************ Sermon on Exodus 27:1-8 ************
By: Rev. Adrian Dieleman
This sermon was preached on Exodus 27:1-8
"The Altar of Burnt Offering"
Let me remind you, again, of the three principles we need to keep in mind as we look at the tabernacle and its furnishings.
First, we need to remember worship is so important to God that He leaves nothing to the imagination and ingenuity of man. It is so important that God spelled out all the details of where and how He was to be worshiped. Therefore, in more than one place we are told God revealed to Moses the pattern, the blueprint, for the tabernacle and all its furnishings (Ex 25:9,40; cf Ex 26).
Second, we need to remember that the tabernacle and its furnishings are but shadows and copies of God's heavenly throne room (Heb 8:5). What are seen and used on earth are not the real thing; they simply points us heavenward to God's sanctuary.
Third, Hebrews 8 & 9 tells us that just about every detail of the tabernacle and its priesthood is fulfilled in Christ.
Keeping this in mind we look this Lord's Supper evening at the altar of burnt offering.
I Moses and the Altar
A The altar of burnt offering was the largest piece of furniture in the Tabernacle. It was made of acacia wood and overlaid with bronze. It stood 7.5 feet square and 4.5 feet high. At each of the four corners of the altar was a horn made of acacia wood also overlaid with bronze. [Amy put a picture of the altar in the bulletin.] Compared to the altar in the Temple, however, it was small. The altar of burnt offering in Solomon's temple was 30 feet square and 15 feet high (2 Chron. 4:1).
B As the name implies, the altar of burnt offering was used for offerings or sacrifices. The sacrificial system was ordained by God and placed at the very center and heart of Jewish national life. God was burning into the hearts of His people an awareness of their sin. It all was a picture of the coming sacrifice of the Messiah. The sacrifices pointed to Him and were fulfilled in Him.
Leviticus 1-7 identifies five main types of sacrifices. First, is the burnt offering (Lev 1). The whole animal, except for the skin, was burnt upon the altar and it atoned for the worshiper's sin. It satisfied God's wrath against sin and made fellowship possible between a holy God and a sinful person. The burnt offering teaches that God is pleased to accept anyone who comes to Him through His prescribed sacrifice.
Second, is the grain offering (Lev 2). It usually was an offering of flour and oil in which a handful was burned and the priests ate the rest. It was a gift to God in response to the forgiveness of sins. An additional offering, the drink offering was poured on top of the grain offering as a symbol of joy (Lev 23:13).
Third, is the peace or fellowship offering (Lev 3). Unlike other offerings, this was one optional. The blood, the fat, and the kidneys of the offering were put upon the altar – this was God's part. The rest was man's part and was eaten by the priest and the worshiper together.
Fourth, is the sin offering (Lev 4 & 5). This sacrifice was offered for unintentional sins and ceremonial uncleanness. The blood and fat were put upon the altar for God and the rest of the animal was burned outside of the camp.
Fifth, is the guilt offering (Lev 5 & 6). The offering was in the form of a ram. The person not only sought forgiveness but first he or she also made full restitution for the wrong that was done.
C The altar of burnt offering was the first thing you saw when you entered the outer court of the tabernacle. Here is a statement to all those entering into the Tabernacle, that the way to God is by way of the altar. Here is a statement that man's first and greatest need is atonement for sin. Here is a statement that God's prodigal children can come into His presence, only when their sins are paid for by the blood of the sacrificial Lamb.
D Let me say some more about the sin offerings and guilt offerings. Whenever someone sinned, a bull, goat, or lamb without blemish was brought to the altar of burnt offering as a sin offering. The one bringing the sacrifice would lay his hand upon the animal as it was being slaughtered. The priest would take the blood of the sacrifice and with his finger put it on the four horns of the altar. The fat of the animal would be burned on the altar. The rest of the animal would then be carried out of the camp and burned to ashes.
