Jonathan Wright - Jesus Resurrection - E. Portland, OR - 2005

This is the first day of the week, the day that Jesus rose from the dead.  I think that we understand that our hope is in His resurrection.  Our cleansing is in His death but our hope is in His resurrection.  Maybe a lot of the religious world is counting on Jesus' death for their hope.  The provision of God, in Jesus’ death is for our cleansing only.  Our hope is in His resurrection.  Here is an illustration that may be helpful.  When God created this earth, He created plants and we understand that if there is going to be a harvest that seed must fall into the ground and die.  Every time that the seed is planted and the conditions are right, that seed does die.  But if that's all that that seed did, just fall into the ground and willing to be covered and loses its identity, soon there would be no food for any living thing on this earth.  There would be no future, there would be no life.  So we understand that the hope of humanity isn't just in the fact that seed is sown, but that it would resurrect and that it would grow and become something much greater than it was before.  God arranged it that way to teach us what our hope is in Jesus.  We all have a great need in the provision that God has made in His son.  There is no underestimating of the power and great need that we have of cleansing.  There is nothing wrong with us when we feel a great need.  But we understand also with that the hope we have is not only in just being a cleansed people but being people that have a new life, that have power from God to live differently and produce something from God in our own lives that gives them hope even beyond this life.  We are grateful for that.
Matthew 23, Jesus was speaking here quite a few things to unbelievers in this chapter.  He referred to the religious people of that day as Scribes and Pharisees.  Jesus mentioned many things about their customs and the way they thought about things.  They had unsound doctrine.  He says, "You say this, and you say that, and you think this and you think that.  It is not sound doctrine."  In verses 18 and 19 He says, "And, Whosoever shall swear by the altar, it is nothing; but whosoever sweareth by the gift that is upon it, he is guilty. Ye fools and blind: for whether is greater, the gift, or the altar that sanctifieth the gift?"  Of course Jesus was referring to the sacrifices that they would make according to the law of Moses in the Old Testament still.  Not only had they adopted that law for making sacrifices on the altar, but they had decided that there was a way they could make a promise that was not so binding, they could make a promise and swear by the altar.  If you don't fulfill a promise it is okay because all you did was swear by the altar.  They had adopted a custom where they swore by what they put on the altar, the sacrifices or the gift, then you had better keep your word.  Jesus took that custom of theirs and said, "What is more important the altar or the gift that is on it?"  Like He said here in the verse 19, "What is greater, the gift or what sanctifies the gift?  What is greater, the offering or the altar?"  He let them know that the most important thing was the altar.  It is helpful for me to think of the altar as our life.  When we have fellowship, when we move amongst one another, are we impressed with the different human talents that people have or the different abilities that we have, who can do more than someone else or who is not able to do as much as someone else?  If that is our focus, then we are focusing on the offering.  Jesus said that it is the altar that sanctifies the gift.  In other words, it is the life that makes whatever the gift is acceptable.  We were hearing about the widow in Luke 21, I love to think about her and the one thing that inspires us about her is not the gift, it is the altar.  She didn't have very much, her gift was not impressive at all, humanly speaking.  What impressed the heart of God, the heart Jesus, was the altar, her life, what she was.  Jesus told them on that occasion also about all those others who were rich and were casting in of their abundance, what was left over.  The offering was huge but the altar was pitiful.  There was nothing about their lives that pleased God. There was nothing about their hearts, their affection, that was acceptable to God.  We are grateful that the Lord is concerned about what we are more than anything.  If there is something that the Lord has been trying to get through to me the last several years, and I have spoken on it quite a bit, it is this altar.  What He is trying to get through to me on is this, that whatever you do, whatever you say, is not the result of what anyone else has done.  Whatever you do, whatever you say, He has been trying to get through to me, is the result of what you are.  I think that would be true for all of us.  None of us in this life can change somebody else.  The workers in this work are not here to change somebody else, impossible.  Except the Lord build the house, they labor in vain that build it.  The Lord is trying to teach me that.  What is most important is, what I am, not in a selfish way but in a spiritual way, what God is trying to do in me.  Whatever I say, not because someone criticizes me, because that means, okay, I can say something like that back.  If I do that it is not because he criticizes me, it is because of criticism in my own heart.  There are people who are criticized that have the spirit of God and they do not react in that way, and what is it?  Is it because they like to be criticized?  No, it is because of what is in their life.  How about if someone praises me, what is my reaction to that?  Like someone said one time, when they were praised, I deserve that, they really understand me.  Why would I think that, because of what he said to me?  What he said very likely isn't true.  My reaction is going to be because of what I am.  If he praises me and I drink it all in, and swell up even more, well that's a result of what is in me, not good at all.  If someone praises us, we need to remember what we are.  We want to be appreciated and we want to be appreciative of others but, may God help us to be what we should be then our actions and reactions will be according to what God wants us to be and not according to what somebody else wants. So, it is the altar that sanctifies the gift.  If I am striving to be what He wants me to be, then of what I do will be acceptable to Him and it will also move me to say what He wants me to say and when.
