The Brazen Altar
September 27th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE BRAZEN ALTAR
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 9; Exodus 27
9-27-59 10:50 a.m.
To you who share with us these services over the radio, you are listening to the pastor of the First Baptist Church in Dallas bringing the eleven o’clock morning message entitled: The Great Altar.
In the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews to which we have come, after about fourteen years in preaching through the Bible, the author turns to the ordinances, the ceremonies of the Old Testament, and finds in them those types and pictures and symbols by which God taught His people the beginning of the language of the deep meaning of the grace by which we would ultimately be saved, and to us who live on this side of the cross, by which we are saved. He names the articles of furniture in the tabernacle, and for the remainder of the ninth chapter and for half of the tenth chapter, he speaks of the meaning of that holy and sacred ritual which was given to Moses of God on the mount that burned with fire.
It is not an accident that the tabernacle and its worship is delineated in the Book of Exodus. The Book of Exodus is the book of redemption. And in the book of redemption, we find the pattern of the tabernacle. The Exodus story begins in the gloom and darkness of Egyptian slavery, and it ends in the glory of the tabernacle.
The Law, the commandments, the ordinances that were given of God to Moses are divided into three plain and separate parts. Sometimes the division is called the law moral, the law civil, the law ceremonial. Sometimes the division is made like this: the commandments of God, the judgments of God, and the ordinances of God. The commandments of God are what they are because of what God is. They are an expression of His character and His being. The judgments of God are how the man is to live in the presence of heaven and earth. The ordinances of God concern how it is that a sinful man can approach a holy God. The ordinances provide for the communion between man and God.
In the ordinances, you find the pattern of the tabernacle. The tabernacle was a hiding place for the sinful man in the presence of the holy and righteous God. Right in the midst of the delineation of the pattern of the tabernacle, you have the story of Moses hidden in a cleft of the rock when the glory of God passed by. The tabernacle was that. It was a hiding place for sinful Israel in the presence of the glory and holiness of God.
The pattern of the tabernacle is given in Exodus 25 through 40, and there are several striking features about the pattern. One is this, the articles of furniture are delineated first. That’s a strange thing and a very opposite thing to us. When we build, we build first the house. Then the furnishings are selected to fit the house. It was opposite with God and the tabernacle. He gives the furniture first. Then the tabernacle fits the furniture. The great and profound meaning of the tabernacle is found in its furnishings, and it is the furnishings that give dignity and name to the tabernacle itself. For example, because the ark of the covenant, the mercy seat, the propitiatory, the cherubim overlooking are in the place that it is, that place is called "the Holy of Holies." It was made for the articles of furniture. It is the furniture, the furnishings of the tabernacle, that give it meaning.
Another striking thing about the pattern: in no place is God photographed. There is no idol. There is no image. There is no representation. There are only shadows and suggestions. Here is a lamp stand. Here is a table of shewbread. Here is a golden altar of incense. Here is a laver. But in no place is there a representation of the great high God. That is a remarkable thing, because these people have just come out of Egyptian idolatry; and left to themselves for just a moment, they turn back to the worship of the golden gods they knew in Egypt. A remarkable thing – there is no representation of God by idol, by image, in any of it.
Then, a third striking thing: when the pattern is given, it is given from God’s point of view. It starts at the inner sanctuary, at the mercy seat, at the ark of the covenant, and then goes out. There are seven articles of furniture. One of them in the Holy of Holies; three of them in the holy place; two of them on the outside, in the court; and the mercy seat above the ark making a seventh, all of it given from God’s point of view.
As he proceeds outward from the divine sanctuary, he finally comes last of all to the great altar with its laver. When a sinner approaches God, he does just the opposite. He comes into the presence of God. And there at the gate of the tabernacle is the great altar. Our only approach to God is by the altar. Even the hidden presence of the Almighty is not approachable to one until first he comes by the altar.
That altar speaks of sin and of death and of judgment. The altar is the cross of Christ. It is situated there at the gate of the court, the first thing one sees when he enters into the sacred enclosure. It is called "the brazen altar." It is called "the altar of burnt offering." It is called "the altar by the door of the tabernacle." It was made out of acacia wood and brass. Acacia is a form of mimosa, a species of mimosa. It flourished in the desert through which the children of Israel wandered for forty years. It furnished all of the wood for the tabernacle.
It was covered over with brass. Brass is a symbol of the burning judgment of God. In the first chapter of the Revelation, in the description of the Holy Lord Jesus, His feet were as burning brass; that is, the great Judge of all the earth stands upon a completed judgment. Those were the feet that trod the press – the wrath of God in the winepress. Those were the feet that stood in the burning judgment of God when God was made sin for us.
