Tabernacle Truths
The Altar of Incense
Exodus 30:1-10, 34-38
 
In our morning worship times, we are studying the Tabernacle that was used as the place of worship for God's people in the Old Testament during their wilderness wanderings. We have seen that this Tabernacle is an Old Testament picture of not only the Lord Jesus Christ Himself, but of our salvation and life in Christ.
 
We've seen the fence surrounding the tabernacle, the altar in the courtyard where sacrifices were made, the washbasin where the priests would clean up, the table inside the Holy Place that held the bread representing the twelve tribes of Israel and the lampstand that was there as well. 
 
So we've seen pictures of separation and sin in the fence, sacrifice and salvation at the altar, cleansing and sanctification at the laver, nourishment and satisfaction at the table, and light and illumination at the lampstand.
 
And remember. on the outside everything was brass.  It was a picture of judgment.  On the inside everything was gold. It was a picture of deity—God. 
 
So coming into the first room, there were three fixtures present.  To the right was the table holding the bread, to the left, the lampstand, and right in the middle, in front of the veil separating the two rooms, was a little golden altar. 
 
 
It's description is found in
 
Exodus 30:1-10
 
Now immediately, we are struck by it's size.  It is not a large piece at all, only about one and one-half feet square and three feet high. 
 
As we see, this table was used to hold burning incense.  The priest would take some of the fire off the outside altar where the sacrifice had been offered, place it in one of the pans, walk inside the tabernacle with a handful of incense, set it on this altar and set on fire the incense, creating a sweet perfumed odor that would fill the room.  
 
So we have two altars, now sharing in this aroma that filled the room.  Think about those two altars.  Outside, we have an altar of brass where a substitutionary sacrifice is made on behalf of sinners.
 
Inside, we have a golden altar, fueled by the fire where our sacrifice was offered, and there a sweet aroma is offered on behalf of saints.
 
That tells us that outside, God deals with sinners through a sacrifice, but inside, God deals with on the basis of a sweet perfume.  Outside, on the altar of brass, we see the Lord Jesus Christ dying for us.  inside, we find a golden altar picturing Jesus Christ in heaven now, living for us.
 
So what is the primary message from the altar of incense?  At the table we find nutrition, at the lampstand, we find illumination, and at this altar, we see communication.  It represents prayer
 
Now, remember, prayer is nothing other than talking to God.  In the Old Testament and in the New Testament incense is a symbol of prayer.  I don't have time to do an exhaustive study of prayer with you this morning, but just think about a few Scriptural references, such as 
 
Psalm 141:2:
 
"Let my prayer be set before You as incense,
The lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice."
 
When the incense was put on the fire it turned to a fragrant smoke and it went upward and that upward rising is a symbol of prayer. 
 
You find the same truth taught in the New Testament in Luke 1.  Speaking of Zecharias, the father of John the Baptist who was a priest who served in the tabernacle, the Bible says in verses 9-11,
 
"according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at the hour of incense. Then an angel of the Lord appeared to him, standing on the right side of the altar of incense."
 
So Zecharias went in to serve his rotation in the schedule and in particular he went in to burn incense at the very time the people outside were praying.  It's not coincidental that prayer and the burning of the incense took place at the same time. The time of incense was the time of prayer.
 
 
 
There's another reference in
 
Revelation 5:8
 
"Now when He had taken the scroll, the four living creatures and the twenty-four elders fell down before the Lamb, each having a harp, and golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints."
 
Later in
 
Revelation 8:3-4
 
We read,
 
"Then another angel, having a golden censer, came and stood at the altar. He was given much incense, that he should offer it with the prayers of all the saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, with the prayers of the saints, ascended before God from the angel’s hand."
 
So we know what the incense represents.  Scripture makes it obvious that this altar of incense represents the ministry of prayer, and in particular, it reminds us that there is something sweet about prayer.  The incense created a sweet-smelling fragrance.  Now, there's just two things I want to share with you about this altar regarding prayer. 
 
