Recently I’ve been getting so much out of North Pine Baptist Church’s series on the Temple and Tabernacle that I’ve made an unofficial transcript of the latest message. I’m sharing it here because of the gospel-soaked, scripture-rich content and the immense good news and practical application that it presents for Christians today.
Morning everyone, good to see you all today. Let’s pray shall we.
Father this morning we continue in this series entitled God in Our Midst and we want to thank you that you are indeed here with us this morning. Lord we are in the presence of a Holy God. This morning as we look at this bronze altar and what it signifies – what it points to – we pray again that you might have grace upon us. That you might help us to understand and grasp in a deeper way the significance of sacrifice; of the sacrifice that has been made for us through Jesus Christ. Lord this morning as we hear from your word we ask that our minds and our hearts would be clear; that they would be attentive to what you have to say to us today. Lord convict us in our hearts, help us to know the very things you want to speak to us about this morning. For you – indeed we know – want to speak to us, and we thank you for that. We pray this morning as we open up this passage together that Jesus Christ might be honoured and glorified. Amen.
Romans 6:23 says this: “For the wages of sin is death”. The wages of sin is death. Wages have featured a lot in the news this week. Those of you who have been across the news this week will know that there has been penalty rates and things like that discussed in the media. When we think about wages we understand them to be those things which are owing to us because of the work we’ve done. We work, we get paid; they’re our wages. But the bible clearly states that when it comes to the things that we’ve done, the work that we’ve done, the sin we’ve committed before God, then we have something owing to us for that. And that is death. We all deserve to die because of our sin.
Puts a real cloud down on everything, doesn’t it.
And you might think this morning as we start off this message and we think about sin and the fact that it deserves death you might think “well you know what, that’s a bit harsh, isn’t it?”
Last week as we began the series on the tabernacle, we focused on the fact that God is a holy God. That his holiness points to his absolute perfection. His absolute purity. His absolute goodness. His absolute glory. His absolute justice and righteousness. His separateness or his apartness from everything else. Nothing can come even close to this holy God because he is so perfect and glorious and righteous and just. He is so pure. If we liken God in his holiness to the sun, it is both good and terrifying at the same time. It brings heat and light in order for life to grow and flourish, but it also has the capacity to kill anything that comes close to it. And because God is holy, it means that he is like that sun in that he cannot have anything to do with sin, that as soon as we draw close, as soon as sin comes anywhere in the vicinity of God it is consumed by his holy fire. His holiness naturally condemns and destroys sin and anything affected by it.
Well then, how do we ever hope to approach this holy God? How can we ever hope to have any kind of relationship with him? To come into presence? Well we discover how we do that through this imagery of the brazen altar in the tabernacle. This bronze altar. And we’ll see this and what it ultimately points to.
Peter has just read to us from Exodus 27:1-8 and it basically is God’s design for what this altar was meant to look like. As you entered into the tabernacle’s outer courtyard, through the white curtain which was a beautiful tapestry curtain of blue and purple and scarlet, the colours we have behind us here this morning, and as you walked into the entrance to that courtyard area where the tabernacle itself was situated the first thing you encountered was this bronze altar. The largest of all the temple furniture. It struck you in its size and in its presence right there as you walked in. It was also known as the altar of burnt offering and it was the place of sacrifice. In fact that term altar actually means the place of slaughter.
It was constructed (as we’re told) of acacia wood; a very strong, hardy wood. And it was covered in bronze. It’s interesting to note that many scholars look at the significance behind the fact that it was covered in bronze; bronze speaks of God’s judgement in scripture. We see that pictured on a couple of occasions, particularly the account of the bronze serpent in Numbers 21. How the people had sinned against God and God had sent these snakes into the camp and people had been bitten by them, and God said to Moses “I want you to make a bronze serpent and hold it up, and whoever looks on that serpent will be healed.” We see it too in the image of Jesus Christ in all of his glory and majesty in Revelation where it speaks about his feet of burning bronze; that he comes to bring judgement on the world.
