SOAP Journal – 04 January 2017 (Exodus 27:2)

You shall make its horns on its four corners; its horns shall be of one piece with it, and you shall overlay it with bronze.

Exodus 27:2

The next thing that God tells Moses to make is an altar that is roughly 7 1/2 feet square and 4 1/2 feet tall. The altar is to be made of acacia wood — the same wood used for the Ark and the table and the panels inside the tabernacle — and overlaid with bronze — which, the footnote tells me, could also be translated as copper. This is the altar that will be used in many of the sacrifices prescribed in Leviticus, most notably the sin offering. This is where the sacrifices for fellowship and atonement are made.

There are a few things worthy of note here.

God had previously told the patriarchs and the Israelites that altars were to be made from stones that were just piled up. No stonecutting. No shaping so they fit together better. Just find stones that fit and pile them up accordingly. This practice would persist all the way to at least the time of the prophet Elijah. That sets this altar apart and marks it as something of which I should take note.

This altar was portable. The altar’s design included poles with which it could be carried. This meant that sacrifices could be offered anywhere, therefore worship could take place anywhere. But, and this dovetails into other noteworthy things about the altar, the altar needed to be carried around. There is a verse in the New Testament (NT) that says believers are always carrying around in our bodies the dying of Christ (2 Corinthians 4:10).

This altar is covered in bronze. Fast-forward to the Israelites wandering in the wilderness and there is another thing made of bronze that must be carried around, viz. the bronze serpent (Numbers 21:9). The serpent was a direct result of sin and the punishment thereof. The Israelites sinned and God disciplined their sin by sending serpents into the camp. Whoever was bitten and did nothing died and whoever was bitten and looked at the bronze serpent lived. Both the altar and the serpent are methods of sin being addressed. So it is not surprising to me that bronze is often associated with judgment in The Bible. Both the serpent and the altar also point to an important truth: It is a simple thing to get hung up on the symbol and forget what the symbol points to. A modern case in point is the cross — which has some pretty amazing parallels to the altar, when God prescribes how the sacrifices are made.

This altar is square. I know that does not mean much to most, but the earliest versions of the cross used in crucifixion were in the shape of an X, which makes the square dimensions of the altar’s top a bit more meaningful — especially when the methods of the sacrifices are prescribed.

The application of this, for me, comes from the idea that the altar is portable and must be carried; comes back to the idea that believers are to be carrying about in the body the dying of Jesus, so that the life of Jesus may also be manifested in our bodies. Jesus tells those who would follow Him to take up their cross; take up the instrument on which atonement for sin was made. God tells the Israelites to do the very same thing. The conditions of discipleship have not changed, only the symbol. I am to carry the awareness of my sin and the cost of it with me wherever I go. This is not morbid — it might seem so to some — but is a healthy thing. A person with a persistent condition — diabetes, for example — cannot live a healthy and good life without the awareness of his condition present at all times. Likewise, I will never progress in my walk with God unless I am persistently aware that sin must be dealt with and that dealing with sin involves death.

Father, thank You for this reminder. Please keep me mindful of the cost of atonement and teach me to sarry that awareness with me at all times.

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Everyday Denial (Luke 9:23)

And He was saying to all, “If anyone wishes to come after Me, he must deny himself, and take up his cross daily and follow Me.”

Luke 9:23

There are four things mentioned here.

First, Jesus says If anyone wishes to come after Me and limits the group to which the next statements apply. If I do not wish to come after Him, then I can stop listening.

Second, Jesus speaks of what I must lay down — he must deny himself. I must turn away from myself and the selfishness that is promoted in the culture in which I live. I must place my focus elsewhere.

Third, Jesus tells me what I should pick up in place of what was laid down — take up his cross daily. I notice that He does not tell me that my cross is something I take up once and I will always carry it, but rather that I must take it up daily. Every day, I will be called to crucify myself anew. Every day, I will need to make the walk to the place where my self dies. Every. Day.

