Graffiti From God
Da 5:17 Then Daniel answered, and said before the king, "Let your gifts be for yourself, and give your rewards to another; yet I will read the writing to the king, and make known to him the interpretation. 18 "O king, the Most High God gave Nebuchadnezzar your father a kingdom and majesty, glory and honor. 19 "And because of the majesty that He gave him, all peoples, nations, and languages trembled and feared before him. Whomever he wished, he executed; whomever he wished, he kept alive; whomever he wished, he set up; and whomever he wished, he put down.
20 "But when his heart was lifted up, and his spirit was hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him. 21 "Then he was driven from the sons of men, his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild donkeys. They fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven, till he knew that the Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.
22 "But you his son, Belshazzar, have not humbled your heart, although you knew all this.
23 "And you have lifted yourself up against the Lord of heaven. They have brought the vessels of His house before you, and you and your lords, your wives and your concubines, have drunk wine from them. And you have praised the gods of silver and gold, bronze and iron, wood and stone, which do not see or hear or know; and the God who holds your breath in His hand and owns all your ways, you have not glorified. 24 "Then the fingers of the hand were sent from Him, and this writing was written. 25 "And this is the inscription that was written: MENE, MENE, (men ay’) TEKEL, (tek al’) UPHARSIN. (you far’ sin) 26 "This is the interpretation of each word. MENE: God has numbered your kingdom, and finished it; 27 "TEKEL: You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting; 28 "PERES: Your kingdom has been divided, and given to the Medes and Persians."
29 Then Belshazzar gave the command, and they clothed Daniel with purple and put a chain of gold around his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom. 30 That very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.
1Co 9:24 Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. 25 And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown.
26 Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight: not as one who beats the air.
27 But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection, lest, when I have preached to others, I myself should become disqualified.
Mt 20:1 "For the kingdom of heaven is like a landowner who went out early in the morning to hire laborers for his vineyard. 2 "Now when he had agreed with the laborers for a denarius a day, he sent them into his vineyard. 3 "And he went out about the third hour and saw others standing idle in the marketplace, 4 "and said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right I will give you.' So they went. 5 "Again he went out about the sixth and the ninth hour, and did likewise. 6 "And about the eleventh hour he went out and found others standing idle, and said to them, 'Why have you been standing here idle all day?' 7 "They said to him, 'Because no one hired us.' He said to them, 'You also go into the vineyard, and whatever is right you will receive.'
8 "So when evening had come, the owner of the vineyard said to his steward, 'Call the laborers and give them their wages, beginning with the last to the first.' 9 "And when those came who were hired about the eleventh hour, they each received a denarius.
10 "But when the first came, they supposed that they would receive more; and they likewise received each a denarius. 11 "And when they had received it, they complained against the landowner, 12 "saying, 'These last men have worked only one hour, and you made them equal to us who have borne the burden and the heat of the day.' 13 "But he answered one of them and said, 'Friend, I am doing you no wrong. Did you not agree with me for a denarius? 14 'Take what is yours and go your way. I wish to give to this last man the same as to you. 15 'Is it not lawful for me to do what I wish with my own things? Or is your eye evil because I am good?'
16 "So the last will be first, and the first last. For many are called, but few chosen."
I know of few places in Scripture that are more bone chilling and terror filled than what took place leading up to our OT lesson today. It sounds like the plot from some horror movie, or the Twilight zone, or something from a Stephen King movie. Remember “redrum?”
Some background here before we get into Daniels interpretation of the handwriting on the wall. Belshazzar was the reigning king of Babylon and in spite of Babylon being slowly encircled by the Persian armies, he decides to throw a feast.
So he and his wives and concubines and lords are partying away and Belshazzar gets the bright idea to drink from the gold vessels that had been taken from the temple at Jerusalem by King Nebuchadnezer. These vessels are precious, holy, in the sight of God and Belshazzar decides to profane them, to use them to toast the gods of the Babylonians. “In your face God!”
Here comes the scary part.....“In that same hour” the fingers of a man, (sent directly by God) appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, and the king saw it with his own eyes and the Bible says “his countenance changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his hips were loosened and his knees knocked against each other.”
Party’s over dude! A holy apparition has showed up....graffiti from God.......the chilling chiseling of Christ the judge! Something fearful and holy has appeared to Belshazzar and he needs to find out what the Holy One is trying to tell Him, and to make a long story short, he brings in Daniel for the explanation.
One of the great things about Daniel is he understood the place of secular government in God’s economy, in God’s scheme of things. He understood the separation of church and state. And you can’t help but notice the respect he gives to the God-given authorities, even to this awful king. he says, “O king”.