We’re told that it was 5 cubits squared, and its height shall be of 3 cubits. Basically 2.3m square by 1.4m high. And top of its corners were horns, covered in bronze as well. It had a bronze grate which was placed about half way down on the inside on which the sacrifices were placed. And at the same level there was a ledge around the outside of it and rings were placed on that and the poles were placed to it so that it could be carried by the priests whenever they were to move camp. It was most probably sat atop an earth mound on either side so that underneath could be the fire and they could continually stoke that fire because God says to Moses in Leviticus 6:12-13 that the fire must never go out. It was God himself who had first started that fire, and that fire was the blaze continuously. Day and night speaking of the fact that God’s judgment is always on sin.
As we look at this bronze altar this morning I want to focus on four significant things that it teaches us about how we are to approach this holy God. How we can approach this holy God.
The first one we’re going to look at this morning is sacrifice. If you’ve got your notes this morning you can follow along with those. So the first thing that this altar teaches us is that there is no approaching a holy God without sacrifice. There is no coming into the presence of God without first there being a sacrifice for sin. And it was on this altar that the various sacrifices were offered to God. Those sacrifices, by the way, are listed out in Leviticus chapters 1-6. So as we’ve been saying, the penalty of sin requires that there must be a death, there must be a shedding of blood. Life must be poured out. And this altar was the place of death. Can you imagine it? As you walked into the outer courtyard, there was the altar with the fire blazing away, the smoke pouring off it, the blood of the animals, the butchered animals themselves, the smell of burning flesh and things like that…. It would have been a gruesome sight. An incredibly gruesome sight to see. If anyone has even been around the slaughtering of an animal, you know how gruesome it can get. Leviticus 17:11 says this
For the life of the flesh is in the blood, and I have given it for you on the altar to make atonement for your souls, for it is the blood that makes atonement by the life.
In other words what God is saying here is I am giving you this particular means of sacrifice in order to make atonement for your souls – for your sins – because the blood needs to be poured out; it is the blood that makes atonement. The death of something. An innocent victim had to die; in this case it was an animal. It had to have its blood shed in order that sin could be paid for. Atoned for. “Covered over” is what that word atonement means. We see something similar in Hebrews 9:22 where it says
 Indeed, under the law almost everything is purified with blood, and without the shedding of blood there is no forgiveness of sins.
Did you hear that? Without the shedding of blood, without the giving of a life there is no forgiveness of sins. Which tells us that God takes sin very, very seriously. His holiness demands justice. Sin must be paid for. And so, God provided a means by which an animal could be killed, and butchered. And then – depending on the type of sacrifice – either all of it or part of it was burnt up there on the offering of burnt sacrifice, on this bronze altar. And that consuming by fire pictures the judgement of God being poured out. Hebrews 12:28 speaks about the fact that our God is a consuming fire.
You feeling a little bit unsettled at the moment?
But what God was also wanting to point to through this particular sacrifice of this innocent animal was in fact a better sacrifice. It was meant to point the people of God beyond the animal sacrifice to a better sacrifice; it was a shadow. Remember we spoke last week about the whole tabernacle precinct as a shadow? As a type, if you like? Well this bronze altar was a shadow of something which was to come. The real thing that was to come, and that was Jesus Christ. Hebrews 10:1-4 says this
 For since the law has but a shadow of the good things to come instead of the true form of these realities, it can never, by the same sacrifices that are continually offered every year, make perfect those who draw near.  Otherwise, would they not have ceased to be offered, since the worshipers, having once been cleansed, would no longer have any consciousness of sins?  But in these sacrifices there is a reminder of sins every year.  For it is impossible for the blood of bulls and goats to take away sins.
Jesus himself is the better sacrifice.
John the Baptist in his ministry was there baptising in the river Jordan and as Jesus came towards him, he points the people to him and he says “look! The lamb of God who takes away the sins of the world”. John himself recognised the fact that Jesus was indeed that better sacrifice. That he would indeed be the lamb of God; the once-for-all sacrifice who would take upon himself all of the punishment for our sins. You see, Jesus death on the cross was the ultimate sacrifice. That Jesus in his death on the cross, in him shedding his blood for us paid for our sins once and for all. And therefore no other sacrifice is now necessary. Jesus on the cross took upon himself there on that cross all of the sins of the world for all time. Can you think about just even today all the evil and all the wickedness and all the sin that is prevalent in our world today? And all the horrible and tragic and devastating consequences that brings in people’s lives? From the beginning of time to the end of time all of the sins committed during that period of all people, Jesus there on the cross took all of that sin upon himself. And then, God poured out his righteous judgement upon Christ on the cross. God exhausted all of his holy wrath and anger upon Jesus there on that cross because of our sin.
