Translated by John Van Laar

Singing  Hymn 21: 1&2
             Psalm 40: 2
             Psalm 40: 3&4
             Psalm 22: 1
             Hymn 21: 7

Reading, Mathew 27: 32-34, 45-56
Text, Hebrews 13: 9-14

Beloved in the Lord Jesus Christ

            We have come together today (this evening) on Good Friday, to experience the glorious remembrance of the bitter death of our saviour. To remember, that He through His death and the shedding of his blood, has established a new and eternal testament, the covenant of grace and reconciliation.
            In these words the form of the Lord’s Super has summarised the gospel of Good Friday.
            Today we celebrate no Lord’s Supper, but we are together to hear the proclamation of the death of Christ, who is our life. Today we do not do this by the symbols of bread and wine but will establish a faithful remembrance of the cross and death of Christ Jesus.
            We all know this that the prayer is here today and the promise with it: whoever eats His flesh and drinks His blood has eternal life.
            He has died for sin once.
            Now for all eternity we no longer need an altar. The altar is eliminated for good, because Christ has been offered once to remove a multitude of sins. The altar has made room for the TABLE, the table of fellowship, where we eat the body of Christ and drink His blood.
            The Roman Catholic may still always maintain the altar in the church but we confess that the church’s treasure is that she has no altar but recognises only the table.
            So also today (this evening) the gospel of Good Friday is proclaimed in the Christian church: not an altar but a table!
            However that is only one side of the story!
            That is only the riches of Good Friday, no altar but only a table.
            But we cannot forget for a moment: beside the riches of Golgotha there is an unspeakable poverty.
            You can explain the blessing of the cross well in one phrase: not altar, but table. At the same time you have to realise the frightfulness of the cross and the distress into which Good Friday brings us all.
            This is no idle play of words, but they are expressions of the Bible itself, when we consider the darkness of Golgotha with that other phrase: not table but altar!
            It is indeed true, that Christ by His death has fulfilled and eliminated the altar of reconciliation, and so presented to His church the table of communion.
            But it remains no less true, that Christ by His death on Golgotha has given His church an altar, and such an altar, that the table is completely displaced, an altar that leaves no room for a table.
            For our text says: we have an altar, from which those who serve the tabernacle have no power to eat. One altar we have! The temple servers do not posses the power for eating. They do not get to see the table!
            So I may and I must rejoice over Good Friday: the altar has disappeared, the table is revealed! But I rejoice with trembling. On Golgotha I see the altar appear that causes the table to disappear!
            So today (this evening) I serve you the gospel of;
            Christ by His death institutes the altar without the table.
Our text speaks of three things:

  1. Of the fright of the altar without a table.
  2. Of the need for the altar without a table.
  3. Of the acceptance of the altar without a table.

1)         Our text is somewhat obscure. If you are like me you would barely understand a single word of it at first glance.
            Certainly, we find a fragment of a sentence here and there that sounds reliable to our ears. But the entire direction of the sermon, the argumentation and the intent of the whole, escapes us completely.
            In this text there are some familiar phrases.  When we read that Jesus suffered outside the gate in order to sanctify His people by His own blood, or when it is explained to us that we also have to carry His shame, or when we are assured that we have no lasting city here but seek one hereafter, then each time we have some inkling of what it is about.
            Yet there are an increasing number of questions. For example:
            What are those strange teachings pointed out here which the writer to the Hebrews is warning us?
            What have these teachings to do with the preaching of Christ’s suffering outside the gate?
            What is the relationship between the altar, from which those servers of the tabernacle could not eat, and the coming city which we seek?
            And in this context what is the meaning of this remark, ‘it is fruitless to try to strengthen the heart with food instead of by grace’.
            So we could continue for a while. The obscure coherence of the text prevents us from knowing at first what meaning the sentences have in the message the writer is passing on to his readers!
            Are all the remarks in this chapter perhaps unrelated comments? You might think that as he comes to the end of his letter he beckons right and left, presents some cursory questions and after making some points leaves it at that? So if there is some basic correlation between these final remarks it has become impossible for us to find out how the writer ever got from one point to the other.