So, what happens when God's sinful people come to the altar with their sin offerings, lay their hands on the offering as it is being slaughtered, and watch as the blood is put on the horns and the animal is completely burned? Four times in Leviticus 4 we read the words, "and he will be forgiven" (Lev 4:20, 26, 31, 35). On what basis? He is guilty, after all. And, he has admitted his guilt – why else would he be at the altar? What has happened is transference. The sin of the guilty one has been transferred to the innocent lamb or goat or bull. And the blamelessness of the lamb or goat or bull without blemish has been transferred to the repentant sinner.
II David and the Altar of Burnt Offering
A In 1 Kings, we read two stories concerning the altar. The first concerns Adonijah, the second oldest son of David. Adonijah attempted to have himself made king, even though David had chosen Solomon to follow him as king. Upon hearing the news, David immediately had Solomon anointed as king over Israel. When the news came to Adonijah, he was filled with fear – great fear. Would he end up dead like Absalom, his older brother? What should he do? Where could he go? Should he flee out of the country? Should he go into hiding? Listen to what Adonijah did:
(1Ki 1:50) But Adonijah, in fear of Solomon, went and took hold of the horns of the altar.
The second story concerns Joab, the commander of David's army, who supported Adonijah in his attempt to seize the throne. Shortly after assuming the throne, Solomon began to clean house. Solomon removed Abiathar from the priesthood because he supported Adonijah. Adonijah was put to death for trying to steal the throne a second time. Listen to what happened when news of this house cleaning reached Joab:
(1Ki 2:28) When the news reached Joab, who had conspired with Adonijah though not with Absalom, he fled to the tent of the LORD and took hold of the horns of the altar.
B Why did Adonijah and Joab both flee to the altar of burnt offering and grab its horns? According to Exodus 21:12-14, grasping the horns of the altar was a way of seeking sanctuary or protection when one was charged with a serious offense.
Why did Adonijah and Joab grab the horns of the altar? Not because they were innocent but because they were guilty! It is guilty people who come to the altar. When Adonijah and Joab grabbed the horns, they were confessing their guilt and their shame. They were admitting they were guilty of the crime.
So, what is so special about the altar? Why did Adonijah and Joab flee there for sanctuary? Because death has already been there. The shedding of blood has already taken place. It was the blood – and only the blood – that gave the horns of the altar their protective power. They were looking for protection in the blood!
III Jesus and the Altar of Burnt Offering
A What is the lesson of the altar of burnt offering on this Lord's Supper Sunday?
First, like the ancient Israelites, you must confess your sin before God. No one else can do it for you. If you want to come into the presence of the Most Holy God, you have to acknowledge your sin and come to the altar God has prepared.
B Second, know without a doubt that the wages of sin is death. Sin is serious stuff – so serious that the lamb or goat or bull had to die in the place of the sinner. God punishes your sin and my sin.
C Third, Christ is our burnt offering. He offered Himself entirely upon the cross. He is the Lamb of God Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29). He died in our place and for our sin. He took on our guilt and our shame and died in our place. As Isaiah puts it, "The Lord has laid on him the iniquity of us all" (Is 53:6). He is the Lamb without blemish. Our guilt has been transferred to Him, the innocent Lamb. And His sinlessness has been transferred to us, the repentant sinner.
D Fourth, I am sure you notice that we don't have an altar in this church. We don't have a time of sacrifice. Some churches still have altars because they believe Christ needs to be sacrificed every single day. We don't have an altar; rather, we have a Table.
The reason is simple: throughout the New Testament we are told that Christ died "once for all" (Rom 6:10; 1 Pet 3:18), that Christ was sacrificed "once for all" (Heb 7:27; 9:12; 10:10). Once for all what? Once for all times. Once for all people. Once for all sins. Once for all guilt. Christ's sacrifice and death was "once for all." So, no other sacrifice is necessary. No more sacrifice is necessary.
Unlike the Old Testament Israelite, we do not have to go to the altar of burnt offering time and time again. All we need do is come to Christ. He is the sacrifice once for all.
The entire scene of the penitent sinner before the altar is a picture of you and me.
The entire scene of the sacrifice upon the altar is a picture of Christ.
So, as we eat and drink, think of yourself, the guilty sinner. And, think of Jesus, the spotless Lamb Who takes away the sin of the world (Jn 1:29).
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