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Altar-What is that for 8-23-98

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By Rev. Daniel D. Schreck

TITLE:                    “What Is This For?”

TEXT:                    Josh 4:1- 9  /  Heb. 13: 8, 9, & 10


MUSIC:      THE ALTAR    by Ray Bolts  Just play at the beginning, then sing at the end.

Take 12 folders with have twelve men bring them to the front…Have them write their names in them.

4:1  And it came to pass, when all the nation were clean passed over the Jordan, that Jehovah spoke unto Joshua, saying,  2  Take you twelve men out of the people, out of every tribe a man,  3  and command  ye  them, saying, Take you hence out of the midst of the Jordan, out of the place where the priests' feet stood firm, twelve stones, and carry them over with you, and lay them down in the lodging-place, where  you  shall lodge this night.  4  Then Joshua called the twelve men, whom he had prepared of the children of Israel, out of every tribe a man:  5  and Joshua said unto them, Pass over before the ark of Jehovah your God into the midst of the Jordan, and take you up every man of you a stone upon his shoulder, according unto the number of the tribes of the children of Israel;  6  that this may be a sign among you, that, when your children ask in time to come, saying,  What  do these stones this mean? (TLB Josh 4: 6   “What  is this …  for?)  7  then  you  shall say unto them,……..  these stones shall be for a memorial unto the children of Israel for ever.  8  And the children of Israel did so as Joshua commanded, and took up twelve stones out of the midst of the Jordan, as Jehovah spoke unto Joshua, according to the number of the tribes of the children of Israel; and they carried them over with them unto the place where they lodged, and laid them down there.  9  And Joshua set up twelve stones in the midst of the Jordan, in the place where the feet of the priests that bare the ark of the covenant stood: and they are there unto this day.

Words for Altar: Communion table:  Memorial: Shrine:

Sacrificial stone:   Place or Platform for sacrifices: 

Refer to the file folders   We might ask:  “What is this for?”

ILL: At one time at the City Temple in London, there was in the congregation a restaurateur named Emil Mettler, who was a close friend of Albert Schweitzer and a kind of agent for Schweitzer in Britain. Mettler would never allow a Christian worker to pay for a meal in his restaurant but once he did happen to open his cash register in the presence of a Secretary of the London Missionary Society.  The Secretary was astonished to see among the bills and coins a six-inch nail and asked: “What is this for?”  Mettler explained, "I keep this nail with my money to remind me of the price that Christ paid for my salvation and of what I owe Him in return."

Jehovah told Joshua to take 12 stones and build a Memorial.  Each stone represented a different tribe of the Sons of Israel.

“Memorial” is another term for Altar.  In the Old Testament, sometimes God commanded His people to build altars and sometimes God’s people built altars to their God as a way to remember what He had done for them.

In the New Testament however we never hear about the people building altars.  Nor does God command them to build any.   Why ?   …..  Something changed. 

Heb 13: 8  Jesus Christ is the same yesterday, today, and forever.  9  Be not carried away by divers and strange teachings: for it is good that the heart be established by grace; …  10  We have an  altar ….

Hebrews 13: 10 tells us that “we have an altar.”  This altar is found in the person of Jesus Christ.  He is our ETERNAL ALTAR.   This altar is far better than those of the past.  WHY?

·        We could not have build it, yet without our need it would not have been built.

·        We could not afford it’s cost, yet as we will see today our debt for this altar was “Paid In Full.”

·        It was intentionally given and eternally planned to be a living memorial to us,  yet inspite of all that

·        We don’t seem to Understand  “What it is for…”

This morning I’d like to ask the question: “What Is It For?” What Is The Altar For… 

Let me propose that it is THE place where at least four elements of a Christian’s Life can be found.  AND if lived out and sought after will have an eternal; impact upon our entire society.

1)  It is a Place of Sacrifice,   2) It is a place of Selflessness,  3) It is a place of Serving, and   4) It is a place where we find The Savior.

T.S.  To begin with,


A.                 O.T.   Yearly Animals were the main sacrifices.

1.      Some sacrifices that were acceptable:

2.      There were appointed places for appropriate sacrifices:

a.      On mountains. 

b.      In the wilderness

c.      In the Tabernacle

d.      In the temple

3.      It meant giving offerings to the Lord

a.      Material things-i.e. Crops & livestock & Property.

b.      Attitudinal things- i.e. Thanksgiving & Praise.

