July 7, 2015

July 5, 2015 - Daniel 5:13-30

Theme: WE ALL Can See the Writing on the Wall
1) WE ALL have a great enemy at our doorstep
2) WE ALL have choices for deliverance
3) WE ALL are numbered, weighed, and divided

Daniel 5:13-30: Then Daniel was brought before the king. The king said to him, "Are you Daniel, one of the Judean exiles that my predecessor the king brought from Judah? 14 I've heard that you have the spirit of the gods in you, and that you have insight, intelligence, and extraordinary wisdom. 15 Now the wise men and mediums were brought before me to read this inscription and make its interpretation known to me, but they could not give its interpretation. 16 However, I have heard about you that you can give interpretations and solve problems. Therefore, if you can read this inscription and give me its interpretation, you will be clothed in purple, have a gold chain around your neck, and have the third highest position in the kingdom." 17 Then Daniel answered the king, "You may keep your gifts, and give your rewards to someone else; however, I will read the inscription for the king and make the interpretation known to him. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, greatness, glory, and majesty to your predecessor Nebuchadnezzar. 19 Because of the greatness He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages were terrified and fearful of him. He killed anyone he wanted and kept alive anyone he wanted; he exalted anyone he wanted and humbled anyone he wanted. 20 But when his heart was exalted and his spirit became arrogant, he was deposed from his royal throne and his glory was taken from him. 21 He was driven away from people, his mind was like an animal's, he lived with the wild donkeys, he was fed grass like cattle, and his body was drenched with dew from the sky until he acknowledged that the Most High God is ruler over the kingdom of men and sets anyone He wants over it. 22 "But you his successor, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, even though you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have exalted yourself against the Lord of heaven. The vessels from His house were brought to you, and as you and your nobles, wives, and concubines drank wine from them, you praised the gods made of silver and gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone, which do not see or hear or understand. But you have not glorified the God who holds your life-breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of your life. 24 Therefore, He sent the hand, and this writing was inscribed. 25 "This is the writing that was inscribed: MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. 26 This is the interpretation of the message: MENE means that God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end. 27 TEKEL means that you have been weighed in the balance and found deficient. 28 PERES means that your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians." 29 Then Belshazzar gave an order, and they clothed Daniel in purple, placed a gold chain around his neck, and issued a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 30 That very night Belshazzar the king of the Chaldeans was killed, 31 and Darius the Mede received the kingdom at the age of 62. (HCSB)

1) WE ALL have a great enemy at our doorstep

Yesterday our nation celebrated its birth and independence from the British Empire. Each year on the 4th of July is a time of great joy and excitement. We are blessed to have the freedoms of our land and it’s worthy to celebrate. But would it be appropriate to celebrate if our nation was on the brink of destruction? If a foreign nation had invaded our land and our nation’s Capitol was surrounded, would anyone be busy celebrating? If this was the case, the fireworks would be real, not fake.

If our nation was under attack, we would certainly have to question the sanity of any leader who chose to waste time celebrating. This seems like common sense, but it’s precisely the situation that the Babylonians found themselves in at the point of our text. Their nation was on the brink of destruction, the Medes and Persians had joined forces and were attacking their Capitol, and the Babylonians were feasting and celebrating at the command of their ruler, Belshazzar. The event described here was also recorded by a number of secular historians. They all record with great detail how on the night that the Babylonians were conquered by the Medes and Persians, they were holding a great feast.

It seems ridiculous to us, but what was the purpose behind this madness? We’re told how Belshazzar called his servants to bring the sacred vessels of the Temple of the LORD so that he could drink from them. His ancestor, Nebuchadnezzar, was the one who brought these items from Israel, when he sacked Jerusalem and carried off the Israelites to captivity. Belshazzar’s goal in all this chaos was simply to get drunk and to desecrate the true God in the process. We’re also told that he brought in a host of idols and carved images, of which the Babylonians had hundreds, to seek their approval. We look at this and say, “How foolish he was.” “What a sorry example of a leader – getting drunk and blaspheming God when enemies were at the door.” It’s true, Belshazzar was foolish, but we should recognize the similarities in our lives.

