Sunday, April 21, 2013

Read the Writing on the Wall - Director's cut

I recently had the opportunity to speak at my church today. Here are my sermon notes and my presentation.

Slide 1

Good morning saints. For the past two weeks there is something I can’t get out of my mind: The writing on the wall. My text today is from Daniel Chapter 5. But in order to understand the text we should explore the historical context.

Slide 2

Remember that the Old Testament is full of the cycle of Children of Israel turning their backs on God and his laws , they suffer, they repent, God raises up one person to through him or her delivers them, and the nation of Israel live right while that generation lives, and then the cycle repeats. God continually sent prophets to warn and admonish the people.  This cycle repeated itself for almost 1000 years from the time of the Exodus.  Israel continually flirted with idolatry.  Through the prophets like Isaiah and Jeremiah, God promises to bring a great judgment on Judah. This was not a vague threat although Isaiah spoke about 2 or 3 hundred years before the judgment he prophesied. The prophets said that God would let Babylon destroy Jerusalem and his temple and the people carried into captivity for 70 years. But it was not all bad news. God promised to return his people to the land he promised to Abraham. Isaiah even told his contemporaries who it was God was going to use to do it – some guy named “Cyrus”. Isaiah does not just talk about him once but three times.

24 “This is what the Lord says—
    your Redeemer, who formed you in the womb:
I am the Lord,
    the Maker of all things,
    who stretches out the heavens,
    who spreads out the earth by myself,
25 who foils the signs of false prophets
    and makes fools of diviners,
who overthrows the learning of the wise
    and turns it into nonsense,
26 who carries out the words of his servants
    and fulfills the predictions of his messengers,
who says of Jerusalem, ‘It shall be inhabited,’
    of the towns of Judah, ‘They shall be rebuilt,’
    and of their ruins, ‘I will restore them,’
27 who says to the watery deep, ‘Be dry,
    and I will dry up your streams,’
28 who says of Cyrus, ‘He is my shepherd
    and will accomplish all that I please;
he will say of Jerusalem, “Let it be rebuilt,”
    and of the temple, “Let its foundations be laid.”’ – Isaiah 44:24-28
“This is what the Lord says to his anointed, to Cyrus, whose right hand I take hold of to subdue nations before him and to strip kings of their armor, to open doors before him so that gates will not be shut: - Isaiah 45:1
I will raise up Cyrus in my righteousness: I will make all his ways straight. He will rebuild my city and set my exiles free, but not for a price or reward, says the Lord Almighty.” – Isaiah 45:13

Slide 3

So did these prophecies comer true? Spoiler Alert: Yes! But I don’t want to get too far ahead of myself and just keep this in mind and let’s go to 586 BC. In 586 BC, Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon takes his army, lays seize to Jerusalem and crushes it. They steal all the gold and precious treasures and burn the city and the temple to the ground. It was Babylonian custom that when they subjugated a nation they took the best and brightest of the population and resettles them all over its empire so that they could not rally and stage revolts against them. It also made them easier to assimilate into Babylonian culture and society. Sometimes these people were brought to Babylon and educated and put into government service.  This where we come to Daniel and his friends: Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah. They were taken from their home, their very names and identities taken and an attempt made to give them new ones. I wish I had the time talk about this point more, but it must be pointed out that it was them holding onto God that allowed their relationship with God to grow and deepen while they maintained who they were.

Slide 4

Look at this map of the Babylonian Empire

Slide 5

Skip ahead to October 538 BC. Let’s pick up with our main text today Daniel 5. We are going to read the text and then delve into it and then apply it for us today. 

 King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father[a] had taken from the temple in Jerusalem, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.

At this point, I want to stop and point out some very important things. Nebuchadnezzar was one of the main characters in what was happening in Chapters 1-4. Now we see a shift to what happened after he died. It’s been almost 50 years since the fall of Jerusalem. One of Nebuchadnezzar’s successors, Belshazzar is now on the throne. It’s kind of debated as to whether Belshazzar was the only king at the time, or if he was Nebuchadnezzar’s son or grandson. Given that in that culture sons and descendants were reckoned to be the children of prominent ancestors. For example, it would not have been a big deal as referring to my son Matthias as the son of Clarence Allen McElhaney Sr, who is actually my father, not his.  We can see here that Belshazzar was gearing up for a party. Sources outside the Bible reveal that this was a night in October 538 BC during a Babylonian feast.

Slide 6

 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone.

As if the debauchery and drunkenness was not enough, Belshazzar purposely too the utensils and things set aside for God’s temple and even praised idols!? OOOOOO!!!!

Slide 7

Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking

Put yourself into Belshazzar’s shoes for a moment. Here he is thumbing his nose at God and God writes him a public letter on the wall. No wonder he was frightened. He knew what he was doing was wrong.

Slide 8

Maybe it would have looked something like this

Slide 9

The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers[b] and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

Of course Belshazzar wanted to know what was written. He didn’t understand the message. He wanted to know bad enough that was ready to share his power with whomever could tell him what the message meant. I find it interesting how the story is being told. At this point we don’t know what the message is – only we are sure it’s not “Good job, Belshazzar!!!” Also I don’t think it was written in a language he could not read but he didn’t know what it meant.

Slide 10

Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
10 The queen,[c] hearing the voices of the king and his nobles, came into the banquet hall. “May the king live forever!” she said. “Don’t be alarmed! Don’t look so pale! 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has the spirit of the holy gods in him. In the time of your father he was found to have insight and intelligence and wisdom like that of the gods. Your father, King Nebuchadnezzar, appointed him chief of the magicians, enchanters, astrologers and diviners. 12 He did this because Daniel, whom the king called Belteshazzar, was found to have a keen mind and knowledge and understanding, and also the ability to interpret dreams, explain riddles and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”

Daniel has a really good reputation. I think it shows how far Belshazzar has fallen away from common sense and had no real understanding of what had happened in his own history. He didn’t remember anything that happened in chapters 1-4. Good thing the Queen did.  That is not a coincidence.

