Jesus also, that he might sanctify the people with his own blood, suffered outside the gate. Therefore, let us go forth to him outside the camp, bearing his reproach. For we have no continuing city here, but we seek one to come.
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“If you make an altar of stone for me, you shall not build it with hewn stone,
for when you use your tool on a stone, you defile it.”
“King Ahaz went to Damascus to meet with the king of Assyria, and there, he saw an altar that was at Damascus. And king Ahaz forwarded to Urijah the priest [in Jerusalem] the pattern of it, and Urijah the priest built the altar according to all that King Ahaz had sent from Damascus. And when the king returned from Damascus, the king saw the altar, and the king approached the altar and made an offering on it. And then he moved the brass altar that was before the Lord from the front of the temple and put it on the north side of the new altar.” – excerpts, 2Kings 16:10—14
When God made His covenant with Israel, God commanded Israel not to build any fancy altars. But when King Ahaz traveled north to Damascus to meet with the Assyrian king, he saw a beautifully crafted altar there and just could not resist having one made like it in Jerusalem. God’s plain altar must have been an embarrassment to the sophisticated Ahaz, and so he moved it from its assigned position right in front of the temple to a less conspicuous location, putting in its place the more expertly crafted altar like the one in the heathen city of Damascus.
The story of the moving of God’s altar from its place represents the spiritual battle between the Spirit and the flesh that God’s people have always had to fight. The Spirit is simple. It is clean and holy and good. And the flesh hates it because it cannot make the Spirit of God into a form; it cannot stylize the holy Ghost. Every time we resort to style to win souls or influence people, we lose some of the glory and power of God. Every time we lean on philosophy instead of on revelation to persuade men to repent, we drift away from true wisdom and into darkness. When some of Paul’s converts were being lured away from the simplicity of the Spirit of God, he wrote them and said, “I am jealous over you with a godly jealousy, for I betrothed you to one husband, to present a chaste virgin to Christ. But I fear lest, as the serpent led Eve astray by his craftiness, your thoughts likewise be led astray from the simplicity that is in Christ” (2Cor. 11:2—3).
When we fail to value the call of God and the grace of God on our lives, we find ourselves resorting to style, form, and tradition to fill the gap. It is the inescapable human condition. Young David is one who rose above all human conditions. He loved God’s law, and he loved it simply, with his whole heart. He was satisfied just to be among those chosen and loved by God. He said, “You are my portion O, LORD. . . . In the middle of the night, I rise to praise you for your righteous judgments. I am a friend to all who fear you, those who keep your precepts” (Ps. 119:57, 62—63).
September 22nd marked the beginning of the thirty-fourth year of my marriage. It began on a Sunday afternoon in 1975, near the end of a prayer meeting in Grandma’s farmhouse. My father asked the few saints gathered in that old house to pray for Barbara and me, and when they did, I suddenly felt the Spirit of God put her into my side. It was a surprising, physical sensation. We were married at that instant, and the following Friday afternoon, we went downtown to the local Justice of the Peace and made it official. Then we went on a weekend honeymoon and began our life together, glorying in the work of God.
If we had lightly esteemed the grace of God that joined us together, we would certainly have yielded to the world’s pressure to make a spectacle of the marriage. But if we had done that, then from then until now, people would have pointed to that marriage ceremony as the thing that made us husband and wife, and the flesh would have stolen — again — the glory that belongs to God alone. Another opportunity for God’s people to confess the righteousness of their God would have been forever lost to the flesh. Another expression of the tenderness of God would have been forgotten, and all we would have instead would be a photo album with pictures of a man claiming to do what God had already mercifully done.
Jesus married us in Grandma’s farmhouse when the saints laid their hands on us and prayed, and I refuse to glory in anything but that. When I meet Jesus someday, I will be able to say to him, “I remember the day, Lord, when you joined us together. And I honored your holy grace above all the vanities of earth.” Jesus will remember that day, too, and all the days since then, and he will know that I never let any man steal the glory for the mercy he showed me that day.
God is my portion in the earth, and I will be a friend only to those of a like mind. What God does may be simple, and it may not satisfy the “lust of the eyes” and the “pride of the flesh”, but it is glorious to my soul! His holiness is beautiful to me and to everyone else who has eyes to see it. His glory I will not give to another. As long as I live, in this place and among these saints, the precious altar that God has given to us, we will not move to the side in order to make room for a fancy one from Damascus.
Paul said, “He who glories, let him glory in the Lord.” That is a superfluous commandment to anyone who truly loves God because love for God causes the heart to glory in everything the LORD does, feels, or says. Compared to Him, all the “glorious” things of earth are nothing. David felt this way, and he sang to the LORD, “A day in your courts is better than a thousand [anywhere else].” That is the simple and holy attitude that the love of God brings into the heart, and it is the simplicity of Christ that we must maintain if we hope ever to see the face God. Paul warned the saints to beware lest the simplicity of Christ be stolen from their hearts (2Cor. 11:2—3). It is a warning we would do well to heed.