“The Writing on the Wall”
September 17, 2017
Throughout the Bible, we encounter characters who serve as models for us today. Some of those characters teach us what to do; others remind us what not to do. Belshazzar, the king of Babylon, was one character no one wants to replicate in today’s world, because the mistake he made cost him everything. In this message by Pastor Ed Young, we look at this rebellious ancient ruler in Daniel 5 and discover just what it takes for us to read, understand, and avoid the writing on the wall.
INTRO: You know, this morning I got some very distressing news, some horrible news. My mother passed away at 3:15 AM this morning. She’d been battling an illness for several years, and she was one of the great Christians I’ve ever known in my entire life. We were able to say our goodbyes to her, and I was able to FaceTime with her last night and tell her that I loved her and I knew that she was going to go to heaven. Be in prayer for our family. My brothers and I are going to do the funeral in Houston Thursday, which is not going to be an easy thing. However, as I was thinking about my mother’s life this morning, I know that she would have wanted me to speak. She had told me to get up to the church and preach because she loved the church. My mother definitely was one of the most self-aware people that I’ve ever had the privilege of knowing.
I’ve been talking about being self-aware. Being self-aware is, first of all, it starts with God. It’s knowing God, who knows us better than we know ourselves. And because we know God, one of the benefits of knowing him is this ability to know our strengths and weaknesses in the context of our own lives and also the lives of others.
Mom was one of the few people I’ve ever seen that when you talk to her, no matter if you were a billionaire or on welfare, she locked in and she listened to you. She asked questions about your life. She was also encouraging people and applauding their creativity and uniqueness. I tell you, she truly, truly, truly is in heaven. She’s with her family who has gone before her, her loved ones. Again, I appreciate your prayers and your thoughts during this time. Death is something that we never really plan on, we never expect, but all of us die. It’s part of living, but it’s still not easy, even though we know where she is. We’re going to miss her. Some of you know what I’m talking about. You’ve lost a mom. Others don’t, but it’s just part of living. Anyway, I did want to just tell you that, and I wanted you to share in that. But also I wanted you think about someone who has walked with God for a long time and someone who is acutely self-aware. Obviously, she’s perfectly self-aware now, my mother, but in this life she was self-aware.
What I want to ask you is, are you self-aware? Do you know yourself? Most of us would say, “Sure, Ed, I know myself.” But I would argue do you really know yourself?
Socrates said, and I quote, “Man, know thyself.” Do you know yourself? I don’t believe we can ever know ourselves until we know the one who knows us better than we’ll ever know ourselves and that is the Lord. Do you know yourself? We don’t know ourselves just to go, “Wow, I know myself.” It’s a benefit of a believer. Just like a benefit of being a believer is forgiveness, a clear conscience, purpose, eternal life, which my mother is experiencing right now. Another benefit of a believer is being self-aware, because God wants us to take advantage of this one and only life. Because what we do on this side of the grave affects what happens on the other side of the grave.
All of us will live forever in one of two places. We make the choice. Love is a choice. We either choose to allow God to rule sovereignly over our life, or we don’t. If we do, and if we walk with God, we’re going to be self-aware. If we don’t, and we don’t walk with God, we’re going to be self-unaware.
Thucydides said this. You were probably reading about Thucydides on your way to church, weren’t you? Thucydides said, “What we learn from history is that we don’t learn from history.” What we learn from history- think about that- is that we don’t learn from history. Those, though, who are self-aware learn from history.
Today I want to give you a quick history lesson. I want you to go back, back, back, back, back to the book of Daniel. Daniel is over in the Old Testament, specifically Daniel 5. I want to show you what happens, and I’m going to give you an extreme example here, when someone is self-unaware. Here’s what happens when someone really doesn’t know themselves. Here is what happens when someone doesn’t learn from history, when history is right there in front of them. Here’s what happens when someone doesn’t read the handwriting on the wall.
You probably heard it said before, the writing is on the wall. The writing is on the wall. You’ve heard people say that over and over again. The writing is on the wall. The writing is on the wall. This is where we get that phrase, the writing is on the wall. Daniel 5. Last week we met a guy, a crazy king, who made a turn in his life, who followed the Lord after a unique situation. His name was Nebuchadnezzar. Is that a great name? He’s definitely on the alt-name team- Nebuchadnezzar. Today we’re going to look at his grandson. His grandson had a great name too- Belshazzar. Say it with me.