First I want to talk about—
 
1.  The Prayer Ministry of the Savior
 
This golden altar of incense represents the prayer ministry of Jesus.    
For instance, look at the construction of this altar.  As we've seen time and time again, the materials they were instructed to use were very specific.  Gold over acacia wood representing the sinless humanity of Jesus Christ are perfectly blended together in an Old Testament picture of the Son of God coming to live and dwell in a human body.
 
Then just as we saw in the brass altar in the courtyard, this smaller golden altar also had horns on each corner.
 
verse 2
 
And notice, the horns were not added as separate attachments.  They were molded into the altar.  Now horns are symbols of power, and there we see inherent in the nature of Christ, there is power, and in particular, it is the power of His prayer life. 
 
And notice, verse three tells us about the molding around the top of the altar.  Much like the table, it had this elevated trim that kept the fire on the top from sliding off. 
 
That reminds me of what we read in Hebrews 2:9 about Jesus being "crowned with glory and honor." 
 
So, first of all, this altar of incense represents the person of Jesus, our Savior.  He is our Praying Priest in Heaven.  That's why we don't need a priest down here!  We have a perfect, praying priest up there. 
 
Now, in this tabernacle ministry, the priests had a lot of different responsibilities.  One of those priests served as the high priest. 
And as you can imagine, just by the title, the high priest had specific responsibilities that came with the job.
 
For instance, next week, we'll move into the Holy of Holies where the Ark of the Covenant sat.  The high priest was the only one who could go into that room, and he could only go one time a year, and he had to be very careful about how he did what he did or he would die.  If he violated any requirement, he would immediately be killed.  It was very precise, demanding work.
 
But what Jesus did changed all those requirements.  We no longer need a high priest down here because Jesus is our High Priest and He is in the very presence of God on our behalf! 
 
I like to support what I tell you with Scripture for two reasons.  First, you will know I'm not making stuff up, and second, you can read and study it for yourself.  Now, I just told you Jesus is our High Priest and has replace any need for any human priest.  The Scriptural proof for that is found in
 
Hebrews 8:1
 
"Now this is the main point of the things we are saying: We have such a High Priest, who is seated at the right hand of the throne of the Majesty in the heavens,"
 
Now this summary statement is the conclusion of a passage that begins back in chapter 7 where the author is telling us about the sufficiency of Christ as our High priest and how the Old Levitical order couldn't get the job done. But Jesus can. 
He did what was required as High Priest and to prove it, when He got through, He sat down. 
 
And if you want some more proof, then look at
 
Hebrews 9:24
 
"For Christ has not entered the holy places made with hands, which are copies of the true, but into heaven itself, now to appear in the presence of God for us;"
 
In other words, Jesus didn't and doesn't minister in the earthly structures the Jews used, but that's okay because they are only copies.  Christ ministers on our behalf in the very presence of God.
 
He's at the right hand of the Father and is praying for us.  I cannot tell you the profound impact that should have on our lives.  There's somebody in heaven praying for me and His name is Jesus. 
 
In 1 John 2, He's called our "advocate".  John says,
 
"My little children, these things I write to you, so that you may not sin. And if anyone sins, we have an Advocate with the Father, Jesus Christ the righteous.
 
Now the word, advocate, actually means "a lawyer."  As those who are guilty before God, we need a lawyer, somebody to go before the Judge on our behalf and present our case.   And boy, do I have good news!  Our lawyer is kin to the Judge!  In fact, He's His Son!  And even better than that, He's willing to not just represent me, but stand in my place! 
 
He's not only my advocate, He's my Intercessor. 
Listen to
 
Hebrews 7:25
 
"Therefore He is also able to save to the uttermost those who come to God through Him, since He always lives to make intercession for them."
 
Jesus is praying for me and you up there in heaven.
 
Romans 8:34 says the same thing: 
 
"Who is he who condemns? It is Christ who died, and furthermore is also risen, who is even at the right hand of God, who also makes intercession for us."
 
