The Golden Altar of Prayer
October 11th, 1959 @ 10:50 AM
THE GOLDEN ALTAR OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Exodus 30: 1-10
10-11-59 10:50 a.m.
To you who listen on the radio, you are sharing with us the services of the First Baptist Church in Dallas. This is the pastor bringing the 11:00 o’clock morning message entitled The Golden Altar of Prayer.
In our preaching through the Bible, we are in the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews, and in that ninth chapter, the author speaks of the tabernacle. Then he names each one of the pieces of furniture in the tabernacle. And he uses that, thus the Holy Spirit signified those pieces of furniture, as the tabernacle itself were signs, sign-i-fied, signified, the great spiritual truth of grace that God hath given fully to us in Christ Jesus. And he bases his appeal to these Hebrew Christians upon the deeper and spiritual meaning of these holy significances found in the tabernacle.
Now we have spoken of several of those furnishings, and today we have come to speak of the golden altar of incense. In the thirtieth chapter of the Book of Exodus:
Thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of acacia wood shalt thou make it.
A cubit shalt be the length thereof, a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same.
And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about.
And two golden rings shalt thou make to it unto the crown of it, by the two corners thereof, upon the two sides of it shalt thou make it; and they shall be for places for the staves to bear it withal.
And thou shalt make the staves of acacia wood, and overlay them with gold.
And thou shalt put it before the veil that is by the ark of the Testimony, before the mercy seat that is over the Testimony, where I will meet with thee.
And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it.
And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.
Ye shall offer no strange incense thereon, nor burnt sacrifice, nor meat offering; neither shalt ye pour drink offering thereon.
And Aaron shalt make an atonement upon the horns of it once in a year with the blood of the sin offering of atonements: once in the year shall he make atonement upon it throughout your generations: it is most holy unto the Lord.
It was by that golden altar of incense that Zacharias was standing when the angel of the Lord appeared unto him [Luke 1:5]. All the priesthood was divided into twenty-four courses, and Zacharias belonged to the course of Abia or Abijah, which was number eight [1 chronicles 24:10]. And those twenty-four courses took turn throughout the year in ministering before the Lord.
And the highest honor that could come to a priest was, at the hour of prayer, while all the people were outside, bowed before God, at the hour of prayer, to enter into the Holy Place, and with coals in a censer taken from the altar of sacrifice, there to enter and on the golden altar of prayer, to burn the incense unto the Lord [Luke 1:9-10]. That was a picture, a type, the priest bringing in the prayers of the people unto God, a picture of the mediator of God’s children in the earth bearing unto the Lord the prayers of the people. That is throughout the Bible. You will find, for example, in the eighth chapter of the Book of the Revelation:
An angel came and stood at the altar, that altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto Him much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne.
And the smoke of the incense, which came with the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand.
And the angel took the censer, and filled it with fire of the altar . . .
You find once again, typically, in Psalm 141:2, "Let my prayer be set forth before Thee as incense; and the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice." All of it, I say, had a deep and spiritual meaning.
Now, so coveted was this privilege, at the hour of prayer, to enter the Holy Place and stand before the golden altar that a priest could only be allowed to do it one time in a lifetime. And they cast lots to see who it would be that day who would have the privilege to enter into the Holy Place and stand before the golden altar.
And on this day the lot fell upon Zacharias, once in a lifetime, the crowning consummation of the flower of his priestly ministry. And on that day, as you read in the passage, when he stood at the golden altar and offered the incense unto God, there stood on the right side the angel of the Lord [Luke 1:11]. All his life he had been praying for a child, and the prayer was answered, "God has heard your prayer" [Luke 1:13].
Now, that golden altar of incense was the central piece of furniture as you entered the tabernacle itself. To your left was the seven-branch lampstand. To your right was the table of showbread, and in the center, immediately in front of the veil, was this golden altar.
So closely was it connected with the sanctuary itself, the Holy of Holies, the ark of the covenant and the cherubim overlooking the mercy seat that in the ninth chapter of the Book of Hebrews the author places it in the sanctuary itself [Hebrews 9:4]. He did not mean that it was beyond the veil; it was beside of the veil, but it was so closely connected with the worship and appearance before God until he places it in the Holy of Holies [Hebrews 9:4].
