(Photo compliment of Colegate Baptist)
The Jamaica Baptist Union has designated the month of July Evangelism Emphasis month to allow for us to give visibility to this vital organ of the Church. As disciples of Jesus Christ, we have been mandated to communicate the Good News, challenge those living comfortably in sin, and call on the comfortable; that is, those entrapped in sin and enslaved by sin to turn from their destructive life of sin toward God by faith the forgiver of sins.
Throughout this month then, we will be reflecting on this evangelistic thrust through the lenses of the denomination's theme: "Being God People in God World: Living the Sacrificial Life." Today, I invite you to contemplate with me this theme illustrated in an incident recorded in Daniel 5:1-9 and as I give particular focus to those who are unrestraint, unrepentant and unrelenting in their exercise of deception, disdain and despotism, demanding even the dignity of the already disenfranchised, deserted and deprived. According to the text:
King Belshazzar gave a great banquet for a thousand of his nobles and drank wine with them. 2 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, so that the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines might drink from them. 3 So they brought in the gold goblets that had been taken from the temple of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank from them. 4 As they drank the wine, they praised the gods of gold and silver, of bronze, iron, wood and stone. 5 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. 6 His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. 7 The king summoned the enchanters, astrologers and diviners. Then he said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever reads this writing and tells me what it means will be clothed in purple and have a gold chain placed around his neck, and he will be made the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” 8 Then all the king’s wise men came in, but they could not read the writing or tell the king what it meant. 9 So King Belshazzar became even more terrified and his face grew more pale. His nobles were baffled.
History has informed us that preoccupation with material prosperity, power, prestige, and pleasure usually heralds a culture of criminality, the creation of corruption and the collapse of a civilization. It was this preoccupation which led, in part to the demise of Babylon. Yet, in our time, we have witnessed the determination, the drive, and the dubious desire of those who have been thoroughly devoted to the pursuit of prosperity, power and pleasure. In our time, we have witnessed many in their pursuit of prosperity, power and pleasure willingly, wilfully and wickedly devastate and destroy the lives of others. In our time, we have witnessed many in their pursuit of prosperity, power and pleasure deceitfully devise schemes, shams and scams to satisfy their immoderate, immoral and impetuous lifestyle. Allow me to suggest that you are no different from Belshazzar, the high-minded hard-hearted hot-headed king of Babylon.
Belshazzar was the flamboyant ruler of Babylon; a powerful nation which was a proud symbol of paganism, prosperity and political cruelty. Babylon had a long history of powerful kings. One of those kings was Nebuchadnezzar, who had conquered Judah, bringing the temple treasures to Babylon along with Daniel and many other captives. They were made to endure famine, fatalities and financial hardships. Cruel though Belshazzar was loved by his confederates; especially those who embraced his loose and larger than life lifestyle while encouraging his inhumane, idolatrous and impious policies and practices. To maintain his prestige, he went in pursuit of greed and glory, which recklessly ruined the lives of many exiled in Babylon.
Isn’t it true that we live in a nation of Belshazzars’, that is, a nation where people in pursuit of greed and glory demonise, dehumanise and deceive others? Isn’t it true that we live in a nation of Belshazzars’ that is a nation where the pursuit of greed and glory take precedents over civility, dignity and integrity? Isn’t it true that we live in a nation of Belshazzars’, that is a nation where those who talk about corruption are often times less than credible; a nation where people talk about crime but are beneficiaries of its proceeds; a nation where people talk about elevating the poor but exploit those living in poverty?
It is time, the Belshazzars’ look around and see the fruit of their recklessness that in pursuit of greed and glory they have obstructed, oppressed and obliterate the lives of others. It is time, the Belshazzars’ look around to see that their preoccupation with power, prosperity and pleasure is the catalyst of corruption, criminality and chaos in the society. It is time, the Belshazzars’ recognize that God has been watching, that God has been weighing the fate of many in the balance, have found many wanting. It is time, the Belshazzars’ recognize that God who is the author and finisher of our faith is about write his final verdict.
Allow me on this Lord’s Day to extrapolate three observations from this text; a text which outlines the story of Belshazzar, a ruthless, shameless and heartless king, who in the height of his pursuit of greed and glory became greatly troubled when he saw the mysterious fingers of a human hand writing an unknown message on the plaster of a wall in his palace.
Firstly, I would like to suggest that HE WAS GLUTTONOUS.
The story of Belshazzar is the story of an insensitive, imprudent and impious man with an insatiable appetite. He represents the kind of person who is shallow, self-seeking and sensual. The kind of person who indulges in extravagance as a profile to cover his insecurities, convey a fictitious sense of affluence and conceive theories to promote self-importance. The kind of person who indulges in loose and lascivious living to impress his friends even while those around him perish.
At the time of Belshazzar’s elaborate feast, the great kingdom of Babylon was just about to fall to the kingdom of the Medes and Persians. In fact, the capital city was already surrounded by a well-positioned army. Yet, amidst lurking danger, Belshazzar thought that he was invincible. Instead of seeing to the safety of his people, he chose to selfishly revel with a thousand of his friends, his wives and his concubines, in an effort to consume the extravagant feast of food and liquor which could perhaps feed all of Babylon. He was gluttonous.