He was a millennial king, a young guy, in his twenties. In Daniel 5, he was in a coffee shop in Babylon. Not Starbucks, he was too cool for that. Millennials don’t go to Starbucks. He was in a coffee shop, and he had his skinny jeans on, and his John Elliott shirt that went about there. Holes all in it, and he was on his iPhone thinking about his next Amazon Prime order while he was sipping pour over coffee. So he was just chilling. After all, he was the grandson of Papaw Nebuchadnezzar. So he got this text, “Dude, you’re the new king of Babylon.”
Sure enough, he was. Belshazzar, he lived to party, and he partied to live. He decided in Daniel 5 to throw a massive rave, a par-tay of all parties. Everybody was there. TMZ was there. The A-listers were there. The red carpet was there. DJ Tiesto was there. It was unbelievable. His wives were there. The dancers were there. His concubines were there. You could smell the perfume, the cigar smoke, and other types of smoke in this giant area in Babylon where they were having this party.
Archeologists have found giant banquet rooms, for example, built in tunnels underneath the Euphrates River that seat over a thousand people. Also, archeologists have found plaster. Remember that – plaster that in your mind. I’ll come back to that in a second.
This big party was taking place. Belshazzar, he was the man of the hour. He was the millennial king, the young guy. He thought everything was safe and secure. He thought everything was copasetic. He thought everything was great, everything was safe, because, as you read your history, this city had walls around it 350 feet high, 87 feet thick. Three chariots could ride around on the top of the wall side by side. Over a hundred guard towers. Water? Oh yeah, they had water. The Euphrates River snaked through the city. Food? They had food saved up for twenty years.
Here’s, though, what happened in Belshazzar’s life. God is getting ready to crash his party. Here’s a question. What do you do when the party’s over? What do you do? How do you feel? Where do you go when the party is over? Belshazzar threw this giant rave. He had no idea it would be his last night on earth. He died. He died, sadly, self-unaware.
There are different stages to being self-unaware. Again, don’t think about your spouse. Don’t think about your son. Don’t think about your boss. Don’t think about your manager. Don’t think about your coach. Don’t think about your teammate. Think about yourself. There’s several stages to being to self-aware. The first stage is the stage I want to draw your attention to, Daniel 5, the delusional stage.
If you’re self-unaware you’re delusional. You’re drunk with deception. Speaking of being smashed at the bash, Daniel 5:1-2. “ King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. While Belshazzar was drinking his wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver goblets that Nebuchadnezzar his father had taken from the temple in Jerusalem…”
In the Hebrew, that’s grandfather and father. The words are used interchangeably. His father was Nabonidus. That’s how you pronounce his name. His grandfather was Nebuchadnezzar. So, read there grandfather. When they besieged the temple at Jerusalem, when they took over Jerusalem, they brought back with them Daniel and a cadre of committed people. So then it says, “ so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them.”
Now he is putting it in God’s face, is he not? “Here are these things we’ve stolen from you, God. We’ve stolen from your temple. Yeah, we’re going to use them, and we’re going to get drunk, and we’re going to say, ‘God, I’m up in your grill. God, I’m sovereign; you’re not.’ Forget what happened to my grandfather. Forget what happened in history. I’m God, and you’re not. I’m the millennial king, man. I’m the man.”
Delusional. Taking the sacred and making it just secular, pedestrian. Making light of something holy.
“Oh, I would never do that, Ed. I would never steal from God.”
God says ten percent of everything we have should go to his house. Those aren’t my words. Don’t get mad at me. It’s what God says. Whenever I take part of the ten percent and use it on myself, I’m stealing from God. I’m making a mockery of the blessings of God. And if I’m not careful, if I’m self-unaware, the blessings in my life can become a blockade to seeing God, myself, and others. Are you stealing from God? God says in Malachi to his people, “Hey, you’re robbing me.” Everyone’s like, “How are we robbing you, God?” He said, “Through tithes and offerings.” Yeah, we rob God. We do.
