Exodus 27:1-8

Approaching God"



27 1“Build an altar of acacia wood, three cubits high; it is to be square, five cubits long and five cubits wide. Make a horn at each of the four corners, so that the horns and the altar are of one piece, and overlay the altar with bronze. Make all its utensils of bronze—its pots to remove the ashes, and its shovels, sprinkling bowls, meat forks and firepans. Make a grating for it, a bronze network, and make a bronze ring at each of the four corners of the network. Put it under the ledge of the altar so that it is halfway up the altar. Make poles of acacia wood for the altar and overlay them with bronze. The poles are to be inserted into the rings so they will be on two sides of the altar when it is carried. Make the altar hollow, out of boards. It is to be made just as you were shown on the mountain.

          In last week’s sermon we looked at the Tabernacle that God commanded Moses to build. It was to be God’s place amongst the wandering Israelites. *(Here is an idea of what it might have looked like within the camp). There was the *main building that was divided into two sections. The Holy Place and the Most Holy Place. *(Here is a picture of that). Some of the furnishings that Moses was instructed by God to make and place in the tabernacle were to be located in the Most Holy Place.  

          Do you remember what those furnishings were? * (The Ark of the Covenant and The Atonement Cover. Here is a picture of them together). The rest of the furnishings we discussed last week would have been placed in the Holy Place. They were: *The lamp stand and the table for the bread of presence. (* Here are some pictures of them). There was also the altar of incense which we didn’t talk about (hint: we will talk about it next week).

        This morning we are going to look at another piece that was to be placed in the courtyard just outside of the Tabernacle.

          Before we begin though, I think it would be good for me to remind you of three important standards that we need to understand and accept when we study the tabernacle and any of its furnishings. These three standards we considered in detail last sermon so let me just quickly summarize them before we go any further.

          The first thing we need to remember is that God considers worship so important that He gave all the details of how and where He was to be worshipped. In last week’s sermon we were reminded of this important principal when we were told that, in no less than two places in chapter 26, God revealed His very detailed plans for the tabernacle and its furnishings to Moses. This was a reminder to us that we come to God on his terms and in his way. We don’t decide what is appropriate and what is not, only God does that through His Word. Anything, else would just be arrogance and pride on our part.
          Secondly, we learned, according to Hebrews 8:5, which says, “They serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.”  That tells us the tabernacle and its furnishings were just copies of God’s heavenly throne room. The things we see, and the rituals performed in the tabernacle, in the remainder of Old Testament are not the real thing. Their purpose was to point us toward God’s sanctuary in heaven by giving us a picture of it.
          And third, and probably most important for us as new covenant believers, is that almost every purpose fulfilled by the tabernacle and its priesthood finds its ultimate completion in Jesus Christ. In chapters 8 and 9 of the New Testament book of Hebrews especially, we learn of their final fulfillment in the life, sacrificial death, and victorious resurrection of our Lord.
          So, with those three standard principals in mind we will learn today about the purpose of the * Altar of Burnt Offering and how it relates to our worship and the celebration of the Lord’s Supper that we will take part in after the sermon. (*there is a picture of it)
          In our passage this morning we find, God also gives very detailed instructions about the design and construction of this altar. With the dimensions given in verse one then we can see that this piece of furniture would easily have been the largest piece in the Tabernacle. It would have been 7.5 feet long by 7.5 feet wide and 4.5 feet high. Of course, those dimensions would have made it miniscule when compared to the altar in the temple that Solomon built in Jerusalem which was 30 feet x 30 feet and 15 feet high.

          The altar was also to be made of *Acacia wood (*here is a picture of an Acacia tree in the Egyptian desert) like the Ark of the Covenant, the Table for the Bread of the Presence, and the skeletal structure of the Tabernacle itself. The difference between them was that the furnishings that were placed in the tabernacle building were to be overlayed with Gold befitting their proximity to God’s presence. Remember that the walls of the Tabernacle building were also made of Acacia wood overlayed with gold. However, the furnishings in the tabernacle courtyard were to be covered with bronze. This signified their purpose as being reminders of judgement.

          The altar accomplished its intended purpose as it was used for offerings or sacrifices. This sacrificial system was at the very core of the Jewish nation’s identity. God was continually reminding His people of the presence of their sin. He was preparing them for the coming Messiah who would fulfill all of God’s sacrificial requirements at once. All the sacrifices carried out on the Altar of burnt offerings not only pointed to the Messiah but would also find their ultimate fulfillment in Him.

          The Bible identifies 5 main types of sacrifices, that God was pleased to accept, and they were offerings made on the altar. We find them described in the first seven chapters of the Old Testament book of Leviticus.

          First is the burnt offering where the whole animal, except for the skin, was burned on the altar as a sin offering. This sacrifice satisfied God’s anger against sin and made possible the fellowship between the Holy God and the sinful person.