Wasn’t Belshazzar simply doing what all people do when faced with peril? They look for an immediate escape. They look for some way to hide from the impending destruction, and way to forget about it all. WE ALL have an enemy at our doorstep. Not an army of the world, but “spiritual hosts of wickedness in the heavenly places (Ephesians 6:12).” We do not fight against flesh and blood but the demon of darkness, Satan himself. 

2) WE ALL have choices for deliverance

What do we look to for deliverance? It’s easy to criticize Belshazzar, but we so often choose the same things. When Satan depresses us with evil and wickedness, we turn to the bottle so that easily forget. When Satan tempts us with sin, we give in because it feels like we’re finding fulfillment and purpose; it helps us forget about the real problems we face, which only God can conquer. We condemn Belshazzar for worshipping idols and desecrating God’s holy vessels, but don’t we do the same with misplaced priorities and poor time management? We make time for possessions and entertainment; we even change our schedules around for them. But we offer up excuses for church, Bible study, and mission work. We seek more exciting forms of worship, while forgetting the sacred vessels we have in the Means of Grace.

You’re not in the same situation as Belshazzar. You don’t have to worry about an entire nation looking to you for help. But your individual heart is just as precious as an entire nation. And you are faced each day with enemies at the door of your heart that threaten your faith. What will you seek for deliverance? There are plenty of options. There are plenty of escapes in the world to help you forget about the danger that exists. There are plenty of substances that will alter your mind and disposition so that you literally can’t think about what’s going on. There are enough activities in the day that can make life so busy that you don’t have time to think about sin or Satan. If you don’t think about it, then you don’t have to deal with it, at least for a while. At the end of a long and exhausting day it’s always easy to turn on a DVD or Netflix and forget about the world for a while. You can accomplish the same escape by reading a book and taking yourself away to a place outside of this world, where the pain and terror don’t exist. These are innocent activities on their own but they should never take God’s place in our lives. Too often we take leisure and entertainment too far and give them more credit for helping with our problems than they really deserve.    

This is really what Belshazzar did, just a on a bigger stage. He took some things that are good by themselves: wine, wood, stone, gold, the vessels of God’s temple, and he used them in a sinful way to try and get rid of his problems. He looked to them instead of looking to God. And all of the sudden, his actions don’t seem that crazy because we know what it feels like. He was simply looking for deliverance, a way out, and he tried what he thought was best.    

3) WE ALL are numbered, weighed, and divided

But in the end, none of Belshazzar’s attempts worked, because they lacked true salvation. The writing on the wall said it all: he (and his kingdom) would be numbered, weighed, and divided. Despite the temporary escapes that Belshazzar indulged in, he could not escape the Lord’s judgment, and that very night he was defeated.

The writing has the same message for us and for all people too. But we don’t to have to use just the words written long ago on the wall of the Babylonian palace. We have many more words from God. Paul wrote to the Romans and said “Whatever was written in the past was written for our instruction, so that we may have hope through endurance and through the encouragement from the Scriptures (Romans 15:4).” I suppose this verse could apply to writing on the wall; it was written in the past and it was written for our learning. But it doesn’t give much encouragement. We, too, know with great certainty that we will be numbered, weighed, and divided. But where’s the hope?    

God “numbers” you by knowing who you are, even better than you know yourself. He searches your heart, He knows your thoughts, He counts the hairs on your head, and He calls you by name through the Gospel. There’s no escaping God; no matter who you are, whether you love Him or resist Him, He knows you.

