were the words of Watchman Nee’s last note from prison. Nee wrote, “Christ is the Son of God who died for the redemption of sinners and resurrected after three days. This is the greatest truth in the universe.” When I read that I was so disappointed because I thought he should have said something like, “The greatest thing is the glorious body of Christ, which will fill all in all and will be the fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ.” What’s greater? “The fullness of the measure of the stature of Christ,” or “He redeemed me”? You know what? The blood cleanses me—you never graduate from it. There’s blood on the altar, there’s blood in the holy place, and there’s blood in the holy of holies. Even to pray that every morning: “Lord Jesus, thank You that Your blood was shed for my sins. Thank You for doing that something that I couldn’t do; I could not get rid of even one sin. I just made one little sin, and I was through. But Your blood has cleansed me from that little sin. Your blood has cleansed me from all of my sins. And I’m reminded of this in the first stage, in the second stage, and in the third stage. Oh, Lord Jesus, thank You.”
If you ever forget the blood, it’s a pathway to danger. What a mercy to come before the Lord like a little baby and say, “Lord, I could not do anything. I made one look yesterday, and I couldn’t pay for that look. I made one expression from my mouth, and I can’t pay for that. These would bar me from the whole experience of God. Oh, Lord Jesus, thank You for dying for me. Thank You for the altar that was so severe. Thank You for the judgement that was borne by You.” We all have to say this. If you ever feel like you’ve graduated from such a prayer, then you’re sick. If you ever think, “Oh, I am spiritual. I don’t need that; that’s baby stuff,” then you are sick. If you say such things, you don’t understand yourself, and you don’t understand the altar.
The Altar Completely Changes You
The altar, as a scene of the Lord Jesus’ unique sacrifice, becomes a pattern for us. This altar does not only mean that the Lord sacrificed himself and we benefit from that—although that is a tremendous thing that we can never graduate from. But the altar also indicates that the Lord wants you to be on the altar.
In the first stage, the divine life operates in us to make us willing to live totally unto Christ, to lay ourselves upon the altar in order to begin a romantic, lifelong journey. It’s a lot like this song:
You have longed for sweet peace, and for faith to increase,
And have earnestly, fervently prayed;
But you cannot have rest, or be perfectly blest,
Until all on the altar is laid.
It’s one thing to receive the cleansing of the blood, but this altar also shows that your life is totally, entirely consumed for God. And that’s the experience of this first stage. Before the bull was eventually put on the altar, he was out in the field, pulling a plow, eating grass, doing whatever bulls do at night. Then, one day, his position completely changed. The result of his life was not, “Oh, I can have God in my life and still do my own thing,” or, “I can do my own thing and have a little God, and He can help me in my life—” No; when the bull was put on the altar, do you know what happened? It completely changed. It completely changed such that the bull became just a sweet-smelling savor for God. The experience of being a sweet-smelling savor for God is incredible—it is completely awesome.
There’s a certain stage of experience of the altar where you say, “Lord, my life is not my own. I am not my own. I am on that altar, and the whole being that I own is only for Your satisfaction.” There’s something like the picture of the burnt offering that I was describing. The burnt offering was totally consumed by God. In Leviticus chapter 1, we find that only the skin was saved, while all of the flesh and the organs were totally consumed on the altar. The priest had to take those organs out from the animal and wash them in the laver. It is like you have to take your heart out, take out the liver, take out the kidneys, take out all the inward parts—take all of these out of the bull that was just killed, wash them, you examine all of them (and if you look at this with Christ, Christ could be examined in all of his inward parts), and then put them nicely on top of the altar. The whole thing is for the Lord—the whole thing. All of my dreams, all of my hopes, all of my aspirations, all of my strength, all of my desires, all of my wishes—everything is for the Lord. In the end my whole life is consecrated and given to the Lord, and I am living only for the Lord.
What is the picture of the altar? You’re different. Your life is changed. And while a changed life is something that is precious to God, you’ve graduated from the stage where you say, “Lord, what can You do for my life? Will I marry the best brother? Will I marry the best sister? Will I have the best future? Will I do all of these things? God, will You bless me?” No, your life becomes, “Lord I want my life to be pleasing to You. I want my life to be absolute for You. I want my life to be totally not for myself. I would like it to be for You. I give myself to You. I’m living for You.” Romans 12:1 says, “Present your bodies a living sacrifice.” This presentation makes a big difference. You will begin to have a feeling, “I am not here to get advancement. I am not here to get growth. I am not here to aspire to live in a way for myself. Oh, Jesus, I am just here for You.”