Fourth, Jesus tells me what I am to do once I have shouldered my cross — follow Me. This is the same instruction given as the calling of the apostles. This is the same challenge issued to the rich young ruler. The ruler was told to sell all that he had — to deny himself and take up his cross — and to follow Christ. The calling never changes. It is always a call to follow Christ. Sometimes, He is walking up the hill to be crucified. Sometimes He is walking on the water. The point is not where he is walking, but that I am to follow.

This morning, let me deny myself, take up my cross, and follow behind Jesus. These may look different every day, but I need to repeat them every day.

(Isaiah 9:18)

For wickedness burns like a fire;
It consumes briars and thorns;
It even sets the thickets of the forest aflame
And they roll upward in a column of smoke.

Isaiah 9:18

Today, Christians marks what we call Good Friday. We term it thus for many reasons, but I will content myself with the one that is foremost in my mind, that what took place on this day all those years ago was done for he joy set before Jesus. The event remembered today was not a tragedy, but the pivotal event in Heaven’s eternal plan to redeem such as would be saved.

What has that to do with today’s verse? The cross and all of the events leading up to it — interrogation, torture, beatings, shame, abandonment — are the price of my sin; my wickedness. Isaiah writes that wickedness burns like a fire, consuming even briars and thorns. Wickedness is so thorough in its consumption of a life that it will even destroy the immaterial things; the unimportant things; the ancillary details. Not only will wickedness potentially destroy lives and relationships and jobs and trust and so many other important things, but it can take away good looks and poison hobbies and ruin things that are not nearly so important. Wickedness consumes like a fire and the smoke billows. If we would only look, we would see.

Today, this Good Friday, let me remember that wickedness is thorough; that it consumes the important along with the unimportant; that it was atoned for and washed away by the cross of Christ. That washing away makes today good. Let me remember that the cross of Christ was endured for the joy set before Him and that makes today good. It is Good Friday, for the flames of wickedness can be snuffed by the living water of God if only we douse ourselves in that flow.

Solid Ground (Joshua 3:17)

And the priests who carried the ark of the covenant of the LORD stood firm on dry ground in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed on dry ground, until all the nation had finished crossing the Jordan.

Joshua 3:17

In context, this verse is bout Israel beginning to receive the promises God had made to their ancestors — Abraham, Isaac, Jacob — and enter into the Promised Land. A few things stood out to me.

First, the priests were standing firm on dry ground. To me, this spoke of what it is to follow God and live in obedience to Him. When we live obedient lives to God, we also stand firm and the ground beneath our feet is not slippery or muddy, but is dry and able to support us.

Second, the priests were carrying the ark of the covenant of the LORD when they stood on dry ground. The ark was a symbol of God’s presence and was the place where God would meet with the high priest. But it is also a reminder. The ark contains a jar of manna to remind Israel of God’s provision; the rod of Aaron that blossomed to remind Israel of God’s choice (and that God does choose individuals for His work; the tablets with the Ten Commandments written on them to remind Israel of God’s standards. The ark, if I were to seek a parallel in my life, would be similar to my cross. A cross is an obvious thing — big, clunky, ungainly, meant to kill me — and serves as reminder of God’s calling (Jesus tells everyone who follows Him to take up our cross), God’s standards (my cross is meant to put to death my old man), and God’s provision (God provided Himself as a sacrifice for the sins of us all).

Third and last, the priests stood in the middle of the Jordan while all Israel crossed. The priests’ bearing of the ark into the river enabled the entry of the Israelites — God’s chosen people — into the Promised Land. If I bear testimony to what God has done and continues to do then my life; my stand will become an entry point into God’s grace. Not that I do anything, but that others realize that the same God who has saved me wants to save them. All I do is stand witness and the power of God is manifested to bring others into the promises of God.

In summary: An obedient life gives me a firm foundation; dry ground to stand on. Carrying my cross — which is an act of obedience — serves as a reminder of God’s provision (Jesus died on a cross to save us), God’s choice (He chose us), and God’s standard (everyone who wants to live Godly must crucify the old man). My stand in obedience to God may become a point of entry for others to enter into the promises of God; a place where people see Jesus, come to Him, and are saved.

The priests didn’t say a word, but their obedience spoke volumes. Likewise my obedience can speak to others without me ever having to open my mouth — but I should be ready to give a reason for the hope in me to anyone who asks.