Isn't that amazing?  Christ Himself is in heaven praying for us, and this altar of incense with its sweet smelling fragrance lifting toward heaven was a constant visual reminder of the person and work of the Lord Jesus Christ. 
 
By the way, in this same chapter we have a description of the ingredients that were used to make this sweet incense.  
 
Exodus 30:34
 
Now here we are given the ingredients that made up this incense.  And to be honest, I'm not sure how to pronounce some of those words.  And I'm not sure anybody else knows how to pronounce them either, because everyone i consulted had a different opinion.  
 
It's like some of the names in the Old Testament.  Just say "Bubba" and move on!
 
The first ingredient is called "stacte", and much like how to pronounce it, we don't know exactly what it was.  Some people think it was myrrh. 
 
Then there is Onycha, and it was something that had an odor kind of like musk. 
 
The third ingredient was Galbanum, and it was something that had a very pungent odor.
 
According to verse 35, these various spices were combined with frankincense in equal quantities, and made into a perfume.
 
My personal opinion is these individual spices are representative of the mystery of the nature of the Lord Jesus Christ.  Combined in Him we find this strange and unique mixture of God and man.  There is a mystery about Him.
 
And notice,
 
verse 36b
 
"It shall be most holy to you"
 
That reminds me of Jesus also.  When you consider the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, there is a purity about Him, a holiness about Him.  Jesus is the only person who ever lived without sin.  Now think about that and don't rush by it too quickly.  He lived in a world just like you and I live in a body just like you and I have and yet, He never did anything wrong.  That's what qualifies Him to be your Savior. 
 
 
And here in the tabernacle, we find this strange and unique and holy mixture of spices that represent the mystery of the personality of the Lord Jesus. 
 
As I mentioned, they were mixed in equal measure.  In other words, there was a perfect balance between them.  Study the life of Jesus and you will find perfect balance in Him. 
 
For instance, you will see perfectly balanced in Jesus Christ between grace and truth.  Remember the woman who was caught in the act of adultery and brought to Jesus? 
 
After everyone left her alone with Jesus, Jesus asked her,  "Where are your accusers?  Are anyone still around to condemn you? "  She said, "No".  Then Jesus said, "I'm not here to condemn you either.  Go and don't sin anymore."
 
There was a perfect balance between grace and truth.
 
Or. consider His justice and mercy.  On the cross of Calvary, Jesus Christ displayed perfect justice in that "he who knew no sin, was made sin for us."  
 
And yet at that same time, on the same cross, He extends mercy to you and I who are sinners and don't deserve mercy.  There is a perfect balance. 
 
It's not that way with us.  We don't display that balance, do we?  In fact, have you ever noticed that even the good qualities of your personality can get out of balance?
 
 
For instance, it is a good and positive quality to be truthful.  But have you ever noticed that some people who have this noble quality of being honest can be too blunt and brutal.  Why?  They're out of balance! 
 
I would say it is a good thing to be compassionate and merciful.  After all, the Lord was both of us. 
But if that gets out of balance in our life, we can be too lenient and wishy-washy.
 
We don't display that perfect balance.  We get things out of balance if we aren't very careful.  But Jesus never did!  In the Lord Jesus Christ there was a beautiful balance.
 
In fact, verse 36 says they were to beat these ingredients and make it into a fine consistency.  What does that tell us about Jesus?  It tells me you can put Him under a microscope, and He'll still look and act and be exactly the same!
 
Examine the smallest detail of the life of the Lord Jesus Christ, down to the simplest words that Jesus ever used, and He was never out of balance.  Everything was perfectly in place.
 
And it is because of the sinless, perfect life of the Lord Jesus Christ that He is qualified to pray for us.
 
Go back to verse 10 of the chapter, and there you'll find another reason he was qualified to pray for us. 
 
