Freedom’s Centerpiece

If you walked into the courtyard of the tabernacle in the wilderness, you would have immediately faced an intimidating structure covered in bronze called the altar of burnt offerings (Exodus 38:1-7).

Planted like a monolith, taking up more acreage in the tabernacle complex than any other piece of furniture, the brazen altar was so large, more than 35 of the golden incense altars could have been stuffed inside it with room to spare. You couldn’t have entered or left the grounds without confronting it, without hearing the crackle of its fire, without smelling the charred flesh of the sacrifice burning, always burning, upon it.

The death of the sacrifice was the centerpiece of the courtyard, its rising smoke the visible proof of the substitution taking place. Testifying to the power of its role in the tabernacle, the corners of the altar were hammered into four bronze horns (the biblical symbols of strength and authority[1]). No ministry in either the holy place or the Holy of Holies could take place unless first authorized by the activity at the brazen altar. The ignition source for the lampstand, the fire for the incense, the entire existence of the mercy seat, all found their source in the bloody sacrifice.

The Message of the Brazen Altar

Like the sacrifice on the altar, the death of Jesus on the cross is central to our faith. The good news of His resurrection, after all, means nothing unless He first died. Echoing the message of the altar’s horns, Paul described the cross as the very power of God.[2] If Jesus hadn’t become God’s perfect sacrificial Lamb and actually taken our sins with Him into death, the list of charges against us would remain unchallenged. Our freedom from judgment cost us only repentance, but it cost Jesus everything.

When we try to lead others into the holy place and the Holy of Holies to fellowship with God, do we try and spare their sensibilities by skipping a visit at the brazen altar? We shouldn’t. It explains just why we have access to His presence in the first place.

We aren’t welcome in God’s dwelling place because He gave up trying to classify things as sin or because He stopped caring whether we indulge in them. He didn’t choose to simply tossed our sin aside, like so much rubbish. He’s put it somewhere — on the back of Jesus, the Lamb who accompanied those sins to the grave.

The Lamb of God didn’t die to impress us with His bravery or to inspire us with His ability to endure abuse and pain. He had to die because sin needed to be punished and if it remained on our backs, we’d have been punished with it.

[1] M. R. DeHaan, M.D., The Tabernacle (Grand Rapids, MI: Zondervan Publishing House, 1955), p.72.

[2] 1 Corinthians 1:18

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