Summary: Jesus as High Priest...Jesus as Sacrifice...but can Jesus also be like the altar?
“Altars, Sacrifices and Gifts: A Study of Hebrews 13”
Part One: “THE SIGNIFICANCE OF ALTARS”
“Do not be carried away by all kinds of strange teachings. It is good for our hearts to be strengthened by grace, not be ceremonial foods, which are of no value to those who eat them. We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” (Hebrews 13:9-10)
In reading Hebrews 13, I was struck by one verse in particular. “We have an altar from which those who minister at the tabernacle have no right to eat.” The priests under the levitical system of sacrifice could not eat of the sacrifice on the Day of Atonement. But the sacrifice of Christ is one that all may partake of in a sense. The sacrifice of animals is now no longer required.
It has also been said that the cross is the New Testament “altar” where God offered up the ultimate sacrifice for the sin of all mankind. This was the ultimate Day of Atonement.
But there is another way of looking at the picture of the altar, and to share this with you, I want to first of all refer to an article that may seem far removed from this topic, but there is a statement by the journalist I want to apply to this study of Hebrews 13:10.
The article appeared in the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal in the Travel Section, and was reprinted from the Minneapolis-St. Paul Star Tribune. It was about a popular mountain for rock climbing in Wyoming called Devil’s Tower. It stood 870 feet in the air, it is also noted as being the landing site used by Steven Spoielberg in his movie Close Encounters of the Third Kind, and was the United States first National Monument in 1906.
It was also the site of some local controversy, because it is considered a sacred site by the native Indian tribes in the area, and they were opposed to people who were rock climbing up its steep cliff face. It presented a great challenge for the avid mountain-climber, and the reporter was no exception. The follwing is an excerpt:
I’m a casual climber and like many people, I can’t look at a mountain without
wanting to get to the top. The level of crack climbing required to get to the top of Mateo Tipila is far beyond my abilities. But I didn’t feel stymied. I sat on a rock and watched the sun climb. Long morning shadows cast by hills and buttes gradually shrank into the brightness of the day.
I understand something of both perspectives in the dispute. I like to climb, and I believe that certain places have significance beyond what we can know, places where the divine is very close to the surface.
I decided that even if I had the ability to climb Mateo Tipila, I wouldn’t. There are plenty of places to climb and not enough to look up to.
The ordinary can have coupled with it divine significance.
Altars in the Bible, with the exception perhaps of the altar in the tabernacle and later the altar in the temple, were very simple, basic things. Actually, all an altar is is an elevated table or flat surface on which the sacrifice or offering may be placed.
An altar can be made of many different materials. It can be of earth, stones, either a single stone or a group of stone piled together.
We don’t as Christians look to the sacrifical system of the Old Testament for our salvation. We see that as pointing to Jesus Christ. Warren Wiersbe in his book Be Confident which is a study on Hebrews talks about Hebrews 13:10
A new covenant Christian’s altar is Jesus Christ; for it is through Him that we offer our “spiritual sacrifices” to God. We may set aside places in our church buildings and call them altars, but they are really not altars in the biblical sense…the gifts that we bring to God are acceptable, but because of any earthly altar, but because of a heavenly altar, Jesus Christ. [EMPHASIS MINE]
(Warren Wiersbe BE CONFIDENT)
Jesus can be pictured as the High Priest, Jesus can be pictured as the Sacrifice. But…the altar?
Is this a valid comparison? Consider the following passages of scripture where an altar plays some part in the events related, and consider not what the altar is made of, but what is done there, what it provides to the person at the altar. There are four things that can occur at the altar
(1) The altar is a place where one PERCEIVES STABILITY
(2) The altar is a place that is PREPARATORY TO SUBMISSION
(3) The altar is a place which PROMOTES SERVICE
A PLACE OF STABILITY Turn to and read Ezra 7:1-6