By Simon ManchesterSunday 28 Jul 2013Christian Growth with Simon ManchesterFaithReading Time: 0 minutes
St Thomas’ Anglican Church
Daniel – Writing on the Wall
Dear Heavenly Father we ask your help this morning that the things that are preached,and the things that are heard,would please you and benefit us. We ask that you would help us to see you more clearly,love you more dearly,and follow you more nearly. In Jesus’ name,Amen.
There is a piece of graffiti on a wall in England which is defending the rights of people to scrawl on a wall,and it says ‘if God didn’t want us to write on walls,He wouldn’t have set the example.’ And it’s true,it is true,God wrote on a wall. It is recorded in the book of Daniel,it’s in chapter 5. This is the book that we are studying on Sunday mornings. I hasten to say about God’s graffiti writing that He only did it once,for those of you who think that He set an example to be a vandal. But He only did it once and when He did it,it really was worth doing as we’ll see. This little phrase ‘the writing on the wall’ which basically means it is all over for you,comes from Daniel chapter 5. It has come down 2,500 years of history,still being used I guess every day around the world. The funny thing is people don’t know the story or the plot which lies behind the phrase. People don’t know the significance of the event that gave rise to ‘the writing on the wall’,and so I want us to see it this morning and I want us to see how wonderful it is the story behind the great ‘writing on the wall’,because when God wrote on the wall it was the bringing down,it was the end,it was all over for evil. An evil situation God brought to an end,and those of you who cry to God,and I know that many of you do,’How long O Lord,How long O Lord,when will you bring this evil to an end?’,will find Daniel chapter 5 very important,very significant.
I want to get your bearings as we dive into this chapter,and I want to do it because I don’t want you to get lost as we are moving through this book. Some of you may be brand new today and so I want to give you a little bit of a framework for this chapter,and I want to do it like this,and say that this book of Daniel that we are studying is teaching us about God. The thing that has made the biggest impression on me as I have been studying for the preaching is that this book is about God. It’s not primarily about Daniel,it is not primarily about some of the heroes of the book,it is really about God it is about His kingdom,and it is about how His kingdom impacts everybody. It will impact everybody. The fact that God rules the world is going to be known sooner or later by everybody. Everybody is going to work out the easy way,or the hard way,that God is the king,the ruler of the universe. And if you are reading Mark’s gospel and you say read the first 5 chapters,you would discover by the time you had read 5 chapters of Mark,you would know some things about Jesus that are putting together the picture of his character – so you read chapter 1 and you see that He heals the sick,so you say He is compassionate; and then you read chapter 2 and He forgives the sinner,you say He is forgiving,able to forgive; and then you get to chapter 3 He is more powerful than his opposition,He is powerful; and then you get to chapter 4,he controls the waves,He’s sovereign over the creation; then you get to chapter 5,He bring somebody out of the grave,He’s sovereign over death,He’s got eternity in His sights. And as you put this picture together of Jesus you begin to realise that the king is not just one truth but full of truths. And as we come to Daniel,we read chapter 1 and we see that God let His people go into Babylon because He is so in charge,and then we get to chapter 2 and we see that He interprets the dream and His kingdom is going to last forever,unlike the small short kingdoms,and then we see in chapter 3 He brings His people out of the furnace,and we see in chapter 4 that He is able to reach even a pagan tyrant like Nebuchadnezzar. Every chapter you see is filling in the picture of God and His character,and as we come to chapter 5 we are going to see that God is the judge. He really is the judge. He’s the one who will bring down evil,he’s the one who will establish righteousness. It is a very wonderful chapter.
