- Luke 13:6-9
- Daniel 5
My dear brothers and sisters in the Lord,
They tell the story of the young man who wanted to rent a room off the old lady who lived right next to a railway line. First she showed him the room, and showed him around. Then the two settled on a rental amount. Just to be honest the old lady pointed out to the young man that the place was right next to the railway line. “The first week or so,” she said, “you will find the noise of the trains intrusive, but you will get used to it.” “Never mind,” he replied, “I have a friend not too far away. For the first week I will stay with him.”
Being exposed to the noise of the train for some time can desensitise one to the extend that after some time you might not even hear it.
How many times have you heard the Gospel of forgiveness in the Lord Jesus Christ? Do you perhaps come from a family where the Lord is served by godly parents or grandparents? You have seen the grace of God at work all around you; you heard about it; you see the effects of grace changing the lives of people as they become redeemed children of God. But what about you? Have you responded to it? Is it possible that one can reach a point that one can be so “churched” that one looks at grace as something one deserves?
Amazing grace at work
A life changed in the face of grace
Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, grew up in a palace where his grandfather, once the great king of the most powerful kingdom in the known world of his time, came to know the Lord in a most dramatic way. It changed his life and he saw to it that all of his subjects knew about it.
At the end of his life Nebuchadnezzar declared this about God:
At the end of that time, I, Nebuchadnezzar, raised my eyes toward heaven, and my sanity was restored. Then I praised the Most High; I honoured and glorified Him who lives forever. His dominion is an eternal dominion; his kingdom endures from generation to generation. All the peoples of the earth are regarded as nothing. He does as He pleases with the powers of heaven and the peoples of the earth. No one can hold back his hand or say to Him: “What have you done?” (Daniel 4:34-35)
To which he added: “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and exalt and glorify the King of heaven, because everything He does is right and all his ways are just. And those who walk in pride He is able to humble.” (Daniel 4:37)
There was a time that Daniel, who had been elevated by the king to a high position in his kingdom and moved very closely to the king at that time, were concerned about the king’s eternal life before God. Daniel said to the king: “Please accept my advice: renounce your sin by doing what is right and your wickedness by being kind to the oppressed.”
By all accounts, after being humbled by the Lord for a time, Nebuchadnezzar heeded the advice of Daniel and became a worshipper of God. The impact of this repentance of this once godless king must have been enormous, not only right through his kingdom, but also in his palace. But fact is, the successors of old Nebuchadnezzar did not follow in his footsteps. This takes us now to Daniel chapter 5.
Amazing grace forgotten
A life lost in the face of grace
Who is Belshazzar? He was the grandson of Nebuchadnezzar. Nebuchadnezzar dies old, and his son took over the kingdom. His brother killed him and took over as king. But in a conspiracy an outsider marries Nebuchadnezzar’s daughter and became king. Their eldest son was Belshazzar. With the Medes and the Persians were about to attack the city, his father moved to Arabia, and gave his son Belshazzar the control of Babylon.
We have heard about he Medes and Persians under Cyrus closing in on Babylon. They camped outside the city wall for several weeks. Inside the city there was enough provision for years of siege if necessary.
The date is Saturday, October 12, 539 BC – and Belshazzar called a party of celebration for his officials. In the face of sure destruction this dumb and thick-headed king chose to live out his philosophy: if I worry I die; if I don’t worry, I die; so, why worry! Let us drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die! Like the parachuter who realised his parachute won’t open. Sure that he was going to die and that he was not able to do much about it, he decided to sit tight and at least enjoy the scenery.
In the midst of the orgy of lust and drunkenness were the officials, the kings wives and his concubines desecrating the holy objects which had been taken out of the Temple of the Lord in Jerusalem when the people of Israel were taken into captivity.
While they blasphemed the Living God of heaven and earth by worshipping the gods of gold and silver and bronze and iron and wood and stone, Belshazzar saw a hand writing on the wall of his great banquet hall.
Like with a cutting torch, this hand wrote four words on the wall into the rendering. One gets the impression at first Belshazzar was the only one to see this miracle. And in his drunkenness he became very scared. His face turned pale, his knees knocked together and he passed out on the floor.
The music stopped. The dancers looked at one another, and perhaps some thought the king had too much to drink. For a moment they thought to carry on with their blasphemies. But the king was not hazy and unclear. His mind was now clear. He knew this was something awesome and extraordinary.