The altar was foursquare, two cubits high, three feet high, had a golden crown around it in order to keep the contents from falling off and at each one of the corners had a golden horn [Exodus 30:1-3]. That horn, of course, was expressive of the power and efficacy of prayer.
In the sanctuary there were no chimneys, there were no openings. The light was from the seven-branch lampstand. Subsequently, when the incense was offered up, the house was filled with smoke. You see that in the great vision of Isaiah in his sixth chapter:
In the year that King Uzziah died I saw also the Lord . . . high and lifted up, and His train filled the temple.
Above it stood the seraphim,crying, Holy, holy, holy,
And the posts of the door moved at the voice of Him that cried, and the house was filled with smoke.
He saw the vision above the golden altar of incense as the supplication and prayers of the worshipping people of God ascended up to heaven.
Now, there were two altars in the tabernacle [Exodus 27:1-2, 30:1-3], and both of them pointed marvelously, gloriously to our Savior. Those two altars differed in three ways. They differed first in the material out of which they were made. They differed second in their location. They differed third in the kind of a sacrifice that was offered thereon. They differed in the kind of material of which they were made. The altar at the gate, the altar of burnt offering, was made out of brass [Exodus 27:1-4]. The altar in the sanctuary was made out of gold [Exodus 30:1-5]. They differed in their location. The altar of burnt offering, of sacrifice, was outside in the court, at the gate as you came into the holy enclosure [Exodus 40:6, 29]. The golden altar was before the veil in the sanctuary [Exodus 30:6]. And they differed in the kind of offering that was made. On the altar of burnt offering, there was the blood sacrifice. A burnt offering, the blood spilled out [Exodus 29:12]. In the golden altar was the incense, ascending unto God [Exodus 30:7-8]. And the two altars give us the complete picture of the ministry of our Savior. The altar in the court is a picture of what Christ has done for us in the earth. The golden altar is what Christ is doing for us now in heaven.
The altar of burnt offering is the cross of our Savior, where He gave Himself for the sins of the world. The golden altar is the intercession of our Lord in behalf of His people in the pilgrimage of this world.
The altar at the gate is made out of brass [Exodus 27:2]. It has to do with the judgment of God upon sin. Everything in the outer court is brass. The standards upon which the curtains hang, the posts of the gate, the altar itself, and the laver, all of it is made out of brass. All of it has to do with our sins, the judgment of God upon iniquity, Christ dying for our sins, the Lamb of God to bear away the sin of the world.
The altar in the court at the gate is the sacrifice of the Lamb of God. The golden altar is the altar of worship and of holiness and of prayer. After we have come by the altar of sacrifice and been washed in the laver of regeneration, we enter into the sanctuary of God, and there our great High Priest presents before the throne of heaven the prayers, the incense, the supplication of His people.
You see, our salvation is in three tenses. Paul uses all three of them in a little sentence here: Our Lord "Who delivered us from so great a death, and doth deliver: in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us" [2 Corinthians 1:10].
Now, three of them are: "Our Lord who delivered us," that is the altar in the court; that is the cross of Christ. He has delivered us from the judgment and penalty and damnation of our sins [2 Corinthians 5:21]. No man who has ever gone by the cross need ever fear the day of the wrath and judgment of Almighty God. All of the wrath and judgment of God upon the sin and iniquity of our lives has fallen upon Him [Isaiah 53:6]. He bore our judgment in our stead [2 Corinthians 5:21; 1 Peter 2:24]. He died for our sins [1 Corinthians 15:3], and the sacrifice of the Son of God delivers us from the wrath of the judgment that is yet to come [1 Thessalonians 1:10]. He has delivered us from death [John 11:25-26].
We are saved in Him, and He doth deliver. He does deliver.
Wherefore He is able to save to the uttermost them who come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for us.
For, if when we were enemies, we were reconciled to God by the death of His Son, much more, being reconciled, we shall be saved by His life.
