This sermon is part of the sermon series "Standing Your Ground". See series.
Chapter five of Daniel addresses the question of what would happen if you gave a party, and God crashed it. Nebuchadnezzar was no longer on the throne. A successor named Belshazzar ruled the land. One night Belshazzar hosted a great banquet when an unexpected and quite unusual guest appeared. The visitor was a disembodied set of fingers. In the sight of all the party revelers, the uninvited hand wrote a message on the palace wall. The king was so frightened the blood drained from his face, and his knees knocked. No one could explain the specter or interpret the message. The king's wise men and counselors were called. They were equally baffled. The king grew more worried and pale. Then the queen remembered Daniel.
"Oh king," she said, "do not be upset. Your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, called upon a man named Daniel to interpret dreams and solve riddles. This Daniel still lives in the kingdom. Ask him what the handwriting means." Belshazzar called Daniel. The prophet interpreted the message, but he did not calm the king. Daniel prophesied judgment.
Chapter five of Daniel becomes the flip-side of chapter four. In chapter four Daniel used King Nebuchadnezzar's conversion to affirm that the repentant reap the rewards of grace, however bleak their pasts. In this chapter Daniel uses King Belshazzar's sacrilege to declare that the rebellious reap the consequences of wrath, however secure their present. Two equally evil kings demonstrate two equally vital messages: God's complete pardon for the humble and God's sure judgment for the proud.
My wife's sister, Karen, is a hospice nurse. In caring for the dying, she has discovered that people face their mortality in many different ways, including turning away from it. She told us of an older woman who refused to talk about the seriousness of her cancer. When doctors or family tried to speak to her about her condition, she would not acknowledge their words or attempt to process the medical reports. Karen, the nurse, was not sure that the woman was capable of hearing what was being said, until one day a friend sent the woman a bouquet of flowers that included snapdragons. When she was a child, Karen and her sisters played with the blossoms of snapdragons. Each blossom is shaped like a set of lips and can be squeezed together to mimic a little puppet speaking. Karen showed the woman how the flower puppets worked, and entertained her with a song: "You are my sunshine, my only sunshine; you make me happy when skies are grey …."
Then the dying woman put a blossom in each hand, and produced her own puppet show. One puppet speaking in a rough voice became her doctor saying, "Your blood counts are not good. We can't do anything for you." The other puppet spoke in the voice of a little girl, innocent and carefree: "You don't have to be so mean. I understand." The message that was too hard to hear directly was understood when it was processed externally. Those flowers moved the message that had to be heard to a distance where it could be heard. This account of King Belshazzar functions similarly. The message is one of judgment. This message follows the truths of the gospel that have unfolded in previous chapters: God's faithful care for his people, his continuing provision for his people, his abiding presence among his people, and his willingness to deal graciously with those who humble themselves and repent.
But now this same gracious God must address the consequences of non-repentance. To fail to give such warning would actually endanger the spiritual future of his people. But how will God make such a message known? That message may be more than a people already suffering in captivity can take. So God moves the message to a caring distance, demonstrating the reality of judgment in the life of a king so proud that he parties with the sacred vessels of the temple of God. In his judgment is a message that a beloved people must understand so that they will repent of their sin and be saved from its consequences.
This is not an easy message. Who wants to hear or talk about judgment? But if sin has no consequence, if evil has no check, if justice never comes, then what good is God and of what benefit is his grace? If grace is amazing, then it must rescue us from something, and that something is defined in this passage by the three words written on Belshazzar's wall: Mene; Tekel; Peres. "Mene, God has numbered the days of your kingdom and brought it to an end; Tekel, you have been weighed in the balances and found wanting; Peres, your kingdom will be divided and cast down." Though secure in the world, those unrepentant before God will ultimately be identified, weighed, and judged!