            Now beloved, the one thing which is clear is that we are not dealing with isolated admonitions unrelated to one another. You have to realise the author repeatedly ties each verse to the one proceeding it.
            Listen to one phrase; ‘do not be turned aside by the many diverse and strange teachings’. If you ask “why not”, then the answer directly follows ‘because it is good that the heart is established by grace and not by food’.
            Why not by food? Well the people who have traveled that route, who have sought and depended on it, have received no nourishment from it.
            And also first of all: ‘we have an altar from which those who serve in the tabernacle have no power to eat’. It is clear to see that there exists a direct link between the admonition not to strengthen the heart with food and the statement that we have no power to eat from the altar.
            So you ask; why can we not eat from this altar? The author writes that it can be no other way. Because the flesh of animals, from which the blood comes that, was carried into the holy of holies for sin, that flesh must be burned outside the camp.
            Wasn’t that a requirement from the Old Testament concerning the rules for sacrifices but has no longer any meaning for the new day?  No, because on this basis also Jesus had to suffer outside the gate, because His own blood would sanctify his people.
            What is the consequence of this for us? It is this that we also have to go to Him outside of the camp to share in the difficulty of His suffering.
            Is the future not incredibly dark? Is it not strange that the church is directed to a place outside of the gate?  The consequence is that we have no lasting city here but we seek the one that is to come.
            In the preliminary study of our text it soon becomes clear that we return again and again to the same question. The author repeatedly argues: Thus….. So… and he makes conclusions: because… therefore….
            But that is just the difficulty. We cannot fit these familiar phrases in the whole context of the argumentation, to use such an unsuitable word. The whole remains obscure and we lose the clear understanding even of what we may have thought it meant.
            It is possible perhaps that we could solve the problem easily if we knew the circumstances of the Hebrews. If we knew where to find the Hebrews and knew the situation they found themselves in we probably could say with more certainty which strange teachings were threatening their faith. Maybe then we would clearly see what the problem was here with the food.
            But particularly here lies the greatest difficulty. No one knows exactly in what area these people lived: no one is even able to come up with a real picture of the situation. We have nothing but the few details of this letter and can only base other details on assumptions.
             One person thinks that they were exposed to the attractions of Judaism, also because there is word of priests who served in the tabernacle. Another prefers to think of the strange teachings as being a result of the influence of the heathen environment.
            And in connection with this someone may understand the food in context of the Jewish food laws with their distinction between clean and unclean animals, or alluding to the institution of the Jewish sacrificial service in which the priests and Levites and also the layman would consume a large part of the sacrificial meal. But another may see in this the idea that those addressed in this letter reveal a yearning for abstinence and the aesthetic, a tendency all religions have as trademark, and in connection with a general attraction to the abstinence of all kinds of foods.
            But there is no one who really knows the details of the case. If we still want to understand these words we have no choice but to clear ourselves completely from all unproven assumptions and simply go by what the letter itself says about the readers and their situation.
            This is immediately clear: the believers addressed in this letter find themselves in extremely dangerous and difficult circumstances. It is mentioned that they endured the plundering of their goods with joy. They lived in a hostile environment, and that hostility was so great that their belongings were not safe anymore.
            Further there is the admonition to remember those in prison as if they themselves were fellow prisoners, again a token of the same hostility. It appears that some members of the congregation were cast into prison on account of their faith, and had received unduly harsh treatment there.
            The exhortation is given to remember their forefathers and follow them in their faith, now that they see the future consequence of their way. Now that we have mentioned prisons we would not be mistaken if we say that those ministers did not die naturally but suffered martyrdom.
            In this situation you must realise why they are admonished not to go on in a miserly or greedy way, for we have here people who have been plundered and don’t know what to live from next. Therefore the writer comforts them: the Lord has said; ‘I will never leave you or forsake you’.