Hebrews 10:12 says this
But when Christ had offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he sat down at the right hand of God
For a priest to sit down meant that his job was completely done – it was finished. Hence in the tabernacle (and we’ll see this in a few weeks’ time) the priests never sat down. There was nowhere for the priests to sit anywhere within that tabernacle precinct. Because they were always working. There was always work to be done, there was always sacrifice to be made. But it says when Jesus offered for all time a single sacrifice for sins, he – our great high priest – sat down at the right hand of God.
1 Peter 3:18 says
For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God
And that brings us to our second point this morning; that not only do we think about sacrifice here at this bronze altar but we also think of substitution. Because we cannot pay for sins ourselves. We cannot pay for our own sins ourselves or we would be completely destroyed by God’s holy wrath and his judgement. As we’ve been saying, the altar pointed to the fact that a death has to occur. So when the repentant sinner – when the repentant Israelite – would come to the temple they would bring with them an offering, an animal. And at the entrance the priest would come and they would check over that animal to see whether or not it was actually suitable to be sacrificed. The animal had to be perfect; without spot or blemish. It couldn’t be one of the animals from the herd that was blind or it was lame or it had bad teeth or anything like that. It had to be perfect. It had to be the best of the best. And the priest would check the animal over, and then if it was given the OK they would take the animal to the altar, and symbolically the person would then lay their hands on the head of that sacrifice, and they would confess their sins over it. It was a symbolic transferring of their sins onto this animal that was to be killed. So we see this act of sacrifice had to be accompanied by a confession of sins. There had to be a recognition on the part of the one bringing the sacrifice that they themselves were the guilty ones. That they themselves were sorrowful for their sins and knew that their sins must be atoned for to avoid the wrath of God. So as people brought the sacrifice they came with grief and guilt weighing them down in their hearts because of their sin before God. And we ourselves even today should be grieved by our sin.
There are two really significant passages in scripture, the first is in the Old Testament. David had become king, and in 2 Samuel we read about David and he sees this woman Bathsheba whom he desires to have, even though she’s not his wife. And so he allows his desires to run rampant and he commits sin with Bathsheba. And God sends the prophet Nathan to David and he confronts him about his sin, and David is made clear in his mind and his heart that he has sinned before a holy God. And in Psalm 51:4 he says
Against you, you only, have I sinned
and done what is evil in your sight
He realises that he has sinned with this woman, but ultimately his sin is against God. And all of our sin is ultimately against God. In Peter’s wonderful sermon at Pentecost in Acts 2 he speaks to the people there gathered in Jerusalem about Jesus Christ, God’s Messiah, and the fact that they have killed him. And when the people realise the gravity of what they’ve done and the sin before them they are cut to the heart, we read in Acts. And they say to Peter “brother, what should we do?” What on earth can be done? What hope do we have now? And Peter says repent. Be Baptised. Follow Jesus; he is the sacrifice for your sins.
We need to be grieved by our sins, we need to be cut to the heart by our sin. And I think often times we treat sin so flippantly, like we treat God. We just go about, living our lives, and thinking “God’s a forgiving god, he’ll forgive my sin, it’s OK.” And the reality is that our sin is an offence towards God. If you’ve ever done something to someone who you really love and you’ve caused them offence, you’ve caused them hurt. And you know the grief I’m talking about, don’t you. We grieve when we hurt those closest to us, but yet we don’t grieve over our sin against God, the one who was willing to give everything for us? The God who is perfect and holy and righteous and just.
Having confessed their sin, they would then slit the throat of the animal, and the priest would catch the blood in a bowl, and then he’d apply some of the blood to the horns of the altar, symbolising the power of God to make atonement – to cover over their sins. It’s interesting that in Luke 1:69 Jesus is referred to as the horn of our salvation. He is the strength of our salvation, the only one who has the power and strength to accomplish salvation for us.