Belshazzar was a powerful man. He had become the undisputed sovereign of Babylon, the empire that had dominated the ancient world for generations. Outside the walls of his capitol, a foreign army challenged the king's dominion, but Babylon's ruler was unperturbed. Belshazzar was secure. The Persian invader had been kept at bay outside the city gates for two and a half years. The walls of Babylon were as much as 350 feet high, 87 feet wide, and impregnable to any war machine of that day. The metropolis surrounded by these mammoth walls was itself so spacious that food could be cultivated within the walls. The river Euphrates even flowed through the city supplying a fresh and ample source of water for people, cattle, and crops. Babylon could not be starved into submission. Belshazzar was secure. So confident was he of his safety that as a slap in the face of his enemy, Belshazzar threw a party. By hosting a feast, the king thumbed his nose at the enemy as if to say, "You don't worry us a bit. That's because weaklings don't worry us. You call this a siege? Gimme a break. You want to know what I think of your siege? It's not enough to keep me from throwing the biggest bash this kingdom has ever seen. You go ahead and have your little siege; we are going to throw a party."
So arrogant was Belshazzar about his security that he even decided to thumb his nose at God. This king ignored the vivid lessons God taught his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. The power of Jehovah of Israel and the sacredness of his temple were disregarded. In a flourish of irreverence, Belshazzar ordered that the holy vessels secured from God's temple during the conquest of Israel be brought as wine cups for Babylon's feast. Belshazzar was secure, he thought. But his judgment would come that night.
The Persians diverted the course of the river Euphrates and penetrated Babylon's defenses by funneling troops under the city's walls through the drained riverbed. The city was conquered. Belshazzar was killed. The party was over. The prophet's words rang true and echo still: "God is not mocked" (Galatians 6:7); "The wrath of God is revealed against all ungodliness and wickedness" (Romans 1:18); "God will bring every deed into judgment, including every hidden thing, whether it is good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14).
God says to every person, "Beware." Beware, because there is no human wall so high, no human fortress so secure, no activity so hidden that it can protect sin from the wrath of God. We must consider this truth not only in the context of this ancient account of an arrogant king, but in terms of our lives today. There are walls we, too, may try to erect to protect our sin from the wrath of God. We must see the walls for what they are—foolish defenses that must be abandoned for our own welfare.
Human security won't last.
Belshazzar was not the last to believe that his sin was protected by a wall of human achievement. Tiger Woods, Pete Rose, Bernie Madoff, Michael Milkin; Ted Haggard, Jimmy Swaggert. The names change; the message does not. Daniel's message should be moved to focal distance for us so that we can read the writing on the wall of real life: power, position, prestige, peer approval, wealth, wisdom, wonderful potential, amazing accomplishment, even esteem in the church will not shield us from an all powerful, all knowing, holy God who brings every dark thing to light and judges sin. The names change, the situations vary, but the consequences do not. The judgment of God is sure. God's Word still whispers, "Mene; Tekel; Peres."
Of course, a disadvantage of taking our cues from headline-making figures is that their fame, power, and wealth may make them and their stories seem unreal and inapplicable. Until we see the reality of God's judgment in lives that seem "real," we may be interested or impressed by God's actions but unchanged in our lives. So consider the account of another man—a man more like us—whose life demonstrates the reality of a living God.
He was an incredibly able businessman. Beginning as a driver for a road construction company, he saved every spare penny he earned. Before he was twenty-five, he had saved enough to buy his own dump truck and became his own boss. He kept on saving. He bought another dump truck and then another. By the time he was thirty, he owned a truck line. His business went so well that, eventually, he bought the road construction company that first had hired him as a driver. With a virtual monopoly on road construction contracting and trucking services in his rural Tennessee community, the man became wealthy beyond his dreams.
He was Christian man. As his business prospered, the local church leaders recognized the advantages of his involvement. They asked him to become an officer in the church, but he always turned them down. He was busy about other things. These other things more and more began to dominate his life.
He was a man under pressure. Rumors began to circulate in town about shady business deals and contracts improperly handled. His personality became more intense. His anger boiled more quickly. He began to drink more. The tension between the man and his wife became common gossip. An oldest daughter fled the pressures inside the family and got married too soon in an ill-considered relationship. Two sons, following the worst of their father's instincts, turned wild, turned to drugs, and tuned out responsibility.
The business still occupied the father. But there were new pressures there, too. The rapid expansion of the construction company caused cash flow problems. Banks, listening to more rumors about mismanagement and misappropriation, became reticent to loan money. So the man finally turned to the church, but it was not spiritual help that he wanted. He asked old friends in the church to trust him and invest in his business because it was "totally secure." Many believed him, and some invested their life's savings in the firm.