He couldn’t get any sense out of his astrologers and wise men and diviners. They were dumb-struck. His nobles were baffled – and probably scared to death, because it was the whim of kings to have their astrologers killed if they could not declare a dream.
Just imagine the picture: the Sovereign God of heaven had the mightiest king and his nobles in the palm of his hand, scared to death with their knees knocking together. Such is our God.
There is one thing we need to take along this morning: God is powerful and He is Sovereign. The Bible is full of references to the fact that He disposes kings as He wishes. He controls the universe and He controls kingdoms. He brings down the haughty, and He exalts the lowly. Belshazzar’s granddad understood that all too well. And he knew to bow under this Sovereign God in worship.
But his grandson has this opportunity to learn slip through his fingers. He had it in his hand, but then all was lost.
He had to learn once again from his grandmother, the queen-mother, who then made her presence known in the banquet hall of the revellers, that God had gifted a man with knowledge. She knew about it, because she saw the difference in the life of her late husband.
Grace – once again
And now Belshazzar had to face that man who was the messenger of the living God. Daniel walked in, now not as the young man we meet in the first chapters of this book, but as a man into his late seventies, maybe early eighties. He was not interested in the gifts of the King. After all, his God had provided for him all his life, and even rescued him from a sure death in the lions’ den. “Keep your gifts”, he said, “I will nevertheless tell you what the dream means.”
When Daniel spoke to Belshazzar he was not beating around the bush. He cut straight into it. The reason he told him about his grandfather was not to tell him something he had not known; he wanted to apply to him the truth that he had been given grace, but that God tested him and found him wanting. It must have cut to the heart of Belshazzar when he heard these words:
But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. (Daniel 5:22)
You knew about God, about his sovereign power, about his grace and mercy as it was seen in the life of your grandfather, but instead, you spurned that grace and made of yourself a to be a god. You snubbed grace and trampled underfoot the grace of God by sinking so low in your sin that you desecrated the things holy unto God.
Listen Belshazzar, you think you can withstand the onslaught of the enemy who is right at your door as you are given in drunkenness and lust and idolatry because you have a mighty army and high walls around your city, but listen: God has numbered your days. In fact, Belshazzar did not see the sun rise the next morning.
Further, Belshazzar might have had many mighty friends in high positions scattered all over his kingdom and they thought the world of him and all his mighty deeds, but it was a different story in the eyes of God. In the eyes of God he was nothing. God put him on the scales and he was found wanting.
How dreadful the truth of this verse: you might win the world, but you might lose your soul. One might be mighty and wonderful in the eyes of the world, but what if God shines his light upon one’s soul? What if He puts one in his scales? What am I in God’s eye? Without Jesus Christ I am nothing, worthy of eternal condemnation.
For Belshazzar it was the end, not only of his life, but also of his kingdom. But it was also the beginning of eternity in hell. As his counsellors and mighty men were gathered to celebrate their greatness, they had to learn that their show of force was the moment of their weakness: together they would fall in the hand of the enemy. And, very suddenly, all was over. It was gone. The glitter, the power, the authority, the security, the esteem, life itself! – all was stripped from them. All of a sudden they were before God and his judgement throne.
My dear friend, how many times have you heard the message of God’s grace? How many times have you come very close to giving your life to God and turn away from eternal disaster? How many times have you thought that you will have another chance? I don’t know, and to be honest, no one knows, if there will be another opportunity. But one thing we learned from the Bible this morning is that not even a king in all his splendour and majesty can escape death and judgement, to face God on his own merits.
When we stand before God we stand stripped of all pretence, we can hide nothing, we can say nothing, we can present nothing – we are speechless and without excuse. That’s the moment of truth when God will look at the scale and declare us wanting.
Unless, of course, we have found refuge in the Saviour, Jesus Christ. He is God’s grace to us. In Him we hear a Daniel calling us to repentance. In Him we find the Friend who put his own life in the scale of God’s wrath. He took the full punishment of our sin and paid the full price of salvation. He calls us through his infallible Word this morning to a new life of forgiveness. Don’t go home this morning before you made very sure that you will be able to face God before his judgement throne, only to hear that He would welcome you into his heaven. Amen.
Sermon preached by Rev D. Rudi Schwartz on Sunday 1 January 2017