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Beyond the Brazen Altar

Exodus 30:17-21 - The Lord said to Moses, "Make a bronze basin, with its bronze stand, for washing. Place it between the Tent of Meeting and the [brazen] altar, and put water in it. Aaron and his sons are to wash their hands and their feet with water from it. Whenever they enter the Tent of Meeting, they shall wash with water so that they will not die. When they approach the [brazen] altar to minister by presenting an offering made to the Lord by fire, they shall wash their hands and feet so that they will not die. This is to be a lasting ordinance for Aaron and his descendants for the generations to come.

Hebrews 9:24 - Christ did not enter a man-made sanctuary that was only a copy of the true one; He entered heaven itself, now to appear for us in God's presence.

Hebrews 10:19-22 - Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, His body, and since we have a great Priest over the house of God, let us draw near to God with a sincere heart in full assurance of faith, having our hearts sprinkled to cleanse us from a guilty conscience and having our bodies washed with pure water.

Have you ever longed to worship the Lord but just couldn't seem to generate an attitude of worship? It wasn't that you didn't know the fantastic truth of Hebrews 10:19-22, that we can have "boldness to enter the holy of holies"! No--you're a mature enough Christian to recognize your righteous position and your wonderful place of privilege before God. And it wasn't that you thought you needed more liturgical structure--you know that God is worshiped in spirit and in truth (John 4:24). And you certainly can give a pretty good theological definition of worship! You know it's not defined as a "warm fuzzy feeling"! Worship is acknowledging who God is and what He has done, is doing and will do--with an attitude of genuine thanksgiving--to God Himself. But even though you know all this, the experience of worship often seems to escape you. What's the problem, anyway? Feelings versus Attitude

Maybe nothing! It could be that you truly are worshiping--more than you realize--during those "no feelings" times! Remember, don't confuse the attitude of worship with your feeling of worship. The attitude of worship is a matter of the will. Our feelings are associated with our emotions, and can vary with circumstances. Although we may know with our minds that worship is not defined by feelings and is not dependent on feelings, yet it is hard in practice (even for mature believers) not to expect good feelings to "prove" that worship is taking place. So even when you don't experience that "feeling of worship," you are worshiping the Lord if you're thanking and praising Him for His Person and His activities.

But what if our problem with worship is not confusion about feelings vs. attitudes? Suppose the root of the problem actually is our attitude of worship! What if our wills are "sluggish," and what if our thanksgivings and praises are mechanical? What if our attitudes are influenced by cold hearts rather than "hearts of fire"? If this is the case, then maybe our problem is that we have not progressed "beyond the brazen altar"! Now what does that mean? Wasn't the bronze altar a part of the Old Testament system of worship?  What does "beyond the brazen altar" have to do with our worship as Christians? Quite a bit, as a matter of fact! According to Hebrews 9:23-24, the design of the Old Testament tabernacle was a copy of the true holy place in the heavens. No, there's not a giant literal tabernacle beyond the sky somewhere! These verses mean that God designed the earthly tabernacle to portray the divine pattern of approach into His presence. In fact, everything about the tabernacle and its furnishings paints a spiritual picture of God's way of worship. Let's examine the divine pattern of the Old Testament tabernacle, particularly as it relates to the attitude of worship.