            There is enough here for us to understand the seriousness of their situation. Prison and martyrdom are continuous realities for these believers. When persecution extends this far then you will understand all the more that they are only the worst forms of a whole complex of rules and restrictions. Besides plundering and prison sentences there is also an immense range of possibilities for underhanded meanness and oppression. If they dare to arrest and even execute, then they won’t restrain from business harassment and boycotting either. They naturally would not miss the opportunity to make business impossible for these believers and to deprive them of their daily bread.
            These things all happened because of their faith.
            Now beloved you know yourself well enough, that it does not come easy to remain faithful to Christ and to remain strong. To experience all these dangers with a solid and unmovable heart, even to calmly defy both prison and death. What tension one experiences when each night you could be yanked out of bed and each day comes with more dangers of oppression!
            Is it not so? In war time these things also have been experienced. Then also from the reformed circle brothers had to offer their lives on account of their faithfulness to Christ. When they fell as victims we could say that many began to waver. The temptation was there to keep silent, to conform and to let your sons work for the occupiers. How many weren’t there who sought safety by adding some water to the wine.
            Didn’t you hear the voices of those who said that you could hold your principles high but that even so you can’t live from the wind? Didn’t you see those who tried to maintain their earthly place at the cost of everything, even if it pricked their conscience? Your bread is important too was the common expression! We must remember our wives and children!
            Meanwhile if, on account of your bread, you were actually forced to more or less deny Christ, who could hold that against you! Naturally those brothers who were in prison were called “heroes’. At first those who had lost their lives were held in high esteem. But, what about later, there were many who called those prisoners irresponsible
Of those ministers who had perished in the camps they said: “they should have been more careful with their words!
            Isn’t life sweet and isn’t freedom dear? To follow their example and to offer everything to Christ - that would be something.  
            So it went with the Hebrews, although we don’t know the particulars. When the persecution came and they robbed them of their goods they remained strong as a whole. They bore it with gladness. But slowly there was a change in mentality. Every where in the letter are signs of weariness and exhaustion, of weakening and collapse. The energy for faith was shrinking. Some were beginning to skip the mutual gathering of believers. Now that the dangers had increased they became afraid. The writer sees the necessity to warn the congregation against falling away completely. It was taking so long! The persecution was becoming so indescribably difficult!
            People were starting to shrink back on account of the danger.
            They did not want the scorn of the name of Christ!
            You feel it immediately; we are totally in the center of our text now. The admonition is to go to Christ outside of the camp and to share His scorn willingly. This admonition points out that the Hebrews were on a dangerous path here, that there was a tendency to seek an escape from the daily oppression.
            So we find an explanation for the reference to the “various and strange teachings’ that our text speaks of!
             Those days were very similar to today! In those circumstances people sought, when as a consequence of their faith everything was put on the line, bread, possessions, freedom, life, - people in those circumstances sought a solution, a compromise. So you could remain Christian without being really noticed. So you could still have your sandwich while not totally denying your faith, to keep your bread safe, and with the bread also your freedom and your life.
            We don’t have to think of specific Jewish or particular pagan teachings here. Oh no, because “various” teachings were appearing. People tried to realise it in many ways. One person justified it one way while the other tried it differently. How they carried it out I don’t know precisely? Perhaps one reasoned thus that Christ had only to do with the soul and not with the body, only with worship and church but not with everyday life. Another would say that they had to give ground; you didn’t do it willingly but were forced to. The third might say that you could not go out of this world and the fourth would suggest that having concern for wife and children was a Godly mandate.  The fifth… but why should I bring up more possibilities?
            So this was the source of all kinds of teachings that were completely new and had not been heard of before and against which they had no immunity. In the pressure of the time they influenced the hearts and even more the thinking and the acting of believers.
             The great deception of these teachings was this, they made bread secure! They created a solution with which they could escape persecution with a clear conscience! You did not run into the danger of being dragged from your bed and after much suffering end up at the stake.
            Consequently many varieties of Christendom appeared and in all kinds of forms, all so there was no risk to bread, freedom and life. The danger was so great that on account of magistrates and kings the congregation let itself be pulled away from her faith, and her total trust in Christ, and from the confession of His name.
