The Altar Of Incense: Activating Worship And Prayer

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Series: Worship, Prayer

Sun am 10 April 2016 – Richardt Hattingh

Col. 2:16-17; Heb. 8:5; (Lev 17:11); 1 Pet. 1:18-19; Eph. 5:25-26;
Eph. 1:17-18; John 6:35; Psalm 141:2; 
2 Thess. 2:14;
Rom. 8:19; Rom. 8:30; 2 Cor. 3:18; John 4:24;
Eph. 6:18; Eph. 2:10; Heb. 10:19-22; Heb. 9:3-4; (Eph. 2:6)

We needed to activate worship and prayer on a deeper level. To grasp what the altar of incense reveals concerning worship and prayer we need to understand the tabernacle of Moses, and how this was a shadow of Christ and of the Church.

Col. 2:16-17 – Therefore do not let anyone judge you by what you eat or drink, or with regard to a religious festival, a New Moon celebration or a Sabbath day. These are a shadow of the things that were to come; the reality, however, is found in Christ.

Heb 8:5  – They (the old covenant priests) serve at a sanctuary that is a copy and shadow of what is in heaven. This is why Moses was warned when he was about to build the tabernacle: “See to it that you make everything according to the pattern shown you on the mountain.” Moses had to meticulously follow the instructions God gave about every detail of the tabernacle and its pattern of worship because of the spiritual significance it carried as a shadow of things to come. We study the tabernacle of Moses to understand the spiritual meaning of its structure and articles, and their application for the new covenant believer. The tabernacle had only one gate by which the worshippers could enter, a shadow of Jesus becoming the only way by which the new covenant believer can come to God.

As worshippers entered the Outer Court the first article they encountered was the altar of burnt offering. For a sin offering they had to bring a male animal without blemish or defect, lay hands on the animal’s head to transfer guilt and then the priest would kill the animal, pour the blood on the altar and burn the offering. God made it clear that the atonement for sin was in the blood because the life of the creature is in the blood (Lev. 17:11). This is a shadow of Jesus sacrificed on the cross to take away the sin of the world. 1 Pet. 1:18-19 – For you know that … you were redeemed … with the precious blood of Christ, a lamb without blemish or defect.

The next article in the Outer Court was the bronze laver where the priests had to wash their hands and feet before entering the Holy Place. In the new covenant this speaks of the process of sanctification in the life of the believer as the Word of God cleanses us. Eph. 5:25-26 – Christ loved the church and gave himself up for her to make her holy, cleansing her by the washing with water through the word. A powerful Scripture in Heb. 10:14 illustrates the interaction between these first two articles in the life of the believer, by one sacrifice He has made perfect forever … (the finished works of Christ on the cross that brought us into eternal perfection before the Father on Jesus’ merit) those who are being made holy (the ongoing process of sanctification as we are transformed into His image by the Word).

As the priests entered the Holy Place they would come to the golden lampstand, a solid gold article with seven branches and seven lamps filled with olive oil that had to be kept burning constantly as it was the only source of light in the Holy Place. In the new covenant this is a type of the work of the Holy Spirit revealing Christ to and through the Church. Eph. 1:17-18 – I keep asking that the … Father, may give you the Spirit of wisdom and revelation, so that you may know him better. I pray that the eyes of your heart may be enlightened …

Across from the lampstand was the table of showbread where the priests stacked 12 loaves of bread representing the 12 tribes of Israel. For the new covenant believer this speaks of the Word bringing sustenance and God’s government (12 being the number of divine government and authority) into our lives. John 6:35 – Then Jesus declared, “I am the bread of life. He who comes to me will never go hungry…”

In front of the veil that separated the Holy Place from the Most Holy Place the altar of incense was located. Here the priests had to burn incense every morning and evening at the same times as the daily burnt offerings, and the incense had to be left burning throughout the day and night. In the new covenant this speaks of worship and prayer. Psalm 141:2 – May my prayer be set before you like incense; may the lifting up of my hands be like the evening sacrifice.

