SIMILARITY OF JEWISH AND CHRISTIAN WORSHIP
Luke 1 5-17
The above passage records an angelic visit to a Jewish priest whose name was Zacharias. He was informed that he was to have a son, and He was to be named John. This John became famous in Israel, and was called John the Baptist. In addition, he was informed that John would prepare the way of the Messiah and would go before the Messiah in the spirit and power of Elijah. Verse 17 explains what God meant when He promised to send Israel Elijah the prophet before the coming of the great and dreadful day of the Lord (Malachi 4:5}. He did not mean He would raise Elijah from the dead and send him back to earth. He meant He would send a man much like Elijah in spirit and power. . John the Baptist was the man Malachi predicted would come, and He introduced the Jewish Messiah to Israel and the world. In vain the Jewish nation is still expecting Elijah to come out of the grave and return to Israel.
In this study, I am specially interested in what Luke 1:8-11 says about the daily worship practiced by Jews for 1500 years. It is stated about Zacharias the Jewish priest: “So it was, that while he was serving as priest before God in the order of his division, according to the custom of the priesthood, his lot fell to burn incense when he went into the temple of the Lord. And the whole multitude of the people was praying outside at “the hour of incense.” It was also called “the hour of prayer.” (Acts 3:1). The hour of incense and prayer was a very important aspect of Jewish worship. You will note that when Zacharias put coals of fire in his censer with sweet- smelling incense, he then entered the holy place of the temple and set the incense on the golden altar of incense in front of the curtain, behind which was the Ark of the covenant and the very presence of God..
This was one of the daily exercises of Jewish worship, and many Jews attended these daily services at the temple. It was the custom of devout Jews in Jerusalem to assemble in the court of the temple, as close to the temple as possible, and offer prayers while a priest offered incense, which was burned by coals taken from the brazen altar of sacrifice. Incense could not be burned by any form of fire except coals taken from the brazen altar of sacrifice. Nadab and Abihu, the sons of Aaron the High Priest, were struck dead by fire God when they offered this incense. Their offence was burning the incense with some kind of strange fire(Lev. 10:1,2). The fire which burned on the brazen altar burned perpetually and never went out. It had a very special significance in the worship of God, and we learn here that there was a very close connection between offering incense and the brazen altar of sacrifice.
There was something about the brazen altar that demanded incense be burned only with fire from its altar and in no other way. This part of Jewish worship could not to be changed or interfered with in any way whatsoever. We shall learn why shortly. The offering of this incense was a very important part of the daily services in the first Temple and the second Temple worship of Israel. The hours of burning incense in the temple were the 3rd and 9th hour of day, or 9: 00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. These two times of the day were known as the “the hour of prayer and “the hour of incense”(Acts 3:1) There was always a large gathering of people in front of the temple at these two times of the day. This was part of the daily worship services of the Temple. It was the daily time of prayer in Israel, and there was something about the offering of incense to God that drew many people to the temple twice every day.
Jesus considered these prayer times to be very important, and He did not want this time to be disturbed in any way. One day Jesus entered the temple compound, and there were money changers in there talking loudly and drumming up business. They showed no respect for the place of prayer and the worship of God. All they had on their minds was money. He forthwith drove them out of temple area with great authority and said, “It is written, My house shall be called a house of prayer, but you have made it a den of thieves”(Matt. 21:13). Where was this written in scripture. Jesus referred to Isaiah 56:7 where God said of Gentiles, “Even them will I bring to my holy mountain, and make them joyful in my house of prayer. Their burnt offerings and sacrifices will be accepted at my altar, for my house shall be called a house of prayer for all nations.” We learn from that passage that Gentiles from all over the world were welcome to become Jews by religion, and they had a perfect right to come to this temple and offer their prayers and sacrifices on God's brazen altar of sacrifice.
I stated there was a very important connection between the burning of incense and the brazen altar of sacrifice. This connection is stated by God in Exodus 29:38,39: “Now this is what you shall offer on the altar: two lambs of the first year day by day continually. One lamb you shall offer in the morning, and the other lamb you shall offer at twilight.” That is, at 9:00 a.m. and 3:00 p.m. Exodus 30:7,8 says of the altar of incense, “Aaron shall burn on it sweet incense every morning; when he tends the lamps he will burn incense on it. And when Aaron lights the lamps at twilight, he shall burn incense on it, a perpetual incense before the Lord throughout your generations.” Incense was to be offered on the golden altar located in the holy place just in front of
the Ark of the covenant in the Most Holy Place where God's presence was located. This was the way it worked. When the sacrifice of the Lamb was completed on the brazen altar, the priest would then put coals of fire in his censer from the brazen altar, put the incense on his censer, enter into the Holy Place of the temple, and set the incense on the golden altar of incense. It is clear that it was the sacrifice of the Lamb that made the incense acceptable to God. There was an important hidden meaning in the sacrifice of these two Lambs morning and evening. That is why Nadab and Abihu lost their lives. There was a hidden meaning they did not know about, and God saw fit not to reveal this hidden meaning because the people would not be able to understand it. They lost their lives by corrupting this part of Jewish worship, even though they did not understand what was so important about the fire from the brazen altar. It was sufficient for them to know that for their disobedience to God they would lose their lives. Both Moses and Aaron did not like what happened, but it taught them to worship exactly as God commanded. All Elders, preachers and Sunday School teachers might keep this in mind as they serve and teach in the Christian religion. All will be held accountable for making unauthorized changes in the New Covenant worship of God.