Can I suggest that there are many like Belshazzar who have an uncontrollable weakness for extravagance? However, I believe that his pursuit of greed exposed a deeper longing which the extra food, extra liquor or even the extra people around him could not satisfy. Could it be, that those who vigorously pursue greed and glory have a deeper emptiness and are really seeking for something to satisfy this void? Could it be that those in pursuit of greed and glory are spiritually malnourished individuals who employ selfish pursuits to compensate, to camouflage or to conceal their bankrupt emotional and spiritual state? Could it be that those in pursuit greed and glory are in a spiritual conundrum at a spiritual crossroad searching for something deeper and more meaningful which only God can satisfy.
I can hear the word of one writer echoing in my ear:
Like the woman at the well, I was seeking
For things that could not satisfy
And then I heard my Savior speaking
"Draw from the well that never will run dry."
Fill my cup, Lord, I lift it up, Lord
Come and quench this thirsting in my soul
Bread of Heaven feed me till I want no more
Fill my cup, fill it up and make and me whole.
Secondly, not only that he was gluttonous; but that HE WAS SACRILEGIOUS.
The king’s great feast was no doubt sinfully sensual. The diners ate and drank to excess. Perhaps the purpose of the revel was either a distraction from his sorrows and shortcomings or to build up morale among the stakeholders of the city. These revellers did not know that their festivity would soon be turned to calamity. However, under the influence of his booze, Belshazzar thought up an impressive plan to make his feast truly unique. He would bring to the banquet hall the vessels that were sacred and which Nebuchadnezzar had brought from Jerusalem many years earlier. Belshazzar tried to gain the admiration of his nobles through this imprudent, immoral, irreverent action. His action in desecrating and dishonouring the holy vessels demonstrated his inexcusable poor judgment and that he was sacrilegious. Belshazzar, his nobles, his wives and his concubines had committed an ultimate sin which carried dire, devastating and deadly consequences. It was that night of their drunken debauchery, that God announced God’s displeasure with the writing on the wall.
Could it be that like Belshazzar, in the pursuit of greed and glory there are those who have also been sacrilegious? Could it be that like Belshazzar, in the pursuit of greed and glory those who have manipulated, mocked or mistreated the people, the places and the possessions of God are also sacrilegious? Could it be that like Belshazzar, in the pursuit of greed and glory there are those who have broken into churches, have stolen furniture and equipment and have knowingly purchased properties belonging to church are also sacrilegious? Could it be that like Belshazzar’s Babylon, our nation which has been besieged and broken by crime is because as a nation we are sacrilegious? The time has come for us as a nation to repent of our sins, for we have been grossly immoral, impious and irreverent toward God and the things of God.
Isn’t it true that there are those who campaign through the Church when it suits them and chastise the Church when it disagrees with their agenda? Isn’t it true that there are those who depend on the Church in times of need and desecrate the Church in moments of greed? Isn’t it true that there are those who commends the Church when it is speaking their language but criticize the Church when it challenges their lifestyle. Paul said, many live as enemies of the cross of Christ. Their end is destruction, their god is their appetite, and their glory is in their shame. Their minds are set on earthly things. I have come to inform you that the writing is on the wall.
Finally, not only that he was gluttonous and sacrilegious; but HE BECAME ANXIOUS.
At the great feast of Belshazzar; the king, a thousand of his nobles, his wives and his concubines drank their liquor from the sacred golden vessels which were taken from Jerusalem. I can only imagine that they were consuming the best booze that money could buy. However, we are told that in the same hour came the mysterious fingers of a hand that wrote a mysterious message over against the candlestick – a well-lit area of the room for all to see the impending and imminent judgment. The message was written upon the plaster of the wall in the king’s palace where the ungodly revelers where gathered. We are told that the king’s countenance changed and his thoughts troubled him, so that his face turned pale, his legs became weak, his knees buckled and perhaps his loins gave way for a sudden rush of all he had consumed. He became anxious.
Recently, a young man, who appeared very uneasy, came to the church and asked if I was the pastor. I answered and he asked if I could pray for his ring. I asked him what kind of ring it was and he said it was for his protection. The truth is, in the day of trouble no guard, no guard ring and no gun will save us. In the day of trouble no weapon, no wall and no worker of iniquity can protect, prevent or predict impending doom. In the day of trouble our pursuit of greed and glory will be of no comfort or consolation. You and I have an assurance, that in the day of trouble, we can call on God and he will deliver us. When my heart is overwhelmed lead me to the Rock that is higher than I.
Belshazzar in his pursuit of greed and glory was gluttonous, sacrilegious and became anxious for he had done surmountable evil in the sight of God. Today I urge you to learn from the lessons of Belshazzar. Abandon the pre-occupation with power, prosperity and pleasure. Abandon the passionate pursuit of greed and glory. Unlike Belshazzar, you can rewrite the ending to your story from one of tragedy to triumph. Remember that God is the author and finisher of our faith.
(Christ For Today – Dukett Duncan – July 2 2017)