            They were confronted with a great difficulty. Their hearts were faced with great unease in the midst of all these dangers, so much nervous anxiety. And now there appeared all these new perceptions, which could greatly reduce the dangers; which guaranteed their position and their bread. They thought to strengthen their heart through food!
            People said you have to eat don’t you! What use has Christ with dead confessors? What would happen to the church, and to the mission work, if we would be so careless as to venture forth only on account of faith! Let us keep calm! When better times come we can embrace the true preaching and the mission work with renewed energy. With them bread is number one and faith follows after. The strengthening of the heart by food was primary; little was heard of grace anymore.

            And now this word is also in the middle of our life!
            During the war people have learned to understand this; that faithfulness to Christ brings everything into danger, and you could meet circumstances in which He could ask you to make the darkest sacrifice. We too, we became uneasy then. To give up your position! To accept the possibility of prison! Even to offer up your life!?
            But now we breathe freely. There is no longer the daily struggle for the thoughts of bread and life. But how long will it remain that way? Any day the possibility may come up wherein we will be put before kings and magistrates because of the name of Christ, a new time in which prisons and camps will open for those who profess Christ Jesus.
            It could be war again any time. The danger is not imaginary that powers like Russia could resurface. Then it starts again, it again becomes life threatening to remain faithful to the Saviour.
            No, I don’t place any weight on predictions; things could also go very differently. Even without any war the people of God could suddenly be faced with persecution.
            How often are our employers faced with the question whether to submit, because of their conscience, to regulations concerning economic laws and prescriptions from the authorities!
            The discussions regarding old age security have ended long ago in our circles. We all realise and can see a development that is going in a direction that may have to be resisted for Christ’s sake.
             Whoever is not asleep will clearly see at work the purposes that ultimately lead to apocalyptic terror and to a time when no one can buy or sell unless he carries the mark of the Beast. It goes on so noiselessly. The unions and human rights groups gain control even with cooperation of so called Christians. Who knows how soon these developments will bring believers into the deepest conflict?
            Is the threat of persecution past? Even when Germany was under a communist-catholic administration in 1918 it only took fifteen years and the people were ripe for nihilistic revolution. There was no outside pressure evident and no war to force the issue. Already in 1933 the National Socialists had the reigns in their hands and immediately persecution became a reality for the Church which truly confessed Christ!
            Now it is no chance prophesy, but a sober consideration of facts that in time such a crisis could become reality in our countries as well by internal processes and without any foreign power ever showing its military muscle!
            But when everything has to be put at risk because of the name of Christ then for us there is immediately the temptation to flee the danger again! To seek compromise! To make your faith fit the situation! To remain Christian in such a way that your bread is still safe! To profess a doctrine that poses no risk of prison or death!
            We see all the frightfulness of an altar without a table now don’t we?
            In other words, of a religion that brings persecution and starvation. A faith that includes the plundering of goods and freedom and life!
            The altar without a table!
            That means that when we kneel before Christ we are cut off from being producers and consumers! Shoved out of the community! Even cast out of life!
            Wouldn’t we also consciously search for a tie between altar and table, with the possibility to serve Christ without your bread being put in danger? So we are naturally open for any teaching that proclaims a combination of altar and table!
            Can’t we? Could we not hold both altar and table at the same time? In a hostile world could we not hold the sacrifice of Christ and our own meals together? Is Christendom then necessarily persecution? Would it never work to grind the sharpest points off the antithesis?
            Is every teaching false then that ties altar and table together?
 2)        Now, our letter does not leave us to hear an uncertain sound.
            We have an altar from which those who serve in the tabernacle have no power to eat.  Whoever loves this altar and therefore acts as priest in this tabernacle service loses the ability to eat. The dilemma is absolute: whoever chooses the altar loses the table because of it!
            You understand immediately that the author uses expressions derived from the Old Testament sacrificial service and uses these terms to proclaim the style of the New Testament worship service!
            How was it in Israel? What was the relationship between altar and table, between sacrifice and meal?
            You know. When someone came to make an offering to his God it meant that as a rule only a part of the animal came upon the altar. Portions of the fat pieces went to the people who were involved in the service of the tabernacle and the temple. Priests and Levites received a portion from almost every sacrifice. Also we read many times that those who brought the offering were also allowed to eat along as well. A table was established for them and they also ate from what they had consecrated to the LORD.
