Do you have a favorite fragrance? The salt air of the ocean? Coco Mademoiselle? Grandma’s fresh baked bread? God has a favorite fragrance. It is the aroma of the sinless character of Christ, and it was pictured in a blend of spices used for incense in the tabernacle (Exo 30:34-35). This particular blend of spices was unique to the golden altar – no other use of the incense was permitted (Exo 30:37-38). Likewise, there is an aroma from the person of Christ that is entirely unique. Notice the adjectives Scripture uses to describe this incense: sweet, pure, holy, most holy. God doesn’t find holiness to be bland or dull. He says pure and holy things are sweet and fragrant, and He breathes in with deep satisfaction when He looks upon His Son. Do you?
When you hear the word “altar,” the word “sacrifice” likely comes to your mind as well. An interesting thing about the golden altar inside the tabernacle is that no sacrifice was ever offered upon it. This golden altar points us to Christ in glory, and the risen Christ never needs to offer another sacrifice for sin. He offered Himself once on the cross, a sacrifice pictured by the bronze altar in the tabernacle’s courtyard. The bronze altar pictures Christ taking our judgment in His death. The golden altar pictures Christ living for us and interceding for us. We needed Christ’s work in His death to be saved from our sins. We also need His work for us in His resurrection life in glory: “He is able also to save them to the uttermost that come unto God by Him, seeing He ever liveth to make intercession for them” (Heb 7:25, KJV).
The altar of incense also reminds us of our own prayer life. One clue to this is found in Revelation 5:8 which speaks of “golden bowls full of incense, which are the prayers of the saints” (ESV). Imagine – your prayers arising like incense for God’s enjoyment! Revelation 8:3-4 adds a new angle with even greater beauty. “Another angel came and stood at the altar, having a golden censer; and there was given unto him much incense, that he should offer it WITH the prayers of all saints upon the golden altar which was before the throne. And the smoke of the incense, which came WITH the prayers of the saints, ascended up before God out of the angel’s hand” (ESV). The incense is coupled WITH the prayers – you have the saints’ prayers, but additionally you have sweet smelling incense. Remember what the incense ultimately pictures: the fragrance of Christ. God, then, is not going to be annoyed by your frequent prayers. On the contrary, He loves to have you lift your voice to Him in prayer, because mingled with your prayer is the ongoing reminder to Him of the acceptability and aroma of His Son. Think of this as you read hymn 270 in the Believer’s Hymn Book, written by a young widow who appreciated the privilege of drawing near to God through Christ.