Will you go to the altar of incense?
Luke 1: 10
“And when the time for the burning of incense came, all the assembled worshippers were praying outside.”
He had passed through the veil into the holy of holies in the Temple. This was a no entry place except for this day, this moment. It is difficult for us to appreciate the hallowed atmosphere. It was possible to die here if you had the wrong motive (Leviticus 16:13). But it was here that God had said He would be met when the incense was poured out (Exodus 25:22).
Zechariah is chosen to go into the most privileged place, the presence of God. He is alone in the place of sacrifice. He longs for the Messiah to come but he doesn’t realise how close Jesus is. He pours the incense on the altar. The place is filled with a beautiful fragrance.
Moses had heard from God, “Take fragrant spices—gum resin, onycha and galbanum—and pure frankincense, all in equal amounts, and make a fragrant blend of incense, the work of a perfumer. It is to be salted and pure and sacred. Grind some of it to powder and place it in front of the ark of the covenant law in the tent of meeting, where I will meet with you. It shall be most holy to you. Do not make any incense with this formula for yourselves; consider it holy to the Lord. Whoever makes incense like it to enjoy its fragrance must be cut off from their people.” Exodus 30:34-38
The incense was not for the enjoyment of the people it was for God. But the beautiful smell was the signal that God was there meeting with them and it was then that they would pray. Maybe they thought the incense attracted God to them, a sign for Him to come?
Outside everyone is praying, the fragrance of the incense has reached them. Inside, alone, is a man chosen by God having the experience of sacrifice.
Maybe today you are having the experience of sacrifice?
You may feel alone, chosen, but facing a lonely path.
What you do, how you respond, your approach is crucial to this moment which is not only about you but about those gathered outside.
What I know is this: the moment is always bigger than you. A greater significance, a greater working of God. It is never only about now.
Of course we have a High Priest who has gone this way. He is our Shepherd who lays his life down for His sheep. He is Jesus. He is not in a Temple made by man but He has ascended to heaven’s Temple and is appearing on our behalf. (Hebrews 9:24) What is Jesus doing right now? He is taking the prayers of His people, yours and mine (Revelations 5:8). He was the sacrifice. He paid the price. He took the cup of suffering. He was obedient to God’s plan.
Today, Jesus knows the path of loneliness, of loss, of grief and of pain and he is praying for you and receiving your prayers.
For now, it is you, it is Zechariah, pouring incense, a sign of prayer, His presence, longing desire, worship, alone. He is being Christ-like even if he doesn’t realise it. It is what we are called to be. The world is watching and many are praying. What happens with you at the altar is crucial. It is never only about you, it is always for a bigger purpose.