            I think of that beautiful story from 1 Samuel 9 when Saul and his servant had gone out to search for the female donkeys. Their efforts proved fruitless and they arrived in the area of Rama and decided to gain information from Samuel. Upon meeting some young women they ask if the prophet was in the city and received confirmation for the people had made an offering on the heights!
            Did that offering mean that everything was for the LORD? No indeed, because the girls said that Samuel had to be there to bless the sacrifice. Only after that could the invited guests begin to eat!
            Later when Saul and his servant are at the head of the table as guests of Samuel the best piece of the animal sacrifice is saved for him!
            Here you have a very typical example of the Old Testament worship service. This service does sprinkle the blood on the altar before the LORD, and people kindle the fat for a pleasing aroma for the LORD, but beside the altar there is almost always a table.
            This service of God always guaranteed bread to priests and layman, to temple servers and temple goers! The sacrifice is combined with the meal! Whoever approaches the altar knows that he will find his own food there. The offering does not mean the loss of bread, and even less the loss of freedom and life.
            In the heathen worship it is also this way. The sacrificial meal is in vogue everywhere. The altar of God and the table for the people are constantly next to each other!
            But Israel knew of one sacrifice where altar and the table were separated from each other! That was the offering on the Great Day of Atonement!
            Then the high priest brought the blood of the sacrificed animal into the holy of holies to atone for the sins of the people. But the flesh was not brought to the table in order to be eaten by the people, it was burnt outside of the camp!
            The blood indeed came onto the altar before God! But the meat was not saved for the people’s table!
            The prescribed rules for the ritual of the Day of Atonement were very particular. The flesh had to be brought outside of the camp. It was cast outside the fellowship of the community. No one wanted to have anything to do with that animal. No one was allowed to eat of the meat. That animal was considered to be unclean by all Israel. People threw it out as if it belonged on the manure pile. They burned it: this uncleanness had to be totally destroyed!
            That means this was very unusual in the Old Testament sacrificial cycle. On this day the altar was prepared and God accepted the blood of atonement. However the table was kept completely out of sight. There was no mention of eating here among the fellowship of men!
            Acceptance by God was coupled with rejection by the people!
            Here was the altar, but the table was nowhere to be found!
            It was this offering that pointed to the crucified death of Jesus Christ. The sacrifice on the Great Day of Atonement foreshadowed the fact of Good Friday, when Jesus Christ undeservingly offered Himself up!
            The author writes: therefore also Jesus, because he sanctified His people by His own blood, had to suffer outside the gate!
            It was not a coincidence that they led Him outside Jerusalem, outside of the Holy city.
            Indeed at that moment when He was led outside the gate, outside of the camp, outside of the Holy community of Israel, then God fixed on Him the law of Great Day of Atonement.
            He gave His life. He poured out His blood. It was to purify and sanctify His people from their sins. He Sprinkled His blood on the altar of the innermost Holy of Holies. And God accepted that offer and justified all those who believed in Christ!
            But His body was still cast out beyond the gate, just as the flesh of the sacrificial animal was brought outside the camp on Good Friday. That is to say: no person wanted to have anything to do with Him. He was counted as unclean for them. They gave Him up to the fire of hell!
            The altar was standing here, but there is no table to be found!
            The father accepted His blood and cleansed His people of their sins. But the people cursed Him and cast Him out.  Just as they refused to use even a little of the sacrificial meat on the great day of atonement, so they also refused to receive anything from Him. Every year again they said of the meat: it cannot be eaten; it is a hellish impurity. It is poison not nourishment.
             Precisely this is what men said of Christ Jesus: away with Him! Shove Him out of Israel’s holy congregation. Crucify Him. Give Him up to the fires of Hell! We will not eat His flesh nor drink His blood! He is the pestilence for our holy nation.
            God had said yes for this sacrifice, but the people gave a pent-up no!
            An altar from God and no table for men!
            Acceptance by the Father, rejection by men!