Exodus 30:10
 
 
 
So once a year, the Jews observed Atonement Day.  And on that day, they would take blood from the sacrifice at the altar of brass out in the courtyard and apply it to the horns of this altar. 
 
And once again, this blood represents the death of the Lord Jesus Christ on our behalf.  Now understand what we're seeing:  Now only is Jesus qualified to pray for us because of His sinless life, He is also qualified because of His death on the cross of Calvary. 
 
By the way, verse 8 says the priests were to make sure this incense was always burning because it was a to be a perpetual incense before the Lord.  That means Jesus is always praying for you.  Sometimes you ask me to pray for you and sometimes I do.  If you ask me to pray for you, I try to do that . 
 
But even when I do remember, I am not always praying for you.  I have to stop praying for you to pray for someone else, or to study, or to take care of business.
 
But what did we read a moment ago in Hebrews 7:25?  "He ever lives to make intercession for us."  That means He's always praying for you. It is a perpetual prayer that Jesus Christ is offering to the Father for you and for me. 
 
I thought about what Jesus said to Simon Peter when he told him Satan had desired to have him.  He wanted to sift him lie wheat.  But Jesus said,  "But I have prayed for you that your faith wouldn't fail."  
 
 
That's not the only example if the Lord praying for those he cared about.  Once they were out on the sea struggling and Jesus was up on the mountain praying. 
 
Do you realize Jesus is praying for you today?  Amidst the storm and the struggle and the tragedy and the turmoil of life, keep in mind Jesus is praying for you!  That's one of the most encouraging truths in the whole Bible to me.  Jesus is praying for us.
 
That's the prayer ministry of our Savior.  That's what
that altar represents.  Here's the second truth.
 
II. The Prayer Ministry of the Saint
 
This altar also represents your prayers and mine as God's people.  Remember, we don't need a priest on the earth, not only because we have in Jesus a High priest, but also because as a child of God, we are priests. 
 
At the moment of my salvation, Jesus made me a priest.  That's why you and I don't have to go any earthly priest.   We can pray for each other and this altar of incense, represents for the believer,
 
- the approach of prayer. 
 
So how do you and I approach God in prayer?  How do we get to God in prayer?  Well, what did that priest have to do?  He had to bring the incense to that altar.  The altar represents the Lord Jesus Christ.  That's how you and I approach God in prayer.  We bring our prayers to God through Jesus Christ.  That's why we pray in the name of Jesus. 
It is on the basis of the name of Christ, therefore, it is on the basis of the shed blood of the Lord Jesus Christ, that I am able to come to God in prayer.
 
Follow the picture:  First of all I had to go to that brass altar and get saved.  Then I had to go to the laver and get myself cleaned up. 
 
After all, the Bible says if I regard iniquity in my heart, the Lord will not hear me.  That may be one of the reasons your prayers aren't getting answered –your life is not clean before God.  You may need to get your life washed up.  Get cleaned up so you can pray to God.
 
But if I'm saved, and if I'm sanctified, if I'm living for the Lord, got my life clean, then I can go into the holy place with the incense, put it on that altar and because of the person of the Lord Jesus Christ, my prayers can go to the Father.
 
Sometimes our prayers are so weak.  I'm talking about myself now.  Sometimes my prayers are so selfish.  Sometimes my prayers are so filled with unbelief.  I wonder how they will ever get into the presence of God.  But it's kind of like a little story I want to tell you.
 
It's like a little child who decides to pick a bouquet of flowers to please his father.  The little child begins to pick flowers.  But he is limited in understanding and immature.  He gets about as many weeds as he does flowers.  So the little child has his bouquet.  He has some flowers, but a lot of weeds. 
 
 
 
That's the way we pray.  Don't we pray with a lot of weeds?  Of course we do.  We get our own selfish desires, our own ideas about things.  A lot of times when we pray, it's almost like we are trying to talk God into doing what we want Him to do.  That's not what prayer is.  Prayer isn't you trying to twist
God's arm to get Him to do what you want Him to do.  Prayer is you going into the presence of the Father to find out what He wants you to do.
 