So this guy’s disillusioned. He’s off his rocker because of the ride of pride. Pride will cause you to live a life where you are disillusioned and delusional. We make fun of sacred things. We make fun of marriage, of the institution of marriage. One man, one woman – we make fun of it. We make fun of the family. Look at the reality shows. Look at the comedies just abusing and making fun of the family. We make fun of authority figures. We abuse them, the people that take care of us. Oh, yeah, we’re self-unaware. Look at our culture. Look at the storm surge of sensuality, how we make fun of this God-given thing called sex.
Delusional, Belshazzar was delusional, but look at the next thing. He was living a life of disrespect. So you’re delusional. That’s part of being self-unaware caused by pride. You think you’re the man. You think you’re the girl. Then you go from that, I mean, you don’t do it intentionally, it just happens. You begin to disrespect the things of God and the authority figures that God has placed in your life.
Look, we don’t have any respect for any positions anymore. It’s pathetic. We say, “Well, I don’t like the person so I’m just going to disrespect the office.” No, if you wait to do that, you’ll never have respect. You respect and you honor the office, the position, even if you don’t dig the person. I mean, that’s what you do. This shows you how self-unaware we can become.
In fact, Daniel 5:4-6, “As they drank the wine,” this is interesting, isn’t it? “They praised the gods of gold and silver, “and bronze and iron and wood and stone.”
Wow, this is scary. Suddenly, while they’re Everybody dancing. Suddenly, this is freaky, a hand emerges from the plaster, breaks it up, and begins to write on the wall right there in front of the millennial king Belshazzar. If I’m there, that would freak me out. A hand coming out of the wall and writing on the wall. That’s where we get the phrase, the writing is on the wall. The writing is on the wall. Literally, the writing is on the wall.
Daniel 5:4-6“As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. Suddenly the fingers of a human hand appeared and wrote on the plaster of the wall, near the lampstand in the royal palace. The king watched the hand as it wrote. His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his knees knocked together and his legs gave way.”
Three words were written: mene, tekel, peres. Say it with me. Mene, tekel, peres. No one knew what in the world they meant.
I’m a why guy, and maybe you are too. As I read this, I’m like, “Why didn’t Belshazzar go, ‘Oh, this is encouraging. The hand of God is coming out of the plaster, and God has a special message for me. It must be something unbelievable. God has a plan for me. God is going to show how much he’s going to bless me, and how amazing I am, and how young I am, and this and that!’”
He didn’t. I wonder why. Because of his conscience. We interpret things, do we not, in relationship to our conscience, to our conscience. We invite people to attend church and so often they make up all of these excuses. Why? Their conscience, their conscience.
Adam and Eve sinned. They realized they’d messed up. They heard God walking through the garden. They tried to cover themselves. Their conscience.
King Herod heard about Jesus, and he thought, “Whoa, maybe it’s John the Baptist, who I killed, resurrected.” His conscience messed with him.
Your conscience; your conscience. Belshazzar knew down deep in his heart of hearts, he knew down deep in his soul, he knew down deep he was messed up. He knew he was running the show. He had a moment of clarity. He had a moment where he was like, “Man, I’m jacked up.” He knew he was sovereign over his life and his conscience bothered him.
ILLUS: First time I ever remember my conscience, I was six years-old. My neighbor had this beautiful cement bird feeder. My best friend was named Robert, and he hobbled along on crutches because he had a hip problem. Wherever I would go, Robert would go. Wherever Robert would go, I would go.
I said, “Robert, look at that bird feeder. Let’s turn it over.” I also knew then that I was a leader because he followed me.
So I pushed and poor Robert pushed. We pushed and the bird feeder fell over, and this cement bird feeder broke into a thousand pieces. I remember falling over laughing at this bird feeder, my neighbor’s bird feeder, that I’d busted into a billion pieces. They weren’t at home. No one saw it. I was just laughing. So Robert and I talked about it. Robert hobbled off. I went back to my house.
An hour went by. I’m thinking to myself, “I’m free.”
Some more time melted off the clock. “No one will ever find out.” All of a sudden, that old rotary phone, that yellow rotary phone, began to ring. “No way.”
