Good morning Journey. My name is Phil Human- I’m one of the pastors here at Journey – and it’s my pleasure to speak with you today about the wonderful availability of the Kingdom of God – the gates of which have been thrown wide open to people like you and me through faith in Jesus Christ.
Today we are in our fourth week of investigating the book of Daniel – which is in the Old Testament. We learned that the events described in the book take place between 600bc and 537bc – and the events center in the city of Babylon – which was the capital city of the Babylonian empire.
We remember that Daniel and his friends – Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego – were kidnapped from Judah- by King Nebuchadnezzar, and along with thousands of cultural influencers – and exiled to Babylon where they were trained in the Babylonian language and customs.
We spoke about the major theme of the book of Daniel – which is that – in spite of appearances – God is in control. And that’s a good thing to remember – especially in this wild and wacky year of 2020. God is still in control – he is our good shepherd and we can trust him.
Before we jump into todays story – I do want to bring to your attention one way I’ve had to remind myself that God is in control, in spite of appearances – and that is in relation to being able to meet in the school.
The schools were hoping to be able to open back up to the community usage – like Journey – however – that is not going to happen right now – and so we will let you know what the plans are for us – we might have to stay here at the Embassy suites a little longer than planned. But we will keep you informed – okay?
God’s in control – in spite of appearances and that desires a muffled Amen from your beautiful masked mouth!
Now – today’s story. We remember the beginning of the book we spoke about Daniel as a young teenager being kidnapped by King Nebuchadnezzar. Well, by chapter 5 – Daniel is now more than 80 years old. And King Nebuchadnezzar has been dead for 22 years.
In fact – there has been a host of mediocre rulers of Babylon during those 22 years – and the King now is a man named Nabonidus. Nabonidus however – has left Babylon in the charge of his son Belshazzer – who sees himself as King of Babylon – though in fact he is second in command.
Let’s pick up the story in Daniel chapter 5.
Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them.
Now before we go further it’s important to understand why they are drinking and carrying on. And a clue is found in the chronicles kept by the Babylonians that indicated that merely days before this feast – the Babylonian army – led by Nabonidus – was defeated by Cyrus the Great and the Persian army in a battlefield less than 50 miles from the city of Babylon.
Certainly- Belshazzer knew that they would be coming to Babylon next. Now – was this party that he threw a goodbye party? Was it one of those – eat drink and be merry for tomorrow we may die kind of things?
Many people think that it was an effort to calm the ruling class – everything will be fine – we’re living in Babylon – we have walls and are safe. And – by the way – Babylon was encircled by an impressive systems of walls and defenses. Nebuchadnezzar built 40’ high walls that were thick enough that they could have chariot races on top of the walls.
And that’s not a small thing as the city of Babylon was 200 square miles – Omaha has 144 square miles – as a comparison – so there’s a massive wall system – defense system in place- and some people think that Belshazzer was throwing a party to tell everyone – that things are fine- we’re safe. it’s all good.
I get the feeling that perhaps it was a bit of both. Everything’s fine – so let’s eat drink and be merry – just in case.
2 While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines.
3 So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.
Now this is something Nebuchadnezzar never did. Nebuchadnezzar apparently looted the Temple in Israel but left the items in the treasury- here though – Belshazzer uses them as dinner plates and beer pong cups- and as a special insult to both Israel and the God of Israel – uses the gold cups from the temple in order to toast the gods of Babylon. – and I like how the Bible makes sure to tell us these gods were made of rocks and sticks.
5 Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, 6 and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him.
Now – just curiously – there are three other times when the finger of god is mentioned. In Exodus 8- Moses strikes the ground and turns the dust into gnats and the court magicians say – this is the finger of God!
And later in Exodus 31 Moses says the ten commandments were written by the finger of God. And interesting in Luke 11 – after Jesus drives out demons – the religious leaders are puzzled about how he does it and Jesus tells them – I drive out demons by the finger of God. And I’m doing it to show you that the kingdom of God has come to you and you’re talking to the king. I’m flicking demons into the pit.
Here – the finger of God writes on the wall.