Well,last few weeks we have been watching God save and bless a man who would not bow down,but eventually he did bow down,and God wonderfully saved him and blessed him. And I presume one day that when God’s people walk into heaven there will be Nebuchadnezzar,that’s my guess that Nebuchadnezzar will be there,and he will be able to say,’can you believe it – that I was a pagan,Babylonian,self obsessed,tyrant,and I put my faith in God and His son Jesus is my saviour?’. Now we come today to see God bring down a man who will not bow,a man who will not bow,and it all happens in one chapter. Now it is all very frustrating that it all happens in one chapter because like television programs where there is a baddy and they catch them and it is all over within half an hour,an hour. We long that this would be true to life but it’s not,and when we come to Daniel chapter 5 and we see God bring down evil in a chapter it seems so unfair to us. We live,don’t we,in a world where people ignore God and refuse God,disobey God,spit at God,nothing ever happens to them. Their life is as good,and sometimes even better than the people who follow Christ. And we warn these people all our warnings look so stupid don’t they,and they look so weak. And here in Daniel chapter 5,here’s a man who defies God,God brings him down. And there is a part of us that wants to say,’O God,please do that more. Please do that all the time. Please bring down the evil that is around us.’ Psalm chapter 10 – ‘What are you doing God? What are you doing God?’ says the psalmist,’Don’t you care? Do you just watch? Are you powerless? Have you got no ability? What are you doing God?’
Now Daniel chapter 5 is like a flag in the ground and it says to us – God will judge. He’ll bring down the evil and he’s got lots of promises that He will do that and so in the bible there are proofs and promises that God is the judge. I want to say again to you that God’s judgement is a very wonderful doctrine,don’t ever be embarrassed about God’s judgement. The day that God brings judgement is going to be the day that things are set right. It is going to be a very wonderful day. Let’s think about two things this morning from Daniel chapter 5 – first of all,God the faithful judge and second,God the faithful preacher. God the faithful judge and God the faithful preacher.
First of all God the faithful judge. Nebuchadnezzar has died,the next king had began to rule but he had gone away for 10 years,a strange absence,and he had put his son Belshazzar in to rule. Belshazzar unknown to archaeologists until 1854 was,from the best we can work out of Daniel chapter 5,a fool. He was a fool. He had no achievements of his own to brag about that we know,it is possible that he threw the big party in Daniel 5 verse 1 just so he could bribe people to like him. He brought out the Jewish goblets,the Jewish cups,from the temple which had been captured and brought into Babylon. And he brought them out to drink from them which again was a sort of a bragging,the sort of thing that very weak people do when they are just a little intoxicated and they want to show that they are really big. And he mocked the God of Israel and he praised the gods of Babylon. Now the biggest mistake that Belshazzar made was that he was unteachable. We read in verse 2 that he obviously knew about Nebuchadnezzar,and he knew about Jerusalem,and he knew about the battle,and he knew about the victory and he knew about the cups,and he probably knew about the God of Israel,but he was unteachable. He also knew the story of Nebuchadnezzar his ancestor who had risen up very high,and got very proud,and who God had brought down very low,in fact down into the sort of animal world. And Belshazzar knew the story and in verse 22 where he is asked,’You knew this,and why didn’t you respond and why didn’t you learn from this?’ Because Belshazzar was unteachable.
Now I would love to take a detour this morning and talk about being unteachable because it is a problem for all of us,but I just don’t have time on a detour of this subject. I just want you to notice that God holds Belshazzar responsible for the information that is available. Isn’t that a striking thing? He holds Belshazzar responsible for the information that is available. And I wonder whether God could say to thousands and thousands of people in this city,maybe even some that were partying last night,I wonder if He could say to them in the words of chapter 5 verse 22,’You knew. You knew,but you’ve set yourself up against the Lord of heaven.’ And that of course is an impossible position to sustain.
Well this is where Daniel chapter 5 teaches us that God will judge because suddenly in the middle of the party we read in verse 5 that a hand started to write on the wall. And Belshazzar’s world even in the midst of the party changed in one minute flat,he still had a thousand guests,he still had their wives and concubines,he still had the wine flowing and the food was everywhere,and Belshazzar in one minute flat turned from being a fearless kind of bragger and he suddenly became a terrified little boy. And verse 6 in the Hebrew is much franker,in fact our translation is a very polite translation f what happened to Belshazzar.
