Did You Pass By the Altar?
After the fifth or sixth day of reading the 46th chapter of Ezekiel, I opened the Bible once again in an attempt to write a devotional based on that chapter. Seemingly, I was getting nowhere. Like previous mornings, my eyes got heavy and my mind was getting numb as I started reading it one more time. Nothing was registering and I nearly gave up. Then, an inner voice said to me, “Are you reading this for what interests you or are you trying to understand what it is saying?”
Oh, ouch! That hit me right between the eyes. For indeed that was what I had been doing. Since nothing in the chapter seemed to relate to our modern kind of worship services or our kind of church buildings I was basically tuning it all out. It seemed so irrelevant.
To get a clearer understanding of what I was reading, I found a sketch of Ezekiel’s temple and then began to read the 46th chapter, again. As I walked through the temple Ezekiel was describing, things began to take on a whole new meaning to me.
Initially, I kept pondering why there was no West Gate. I assumed that it was because of where the Sanctuary was located. Then, I saw a spiritual lesson: There is no back door into God’s House; into God’s Presence. Sadly, I thought of the thousands of Jews who storm the Wailing Wall each day, the Western Wall of the old Temple, calling out to God.
In fact, Ezekiel even tells us there is no front door into God’s House, into God’s Presence. Elsewhere in the book, God makes it clear to Ezekiel that no one could enter through the East Gate. It was only open on the Sabbath Day and for the New Moon. The prince could worship at the gates and the people could worship under the porch, but no one could pass through the East Gate; the reason being that it was the gate that the Lord had passed through.
No front door, no back door, but God has provided us a Way into His house, into His presence, through the side gates, north and south. God makes it clear to Ezekiel that if worshippers enter by way of the South Gate they must exit by way of the North Gate. If they enter by way of the North Gate they must exit by way of the South Gate. It all seemed puzzling to me until I looked at the sketch of the temple. To go from the North Gate to the South Gate or vice a versa, you have to pass by the altar. Look at the sketch.
In the vision of the temple God gave to Ezekiel, the altar is at the very center of the temple complex. A few lessons seemed to surface in my mind. Our altar is the cross upon which the Lord Jesus Christ died. Upon Him, all of our sins were laid, and through his death our sins were fully paid for. Question: When we enter the house of God, do we pass by this altar (not the piece of furniture at the front of the church)? Do we worship this One who took our place, this One upon whom all of our sins were laid, making us worthy to enter God’s House?
When we enter God’s House if all we do is to sing, and pray, and give, and listen; we do not pass the altar and we leave the same way that we came. But if we worship this One who died on the cross for all of our sins, who freely took upon Himself all of our shame and bore our guilt; if we recognize that He, and He alone, makes it possible for us to be in God’s House, then we will go out a different way than we came in.
In our modern ways of worship, perhaps we are too careless and cavalier in our church services. We come to hear a sermon, we come to hear the singing, we come because our family comes, we come to see what others are wearing, we come because we have always come, we come to see who else comes….if that is the basis of our going to the House of God then we go home the same way we came.
Oh, dear friends, let’s not fail to pass by the altar as we enter into God’s House and into His Presence. Regardless of what others do, in every service, seek the One who died for your sins and worship Him. Pass by the altar. When you do, you will go home a different way than you came.