How do we become a proper altar?  Exodus 20 is very good on this, it is teaching people how to build an altar.  Versus 24 and 25 say, "An altar of earth thou shalt make unto me, and shalt sacrifice thereon thy burnt offerings, and thy peace offerings, thy sheep, and thine oxen: in all places where I record my name I will come unto thee, and I will bless thee.  And if thou wilt make me an altar of stone, thou shalt not build it of hewn stone: for if thou lift up thy tool upon it, thou hast polluted it."  So, here are two ways to build an altar and both of them are altars that are unadorned by man.  It is either an altar of earth or and altar of unhewn stone.  Earth just like God made it and Stone just like God made it.  If you want a square stone you had better look for one, don't make it yourself.  If you want a round stone then find it round.  If you want any other shape of stone and you wanted to be part of your altar, it says that you need to find it just like that.  If you take a hammer or a chisel to a stone God says that that cannot be part of his altar.  Or you could make an earth altar there is plenty of earth around.  The earth in Chile is the same as it is in Oregon.  Just take the earth like it is, untouched, unchanged.  Earth is the kind of altar that I want to be, that is the kind of altar that the Lord wants us to be.  We are always inspired by the simplicity of God's people.  We do not want to be adorned with anything except the spirit of God.  That is what is acceptable to God.  If I think that something else would be better for me, then I am taking a hammer to the stone or if I try to change the dirt then I am saying that I can do something better than God did it.  That is what those rich men were doing in Luke 21.  They were dressing up the altar, they were adorned with all kind of titles, riches and abilities.  Would you do that - you make a big fancy altar and anything you put on that altar is going to look pitifully small, unimpressive.  If you just build a simple little altar made out of dirt and a few stones, maybe not even so pleasant looking then any little offering will be touching and inspiring and helpful.  I love what it says about Jesus in Isaiah 53.  God gave Jesus the distinct advantage of being an altar that in no way was humanly affected, a distinct advantage.  God was helping him even in that way, to help him understand, because he learned obedience through the things that he suffered.  God was helping his son even if the very beginning to understand that there is only one thing that is important, and that is that I be just as God made me, the things that God has arranged, even concerning myself.  I am not very old but I am old enough to start forgetting.  Sometimes we can really get to griping up a storm about how bad our memory is, how awful it is, I can't remember this and I can't remember that.  Well, God arranged that.  If God had wanted to, He could have given everybody just a fantastic memory right down to the day that they died.  But God arranged that, it is part of the dirt, part of the stone.  It is just the way that God made our lives.  There are a lot of other things that we could get upset about.  There are a lot of things about us that are just God's arrangement, His creation and it is not my place to try to change those things or complain about the things that I cannot change.  This is the altar that God has made and what He is concerned about is that it remain as simple as He desires then that will make our offering pleasing to Him.  That means that it is the offering that is going to stand out the most.  What is our offering to God?  There is only one thing that is pleasing to God and He spoke about it a few times when His son was here upon the earth.  He mentioned it at least two times, He said, "This is My well-beloved Son, in whom I am well pleased."  There is nothing that pleases God more than His Son.  Jesus is the offering for sin.  Jesus is the offering for pleasing God, and that is our chief concern.  When we come before God we humble ourselves before God, if there is something about His Son in us that is going to please Him greatly.  If the spirit of His son is in us, that is the offering He accepts.  If I try to put my spirit into it, my ideas, my human reasoning, that is not acceptable because I am changing the altar, trying to prove the altar.  Jesus is the acceptable offering.  Exodus 30 mentions two altars; "And thou shalt make an altar to burn incense upon: of shittim wood shalt thou make it. A cubit shall be the length thereof, and a cubit the breadth thereof; foursquare shall it be: and two cubits shall be the height thereof: the horns thereof shall be of the same. And thou shalt overlay it with pure gold, the top thereof, and the sides thereof round about, and the horns thereof; and thou shalt make unto it a crown of gold round about." Then verses seven and eight, "And Aaron shall burn thereon sweet incense every morning: when he dresseth the lamps, he shall burn incense upon it. And when Aaron lighteth the lamps at even, he shall burn incense upon it, a perpetual incense before the LORD throughout your generations."  This altar of incense, if I understand it right, was in the holiest of holies.  The tabernacle was more or less rectangular and there was a veil, a great big thick curtain, through the center of it.  On one side of it was the holy place that Aaron went into to light the lamp that was to be kept burning and then he would go into the holiest of holies to burn incense, morning and night.  In another part of the Bible it refers to the incense as prayers to God.  Outside of the tabernacle in the court, was another altar, the altar of sacrifice.  Both of the altars were to be attended twice daily and sometimes more.  I love to think of this altar of incense as our prayers.  It is an altar that we want to visit every day, like Aaron, he went in and morning, he was concerned about the light.  When we are thinking about being a light, a light like Jesus, a light to others, did it ever occur to Aaron to just go in and keep the light going?  He had other things to do, other sacrifices to attend to, the animal sacrifices to cut up and put upon the altar.  