Then, he became in man in ruin. For reasons that are still not clear, the younger son one day "borrowed" a company car. Joy riding down a rain-slickened country road, he crossed the center line and plowed head-on into oncoming traffic. He lay in intensive care for nine months. The hospital costs were astronomical and continued to mount because the son's spinal cord was severed in the accident and his paralysis required round-the-clock care.
The court battles between insurance companies, the hospital, and with others injured in the accident continued for years. But while the litigation awaited settlement, no one paid anything, except the family. In the first year after the accident, the family was charged $750,000 in medical bills. They lost the struggling road construction business and the investments of their church friends. In the second year, they lost the truck line. In the third year, the family filed for bankruptcy. Today the once wealthy businessman pumps gas at a service station in his home town under the scorn of former investors and the ridicule of former friends.
The trek from truck driver to millionaire took about forty years. The plunge from community leader to service station attendant took about four years. The accident that caused the empire to fall took about three seconds: Mene; Tekel; Peres.
There is no human wall so high, no human accomplishment so great, that it is secure against the judgment of God. God will bring every deed into judgment. No matter how great the man, how hidden the means, or how long the practice has continued, God ultimately will prevail. His Word is true, and his justice is sure. In the Bible, in the newspaper, in the lives of the people we know, God warns us to beware of his holy judgment.
Spiritual insulation won't work.
Since God speaks so plainly to warn us of the consequences of sin, why then do so many continue to ignore him? One reason, of course, is that many do not believe in a living, just God. But there must be other reasons. Daniel said to King Belshazzar, "Through your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, you knew all about God's judgment and, still, you did not humble yourself" (5:22). The clear message is that simple knowledge of God does not insulate us from the consequences of an unrepentant life.
Even those who think of themselves as Christians need to remember that simple knowledge of God does not insulate them from the consequences of sin. To turn us from the greater dangers of a sinful path, God may well allow us to experience the consequences of sin. Always the intention of such discipline is to save his children from greater harm. Still, we must also face the reality of what a continuing lack of repentance may mean. Even as we acknowledge that those who are truly the Lord's are eternally secure in him despite their sin, we have to remember to whom these promises apply. God promises his abiding care to those who love him, and those who count on taking advantage of his grace do not demonstrate love for him. We have no certainty of a lasting relationship with the Lord if we persist in unrepentant actions or attitudes.
There is no Scripture that says that God's children will never face earthly consequences despite rebellion against him. There is no Scripture that says those in personal, unrelenting rebellion need not worry because they have the complete assurance of God's abiding love. No claims could be further from the truth of Scripture or a greater offense to God than pretending that sin doesn't really matter to him.
Belshazzar praised the gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, and wood—the gods of his own making (5:23). He continued in sin because he trusted the gods he made to protect him. Sometimes contemporary people continue in sin because of a god they invent to protect them. They believe that because they say that Jesus died for their sins and God forgives whatever they confess, then they can do as they please. Such people reason, "God doesn't want us to be 'really bad,' but the ordinary business lies, the ungodly entertainments, the academic compromises, the residual anger toward a brother, the neglect of church obligations—these things don't really count. After all, God knows we're just human." Such "believers" smear the truth about Christ's blood on their sin, believing this will insulate them from its consequences. They only fool themselves. The god that they imagine will protect them is not the God of Daniel.
Notice at what moment in this account of Belshazzar's feast God inscribed his judgment. The writing appeared when the king used the vessels from the temple to drink his wine and praise his gods. God revealed his wrath at precisely the moment when what was intended to be kept holy was used for sin. Christian, the Bible calls you God's vessel (2 Corinthians 4:7). God intends for your life and testimony to be holy. If you begin filling with sin the vessel God has made sacred with the blood of his own Son and using it for unholy purposes, do not imagine you have any security against his wrath.
No Scripture says that because you are a believer, God will never allow consequences for unrepented sin. The Bible says, "To whom much is given, much is required" (Luke 12:48). Israel was given the promise of the Covenant, but for her sins she languished in this Babylonian captivity.