Right or wrong Daniel knew that Belshazzar was in power because God had chosen him to be in power. He even reminded Belshazzar of that truth as he brought up how God had given the kingdom to Nebuchadnezzar and how he had taken it away from him as well.
“The Most High God rules in the kingdom of men, and appoints over it whomever He chooses.”
God taught Nebuchadnezzar the importance of humility vs pride and Belshazzar should’ve learned from this predecessor of his....but he didn’t. What disrespect he showed to the God who held his very breath in His hand!
He takes the communion service of the Most High God home with him and uses it for a drunken orgy....and when we come to the communion table with no intent to change our ways, no intent to trust God, ....we are doing the same thing...we’re merely toasting our sin and trampling God’s grace..
And we are playing with fire, “For he who eats and drinks in an unworthy manner eats and drinks judgement to himself, not discerning the Lord’s body.” (1 Cor 11:29) We don’t know when the Man will appear with the handwriting of judgement against us.
It is vital then, that we remain in a state of humility, trusting Christ for our salvation. Remaining in the faith, and like a runner in a race.....enduring in the faith until the end. Lest MENE, MENE, (men ay’) TEKEL, (tek al’) UPHARSIN. (you far’ sin) is pronounced against us.
This is the interpretation of each word: MENE God has numbered your kingdom and finished it.
The kingdom of Belshazzar was given to him by God. In that sense it is like grace. He didn’t earn it, it was given to him. Belshazzar, your day of grace is over!
It’s like the wealthy farmer that Jesus talked about. He had received all this blessing from God (all this grace) and he decided to spend it on himself by building bigger barns.
Lu 12:20 "But God said to him, 'Fool! This night your soul will be required of you; MENE<MENE< TEKEL< UPHARSIN
And so He says to Belshazzar, “I’m through with you buddy, it’s time for an accounting.”
For it is appointed for man to die once and after this the judgement.
TEKEL (tek al’) You have been weighed in the balances, and found wanting. You have fallen short of the glory of God, because of your pride. Don’t let that happen to you my friend. The only way the glory of God is balanced in the scales is when Christ is added to the scale. Put everything on Him, fully trust Him, and you won’t fall short.
UPHARSIN or PERES - “Your kingdom (the grace I have given you,) has been taken away from you and given to the Medes and the Persians (to others) Just like the man in the parable of the talents who buried the talent (the grace given to him, and it was given to others.)
Chilling words for all who have seen grace, tasted grace, but failed to avail themselves of it. “and that very night Belshazzar, king of the Chaldeans, was slain.”
As chilling as this incident is in Scripture, Jesus tells us a parable that when rightly understood is even more chilling for us today. Because in this parable, we see that some people who live good lives, attend church and serve in the church all their lives, will in the end be weighed in the balances and found short of the glory of God!
That’s chilling. It’s a chilling reality that I pray the Holy Spirit will help you face this morning. Will some of you be like those first laborers in the parable that were hired to work in the vineyard?
Those first workers are representative of the works righteousness Jews. They were working in the vineyard, the OT church, for a wage. They were in effect trusting in the Law for their salvation. They were living outwardly good lives, they had been circumcised, and they were active in temple worship.
But they were only in it for the wage. In other words on that Final Day, if God were to ask them why He should allow them to enter His heaven, they would say, “Because I have basically been a good person, I’ve earned it.”
Are you secretly hoping that God will let you into heaven on the last Day because HE owes you something? It is an easy trap to fall into, and that’s why it is so necessary to daily revisit your baptism. Daily remember that it’s what God did for you, not what you do for God!
The kingdom spoken of here is the rule and operation of God’s grace, and the vineyard is God’s visible church. By visible we mean the outward appearance of the church.
All of you here today are in this “visible” church, but not all of you are necessarily members of His invisible or true church. Only those who have surrendered heart and soul are true members, others are not worthy to be His disciples.
Mt 10:38 "And he who does not take his cross (die to self) and follow after Me is not worthy of Me.
The Lutheran commentator Lenski says these members of the visible church “join her ranks and aid in her work,” and they “have every opportunity to become true believers but who also may remain only lip Christians, mere outward adherents.”
In reality, they are just like the prodigal son’s older brother. Who faithfully worked in the father’s vineyard, but never understood or tapped into the grace that was available. He worked, but he never fully surrendered to the father’s love.
He always had the opportunity to become a true believer, but remained content to “work” in the church compelled by the Law rather than grace. Motivated by works righteousness rather than the love of Christ.
