And the LORD appeared to Abram and said, “To your descendants I will give this land.” So he built an altar there to the LORD who had appeared to him.
And Moses built an altar, and named it The LORD is My Banner….
And David built…an altar to the LORD, and offered burnt offering and peace offering. Thus the LORD was moved by entreaty for the land….
And Elijah took twelve stones according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob…so with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD….
And the sixth angel sounded, and I heard a voice from the four horns of the golden altar which is before God….
Altars are places of worship, of sacrifice, of spiritual devotion and allegiance. Altars were built as acts of worship, to provide memorials in the presence of God, to represent significant encounters with Him, as well as to provide a place of refuge for fugitives.
Jesus Himself is identified in Hebrews with the altar through the cross (10:10-13), because His single sacrifice offered “once for all”—in contrast with the necessity of continual sacrifices at other altars throughout Israel’s history—made a way for us to enter freely into the presence of our eternal, holy God. Jesus is worthy of all worship; Jesus is our memorial of the new covenant; Jesus is our refuge. In Him, we have “…precious and exceedingly great promises” (2 Peter 1:4). He has laid hold of us and calls us forward to the awesome invitation to know Him more fully, to “…press toward the goal for the prize of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus” (Philippians 3:12-14). Looking to Him, the Author and Finisher of our faith, we have an altar rooted in the omnipotence and mercy of the Eternal God.
Too often in my life, I have allowed myself to build altars to my past. Failures, regrets, humiliations, broken dreams; I have remembered them all, and gathered those charred and shattered stones strewn on the path of recollection, and piled them high as memorials to failure and shame.
For many of us, places where we recall defeat are marked by these stone pillars, reminding us of the power of failure; too many defeats, and we fear that victory may not actually come. We cast about, visiting this altar and that; gazing steadily at them, we determine to be more cautious as we walk, to keep from stumbling again and being thrown down, broken and bleeding, hope ruptured and poured out into the dust.
But our Lord never commanded anyone to build altars to their defeat. He commissioned altars to recount victory, to honor His name, to remember His ways. We are not commanded to worship the power of failure, to proclaim the agony of lack and the crushing sorrow of manifold sufferings in a vicious and chaotic world.
When we worship the gods of defeat and despair and foolishness, we are like the children of Israel following the Baals; and to our present day, the ringing call of Elijah still summons God’s people: “How long will you falter between two opinions?” Jesus has called us into His victory; we are welcomed into the Holiest place by virtue of His sacrifice, and greater than the flaming answer to Elijah’s prayer on Mount Carmel, the Holy Spirit has exploded upon us with a rushing, mighty wind and tongues of fire.
Today, demolish any altars of remembrance you have created to failure. God calls us forward to experience and recount His blessings, His victories, His triumphant love for us, which is greater than all our sin and our inability to overcome the world. Jesus has already overcome. He triumphed over every enemy and every foul and unclean authority, stripping them of all power and parading their nakedness before the heavens in a bold and public display through His victory on the cross (Colossians 2:15). Let us worship at the eternal altar of our great and glorious King, whose presence makes us glad and leads us onward, from glory to glory.
That truth I recall to my mind, therefore I have hope.