            Whoever confesses Christ Jesus and accepts His offering receives the way to God by faith in Christ’s blood. But under men he no longer finds a place. He is considered unclean along with Christ. He is cast out of their commonwealth.
            As soon as he kneels before the altar of God on which Christ gave Himself up he is cut off from all the tables of men.
            The altar without a table!
            Do you know what that means? Peace with God but at the same time the enmity of the world. Admitted to the Father with confidence but banished from all ties with men.
            Whoever approaches the Father via the altar of Christ and let’s himself be accepted sees himself expelled by the world. Barred from every table! As a consequence this faith means loss of food and freedom, from life and honour!
            They say: do you want to profess that altar? Do you boast of the sacrifice of Jesus Christ? Do you believe in Him whom the whole world rejects like vermin? Then, like Him, there is no place for you in our circles!  Away with you! Leave the camp! You are considered as one unclean! There is only room for you on the garbage piles of the world!
            So now I see the terror of Good Friday!
            Every religion realises an altar, but they place a table beside it.
            Each faith reaches for the hand of God, but at the same time clasps tight the hand of man!
            Nowhere does admittance to God mean banishment from the circle of men. Man can practice the service of God everywhere and yet remain certain of his bread, life and freedom.
            Each Jew, each Greek, each person of whatever strange teaching, - everyone can hold fast to both God and man. They can all combine the altar and the table. The synthesis of worship and the security of life is possible everywhere.
            No other religion is dangerous because God receives his altar while man also keeps his table. No one is required by God’s will to lose his place under the people.
            But Jesus Christ builds the altar without the table. Sin is reconciled by God but at the same moment you have been put out by man! He suffered outside the gate. People said away with Him! He must vanish! Nothing must remain of Him! The world pushed Him away. No circle is open for Him! The people have locked away from Him all the treasures of life.
            He who seeks everything from Him will undergo the same fate. He does receive reconciliation with God by faith in His blood. But from this hour on all people are irreconcilably against him and he is banned from all fellowship.
            Whosoever loves and confesses Him cannot find Him inside the gate! He simply cannot hold on to friendship with the world. If in any situation he mentions the name of Christ he will be pushed outside the gate by men.
            To be Christian—oh, that means now always to be outside of the camp with Christ. That means to have no place with men for we have no more rights there, no honour, no bread, no freedom, not even life!
            To be a Christian means on account of acceptance by God you find yourself refused and pushed out by the people.
            To be Christian means as consequence an altar with no table!

            Now I see the shock of Good Friday! Now I understand how the death of Christ puts the Church that proclaims His death in great difficulty.
             Good Friday does not mean speaking an edifying word and singing some fitting psalms. This day brings reconciliation with God, and simultaneously enmity with the world!
            Now God proclaims the law of the altar without the table.
            That means that I now have to make a choice: the altar or the table because I cannot take hold of both at the same time.
            Beloved it no longer matters what new teaching is portrayed before you. Any teaching that puts altar and table together is not of God. They automatically deny Christ’s sacrifice according to the law of the great Day of Atonement.
            Whoever says’ Good Friday’ chooses for the altar, and in so doing relinquishes the table.
            He believes that we, justified by faith, have peace with God by our lord Jesus Christ. But he also believes that in the world we become no more than useless scraps.
            Good Friday will say that we have obtained access to God trustfully, and therefore lost all access with men.
            There were many who in the years of war succumbed to many and strange teachings because they chose to compromise.  They denied the seriousness of the absolute antithesis. They did not want to abandon Christ nor did they want to lose their bread let alone the things that were even dearer to them.
            And they excused themselves. These were abnormal circumstances that had brought them this far. They said they were now forced to add some water to the wine. We run stuck when we make an absolute choice for Christ.
            They meant that later after the war we will do as before. Then there will no longer be that clash between faithfulness to Christ and the maintenance of bread and life.
            But that is foolishness beloved. Also in the world after the ordeal of war the law of an altar without a table remains in affect! God is always an enemy of the world.
