Rebuilding the Altar of God
By G. Craig Lauterbach
In 2003, I was invited to speak in Singapore. It is a beautiful place offering many cultural attractions and is also renowned as the cleanest city in the world. For instance, chewing gum is illegal, along with spitting on the ground and littering. Offenders are fined $500 if they choose to break these laws. I remember the stress I felt while having a cup of coffee and a bran muffin. I was sitting outdoors on a park bench panicking every time a few crumbs fell on the ground. I did not want to pay that fine! Later when I shared this story with my host, he laughed and assured me that a few crumbs on the ground would not be frowned on. Praise God! On another occasion, I was sightseeing throughout the city and stumbled upon a Hindu temple. As I approached the entrance of this large edifice, I could hear the chants coming from those on the inside. When I gazed through the doors into the building, I saw an altar filled with young and old alike praying to the various idols. My heart broke when I saw this. These people had erected an altar, but to the wrong god. I am sure their hearts were sincere, but sincerity reveals motivation, not truth. It’s not enough to have an altar; we need to have the right altar in our lives.
Look at 1 Kings 18:30-46 with me. 30 “Then Elijah said to all the people, ‘Come near to me;’ and all the people came near to him. And he repaired the altar of the LORD that had been thrown down; 31 Elijah took twelve stones, according to the number of the tribes of the sons of Jacob, to whom the word of the LORD came, saying, ‘Israel shall be your name;’ 32 and with the stones he built an altar in the name of the LORD. And he made a trench about the altar, as great as would contain two measures of seed. 33 And he put the wood in order, and cut the bull in pieces and laid it on the wood. And he said, ‘Fill four jars with water, and pour it on the burnt offering, and on the wood.’ 34And he said, ‘Do it a second time;’ and they did it a second time. And he said, ‘Do it a third time;’ and they did it a third time. 35And the water ran round about the altar, and filled the trench also with water. 36 And at the time of the offering of the oblation, Elijah the prophet came near and said, ‘O LORD, God of Abraham, Isaac, and Israel, let it be known this day that thou art God in Israel, and that I am thy servant, and that I have done all these things at thy word. 37 Answer me, O LORD, answer me, that this people may know that thou, O LORD, art God, and that thou hast turned their hearts back.’ 38 Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt offering, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench. 39 And when all the people saw it, they fell on their faces; and they said, ‘The LORD, he is God; the LORD, he is God.’ 40 And Elijah said to them, ‘Seize the prophets of Baal; let not one of them escape.’ And they seized them; and Elijah brought them down to the brook Kishon, and killed them there. 41 And Elijah said to Ahab, ‘Go up, eat and drink; for there is a sound of the rushing of rain.’ 42 So Ahab went up to eat and to drink. And Elijah went up to the top of Carmel; and he bowed himself down upon the earth, and put his face between his knees. 43 And he said to his servant, ‘Go up now, look toward the sea.’ And he went up and looked, and said, ‘There is nothing.’ And he said, ‘Go again seven times.’ 44 And at the seventh time he said, ‘Behold, a little cloud like a man’s hand is rising out of the sea.’ And he said, ‘Go up, say to Ahab, ’Prepare your chariot and go down, lest the rain stop you.’ ’ 45 And in a little while the heavens grew black with clouds and wind, and there was a great rain. And Ahab rode and went to Jezreel. 46 And the hand of the LORD was on Elijah; and he girded up his loins and ran before Ahab to the entrance of Jezreel.”
In our text, Ahab and Jezebel are the king and queen of Israel. Both of them had forsaken the law of God and instituted the worship of Baal and Asherah. The consequence of this decision brought drought and famine for more than three years, along with spiritual and moral decay. It’s at this point the Lord sends Elijah to challenge Ahab, Jezebel, and their false prophets. The challenge was, “The god who answers by fire, He is God.” – 1 Kings 18:24. Scripture records that the prophets of Baal cried out to their god from morning until the evening time, but there was no voice, no answer, and no fire. They even cut themselves with knives, to the point that the blood gushed out, but nothing happened. Finally, after hours of frustration with no results, it was now Elijah’s turn.