God “weighs” you in the light of His Word. Think of God’s law as an old-fashioned scale, the kind you usually see in connection with civil laws. The Words of God’s law, recorded in the Bible, is the scale by which He weighs you. On one side is the standard that God sets and expects – true righteousness; no sin whatsoever. On the other side are your thoughts, words, and actions. Given such a picture, we receive the same sentence Belshazzar did: “you have been weighed in the balance and found deficient.” We are lacking because we suffer from the same ailments as Belshazzar. We must confess as the text states, that we have “exalted ourselves against the God of heaven.” We have “failed to acknowledge the Holy God.”  We have not “glorified the God who holds our life-breath in His hand and who controls the whole course of our lives.” All of those condemnations against Belshazzar equally fit into our lives too. Every time we weigh ourselves on the scale of God’s law, the result is the same – we are deficient.

The picture of weighing our thoughts, words, and actions before God helps us realize the spiritual danger we are in. No one can deny the authority that the law has over our lives. But the same picture also helps us understand our salvation. When you think of scales, don’t dwell only on the law. Think also of atonement through Christ. The idea of atonement provides a real picture of how the scales can be tipped back in our favor. In its literal meaning, atonement means to make “at one.” It’s an easy way to remember what Christ does for us. But when we apply this to the scale of God’s law, we also see a beautiful picture of true deliverance. Sin tips the scale out of balance and reveals our many deficiencies before God. But through Christ’s atonement on the cross, we are brought back on the same level as God; we are literally made “at one.” The scale is balanced again, not by our righteousness or works, but by Christ’s. When God now “weighs” us by faith in Christ, we are not deficient. As the letter to the Colossians states, Christ has “wiped out the handwriting of requirements that was against us, which was contrary to us. And He has taken it out of the way, having nailed it to the cross (Colossians 2:14).” Yes, the handwriting on the wall speaks to us all, but for those in Christ, the message is one of deliverance and salvation.

This is the greatest and most important truth, because the third word still applies. There will be a day when God “divides” us. Jesus Himself described the details of what will happen on that day; from Matthew 25: “All the nations will be gathered before Him, and He will separate them one from another, as a shepherd divides his sheep from the goats. And He will set the sheep on His right hand, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on His right hand, ‘Come, you blessed of My Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world:’ Then He will also say to those on the left hand, ‘Depart from Me, you cursed, into the everlasting fire prepared for the devil and his angels.’”

Belshazzar was divided from his kingdom and from his life here on earth the very night the words appeared on the wall. Our division has not yet come, but he serves as a reminder to us. At any point, life here can end, and we will be divided, either to the right or to the left. As with the first two words on the wall, this last one applies to us too. We must be ready. We don’t have to be fearful of this division day because we have salvation. Christ has made atonement for the sins of the entire world – those words of Gospel are clear, easily read and understood by all. Jesus has given us these words that we might have comfort and hope, not so that we may be discouraged and fearful. That’s why He closed His prophecy of the final day by saying that all those who have faith in Christ can “look up and lift up their heads” in these final days, because their “redemption draws near (Luke 21:28).”

WE ALL can read the writing on the wall, whether it be those few words in Belshazzar’s palace, or the words before every day in the Bible.  And WE ALL must take them seriously because they apply to us all. We have a great enemy at the doorstep of our hearts, every day. We have lots of choices for deliverance, but not all are equal. And we are numbered, weighed, and divided.

It all seems very complicated at times, but in reality it’s very simple. We can follow Belshazzar or we can follow Jesus. Both offer some type of deliverance. We can hide our heads in the sand and pretend the writing doesn’t exist. We can numb ourselves to the point where we don’t feel anything at all, and all our problems seem to float away. We can turn to other things to fill our time, to lend us purpose, to become our gods. We can even lash out in anger by blaspheming God and despising His gifts. Those were Belshazzar’s methods of deliverance, and we have access to them too. 

Or we can confront the truth instead of running from it. We can learn from what has been written instead of hiding from it. We can apply the law by confessing our sins. We can have real hope and salvation by believing in Christ’s atonement. We can’t escape from being numbered, weighed, and divided, but we don’t have succumb to it. In Christ alone, we have a path less traveled, but a path of true salvation. Amen.

The peace of God which surpasses all understanding will keep your hearts and minds in Christ Jesus. Amen.

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