The Divine Pattern

First of all, the tabernacle and its surrounding courtyard were enclosed by a "fence" of heavy curtains. According to Exodus 38:18, the "fence" around the center of worship was 7 1/2 feet high--too high for the "natural man" to climb (or even to see) over. There was only one gate. Certainly this barrier and its height emphasize the truth that God can only be approached through the one gate. As God's pattern of the Tabernacle provided an opening through which sinful man might approach a holy God, so God has provided Jesus Christ--the only Gate through which we may approach Him. (See John 14:6 and Acts 4:12.) Tragically, most people choose not to enter through that one Gate. (See Matthew 7:13-14.)  The brazen (bronze) altar was immediately inside the entrance into the courtyard of the Tabernacle. The various animal sacrifices of the Old Testament were offered on this altar. Although those sacrifices could never take away sin (Hebrews 10:11-12), they pictured the future Great Sacrifice who could take away sin. As John the Baptist said about the Lord Jesus, "Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world!" (John 1:29). It is significant that the bronze altar was close to the gate.  There was no getting around or avoiding the bronze altar when approaching and entering the Tabernacle! In the same way, we cannot bypass the sacrifice of Christ in our approach to God. People who say they honor Christ as the greatest moral teacher who ever lived, but do not accept His sacrifice as the means of their salvation cannot possibly approach and worship the true God. The location of the brazen altar leaves no doubt that if we approach God in God's way, we must not only acknowledge Christ's moral perfections, but we must also recognize and accept the sacrifice of Christ for our sins. In Old Testament times, there was no such thing as entering the Tent of God's presence apart from an encounter with the brazen altar. Today, regardless of race or religious background or region on earth, there is no approach to God that bypasses the cross of Christ.

But the tabernacle consisted of more than the gate and the bronze altar. There were features of the tabernacle that were "beyond the brazen altar." The gate and the brazen altar speak of Christ as the way of salvation. "Beyond the brazen altar" speaks of sanctification. Sanctification is the process by which a believer is made more holy, or more like Christ, in this life. As God sanctifies us, we begin to see things through God's eyes and think more in line with His mind. Our hearts become more sensitive to what sin really is, and we recognize the many ways we have rationalized and adapted to the values and attitudes of this world--and we do something about it! Our thought patterns, attitudes and daily activities begin to resemble the humble, focused mind and unselfish lifestyle of Jesus Christ. Sanctification should be progressive and continual in the believer's life. It is an essential part of the attitude of worship.

The Laver

Before the priests were able to enter the tabernacle they were to wash themselves with  water from the Laver. The laver was a large bronze basin full of water, located between the bronze altar and the door of the tabernacle. Before entering the tabernacle or officiating at the altar the priests were to wash their hands and their feet with water from the laver. If they did not wash, they were considered ceremonially unclean and unfit for the service and worship of God. It didn't matter whether the priests felt defiled or not--the washings of the laver were required if God was to be approached and worshiped. Every time they approached God, they were to wash again! What is the lesson here for us? Although our sins are forever forgiven as a result of the sacrificial work of Christ (pictured in the brazen altar), we need daily cleansing (pictured by the laver) from the defiling effects of sin. In our everyday lives, the dust and dirt of this ungodly world "rubs off" on us. Every day we become defiled by sin--sometimes without realizing it, because we have become so desensitized to what sin really is! Think about it--do I recognize it's sin when my rushed lifestyle makes me angry at a slow driver, or impatient with my family? Do I recognize that it's my worldly values that make me "covet" my friends' homes or gardens or cars or sports equipment? Am I discontented (a sin!) with where God has placed me? Do I selfishly insist on "doing it my way" in my family or church life? Is there unrecognized spiritual pride in my life? Has Satan subtly convinced me that I'm slightly superior to other believers in my doctrine or my church or my lifestyle?! As priests we have the great privilege of entering the tabernacle to offer prayers and praises to God, but we also have the responsibility--in fact, the requirement--to wash at the laver. The dust and dirt of our daily walk must be washed away if we are to properly enter the presence of our Heavenly Father. In Hebrews 10:22 we are invited and exhorted to "draw near to God with faith"-- but notice that it is with "hearts that are sprinkled...and bodies washed with pure water"! This sprinkling and washing takes place at the laver. It is not a spiritual picture of our salvation, but a picture of our sanctification, portrayed by the placement of the laver.  How do we wash? We constantly apply the Word of God to our hearts and minds and lives. Ephesians 5:26 says that Lord sanctifies His church by the washing of water by the Word. Worship is limited--if not impossible--for the believer who tries to bypass the laver! Is it possible that the much-desired attitude of worship escapes us because our spiritual sensitivity is covered by a heavy film of dirt? Are you meeting God's requirement to wash at the laver?