When Ahab and Jezebel instituted their false religion, they tore down the altar of Jehovah and erected an altar to Baal right next to it. This shows us the devil’s intentions. He wanted to establish his own altar at the very place dedicated to God. Well, the first thing Elijah did in preparation for God’s fire was to repair the altar of the Lord. Verse 30 reads, “And he repaired the altar of the Lord that had been broken down.” The Hebrew word used for “broken down” is also defined as, “destroyed, irreversible damage, or devastation.” By tearing down the altar of God and building one for Baal next to it, Ahab and Jezebel thought they had “destroyed, created irreversible damage, or devastated” God’s altar. To the natural eye, it seemed beyond repair, but guess what? When God has a mind to do something, nothing will stop Him. Nothing in heaven, neither on earth, nor even under the earth can/nor will prevail against Almighty God. There is an empty tomb in Israel that says so, and in our text, Elijah set out to do what looked impossible. He repaired the broken down altar of the Lord. This is significant. Throughout the entire Old Testament, we see the necessity of an altar. Under the Law, once a year, the High Priest would enter the holy of holies to sacrifice a spotless lamb on the altar. This was done to atone for the sins of the people. The altar was a place of repentance, forgiveness, and restoration. In the New Testament, the altar serves this same purpose, but not with an actual lamb. When Jesus was crucified, He was the sacrificial lamb that God Himself provided. His substitutionary death, once and for all, atoned for the sins of the entire human race. Those who believe and receive this great salvation are promised immediate forgiveness and eternal life. Following this experience, the next blessing the altar makes available is prayer. What is prayer? Prayer is the door of entrance into God’s presence. Prayer is how we communicate with God and how God communicates with us. Prayer is an instrument of worship and a weapon of war. Prayer is the switch that activates and releases God’s intervention.
There was a young man in Tennessee, who during his sophomore year in high school became a Christian. He experienced a radical transformation and quickly began to share his faith with his friends. The common response he received was, “That’s good for you, but it’s not for me.” After hearing a sermon on prayer one Sunday, this young man determined in his heart to pray for his friends and school until they came to know the Lord. After meeting with his pastor, he was granted permission to set aside Friday nights at the church as his altar of prayer. The pastor was blessed by his sincerity, but thought this would wear off after a few weeks. Well, it didn’t. Weeks turned into months and then months turned into years. He was faithful to pray every Friday night until he graduated from high school. Following his graduation, he left for Bible College in preparation for fulltime ministry. About three months into his studies, he received a phone call from his pastor back home. The minister began to share with him how a revival had broken out in his former high school. One by one, students were committing their lives to the Lord. The impact of this was so significant, that the parents of these same students were coming to the Lord as well. This church that struggled from Sunday to Sunday was now overflowing with new people. What began with a fifteen year old sophomore praying every Friday night at church, exploded into a full-fledged revival. The altar of prayer was the switch that activated and released God’s intervention.
Maybe you feel like the altar of the Lord in your life is in shambles and beyond repair. If so, then you need to hear me. Nothing is impossible with God. Your life and the lives of your loved ones are not beyond restoration. Like Elijah, you need to take it one stone at a time. Get back to church. Get back to reading your Bible daily. Get back to spending time in prayer. Get back to the basics. Show me a healthy relationship and I’ll show you those who are spending quality time together. When we apply this same principle to our relationship with the Lord, we will experience spiritual health. Elijah understood this, that’s why he repaired the altar of the Lord.