When the person came they realised that their sin was so great that it would cost this animal its life. What if the sacrificial system was still going on today? And every time we sinned, and we had to come before God to find forgiveness for our sins we had to bring an animal and we had to slaughter that animal before God? Now I know that a lot of people here love animals. You’ve got animals for pets. What if it meant that you bringing along your pet… We’ve got a dog, Fozzie, he’s a labradoodle. He’s a gorgeous dog. Yes, I’m bias. But if God said that I had to bring him along? He had to die for me sin? I’d be heartbroken. I think we would grieve more over killing our animals than we actually grieve over the fact that Christ died on the cross. Isn’t that true? God himself died for us. The animal was the substitute for the person in these Old Testament days in the tabernacle. It was the innocent substitute for the person for their sin. But today we have Christ – God himself, the all-glorious all-magnificent Christ – who gave himself for you and for me. He suffered and died in our place. In your place. For your sin, and for my sin.
We cannot pay for our sins ourselves.
The repentant sinner came, they placed their hands on the head of the sacrifice, confessed their sins.
And yes, we should be grieved by our sin, because it is an offence to a holy God.
But yet God graciously provided a way for the person’s sin to be paid for without having to die themselves; that was what this whole sacrifice was about. Here in this we see a picture of the grace of God to the people of Israel saying you don’t have to pay for your sins yourselves; I’ve provided a means of sacrifice – for now I will cover over your sins. I’m not going to turn a blind eye to them, they’re just going to be covered over for now, but I’m looking forward to a future time when Christ will come and ultimately he will pay for sin completely. A substitute.
Of course animals could never ever be a proper substitute for mankind could they? When we think about it, an animal’s life really isn’t the same as a human being’s life, is it? No, it’s not. So ultimately an animal could not pay for our sins, it had to be someone like us. But yet someone who was perfect. The sin could never ever be done away with, it was only a substitute.
Hebrews 2:17, in Jesus’ sacrifice we have a sacrifice that perfectly meets all of the law’s demands. That he was indeed like us, but he was without sin.
Hebrews 2:17 says
Therefore he had to be made like his brothers in every respect, so that he might become a merciful and faithful high priest in the service of God, to make propitiation for the sins of the people.
He was the only one who could do it. Jesus is the only one who can reconcile us, who can make payment for ours sins; there’s no other way. So if you’re thinking that you can do enough “good stuff” in your life to earn God’s approval and God’s favour and cancel out all the bad stuff in your life, I’ve got bad news for you. It’s not enough. In fact, you can never ever do enough to cancel out your sin before God. No matter how many good acts you do, no matter how nice you are, no matter how morally upright a person you try to be, you can never, ever, ever do enough to cancel out the sin in your life. And therefore when you stand before a holy God, which we will all do one day, you will stand before a holy God and God will say “you have now got to pay for your sins”, and God’s wrath and his anger will be poured out on you for eternity in hell.
And you’ll say “God, that’s not fair!” and God will say to you “I gave you the sacrifice that was needed. And what did you do with him? You turned your back on him.” You made your bed, and now you’ve got to lie in it, because God’s perfect righteousness must be met.
Going on, we need to speak about satisfaction.
We don’t like to think about God as being an angry God. In fact we’d much rather focus on his love and grace and mercy. And yet as we’ve been saying, God’s holiness and his righteousness demand that evil and wrongdoing and sin be punished. God’s justice must be satisfied; our sins have to be paid for and his anger appeased. And that’s where sacrifice comes in, specifically the substitutionary sacrifice of Jesus Christ. By the way there’s a theological term for that, it’s called the penal substitution. The doctrine of penal substitution. A substitutionary sacrifice must be put in place in order that our sins be paid for. And in Christ dying on the cross he was the one who met the righteous demands of God’s holiness.
Romans 3:23-26 says this
 for all have sinned and fall short of the glory of God,  and are justified by his grace as a gift, through the redemption that is in Christ Jesus,  whom God put forward as a propitiation by his blood, to be received by faith.
In other words, God provided the sacrifice in Jesus Christ and the way we get the benefits of that sacrifice is through faith. It’s putting our faith and trust in Jesus as the one who is our sacrifice. And the apostle Paul goes on to write
 This was to show God’s righteousness, because in his divine forbearance he had passed over former sins.