The Candelabrum and The Bread

When the priests entered the Holy Place, the first room of the sanctuary, they could see the altar of incense at the far end of room.  It was right next to the heavy curtain, or veil, which separated the Holy Place from the Holy of Holies.  But in order to reach the altar of incense, the priests had to pass between the seven-branched Menorah (candelabrum) on the left and the multi-tiered table with the Bread of the Presence on the right.  Both of these tabernacle items speak of Christ and contribute to our key for the right attitude of worship. The menorah pictures Christ as the only source of light for the believer. There were no windows or source of natural light in the Tabernacle. The priests used that one lone candlestick for all of their light in the Tent of Worship.  Their function of worship was entirely dependent on this light.   What a picture of the place Christ must have in the believer's life when it comes to worship! Is it possible that your attitude of worship is lacking because you are not recognizing Christ as the only source of light for your soul? Reading questionable "How To" books or striving to become "more enlightened" by various "spiritual" techniques is not the key to true worship of God--indeed, it can be just the opposite! "Aids to worship" are no substitution for the light of Christ. Getting to know the Lord Jesus Christ better through Scripture, prayer and obedience clarifies our spiritual vision and illuminates the pathway to true worship.

The Bread of the Presence was food for the priests. Like the manna, the perfectly sufficient nourishment for Israel, this bread also pictures Christ as the perfect source of nourishment for the soul of the believer. The manna pictures the Person of Christ and His all-sufficient perfection as the "Bread of life come down from heaven" (John 6:22f). The Bread of the Presence, which had gone through the fires of baking, speaks of Christ as having gone through the crucible of the cross in His atoning work. As priests, we "feed on Christ" through meditating on His perfect life (the manna) and in His finished work (the Bread of the Presence). Our thoughts about God should never stray from the focal point of the Person and work of Christ.  Partaking of the Bread of the Presence is essential to our attitude of worship. Is it possible that our attitude of worship is not what it could be because we're feeding on all kinds of other "foods" rather than the Bread which God has given to His priests? We can't maintain spiritual vitality if we're feeding on spiritual "junk food"! What are we eating these days?

The Altar of Incense

Finally, we come to the goldenAltar of Incense, which marked the way into the Most Holy Place, the very presence of God. Although the altar of incense was located just outside the Most Holy Place, it was very closely associated with entrance into the most holy sanctuary. (See Hebrews 9:3-4.) The altar of incense pictures Christ as the means by which our prayers and praises ascend up to God (Hebrews 13:15-16). In Old Testament times, the Holy of Holies was off limits to all but the high priest. And he could enter through the heavy dividing curtain only once a year. Today we have the great privilege of entering the Holy of Holies--the very presence of God--at any time! But notice, from the layout of the Tabernacle, that our entrance into that inner sanctuary is intrinsically linked to our prayers and praises at the altar of incense. Is it possible that our attitude of worship is lacking because we have rushed through the tabernacle courts and Holy Place to get to the altar of incense, and thus have nothing to offer there? Can we expect to offer up Christ-exalting "incense" to God if our thoughts are dulled by unconfessed--or even unrecognized!--sin in our lives? Can we expect to bring prayers of thanksgiving if our vision is clouded and our hearts are filled by the latest worldly attractions? Can we expect to approach the altar with eager hearts, overflowing with praises, if our strength is sapped by a diet of "spiritual fluff" rather than the Bread of Life?

The entrance into the Most Holy Place is open! Do we eagerly approach our Heavenly Father, or do we experience a reluctance or inability to enter? Maybe our attitude of worship is a problem because we have not considered the implications of all that God has provided for us "beyond the brazen altar."

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