Personal Testimony of the Altar’s Transformation
I had this prayer one time. I was in the basement of a house, sitting on an old couch, and I was struggling with the Lord. Some weird things were going on in my life, and I was thinking, “This is so weird. Can this just be a little less intense?” Then I had this little sense inside of me saying, “Give your life to the Lord.” So I prayed. I just said, “Lord, I just—I just give my life to You.” And I might have meant it 40% and didn’t mean it 60%. But you know what? The Lord meant it 100%. The Lord heard it 100%.
Another time I was down by Lake Erie in my car, praying a little bit. I remember I had heard some messages by Brother Titus about the crucialness of being a brother, and something inside of me said, “Lord, I don’t care if I ever do anything for You. I don’t care if I ever become anything. I just want to be a brother. I just want to give my life to You. I don’t want to be anything. I just want my life to belong to the Lord. I just want to have You say, ‘I have that one.’”
Remaining on the Altar
The bull is not for plowing, the bull is not for grazing, the bull is not for the fair, the bull is not to win an award. What’s the bull for? He’s only for the Lord. And there’s something about this altar where you just stay there. You stay there. You might have all kinds of feelings, such as, “I am not worthy,” or, “I’m not the right kind of person.” But you just stay there. You say, “Lord, can Your holy fire consume everything I have?” In the end you might be ashes. But you know what? It’s a sweet smelling fragrance to the Lord.
God Becomes the Center of Our Life
Most of us were saved by being self-centered. We were promised a rosy future called “going to heaven”—a place that would be good, peaceful, joyful, and beyond man’s imagination. Very few realize that once we are saved, our new life begins; the center of our life has changed; we don’t live by ourselves, for ourselves, unto ourselves, nor according to our ambition and needs. We live by God. We live according to God and centered on God. We begin to have a pursuing life that we might gain Christ. Praise the Lord. I like that. Can you say “amen” to these sentences? We live by God. According to God. Centered on God. Oh, it’s not a small thing! It’s not a small thing to say the words, “God, I give my whole life to You. God, I don’t care about anything else in my life. I give my whole life to You. God, I want my center to be You.” That is not a small thing. And you might say it 30%, meaning it 70%, but God hears it and says, “I got that whole thing. I heard the whole thing.”
Later in your life, when you veer from the Lord a little bit, you might say, “Oh Lord, I’m attracted to something in the world.” Then you can just pray, “Lord, make yourself a little more beautiful to me.” He might say, “Okay, I’m good at that. I’m good at that.” Why? Because your center is right. You don’t understand any spiritual thing if your center is not right. You cannot advance if your center is not right. If you’re still a bull, you can’t get into the holy place. Only the blood enters the holy place. Your center should be, “I am here for God. I’m just on the altar, Lord. I don’t care about anything. I just wish there was a big ending right now. Lord, this is just You. It’s just for You. It’s only for You, Lord.” Oh, what a life!
The Lord Jesus’ Example
The Lord did the same thing. He didn’t just think good thoughts about you. He didn’t just have good feelings about you. He didn’t just have good intentions about you. Do you know what the Lord did? He said, “I have a body. I have blood. I have flesh. You know what? I put that blood and flesh on the line.” He didn’t just hope for mercy. He didn’t just wish that you would feel His love. No, the Lord had blood and flesh. And do you know what He did with that blood and flesh? He put it all on the line. He said, “You know what? You can hurt My body.” And don’t think that He was like, “Yeah, but this will work out for the best.” NO. He even prayed to the Father, “If possible, take this cup from Me.” Do you realize why He was in such anguish? Because it touched His body, and the blood really flowed and it really hurt and there was real pain. Do you know why redemption was significant? It wasn’t because of the good intention of God. It wasn’t because of a wishful dream or a feeling of love—it was because He gave up His body!
When we talk about this altar, you know what? It’s your body! “Lord, I give You these hands!” But the Lord would say, “No.” You could say, “Lord, I have great intentions for You!” But the Lord says, “No.” You should say, “Lord, I give you my body.” Present your bodies a living sacrifice. My body is different.
When you think about the altar, think about the Lord’s sacrifice. You couldn’t do it, but He did. There should be this automatic response: Lord, I give myself to You. It should be automatic. What else could I do? He died; I have one look at something, and I go to hell. I can’t do anything about it. He died; I give myself. It’s not fair. It’s not fair. I look at Christians and I say, “It’s not fair.” You know what fair would be? You’re gone. That’s fair. You know what the Lord did? He died for you. It’s not fair, but it’s salvation. “Lord, I give myself.”