To us has been given the fulfillment of Covenant promises in the provision of God's own Son who died for our sins. Surely it is foolish now to think that we could take the shed blood of Jesus and smear it over continuing greed, lust, and anger with impurity. Surely we cannot sensibly imagine we could dip our hands in his blood to use it for personal advantage, evil excuse, and deliberate sin, without expecting the righteous anger of the Holy Father who provided the sacrifice of his Son. If we really knew the God of Daniel, we could not abuse his Son this way. Yet how often do we, with the Cross before our eyes, dip our hands into Christ's wounds to gather his blood to spread as insulation when we wish to continue in sin? And when we do so, do we not look to God and say, "This makes it okay, right? You don't really mind, do you, Father?" If we see what we are doing, as the Father who sacrificed his Son to provide that blood sees, can we doubt his rage?
The knowledge of spiritual truths is no insulation against the wrath of God. Only months ago, one of the PCA's most able church planters acknowledged years of homosexual activity. He, his church, and family now face so much hurt. Spiritual activity did not insulate a Christian leader from the consequences of sin: Mene; Tekel; Peres.
The stories of the immorality of former National Association of Evangelicals leader, Ted Haggard, were as instructive as they were salacious. Tales of power, payoffs, and adultery are more sad than spicy. Somewhere in their vast material and ministerial successes, these good people lost their way. I felt that more keenly and sympathetically when one of my own best friends in ministry was discovered for a drug addiction that wound him into an awful web of deceit, theft, and family pretense. In the ruin of reputations and ministry that follows the scandals, the Word of God still speaks without confusion: Mene; Tekel; Peres.
But these news accounts are again of persons whose extravagancies and extraordinary ministries may make God's message seem remote. It may be painful to bring the truth closer to home, but Daniel's warning must not go unheeded. Recently, two young ministers from our seminary acknowledged extramarital affairs and are out of the ministry; pornography has claimed at least a half dozen more; alcohol addiction has led to the fall of two more; loss of integrity driven by greed or ambition has two more out of ministry. I weep for them. I weep with them. God weeps, too, and says, "Mene; Tekel; Peres." And I must listen, and you must listen.
The fact that these are my friends is itself all the more devastating, for I realize these men are close to me because they are men like me. I am not different; I am not better; I cannot pretend their error is due to some flaw in them that I do not share. If I do not see the consequences, I will not avoid the sin with appropriate horror. I am scared by their failures. I should be. But my greater fear is that we may no longer even be horrified. God says, "Beware, your sins will surely find you out" (Numbers 32:23); "I am just and execute judgment" (Jeremiah 23:5); "God will bring every deed into judgment, with every secret thing, whether good or evil" (Ecclesiastes 12:14). Mene; Tekel; Peres.
Even though Belshazzar did not know the meaning of these words, his knees knocked, and his face turned pale when they appeared. How much more should a holy fear of sin seize us who know what the words meant for him and mean for us?
Daniel's message includes more than a warning of sin's consequences. With the warning is weeping. It may be difficult to perceive his grief until one remembers the narratives that precede this passage and the language that permeates it. Four times in chapter five the biblical writer reminds us that Nebuchadnezzar was the "father" of Belshazzar's rule. While the term signifies "predecessor" more than actual father, its repeated reference implies something even more profound. For more than 40 years, Daniel nurtured, loved, and, ultimately, changed the heart of Babylon's mightiest king. But, a generation later, the impact of so great a change seemed lost. The successor was as corrupt as his "father" ever was. The change was changed back. How Daniel's heart must have grieved, as repeatedly he directs our attention to the spiritual victory in Nebuchadnezzar's life in contrast to Belshazzar's subsequent surrender to wickedness.
The grief the prophet must have felt over another's sin is even more evident when the purpose of this book is considered. Daniel wrote as God's spokesman to instruct God's people in all times. God is reminding us that sin can re-infect a people, because so often this happens to God's people. Israel was purified time after time, only to sink again into contamination. Israel was in bondage throughout Daniel's lifetime because of repeated idolatry. That God so pointedly warned Israel with the object lesson of Belshazzar that sin resulted in judgment was evidence of his desire that Israel not be harmed by continuing in evil. By indicating this great concern for his people, God discloses how much grief he himself experiences when people sin. Our awareness of his grief for our hurt furthers our love for him and strengthens our resistance to sin (Ephesians 4:30). Perhaps, it is in part because we do not often share this sense of grief over others' sin and consequent hurt that the church seems so powerless against evil today.