His intercession for us in heaven; that’s our present salvation. He doth deliver us. Having saved us from our sins in His cross, He now is able to keep us, saved forever by His high priestly intercession in glory [Romans 8:34].
Then it has a future, "in whom we trust that He will yet deliver us" [2 Corinthians 1:10]. That is, we still live in this world of pain and age and senility and disease and hurt and sorrow and death. And our bodies have in them the sentence of corruption. But He who brought Jesus from the dead will raise us up also with Him, and we shall have a complete deliverance, a complete redemption [Romans 8:11].
These are pictured in the altars of the tabernacle: here, what He has done for us in the earth, dying on the cross, delivering us from the penalty and judgment of our sins [1 Peter 2:24], and there in glory, interceding for His children [Hebrews 7:25] against that great and final day when there shall be a complete redemption of the whole purchased possession [Ephesians 1:14]. We shall have a new body, incorruptible and immortal [1 Corinthians 15:52-55], for the new and regenerated spirit by which He has recreated us in Christ; all of it pictured in the altars in the tabernacle.
Now, this golden altar had four horns, just like the altar in the courtyard. At each corner there was a horn [Exodus 30:3]. And it meant that the altar in the court where the sacrifice was slain, that altar has power and efficacy to cleanse us from our sins. The horns of the altar represented the power to save us from our iniquities. Now, the horns on the altar made out of gold, represents the power and the efficacy of prayer.
The altar in the court had rings and staves made out of brass [Exodus 27:6]. The altar in the sanctuary had rings and staves made out of gold [Exodus 30:5]. By that, the Lord meant wherever the children of Israel were there the altar was taken with them, and there it was the medium of the expiation of the sins of the people and of the Christly, priestly intercession in their behalf in heaven. Wherever they were, there the altar was.
So it is with us today. Wherever there is somebody that needs God, there God is [Psalm 139:7-8]. Wherever somebody bows his heart to pray, there God bows His ear to hear. Wherever needed, there God is. And wherever in the wilderness wanderings the people went, there was the altar of sacrifice, and there was the golden altar of intercession.
And those two altars were inextricably, invisibly connected, one on the outside, the other on the inside, one made out of brass, one made out of gold, one for the blood atonement, the other for the priestly, prayerful intercession. But they were both invisibly connected, for when the blood was shed on the great Day of Atonement and the sacrifice was made [Leviticus 16:18-19], there at that altar of brass in the courtyard, the blood was sprinkled on the golden altar of prayer. It was not sprinkled on anything else in the Holy Place, just the golden altar of prayer [Exodus 29:16, 20]. And when the altar was made to burn the incense [Exodus 30:1], the live coals on the golden altar of prayer were taken off of the altar of sacrifice in the courtyard [Leviticus 16:12].
The Holy Spirit thus signifying that we come to God and our approach to God is made through the sacrifice of Jesus. As the Lord said in the fifteenth and the sixteenth chapters of John, "For without Me ye can do nothing" [John 15:5]. And again, "Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in My name, He will give it you" [John 16:23].
Coming by the altar of sacrifice [Exodus 27:1], by the cross of our Lord, we come to the altar of prayer. And the blood of the sacrifice is sprinkled on the altar of prayer [Exodus 29:16, 20]. When we come to God, we are not to come in our own pride or self-will, but we are to come in the name, and in the merit, and in the virtue of Jesus [Hebrews 10:19-20]. God does not hear us because of who we are or what we have done, but God hears us in the name of our Lord, for Jesus’ sake [Romans 15:30]. Our Lord, I am not coming in my own name, or in my own right, or in my own merit, but I am coming, Lord, in the name of Jesus, in the blood of the atonement, in the sacrifice of the Son of God. And for the sake of His wounds and sobs and tears and agony and death, dear Lord, for His sake, remember me [John 16:23].
All of that was presented in the tabernacle that when finally the great day came, when what the type meant was fully consummated, we might learn to approach the great God in the name of Jesus our Lord. For His sake, in His merit, O God, we come [Hebrews 10:19-22].