What does it mean? What does it mean? Out come the professional fortune tellers to try and explain the writing on the wall. I was scratching my head trying to work out why these professional fortune tellers still had a job as they had been so useless time after time,but they have a job because they continue normally to say the things that a tyrant likes to hear. They’re the type of chaplains or clergy that basically fit in with the forces around them. They don’t stand up to them,these are the sort of chaplains that would march in the front of a mardi gras. These are people that are not prepared to challenge something,they just really fit in. And these fortune tellers come out and as before they are helpless. They cannot explain the message on the wall. It is not because the words are so difficult,those four words: Mene,Mene,Tekel,Parsin. It is not that those words are so difficult,if you speak Hebrew or Aramaic you know you could work those words out,the difficulty is what to do with the meaning of the words. What does it mean when someone writes on the wall,’Numbered. Numbered. Weighed. Divided.’? You say well there is four words,does that mean Belshazzar is numbered,weighed and will be divided? Or does that mean Belshazzar’s enemies will be numbered weighed and divided? Does it mean that Belshazzar is coming to the end or does it mean it is time for him to count his money and make some distribution. You know it is impossible to make out the meaning and the significance of the words unless someone is able to interpret them and say what the person behind them was meaning. But nobody in the whole palace knows what the words mean. And Nebuchadnezzar’s widow steps forward and says to Belshazzar,’There is a man called Daniel.’ Interesting isn’t it,she still calls him Daniel,even though he had been given a Babylonian name,she calls him Daniel,’and he is able to help you.’ And Daniel is brought in. It is now 65 years since he first interpreted a dream for Nebuchadnezzar,the dream of the statue. Those of you who think that the bible is full of action days,you know that Daniel just got thrown in to lions dens every second day of the week,you know you need to go back and read over his 80 years he had 4 key things to do. Most of his life,like most of my life,and most of your life,just requires patient,persevering,godliness.
Well into the party comes Daniel,his opportunity has come. This is the preacher Joseph Parker of the 19th century,I love these words. He said,’Preachers of the word,’ and he might as easily have said Christians who go to work,or Christians who live normal lives Monday to Friday,’you may be wanted someday by a Belshazzar. You’re not wanted at the beginning of the feast but you will be there before the hall is closed. The king will not ask you to drink with him but he will ask you to tell the secret of his pain and heal the malady of his heart. Wait your time. To mention preacher,pulpit or bible midway down this program would be to violate the harmony of the occasion,but you’ll have your opportunity so come fearlessly and independently and address the trouble of the world.’ Wise words. That’s what Daniel does,he comes in like a man from God’s kingdom,he is not interested in the rewards that Belshazzar can give him. He doesn’t want a purple cloak,he doesn’t want a chain,he doesn’t want any money,he’s not a secret lover of the world,he actually is committed to the kingdom of God,and he comes in and he reads the writing and he spells out the meaning. Look at chapter 5 verse 18,he says,”O king,the Most High God gave your father Nebuchadnezzar sovereignty and greatness and glory and splendour.” Let me go on now to verse 20,”But when his heart became arrogant and hardened with pride,he was deposed from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. He was driven away from people and given the mind of an animal…until” verse 21,”he acknowledged that the Most High God is sovereign over the kingdoms of men and sets over them anyone he wishes.” Verse 22,”But you his son,O Belshazzar,have not humbled yourself,though you knew all this. 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… Therefore,” verse 24,”he sent the hand that wrote the inscription.”
Isn’t that interesting,’Nebuchadnezzar your ancestor was given his splendour. And then he became proud and foolish and God had to humble him,and you Belshazzar knew this. And you’ve not humbled yourself you’ve set yourself up against the Lord of heaven,you did not honour the God who holds you in His hand,and this is the message,the message is very simple,three/four words,You Belshazzar have been numbered. Your days are numbered. You are coming to an end. You’ve been weighed in the scales,you’ve been found to be lightweight and insufficient and you’re going to be removed. You are going to have your kingdom divided and spread to another kingdom.’ Tough stuff isn’t it? Strong,very brave. I asked myself as I read Daniel’s speech why didn’t Belshazzar immediately strike him in the face,and say what an outrageous thing to say? Why didn’t the crowd around boo at such a message? Why did Belshazzar believe Daniel? Why did he think ‘yes you’ve spoken the truth.’? There was no proof immediately and I can only assume that the reason everyone was quiet before the word of Daniel was because it was the word of God. And when the word of God is spoken,whether it is to make the world,or whether it is to rule the world,or whether it is to save or change people,the word of God does its work. And everybody stood or sat absolutely stunned and humbled before the word of God. Well for some strange reason Belshazzar got up and forced the reward on Daniel,which he didn’t want,and that night Belshazzar was killed. And in came somebody who is referred to as Darius the Mede,we’ll see him next week,he may well have been the same person as Cyrus. The kingdom now moves from Babylon to Persia. Everything that God had said would happen has happened because He is the faithful judge.