If he just kept a light going and did not go into the holiest of all to burn the incense, who would know?  God would understand if he kept the light going and he had so many other things to do.  Would he ever have the desire to go into the light place without going into the holiest of holiest to keep that incense burning?  What we ever did unto the morning and say I want to be a child of God today, but there are a lot of things that I have to do, I have responsibilities.  I have a good testimony where I work or what ever I am doing.  Have we ever begun the day with just thoughts about being the light and not enter into the place of prayer?  If we tried to be children of God, maybe even offer our lives, giving our lives in the work, would it ever occur to us to think that we could do that without visiting the altar of incense first, without going in and trying to find the presence of God?  We know that that would not work.  We are grateful for every feeling we have ever had when we sought out the presence of God. It has taught us how to put our sacrifice upon the altar.  You know Aaron could have gone into the holy place and spent a little more time in there and when he came out to everyone would think, well he went into the holy place and he attended the light and also the incense.  If Aaron did not go into that second place no one would ever know, but God would know.  He would make sure that he would do that unseen altar before he attended the altar that everyone could see.  I am glad that the Lord gives us a tender conscience so that we can learn and come to love the fellowship and the joy that we can have in the secret place, that altar of  incense. I remember something that a sister worker said when I was much younger, she said, "The most fervent prayer that I ever prayed was when I could not put two words together."  To me that was a beautiful incense and for years I have been enjoying the fragrance of that simple prayer.  The feeling our prayers is like the incense.  I would like to know how to pray better, how to express myself better especially in public prayer. The incense of prayer is what touches the heart of God and it teaches us how to conduct ourselves at the altar of sacrifice, what it is that the Lord is asking of us and how to go about it and where.
I love what it says there in Matthew 5 about this altar.  Jesus was speaking to people who were still offering the sacrifices, bringing their gifts to the altar.  The priests had a certain order of things of how they should offer those gifts. Matthew 5:23, "Therefore if thou bring thy gift to the altar, and there rememberest that thy brother hath ought against thee; Leave there thy gift before the altar, and go thy way; first be reconciled to thy brother, and then come and offer thy gift."  This was Jesus teaching when to offer our offering, when to offer our gift and that is what we are right with our brother.  I often love to think about this picture.  Maybe the people are lined up waiting for their opportunity to bring their offering to the priest and somebody walks up to the altar and hands over the sheep or little turtle dove or what ever they have to offer.  When they get up to the altar there is something laying there beside the altar.  Maybe there is an animal tied there, it looks like someone came to offer their offering and remembered that he was not right with his brother or his sister.  What did he do?  He just left it there, he will be back, but I know what he is doing right now.  He knows that he not only has to humble himself before God, but he knows he saw the saw this offering has to do with humbling himself before his brother.  So he is standing there waiting for his turn and he is thinking, "Let me see now, am I right with my brother?"  You know, few things touch your heart  like someone coming to you and asking for forgiveness, especially when you have not felt anything against them or when we go to someone else and ask forgiveness and they show great kindness and great love.  Sometimes we go to someone to apologize and we kind of hope they will say, "I was kind of at fault to so fault is not all mine."  We do not want to go to our brother with that thought in mind.  My role is to be right with my brother so that I can be right with God.  I want to make sure that my altar is in the right conditions.  If it is not, there is help for me to.  There is doctrine and teaching to help me be right, to make my alter right.  I’m sure that you have heard the story from first Kings 18 where the people were serving Baal, a popular religion of that time.  They made an offering to their God and it never worked out.  They were jumping and screaming and cutting themselves, trying to get their god, Baal, to respond.  Well, he never was alive so there was no answer.  Then the prophet, he was there waiting for his opportunity to make it an offering to God. 1Kings 18:29,  "And it came to pass, when midday was past, and they prophesied until the time of the offering of the evening sacrifice, that there was neither voice, nor any to answer, nor any that regarded.  And Elijah said unto all the people, 'Come near unto me.' And all the people came near unto him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that was broken down.”  He repaired the altar.  He did not give them a lecture on what they should have done, what they did wrong.  He just said, "Come here unto me."  And all of those false prophets and people waited and watched while Elijah repaired that altar.  He wanted them near.  That is another great of hope for us to, when we feel that our altar is not all that it should be, then it is time to draw near, we need to do more adjusting.  What a privilege we have, to have a God like this and he longs for us to draw near.  He can repair the altar, just like that hymn that we were singing, I locked on to that phrase, "fix thy dwelling place in me."  I think that means:  make it permanent.  Before the Lord can fix his place in us he needs to fix that dwelling place, the altar. He doesn’t say, "You are no good, there is no hope for you."  When the altar is right, the order is right, then our offering is acceptable.