Slide 11

13 So Daniel was brought before the king, and the king said to him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles my father the king brought from Judah? 14 I have heard that the spirit of the gods is in you and that you have insight, intelligence and outstanding wisdom. 15 The wise men and enchanters were brought before me to read this writing and tell me what it means, but they could not explain it. 16 Now I have heard that you are able to give interpretations and to solve difficult problems. If you can read this writing and tell me what it means, you will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around your neck, and you will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.”

At least Belshazzar was consistent in his promises. He also explains the problem very well.

Slide 12

17 Then Daniel answered the king, “You may keep your gifts for yourself and give your rewards to someone else. Nevertheless, I will read the writing for the king and tell him what it means.
18 “Your Majesty, the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendor. 19 Because of the high position he gave him, all the nations and peoples of every language dreaded and feared him. Those the king wanted to put to death, he put to death; those he wanted to spare, he spared; those he wanted to promote, he promoted; and those he wanted to humble, he humbled. 20 But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride, he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal; he lived with the wild donkeys and ate grass like the ox; and his body was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over all kingdoms on earth and sets over them anyone he wishes.

Daniel has the floor and he make the most of it. Reminding Belshazzar and all who was listening what Nebuchadnezzar had learned of God….the hard way.

Slide 13

22 “But you, Belshazzar, his son,[d] have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. 23 Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You had the goblets from his temple brought to you, and you and your nobles, your wives and your concubines drank wine from them. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone, which cannot see or hear or understand. But you did not honor the God who holds in his hand your life and all your ways. 24 Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.

Like many of us Belshazzar did not always learn from the mistakes of our parents and Daniel tells Belshazzar why he’s about to get really bad news. He has been prideful and dissed God. All things we were doing before we got saved and it is what we do when we choose to sin against God.

Slide 14

25 “This is the inscription that was written:
mene, mene, tekel, parsin
26 “Here is what these words mean:
Mene[e]: God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end.
27 Tekel[f]: You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting.
28 Peres[g]: Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”

Let’s delve into the message. I think that given a little background, the message is really even clearer and we can see why Daniel’s interpretation sticks.

Slide 15

These words are known Aramaic names of measures of currency: MENE, a mina (from the root word that means "to count"), TEKEL, alternate spelling of shekel ( the root word means "to weigh"), PERES, half a mina (from a root word meaning "to divide).

Slide 16

29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was clothed in purple, a gold chain was placed around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.

So what is Belshazzar’s response? Does he repent in “sackcloth and ashes”? Does he ask Daniel, “What must I do to be saved?” What about directly praying to the one who wrote the message on the wall and apologize?  Nope. Nada. But he does give Daniel everything he promised. Therefore we know he believed that Daniel told him correctly what the message was, but I don’t think he believed the message.

Slide 17

30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians,[h] was slain, 31 and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom, at the age of sixty-two.[i]

Here is the payoff. God brought about exactly what He promised – ending Belshazzar’s kingdom. Babylon was the capital of a huge empire. Not too long before this it was the superpower of the day. Maybe the reason why Belshazzar did not change is because he didn’t believe that Babylon could be conquered.  At the time most people believed it was not possible. The Bible does not go into a lot of detail here but before I talk about why I know we needed to look at this today let me say a few things about how Darius did this. Babylon was protected by huge impenetrable walls. An army would have had a real hard time to break through them and could not go over them. Therefore according to the Greek historian Herodotus, the Persians temporarily diverted the Euphrates River that ran under the city just enough so that they could sneak in beneath the walls and surprise the Babylonians. It was called the Battle of Opis.

Slide 18

Here is the take away from all of this. That message to Belshazzar was not just for him. It’s for us well. When we put each of our lives up against God’s standard, we have to admit that we have been weighed and found incomplete. We are not even close to measuring it. There’s handwriting on your wall. I’m not just talking about your Facebook wall. I’m referring to the walls made up of your hearts and minds. Don’t respond the way Belshazzar responded.  Here is how you should respond: Repentance. We must turn away from our sin and obey God. If we don’t, we will only receive the same kind of outcome that Belshazzar received. We know what is on our wall. How will you respond? If you are already saved, and if you have already put your faith in the Jesus, you are on the right track. But we are still not measuring up. We still have to grow. It’s not that we will ever be not found wanting, because we saved because Jesus is never found wanting. The point is to grow in that grace and to be more like Jesus. We must do all we can while we can…not for our salvation but because that is what we were saved for. 
Oh, yes I almost forgot. What about Cyrus, aka Cyrus the great?  Well, turns out Cyrus came to power soon after Darius and under him, many people whom Nebuchadnezzar had exiled and spread all over the known world were allowed to return to their homelands and the Jews were allowed to rebuild Jerusalem and God’s temple – just like their prophets had said – 70 years after Jerusalem was destroyed!  And the kicker is that when Isaiah wrote those things about him, Cyrus was not even born yet and neither Persia a world power!  It just goes to show just how much God is running all of this – everything and that God is so merciful. I mean he sent a handwritten warning to Belshazzar before He allowed history to steamroll all over him. This afternoon, please consider the handwriting on your wall and respond to God better than Belshazzar did. I will end with one more scripture to sum up the point being made today.
28 And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who[a] have been called according to his purpose. 29 For those God foreknew he also predestined to be conformed to the image of his Son, that he might be the firstborn among many brothers and sisters. – Romans 8:28-29

Slide 19

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