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The Altar

 
Scripture: Matthew 5:23-24
 
When I grew up at Zion Lutheran in Creighton, NE it was normal for me to see on Sunday mornings a wood altar (looked like a big wooden box) with colored cloths hanging on it. The Catholics down the street had a big stone altar with colored cloths hanging on it.
 
Altars come in all shapes and sizes in Christian worship, or not at all! When Abiding Savior Lutheran Church was sold to the Pentecostals a church “garage sale” was held and I went over to check it out. I got a good deal on some offering plates! I noticed pushed back in the corner was the altar. I asked if it was for sale and the pastor said they were probably just going to toss it. I said, “What do you want for it?” He said, “Really?” I said, “I give you $75.” He said, “Sold!” It now resides in the East Campus Fellowship Hall and is used primarily at South Sudanese Nuer worship services. God sighting!
 
(Confusing sidebar, the Pentecostals who do “altar calls” were going to get rid of the altar. Probably a conversation for later). Focus Tyler, focus!
 
The use of altars goes back to Old Testament times. It usually was a place where offerings or sacrifices were made or as a reminder of a location where a God sighting happened.
 
Altars are, however, not unique to Judeo-Christian practice. They are used in other religions for various purposes.
 
The first altar mentioned in the Bible was built by Noah after the flood had ended. Several animals and birds were sacrificed in a burnt offering to the Lord. The Genesis text says God smelled the pleasing aroma and pledged to never destroy the world with flood again.
 
The altar was central in Jewish worship and usually was a part of sacrificial offerings at the temple. It seems a shift happened in Judaism after the destruction of the temple by the Romans in 70 A.D., where they could no longer sacrifice animals since the temple was gone. The shift was to move from priestly temple sacrifices to focus primarily on rabbinical teaching in the synagogue. As a result, you will find what they call the ark, which contains scrolls of Holy Scripture, in a synagogue, but the altar is not in the synagogue.
 
So why would an altar be found in in a church?
 
The altar reminds us of the sacrifice for atonement with our God.
 
In Hebrews 10:8-14 it is written, “First He (Jesus Christ) said, “sacrifices and offerings, burnt offerings and sin offerings you did not desire, nor were you pleased with them” (although the law required them to be made). Then He said, “Here I am, I have come to do your will.
 
He sets aside the first to establish the second. And by that will, we have been made holy through the sacrifice of the body of Jesus Christ once for all.
 
Day after day every priest stands and performs his religious duties; again, and again he offers the same sacrifices, which can never take away sins. But when this priest (Jesus Christ) had offered for all time one sacrifice for sins, He sat down at the right hand of God.
 
Since that time, He waits for His enemies to be made His footstool, because by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever those who are being made holy.
 
The altars in our churches also remind us what is to come (Revelation 6:9; 8:3-5; 9:13; 11:1; 14:18; 16:7).
 
The altar in Christian understanding can also lead one to a table. Sometimes the altar in a church will look more like a table than an actual stone altar, even though it is still called an altar.
 
A wood altar takes us to the last meal Christ had with his disciples where he once again proclaimed his sacrificial death (Matthew 26:17-30; Mark 14:12-26 and Luke 22:7-23).
 
So for a Christian worshiper, the altar of sacrifice and the table of Holy Communion are joined together as one. They are established forever as one of the greatest God sightings!
 
The Seven Questions:
1. So why do you think some Christian altars are made of stone while others are made of wood? Is there symbolism in each? If so, what is it?
 
2. Why do you think Lutherans and others refer to communion as the Sacrament of the Altar?
 
3. If you had to explain why Christians use an altar to a non-believer, what would you say?
 
4. How does the use of altars differ from the Old to the New Testament? How are they similar?
 
5. One function of an altar was to mark the location of a God sighting. What God sightings have you seen recently?
 
6. Another function of an altar was to be used for the making of a sacrifice to God. What sacrifice does a Christian turn to? Why?
 
7. What does it mean to you to see the elements of Communion placed upon the altar?
 
Mission Focus: Take a friend out for coffee and share some God sightings in your life with them.
 
Your Thoughts: