When they came to the place called the Skull, they crucified Him there, along with the criminals—one on His right, and the other on His left. Jesus said, “Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” –Luke 23:34
We all want an all-access pass. Our desire is to have the privilege of going straight to the one who has both the power and authority to help us in times of need. In the Old Testament, however, the Israelites did not have unfettered access to God. They could not come to Him to make atonement for themselves, but rather relied on the sacrifice of the High Priest once a year. Why? Because God is Holy. And simply put, a sinful man cannot approach a Holy God.
This week we will see how God transformed the old covenant into the new. We will explore the purpose behind the Brazen Altar, the first article furnishing the Tabernacle, and the power behind the first statement Christ makes upon the cross.
In the Old Testament God instructed His servant, Moses, to build the tabernacle so He could be present among His people. Within this portable tent of meeting, behind the veil and into the Holy of Holies, the Spirit of God dwelled.
At this time, sinful man couldn’t approach the tabernacle; instead, a priest would be the one to make his way through the portals housing the seven articles. Within the tabernacle each article symbolized an Old Testament or Old Covenant promise, which in turn points to the coming of Christ as the ultimate Sacrificial Lamb.
As the priest progressed through the Tabernacle—from outside the tent in the outer court, to the Holy Place, and ultimately the Most Holy Place—he stepped closer and closer to forgiveness and into the very presence of God. But what of those who couldn’t enter the tabernacle? What of us?
Fast forward approximately 1200 years to the cross. Jesus took that same walk through the tabernacle on our behalf, and in doing so, He escorted those who would believe in Him into a New Covenant. With every breath and with every, single last word He uttered, He brought us closer to forgiveness and closer to eternal life, giving us full access to His very presence.
Christ makes a way for us in the tabernacle.
With the first of His last seven words—“Father, forgive them for they know not what they do.” (Luke 23:34)—Jesus points us back to the outer court of the tabernacle. In the courtyard prior to the entrance to the tabernacle, raised up and situated on a mound of dirt, stood the Brazen Altar on which forgiveness for sins was given. This altar was made of wood and overlaid with bronze. Every year a spotless lamb, without blemish or defect, was slaughtered on the altar to make atonement for the people. This provided temporary forgiveness and had to be orchestrated year after year.
But Jesus, the Lamb of God, was hung high on a wooden altar—a cross—providing forgiveness for eternity. His words, “forgive them,” proclaimed the reason for His coming, His living, and His dying—lasting forgiveness and eternal life in Him.
As the soldiers jeered at Jesus, mocked Him, and tortured Him, Jesus was making a way of forgiveness for them. Though they did not “know what they were doing,” God knew from the foundation of the earth. He knew that sinful man could not access a holy God, so He made a provision by the tabernacle that ultimately pointed to His Son. On the altar of the Cross Jesus initiated the New Covenant. He took our sinful place on the altar, just as the animals slain on the Brazen Altar took the place of those who sinned in the Old Testament.
What a beautiful word—forgiveness. We all want access to it. We all need it to enter the Most Holy Place—that is the presence of God. And that access is denied if our sins are not atoned for by the precious blood of Jesus.
The first of those seven words of Christ, and the first of the seven articles of the tabernacle, should cause us to pause in His presence, humble ourselves in prayer, and lay our sins on the Brazen Altar.
Take a moment to think about how the Brazen Altar was made of wood like the Cross. Take a moment to think about how the Brazen Altar was situated upon a mound of dirt, making it higher than its surrounding—just as Jesus hung high on the hill of Golgotha.
The Old Covenant brought forgiveness through the blood of slain animals. The New Covenant brings forgiveness to us through the blood of Jesus. It is in that forgiveness we stand in the presence of Almighty God, blameless before Him.
Today, will you pause and meditate on the sacrifice of Jesus? Will you allow God to use this week to reveal sins, both hidden and known? Will you confess those sins to the Father and ask Jesus to forgive your sins? If you’ve never trusted Jesus as Lord and Savior, will you accept Him today?
Use these verses to guide your prayer time.
- Leviticus 17:11
- Hebrews 9:22
- Isaiah 53:5-6
- Luke 23:33-35