But we are like that little child.  We have our little bouquet.  It has some flowers in it, but it has a whole lot of weeds in it.  We come to the door of the house and standing at the door we have an elder brother.  Our elder brother takes our little bouquet and takes all the weeds out and puts beautiful flowers in their places and then takes our bouquet into the presence of the Father.
 
Our Advocate, our Elder Brother, at the right hand of the Father, takes all the weeds our of our prayers and puts all of the sweetness of His own prayer in them!  And when they arrive, you wouldn't believe how sweet they smell!  In fact, you ought to smell your prayers by the time Jesus gets through with them! 
 
We approach on the basis of the Lord Jesus.  That is the approach of prayer.  They had to come to the altar.   Then there's
 
- the aroma of prayer  
 
Watch!  That incense going up.  SO what caused the aroma to rise? 
 
First, there was fire. 
There had to be fire on that altar.  It says in verse 8, he was to burn incense upon the fire.  You know what gives passion to our prayer, what causes your prayers to rise to God?  It's when we pray on the basis of the fire of Calvary's love that burns in our hearts. 
 
And notice, hey offered incense in the morning and in the evening.  Those are two very good times to pray. 
 
Pray in the morning!  Psalm 5:3 says,
 
"My voice You shall hear in the morning, O Lord;
In the morning I will direct it to You, And I will look up."
 
Pray in the morning!  That's a great way to begin your day.  Start your day off in prayer.  Talk to God in the morning.  Jesus prayed in the morning. 
 
Mark 1:35 says, "Now in the morning, having risen a long while before daylight, He went out and departed to a solitary place; and there He prayed.
 
Get you a quiet, solitary place where every morning you can meet with God.  Maybe it's a rug down by your bed.  I like to do that after I get to the office, before the phone starts ringing and just get alone with God and pray.
 
Then. like the priests, you need to burn some incense in the evening.
 
 
 
Psalm 63:5-6 says, "My soul shall be satisfied as with marrow and fatness, and my mouth shall praise You with joyful lips. When I remember You on my bed, I meditate on You in the night watches."
 
When you go to bed at night, say, "Good night, Lord."  If you wake up during the night, have a little talk with God.  Maybe He woke you up so you and He could spend some time together! 
 
Just like clockwork, begin your day with prayer and close your day with prayer.  And it wouldn't hurt to fill the time between with prayer also!  Remember, the incense was always burning! 
 
Ephesians 6:18 says, "praying always with all prayer and supplication in the Spirit. . ."
 
Or, Romans 12:12, "continuing steadfastly in prayer;"
 
Fill your days with prayer! Everywhere they went they took that incense altar which means that everywhere you go, you have the privilege of having direct access to God!
 
Malachi 1:11 says, "For from the rising of the sun, even to its going down, My name shall be great among the Gentiles; In every place incense shall be offered to My name, And a pure offering; For My name shall be great among the nations,” says the Lord of hosts.
 
 
 
 
After the priest had gone to that altar of incense and taken his fistful of incense and put it on the fire, the incense went up and the sweet perfume filled the room. 
 
But he didn't leave the fragrance in the holy place.  When he walked out of there, the fragrance of the sweet perfume was still on him! If you and I will learn to be men and women of prayer, you won't have to tell anybody because the  fragrance of sweet prayer will so permeate your life that when you get around people they will say, "I don't know what it is, but there's a sweetness, there's a fragrance about that person's life." 
 
I heard about a woman who called her preacher to come to the bedside of her dying husband.  She said, "He is unresponsive.  I don't think he'll even know you are here.  You're probably wondering why I've asked you to come.  You probably think it's to be here for me, but it's not."
 
Then she said, "I just wanted him to get a breath of you before he died."
 
God help us to have that kind of aroma in the world around us!  It comes only through spending time in the presence of God in the aroma and fragrance of sweet prayer!
 
Let's pray.
 
 
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