Then my conscience, it was all over me. My sweet mother- she’s hearing this right now from heaven- picked the phone up. She’s from Laurel, Mississippi. “Hello? He did? Are you sure it was Ed? Yes, it was him if you saw a boy with crutches next to him. Thank you.”
Wow, I got in trouble. That kind of trouble. Allowance. I worked. I’ll never forget when I went to the bird feeder store. I’ll never forget it, and I put all the money- I had a little piggy bank- up on the counter and bought a new bird feeder.
How’s your conscience? If we’re really self-aware, man, our conscience is going to be on point. A lustful thought. A prideful statement. A materialistic or selfish play. Your conscience.
But the millennial king was like, “Man, no big deal. I mean, yeah, I feel a little bit bad, but you know, whatever. Someone will interpret it.”
So he calls all of the ivy league MBA’s in, all the PhD’s, all the glassy-eyed gurus. He goes, “Guys, in the middle of the par-tay, interpret these words.”
They couldn’t do it. Then his me-maw comes in, the queen mother, and encourages him, “Oh, Belty, Belt. Everything’s going to be okay. I’m sure the words are very positive and encouraging. Don’t fret; don’t cry now. But there was a guy I remembered. Your pe-paw used to talk about him, Daniel. And Daniel told your pe-paw some words that changed his life. Maybe Daniel is still around.”
So they bring in Daniel. What do you think Daniel was thinking when he walks in and sees all this nudity, all the people doing coke, other drugs, all the craziness, all the mayhem. What do you think Daniel is thinking? He wasn’t invited.
He walks up and looks at the three words- mene tekel peres- and he goes, “Oh, mene means numbered. Hey, Belshazzar, your days are numbered. In fact, tonight your ticket is going to be punched.”
Wow, God has your number, whether you know it or not. He has my number.
Tekel, your life has been weighed, and it’s come up wanting. As you read this story in Daniel 5, he’s giving Belshazzar an opportunity to repent, but Belshazzar doesn’t learn from history. He doesn’t think about, “Man, my pe-paw repented, God changed his life. But I’m going to do what I’m going to do.”
Are you really relying on your works to balance the scales and the blazing brilliance of the glory of God? Good isn’t good enough, because as God weighs your life, you’re wanting, you’re lacking. Only the blood of Jesus tips the scales, and only if you’ve applied that. Do you know him?
Then he says peres. You know what the word pere means? Peres – not Paris, France, Belshazzar. Peres means your kingdom will be divided, because read your history. The Medes and Persians had the city surrounded. It seemed to be impenetrable, but they diverted the water source of the Euphrates without them realizing it was slowly, slowly, the water level was descending. It was drying up. They took their forces, marched on the riverbed, underneath the wall, came in and opened up a can and took them out. It happened that night.
What do you do when the party’s over? What do you do? Delusional. You begin to disrespect authority figures, disrespect God. “I’m the man. I’m the girl. I’ll do what I want. I sovereignly rule over my life. My life is before me. I’m protected.”
Well, Daniel was very self-aware. I just jotted a couple things down. You can write these down and look at them later, but integrity will always bring opportunity.
Daniel was a man of integrity, and he was able to speak into the lives of many people, many powerful people. Why? Because he knew God, and God knew him better than he knew himself, and because of that, he was able to wax eloquently about this knowledge to others.
Notice this too. Honor will bring respect. Even though Daniel, I’m sure, when he walked in and saw this millennial king was like, “You’ve got to be kidding me. This guy doesn’t get it. Here he is, sipping some more pour over coffee, smoking weed, all of his topless dancers around him. He’s lost his mind. I don’t respect him as a person, but I honor him because of his position.”
And he gives him, as you read about his life, a history lesson, and he gives him a theology lesson.
ILLUS: How many people in here- This is kind of random, but it’s not. How many people in here like professional wrestling? I do. That’s it. No, I’m talking about real wrestling. I’m talking about wrestling. Dusty Rhodes, God bless him. Junkyard Dog. Come on, hands are going up everywhere. Jimmy “Superfly” Snuka, and my favorite- Rick, whoo, “Nature Boy” Flair. You know Rick Flair almost died a couple of weeks ago. He did. Flair had some sort of intestinal problem. I don’t want to get too detailed, but he was able to emerge from this very serious condition. It’s going to take more than an intestinal problem to take out the Nature Boy.