NOTE:  Seldom did it mean giving a human being to the Lord… and never do we see the human being killed in order to be offered as a sacrifice.

B.                 N.T.  One Man’s Life was sacrifice

1.  We see a shift in sacrifices, 

a.          In O.T.

1)      the sacrifices concentrated more on the blood of Lambs

2)     These sacrifices were but a shadow of the REAL sacrifice.

3)     The blood of bulls & goats were offered yearly to cover the people’s sin.

b.          N.T. focuses in on the Blood of THE LAMB.

1)     Heb. 9:26 “Instead, now when all ages of time are nearing the end, he has appeared once and for all, to remove sin through the  sacrifice  of himself.

2)     In Roman  12:1 it is clear that the Lord desires more than just our possessions… he wants our Lives.

2.      The difference is explained in Hebrews 9:23-26: It was necessary therefore that the copies  of  the things in the heavens should be cleansed with these; but the heavenly things themselves with better sacrifices than these.  24  For Christ entered not into a holy place made with hands, like in pattern to the true; but into heaven itself, now to appear before the face  of  God for us:  25  nor yet that he should offer himself often, as the high priest entered into the holy place year by year with  blood  not his own;  26  else must he often have suffered since the foundation  of the world: but now once at the end  of  the ages has he been manifested to put away sin by the sacrifice  of  himself.


1.      Sacrifice  speaks of giving, sometimes until it hurts.

2.      Sacrifice indicates a deep personal cost.

3.      Sacrifice implies WORSHIP which we must give to the Lord… it will cost us to worship, it may even be a bit uncomfortable, at times it may even hurt.

T.S.  Secondly,


A.    Christ’s Is Our Example of Selflessness.

1.      Phil. 2:7 Tells us how He demonstrated selflessness: but  emptied   himself , taking the form of a servant, being made in the likeness of men;  8  and being found in fashion as a man, he humbled  himself , becoming obedient [even] unto death, yea, the death of the cross.

2.      I John 3:16  Tells us why He demonstrated Selflessness:  Hereby know we love, because he  laid   down   his   life  for us:

B.     Christ’s example reminds us that we ought to lay down our lives for those in the church:

1.      I John 3:16 and we ought to lay  down  our lives for the brethren.

2.      That includes Laying down those things that have a hold on our lives. Heb 12:1

12:1  Therefore let us also, seeing we are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses, lay aside every weight, and  the  sin which doth so easily beset us, and let us  run  with patience  the   race  that is set before us,  2  looking unto Jesus  the  author and perfecter of our faith, who for  the  joy that was set before him endured  the  cross, despising shame, and hath sat down at  the  right hand of  the  throne of God.

1)      Sinful desires, sinful habits, sinful deeds.

2)      Selfish Desires, Selfish Ambitions, Selfish deeds.

3)      Even  Good habit, but they keep us from spending time with God or God’s people.

C.    God’s word tells us that if we suffer with Him,  we shall also be glorified with Him.

1.      Romans 8:6:  The Spirit himself beareth witness with our spirit, that we are children of God:  17  and if children, then heirs; heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ; if so be that we  suffer  with him, that we may be also glorified with him

2.      Phil.1:29  because to you it hath been granted in the behalf of Christ, not only to believe on him, but also to  suffer  in his behalf:  30  having the same conflict which ye saw in me, and now hear to be in me..


1.      Jesus laid His life down for us

2.      We need to lay our lives down for one another

a.         We can do that by not taking advantage of others.

b.         Laying aside our ambitions and immediate desires.

c.         Not demanding our “Rights”

3.      We need not only to lay our lives down for one another, but for the one who laid His life down for us-“What are you doing in His Kingdom?

T.S.  It also Tells us that through our suffering we learn the lessons of life that will help us to Serve.  Thirdly,


A.      We can learn about serving as we come to His Altar:

B.       We can learn How to serve the Lord:

a.       Acts 20:19  serving  the Lord

1)      with all lowliness of mind, and

2)      with tears, and

3)      with trials.

4)      earnestly  serving  God.(Acts 26:7)

5)      Romans 12:1 

·         to present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is your spiritual service. 

·         Do not be fashioned according to this world: but be transformed by the renewing of your mind-don’t think you know it all… we are all just passing through.