Made out of wood Christ’s humanity covered with brass the burning judgment of God upon sin. It was foursquare, five cubits each way, all alike, pointing in every direction the impartiality of the judgment of God. At each corner, there was a horn. To that horn, the victim was tied that was sacrificed. Our Lord was bound over unto death. That horn was also a refuge and a deliverance. When one sought to find salvation and hope for a life that had been ruined, he clung to the horns of the altar. The horns also at the four corners pointed to the four corners of the earth. There is salvation and refuge and hope for all.
On that altar, all of the sacrifices of Israel were made – all of them. That was the point of contact between man and God. The five Levitical offerings the burnt offering, the meal offering, the peace offering, the sin offering and the trespass offering all of the Levitical sacrifices were offered on that altar. On that altar was offered the sacrifice of the great Day of Atonement, and on that altar was offered up the daily sacrifice, the lamb of propitiation.
It is a type and a symbol of the cross. First, it is a place of and an instrument of death. The altar is a place for slaughter and for judgment and for death. It is the place where the holiness and wrath of God meets sin. And God – because of what He is – God linked those two things in an unbreakable chain. "The soul that sins shall die" [Ezekiel 18:4]. Sin and death. "The wages of sin is death." [Romans 6:23] "For death passed upon all men because all men have sinned." [Romans 5:12] That was imperishably engraven upon the minds and consciences of God’s people. Sin is death. And that is engraven no less in imperishable characters upon the mind and conscience of the mental and moral and natural world. All philosophy stands before that harsh and awful fact: sin is death. Philosophy has no hope, no remission, knows no way out. It just stands before the awful truth. And nature emphasizes it in all of its story and in all of its realms of life.
Rudyard Kipling caught the spirit of our whole natural world in that couplet out of The Jungle Book:
This is this law of the jungle,
As old and as true as the sky;
The wolf that shall keep it may prosper,
But the wolf that shall break it must die.
Sin and death; the altar is a symbol, a type of the cross. It is an instrument of and a place of death. There is one remarkable and heavenly difference. The altar was a place of substitution.
When a sinning Israelite entered the gate of the sacred enclosure and brought with him a victim for sacrifice, the sinning Israelite didn’t die; rather, he tied the victim to one of the horns of the altar, and kneeling down – this ritual you’ll find in the first chapter of Leviticus – and kneeling down he placed his folded hands over the head of the victim and confessed there the sins of his life. He identified himself with the sacrifice, folding his hands over his head and confessing his sins. Then after the confession, he slew the animal by the side of the altar, and poured out its blood unto God, and consumed the life in the fire. He didn’t die. There was a substitution.
It was an identical thing in the sacrifice of the Passover. Four days before the middle of Nisan, a lamb without spot and blemish is to be chosen and kept in the heart of the family four days. That is, until the little thing became identified with the family in the love and affection of the family. Then after the four days, the sacrifice is offered unto God, and the blood is sprinkled in the form of the cross on the lintels and the two door posts.
On that altar, God taught His people that the wrath and the judgment of God would not fall upon them if in confession they brought a substitute. Sin is death. And God is satisfied in the offering of a substitutionary life.
The author of the Hebrews says that all of that was to teach God’s people that there would be made someday a final and an ultimate sacrifice for our sins. For, he says, the blood of bulls and of goats could not suffice to wash the human soul of the stain of its wrong and iniquity. But it was a picture of, a symbol of, a type of, that great day when the final and ultimate sacrifice was offered unto God, when the prototype met its antitype, and the Lamb of God was sacrificed for the sins of the world.
At the time of the morning offering at nine o’clock in the morning, on the fourteenth day of Nisan, when the Passover was sacrificed, the Lamb of God was lifted between the earth and the sky. He expired. He bowed His head and dismissed His spirit. He died at the time of the evening sacrifice, at three o’clock in the afternoon.
And from twelve o’clock until three o’clock, the earth was covered with a supernatural darkness. There was silence. There was stillness. The jibes and jeers of the rulers ceased. The soldiers looked on in terror. God covered the sun with sackcloth and veiled the cross in darkness when the Lamb of God was made sin for us, and the great substitute for our damnation and our judgment was offered on the altar of God.
"Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures." [1 Corinthians 15: 3] "It pleased God to bruise it. He shall make His soul an offering for sin. He shall see of the travail of His soul and be satisfied." [Isaiah 53:10, 11] "God commendeth His love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us." [Romans 5:8] "God made Him to be sin for us, Him Who knew no sin, that we might be made the righteousness of God in Him." [2 Corinthians 5:21] And on the foundation of the atoning sacrifice of Christ, all the superstructure of the Christian faith rises. And on the basis of the judgment of God upon sin, represented by the death on that altar, God deals with the human race.
