Summary: What happens when your personal altar is in ruins how do you stop it from happening or how do you fix it onces it’s happened.
They couldn’t believe their eyes. The altar had been torn down! The altar, the very core of their spiritual life and spiritual heritage and now it was just rubble. They had never actually seen the Temple and the Altar it housed themselves, but they had heard the stories and their parents and Grand Parents delighted in telling them how glorious it was or had been. On their trip back to Jerusalem they spoke often of the day they would arrive and how they would be able to worship at the altar that Solomon had built and dedicated to the Lord and how they would finally be able to present offerings and sacrifices just as their forefathers had done, but it was not to be. What had once been a beautiful tribute to the God of Israel was now nothing it was just, just a mess.
Actually the damage wasn’t limited to the altar, then entire temple had been devastated and would never be restored to it’s former glory, but the altar was the where the people directed their attention because it was here that the priests offered the sacrifices to God. Sacrifices of wheat, oil and animals. It was here that their sins were forgiven. And now it was gone. And so they started to work to restore and rebuild the altar so they could once again make offerings to God. It was only after the altar had been finished would they start the task of rebuilding the temple.
So what has happened? Last week we looked at King Solomon, David’s son, building the temple. This week the temple is in ruins. Well actually there were many things that happened in this period. The temple was built around 966 B.C. About 30 years later after the death of Solomon Israel was divided into two sections, the Northern Kingdom and the Southern Kingdom, also referred to as Israel and Judah. During the next 400 years the two kingdoms were alternately blessed and brought under persecution depending on their obedience and faithfulness to God. In 586 B.C. the Southern Kingdom and Jerusalem fell to Babylon and the victors took the people of Jerusalem captive and transported them back to Babylon where they served as slaves until Babylon fell to the Persians around 538 B.C. Under the rule of Cyrus the Persian the Jewish exiles were allowed to return to Jerusalem and that’s where our story picks up. Just to clear things up a little bit let’s pull up a map and take a look at where everything was happening.
This morning we are looking at the book of Ezra which is 15th book of the bible. Written by the prophet Ezra around 440 B.C. this book was originally linked with the book of Nehemiah in the Jewish scriptures as a single volume. Why was it written? Ezra uses the book to contrast purity with compromise.
So where were we? Oh yeah the temple and the altar have been destroyed and now the first of the exiles have returned to Jerusalem.
If we read the description of the temple we discover that there were two altars mentioned. A small Altar just outside the Holy of Holy, which was called the Incense Altar and here the Priest burnt incense each day . And then there was a much larger altar which was located at the entrance to the temple. This altar was thirty foot square and stood 15 foot high, it was constructed out of bronze and it was here that offereings were made to God. And this is the altar that had been destroyed and was rebuilt in Ezra 3.
But what does that have to do with us? Good question. If you look around you discover that we do not have an altar at Bedford Community Church, traditionally Wesleyan Churches do not have altars. In the Catholic and Anglican tradition, the altar is where the Eucharist or Communion is served from, what we might refer to as the communion table. In some Evangelical Churches, you will hear the rails at the front of the church referred to as the altar or the altar rails and people are encouraged to come to the altar to pray and when people are invited to come and pray for salvation that is called an altar call. That is a good idea, but that is a fairly recent term that is to say in the last 150 years. It originated in the camp meetings of the late 1800’s where people were encouraged to come to the front to pray and they would kneel at the front pews. The front pews became known as the mourners bench, because people came and were remorseful about their sin. The mourners bench eventually became the altar, but it’s not really the altar that’s just what it’s called. How confusing is that?