The New Testament Altar

The New Testament Altar

The New Testament Altar 

My Lord and my God, I ask that you guide my thoughts to deliver only what will edify your people so that what the devil meant for evil, you will turn it around for good in the lives of your people that all glory will remain yours in Jesus Name, Amen.

 

I often hear ministers of God make statements like. “Raise an altar unto the Lord and present your case before Him” or “I entered my room an raised an altar by the side of my bed” or worse still they build a little shelf on the wall at a corner in a room and have a light perpetually on in front of a framed picture of their imagined Jesus or Mary. In some cases both. The light could be from an oil lamp, candle or simply an electric bulb.

Well, what’s so wrong about that? To answer that question, we need to see what the scriptures say about Altars today.

The Merriam-Webster’s dictionary defines altar as a usually raised structure or place on which sacrifices are offered or incense is burned in worship” It goes on to state that the word altar comes from the Latin word “altare” and possibly related to another Latin word “adolere”, meaning “to burn up”.

The Greek word “thusiasterion” is the word commonly translated as Altar in the New Testament and also in the Greek Old Testament which is called the Septuagint. This word simply means “a place to sacrifice”.

From the above definitions we can say that an altar is a physical structure where sacrifices are burned. In the Old Testament times the altar took on various forms and was used by many religions. In the Jewish tradition altars were used to sacrifice animals in obedience to God and burn incense on. The use of an altar predated the Law of Moses yet it was encoded into the Law.

The most important altar of all that supersedes all other altars and makes all other altars meaningless is the Cross on which Jesus was sacrificed. The Cross was God’s personal altar since He was the one who sacrificed Jesus. Now that’s interesting – God making a sacrifice to Himself, just like He did in the garden of Eden on behalf of Adam and Eve after they sinned  to propitiate Himself with them so He will not kill them. As we got to learn later “The soul that sinneth, it shall die.” Ezekiel 18:20a

The Greek word for altar is seldom used in the New Testament and when it is, it’s used in reference to the Old Testament Law and Temple worship and also an altar that can be found in Heaven. In Matthew. 5:23 – 24, 23:18, 20, 35 and Luke 11:51 Jesus used this word in reference to the Old Testament. In 1 Corinthians. 9:13 and 1 Corinthians. 10:18 Paul used it in reference to the altar in the Temple and to the Law. The books of Hebrews and Revelation speak of an altar as well but that altar is in Heaven, NOT on earth. (Hebrews. 13:10 and Revelation. 6:9, 8:3-5, 11:1)

From all the above scriptures, it’s obvious to me that the word altar as a physical structure on earth is more of an Old Testament word than a New Testament word. Why so?

We don’t see a New Testament altar on earth because Jesus’ death destroyed the meaning to both the Temple with its altar and the Law of Moses that demanded sacrifices on the altar. All such things, including an altar are long gone. Also, after Jesus ascended into Heaven true believers became the temple of God, making any man made building or altar unnecessary. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” 1Corinthians 3:16 “In whom (Jesus Christ) all the building fitly framed together groweth unto an holy temple in the Lord: In whom ye also are builded together for an habitation of God through the Spirit. Ephesians 2:21-22. Through the Spirit NOT a physical thing. This is why we don’t see any mention of a New Testament altar.

 

In many respects today, we as Christians are much like the Jews of old, in the sense that they needed to build a temple with an altar at almost every major event in their lives. Many Christians today feel the need to do the same, some even prompted by their ministers. And we’re certainly like Peter, James and John at the transfiguration (Mark 9:1-13). They saw Moses and Elijah appear with Jesus before their very eyes and they were so overwhelmed that they didn’t know what to think, do, or say. Because they lived under the law, for the Church was born in Acts chapter 2 when the Holy Ghost arrived the earth. In the midst of this uncertainty Peter suggested that they build a monument as an altar of worship. Notice the Lord said nothing to that suggestion. But instead it was a voice from heaven they heard further authenticating the sonship of the Lord Jesus. Scripture says Peter spoke out of fear, not knowing what to say at what he just witnessed.

That’s typical what we Christians do today. We build countless religious temples and altars all around us. May I add… we build out of ignorance and even fear. At this point in our walk with God, it is tantamount to idolatry. We do not need any physical temple where we must go to pure out our hearts to God regardless the location. Our rooms, a special mountain or even in the Church building altar. We are the temple of God as we read from the scripture I shared with you above. The Spirit of God dwells IN US. “Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” 1Corinthians 3:16  “God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, (God) dwelleth not in temples made with hands;” Acts 17:24

Now, that is different from going away to a quiet, isolated place to seek His face.