The final article was located in the Most Holy Place and was the Ark of the Covenant. On the Ark was an atonement cover with 2 cherubim (angels) facing each other with outstretched wings, and here the Shekinah glory of God appeared. Only once a year on the Day of Atonement the High Priest would enter the Holy Place, burning incense to shield his eyes from direct view of God’s glory, and then sprinkle blood on the atonement cover for his and Israel’s sins. In the new covenant Jesus gave everyone in Him access to the Shekinah glory, the manifested presence of God, illustrated by the tearing of the veil that separated the Holy and Most Holy Place in the temple when He died on the cross. 2 Thess. 2:14He called you … through our gospel, that you might share in the glory of our Lord Jesus Christ.

The tabernacle of Moses moved with Israel through the desert and then it was set up at Shiloh for more than 300 years. Then the Ark of the Covenant was captured by the Philistines and when David later brought it back to Jerusalem it ended up in an open tent referred to as the tabernacle of David. This is a powerful shadow of the new covenant tabernacle, the Church, who should openly display God’s glory. Rom 8:19 – For the creation waits in eager expectation for the children (sons) of God to be revealed. Rom 8:30 – And those he predestined, he also called; those he called, he also justified; those he justified, he also glorified. God’s people have already been glorified; we are His glory carriers – but that glory remains hidden from the world because of compromise, spiritual immaturity, religious bondage etc. The migration to the tabernacle of David speaks of a church that will display God’s glory and carry His presence into every facet of life – revealing the Son in the sons as the tabernacles of His glory! 2 Cor. 3:18 – we all… are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit.

It is no co-incidence that the lampstand and table of showbread were located opposite each other in the Holy Place, as the Holy Spirit and the Word always work together. With too much focus on only the Word we dry up, too much on only the Spirit we blow up, but with the Spirit and Word working together we grow up to maturity! The priest had to pass both these articles to get to the altar of incense, showing the importance of both the Spirit and the Word for worship and prayer to function properly. John 4:24 – His worshipers must worship in the Spirit (lampstand) and in truth (showbread). Eph. 6:18 – And pray in the Spirit on all occasions (lampstand) with all kinds of prayers and requests (showbread).

One very important kind of prayer is to pray the Word. Take points from important themes that came in the Sunday services over the last couple of years, and identify a Scripture for each point. Here is an example: “Connect with God’s master plan to be correctly positioned for a new season”. Eph. 2:10- For we are His workmanship, created in Christ Jesus for good works, which God prepared beforehand so that we would walk in them. Using this in prayer will help us to reflect on the word that has come to this house and to connect with it on a spirit level so that it can be fleshed out.

The altar of incense also speaks of prophetic prayer. Jesus gave us the right to enter the Most Holy Place by His blood. Heb. 10:19-22 Therefore, brothers, since we have confidence to enter the Most Holy Place by the blood of Jesus, 20 by a new and living way opened for us through the curtain, that is, his body, … let us draw near to God. The way we enter is through worship and prayer. This is prophetically illustrated by Heb. 9:3-4 …the Most Holy Place, which had the golden altar of incense – showing that the altar of incense has moved to the Most Holy Place. Prophetic prayer operates from the Most Holy Place, God’s intimate presence, and is a proclamation of God’s purpose regarding an issue. As our spirit man engages His presence the mind of Christ becomes clear, enabling us to pray from heaven to earth – seated with Jesus in a place of authority to govern the natural world from the spirit dimension (Eph. 2:6).

The altar of incense is furthermore a shadow of something I have termed prayer-worship. While it is good to use worship as background music during prayer, prayer-worship refers to prayer that draws from the content of a worship song and respond to that content with various kinds of prayers, like thanksgiving, dedication, intercession etc. May the Lord fully restore the altar of incense in the life of every believer and every family that is a part of this house.