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Lowell Brueckner

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WE HAVE AN ALTAR (introduction)


I wanted to let you have a glance at the title verse, the title song (by Fanny Crosby), the Table of Contents, and the Intoduction to the our new book, WE HAVE AN ALTAR. I hope it will soon be available in English. It is already published in Spanish. 

“We have an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat. For the bodies of those animals whose blood is brought into the holy place by the high priest as an offering for sin, are burned outside the camp. Therefore Jesus also, that He might sanctify the people through His own blood, suffered outside the gate. So, let us go out to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach. For here we do not have a lasting city, but we are seeking the city which is to come.”                                                                                    Hebrews 13:10-14 

Near the Cross

Jesus, keep me near the cross, there a precious fountain;
Free to all a healing stream, flows from Calvary’s mountain.

In the cross, a trembling soul, love and mercy found me;
There the bright and morning star, shed its beams around me.

In the cross, oh Lamb of God, bring its scenes before me;
Help me walk from day to day, with its shadow o’er me.

In the cross I’ll watch and wait, hoping, trusting ever,
‘Til I reach the golden strand just beyond the river.

In the cross, in the cross, be my glory ever,
‘Til my raptured soul shall find, rest beyond the river.

Fanny Crosby
(whose sightless eyes saw the cross more clearly than most)


I.                   SUBSTITUTION
1.      THE CROSS - ONE SINGLE THEME                                                     
“I determined to know nothing… except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified” 
2.      THE WISDOM OF THE CROSS                                                        
“Christ crucified… the wisdom of God” 
3.      THE SUPREME SUFFERING OF CHRIST                                    
“My God, My God, why have You forsaken Me?”
“Christ… entered the holy place once for all”
5.      THE SUPERB LANGUAGE OF THE CROSS, PART 1                
“Forgiveness and redemption”
6.      THE SUPERB LANGUAGE OF THE CROSS, PART 2                
“Reconciliation, propitiation, and justification”
II.                IDENTIFICATION
7.      IDENTIFICATION WITH THE CROSS                                          
“I have been crucified with Christ”
8.      IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST’S REST                                              
“The one who has entered His rest has himself also rested from his works”
9.      IDENTIFICATION WITH CHRIST’S WORKS                              
“Faith without works is dead”
“Have this attitude in yourselves which was also in Christ Jesus”
“That I may know Him… and the fellowship of His sufferings”
“Let us go to Him outside the camp, bearing His reproach”


In the Old Testament God marked a site for sacrifice and it was forbidden that Israel should offer at any other place. Before Israel knew where it should be, God had already predetermined the spot. His plans were formed before the world was created. There God sent Abraham on a three-day journey to offer Isaac. At that place, David interceded and a great plague that destroyed thousands came to an end. There was no alternate choice, no “plan B”, regardless of the inconvenience involved in arriving.  When King Jeroboam built an altar in another place, a man of God was sent to proclaim judgment against it.

The writer of Hebrews referred to “an altar from which those who serve the tabernacle have no right to eat” (He.13:10). He said that it was ours – “we have an altar” showing it as something, which we Christians possess in common and we possess it exclusively. The Old Testament priests had no right to it, and, in fact, the whole world of religious and non-religious people must keep their distance. The only persons that can venture to draw near are the sincerely penitent, who take steps of faith. It has been erected by God Himself under a new covenant for true believers around the world. What can this altar be?

There is little possibility of making a mistake here; the only altar of sacrifice under the New Covenant is “The Place of the Skull” outside Jerusalem – Mt. Calvary, the Roman execution site, where the Author of our faith ultimately found His place. Here we must meet Him, confront His altar and extract from it all that it implies in relation to the Christian life.

Mark records in his Gospel that Jesus forewarned His disciples three times of His suffering and death and four times spoke of His resurrection. The references are 8:31-32, 9:9, 9:31-32, and 10:33-34. Mark stated pointedly that Jesus made it very clear to them, without speaking in allegorical form. However, they somehow managed to escape from it, looking for some kind of hidden meaning in the message. They were simply unwilling to listen.

Apparently, their refusal to accept the cross closed their ears to the good news that He would rise from the dead. In all four cases, Jesus assured them that he would be resurrected, but when it happened, they were totally unprepared for it and disbelieved those who first witnessed it and came to tell them. Even when they personally saw Him, unbelief prevented them from recognizing Him.

The Jews, in general, have always seen the Messiah as Israel’s great deliverer, who will bring peace to the earth. To this day, they have theological problems with a suffering Messiah. Jesus had to rebuke two of His own disciples in strong terms, saying, “O foolish men and slow of heart to believe in all that the prophets have spoken! Was it not necessary for the Christ to suffer…?” (Lk.24:25,26). It is amazing how discriminative one can be with the Scriptures. He picks and chooses what he likes and rejects the rest. Just as Jesus said, even his followers were slow to believe all that the Scripture had said.

Peter went so far as to rebuke Jesus for having mentioned His coming passion and Jesus answered him, “You are not setting your mind on God’s interests, but man’s” (Mk.8:33). The nature of man is always unreceptive to a message of suffering and death. Today, resistance has reached its peak. Never before has humankind been so educated in a mindset of positive thinking and speaking, so modern man has no place for a cross.