7 The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him.
Now – it would be helpful for us to picture that every time the king calls for his magicians we imagine the three stooges running into the room. Because one thing is for sure – every time we read about them they are clueless and completely unhelpful.
8 But when all the king’s wise men had come in, none of them could read the writing or tell him what it meant. 9 So the king grew even more alarmed, and his face turned pale. His nobles, too, were shaken.
10 But when the queen mother heard what was happening, she hurried to the banquet hall. She said to Belshazzar, “Long live the king! Don’t be so pale and frightened.
11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods.
13 So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king asked him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles brought from Judah by my predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar?
14 I have heard that you have the spirit of the gods within you and that you are filled with insight, understanding, and wisdom.
Now – by the way – let’s just note here the contemptuous tone of the ‘king’. aren’t you one of the exile jews… Aren’t you some nobody? And it’s not lost on Daniel who seems to have little regard for this king. Where there seemed to be a respect or Nebuchadnezzar – there seems little of it here.
I’ll read the rest of the chapter and then we can talk about what we can learn from this story.
17 Daniel answered the king, “Keep your gifts or give them to someone else, but I will tell you what the writing means. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar.
19 He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace.
20 But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. Chapter 4 – by the way
22 “You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. 23 For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you.
You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone—gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny!
24 So God has sent this hand to write this message.
25 “This is the message that was written: Mene, mene, tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is what these words mean:
Mene means ‘numbered’—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end.
27 Tekel means ‘weighed’—you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up.
28 Parsin means ‘divided’—your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.”
29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was dressed in purple robes, a gold chain was hung around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom.
30 That very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed.
31 And Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two.
Now for the rest of my time this morning I want to compare the two kingdoms that are present in the story. We’ve stated the overall theme of Daniel is that God is in control – but I don’t think it would be wrong to say that Daniel is really a tale of two kingdoms. This is a Tale of Two Kingdoms – There is the Kingdom of Babylon – Belshazzer’s kingdom. And there is the Kingdom to which Daniel belongs – the Kingdom of God.
And even though we don’t live in a kingdom in America – it’s not hard to understand what a kingdom is. A kingdom – or queendom – is the place where what you want done, get’s done.
That’s what a kingdom is. And all of us have a kingdom. Yes we do – including children. Now you might say – what kingdom does a child have control over – well, a child will often have a teddy bear – and a place that’s their place. Maybe a crawl space or a fort. It’s cruel to take a child’s favorite beanie baby – they only thing they have dominion over.
I still remember I used to sleep with a stuffed pillow in the shape of a raccoon. – rocky the raccoon. Until one day apparently I was too old to sleep with a stuffed raccoon and Jody threw it out. No – it wasn’t Jody – it was my dad. He threw it out.
And I know what he was trying to do – grow up son! But it hurt – because my raccoon was part of my domain. I had dominion over Rocky Racoon!
You have a dominion somewhere – the place where what you want done gets done. And I think that it’s why so many of the most popular games today deal with kingdom building. I’ve built my own world. This is my place. Open concept – I can go anywhere – do anything – it’s my world.
Belshazzar had an actual kingdom. We have ours too. Just as he protected his kingdom – we protect ours.
So even though I’ll be talking about the differences between Belshazzar’s kingdom and Daniels Kingdom – the kingdom of God – know that the subtext is really comparing God’s kingdom to yours. But I’ll really hammer Belshazzar’s kingdom – and you get to decide how far you’re willing to apply the subtext to your own kingdom, okay?
First – Belshazzar’s Kingdom offered no safety. Daniel was always safe in the Kingdom of God.
Belshazzar thought he was safe. Hoped he was safe from the threat that was out there. He hoped he had prepared himself to be able to defend what was his. But that very night – according to Babylon’s own records – the Persians infiltrated the city in an overnight raid that occurred as king Belshazzar threw a party.
Belshazzar’s kingdom was better defended than ours – but his fell as suddenly and unexpectedly as yours and mine could. It doesn’t matter how well we think we have our kingdom protected – we know – like Belshazzar – that there is something out there lurking on the other side that could wipe us out.
