Rebuilding Your Altar

February 10, 2013

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 or the altar it housed themselves, but they had heard the stories and their parents
and grandparents 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? 
What had happened to Solomon’s temple and the altar that it housed?    
The temple was built around 966 B.C. by King Solomon, the
son of King David and Bathsheba.   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.
The scripture that was read this morning was from 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 it was here the Priest burnt incense
each day.  And then there was a much
larger altar which was located at the entrance to the temple. 
And this thing was ginormous, the altar was thirty foot
square and stood 15 foot high, just slightly small than the worship centre, if
you don’t include the platform and almost as high as the ceiling.   It was constructed out of stone and covered
in bronze and it was here that offerings were presented by the priests to
God.  And this was 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 Cornerstone, 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.   Some of you might know that Saint John’s
Anglican Church uses our building for their Wednesday morning Communion service
and they move the communion table up on the platform and it becomes the altar.
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 mourner’s bench,
because people came and were remorseful about their sin.  The mourner’s bench eventually became the
altar, but it’s not really the altar
that’s just what it’s called.  How
confusing is that?
Within the New Testament there
is no reference to the early church having altars,
altar rails, or altar calls.  However we read this reference in Hebrews 13:10 We have an altar from which the priests
in the Tabernacle have no right to eat.
What do you think that is? Two
verses later we read  Hebrews 13:12 So also
Jesus suffered and died outside the city gates to make his people holy by means
of his own blood.
And then only three verses
further along this is written Hebrews 13:15 Therefore, let us offer through Jesus a continual sacrifice
of praise to God, proclaiming our allegiance to his name.
The altar that we as Christians have is a personal altar; we
no longer need the priests to offer up sacrifices for us,
it’s been done. Our relationship with God is a personal relationship and that
is the altar at which we need to worship. 
You can’t worship at my altar and I can’t worship at your altar.
But sometimes have you ever felt
like your altar had fallen into disrepair? 
That your relationship with your Saviour isn’t what it once was?  In the book of the Revelation Jesus is
addressing the church in Ephesus
and he says Revelation 2:4 “But I have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or
each other as you did at first! They had lost their first love, their altar had fallen down.
What causes that to happen? 
And is there anyway to correct it or better yet keep it from happening?
Let’s start by saying that in most cases this isn’t
something that happens all at once,
you know you wake up and think, “Wow, my altar has fallen down.  That was kind of sudden.”  Instead it usually happens gradually, a little bit of erosion at a time.  Not a lot of people suddenly decide to just
walk away from their spiritual commitment. 
“You know I don’t think I’ll be a Christ Follower anymore, no particular reason, I just think I’ll stop
believing.”  That’s not the way it
happens, altars don’t just fall
down.
1) Sometimes it’s
Neglect. 
Like most relationships, our relationship with God requires a
commitment.  If you tried to sustain a
marriage relationship without putting any time or effort into it what would
happen?  What do you mean you’ve tried
it?
What happens is that gradually you drift apart, not because you no longer love each other but simply
because you neglect to spend time together. 
And regardless of what the old maxim says absence doesn’t always make
the heart grow fonder, instead
absence sometimes makes the heart go wander.
If a relationship is going to survive there needs to be communication, you need to talk to one another and you need to
listen to one another.  Neglect
communication and you neglect the relationship and it won’t be long before it’s
in ruins.  Why?  Because without communication we don’t know
what the other person is looking for,
what their expectations are and where they want the relationship to go.  So instead of their being a relationship you
simply have two people occupying the same space but going in separate
directions.  And while that is the way
too many marriages end up that’s not the way most marriages begin.
Do you remember during your courtship how you wanted to be
with each other all the time?  You would
talk for hours about nothing, just
to talk to one another.  And then after
you were married there seemed to be more and more outside activities, children,
work and friends.  Pretty soon the energy
and time you had for one another was being spent on others and there wasn’t any
time or energy left for the relationship. 
And one day you wake up and you don’t know the person who’s sharing your
bed and your life.
In our spiritual life the same thing can happen.  We make a commitment to God, accept the gift of forgiveness and eternal life
that he offers and we are so keen.  We
want to be in church every time the door opens,
we’re reading our bibles and spending time in prayer.  We want to tell everyone about the wonderful
change that has taken place in our lives.
And then other commitments arise,
and perhaps it’s work that keeps you away on Sunday or the kid’s hockey games
or maybe it’s just life. By the time the day is done you can’t find time to
study your bible or to pray and you don’t want to hear the “all you have to do
is get up an hour earlier” line because you’re not getting enough sleep as is.   
And before you know it Church is a once in awhile endeavour
and prayer is what you do when you need help or when the kids are sick or you
might get down sized at work, and
you know you have a bible you’re just not sure where it is.
And one day you look and the altar of your relationship with
Christ is nothing but a pile of rubble.   
British Author Owen Felltham said “Negligence is the rust of the soul,
that corrodes through all her best resolves.” 
