Mene & Tekel
Mene & Tekel
I have been looking forward to today because now we pick up our deep and wide study in the book of Daniel. Now I should warn you, I’m going to break all the rules when it comes to this sermon series. This series will not be preach progressively, that is starting from chapter one and moving through until the book’s end. Instead of beginning in chapter 1 with Daniel entering Babylon as a young man, we begin in where Daniel is an old man and Babylon is on its way out. So I’m breaking the rule of preaching progressively, we will hop about this book.
The next rule I am going to break is one and done. That is only giving one sermon for each of the book’s chapters. This year we are going to revisit the same chapters in Daniel. Because one and done preaching often repeats the same ideas while leaving other lessons behind.
Daniel chapter 5 is a perfect example of this. We come to this story of a king who holds a party for a thousand of his officials. The amount of alcohol being served and the immorality at this party would have made Hugh Heffner blush. All of a sudden a hand without a body, writes words that have come from God on the banquet hall wall. No one knows what the words mean until Daniel is summoned. Daniel tells the king that the words are Mene [which means Numbered] , Tekel [which means weighed], and Upharsin [which means divided]. And of the these three words, most one and done sermons on focus on Upharsin – Divided. One and done sermons on focus on Babylon’s fall.
In Adventist churches we focus on Upharsin – Babylon’s fall – because of our interest in the book of Revelation. An angel in Revelation warns those living in the last day that a future Babylon is “Fallen, Fallen.” We are told that the keys to understanding the fall of the future Babylon in Revelation are found in what led to the fall of ancient Babylon in Daniel.
Or in Adventist churches we focus on Upharsin – Babylon’s fall – because of our interest in Bible prophecy. is just one big exciting confirmation of Bible prophecy which helps anchor our faith. This chapter confirms large predictions recorded by two Old Testament prophets who in detail describe how Babylon would fall. The prophet Isaiah wrote over 150 years before and the prophet Jeremiah wrote 65 years before Babylon’s demise. The end of confirms what both prophets said, that the Medes would conquer Babylon. And the beginning of confirms what both prophets predicted, Babylon would fall on a night of drunken revelry. Just look at Jeremiah’s description of that night, “I have laid a snare for you [Why do you lay a snare for someone? To take them by surprise]; You have indeed been trapped, O Babylon, And you were not aware; You have been found and also caught, Because you have contended against the Lord. [Jeremiah continues speaking for God] And I will make drunk Her princes and wise men, Her governors, her deputies, and her mighty men. And they shall sleep a perpetual sleep And not awake,” says the King, Whose name is the Lord of hosts.”
Not only does confirm Jeremiah’s words, ancient historians also do. Herodotus, the first person in the ancient world to systematically arrange his historical writings, giving him the title “The Father of History” writing 100 years after Babylon was conquered, recorded that the citizens of the central section of the city did not know that Babylon had fallen for a good while because “they were engaged in a festival, continued dancing and reveling until they learned the capture.”
I mean that is some good stuff isn’t it? If you could only preach one message on and then be done with that chapter, you’d focus upon the word Upharsin – Babylon’s fall. Because this chapter confirms prophecy, which tells us that the Bible is not about children’s stories, myths, or legends. It is a book that accurately tells us about real people, real history, and how God is involved and in control of the affairs of man. This is a book that can be trusted as a guide for your life! And if you preached that sermon, your congregation would say “Amen.”
But your one and done sermon on Upharsin – Babylon’s fall – as good as it is, would leave other lessons left behind unexplored. In all your focus on Upharsin – Babylon’s fall – you would have never had the chance to preach on the words Mene and Tekel. And church these words Mene and Tekel have been speaking to me. I believe God wants these words to speak to you today. But to get these words to speak to you today, I need you to do something you may find difficult. I need us all to relate to and connect with the bad guy in the story, Belshazzar. Usually pastors want their congregations to connect with and learn from and act like the good guys in a Bible. But in order for Mene and Tekel to speak to you, try to relate with Belshazzar.
You say, “Pastor Jason how can I connect with Belshazzar, I am not a king.” Yes, this world will not recognize you as a king or a queen but if you have accepted Jesus Christ as your Savior and Lord, the Bible says that you are royalty. We are heirs of God and co-heirs with Jesus. The apostle Paul tells us that we are ambassadors for Christ because we are citizens of another kingdom. An ambassador represents His king, and the values of his nation, before people who are not of that kingdom. So while you may not be a political king as Belshazzar was, you are royalty. And like Belshazzar you have a kingdom that is to be your primary priority. Because Jesus told you to, “Seek ye first the kingdom of God …”
You say, “Ok, Pastor Jason, that was a cute parallel you just drew. Very creative. Well played sire. But how else could I possibly be like Belshazzar? I would never put on the kind of party he did. I would never go to that kind of party.” I know you wouldn’t. But like Belshazzar, we are all at risk of ignoring our kingdom for the pleasures of a party. You say, “What do you mean Pastor, that I would ignore seeking God’s kingdom for the pleasures of a party?”
In Luke chapter 14, Jesus tells a parable about a man who throws a party. That man represents God. God is going to throw a party for the all the redeemed in heaven that the book of Revelation calls the Wedding Supper of the Lamb. That’s a party none of us would want to miss. It’s a party that we will not anyone we love to miss. But as Jesus tells the parable, three people refuse their invitations to this great party because they have their own party plans.