            On Good Friday Christ Jesus bowed down deeply before this sacrificial law.  He left us an example. Anyone who mentions His name is ever able to avoid the reach of this law!
            Certainly there may be times that it appears that the enmity has mellowed. Periods of time when persecution takes leave and also times when apparently the confession of Christ brings some advantage.                     
            Yet these were always bad times for the church. In these periods the concept of the radical antithesis disappeared! The Christians forgot the law of Good Friday then and were susceptible to varied and strange teachings which are all ultimately tenets of compromise!
            No one should have the illusion that in this world there is room for Jesus Christ! Today they may mention His name with respect and the majority may protest when the name Christian is forbidden. They do speak of the Christian norms of justice, mercy and love for ones neighbour, and they will want to make these norms valid according to the consensus of the time.
            But everywhere it is a humanistic Christendom that speaks in this manner. The world crucifies the real Christ as fanatically as the Jews did! There is no room for Christ in this world!
            Therefore no one should surrender himself to the delusion that he can be a Christian without the risk of being cast outside of the camp. It is folly that there would be Christendom outside of the shame of Christ.  Also the church has to always live under the cross because of Christ’s crucifixion     No one is allowed to think that persecution is only of barbaric times. That it is only to be expected in abnormal situations. That in our age it will be out of the ordinary. Persecution is the rule for the church. We shall never enter the Kingdom of Christ in any other way then through much oppression.
            Whoever identified himself with the compromise and swore of an altar with a table in those dangerous years should not be convinced that this was only an exceptional misfortune that required justifiably exceptional measures. Because surrendering to strange teachings showed what had always lived in his heart. It proved that he was offended by the rule of Good Friday. The altar with no table was not accepted and never would be!
            And the crisis did not change him! No, the threat revealed what was always there! The crisis only showed that in the depths of his heart he was different than he had appeared. The crisis revealed that all he did was feigned. He openly used the name of Christ but danger revealed that in the hour of persecution he had became apostate, he had only believed for a time! As long as no sacrifice was required! In his confession of Christ there was never a place for accepting persecution!
            So we should know that altar and table are never ever to be combined. Celebrating Good Friday means not only to accept the cross of Christ but also to take up our own cross!
            Thus beloved, today (this evening) we come to an absolute choice, altar or table! Whoever goes to Christ will always find Him outside the gate! That’s how it was for the Hebrews and also no less for us. It applies today and just as much in ten years, we will not be able to avoid it!
            God does not mince words when the gospel of the cross comes to you. You may go to God boldly pleading on the blood of Christ just like that. But you must know with full consciousness that you are signing your own judgement in this world. There is no other place than beside Christ outside the camp.
            So what should we do then?
            We finally have to make our life out of faith alone!
            Out of faith only!
            Paul says repeatedly that also means denying the false belief that our works might add something to the sacrifice of Christ.
            But that is merely one side of the story.
            Because the letter to the Hebrews points out that we have to abandon the illusion that this world would offer us a place!
            Yes people always have hope for the future, as in the war years they said, and often we also, when peace finally comes. And in the post war years they said, and we joined in, when things return to normal then it will be good!
            Yes, but that only applies to those who seek it in this life! In times of war they can look forward to peace and in days of crisis dream of better times. But the church never can. There is never a solution for us! An altar without a table!
            We must never look forward to a future and never long for the time when the last visages of war disappear. That does not benefit us for then there is still no room for Christ inside the gate. Then we still have to go to Him outside of the camp carrying His shame.
            In this world we will never come to the point where there is no danger in being faithful to Christ. It may be that God will plague the world with so many problems that it finds no time to persecute the church to the extreme. But as the postwar problems are overcome it becomes more dangerous by the day!
            Thus beloved do not allow yourselves to be washed away by diverse and strange teachings that combine the table and the altar. These could bring you the illusion of Christendom without persecution or convince you that the way to God can be coupled with your keeping your place with men.
            It doesn’t matter how people justify it, that you can prize the altar and still save your table. That simply can’t be! The altar shuts the table out.
            Good Friday was already like this for ages and still maintains it today!

3)         Is that bad?  Is that an insurmountable stumbling block to believe?
