The altar is the representation of God in the temple. Making offerings at the altar of God has been practiced within the lineage of Prophets and Priests for thousands of years as evidenced in the Old Testament.
Why has this important practice been abandoned by those who claim to be followers of Jesus?
Offering to the altar, according to various texts of the Bible, was especially important when it came to food. Offering the first grains after harvest, and offering meals before eating was an important ceremony taught by the prophets including Moses, Abraham and Solomon. Did Jesus teach anything different? No.
His teachings were founded upon the teachings of this lineage of Prophets. Jesus supported the practice of offering before the altar of God. As is noted here, the offering Jesus is speaking of is not the ceremonial offerings of farmers or township. Jesus is speaking of a personal offering by an individual: A gift. By this we know that Jesus taught that each of his followers should make regular personal offerings to the altar of God.
As recommended by the prophets and confirmed here, making an offering to God can and should be done not only daily, but prior to each meal. This was also confirmed during the last meal, when Jesus was said to have "blessed" the food. While many secular Christians will make profound speeches of "giving thanks" prior to the meal, this falls short of the offering suggested here by Jesus. Prior to any meal, the food should first be offered to God, with love and devotion, as a gift.
This act of giving an offering to God is confirmed by David in 1 Chronicles 16:29:
“Bring an offering and come before Him; worship the Lord in the splendor of His holiness.”The offering does not have to be grand or extravagant, as long as it is made with sincerity. Offerings can be made quietly in private even amongst a group, and/or it can be made in the same way that “giving thanks” is currently made, with all attending holding hands in prayer. While everyone holds hands or separately prays, the prayer can be: "Oh God, please accept this meal, by the grace of your son, Lord Jesus Christ, as our offering to you.”
We can also “give thanks” following this prayer—as we can do throughout our lives. However, the result of offering ones food prior to eating it is fundamentally different than the effect of merely thanking God for the meal. Offering gifts to God develops a different relationship with God. The “giving thanks” relationship with God is the relationship where we are the recipients and God is the order supplier. It is like we are thanking God for all the stuff He has delivered to us. It is like we are focused on the material things we have, rather than our relationship with Him.
Making an offering to God, on the other hand, develops a completely different relationship. Making an offering develops the relationship where we give of ourselves to God in a loving way. To give someone a gift out of freedom is to express to that person firstly that we want to have a relationship with them. Secondly it expresses that we care about that person. To offer God any sort of gift of our temporary possessions is telling Him that we value Him more than the possessions. This is an act of love.
This leads us to Jesus' point instructing his students to "reconcile" their relationships with others. What is he saying?
While we make our humble offering to God, we are building our relationship with Him. Jesus says:
"First go and be reconciled to your brother; then come and offer your gift."This indicates that to have a clear relationship with the Supreme Being we must have honest clarity with our brothers. This means not holding grudges and forgiving others, and asking others to forgive us if we have done something to slight them. Why is this important?
Remember Jesus' other statement in this regard, part of his suggested prayer (The Lord's Prayer):
"And forgive us our debts, as we also have forgiven our debtors." (Matt. 6:12)Jesus is teaching that we need to forgive others if we expect to be forgiven ourselves.
This is all about relationship-building with the Supreme Being. The Supreme Being is not alone. He is surrounded by innumerable associates, and those of us who have fallen away from Him due to our misuse of our independence must be willing to appreciate that others - even if they are fallen as we are - are also to be counted among His associates.
Thus we must always be willing to forgive others and reconcile with others.
But notice that Jesus wants his students to leave the offering before leaving to reconcile:
"...leave your gift there in front of the altar."This indicates priority. Jesus was teaching that one should be focused upon developing our relationship with the Supreme Being as the highest priority.
But he is also clearly stating that our relationship with the Supreme Being is not separate from our relationship with others. There is a link and that link relates to the fact that we are all God's children.
This is why Jesus said:
'Love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind.'This is the first and greatest commandment. And the second is like it: 'Love your neighbor as yourself.' All the Law and the Prophets hang on these two commandments." (Matt. 33:37-40)
(For a translation of Jesus' statements from the Gospel of Matthew without sectarian influence, see the Gospels of Jesus - translated from the original Greek texts.)