Daniel grieved over the judgment that surely would follow Nebuchadnezzar's sin and lamented the decline of Babylon's commitment (5:2). Daniel's grief—which reflected God's grief—was recorded to turn God's people from sin. Is it possible that today's church has lost the power to turn God's people from sin precisely because we do not sincerely grieve for the effects of sin in their lives? Are our friends and family members wandering away because they know no one will really grieve if they are lost or left behind? We are quick to point out evil, quick to judge, glad we are not caught in such sin, but are we grieving for those whom sin has led astray? Have we so concerned ourselves with our own blessings that we have lost the capacity to weep for those who have wandered? There is much for which to grieve. And until we again see clearly and feel deeply the reasons to weep, we will have little influence with those who need our message of God's care. When we do not grieve for the sinner, we have little power over the sin.
The consequences of our inability or refusal to grieve over the effects of sin may be most evident in the church's handling of its own young people. We wonder why our teens do not listen when the church says, "Tsk, tsk" to promiscuity. We wonder why telling them that premarital intercourse is bad and that they are horrible people for doing it does not curb their sexual activity. Seventy-five percent of young men and fifty percent of young women in this country are sexually active before marriage. Christian youth leaders like Josh McDowell say the figures are not significantly different for young people in evangelical churches. Why has the church lost power over sin amidst its most precious members—its children? We can blame many causes. The church can blame parents for not monitoring their children's entertainments. Parents can blame the church for not providing better youth programs. Parents and church can blame a culture that inundates the young with suggestive music, secular values, and selfish priorities. We have been blaming a long time, though. It does not seem to have done much good. Blaming is easier than grieving, but it's not more powerful.
Until the church learns to express grief as eloquently as it vents rage, we shall have little power over sin. We must grieve for children having children, for children having abortions, for children so desperate for affection that they do not even know when they are being used.
When Jesus looked over the people of Jerusalem so immersed in sin and so hardened to his message that they soon would murder him, he wept. Jesus knew how to express rage and umbrage, but his first response to the devastation of sin was grief: "O Jerusalem, Jerusalem, how I longed to gather you to myself as a hen gathers her chicks under her wings, but you would not." Grief for sin drove Jesus to the cross where sin was overpowered. If we are to have power over sin today, grief must at least drive us to our knees. It is not difficult to be angry with sin. It is easy to blame. Grieving for sin is hard work, calling for the deepest searching of our own hearts and motives. Still, we must seek this rending of our hearts as though it were a rare, life-giving potion which alone could save a dying child. For, without grief we are powerless over the sin that threatens God's children.
As a pastor, I saw a young girl in our congregation grow in the Lord over a period of years. I will call her Debbie. A young teen, she came to us soon after her abusive and alcoholic father had abandoned the family. She had almost no Christian background, but through Sunday school and church camp experiences, Debbie eventually committed her life to the Lord and blossomed in him. She became a leader in our youth group and a wonderful testimony to other young people. She often took special care to befriend young people who also had troubled family backgrounds. Debbie shared her own life and the Lord's love.
When she graduated from high school, however, Debbie confronted the harsh realities facing many young women in poor, small towns. Without the means or desire for college, and without good job opportunities, she decided to get married. Sadly, her choice reflected the only family relationships she had known. The young man to whom she became engaged already had an alcohol problem, had bounced from one dead-end job to another, was currently unemployed, and, worse, was not a Christian. When I heard that a wedding was likely, I went to Debbie and expressed concern. She acknowledged that her "friend" was not a believer, said she remembered the Bible's instructions that believers should marry "only in the Lord," and promised to obey God's Word in her choice of whom she would marry. Three months later she came asking me to marry her to the very same young man.
Debbie assured me her fiancé had become a Christian, and we set a time to talk about his faith and their plans. In the meantime I learned the two already had begun living together. Further, the conversation at our meeting made it very evident that the young man did not have the slightest idea of what a Christian was and was not the least interested. Debbie later indicated she had decided to coach the young man on what to say to trick me into marrying them. Debbie was defying the Scriptures openly, had broken her word to me, and was actively trying to deceive me. The whole situation made me furious. Finally, I said I could not in good conscience marry the two unless both agreed genuinely to commit themselves to the Lord. Their response was to go a church down the street to be married where the pastor did not know them and did not ask questions. Debbie's explanation of the turn of events to friends and family, of course, was not quite the same as mine. My name was mud. Hearing of her slander, I got angrier.