            It would be lamentable indeed if the heart had to be strengthened by food. As if there was an unconditional need for the table!
            But it isn’t like that is it?
            Look at the people whose way of life was based on food and sustenance the author writes to the Hebrews!
            To live for food, that is a curious expression. Where ever you meet these people they are always looking for their next sandwich. They are always trying to improve themselves, always trying to find means to increase their income and find security in their position. Their earthly sojourn is completely concerned with material needs. Concerned with the table! Their whole life revolves around food and drink, honour and title, job and salary. They seek a life that is insured from the cradle to the grave!
            Have a look for a moment at the result of all that toil and drudgery. What have they achieved? Is their heart strengthened by it all? Do they receive any depth or steadfastness within themselves? The basic tenets of life proceed from the heart.  The center rules the whole environment.
            Did they succeed – these people whose life is food – to stabilize it and make their goals secure? At best they have received a delicious dinner and achieved a good career. Perhaps they have even been promoted to a government job and their name become famous and rings like a bell.   
            But what does that achieve? Soon they will all perish those who sought life from their bread. In death the table is of no avail. The way of the table does so little for the strengthening of the heart that today or tomorrow that heart will fail.
            The heart is only strengthened by grace! And that grace can only be found in the cross of Jesus Christ. The altar brings grace, the table only offers food.
            What is worth more to you?
            By His blood Christ has sanctified His people. They may be exiled by men but have access to God by faith. Their bread was withheld, their goods were stolen, their freedom removed, their lives destroyed. With God they have the grace that gives total deliverance and triumphs over every death!
            Christ Jesus was well able to bear being cast out of the gate. While expelled by men he went into the innermost Holy of Holies. He appeared before God in the heavenly tabernacle.
            And because he sanctified us by His blood he opened a new course of life for us. Now we follow Him on the way, treading up toward God, my God the fountain of joy! That is why we can well bear it that all the roads of men are barred!
            Let us then go out to Him, outside the gate and carrying His shame, because God is outside the gate where the streams of His grace are ever flowing.
            Outside of the gate, yes I know it well, it is all scorn and despite. It means loss of sustenance and perhaps even loss of life. But outside the port we find through Him the way to God’s holiest of holies.
            That we can no longer find our bread, that in this world our belongings and our lives are no longer safe, that is proof that the great Day of Atonement has come. We are only dismissed by men because we are going to God through Christ!
            The altar without a table!
            Is that so terrible?
            It would not be good if we had a permanent city here. If this world had permanence, and the city here had foundations, and the present society was eternal then indeed it would be fearsome to be rejected by the people.
            But beloved, this city and all that makes her attractive, food, honour, freedom and life perishes. That is: the table! The world passes away and the table also passes away.
            However the alter never perishes and grace even less.  Through Christ we seek the future city that has foundations and stands forever! If we may indeed enter there then it is not so terrible to be cast outside the gates of the city that disappears.
            Soon the roles will be forever reversed!
            The city here below will not endure Christ inside of her gates and not us either. We have no room here.  Admittance to her table is denied! But that all passes away with great speed!
            We seek the city that is coming, one that has foundations, and we know that we will enter it. The altar brings us there. Now our heart is strengthened forever by grace and also the means of life are preserved by grace!
            Also there above many will be locked outside of the gate. The unbelievers will be outside. The fearful who would not forsake their bread for the will of Christ, or their lives either, will also be left outside. Outside will be all those who want to hold on to the table.
            But blessed are those who do the commandments of Christ. Who kept the law of the great Day of Atonement and sacrificed the table in order to maintain the altar.
            Here they may have been banished outside of the gate, later they will enter the gates of the city with has foundations. Of that city the scriptures say that in the middle of her street and on one side and on the other side of the river is the tree of life bearing fruit from month to month. There we will be able to eat for there the table is always set.
            So let us go out to Him outside the gate to accept the altar without a table! Soon we will go through the gates into the city that has a future and does not pass away and by His grace will have power over the tree of life.
            Then our joy of the altar will be eternal!
            The altar that is now united WITH the table forever!