Exodus 20:22-26. 22 And the Lord said to Moses, “Thus you shall say to the people of Israel: ‘You have seen for yourselves that I have talked with you from heaven. 23 You shall not make gods of silver to be with me, nor shall you make for yourselves gods of gold. 24 An altar of earth you shall make for me and sacrifice on it your burnt offerings and your peace offerings, your sheep and your oxen. In every place where I cause my name to be remembered I will come to you and bless you. 25 If you make me an altar of stone, you shall not build it of hewn stones, for if you wield your tool on it you profane it. 26 And you shall not go up by steps to my altar, that your nakedness be not exposed on it.’
The Hebrew people are camped at the foot of Mount Sinai while Moses goes to the top of the Mountain to meet with God. On that mountain top Moses receives the Ten Commandments. The “Ten Words” of God given to his people to guide their lives and produce their holiness.
And then the very next words out of God’s mouth sound something like this, “Don’t make any idols, instead make an altar out of the earth.”
God knows his people. He knows their hearts. He knows their failings. He knows their depravity. He knows that the ten laws he just handed to Moses will be disobeyed over and over again. So before we do anything else, let’s build an altar. There’s no tabernacle yet. We can’t wait for that. We’re gonna need to repent…soon. We all know it. Forgiveness will be probably be required by the end of the day.
The nature of this altar is compelling. It images our humanity. It is simple – no hewn rocks, only piled up natural stones. It is low – no steps. It is called an “altar of earth.” Earth is the Hebrew word adamah. Like Adam. God made us out of the adamah. The ground. The dirt and rocks. We worship God from our simplicity. Our lowliness. Our sacrifices don’t get us to God. They remind us that God got to us. We don’t go up. He comes down.
I’m sure somehow this relates….also it was a “human sacrifice” scene that wasn’t super creepy.
The burnt offering atoned for the sins of the people. The sheep or ox was slaughtered by the priest and completely burned up, it’s smoke rising up to God. Blood was sprinkled on the altar. Sins were forgiven and the sinner’s life was spared.
The peace offering celebrated that forgiveness. With a peace offering, only the fat of the animal was burned up (the best part). The rest became a feast to be enjoyed by the priests and the people enjoying the shalom of God’s presence together.
Jesus Christ is our earthen altar. He became adamah like us so that all of our sins could be laid on him forever. He, the simple stone mason, became the unhewn stone altar for us. The place of meeting between God and man. God’s fulfillment of his promise to the Hebrews – I will come to you and bless you.
Jesus Christ is our burnt offering. The final sacrifice for sins. Our propitiating (satisfying) blood offering. His life for our life. His blood shed, his body destroyed that we might live.
Jesus Christ is our peace offering. He is the best part of humanity offered to God. Through Jesus we now live in the presence of God as the presence of God now lives in us.
What about you? Is your relationship with God as simple as this simple altar?
Are you still trying to carve out your stones? Are you trying to make your life make sense and fit together all nice and tight? Are you still chiseling a bit here, a bit there? “If I just shape my life in this way God will accept me.”
Are you still building steps to God? Are you trying to do things to get closer to him? Find your way back to him? Are you trying to appear “higher up” than others? But are you remembering that going up steps just exposes your nakedness?
Is your altar the earthen altar of Jesus Christ alone? Is he where you will find your peace today? Is he your hope of forgiveness and grace? Is his earthly life your only righteousness? Will Christ’s finished work on the cross alone be what you present to God today as your sacrifice for sins?
“To live is Christ” has placed in you the altar of earth where God has come to us and blessed us with his very own presence in our union with Christ. The final burnt offering of forgiveness and peace offering of fellowship has been offered to God in Christ. Now, in Christ, we can live as sacrifices to God. Offering every part of our lives to him in the freedom and love of his grace.