The church grapples with the problem and comes up with two possible solutions: Some of its experts choose to ignore the message altogether and present a cross-less Christianity. In its place, they focus upon human well-being on this earth, concentrating on worldly security, physical health, financial freedom and psychological soundness. Whether these goals are attained or not is another question, but that is what some church leaders attempt to offer, without much regard for eternity. Others are more biblically-oriented and they find it difficult to detour Mt. Calvary. They look for an answer that is closer to the truth and yet still acceptable to the nature of modern man. They have decided to take the old rugged cross, sand it, varnish it and decorate it to see if 21st century culture and mentality can make room for it, when presented this way.  

Already in the middle of the 20th century, A. W. Tozer took notice of the effort: All unannounced and mostly undetected there has come in modern times a new cross into popular evangelical circles. It is like the old cross, but different: the likenesses are superficial; the differences, fundamental.

From this new cross has sprung a new philosophy of the Christian life, and from that new philosophy has come a new evangelical technique - a new type of meeting and a new kind of preaching. This new evangelism employs the same language as the old, but its content is not the same and its emphasis not as before.

The old cross would have no truck with the world. For Adam's proud flesh it meant the end of the journey. It carried into effect the sentence imposed by the law of Sinai. The new cross is not opposed to the human race; rather, it is a friendly pal and, if understood aright, it is the source of oceans of good clean fun and innocent enjoyment. It lets Adam live without interference. His life motivation is unchanged; he still lives for his own pleasure, only now he takes delight in singing choruses and watching religious movies instead of singing bawdy songs and drinking hard liquor. The accent is still on enjoyment, though the fun is now on a higher plane morally if not intellectually.”

The evangelical world has chosen to go in this direction, not only because of the difficulty (better said, impossibility) of portraying the New Testament message to the Adamic mind and heart, but also because, for all practical purpose, it has lost confidence in the work of the Holy Spirit. Heavenly thinking and language must come across to fallen earthlings through divine revelation and enlightenment. It must be channeled through anointed human vessels, equipped by the Spirit of God with spiritual authority to preach the gospel.

All biblical truth is rejected by a dark and spiritually-blinded generation, but topping the list of its rejection is this central theme of the cross. The concept that the Scripture offers of a bloody Champion and a dying Conqueror are especially hard for success-motivated people to appreciate. The overriding philosophy of our times is pragmatism – if anything appears to be successful, it must be accepted. The cross does not sound like a success story and contributes nothing to that mentality. The Coca Cola and McDonald’s publicity techniques and systems of expansion have become church methodology. They question, “What do inert, crucified hands and feet offer modern society? What do the words of an agonizing Jesus of Nazareth have to say to us?” No, they have to find something more attractive.

There are others, whose spiritual conscience is yet more influenced by the account of the four Gospels, and they must go a step farther. They recognize the vital need of the cross for the salvation of a sinner and that he must kneel before the cross to receive forgiveness and be rid of the burden of damning sin.  However, they seek to relegate the usefulness and relevance of the cross only to this initial step in Christianity. They say, “Come and kneel at the cross, then get up and leave it behind forever. Leave weakness behind and go on in power to high levels of victory! Learn to face life with a smile of self-confidence! Be assertive and aggressively lay claim to your future!”

All this is contradicted by a crucial statement made by the Apostle Paul in his first letter to the Corinthians (2:2), “For I determined to know nothing among you except Jesus Christ, and Him crucified.” His following, personal confession (v.3) emphasizes the stark contrast between divine principle and a humanistic world view, concerning the necessary qualifications for a worthy representative of any product or school of thought: “I was with you in weakness and in fear and much trembling.” Obviously, this is not something you are likely to hear in a motivational seminar in the 21st century, but it may be more surprising to see that it presented a problem to first-century Corinth, as well. They were having difficulty seeing past the offense of the cross, in order to grasp the wisdom of God through it. They were yielding allegiance to the human abilities of men such as Apollos, Paul and Cefas, and Paul wrote his epistle to correct them. 

Paul was extremely disturbed by the Corinthian mentality, because an understanding of the value of the cross, first of all, is vital to salvation. It is also essential to the unfolding of the plan of God in the life of a believer and, collectively, in the development of the church. It seems to me that the Bible clearly teaches that the only ones that are in a position to partake of the unsurpassed wonder of resurrection life are those who embrace the cross and learn from its suffering. 

I am going to make an effort to lay before you what I firmly believe to be God’s way of looking at things and His way of exalting that which seems to be weak and foolish through human eyes. Someone has said that we need to learn to think God’s thoughts and I agree with that. However, I am afraid of giving an inference to this subject as something, which can be handled through a kind of mental exercise or a mind process, rather than a transforming work that takes place in the governing center of our being.  So, whereas the human way of thinking must be changed, the work begins in the depths of our personality. 

This book is an attempt to draw some more of God’s people into a life of entire dependence upon Him, that is, His person, and the work that he perfectly accomplished 2,000 years ago. It is about faith in His Son, who was called the Nazarene, despised and rejected of men, and that which He did in weakness upon a cruel, rugged cross, used by the Romans for criminal execution. We have an altar…

We will look at His cross from two different positions –  first, that of substitution and then, that of identification. Substitution has to do with what He accomplished for us in His suffering and death. He took our place. Identification means that we must see ourselves dying with Him and the effects of His death working in us to bring our character in line with the purpose of God. His purpose is to create a new race of beings that is “conformed to the image of His Son” (Ro.8:29).


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