In Exodus 29 we see the huge responsibility the priests were given for the spiritual well being of the people. It is no different today. Pastors and ministers have a huge responsibility to their congregation. Obviously they cannot make choices for anybody, but they can most certainly lead them and they must do so with integrity, biblical teaching, hard work, prayer, and example. As a leader goes, so will the people. The church needs to insist upon faithful and well-trained men to be our leaders. More than that, we need to raise up children capable of being the types of leaders we need. And even if we are not pastors, we also need to encourage each other in our Christian lives, and be an example to those around us.
It is important to note the placement of the altar - it is at the entrance of the tent of meeting. We cannot come into God's presence without a sacrifice for sins being made. Of course, the sacrifice of animals didn't actually save anyone from their sins, but it pointed to the sacrifice of the Lamb, whose shed blood does cleanse us from our sin, and open up the way to relationship with God.
Chapter 30 discusses the the altar of incense. When incense is burned it gives a pleasantly aromatic smoke, and is both an offering to God in general, and an image of prayer in particular.
A symbol can represent something that is missing, but it can be a visible manifestation of something that is present. Incense stands for the purposeful prayers of God's people.
The incense altar was made of pure gold, the very finest gold. It was glorious. The spices that were combined to make the incense were themselves the rarest and the most expensive. God deserves our best! And He deserves our best all the more when we are at prayer!
God is always accessible and He may be approached with a shout or a cry or a whisper. That is true. But there is a familiarity with God in modern evangelical prayer that does not preserve the reverence that we owe to the high God when we come into His presence and speak to Him. Have you noticed, for example, the prayers of Holy Scripture? They are full of emotion, to be sure, but they are nevertheless, prayers offered in a high register. Some of them are among the most beautiful of all the creations of human literature. They were all prayers for worship in the house of the Lord. Many of them may have originated in highly private and individual circumstances, such as David's Psalm 51, but they were, nevertheless, and are even in translation, careful and beautiful works of human utterance. They are, in a literary form, what the incense altar was in physical form: the best that could be offered to the Lord.
I remember years ago hearing Gordon Clark speak in the Covenant College chapel. He recommended that young Christians learn to pray by memorizing the Psalms. "The use of the Psalms," he said, "will eliminate all three of the [common defects of prayer]: a superabundance of petitions, crudity of language, and a lack of reverence."
It is something for all of us to think about. We find it so easy to fall into ruts in our speech to God; in our prayer. I know I do. We find it easy to speak to him with half a mind. We do not think ahead of time of what we will say, as we certainly would if we were to be given an audience with some great man, perhaps nowadays even with some celebrity. But this should not be. The speaking we do to God should be the best of which we are capable. It should be the most careful, the most deliberate, and the most reverent. Our prayer should be like that altar of gold.
The promise of all of God's Word is that time and energy we invest in the worship of God, in true and living prayer together with the saints, will always be richly repaid. He is present and the offerings we present to him, when we present them with faith and sincerity and true intention, are a pleasing aroma to him.
Our James passage reminds us that, as much as we do not like to go through trials, they bring us the deepest type of joy because they strengthen our faith and our relationship with God in a way that easy times simply cannot. God tests His people to strengthen their character and faith, but He never tempts us to sin.
We also see that genuine faith results in living out that faith with purposeful integrity. Our walk must match our talk in order for it to be genuine.
Tomorrow's Bible In a Year Passage passage: Exodus 31-33; James 2