Notice the complaint of these first workers as they mention “bearing the burden and the heat of the day,” (v12) This burden and heat of the day is the drudgery of the Law and works! This is the lot of the first workers.
They seek to attach themselves to God through outward obedience to God’s commands, and they work for the sake of a wage (I’m a good person! You owe me God) rather than a gift. (I’m a bad person! Thank You Lord for Your grace!)
They come to church, sing the songs, attend the Bible studies, do the work, try to live a decent life, but they are spiritually joyless, because they are graceless. They work under the drudgery and unbearable heat of the Law, secretly expecting a reward. Serving Christ out of duty instead of thankfulness.
This was the way of the eldest son in the account of the prodigal as he complained and murmured against his father, . He said,
Lu 15:29 "'Lo, these many years I have been serving you; I never transgressed your commandment at any time; and yet you never gave me a young goat, that I might make merry with my friends. 30 'But as soon as this son of yours came, who has devoured your livelihood with harlots, you killed the fatted calf for him.' 31 "And he said to him, 'Son, you are always with me, and all that I have is yours.
Grace was always available for the receiving. But the eldest son was blind to it and held out for “I am a good person, you owe me father!” And unless he changed his attitude, he would be like these first workers in the vineyard who were told in the final accounting to “take what is theirs and go their way. (Verily verily...you have had your reward.)
But the subsequent group of laborers did not hire on with any guarantees. The only thing promised them was this: “Whatever is right I will give you.” That’s trust! That’s surrender! Do you see the difference? I pray that you do. Because trust and surrender is the place you need to be.
The chilling aspect of this parable is that many, maybe even some of you here today, have come into the vineyard through baptism as an infant, and you have faithfully attended church, gone to Sunday School, been confirmed, served on boards and committees, outwardly led a good life, and at the end of the day, you secretly expect that God will reward you because you have worked.
If that’s the only reason you are attached to a church, if that’s the only reason you are working in the vineyard to impress men or God, you need to wake up! You need to reconsider everything. that you’ve done and honestly examine your motive.
Don’t come to Christ or serve Him expecting a wage! A wage is something earned, and you cannot earn your salvation. It was earned for you on Calvary!
This past Friday the church commemorated “The Presentation of Our Lord.” It was on this day that Jesus was dedicated at the temple. How fitting then this morning that we examine our motives our dedication to Jesus. May this be the day of your once and for all surrender to Jesus.
I want each and every one of you this morning to stop and consider, really consider why you are here? Is it to please men? Is it because down the road you are expecting something from God in return? Or is it because you have surrendered your life to Him and out of thankfulness you come to worship and serve Him.
In the end, these first workers murmured against the grace of God. They trampled on it just as sure as Belshazzar did. They had it backwards. It was always what they were doing for God rather than realizing that it’s what God does for us that really matters.
And so they were brought to baptism by their parents out of duty and so they brought their children to be baptized out of duty. And they were confirmed out of duty, and they attended church out of duty, and they went to Lord’s Supper out of duty, and they served in the church out of duty........
But they were never dedicated to Jesus.....they were only dedicated to their wage, and that’s why they complained.
Just think how everything changes when we stop and consider that God does something for us in baptism. God does something for us in confirmation. God does something for us when we come to worship. God does something for us at the Lord’s Table. God does something for us when we serve!
What does He do? Well, I suppose we could sit here and analyze it, and it’s good to do that. It’s good to understand what He does for us in our baptism, at communion, in our worship and service to Him, but for today let’s first of all agree to let go of any wage we think we are earning.
Beginning today, let us just agree to follow and trust Jesus unconditionally, knowing that His only promise is to “give us whatever is right.” Do you need more than that?
In our epistle lesson today, Paul writes about running to finish the race. He says he runs “not with uncertainty.” The only way he can make that statement is if he is totally surrendered to Jesus, totally trusting in Christ for his start and finish in the race!
Then he says, I fight not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it into subjection.” You see, that’s the key. Bringing our bodies into subjection. NOT BY THE POWER OF OUR FLESH BUT BY THE POWER OF THE HOLY SPIRIT WHO CAUSES US TO OVERCOME OUR FEARS AND SUBJECT OURSELVES TOTALLY TO CHRIST!
That’s the necessary discipline of the Christian. Daily remembering to bring himself to the subjection of Christ. Daily trusting in Him for our salvation. Start today, here and now. Even in this eleventh hour the Steward will take you on. Surrender to Him and trust that HE will give you “whatever is right.”