The Bronze Altar
In Leviticus, we learn that God ordered the priests to place the altar at the “entrance of the tent.” Our God is a God who cares about the details, and this placement demonstrates truth about how God desires to commune with us. The altar at the tabernacle’s entrance greeted each worshipper with a graphic scene of blood and flames. Our pride and apathy often cause us to forget the sinfulness of our sin. Failure to appreciate the consequence of our sin can cause superficial, ritualistic behavior to take the place of true, life-changing communion with God. Like the worshipper entering the tabernacle in the wilderness, we begin and maintain communion with God by confronting our sin.
Communion with God begins only after the sinner beholds the consequence of his sin in the wounds of the savior. Peter describes the Church as a “spiritual house” that God builds with “living stones.” (I Pet. 2:4-5.) Peter’s use of this terminology prompts us to examine God’s design for his house of worship. As described in the passage from Leviticus, a sinner entering the earthly tabernacle encountered a result of his sin in the bloody sacrifice consumed by a heap of wood and flame. Likewise, a sinner enters the “spiritual house” of the Church only after first coming face-to-face with the suffering savior bearing God’s wrath on crossed wooden beams. John Owen describes this confrontation in his classic Communion with God:
To see him lifted up on the cross, the earth trembling beneath him as if unable to bear his weight; to see the heavens darkened over him as if shut against his cry and himself hanging between both as if refused by each; and to see all this is because of our sins is to see clearly the holy justice and wrath of God against sin.
Even after a sinner becomes a saint they should constantly confront the sinfulness of sin to maintain proper communion with God. We should never lose sight of the great price Christ paid to purchase our salvation. To this end, God has ordained at least two ways through which we may experience a renewed appreciation of the cost of our sin: confession and the Lord’s Supper.
First, confession of sin, of necessity, causes the believer to confront his sin. Believers too often, sadly, neglect Biblical confession. Confession causes us to consider our sin before both God and other believers. Jesus directs us to confess our sin to God in the Lord’s Prayer: “and forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors.” (Matt. 6:12.) Note that in this pattern of prayer we not only confess our sin to God but we also incur an obligation to forgive the sins of others. Charles Spurgeon warned that “unless you have forgiven others you read your own death warrant when you repeat the Lord’s Prayer.” This thought leads to a second type of confession: confession to other believers. God realizes that we are frail creatures and he didn’t design us to bear our struggles alone. He, therefore, commands us to “confess your sins to one another and pray for one another.” (James 5:16.) When we--through confession--confront our sin before God and other believers, we enter into deeper communion with both God and the saints.
Second, believers are compelled to contemplate the consequence of our sin as we approach the table of the Lord’s Supper: “Let a person examine himself, then, and so eat of the bread and drink of the cup.” (I Cor. 11:28.) The bread and wine should cause the believer to consider the cost of his sin: the broken body and spilt blood of the Lord Jesus Christ. Just as the graphic scene at the altar caused the worshipper in the tabernacle to consider his sinfulness, so the elements of the Lord’s Supper cause the believer to confront his sin’s cost to Christ.
God accomplished our salvation through Christ’s bloody, substitutionary death on the cross. Each believer has, at some point, come to face-to-face with this reality, just as every worshipper in the tabernacle beheld the bloody consequence of their own sin. Our God is a God who cares about details. Even the placement of the altar at the entrance to the tabernacle teaches us about how God desires to enter into communion with us.
Owen, John (1991). Communion with God. (R.J.K. Law, abridged). Carlisle, PA: The Banner of Truth Trust.
Spurgeon, C. H. (n.d.). Forgiveness Made Easy. Address.
Jonathan J. Fagan
Jonathan is an attorney in Washington, DC. He has a J.D. from Case Western Reserve University School of Law and a B.S. in Mechanical Engineering from Pensacola Christian College. Jonathan is married to Megan, and they have two children, Claire and Calvin.