But here’s Daniel – a citizen of the Kingdom of God – who knew that he was safe and sound in the care of the King of the universe. The same kingdom that Jesus came to proclaim to us – the same kingdom wildly available to us through faith in Jesus.
A few years ago I read a quote from Dallas Willard – who wrote this one sentence that utterly rocked my world. Jesus brings the assurance that our universe is a perfectly safe place for us to be. Willard, Dallas. The Divine Conspiracy (p. 77).
Now that sentence rocked my world and I’ve yet to meet anyone who reads that for the first time and agrees with it the first time they read it. So if you find yourself squirming – you are normal.
And I will not try to convince you to believe him – but this is the difference between the Kingdom of heaven and all other kingdoms.
It doesn’t mean that we will not endure hardship, tragedy, pain or even death. Those things belong to all of us a fellow participants in humanity.
But when we place ourselves under the care of the King of the Universe that we are assured we are safe – even if – in the words of last weeks hero’s, God does not choose to rescue us from the flames.
Second difference between Belshazzar’s Kingdom and the Kingdom of Heaven that Daniel safely resided within…
Belshazzar’s kingdom could not answer the question of significance.
As his kingdom is about to crumble – what does he do? Belshazzar does what a lot of people do to dull the pain of an insignificant life… he turns to drink – he turns to women – he turns to a display of his power – and ultimately- don’t lose sight of this – he turns to religion – he toasts his gods –
Why? What has he done? His name is thrown into the dustbin of history – the bible was the only place his name was even recorded until the found some tablets about a hundred years ago – that explained he ruled Babylon – people used to think that the writer of Daniel made up names- got his history wrong – why did he offer Daniel to be third in his kingdom – well, a hundred years ago his name surfaced and we discovered that his kingdom was just Babylon – handed to him by his father.
He tried his best to puff himself up into something important but ultimately, it offered him no sense of significance.
In contrast to the king in his court we find the exiled slave from Judah – who learned that a life lived with God – the with God life – provides each of us with the significance we so desired.
None of us strive to be ordinary. We all want to be extraordinary. We all want our lives to count – to matter. It’s not egotistical to desire that – it’s the way God created us. Because he knows we DO matter. And he created us TO count.
The reason why people have been so drawn to Jesus for these two thousand years is because Jesus treats people like they matter! Jesus equally lifts all souls to live a life of significance.
He always treats people with dignity. He always treats people as though they are priceless, important, irreplaceable. He knows we were built to count.
And within the Kingdom of Heaven we are promised that God will walk with us, and work with us, and that together we get to make a difference in this world where we live. We get to be salt and light and agents of love and respect and dignity.
Belshazzar dulled the pain of an insignificant life with drink, parties, women, and self promotion. But Daniel knew that the ‘with God’ life meant all of his days counted.
And that’s the promise of the kingdom offered to us as well. The Kingdom secures us a significant life that counts.
Third – let’s note who is celebrated in the Kingdom of Belshazzar. The King and his 1000 nobles. Waited on. Elevated.
who is celebrated in the Kingdom of Heaven? Don’t miss it. The drunks. The prostitutes. The tax collectors. The schemers. As well as anyone who will humble themselves enough to admit they need a savior.
Here’s Jesus… Luke 15:10 10 In the same way, there is joy in the presence of God’s angels when even one sinner repents.”
And who is left out? Those like Belshazzar – who were too proud to surrender their kingdom to another.
One last comparison – see – the Kingdom of Babylon – the king – was judged and found lacking by God.
In the Kingdom of Heaven – we need not fear judgment. Jesus took our judgment upon us. And now there is no condemnation for those who think highly enough to trust Jesus with their everything.
If you have already bowed your heart to the true King – you already have crossed the line of faith and believe Jesus to be your king – then rejoice!
And if you have not yet done so – today can be the day. Won’t you join us? Become a citizen of heaven by believing that Jesus lived for you, and died for you, and rose again from the dead for you. Come and be part of a Kingdom without end.