In Ezra 3 we see something very exciting.  The altar is rebuilt!

What’s so important about the altar?  Everything.  First, it’s a symbol of holiness, of consecration.  The altar is set apart for God’s use and His purposes.  It’s sacred.  Leonard Ravenhill always asserted that revival changes the moral climate.  Certainly there is a paradigm shift between the moral climate going into Babylonian captivity and the moral climate coming out of captivity.  God’s people had stopped being His people and they were punished.  But as they returned they were re-consecrated.

So often we think about holiness as this unattainable standard we shall never reach.  And certainly there is a moral standard that comes with holiness.  But we shouldn’t view holiness as drudgery and something that depresses us when we think about it.  We should view holiness for what it is, being set apart for God’s purposes.  Of course there’s a high standard that comes with that.  As Americans we expect that our ambassadors will not get drunk and assault Britian’s Foreign Secretary.  Likewise, as Christ’s ambassadors God calls us to a similar standard.  God has a plan and a purpose for us, and to let anything so temporary and unsatisfying as sin come in between God and His plan and us should break our heart.

God has amazing plans for us, He desires a relationship with us.  It would be foolish to think that relationship doesn’t come with standards.  If we treat boyfriends and girlfriends with specific standards, if we don’t sleep around because of our commitment to them how much more should we strive to live up to God’s standard?  It’s not like God doesn’t help us, He’s readily accessible and constantly basking us with His love and grace and mercy.  Some use that as an excuse to sin, I see it as the most compelling reason not to sin.  It is the people I love the most and that love me the most that I am least willing to offend, who’s standards I most desire to uphold.  Christ’s love is the main motivation not to sin.  Recieving grace I do not deserve makes me desire to live by the standard from this point forward.

The altar is also used for sacrifice.  We talked about this briefly in Part 3, but we’ll go deeper here.  In Verse 3 we are told that they began offering burnt offerings.  According to the Fire Bible the burnt offering was a “voluntary act of worship”, it provided for atonement for unintentional sin; it was an “expression of devotion, commitment, and complete surrender to God” (Fire Bible Student Edition, 163).

Think about that, it was a voluntary act of worship.  Today we no longer have to use bulls, rams, doves or pigeons for our worship.  But we ought to worship.  What is worship?  It’s acknowledging God, it’s our response to God.  In the New Testament the most common word for worship, proskuneo, refers to a dog licking its master’s hand.  Surely this is an excellent example of devotion, commitment, and surrender.

Perhaps we think too small of God.  As A.W. Tozer said, false concepts of God soon rot the religion in which they appear.  If we truly understood the depths of God’s love, the sufficiency and supremacy of Christ, the glory of God, God’s amazing goodness, His nearness and transcendence, His holiness, His justice, His mercy, His omniscience, omnipotence, and omnipresence then every time we worshiped we would go wild, we would fall to our knees, we would echo the words of the old hymn:  “I stand amazed in the presence of Jesus the Nazarene, and wonder how He could love me, a sinner condemned, unclean.  O how marvelous!  O how wonderful!  And my song shall ever be, o how marvelous!  O how wonderful!  Is my Savior’s love for me!”.  As Paul Washer says, our lives should be a contradiction.  We should have a theology that’s deep, almost academic; but when we worship we should go wild (if we’re dignified).

Of course if we truly thought of God this way we would have no excuse, we would have no right to give ourselves to anyone but Christ nor to anything but prayer (A.W. Tozer).  It would require complete and total commitment, 100% devotion.  No more whoring with the world.  We must be God’s and God’s alone.

This brings us to a third notable point regarding the altar, it’s a sign of the presence of God.  We underestimate God.  All the time I hear “we have to sin every day”.  That’s a lie.  Only someone who’s god is powerless must sin everyday.  A god incapable of overcoming sin is no god at all.  A god incapable of relating to and intervening for its creation is no god at all.

The fact is we can live in close and intimate communion with God, and we should.  But so often we don’t.  I’m just as guilty of this as any of my readers.  I dare say some of my readers are probably less guilty of this then myself.  But what an egregious sin to neglect God, to neglect time with Him.  To ignore His presence with us each and every day.  This sin causes us to miss out on a 1,000 blessings.

We spend so much time doing other things, watching television or movies or whatever.  How many of us would say to a girlfriend or boyfriend “I won’t be spending time with you tonight, I’m watching Seinfeld“?  None of us.  To compromise we might invite that person to watch Seinfeld with us.  In relationship to God we say “Oh He’s always with us”.  Absolutely!  But that means two things, 1.  We should be following Him, not making Him follow us and 2.  Knowing He’s always with me I certainly don’t want to do anything that He finds offensive.

To say “I don’t need to spend time praying because I do everything with God” is like saying “I don’t need to spend time with my girlfriend because I invite her over when I watch porn”.  It’s ridiculous and it demonstrates the contempt for God that many these days live daily.   We haven’t crucified the world, we’ve brought it out of the ditch, cleaned just enough to where we can’t see the dirt, and we’ve slept with it.

Now the last thing I want to point out is this:  All of this rebuilding happens in a community of unity.  Read the first verses of Ezra 3 again, all the Israelites assembled as one man and together they undertook this rebuilding.  My campus pastor often points out that Christianity is a communal faith.  Granted, we all make our personal decision to follow Christ, but we grow and spiritually mature in community, in the whole Body of Believers.  In Colossians 2:2-3 Paul says he desires for these Christians to “have the full riches of complete understanding, in order that they may know the mystery of God, namely, Christ, in whom are hidden all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge” (NIV).

The interesting thing is Paul hinges that on the believers at Colasse and Laodicea being encouraged in heart and united in love.  Outside of the unity of the Body of Believers we do not have the full riches of complete understanding, we miss out on fully knowing Christ and all the treasures of wisdom and knowledge hidden in Him.  There is no such thing as lone ranger Christianity.  Even in China where the Church faces severe persecution they are dedicated to gathering together in fellowship, being united in love (I don’t just say this, this is based directly on the account of a Chinease student).

If we want the Church to be built up, if we desire to truly grow in our faith, if we want to grow in our knowledge of God we must unite ourselves in love, consecrate ourselves to God’s purposes and sacrificially dedicate ourselves to Him as we live a lifestyle of worship ever conscious of God’s nearness and presence in our lives.

God bless!


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