Experiencing The Bronze Altar While Viewing The Ark of Testimony
According to the picture of the tabernacle, in our experience we start with the altar, then we go to the next section. Step one, step two, step three, step four. But the Lord actually begins His description of all of this tabernacle furniture with the center piece: the ark of testimony. And it’s significant. When you read the Bible, you shouldn’t think, “Moses could have put the showbread table first,” or, “Maybe he was going in alphabetical order, and that’s why the ark is first— ” No. The significance is this: you should think of the ark first. I would say there are two big motivations for staying on the altar. One is this: He loved me, He died for me. I was going to hell and couldn’t do anything about it until He intervened. If that isn’t a good motivation, then I don’t know what is. The second motivation is: there is an ark. There is an ark there. And if you stay on this altar, there’s only one thing to look at: the entrance to the tent of meeting. You can imagine what makes that entrance significant: there’s an ark in there.
You should read the books of Leviticus and Numbers carefully. Sometimes, the ark is just called “the testimony.” At one point, God tells Moses to put the budding rod in front of the testimony. It should be “ark,” but He says “testimony.” From this you get the impression that the ark is a shining of something; that there is a testimony of God on this earth. Well, you know what gives value to this whole scene? The ark of testimony. Do a word search in the Bible on testimony—go to a website, it’s easy now. There are the tablets of testimony, inside the ark of testimony, inside the tabernacle of testimony. It’s testimony, testimony, testimony. If you are only on the altar because of selfish reasons, there is something short. If you are only on the altar because of appreciation, there is still something short. To be on the altar because you see something of the testimony of God is a great fullness.
Our Christian journey begins with the bronze altar; yet, in the beginning, God desires that we would focus on the ark of testimony. God declares, speaks, unveils, even shouts, “Don’t live for yourself! Live for Me! Even when you love Me, don’t do things just according to your Christian desires, burden, ministry, and commitment. Rather, see what I want! If I provide you the altar, it is for you to come to My ark of testimony. If I give you the showbread table, it is for My ark of testimony! If I provide you with a golden lampstand (a golden church life), this is also for the ark of testimony! I am a God of purpose. I have My will. I know what is best for you, what is best for all Christians, even what is best for the universe. Don’t just live according to the way you love the Lord. Rather, live with My testimony in view!”
Don’t just stop at the altar. You have to see that the altar, in it’s marvelous significance, was not a stand-alone piece of furniture. It was the entrance of the tabernacle of testimony, which held the ark of testimony at its center. And let me tell you, for you ambitious types, this is amazing. Ambitious in a good way. Ambitious in a really good way. This is amazing, because it’s not just, “Wow, Jesus, I’m so thankful that I’ve been saved from the punishment of my sins.” It’s also this: “Lord, I’m so thankful that this altar is an entrance into the tabernacle of your testimony.” And what that means is this: I am for a purpose bigger than myself. When God chose the nations of Israel, you must see how incredibly ambitious God was. He doesn’t just want a group of people, a little nation. God said, “This will be My testimony to the whole earth. And at one point, the mountains of the house of Israel—the mountain of Jerusalem—will be raised up above all the other mountains, and all the other nations will stream to it. At one point, the whole earth will come to hear the wisdom of God in Jerusalem.” God is saying, “I have a big plan. A plan that involves My testimony. It starts with a little building right here. But if you only see this little building right here, you haven’t seen the whole plan, the whole desire! I would like to have a testimony of Myself that would spread to the whole earth—even the whole universe, even all the principalities and powers.”
A Worthwhile Life
When you think about your church life, you may see the same brothers every week and hear the same words quite often, and you might think, “THIS IS IT?” You can get jaded by that scene. But you need to see the ark of testimony. When you see the ark of testimony, you realize that there’s something worthwhile to give your life to. When I was a sophomore in college, I had this one experience, another consecration experience. I heard, “God wants the church.” And I didn’t grow up hearing this king of thing, “God wants the church.” I never even thought that God wanted something. I thought that God was just God. But He wants His church, and I can do something to help build the church. These are two eminently Biblical thoughts. I didn’t make something up right there. God wants the church, and I, as a member of the church, can do something to build up the church. When I put these two things together, I saw how God wants to build the church and how I could do something to build the church, and I just said, “Oh! That’s better than working for a company! (Because a company may go out of business).” I had a feeling, “This is serious. This is really serious.” This feeling was not just because I wanted something personally. No, it’s actually serious.