I want us to now secondly and briefly think about God the faithful preacher. Why did God do this? Why did God do this? And what is the message forever from this chapter?
You know that not all graffiti is serious and significant,some graffiti is clever. There is famous graffiti,you may remember this: “To be is to do.” Someone wrote “- Socrates”. Underneath “To do is to be – Sartre”. Underneath “Do be do be do. – Sinatra”. Clever. Someone has written as a piece of graffiti,”If it wasn’t for Venetian blinds it would be curtains for all of us.” I particularly like,this appeals to my weird sense of humour,”See a pin and pick it up.” And someone has written underneath,”and all the day you’ll have a pin.” And then there is political graffiti. On the hand drier in a UK toilet “Push this button for a 60 second speech from our prime minister.” Graffiti it can be witty,it can be angry,it can just be messy.
Now what God says on the wall it is absolutely life changing. It is life changing for Belshazzar,it’s life changing for Babylon,it’s life changing for the world. And we have to ask the question why did God communicate this? And I want to give you a couple of thoughts.
First,I’m drawn to the idea,see what you think of this,I’m drawn to the idea that God may have written on a wall because the walls of Babylon were one of the seven wonders of the world. The walls of Babylon went 8kms around the city,they were so wide on the top that you could ride a chariot drawn by 4 horses and do a ‘U’ turn on the top of the wall. They were big,famous and impressive walls. I just wonder whether God wrote on the wall to remind them that He could bring down anybody. It would be like Sydneysiders on New Year’s Eve all sitting and looking at the Sydney Harbour Bridge and suddenly our Harbour bridge the symbol,the unusual symbol of our city,suddenly buckles,maybe even falls. What an impact. But I am absolutely convinced that God wrote words,or caused words to be written with a hand on a wall,because of verse 23 and 24. You see what it says in verse 23,”You Belshazzar did not acknowledge God who holds you in His hand.” Therefore He sent a hand. And I’m absolutely sure that God caused a hand to write on a wall because he wanted people to remember that it is His hands which determine everything. The hand of God you see. Once you acknowledge that God has everything in His hands,you’re a wise man. There’s great blessing for you. Once you ignore or refuse that everything is in God’s hands you are in a foolish position and there is no hope for you.
So if that is why God wrote on the wall,a wall with a hand,what was He saying? What does He communicate? And I want to suggest to you that He communicates that He is a person who speaks and expects a response and there is no greater example of that than the way He has spoken to the world with Jesus. There’s been nothing clearer to the world than the message of Jesus,and because God speaks to the world through Jesus,he expects a response to Jesus. It is not enough to say ‘There is a Jesus,and now I am going this direction.’ A person God expects to respond to the message. And even here in Daniel chapter 5 God is a God you see who speaks and expects people to respond. In chapter 5 verse 22 Daniel says,’You knew these things Belshazzar. You had enough information to bow down to the lord of heaven. You’d heard of the Lord of heaven,you’d heard that your ancestor had bowed down to the Lord of heaven. You had enough information to bow down to the Lord of heaven,but you didn’t,you set yourself up against Him.’ Just as the apostle Paul would turn around one day in Acts 17 and he would say in the great Athenian Areopagus,remember those words? ‘God has overlooked ignorance in the past. But now He asks,he commands everyone everywhere to repent.’ Because everything has changed. He has fixed a day when He will judge the world and if you want to know the proof of that,Jesus is up from the grave. And if Jesus is up from the grave the most significant thing in eternity is that you will meet Him and that will be the most wonderful day of your life or it will be the most terrible day of your life. But everybody will meet Him. He has been raised from the grave.