So these sins of the people in the Old Testament, the sacrifices that were made, it didn’t actually completely forgive the people, all it did was it covered over those sins for the time being. It averted God’s wrath for the time being until Jesus would come and die on the cross. It was to show God’s righteousness because God couldn’t turn a blind eye to the sin, he knew that the sin had to be paid for ultimately so he needed to continue in his righteousness.
 It was to show his righteousness at the present time, so that he might be just and the justifier of the one who has faith in Jesus.
That term propitiation says this: it means to appease or to satisfy. What needs to be appeased or satisfied? God’s wrath. God’s anger needs to be appeased. We are unable to do anything to turn away God’s anger – we’ve already established that. And yet, he himself provides the way. In 1 John 4:10 we see
In this is love, not that we have loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the propitiation for our sins.
The one to satisfy his righteousness and his holiness. It was God’s anger and wrath that needed to be propitiated (or satisfied), and God’s love that did the propitiating (or satisfying) in itself. One biblical scholar states this: man is alienated from God by sin, and God is alienated from man by his wrath. It is in the substitutionary death of Christ that sin in overcome and God’s wrath averted so that God can look on man without displeasure, and man can look on God without fear.
Jesus is the propitiation for our sins. Remember God is also perfect in love as well, so his love and his justice somehow have got to be worked out; there’s this tension there and the way this tension is solved is in the cross of Jesus Christ. And through faith in Jesus, as we put our trust in him, as we accept him as our sacrifice, as we recognise and confess our sin before God, and our need for Jesus Christ, and put our faith and trust in him, then our sins are forgiven and we can be placed in a right relationship with God. We no longer have to fear his anger and his condemnation any more.
Isn’t that good news?
Through faith in Christ our sins are paid for and forgiven. We are reconciled to God, but also what happens is that we are also made holy. Our sins are removed – taken away – and in their place we are given the righteousness of Christ. And that’s how we can approach a holy God because ours sins God has removed completely, we’re no longer sinful in his sight; in fact we are righteous as Christ is righteous in his sight.
And because we are holy, the last thing we need to speak about is the altar speaking of surrender.
Because sacrifice by necessity means a whole giving of one’s self. And when we ask Jesus Christ to be the substitute for our sins – the sacrifice for our sin – we are saying to him “I am now giving myself wholly and completely to you. And I’m going to follow you from now on. And yes, I’ll muck up from time to time, and I’ll fall and I’ll make mistakes, and I will sin. But because I know you’ve paid for my sin on the cross, that’s all been dealt with.”
See, to come to the altar meant the laying down of a life. And Jesus, as he went to that altar of the cross, he was willing to lay down his life for you and for me. He himself held nothing back. He held nothing back in order that we could have our sins forgiven and be brought into the holy and glorious embrace of God. The loving embrace of God. On the altar of the cross Jesus blood was poured out and he died so that we might live. And the new life that he gives is meant to be lived in the knowledge that we are now new creations.
We are now God’s children. As we’re told in 2 Peter we are in fact a royal priesthood, a holy nation, a people belonging to God. And that means then each day we need to continually surrender our wills and our desires to God. Because sin hasn’t let go of us yet; even though our sins have been paid for we still have this sinful, human, fallen nature within us. And God is working to transform us from the inside out, but we are going to battle with this sinful nature for the rest of our earthly lives, and so it means for us day by day coming again to the altar of the cross and laying our lives down before Jesus and saying “I want to follow you; I no longer want to follow the desires of my heart. I no longer want to follow the desire and the passions of this world, I want to live for you. Because of all that you’ve done for me, I want to live for you. And so I come day by day surrendering, giving over, giving over my life to Jesus Christ” and saying “you live your life through me. Please”. And whenever we are faced with sin and temptation in our lives, we have then got to come to the foot of the cross, and we’ve got to say “no, I have surrendered to Jesus Christ. I am surrendering myself to him, not to these other ways anymore.” And we’ve got to fight against it with all the strength that God gives us in our hearts and in our bodies. We’ve got to fight against it. Fight and fight and fight. Keep running that race. Surrendering day by day.
Will you lay down your life for the one who was willing to lay down his life for you?
Will you be willing to do that?