As I age, I talk to more people that are in the workforce and in academia, and I realize that they are inevitably stressed with their jobs. I hear stories about how this doctor was so idealistic in his younger days and how he became this crusty old person who’s been stepped on. Or I hear people who say, “I just want as much money as I can get,” and they never thought they would become that way. You might not experience that, but what a difference between giving your life for that and giving it for Jesus. I think that’s where the disappointment comes from. “I give my life for this, but my boss doesn’t acknowledge me!” “I give my life for this, but I was passed on for the promotion! Me?!” And from this comes bitterness. The solution is simple: I just don’t give my life for that. I may work, but I don’t give my life to work. If you gave your life for that it’s like betting on the losing horse. The difference between giving your life to work and saying, “Hey, God wants the church. I can build up the church”—Wow! I stay on the altar because of that!
The Most Stable Life
A person can be on this altar, where it’s hot and dirty, but they should have a prevailing thought, “I’m for something more.” The outside world might not even know what you’re fighting for. There’s a song that says something like, “Years of toil, none understanding.” In other words, I toil for YEARS! And you look around, but there’s no one that understands. Welcome to Jesus’ life. But there’s the thought that the altar is not just for me; I’m growing towards the ark of testimony. I see how the Lord wants a testimony. Try to put the church through a hard time! You know what? The Lord wants a testimony. You may not think a life on the altar is the most stable life, but it’s actually the ONLY stable life because I’m on the altar for the Lord. What else could you want? Do you want to be for yourself? Do you want to be for your own choices? To quote Bill Clinton, “The worst curse is an answered prayer.” What do you want to be for? Do you want to be for your own thing? Do you want to be for protection? For your own safety? Well, there’s no safer place than being on the altar! And there’s no better reason for being on the altar than that the Lord wants a testimony! I am for the testimony of the Lord!
The Contents of the Ark of Testimony
This ark is amazing because there are three things in that ark. As you’re growing towards that ark of testimony you start to realize those three things. First, there are the ten commandments. You know what the commandments are? They are a picture of who God is! He’s pure, He’s righteous, He’s single. As you grow towards the ark you start to become like God. How? Just by life and growth in the tabernacle. It’s not a matter of telling people what to do; it’s a matter of growing to the ark of testimony.
Second, in that ark is the manna in the golden pot, representing that we enjoy only God as the one who meets all our needs. Are you able to say that? You know who meets all my needs? Only God. You grow towards the testimony and start to live a life where you only experience God. You also realize the whole environment is organized and arranged by Him for you for the testimony to be expressed. The whole environment on earth, your whole situation, everything is because of this testimony. Then you realize, “Hey, only God meets all my needs!”
If you want to walk in resurrection—that’s the third item in the ark, the budding rod—you can read Numbers 16 and 17. In these chapters, rebels with a man named Korah raised all kinds of questioning against Moses. “Why did God only speak through you? Why is only Aaron’s family allowed to have the priesthood?” At the end of that section, God says, “I’m tired of all this grumbling. Let’s demonstrate. Every tribe should take a rod and put it before the testimony.” In that section, you’ll realize He doesn’t say ark, but testimony. So all the tribes put their rods in front of the testimony (which was the ark), and then Aaron’s rod budded and brought forth almonds. It’s possible you could have even eaten an almond from that rod. And God said, “That’s my sign.” What is that sign? That sign is that I have chosen Aaron. That resurrection life through that rod is the reason for authority in the Christian life.
When you live for the ark, you’re living and growing towards the life in resurrection. The life in resurrection is a fascinating life. All kinds of death come in to swallow it. You can raise all kinds of questions: question if you’re a Christian, question why you’re a believer, question if you’re a leader, question if you are whatever! And you know what comes out? An almond bud! And what do you live in? You live in that almond. You live in the resurrection life of Christ. It’s another realm. Those three things are in a whole other realm.
The Censers Around the Altar
I’d like to point out the last thing around this altar. Korah was a group of Levites, who were able to carry the furniture of the tabernacle when the tabernacle moved—it’s actually a good job if you want to be close to God. They couldn’t sprinkle blood on the ark, but they could carry the ark. That’s not bad! But then Korah had this thought, “Hey! Why can’t we be priests? Why are Aaron’s sons the only priests?” So there was a lot going on back and forth, and eventually Moses told everyone to get a censer. There were 250 censors. Censers are for keeping coals in them and putting incense on them. So everyone came out with their censers, and then God had fire come out of the holy of holies, and the fire consumed the 250 people. This was a sign of God saying, “I made you Levites. Not priests. Why did you want to be priests?” You know why? It’s severe. The censers were scattered on the ground—I guess the bodies all got burned and the censors were left scattered on the ground. They took all those censers, pounded them into plates of bronze, and put a second layer of bronze on the altar made from those censers. Now when you come to this altar you would begin to remember Korah, because all around this altar, through all the smoke and ash and flesh, I see the bronze that was left behind after Korah.