The two sons of Aaron, Nadab and Abihu, lost their lives because they offered strange fire unto the Lord [Leviticus 10:1-2; Numbers 3:4]. There was one way that God taught His people to approach at the golden altar of incense, and that was with the sacred fire from off the altar [Leviticus 16:12]. So it is when we approach God. There are many strange and alien ways by which different people seek to come to God, but God says there is just one way, just one; and that is through the blood of the sacrifice, through the atonement of the Lamb of God [1 Peter 1:18-19]. It is in His name and for His sake that we have approach to the great God and Judge of all the earth.
Now may I speak in the few moments that remain of the golden altar of prayer? [Exodus 30:3]. The Lord invites us to come. He invites us there, as it says in the fourth chapter of the Gospel of John, "For the Lord seeketh worshippers" [John 4:23]. The Lord seeketh such to worship Him. God seeks worshippers, and He is pleased with His people when they bow down to worship in His name. The Lord is pleased, as the author of Hebrews says in his thirteenth chapter, with the sacrifice of praise [Hebrews 13:15]. And the Lord is pleased, as the psalmist says, with the sacrifice of thanksgiving [Psalms 116:17].
The Lord in heaven looks down upon His people when, in the name of His crucified Son, they come before the golden altar of prayer. Do you notice in the Revelation that there is not any brass altar in heaven? There is not any burnt offering in heaven. There is not any more sacrifice in heaven. There is no more pouring out of blood in heaven.
But three different times I have found in heaven this golden altar of prayer. "I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God" [Revelation 9:13]. That is, in heaven, there is no more sacrifice of the Son of God; that was done once and for all [1 Peter 3:18]. Once, at the end of the age, He gave Himself a sacrifice for our sins [Hebrews 9:26]. There is no more sacrifice, no more blood atonement in heaven. That is forever done. It is finished, as He cried on the cross [John 19:30].
But, in heaven, in glory, there is the golden altar of worship and of supplication, forever and forever before the throne of God. That is, we shall praise our Lord, and come before our God, and speak words of thanksgiving and love; world without end, the golden altar of prayer is in heaven.
Now, by the altar stands our Savior. And He looks upon His people. He sees us today. The Holy Spirit of God is here in this service, and He speaks to us in our heart. Our Savior is in heaven, and He stands on the right side of the altar of prayer. And He looks upon His children here below. He asks us a question, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?"
He asked that of a blind beggar. When the blind beggar cried, "Have mercy upon me," the crowd around him said, "Hush your mouth. He is too busy, too pressed. He has the whole universe. Hush." But the Lord stopped in His journey up to Jerusalem to die and called for the blind beggar, "Bring him to Me" [Luke 18:35-40]. And when the blind beggar stood in the presence of the Master, there was that question, "What wilt thou that I shall do for thee?" [Luke 18:41]. That’s our Lord. He stops the whole universe to listen to one of His least. "What wilt thou that I do unto thee?"
Once again, it is typical. There was a mother, and she had a desire in her heart for her two sons [Matthew 20:20]. And the Lord, who searches the hearts, knew it. She had not expressed it, so He asked her, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" [Matthew 20:21]. And then she made the request for her two sons. The disciples did not like the request, but the Lord never chided the mother. "To sit on My right hand and on My left hand is not Mine to give, but your boys will be baptized with the baptism I am baptized with and maybe someday, they will sit on My right hand and on My left." [Matthew 20:21-24]. The Lord never chided her for the expression of her wish but asked her, "Say it."
"Say it," said the Lord Jesus. "You have something in your heart. You have a wish in your heart. Say it. What is it?" And when she said it, to the disciples it was highly selfish, "My boys, one on your right hand, one on your left" [Matthew 20:21]. He never chided. He will not you. What is it that you have in your heart? "Lord, I would like to make money, to dedicate it to Thee." Ask Him.
"Oh, that sounds so crass," you say, "so rude and crude." Do you have it in your heart? Ask Him. What is it that you wish in your heart? Ask Him. If it is wrong, He can teach you that it is wrong. If it is not granted, He can say no, but He stands at the right side of the golden altar of prayer and He asks you, "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?" [Luke 18:41]. Ask Him.