Once the altar of the Lord was repaired and utilized, the fire fell. What does this tell you? This tells me when we do our part, God is more than faithful to do His. God accomplished in one moment what the prophets of Baal couldn’t do in an entire day. The Lord’s way is always easier. After all, who can withstand Him? Look at what the fire did. Verse 38 reads, “Then the fire of the LORD fell, and consumed the burnt sacrifice, and the wood, and the stones, and the dust, and licked up the water that was in the trench.” There was no denying God did this. When it was all said and done, there was nothing left. No sacrifice, no wood, no stones, and not even any dust remained. This was no magician’s trick. This was a miracle and it didn’t take Elijah an entire day and night to get the job done. He simply prayed for God to hear him and then the fire fell. WOW! Can you imagine being there to see that?
Hebrews 12:29 states, “For our God is a consuming fire.” Fire can be your friend and it can be your enemy. For the goldsmith it is a friend. Burning out any impurities from this precious metal. For the outdoorsman it is a friend. It cooks the meal and heats the coffee. It keeps him warm on a cold night and even protects him from wild animals. For the child of God, the fire of God is a friend. Purifying our hearts from those things that can harm us spiritually. The fire of God also empowers us. On the day of Pentecost, the 120 in the upper room received the Holy Spirit. Scripture records tongues liken unto fire rested upon each person gathered there. After this encounter, the 120 left with supernatural power, testified in the streets about the risen Christ. I remember the first time I experienced God’s power in this way. Many years ago I was ministering to a demonized man. In the middle of my conversation with him, his countenance changed and with an evil glare in his eyes, he preceded to place a curse on me. At that moment, I began to pray in tongues (my personal prayer language). The instant I began praying, he started shouting, “Stop it! Stop it! You’re burning me!” Like the 120 in the upper room, the fire of God empowered and protected me.
When the fire of God fell on the altar Elijah repaired, it got the attention of everyone. God’s people repented of their idolatry and the false prophets were all put to death. God’s fire put things in order. Once this happened, they were ready for the rain.
There had been no rain for three and one half years. I’m sure these false prophets had cried out to their gods for intervention, but just as Baal couldn’t send the fire from heaven, he was unable to send the rain as well. Now it was God’s turn. Scripture records Elijah prayer seven times for the rain. This is significant. Sometimes breakthrough demands praying through. Did you hear what I just said? Sometimes breakthrough demands praying through. There have been times when I have sought the face of God regarding a specific need and He has answered immediately. There are other times I have found it necessary to dig in and fight the fight of faith in prayer. This is called spiritual warfare. Continual prayer becomes like a battering ram in the hands of the saints. The stronghold is hammered over and over again until the wall begins to crumble and then eventually falls. This is exactly what Elijah did. He prayed until God began to change the circumstances. Finally after praying seven times, there was a cloud in the sky the size of a man’s hand. I like that. This tells me God may start small, but He always finishes big. What began as an insignificant cloud in the sky developed into a major storm. Maybe you feel small and insignificant? Maybe you feel like a small cloud in a big sky? If so, remember these words: A strong start isn’t what wins the race; it’s how you finish.
I enjoy baseball. This year I had high expectations that my favorite team would make it to the playoffs, and possibility the World Series. At the beginning of the season, it looked hopeful. Through the entire first half of league play, they were in first place, but as time progressed, the scenario changed. They moved from the number one position to fourth place. When it’s all said and done, people won’t remember their strong start. Again, it’s not how you start, it’s how you finish that counts.
Just as God was faithful to send the rain for Elijah, He will send it for you and I as well. If we follow Elijah’s example, the heavens will open and the rain will fall. We need to make sure the altar of the Lord is established in our lives. If it’s been broken down or neglected, then it’s time to repair it. Seek the Lord daily in prayer. Set aside time for reading His Word. This will allow the Holy Spirit the opportunity to examine our hearts. When this takes place, the fire of God will fall and consume anything in our lives that is not like Him. Whether a habitual sin, or an issue of the heart, God will remove it. After the fire, we are promised the rain. If we desire the rain of heaven in our lives, then it’s time to rebuild the altar of the Lord!