The Altar Reveals Our Fallen Self Life
This is a certain kind of experience of the altar. All who saw the altar also realized that they had a fallen nature and could go against God and his arrangements at any time. When a person comes to that altar and experiences the cleansing of that altar and being put on that altar, there is this realization: “Wow, there’s something in me that can become damaging for God’s work at any time.”
One time a sister was having some college students over for dinner, and there was another family that had moved in and started meeting with them, and they wanted some college students over for dinner also. I didn’t think anything of it. I said, “Oh great! Two homes for college students to be fed!” College students need all kinds of food (both physically and spiritually), and now we have two ways for them to be fed! It’s so interesting; the sister cried out, “They took my college students! I’m the one that has dinner!” My reaction was simply, “Woah, where did that come from? Why? Doesn’t it make sense to have two dinners for college students? You can have one on Tuesday, and they can have one on Wednesday, and then you’d save college students from the cafeteria two times that week instead of just once!” With reactions such as this you realize, oh my goodness, serving the Lord is dangerous. It will bring things out in you that you had NO IDEA were in there!
Wouldn’t it be great if 40 people could appreciate you? Wouldn’t that be amazing? 40 people! Appreciate you! Isn’t that amazing? In a way, it’s not amazing at all—how many Facebook friends do you have? 40 is NOTHING. It’s nothing! But if you just put this thought: “Hey, maybe 40 people could appreciate you!” and you mix in God and serving, then you’ve created a monster. It’s amazing what kinds of things come out of us when seeking the love and appreciation of 40 people! Then you realize, there’s something inside me. You realize “Argh! How do I get that out of here? How do I get that out of me?” Praise the Lord, there’s the altar. And there’s something in the altar that can touch that. You might’ve done a lot for that appreciation of 40 people. You might’ve messed things up, tripped up some brothers, or even badmouthed some sisters, just so you could have the appreciation of the 40 people.
Once I was at a Christian college club, and I asked someone, “Are you a leader of the club?” And he said, “No, most leaders just want to exercise power.” This was a Christian college club where 40 people would appreciate them. You realize, “What a weird thing in people!” What does that brother say, “Christians are the strangest creatures; only Jesus can love them.” You realize that the solution to that is the altar.
A Life on the Altar is the Solution to Sin and Self
When I see the altar, I realize that there are two things that I need: first, I need help with my sinful being, which I cannot help myself. Second, I need help for my unhealthy self, the Korah in me that wants to be a priest. When we come to the altar, we should feel, “Lord, you know what, I’m just on the altar. I don’t make a move.” The Lord can say, “Even though you were like Korah, the altar is powerful enough to deliver you from all of those things from inside and allow you to enter into fellowship with God!” It’s never too far; you’ve never gone too far. You need a second chance? There are countless second chances! I never understood that song, “countless second chances,” but that’s kind of what it is. “Lord, I did it! I have that feeling!” The Lord says, “I give you that second chance.” Then the next day, “I give you a second chance,” and the next day, “I give you a second chance.” Why? Because His salvation is so complete! It takes care of our sinfulness. It takes care of our unhealthy self. It allows us to take the first step and say, “I am united with God!” That altar is severe enough to take care of all of those things within our being! You have to say, “Lord, thank You for Your deep salvation. Thank you for Your wisdom in making this picture.” How did God know that in 2015 in Cleveland we would be so interested in 40 people appreciating us? Yet He says, “There’s a layer for that, and My salvation can take care of that.” Do you know what you need? “Lord, I would just like to be on the altar. I just want to be on the altar. I appreciate Your work that’s done on the altar, and I, myself, would like to be on the altar for You. My life is not for the appreciation of 40 people. It’s for the appreciation of God! My life is not for some kind of show; my life is for the Lord! It’s for the Lord and for His testimony. Amen.”
There’s a song,
Is your all on the altar of sacrifice laid?
Your heart does the Spirit control?
You can only be blest and have peace and sweet rest,
As you yield Him your body and soul.
This is the altar. I’ll stop there. Can we just have some prayer and feel free to say, “Lord, I give my everything to you.” Say it in front of hundreds of people. Praise the Lord.