Ask Him for anything in heaven above or anything in earth below. Ask Him for your children, for your family, for your business, for your job, for your life, for your health, for strength, for our country, for our world. Ask Him. "What wilt thou I shall do unto thee?" The golden altar of prayer is ours, ask; I want to ask.
In the fifteenth chapter of the Book of Romans, "I beseech you, brethren, for the Lord Jesus Christ’s sake, there going by the altar, and for the love of the Spirit, that ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me" [Romans 15:30]; why, he does not need praying for, surely. "That ye strive together with me in your prayers to God for me." Or again, in the fifth of the first Thessalonian letter, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, "Brethren, pray for us," all of us can enter into the spirit of that supplication on behalf of the apostle Paul. "Brethren, pray for us," remember us – remember me.
I have said, I have thought the most beautiful request I have ever heard in my life was from the great London Baptist preacher, Charles Haddon Spurgeon. One day he said to a friend, "Kind friend, sometime when you have the ear of the Great King, would you call my name?"
There is no greater thing or meaningful thing than to remember one another in our prayers. To give him money, that is good if he needs it, to pay a debt for him, to help him, all of these things, but, ah, nothing, nothing ever comparable to remembering somebody in prayer; there at the golden altar, to call his name. Ah, what a privilege! What an invitation! And the Lord seeketh such; come. Even Daniel, praying in the morning, in the evening, found the span too long and he bridged it over with the season of prayer in the heart of the day, three times kneeling down at the golden altar of prayer [Daniel 6:10].
I think our invitation hymn, isn’t it "What a Friend We Have in Jesus?" Your mother sang that song, "What a Friend We Have in Jesus!" While we sing it today, from our hearts, in this balcony round, somebody you, give your heart in trust to Jesus. Would you come and stand by me? The great throng of people on this lower floor, somebody you, give your heart to the Lord, into this aisle and down to the front, would you come and stand by me? Is there a family you, to put your life with us in the church, as God shall say the word and open the door, would you come and stand by me? While all of us stand and sing the hymn.
THE GOLDEN ALTAR OF PRAYER
Dr. W. A. Criswell
Hebrews 9, Exodus 30:1-10
I. Zacharias at golden altar of incense(Luke 1:5-23)
A. Twenty-four courses of the priesthood
B. Highest honor was to burn incense, the embodiment of prayer(Revelation 8:3-5, Psalm 141:2)
1. So coveted a privilege, a priest only allowed to do it once in a lifetime
C. Golden altar of incense the central piece of furniture in tabernacle
1. Four square, made of acacia wood and pure gold, with golden crown around it and horns at each corner
2. No openings in sanctuary, so when incense offered the house was filled with smoke (Isaiah 6:1-4)
II. The two altars – altar of burnt offering, altar of incense
A. Both point to Christ, but differed in three ways
1. Kind of material – one brass, the other gold
2. Location – one in outer court, the other in the holy place
3. Kind of offering made thereon – one for blood sacrifice, one for incense
B. Both give us a complete picture of the ministry of our Savior
C. Our salvation is in three tenses(2 Corinthians 1:10, Hebrews 7:25, Romans 5:10)
D. Both altars have four horns to cling to
E. Both altars had rings and staves – Israel to take altar with them
F. Both altars a picture of our approach to God(John 15:5, 16:23)
1. For Christ’s sake, and in His merit
2. Nadab and Abihu offered strange fire(Leviticus 10:1-3)
III. The golden invitation to worship and pray(John 4:23, Hebrews 13:15, Psalm 116:17)
A. There is not any brass altar in heaven – no more sacrifice
1. Three times golden altar of prayer is seen(Revelation 8:3-4, 9:13)
B. By the altar stands our Savior – our faithful High Priest(Hebrews 7:25)
1. "What wilt thou that I shall do unto thee?"(Mark 10:51, Matthew 20:21)
C. Golden altar of prayer is ours – ask Him(Romans 15:30, 1 Thessalonians 5:25, Daniel 6:10)