I was thinking something about this sacrifice that Abraham gave in Genesis 22.  It is hard to think about altars without thinking about this story.  When God asked Abraham to take his son up the mountain to offer him for a burnt offering there, Abraham took all those things with him.  It says that he took the wood, the knife and he had the fire in his hand and he went up that mountain but he did not have a lamb.  Isaac said, "Father, where is the Lamb for the burnt offering?"  Isaac knew what the sacrifice was.  He had seen his Father sacrifice before.  You children have seen your parents sacrifice before, you know what is acceptable to God, when there is something missing you know it, you also know that God provides.  Verse 9, "And they came to the place which God had told him of; and Abraham built an altar there, and laid the wood in order, and bound Isaac his son, and laid him on the altar upon the wood."  What did he bind his son with?  There was something that Abraham was carrying with him that was unmentioned.  I like to think that he had it hidden on his altar of incense.  It had a lot to do with his prayers. It was his faith in God that gave him strength to bind his son.  He did not take anything to build the altar with.  He knew that wherever the Lord wants me to make the sacrifice, there will be something there to build the altar.  Whatever is there will be enough. No one can describe it, If we just take the fire and take wood and we are ready to sacrifice and we get to the place that the Lord has chosen and it is the Lord's will and the Lord's time then we will recognize it.  If we are faithful in visiting that altar of incense, we will have the cords to bind our sacrifice to the altar.  And just like in this story, it will not be anything great about us.  Just like the ram that was caught in the thicket, when we come to the place where we offer our sacrifice to God, we will recognize it.  The Lord provided it.  I could not have laid down my life like this, the Lord provided it, aand He provided His Son for our cleansing.  He also provides for our example and our inspiration. Jesus is our sacrifice. What He has given us, we return to Him and that is acceptable to Him. We would just like to know how to keep our altar ready even though we may not know what the next step might be, even when we do not know what the sacrifice might be, keep the altar ready.
One of our friends in Chile, I never had the privilege of meeting her, but she, many years ago, had the situation where she had a very small child and a very opposing husband.  She feared God and one year she wanted very much to go to convention.  She asked her husband if she could go to convention and he said she could not go.  They lived in a little village and the way they traveled at that time was by train.  To get to the train you had to travel all the way across town.  When the train would come into town you had to be there, it would stop for just a very few minutes, then it was on its way again. If you were not there, you would miss the train.  Every day she would ask starting several days before and he would always say, "No, you are not going."  She decided to be ready anyway.  She got her baby who ready.  They were dirt poor.  She went out into the fields and picked up a few grains of wheat after the harvest and she got three loaves of bread made.  She had her bread, her baby and her Bible ready.  She got her clothes ready.  Every day she would ask, "Can I go to convention?"  "No, you cannot go."  She stayed ready just in case he would change his mind.  The day came that she would have to leave if she were going.  She asked that morning, "Can I go to convention?"  "No, you are not going."  She had her altar ready.  The Lord will always give us joy even though we do not have anything to put on the altar.  He will provide.  The train pulled into the station later on that morning.  They heard the whistle.  When he heard the whistle, he turned to her and said, "I have decided that you can go."  Everyone knew that if the train was in the station that you could not make it.  She grabbed her baby and grabbed her bundles and went shooting out the door as fast as she could.  Her husband stood in the door laughing.  For some reason the train stayed at the station for a long time that morning and she made it.  Why was it?  She just kept her altar ready. I don’t have a sacrifice but I want to please God. There is something that I want to do for God and I do not know if I can do it or not.  She did not worry about the sacrifice.  I want to learn about this more and more, to just have the altar ready.  God will bless it and provide the sacrifice.