It was not until months later that I saw my sin. My decision was biblical; the Scriptures clearly forbid the wedding of believers and unbelievers (Matthew 19:5; I Corinthians 7:39; 2 Corinthians 6:14-7:2). But I am convinced now my attitude was wrong and, therefore, made me increasingly helpless in dealing with Debbie. I became angry, but I did not grieve. Here was a young woman who had known alcoholism and abuse all her life. She knew no other family world. Now, when she had the opportunity to make a new family world, she chose to marry back into her nightmare. She did not even have the perspective to know she was in a nightmare. It was all she knew. And yet I did not grieve. I so blinded by rage and vain concern for my own reputation that I lost sight of Debbie's pain. Is the reason she did not listen—could not listen—because she saw I did not care enough about her to grieve? Anger is no substitute for tears. Without weeping, the walls of sin are impenetrable, however righteous our indignation may be.
Among the saddest words of Scripture are those echoed three times in the first chapter of Romans: "God gave them over to the sinful desires of their hearts." The words remind us that sin is so awful that its worst punishment can simply be to let it run its course. God simply may let people have their way when they persist in sin. I have pastored long enough to know just what this may mean. I have seen the troubled marriages that inevitably result when believers marry unbelievers. I have seen the scars on children's children. I have tried to comfort believing wives when tears of pain stream down their faces over children who are following the paths of unbelieving husbands. I have watched in helplessness as shallow faith becomes a sham of faith when a believer marries a non-Christian. When God's people disobeyed, the Old Testament prophet Ezekiel saw the Lord's glory leave the temple. When God's people disobey him, the experience of his blessing still departs their lives. Until we see the tragedy of sin as clearly as Ezekiel, we will not pray, work, and love as we should, for we will not have grieved as we ought. It is not enough that our knees quake in fear of sin's consequences. If our knees do not give way to grief over the tragedy of sin, we are powerless to confront it or correct it.
Where is the grace in all of this? Are warnings to fear and grieve all Daniel can offer from God in this chapter? No. The mercy of the previous chapters has not vanished. God's warnings are proof of God's love. If he did not care, he would not warn.
As a child I loved the evenings that the kids in our family would sit by my father's chair while he read us stories aloud. One of our favorites was the poem "The Highwayman." The poem tells of an adventurer who robs the coaches of English aristocrats. The daring highwayman is in love with an innkeeper's daughter, and by night, when the coast is clear, he courts her. The authorities learn of the romance, and one twilight, before the highwayman arrives, British soldiers invade the inn. They tie the innkeeper's daughter at the window so the highwayman will see her and believe the way is safe. Then, lest she try to warn her love in any way, the soldiers gag the maid and tie a musket at her heart that will fire at the slightest movement. The highwayman comes riding.
Unaware of the muskets that wait to cut him down, the highwayman gallops ever closer to his destruction. He sees his love at the window. She hears his horse's hoofs on the lane. The soldiers cock their muskets. Nearer to the arms he loves, nearer to his destruction, the highwayman comes riding. Then, just as he is about to enter musket range, a premature shot rings out warning him to turn back. The highwayman reins and turns as the frustrated soldiers shoot a futile volley. All the muskets fire, but only one found its mark. The one true shot was from the musket that fired the warning—the musket aimed at the heart of the innkeeper's daughter. She warned at the expense of her life, and the warning was the expression of a great love.
Daniel's warnings also express a great love, because they are only the early strains of a clarion call echoing through history and culminating at Calvary. There at the Cross, our Lord demonstrated how great is his love when he sacrificed his life to warn us of the destruction that awaits us if we do not turn from sin. This was not the first warning, only the most poignant. Through Daniel's accounts of Nebuchadnezzar and Belshazzar, God had previously warned that repentance leads to blessing, and rebellion to destruction. God warned in the writing on the wall that we all live in a just universe where sin will be punished. The message of the Cross completes that warning. The hymnist, Thomas Kelly, points to the Cross on which the Son of God died and writes this:
You who think of sin but lightly
Nor suppose the evil great
Here may view its nature rightly,
Here its guilt may estimate.
The Cross stands both as God's ultimate warning of the consequences of sin, and as the greatest expression of his love for sinners. If God did not love, he would not so graciously warn. The Cross is the fatal cry of a Savior to those he loves to turn from what will do them great harm.