And the Bible tells us in 2
Chronicles 29:11
to not neglect our duties and in Nehemiah 10:39 not to neglect God’s house and in 1 Timothy 4:14 to not neglect our
spiritual gifts and in Hebrews 10:25
to not neglect meeting together as believers. 
2) Sometimes It’s Sin  Neglect is something that happens when
we’re not paying attention but sin is a conscious decision.  It happens when you as a believer decide that
even though you know that you shouldn’t take part in a particular activity.  Even when you are fully aware that it is
wrong and is diametrically opposed to God’s will and God’s word you are going
to do it anyway. 
We often want to shift the responsibility to others, they
led us astray.  That’s what Adam and Eve
did, you remember the story.  God had
given the first couple everything their hearts could desire and in exchange
asked for one simple thing, obedience. 
You can do anything but you can’t eat from that tree.  And sure enough, fruit cocktail for lunch.  And when God confronted them Adam said “It
was the woman you gave me.”  That was a
twofer, blamed Eve and God in one breath. 
And Eve not wanting to be outdone pointed her finger at the devil and
said “It was the serpent” And the serpent didn’t have a leg to stand on.
But we don’t sin because of other people we sin because we
want to and because we make a choice to be disobedient.  And the same as sin put a barrier between the
first couple and God sin puts the same barrier between us and God.  
We’ve talked about his before that God will never take you
beyond your disobedience.  If you are
stuck in your spiritual life you might want to take a look at what it is that
has become a road block.  Maybe it’s a
relationship that needs fixing, maybe it’s a point of integrity that needs
correcting, maybe God is asking something from you that you aren’t willing to
give. 
Jesus’ brother wrote these
words in the book that bears his name James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not
do it.   Have you had a discussion
where God has asked you for your time or your talent or your money and you’ve
said no? James 4:17 Remember, it is sin to know what you ought to do and then not
do it.  
And when you consciously
disobey God you put a wall up between you and God.  Listen to what God says in Deuteronomy 31:18 At that
time I will hide my face from them on account of all the evil they commit by
worshiping other gods. And those other gods don’t have to be little
idols, they might be the gods of pleasure, or the gods of career and
advancement or the gods of money and gain. 
And you stop growing,
God won’t let you move ahead while you are disobedient and you are too
committed to just turn your back and walk away from God and so there you are
stuck and miserable.  And you cannot
worship God while you in that position. 
Your altar has been torn down and it’s nobodies fault but your own.  Eric Butterworth
defined sin as “SIN: Self-Inflicted Nonsense”
And the only way you can continue to grow in your faith is
to surrender to his will, become
obedient and get back on track.
3) Sometimes it’s the
Company We Keep 
You’ve all seen the
T-shirt that says “It’s hard to soar with eagles when you have to work with
turkeys.” It’s hard to maintain a vibrant healthy spiritual life when you’re
always hanging out with people who are indifferent to the claims of Christ or
worse are hostile to the claims of Christ.
And I know you are thinking “Oh yeah well Jesus hung out
with sinners and was even called a friend of sinners.” That’s true, but remember they weren’t his primary
relationships.  Jesus’ primary
relationship was what he had with the disciples,
and Jesus motives for hanging with the grotty people was so they would stop
being grotty people.  What are your
motives? 
The Bard
said “Company,
villainous company, hath been the
spoil of me.”   And the bible says in Psalm 1:1 Oh, the joys of
those who do not follow the advice of the wicked, or stand around with sinners,
or join in with mockers.
You hang out too long with the wrong people and pretty soon
you find that you are doing more of what they do then less of what you should
be doing and one day you look and can’t find your altar.
Here’s the question,
if’n you find that your altar has been torn down,
through neglect or sin or bad company can you rebuild it?
Oh yes you most certainly
can.  And what is the secret?  Ezra 3:3 Even though the people were afraid of the local residents,
they rebuilt the altar at its old site.
In other translations it says They rebuilt the altar on it’s
“foundation.”
4) You Need to
Rebuild Your Altar on the Old Foundation
Remember what Jesus wrote to
the church in Ephesus?  Revelation 2:4-5 “But I
have this complaint against you. You don’t love me or each other as you did at
first! We already looked at that part, but it goes on to say Look how far you have fallen! Turn back to me and do the
works you did at first.”
If you find that your altar has
been torn down or has fallen down then you need to rebuild it, not on a new foundation but on that original
foundation and not by yourself but with God’s help.  1 Corinthians 3:11
For no one can lay any foundation other than
the one we already have—Jesus Christ.
And what is that
foundation?  It is the foundation of
repentance and forgiveness.  The
foundation of faith and grace.  The foundation
of His word and Prayer.  The foundation
of obedience. The foundation of fellowship with other believers and regular
corporate worship. 
So where you at this morning?  How’s your altar? Is it doing all right?  Is your relationship with God on a solid
foundation?  If not it can be.