church worship

Evolution of the Altar 5: Carelessness towards the Altar

Let us once again enter into the Temple made from the pattern of the tabernacle that was made from what was shown to Moses on Mount Sinai. Years have passed since God?s commandment on how He is to be worshiped. Years have passed since Nadab and Abihu?s sin of the strange fire, doing that which God had ?commanded not?. Years have passed since Jeroboam?s sin of degrading what God had commanded concerning the altar to convenience by setting up worship centers in the North. If we recall, there was also a certain King Ahaz who set up two altars in the Temple, one based off of man?s pattern, offering a choice to the approach to God.

In this temple that we enter we may quickly note some things. It is not as glorious as the temple of Solomon?s day but it is also imageless. Some years have passed since Israel had polluted the land with their idolatry, eventually getting sacked by the Assyrians and subsequently the Babylonians. Some years have passed since Cyrus? mandate to rebuild the temple and here we are, sacrifices are being offered up and the priests are doing their duty. From this distance in the outer courtyard, everything is as it should be. Israel has learned his lesson and now is worshipping as he should.

Yet, as is often the case with appearances, there is something wrong that we cannot see from this distance.

The prophet Malachi is in the land and he is declaring the word of the Lord. He writes down his message and records several statements that God makes and then the resultant defense that these worshipping Israelites are offering. If you imagine a father saying to his child ?You disobey me all the time.? The child turns to the father and says ?I do everything you say, how am I disobedient??

The Lord brings a charge before the people in Malachi 1:6 saying that a son honors his father and a servant his master, and if He is a father, where is His honor? Where is His respect by the priests that despise His name?

What is this question? These people are worshipping God. The idols are gone and the temple, imageless. How are they “disrespecting the father“? In fact, they go on to ask God the question by saying ?How have we despised Your name??

The Lord gets specific by pointing out that they are presenting defiled food upon His altar (1:7). In their heart the table of the Lord is despised because they think the action of offering the sacrifice is better than the actual quality of the sacrifice. God goes onto point out the carelessness of their worship in their offering up the blind animals or the sick and lame. He points out that they wouldn?t save these things for their governor how dare they offer it up to the Lord?

God is very concerned with the heart of the worshipper and the care by which the worship is offered up. He doesn?t enjoy the leftovers or the offerings that are the last consideration. If we give out of our increase to the Lord, do we first check to see if all the bills are paid off and that we?re fiscally fine before offering to God? Do we grudgingly agree to whatever the church has stated as the amount we are to give? Do we pray as an afterthought? Do we treat the Lord?s Supper as any other meeting and watch the performers perform?

Note what God goes onto tell these ?worshippers? in verse 10, and it is an immensely sad thing. ?Oh that there were one among you who would shut the gates, that you might not uselessly kindle fire on My altar! I am not pleased with you.? What a horrid thing to get to the point, in their worship, where God is sick with it and wants the very doors of the temple closed and moreover, says the Lord of hosts ?nor will I accept an offering from you.?

That should make us shudder. True the Holy Spirit translates our prayers into groanings and utterings which we can?t put into words, but the Lord seeks a broken and contrite heart. He seeks hearts that offer up worship honestly and in purity?of the first fruits of our hearts, minds and increase. Many of our churches have become a family activity or a place for relationships but I think the Lord would say otherwise (note the pattern in the epistles).

If it is a place where worship is offered up to the Lord are we being careful with that responsibility? Are we offering worship from our very hearts and bent knees? Are we offering worship from the first fruits of our increase? When the Lord looks down is He happy with our worship or does He see it as careless and grows ill?

We must take great care with the house of the Lord and the altar of our worship. It is not our house, but God?s house, and with that thinking we should approach it as something Other and not to be carelessly trifled with.

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