Summary: In The Church of The Nazarene we have what we call altars but they are altars of prayer not true altars on which a sacrifice can be made. Why do some churches have altars of sacrifice while others do not? What does the Bible say?
Please stand with me as we go over our current memory Scripture:
“Blessed is the man who does not walk in the counsel of the wicked or stand in the way of sinners or sit in the seat of mockers. But his delight is in the Law of the LORD, and on His Law he meditates day and night.”
And our memory Scripture “refresher” verse is:
“Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus.”
Today we will be reading from Hebrews 7:11-28
Both of my grandparents on my father’s side emigrated from the Ukraine. Consequently, most of my extended family was raised in the Russian Orthodox religion.
One time, when I was about 13 or 14 years old my maternal Grandmother died and the funeral was held in the Russian Orthodox Church. Even though I was raised in the Church of The Nazarene I was elected to be one of the altar boys for the funeral service.
One of my cousins, Mike, who attended the church and who was an actual altar boy told me about an area where only a priest was allowed to go. The area was between the altar and the “holy place”.
One time, as an altar boy, Mike had accidentally walked into that area and was told by the priest that he was not certain if such a sin could ever be forgiven but the priest said he would pray for Mike.
Anyway, Mike warned me so I was sure not to go there.
So, what does that little story have to do with anything?
Last week Pastor Karenlee said that we should talk sometime about the altars, or altar rails, we have on the front of the platform in the church, why they are here and why we should use them more.
And, all of that got me to thinking about why we do not have actual altars in the purest sense in The Church of The Nazarene and why they DO have altars in the Roman Catholic and Orthodox Catholic churches.
Well, what do we see when we look for the word “altar” in the Bible.
The word altar is found 384 times in the Bible. It is found 361 times in the Old Testament and it is almost always associated with a sacrifice that is being made to Yahweh the Lord God of Israel or to a false god. The few times it is not being associated with a sacrifice it is being used as a refuge by someone who is trying to keep from being killed.
However, in the New Testament the altar is mentioned in conjunction with the activities of the Temple in Jerusalem or in reference to an Old Testament account or in reference to an altar in Heaven in the Book of Revelation.
Not once in the entire New Testament is an altar found in any worship setting where we see the followers of Jesus gathering.
Nor is there any instruction on how we would use an alter if we had one. Don’t you wonder why that is?
First of all, altars are made for sacrifices and sacrifices are made by priests and there has been a change in the priesthood!
Let’s see what Hebrews 7:11-28 has to say about that …
(Prayer for help)
OK. So, let’s unpack that a little.
In the Old Testament we see two orders of Priests.
The first order we see is the order of Melchizedek.
Hebrews 7:1-3 describes Him this way …
“This Melchizedek was king of Salem and priest of God Most High. He met Abraham returning from the defeat of the kings and blessed him, and Abraham gave Him a tenth of everything. First, the name Melchizedek means ‘king of righteousness’; then also, ‘king of Salem’ means ‘king of peace.’ Without father or mother, without genealogy, without beginning of days or end of life, resembling the Son of God, He remains a priest forever.”
So there we have Melchizedek, a single, solitary priest in an order of priests all by Himself.
The second order of priests came from all men who were direct descendents from the line of Aaron from the tribe of Levi.
We seen them all the way through the Old Testament and on into the New Testament as long as the Temple in Jerusalem existed.
However, in the New Testament there is no office of the priesthood listed in the church. In Ephesians 4:11-12 we see that, “Christ Himself gave the apostles, the prophets, the evangelists, the pastors and teachers, to equip His people for works of service, so that the body of Christ may be built up.”