Now I find this very comforting that God would give information and expect people to respond,because every now and again we do ask if there is more information that we need in order to be a believer. And sometimes we do ask ourselves don’t we in our worst moments maybe whether we are just a little bit mistaken about being a Christian. You know,have we responded to something that is just a little bit odd? And all the world is sane and we are strange. But no,the bible’s message from cover to cover,the best book that’s ever been written,the best message that’s ever been given says God expects people to respond to what He has said and done. And this is very convicting also because if a person does not belong to Christ and they walk through the world saying,’I have no obligation to Christ. I have no obligation to Christ. In fact if anything He has an obligation to me to make my life better,or to show Himself more clearly if He is really there.’ You see what God says,’No,you knew. Do your seeking,get your information. You will find and you will be blessed.’ God tells us through this great chapter of Daniel 5 that He speaks the truth and He expects a response.
And the last thing this chapter tells us is that He is the one who judges and separates,but He also provides a solution. There is no greater proof in the bible that God is the judge than the raising of Jesus. Jesus himself said that He would be the judge on the throne. And there is no greater solution to escaping the dangers of judgement than Jesus because He is the one who can make us ready to meet Him. At the end of this chapter there is a sifting,there is a judging,Daniel is exalted,Belshazzar is crushed. This is the sifting of God,the judging of God. He raises,He crushes. Not only does everybody lie in the makers hands,but everybody is going to end up in the judges hands. The judge that we are going to meet is Jesus. Now how can we face Jesus safely? How can a person in this world who says ‘Yep God made it and I am going to meet the judge.’ How does a person then get ready to meet the judge,to meet their maker? How do they get ready? Well one of the first things we need to say is that we have not responded well to the maker. We’ve not been grateful,we’ve not been faithful. Who in this building has not set themself up against God for minutes,or hours,or weeks,or months,or years? Who has not set themself up against Him? If God were to write on the wall of the building that we are in and He was to put our name,my name,your name,would He not be able to say ‘Your days are numbered’. Would He not be able to say,’And you have been weighed in the scales and have failed’. Would he not be able to say,’And you will find yourself divided,separated.’ How are we going to face the judge? I hope you don’t think these things don’t matter. I hope you don’t think that God is some kind of soft foolish judge who will just sweep everything under the carpet and no justice will ever be done. And I hope you don’t think that people will have to save themselves,that would be an absolute tragedy,and would completely ignore the fact that Jesus has come to save. No even Daniel in the book of Daniel needed God to save him. He couldn’t get out of the lions den without God. The three men couldn’t get out of the furnace without God. God is the saviour. The key to salvation,the key to facing the judgement day,is to begin by saying ‘God is my maker,everything is in His hands.’ And then you say,’But I am going on to meet the judge,and I am going to end up in His hands.’ And then you say,’Because of the message of Jesus I am going to take myself and I’m going to put myself in the saviour’s hands.’ And when you go to put yourself in the saviour’s hands you find,as you know,that there are injuries in those hands. There are stab wounds in those hands because He is so committed to your salvation,He is so committed to your rescue,He is so committed to your welfare and your eternity,that He would pay Himself,everything that would keep you from eternal fellowship with Him,and He has done it on the cross. Paid it,carried it away. And when you put yourself in His hands,the hands of the saviour,you are able to look in the mirror and you are able to say,’Yes it’s true in a sense my days are numbered,but Jesus has given me eternal life. It is true,as I look at myself,I do not weigh sufficient for heaven,but God because of Jesus has credited everything that I could ever need in order that I would be there. And it is true that I deserve to be divided or separated but because of Jesus He has joined me into the family,and joined me there forever.’
Daniel chapter 5 is a chapter about God the judge but He is such a good God,He is such a good judge,that He has given us information so that we can prepare. And He is such a good judge that He has given us a saviour so that that day will be a joyful,wonderful day. As John Newton says,’When you belong to the hands that were pierced for you all your concerns,all your concerns,lie in hands that bled for you.’
So let’s pray,let’s give thanks. Our gracious God we thank you for this chapter reminding us that you are the judge of the world,and that your proofs and your promises encourage us to trust you. We thank you that you’ve especially made it possible for us to meet that day without fault and with great joy because of Jesus. We thank you for His death on the cross in our place. We thank you for the gift of life,and we thank you for the gift of being joined in fellowship with you. We pray that you would help us as we live in this world to represent you well,to praise you as you deserve,to witness as we are able,and to remember all that you have done for us and will do. In Jesus’ name Amen.