“Resolution One: I will live for God. Resolution Two: If no one else does, I still will.” - Jonathan Edwards -

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Altar Of Incense, Christ and Prayer

Exodus 30:1–10; 34-38 -- "You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it. And you shall make two golden rings for it. Under its molding on two opposite sides of it you shall make them, and they shall be holders for poles with which to carry it. You shall make the poles of acacia wood and overlay them with gold. And you shall put it in front of the veil that is above the ark of the testimony, in front of the mercy seat that is above the testimony, where I will meet with you. And Aaron shall burn fragrant incense on it. Every morning when he dresses the lamps he shall burn it, and when Aaron sets up the lamps at twilight, he shall burn it, a regular incense offering before the LORD throughout your generations. You shall not offer unauthorized incense on it, or a burnt offering, or a grain offering, and you shall not pour a drink offering on it. Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD."...The LORD said to Moses, "Take sweet spices, stacte, and onycha, and galbanum, sweet spices with pure frankincense (of each shall there be an equal part), and make an incense blended as by the perfumer, seasoned with salt, pure and holy. You shall beat some of it very small, and put part of it before the testimony in the tent of meeting where I shall meet with you. It shall be most holy for you. And the incense that you shall make according to its composition, you shall not make for yourselves. It shall be for you holy to the LORD. Whoever makes any like it to use as perfume shall be cut off from his people."


We now find ourselves standing before the last piece of furniture in the Holy Place, the one implement before the curtain of the Holy of Holies. We have come into this place of awe and respect, and now we stand just before the curtain, behind which the Presence of the Lord, the Shekinah, awaits. What an awesome place to be! The Altar of Incense!

This altar, while being different from the brazen altar outside of the Tabernacle, is similar in some respects; again we find the Messiah.

Exodus 30:1–3 -- "You shall make an altar on which to burn incense; you shall make it of acacia wood. A cubit shall be its length, and a cubit its breadth. It shall be square, and two cubits shall be its height. Its horns shall be of one piece with it. You shall overlay it with pure gold, its top and around its sides and its horns. And you shall make a molding of gold around it.

Notice that this altar also has horns, and these horns are to be covered in the blood as well; Exodus 30:10 -- "...Aaron shall make atonement on its horns once a year. With the blood of the sin offering of atonement he shall make atonement for it once in the year throughout your generations. It is most holy to the LORD."

We see in this altar a clear image of the Messiah, like we do in the brazen altar. However, in this one, we see gold covered wood. This image shows the nature of the Messiah; fully God, fully man, no longer is He upon the brazen altar, the place of judgment, but now He has ascended to the throne of the Father. The gold of this altar shows His divinity! While He was once reviled and spit upon and nailed to a tree for us, He now reigns in heaven above!

The blood upon the horns of this golden altar illustrate that the approach to the Father is mediated by the Messiah's blood. The ability to speak to the Father is provided by the blood of the Lamb of God; prayer is directly linked to our belief in the one whom God has sent! Many in the world, (and more and more, in the church), would have us believe that prayer is prayer, there is no difference between praying to Allah and praying to God through Christ, or any other 'deity', but God’s Word clearly tells us that without the atonement of the Messiah, we pray in vain!

John 16:23–28 -- In that day you will ask nothing of me. Truly, truly, I say to you, whatever you ask of the Father in my name, he will give it to you. Until now you have asked nothing in my name. Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full. "I have said these things to you in figures of speech. The hour is coming when I will no longer speak to you in figures of speech but will tell you plainly about the Father. In that day you will ask in my name, and I do not say to you that I will ask the Father on your behalf; for the Father himself loves you, because you have loved me and have believed that I came from God. I came from the Father and have come into the world, and now I am leaving the world and going to the Father."

We find in 2nd Corinthians 2:14–16 this statement -- But thanks be to God, who in Christ always leads us in triumphal procession, and through us spreads the fragrance of the knowledge of him everywhere. For we are the aroma of Christ to God among those who are being saved and among those who are perishing, to one a fragrance from death to death, to the other a fragrance from life to life.

The incense only releases its fragrance when it was finely beaten. The Messiah was beaten, and sacrificed -- His fragrance is one of life to those who are being saved, but one of death to those who are not.