The doctrine of satisfaction is the doctrine of the atoning grace of God in Christ Jesus that satisfies heaven, that meets the demands of the Law, that is the great substitute that otherwise would have brought to us – our souls – an eternal and everlasting perdition. That is our altar.
In Hebrews 13:10, the author says, "We have an altar." Our altar is not found in church houses. Our altar is not found in prayer books. It is not found in formularies. It is not found in sacraments. Our altar was the great offering up unto God of the Son of heaven, the Lamb that takes away the sin of the world, on a hill called Golgotha, Calvary. And there the great substitute was offered for – in behalf of – our sins.
And on that altar – the picture of which had been laid before God’s people for a thousand five hundred years – in that altar, on that altar – we find that ultimate meaning that was pictured by those sacrifices that day after day were offered unto God at the gate of the tabernacle, at the entrance into the holy temple. There man was doing his worst. There God was doing His best. There man was hating. There God was loving. There man was destroying. There God was restoring. There man was inflicting death. There God was bestowing blessings.
The altar with its sacrifice was God’s picture of the Lamb of God, offered for the sins of the world. And when a man preaches the gospel, that’s what he preaches. There is a remission of sins. God’s message from heaven: there is hope that when a man sins, he can find forgiveness. There is a life sacrificed. There is a death offered. There is a substitute made.
When a man preaches the gospel, he preaches the glad tidings of the good news in Jesus Christ. "Sinner man, sinner man, there is forgiveness in the blood that washes whiter than snow."
"Christ died for our sins, according to the Scriptures. He was raised for our justification," in heaven to declare us righteous, acceptable unto God, "according to the Scriptures." [1 Corinthians 15:3, 4] And when a man preaches the blood of Jesus, he’s preaching the hope of our salvation, the forgiveness of our sins.
Our sweetest, finest songs speak of that. I was converted – gave my heart to Jesus – when the congregation was singing one of those hymns. Sing it with me now,
There is a fountain filled with blood,
Drawn from Immanuel’s veins;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains,
Lose all their guilty stains;
And sinners, plunged beneath that flood,
Lose all their guilty stains.
The dying thief rejoiced to see
That fountain in his day;
And there may I, though vile as he,
Wash all my sins away.
Dear dying Lamb, Thy precious blood
Shall never lose its power,
Till all the ransomed church of God
Be saved, to sin no more.
[William Cowper, "There Is A Fountain Filled With Blood"]
That is the gospel. That is the altar. That is the cross of the Son of God, and that is our approach to heaven. "In my hand, no price I bring, Simply to Thy cross I cling." [Augustus Toplady, "Rock of Ages"] Trusting in the atoning death of Jesus, for Jesus’ sake, in His blood and wounds and sobs and tears; O God, remember me, forgive me, bless Thou me.
And that is the appeal that we make in this invitation. Somebody here this morning who will look in faith to the cross of the Lamb of God, will you come, kneeling at the cross, our great altar. "Here I come and here I am. Humbly, in contrition, in confession, taking Jesus as my Savior, I come." Is there a family to put their lives with us in the fellowship of the church? Will you come, a couple, a whole family? Is there just one somebody you in the throng, in this balcony round, on this lower floor, if the Lord bid you come, while His Spirit calls, would you make it now, while we stand and while we sing?
A. No accident that the
tabernacle and its worship delineated in Exodus
Exodus a book of redemption
law was given to Moses in three divisions
of God – an expression of the character of God
of God – the relationship ofman to heaven and earth
of God – provide for communion between man and God
a. In the ordinances
you find the pattern for the tabernacle
Tabernacle a hiding place for sinful man in the presence of the holy and
righteous God(Exodus 33:18-23)
features about the blueprint for building the tabernacle
1. Instructions for
articles of furniture given first
2. No place Deity is
3. Pattern given from
God’s point of view
II. The altar of brass
A. Names given it(Exodus 35:16, 38:30, Leviticus 1:5)
B. Construction(Revelation 1:15, 19:15)
C. All the sacrifices
of Israel made on this altar
III. A symbol of the cross
A. An instrument of
First thing the sinner confronts is death(Ezekiel
18:4, Romans 5:12, 6:23)
place of substitution(Leviticus 1:2-5)
1. The Passover
took our place, became sin for us (1 Corinthians
15:3, Isaiah 53:10-11, 2 Corinthians 5:21, Romans 5:6-8)
Our altar of approach to God(Hebrews 13:10)
1. God’s picture of the
Lamb of God, offered for the sins of the world