·         prove what is the good and acceptable and perfect will of God by faithfully serving where God has placed you and with what He has or is giving you.

·         Do not to think of more highly of yourself than you ought to think;

·         Recognize that all the members do not have the same office, Position.

·         Serve The Lord faithfully in the position that you have been given, do not serve your own ambitions and do not attempt to take someone else’s position.. God raises a person up.

·         Recognize that we are members one of another-Love as He loves.

·         Recognize that each person has different gifts according to the grace that was given.

·         Use your gifts to bring glory to His Kingdom.

b.      You cannot serve God by being foolish, disobedient, deceiving, or self-serving. . Titus 3:3  For we also once were foolish, disobedient, deceived,  serving divers lusts and pleasures, living in malice and envy, hateful, hating one another.  4  But when the kindness of God our Saviour, and his love toward man, appeared,  5  not by works [done] in righteousness, which we did ourselves, but according to his mercy he saved us, through the washing of regeneration and renewing of the Holy Spirit,  6 which he poured out upon us richly, through Jesus Christ our Saviour;  7  that, being justified by his grace, we might be made heirs according to the hope of eternal life.  8  Faithful is the saying, and concerning these things I desire that thou affirm confidently, to the end that they who have believed God may be careful to maintain good works. These things are good and profitable unto men:. 9  but shun foolish questionings, and genealogies, and strifes, and fightings about law; for they are unprofitable and vain.


1.      The Altar is a place we can serve.  If that altar is in the church then let’s minister God’s grace to those who come to give their lives back to Him.

2.      If that altar is at our job, then let’s be God’s Good News to those around us.

3.      If that Altar is in our homes and we are desperately praying for our families to come to Christ, then let’s serve by demonstrating God’s Loving kindness that bring people to repentance.

4.      If that altar is between the relationship with our Spouses or children, then let’s ask God to help us to serve them better.

T.S.  Finally,


A.     God’s altar to the world is a cross. John 3:16

1.      Back then a Cross symbolized:

a.      Crimes against the King

b.      Justice for Crimes against the King

c.      Fear of or respect for the laws of the King

d.      For the Christian it symbolized absolute freedom from the king of this world and the former life.

2.      Here and Now –today What does a cross symbolize:

a.        The cross has been reduced to a piece of cheap jewelry.

b.        It is merely a trinket representing some “weird” ideas of an “older” generation.

c.        It has become an accessory which is worn only to serve as a compliment a women’s wardrobe. 

d.        It’s simply something else that gets tossed into the garbage when it becomes unfashionable.

e.        To illustration how our society views the cross, let me share with you an incident related to the listeners of Focus on the Family by Dr. James Dobson …  “A girl went into a store to look at some new jewelry.   She looked a bit puzzled so the clerk asked her if he could ‘help?’  She then asked him:  “Do you have a cross with the little man on it?”


3.      The way that The Cross was meant to be thought of as a

a.      Symbol of Hope & Faith in God- it looks back on Calvary and forward to Christ’s return.

b.      Symbol of the Love of God- the love of God is rich and free.  John 3:16

c.      Symbol of the Peace with God-there is peace with God through the power of the cross.

d.      As a Symbol of the Freedom to Love God and His Kingdom- the love that we have towards God will bring an unsurpassed power to our life that will change not only us, but those around us.

B.     God sacrificed His Only Son on that altar.

1.      God’s Son went selfless to the Cross- He went willingly

a.      He emptied Himself

b.      He suffered a horrendous death on that cross, so that we could live.

c.      He paid the ultimate price for ALL our sins-

2.      God’s son went to the cross to serve all humanity, including you and me.

a.      He became sin, he bore our sin, in order to give us eternal live.

b.      He made a way for you and I to enter into God’s presence, when there was NO OTHER WAY.

c.      He broke sin’s power over us, something we may have been wanting to do for years.

d.      He gave us a view of what we can be.

ILL:  Like Spock on Star Trek Movie:  He died so that everyone on board the Enterprise could live.  He said this right befor he died:  “The needs of the many outweigh the needs of the few.”

Jesus Died so that everyone who believes in Him and calls upon Him should not perish but have everlasting life.

“He died not just for those who lived in the book of Genesis through the book of Acts, but for the need of all humanity.”

3.      God’s Son is the only SAVIOR that we find at the altar.  There is no other name under heaven by which we must be saved.

THE ALTAR by Ray Bolts



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