          The second was called the grain offering. It was a prescribed amount of flour and oil. A handful was burnt, and the remainder was given to the priests to eat. This was a gift to God, thanking Him for forgiving the sins of the worshipper.  A drink offering was usually poured on top of the grain offering as a symbol of joy.
          The third was known as the peace or fellowship offering. This was not a mandatory offering whereas all the others were. For this offering all the blood, the fat, and the kidneys of the offering animal were burned on the altar. The remainder was eaten by the priest and the worshipper together.
          The fourth type of offering was given for those sins that were committed unintentionally or for ceremonial uncleanliness. The blood and fat of the offering animal were burned on the altar while the rest of the animal was taken and burned outside the camp.

          Then there was the fifth sacrifice which was known as the guilt offering. The animal used was to be a year-old ram, without blemish or defect. Before this animal was sacrificed the person first had to make full compensation for the wrong that was committed.

          I want to say a little more about the sin and guilt offerings that is important for us to remember. The person bringing the sacrifice of a bull, a goat, or lamb would put their hand upon the animal as it was slaughtered. This was after the priest had made sure that the animal was without defect or blemish. After the animal was slaughtered the priest would dip his finger in its blood and put it on the four horns of the altar. Then the sacrifice was place on the altar and burned. Whatever part was not consumed on the altar was take outside of the camp and burned to ashes.

          So, when one of God’s people commits a sin they come to the altar with their sin offerings. They put their hands on the offering as it is being killed. Then they watch as the blood is put on the horns of the altar and then the animal is completely burned. What do you think is happening throughout this process? Well four times in Leviticus 4 we read the words that were spoken in relation to these sacrifices, "and he shall be forgiven" (Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35).

          But How? Not only is the person guilty but they have also admitted their guilt. Well, forgiveness is assured because a transfer has taken place where the sin of the guilty person has been transferred to the innocent lamb or goat or bull. And the innocence of the lamb or goat or bull without blemish has been transferred to the repentant sinner. Think about this, the only other option for the sinner was death.
        * As we look at the plan view of the layout of the Tabernacle: You see that the altar would be the very first thing you encountered as you entered the courtyard. It’s as if God wants everyone to be aware that the only way to Him is past the altar. He is again reminding them that humanity’s greatest need is forgiveness for sin. And that forgiveness can only be realized through the life blood of a sacrifice.
        So what is the lesson of the altar of burnt offering for us as we are about to celebrate communion when we remember the sacrifice of the Lord Jesus? I would like to point out four things.
        First, we are no different from the Israelites. That means it is necessary, if you want to come into God’s presence, to first confess your sin before God. No one else can do it for you. Only then are you prepared to approach His table.

        The second thing you need to know is that your sin is a very serious issue because as Romans 6:23 tells us, “The wages of sin is death”. It also required the death of a lamb, bull, or goat in the place of the sinner. We need to know that God punishes your sin and my sin.
        The third thing we need to know is that Jesus offered Himself to be our burnt offering. John the Baptist in John 1:29 boldly declares that He is, “the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world! He is the sacrificial ‘lamb’ without defect or blemish. Our guilt has been transferred onto Him. And not only that but His sinlessness, His righteousness, has been transferred onto us, repentant sinners.

        The last thing we should note is that we don’t have an altar at UCC. I’m sure that is self-evident because we do not offer sacrifices here. Now some churches do have altars because they believe that Christ needs to be sacrificed for sin continually. What we have here is this table and the reason for that is very simple.
        The teaching that we find in the New Testament is that Christ’s sacrificial death was “once for all”. Once for all what, you ask? Once for all times. Once for all people. Once for all sins. Once for all guilt. That is what it means when we say, “once for all”. No other sacrifice is necessary. No more sacrifice is necessary. We do not need to go to the altar of burnt offerings time after time. All we need to do is go to Christ and through faith, receive the benefit of His once for all sacrifice.

          This image we are given from the Old Testament of the sinner at the altar is a picture of you and me. What we see, as the sacrifice is made upon the altar, is a picture of Jesus as he was offered up as the once for all, completely acceptable, sacrifice. I heard someone put Jesus’ sacrifice is these terms once. They said, “Jesus didn’t just die for us, He died as us”. The entire process of ‘transference’ is seen as we see the sacrifice upon the altar as a picture of Christ.

          So, as we eat the bread and drink from the cup, think of yourself, the guilty sinner. And, think of Jesus, the spotless Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world. Also think of your answer to these questions that are raised by these past two sermons: Does God care how you approach Him? Yes, He does. Do you care about coming before Him in the way He wants? The answer to this question will be found in your answered to the next. How committed are you to finding his Will through His Word and then obeying? Your answers will tell you if your worship is about God, or about you.