Let’s begin by reading about the first altar mentioned in the Bible. In Genesis 8:20-21 we read, “Then Noah BUILT AN ALTAR to the LORD, and took of every clean animal and of every clean bird, and OFFERED BURNT OFFERINGS on the altar. And the LORD smelled a soothing aroma.” Now let’s read about Abraham building an altar in Genesis 12:8, “And he moved from there to the mountain east of Bethel, and he pitched his tent with Bethel on the west and Ai on the east; there he BUILT AN ALTAR AND CALLED ON THE NAME OF THE LORD.” We are not told what materials Noah and Abraham used to build their altars but most likely they were built with stones. Perhaps the reason we’re not told is because it’s “what they did at the altar” that really mattered and not “what the altar looked like.” What did they do? Noah offered sacrifices (which speak of WORSHIP) and Abraham offered prayers (which speak of COMMUNION). In other words, the “altar” speaks of a place were believers worship the Lord and pray to Him.

I’m quite certain the Lord doesn’t want us to “build an actual physical altar of stones” in order to worship and pray to Him. Yet I’m equally certain He does want us to have a place which is suitable for worshiping and praying to Him. It may be a meeting hall where we gather with other believers for worship and prayer, or it may be in our home where we gather our family together for worship and prayer.

I believe the “clean animals” and “clean birds” that Noah offered as “burnt offerings” are pictures of the Lord Jesus Christ. Is there a scripture which would confirm this? Yes, there is! In Ephesians 5:1 we read, “And walk in love, as Christ also has loved us and given Himself for us, AN OFFERING AND A SACRIFICE TO GOD FOR A SWEET-SMELLING AROMA.” God was pleased with Noah’s offerings and they rose up to heaven as “a soothing aroma” and when Jesus Christ offered Himself to God it rose up to Him as “a sweet-smelling aroma.” God was pleased with His Son’s sacrifice of Himself, for in His death on the cross He was “the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John1:29). His sacrifice was the payment God demanded to satisfy His righteous claims against sin and when Jesus had suffered the wrath of God for sin and bowed His Head in death He could cry out in victory “It is finished” (John 19:30). God “accepted His sacrifice” and raised Him from the dead three days later to prove that the great “sin question” had been resolved and now God could offer the sinner eternal forgiveness if they would believe that Christ took their place in death and judgment (see Acts 13:38-39). When we come together as a fellowship of believers (in a public meeting place or in our home) we are there to worship Him by “offering up spiritual sacrifices acceptable to God through Jesus Christ” (1st Peter 2:5). Hebrews 13:15 elaborates on this by saying, “Therefore by Him let us continually offer the sacrifice of PRAISE TO GOD, that is, the fruit of our lips, giving thanks to His name.”

We also meet together (as Abraham did) to “call on the name of the Lord” (see Genesis 4:26; Romans 10:13; 1st Corinthians 1;2 and 2nd Timothy 2:22), which means we are there to enjoy rich COMMUNION with God our Father and the Lord Jesus Christ. We are in the “holy of holies” (Hebrews 10:19) and we approach the “throne of grace, that we may obtain mercy and find grace to help in time of need” (Hebrews 4:16). We are indeed “communing with God” at the altar when we do this! I will only add that God does NOT want a “one-sided conversation”; He wants to speak to us as well so at the altar we should also open His sacred Word so He can talk to us. His precious, inspired Word is “profitable for doctrine, for reproof, for correction, for instruction in righteousness, that the man of God may be complete, thoroughly equipped for every good work” (2nd Timothy 3:16). It is at the altar that we can “build ourselves up on our most holy faith” (see Jude 20 & Acts 20:32).  (DO)  (536.5)