The Altar of Praise
“Therefore, if you are offering your gift at the altar and there remember that your brother or sister has something against you, leave your gift there in front of the altar. First go and be reconciled to them; then come and offer your gift.” Matthew 5:23-24
There is a common temptation to skim right over passages like this one, dismissing them as irrelevant to our lives today. The reasoning is, “Since we no longer offer sacrifices on a literal altar, what Jesus is saying here must not apply to us.” We should never dismiss ANY of God’s Word. It would serve us well to take the time to dig a little deeper into the context behind these passages to understand the principles and truth behind the cultural references.
This passage in Jesus’ Sermon on the Mount is a good place to start. Even though we do not offer sacrifices on an altar, what is the context of such sacrifices in Scripture? When the Israelites offered a sacrifice — whether it was for sin, thanksgiving, or anything else — it was intended to acknowledge God for who He is, and what He had done for them. It acknowledged that God was responsible for the blessings they were experiencing; or that God hates sin and they needed forgiveness. In one way or another, all sacrifices were an act of obedient worship. The sacrifices were more about their relationship with God than the actual sacrifice.
In the New Testament, our praise is referred to as a sacrifice. Hebrews 13:15 says, “Through Him let us continually offer up to God a sacrifice of praise, that is, the fruit of our lips that confess His Name.” The tie-in to the Old Testament sacrificial system is clear…the Israelites offered the fruit of the ground and of their flocks, and believers today offer “the fruit of our lips,” which the Bible calls “a sacrifice of praise.”
With this understanding of the correlation, it becomes clear that there is application for us in this passage. When we approach God in worship, we must make sure, as Jesus said, that we are right with our brothers and sisters in Christ. This does not mean our lives will be completely free of conflict, or that everyone will like us and be happy with us. Instead, it means that as far as it depends on us, we should be biblically at peace with others. Why? Because our ability to worship God properly, in the manner He deserves, depends on it.
Gracious Father, I want to always worship You with clean hands and a pure heart. If there is any person I have wronged or hurt, please bring them to mind and help me to do all I can to make things right. In Jesus’ Name, Amen.
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