I am talking about a situation where you cannot communicate with God until you come before the “altar” you have set up in a particular place. I know this practice is more prevalent with our friends in the Roman Catholic Church. With the Pentecostals, it is usually called for at prayer sessions to “set up an altar for the Lord”. The truth be told. This practice usually would work for the practitioners not because it is a scriptural thing but simply because of the amount of faith dumped on it.

NOTE: whatever you place your faith on, will naturally serve you until a day comes when it will fail just to prove to you that it is the creature and not the creator and I am not implying that you worship the altar. But the mere fact that you always look forwards to that spot, making it your “meeting place” before you can pray makes it a worship centre, your altar of worship, that includes the Church building. Don’t forget the Lord said For where two or three are gathered together in my name, there am I in the midst of them.” Matthew 18:20 He never said it had to be in a particular building but He said “But the hour cometh, and now is, when the true worshippers shall worship the Father in spirit and in truth: for the Father seeketh such to worship him. God is a Spirit: and they that worship him must worship him in spirit and in truth.” John 4:23-24

 

We continue this week. New Testament thinking concerning altars can be found in Romans 12:1 where Paul says to us ​I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service.” Romans 12:1.

Now Paul did not use the word altar here but it’s inferred since one offers a sacrifice on an altar as we saw in our definition earlier, he’s talking about offering ourselves as a living sacrifice. So what altar could Paul be talking about if there isn’t any such thing as a New Testament altar?

Of cause there is, but the altar is spiritual and invisible, and we are the sacrifice placed on this altar. Salvation is not just about believing in a historical Jesus. It’s about giving yourself sacrificially to Him after you have received Him as Lord and saviour.  If you don’t have some kind of struggle or conflict as you make your sacrifice, then you might not actually be sacrificing anything, talk more of yourself. Why is that? You may ask. I’ll tell you. The very nature of sacrifice itself suggests some kind of conflict and pain. In this case the main conflict is between your will and God’s will. Giving up your will can be mentally and emotionally painful at times.

 

The real altar for us New Testament Christians today is that invisible altar that we can access at any time and in any place. It’s that spiritual place where we give our wills to Jesus to be burned up in the fire of God. Each day we have many opportunities to come to this altar and choose God’s will over ours in whatever situation that faces us. When we choose His way over ours, we are in fact offering our lives again on God’s invisible altar as an act of the New Testament worship.

In the Old Testament when you sinned, you had to head for the temple where the altar of God was erected to offer sacrifice for that misdeed like King David did in 1 Chronicles 21:26

Thanks to Jesus, the sacrificial system is out, the need to go through Levitical priests to get to God is out, and the need to stand before a particular altar whenever we pray is out. However, even though all those things are out, the spirit of each part of David’s worship is still necessary today. But we must do it the New Testament way. “…In Spirit and in truth”

You see, like I told you before, my body is now the temple of God. I Corinthians 6:19 It is my responsibility to build an altar to the Lord in my heart, maintain it, and visit it frequently. I take my sin, sorrow, faults, and failings to God at this altar and offer them as I would a burnt offering, letting God’s fire consume them and reprove me. I take my confidences, joys, and praise as peace offerings, willingly sharing them with my Master and continually submitting them to Him. I call on the Lord at my altar, discussing my requests and desires with Him, and seeking His face concerning them. All of these activities are done in my heart, it is invincible and it is with me wherever I go.

 

Finally, it is at the altar where God answers from Heaven. Since our bodies are the temple, we can never leave our altar. Though many of us neglect it and choose to build an external one for the Lord, so we claim. The truth is, it is called IDOLATRY whether we like it or not. True you may not be in the habit of killing animals for propitiation but you have chosen to build an altar for the Lord with your hands, it is not acceptable.

But as we maintain altar-consciousness and listen for God’s voice, we will hear Him speak through His Word, through other Christian brothers and sisters, and even through observations of nature, which after all is the work of His hands.

 

Check this out: “Ye also, as lively stones, are built up a spiritual house, an holy priesthood, to offer up spiritual sacrifices, acceptable to God by Jesus Christ.” 1 Peter 2:5

Scriptures tell us that the most High dwelleth not in temples made with hands; as saith the prophet, Heaven is my throne, and earth is my footstool: what house will ye build me? saith the Lord: or what is the place of my rest? Hath not my hand made all these things?” Acts 7:48-50

I encourage you today to become altar-conscious, but not the type made with hands or restricted to a particular place. Let it be that one on the inside of you where the Godhead dwells. If you’re just starting out, build your heart’s altar to the Lord by making a determination to spend daily time with Him. You may have to repair your neglected altar. That’s all right; just do it and take up where you left off. If you already spend regular times with God, keep it up, there is always room for improvement. Whatever the case, it’s a joy to know that God eagerly desires to spend time with His people.

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