"Mene; Tekel; Peres" is not ultimately the handwriting against Belshazzar; it is the handwriting of God for us. By his hand God warns us of our sin. On the Cross of Jesus, we see that handwriting in its boldest and brightest strokes, for there the script is written in the blood of God's own Son. But the glory of that blood is that it does more than warn. In his letter to the Colossians, the Apostle Paul tells us it is the same blood that blots out the handwriting that was against us (Colossians 2:14). God warns us of his judgment so that we will seek the Son who already has assumed it. The blood of Jesus beacons and beckons. It beacons a warning to all who will look, testifying that God judges sin. "Turn back," the blood warns, "turn back from the sin that leads to your hurt and this destruction." At the same time, the blood beckons. It beckons sinners to be covered and cleansed by the crimson flow which God lovingly provides for all who truly repent. "Come," cries the blood, "come away from your guilt and enter the forgiving, comforting, strengthening presence of the Savior."
Grow in grace.
Sin is pleasant only for a season; it has a limited appeal. God knows this better than any of us, and so he warns us as clearly as possible about sin—its consequences and his judgment. The warnings may seem harsh, but their intent is clear. God only wants us to turn from the sin that will hurt us and return to the arms that will hold us in safety. As a father lovingly reserves sternest warnings for the greatest dangers his child will face, our heavenly Father carefully measures his terms to warn us of dangers to our growth in grace.
The message of God's judgment is never pleasant, still we must listen. However dark or hidden away our sin, however secure we think we are in it, we must listen. God says: "Your sin will surely find you out, for I bring every deed into judgment including every hidden thing. You must turn from it, my child. Go back; go back from the sin that will destroy what is most precious to you and to me. I judge sin. I desire to show mercy. I love you. I gave my Son for you. Come to the arms that will embrace you with love and life. Come, my child; come to me."
Lieutenant Colonel Brian Birdwell recounted his harrowing experience of being in the section of the Pentagon that was struck by the 9/11 attackers. The hallway in which he was walking was immediately enveloped in flame as an 80-ton aircraft traveling at 520 miles per hour struck the building. The force of the impact knocked him from his feet, and he temporarily lost consciousness. He awoke surrounded by fire, and without orientation. He said that he knew he was facing a ghastly death and wanted to flee but did not know which direction to run. The wrong choice would send him deeper into the flames, but he had to make a choice. So he ducked his head and ran, screaming, "Jesus, I am coming to see you." Whether he headed toward life or death, he still knew he was heading in the right direction. It turned out to be the right direction for more life here on earth.
You don't have to wonder what direction to run. In his mercy the Lord has shown you the consequences of sin and the mercy of his Son, so that you will run toward him. The same is true for us. I have spoken today as clearly as I know how about the reality of the judgment of God, but I want to make clear the reason: God shows consequences so that we will not experience them. Judgment need not be our destiny. Whatever is in your life, whatever is the evil you have allowed, there is a direction to run. Run to your Savior. He will receive you and hold you and help you. He loves you enough to point to the consequences of sin and say, "Mene; Tekel; Peres." And he does so to express with all the love in his heart: "Not that way. Come to me. If I love you enough to warn you, then you know that I love you enough to receive you. Come to me. Turn from the sin and run to him."
For Your Reflection
Personal growth: How has this sermon fed your own soul? ___________________________________________
Skill growth: What did this sermon teach you about how to preach? ____________________________________________________________________________
Exegesis and exposition: Highlight the paragraphs in this sermon that helped you better understand Scripture. How does the sermon model ways you could provide helpful biblical exposition for your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Theological Ideas: What biblical principles in this sermon would you like to develop in a sermon? How would you adapt these ideas to reflect your own understanding of Scripture, the Christian life, and the unique message that God is putting on your heart?
Outline: How would you improve on this outline by changing the wording, or by adding or subtracting points? _____________________________________________________________________
Application: What is the main application of this sermon? What is the main application of the message you sense God wants you to bring to your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Illustrations: Which illustrations in this sermon would relate well with your hearers? Which cannot be used with your hearers, but they suggest illustrations that could work with your hearers? ____________________________________________________________________________
Credit: Do you plan to use the content of this sermon to a degree that obligates you to give credit? If so, when and how will you do it?
Bryan Chapell is the senior pastor of Grace Presbyterian Church in Peoria, Illinois.