I will periodically burn frankincense, and I have found that it only burns properly and evenly if it is crushed very fine. We too, like incense must be submitted to the mortar and pestle of God’s will. Too often we want to be incense, but we do not want to be broken and crushed into a powder, we want to do it in our strength. What happens when you burn incense like that is that it doesn’t burn long, and creates nasty black goo that is useless for incense.

Like Peter, we often are eager, and willing, but we have not allowed the Lord to work in our lives. We are still chunks of incense, not ready for burning in the altar of incense. Matthew 16:25, 26 -- "For whoever would save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for my sake will find it. For what will it profit a man if he gains the whole world and forfeits his life? Or what shall a man give in return for his life?

Many may preach that once you receive Christ as Savior and Lord, then it is easy street from here on out, but that is simply not biblical. The Messiah states in very clear terms that the walk of a disciple is one of sacrifice, and through our sacrifice, the world will be blessed with the fragrance of Christ.

I am reminded of those in the Persecuted Church who suffer for the Lord; truly this world is not worthy of them. They allow themselves to be beaten into the fine incense that permeates their society and people are exposed to the reality and fragrance of Christ through their sufferings..


Finally we come to the fact that the incense represents our prayers.

Revelation 5:8 --And when he had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each holding a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints.

Revelation 8:3 – 5 -- And another angel came and stood at the altar with a golden censer, and he was given much incense to offer with the prayers of all the saints on the golden altar before the throne, and the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, rose before God from the hand of the angel. Then the angel took the censer and filled it with fire from the altar and threw it on the earth, and there were peals of thunder, rumblings, flashes of lightning, and an earthquake.

I love the imagery of lightening and rumblings happening when the incense and prayers are cast down! Why does a Sovereign God use our prayers as a means to work in His Will? I don't know -- but I know that our prayers, as James says, are effective. There are several postings right now in the blogsphere regarding prayer --I am hoping that this is because prayer is central on the hearts of the Christian blogging community. Prayer is a powerful tool/weapon which the Lord has graciously placed at our disposal -- sadly, it is also one of the more neglected of the Christian disciplines.

Prayer is not to be approached casually, or flippantly. Yet, so often the last thing we do is pray. Church prayer services are poorly attended, while the aerobics class if full. We do not spend near enough time in prayer. If we did, our church would look different, as would all churches.

Nadab and Abihu found that strange incense and profane fire is not to be submitted to the Lord. (Read Leviticus 10). What kind of prayer may be considered strange incense to the Lord? Well, prayer offered when you are out of fellowship with a brother or sister, Matthew 5:23, 24 -- "So if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother has something against you, leave your gift there before the altar and go. First be reconciled to your brother, and then come and offer your gift." Or maybe it is self-centered prayer (a current epidemic in the church), James 4:3 -- You ask and do not receive, because you ask wrongly, to spend it on your passions.

When we are in a proper relationship with God, then we find our prayers to be effective. And notice in Exodus 30:8 that the incense burned continuously; we find this same instruction regarding prayer. Paul in 1st Thessalonians 5:17 says that we are to pray without ceasing.

Is that reflective of your prayer life? Unfortunately, I too often find that I panic, or get angry, or overreact and prayer is not what I am doing. What we will find is that if we pray and maintain that contact with the Lord, we are much better prepared to face the things that this world throws at us. The Messiah told the disciples in the Garden of Gethsemane that they should watch and pray, lest they enter into temptation. Too often we are knocked of track because we have simply stopped praying.

Let me close this post with a song that may be familiar to some of you; Sweet Hour of Prayer. This was written by a blind preacher who never looked upon the outward beauty of God’s creation, but spent a lot of time in the inward beauty of the Holy Place in prayer:

Sweet hour of prayer, sweet hour of prayer,
That calls me from a world of care,
And bids me at my Father’s throne,
Make all my wants and wishes known.

In seasons of distress and grief,
My soul has often found relief,
And oft escaped the tempters snare,
By thy return, sweet hour of prayer.


Adam Tousley said...

Hi Ray, I stumbled across this blog doing some research for a Koinonia Institute class question on the Tabernacle. Great stuff, brother! What an awesome Post!

I noticed that this was posted in 2006 and that you expressed interest in being in "occupational" ministry (for lack of a better word - we're all "full time!) I pray that has taken place for you and that you are much used by God today!

Shalom brother....Adam Tousley adamjt1@cox.net

Ray said...

Thank you Adam. I am still not doing full-time ministry, but am blessed with a great job, an understanding congregation and strength from our Lord.