As I close this part of the message on the Jewish worship at the hour of incense and the hour of prayer, it appears the Jews connected the offering of incense with their prayers. They wanted to offer prayer as the priest offered the incense to God. They felt it was a good time to make their requests to God. And they seemed to realize that this incense was connected with the sacrifice of the Lamb. It was the death of the Lamb that appeased God and made their prayers acceptable to Him. It would seem the sacrifice of the Lamb was considered a sacrifice for sin, and God punished the Lamb instead of punishing Israel. It seems clear to me that the incense the priest offered to God symbolized the prayers all the people outside the Temple were offering to God. God was willing to hear and answer those prayers because of the death of the sacrificial Lamb.
I think you will agree with what I have said when I show you the similarity of Jewish worship and Christian worship. All sound Bible scholars agree that the Jewish system of worship was symbolic, parabolic, typical and metaphorical of the Christian religion. If you think otherwise open the New Testament to Hebrews 7 26; Hebrews 8:1-6; and Hebrews 13:10-13) Jewish worship had a hidden and prophetical meaning. In many ways it was Christian worship in disguise. The Jewish
High Priest symbolized our High Priest Jesus Christ, who bought the world out of sin by his blood, and offered His shame and death on the cross as a sufficient punishment for all mankind. The two Lambs offered daily for the sins of Israel stood for the sacrifice of Christ, the Lamb of God that takes away the sin of the world. They really represented the future death of Jesus their Messiah and that is what made all Jewish prayers acceptable to God for 1500 years. Apart from the death of Christ the death of the two Lambs morning and evening had no meaning whatever. Now, you know why Nadab and Abihu were put to death. The brazen altar with its fire that never went out symbolized the cross upon which Christ died. In offering a fire not connected with the brazen altar, they showed disrespect for the sacrifice of Christ, the one sin offering for all mankind. The hidden meaning of the morning and evening sacrifice of a Lamb was that each one referred to the death of Jesus Christ. There was no other meaning. It was the sacrifice of Christ to be offered in the future that made the prayers of ancient Israel acceptable to God. Ancient Israel was showing faith in Christ and didn't know it.
The nation of present day Israel needs to understand the symbolical nature of their ancient religion. Someone needs to tell this nation what their ancient religion was all about, and it was all about Jesus of Nazareth their Messiah. Israel, you might as well admit it. God promised He would make a new covenant with you, and He made that new covenant in the 1st century a.d. When you rejected the new covenant He made with you, He rejected you, and that explains what has happened to you for the past two thousand years. He took your temple away from you because you rejected and killed your our Messiah, and He will continue to reject you as long as you reject the Christian religion. It is high time that the nation of Israel humbles themselves, and admit they have made a terrible mistake and then make their lives right with Jehovah by accepting the Christian religion.
Finally, I would suggest to you that the closest thing we have in the Christian religion to the hour of incense which was to the Jews the hour of payer is the Lord's Supper. The observance of the Lord's Supper every Lord's Day was given to show the Lord's death on the cross till He comes back. There is a somewhat similar situation in the Christian religion to the Jewish worship of sacrificing a lamb and then offering their prayers to God. When we meet around the Lord's Table, Christ has promised to be present. This is a special situation when Christ eats and drinks with His disciples around the Lord's Table, as He promised. At this time we remember, honor, commune with Him, and show our respect
for God's altar in the Christian religion which is the cross of Christ. Altars placed in church building have no use and meaning. We have but one altar, and that is the cross. Writing to Jewish Christians Paul said in Hebrews 13:10, “We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat.” Paul meant that all Jews who are not Christians have no right to come to the one altar of the Christian religion, the cross on which the Lamb of God was sacrificed. Jews used to have the brazen altar of sacrifice, but have not had it since the establishment of the Christian religion. That tells you something.
. In a real sense the Lord's Supper is the hour of prayer for Christians. I like to think of it as the hour of incense and prayer for Christians. Revelation 5:8 reveals that incense offered in the Jewish religion was a symbol of the prayers of Christians in the Christian age of the world. I would say this, that the Lord's Supper is the closest thing we have to the hour of incense and prayer of ancient Israel. Christ is present at the Lord's Supper, and what an excellent time to talk to him and offer our prayers to God for the blessing we need. Many Jews always attended the hour of incense. How can any Christian stay away from the Lord's Supper observance where our altar comes into remembrance, and the One who died on that altar is in our very presence. When we come to the Lord's Supper we come to God's altar as represented by the bread and the fruit of the vine. These emblems stir up our memory. There should be more prayers around the Lord's Table than just those that are offered for the emblems. This is a time for all Christians to pray, even as the ancient Israelites did at the hour of prayer. The prayers Christians offer on this occasion is a sweet smelling incense to God, but the only thing that makes our prayers acceptable to Him was the sacrifice offered on God's altar, the cross of Christ.
The brazen altar has been replaced by the cross of Christ. I feel that the Lord's Supper is a special time, and should be held in reverence by all who attend. It is a time for Christians to offer their own prayers silently to God. If not, why not? As Jesus did not want anything to disturb the prayers of the Jews at the hour of prayer, surely He doesn't want anything to disturb our sacred time around His table. It should be a time of meditation and quiteness and prayer. We don't need to be talking to others, singing or listening to orchestras, organs or anything else that would take our minds off of Christ and His sacrifice. Christians can pray anytime, but there is no more appropriate time to pray than at the Lord's Supper. That is a special time to us and to Jesus the Lamb. You may disagree with me, but I still think that the Lord's Supper is the closest thing we have in the Christian religion to the hour of incense and prayer of the ancient Jewish religion.