Notes on Sermon Preached at PCF on 19 February 2012
Listen to this talk (or download – right click here and ‘Save as’):
Reference: Daniel 5
We have all head the experience of planning for a great day that we have known about in the future. It may have been a wedding, or the anticipated arrival of a baby. Or maybe it is an unwelcome event, like an operation. Either way, we are all familiar with the idea of preparing for a day that is in the future.
Today’s question is – “are you ready for the biggest day of your life?” – that is the day when you will stand before the Lord Jesus Christ, and He will pass judgement on your life. Whoever we are, however old we are, the biggest day of our life is in the future for us. What do we need to do to get ready?
1. An Idolatrous Sovereign
We have moved on from the days of Nebuchadnezzar, who finished his days acknowledging and serving the God of Daniel. Belshezzar, his successor (not necessarily his son, probably a descendant rather than a son) has not followed in his footsteps. This is a lesson for us: there is no guarantee that our descendants will serve the same God that we do – it takes fresh miracle of grace every time.
The King has a banquet for all his wives, nobles and concubines. This is not hospitality or generosity – this is spectacular showing off! It is the way that Kings demonstrated their authority and power. To his arrogance the King now adds blasphemy – using the sacred items captured from Jerusalem to bolster his authority (in effect shaking his fist at the God of Israel) and idolatry, worshipping false Gods. There is no reason to suppose here that Belshazzar is acting out of character. He is in fact showing his true colours. This is an idolatrous king who will merit the judgement of God.
Notice how false worship is what characterises idolatry. We may well say that such idolatry does not exist today. But whenever anyone worships any God other than the true God they are committing the same error as Belshazzar. False religion is idolatry just as worshipping the moon is idolatry.
It is very interesting that Apostle John finished his first letter to the churches with the injunction “Dear children, keep yourselves from idols.” Why would he do this? Surely the reason is that the Christian is prone to fall into idolatry. This is possible when we understand that idolatry exists whenever we put anything – no matter how good – ahead of God. Career, money, sex, family –all are candidates to be put ahead of our God. May God help us to keep ourselves from idolatry.
2. An Impossible Sight
Belshazzar’s arrogance does not go unnoticed in heaven. In full view of all his guests a hand appears and writes four words on the wall. The King – the proud arrogant swaggering King – is reduced to a trembling jelly in the face of the miraculous presence of the God who he has defied.
We can be sure that all those who have defied God will have the same experience of facing the living God. No matter how sure of themselves they may appear, no matter how powerful, all will have to face God on their own.
We may well ask: why does God not move miraculously more often to show himself to unbelievers? Surely if people saw this sort of thing they would believe. The amazing thing is that they would not! The fact is, that as Paul says in Romans, there is enough evidence for anyone to believe: “since what may be known about God is plain to them, because God has made it plain to them. 20 For since the creation of the world God’s invisible qualities—his eternal power and divine nature—have been clearly seen, being understood from what has been made, so that people are without excuse.” (Romans 1)
There is no excuse at all not to believe in the God of the Bible. There is enough evidence to convince any objective, unbiased and honest seeker. That is why the Psalmist says: “The fool has said in his heart, there is no God”
The day will come when we stand before God and he reveals himself in all his splendour. But though it will come as a liberation to many it will come as a terror to others. Are you ready?
3. An Inspired Spokesman
The scene is set. There is a problem to be solved and none of the King’s wise men has the answer. As has happened in the past the answer is obvious: send for Daniel!
The Queen (possibly the Queen Mother – even Nebuchadnezzar’s widow, possibly?) tells the King about a legendary character called Daniel who had helped the great Nebuchadnezzar in the past. It seems from this that Belshazzar was not particularly aware of Daniel. This is an interesting line of thought to consider. Daniel had been very prominent in the past – now he was no longer so prominent. He had entered late middle age, and was, it would seem, yesterday’s man. But the fact was that his most glorious days were still to come! We are never finished our work in the Kingdom of God!
“Don’t shoot the messenger”?
The customary way of treating a man who brings bad news is to kill him – hence the saying “Don’t shoot the messenger”. The king overcomes that fear by promising huge reward to whoever can interpret the writing. Nevertheless Daniel takes a huge risk by being so blunt about the message. Are we prepared to tell the truth, no matter what risk to ourselves?
Daniel’s rejection of the rewards available to him show the integrity that has marked his life. What an example for us to follow!
And when Daniel comes to deliver his message he does so by giving a round condemnation of the King’s conduct which tool true prophetic courage. Are we prepared to deliver the full gospel to those around us – which includes the consequences of failing to respond to the gospel?
The writing on the wall
The words on the wall were Aramaic and would not have been a mystery to those who saw it. What was a mystery was the interpretation of the writing. Most people can read the Bible and understand the words – but the interpretation of the words belong to God.
“Mene” – the king has to realise that that days of his life and kingship were numbered. Like Pharoah’s dreams years previously, the fact that it came twice signified that God has firmly decided the matter and that it was imminent. All of us have to realise that whatever position we may reach in life, it has an inevitable end point. We have to live in the light of the fact that it will come to an end and that we will be held accountable for it.
“Tekel” – the ultimate terror for all those who have rejected god is that they will be judged by him. And the Verdict that “you have been weighed on the scales and found wanting” is the most horrific judgement that will befall any of us. The day will come when the most brutal of dictators will be told that they have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. How could we respond to that without fear?
But wait – is it not also true that we have all been found wanting? “All have sinned and come short of the glory of God” The fact is that we all need a saviour who lived a perfect life on our behalf and who took the consequences of our sin. Thank God for Jesus, and that the worst of sinners can escape the judgement that is their due by trusting in the saviour.
“Parsin” – the worst thing that could befall an ancient tyrant was to lose his throne. To lose it and to have it divided was a humiliation, and to lose it to your enemies was unthinkable. God is not mocked. Heaven sees how we respond to him.
4. An Inevitable Sequel
The consequences are immediate and dramatic. God does exactly what he says he will do – that very night. God will judge exactly as he says he will. Are you ready for that day? The only way to be ready for it is to fly to the protection offered us freely by Jesus and to urge everyone else to do the same.
Are you ready for the biggest day of your life?