Anyway- I used to watch Nature Boy wrestle back in the day- Township Auditorium, Columbia, South Carolina. Nature Boy would grab one of his opponents, and he would always say this, “Now we go to school.” Man, he would come off those top ropes. Figure-four leg dive. Whoo! Or, better than this- whoo. Not wow, whoo! That’s what Flair would say.
Well, that’s what Daniel did to Belshazzar, without the top rope. “Whoo! I’m going to take you to school. Hey Belshazzar, now we go to school.”
So he gives him- Daniel does- a history lesson. “You didn’t learn from your pe-paw. I mean, your pe-paw was all up in pride and ego and he was ruling over himself. You didn’t learn from him. Look what happened. He repented. God changed his life, and you are now on this ride of pride. Whoo! But once you say no, one day God’s going to put his no on top of your no.”
You can’t come to the Lord anytime you want. You only have an opportunity when God gives it to you, and he had the opportunity. So he gave him a history lesson. You’re not learning from history. Then he gave him a Bible lesson, and Belshazzar again just refused.
So honor will bring respect. Integrity will bring opportunity. Notice something else about being self-aware. This is from Daniel’s life. Truth will bring decision. He gave him an opportunity for a decision. He gave them all, and he was pointing out Belshazzar, the provision for this decision.
But look at Daniel 5:22-23. “ But you his son, O Belshazzar, have not humbled yourself, though you knew all this. Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord…”
You are oblivious to the obvious. Do you know someone like that? Oblivious to the obvious. Hey, dude, the writing is on the wall. Hey, girl, the writing is on the wall.
ILLUS: I talked to a couple in my office years ago. They were both going down the wrong path. Finally, I said to them, “The writing’s on the wall. Do you want me to tell you what’s going to happen to your lives individually and also collectively?” I just went through this and that and this. I said “You’re signing up for that. The writing is on the wall if you continue walking down the path you’re walking. But,” I said, “if you go the other way, the writing is in the word.”
And I showed them the life that God has. You have a choice to make- A or B, one or two.
Belshazzar said no to God, and it led him to destruction. See, it’s a simple process, a deadly process. You’re delusional, you’re disrespectful, then destruction.
Daniel 5:30, “That very night Belshazzar, king of the Babylonians, was slain, and Darius the Mede took over the kingdom.”
We have to understand that God is a God of wrath. It’s not going to be on a coffee mug that we’re going to give away a V.I.P. But God is a God of wrath. He’s a God of love, but also he’s a God of wrath.
“What do you mean a God of wrath?”
Well, the fact of the God’s wrath- read scripture. Think about this story right here. It’s a fact. The focus of God’s wrath. What’s the focus of God’s wrath? Sin and rebellion. God wants everybody to repent. That’s his will, but we have the choice.
The finality of God’s wrath. Once we say no, God puts his no on our no. We’re eternally separate from him, because one day, those of us here who are believers, we will face the judgment seat of Christ. That’s another topic we don’t like to talk about. I’m talking to Christians. I’m talking to believers. We will be judged based on what we did with what God gave us. Our gifts, abilities, aptitudes, our finances, our blessings. You’ll be judged, I’ll be judged, based on that. Man, what a responsibility, what an accountability to live the life.
There’s another judgment called the Great White Throne Judgment, and that’s the judgment for nonbelievers. If your name is not written in the Lamb’s Book of Life, God will say, “You said no to me time and time and time again. Here’s my no on your no. You’ll be eternally separate from me for the rest of your existence.”
In 2 Corinthians 6:2, “I tell you, now is the time of God’s favor, now is the day of salvation.”
Belshazzar had an opportunity to get his life right, to turn it all over to God. Belshazzar, your days are numbered. Belshazzar, your works have been weighed, and you’ve come up lacking. Belshazzar, your kingdom is going to be divided. Follow the Lord. Make him sovereign because once you do, you’ll be on your way to knowing God in a deep way and also knowing yourself. Let’s bow our heads.
[Ed leads in closing prayer.]