One gives the excuse, “I have bought a piece of ground, and I must go and see it.” This person lives for the Home Party. You know parties hosted in a home where someone tries to sell you items from Tupperware, Pampered Chef, or LuLaRoe? Or if you are a guy you could go to a Man Cave home party called a MEATing where guys eat steaks and buy grilling equipment. These are parties devoted to people who want to acquire more things. This person refuses to go to a real party, to enjoy food, fun, and fellowship, because he wants to look at dirt. And if we are not careful, we could miss God’s party in His kingdom because we pursue possessions.
The second says, “I have bought five yoke of cattle and I am going to test them.” This guy lives for the Office Party. This person does not enjoy real parties, because they are consumed with performance, productivity, and profitability. This guy passes up a real party, food, fun, fellowship, because he’d rather watch oxen work. That’s a workaholic. Some of us are at risk of missing God’s party because our jobs and careers take a higher priority than seeking God’s kingdom.
The third refuses, “I have married a wife, therefore I cannot come.” This guy is living as if he is still part of a Wedding Party. He’s just so focused on making his wife happy that her concerns take precedence. I think he wants to accept this invitation but he implies his wife doesn’t. And if Mamma ain’t happy, then no one is happy. And some us put the Wedding Party, our spouse and their happiness, or the Family Reunion, our children and their happiness, we put their happiness at a greater priority than pleasing God and seeking first His kingdom.
Being too preoccupied with things, being too busy with work, putting family over God – these parties may not look like as deplorable as the one Belshazzar threw. But Belshazzar partied when He should have been focused on the security of his kingdom. Let me ask you, what takes priority in your life – seeking first God’s kingdom or your Home Party (things), your Office Party (work), or your Wedding Party (family). Where are your priorities?
Now look I’m not telling you anything you don’t know. How many sermons have you heard that challenge you to think about your priorities? How many times have you committed to change and to seeking God’s kingdom first? And how many times did you find yourself slipping back into old habits and getting your priorities out of line again? Why do we do that?
I believe one viable explanation is that like Belshazzar we believe there will always be a tomorrow. We feel we can afford to let our priorities slip and slide today, because we will have tomorrow to recalibrate. Belshazzar believed tomorrow was a guarantee. He and the rest of Babylon knew that the Medes and the Persians wanted to pick a fight. Xenophon of Athens, a former student of Socrates and an ancient historian, wrote that when Cyrus first brought his armies to Babylon, he was perplexed as to how he would take the city, especially since the Babylonian soldiers “do not come out to fight.” It’s kinda hard to do battle without an opponent. And the reason why no soldiers came out was because they didn’t need to. The walls of Babylon were impenetrable – 56 miles in length, 80 feet thick, and 320 feet high. The granaries of Babylon were filled with enough food to last the city for 20 years. Belshazzar knows that Cyrus wants to attack, but with all that food, with those high and thick walls, with water from the Euphrates River running into the city – Belshazzar is confidence that nothing bad will happen to him, his tomorrow is secure. And in that confidence that tomorrow is sure Belshazzar believes he can throw a lavish party instead of seeking first the good of his kingdom.
And so many of us are living like Belshazzar, I know I have, we believe we can take our eye off our kingdom, and focus upon parties that we think matter, only because we believe that tomorrow is sure. And for those of us who find ourselves living like Belshazzar. We today need to hear and take to heart those two words, Mene and Tekel.
We need to hear and take to heart the word “Mene” which means numbered. Belshazzar thought his kingdom was secure, that his life was secure. But God said the days of his kingdom were numbered. But the days of his kingdom were not only numbered, the days of his life were also numbered. And here is where I really need everyone to try to connect with, to relate to Belshazzar – because God’s Word says we need to live as if our days are numbered to. Because they are. Tomorrow is not sure. We cannot live for our parties at the expense of the kingdom.
King David wrote, “Your eyes saw my unformed body; all the days ordained for me were written in your book before one of them came to be.” Before you were born God set a manufacturing date on you and an expiration date. And however long your life is, it will go by extremely fast. David asked God, “Lord, what is man, that You take knowledge of him? Or the son of man, that You are mindful of him? Man is like a breath; His days are like a passing shadow.” James, the half-brother of Jesus described life as “even a vapor that appears for a little time and then vanishes away.”
And because our days are numbered and pass by so quickly, David writes a prayer that we should take seriously, “So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” David asks God to teach him that tomorrow is not given. Why? So wisdom can be gained on how to use life that is limited. Because come on, we all know this, when we have a lot of stuff, or believe we have a lot of stuff – we become wasteful. If you have plenty of food in your cabinet and in the freezer, you don’t freak as much when produce goes bad in the crisper. If you have plenty of money in the bank, or believe you do, you might pick up the phone and order now for $19.99 that gizmo that deep down inside you know likely will not work as advertised. But if you are down to crackers and your last dime, you are not a wasteful person.
And so we all need to pray David’s prayer – Lord teach me to number our days. We all need to hear those words intended for Belshazzar, “Mene” your days are numbered. We need to get that and live with that. Or at least I should say I know I need to get that because too often I live as tomorrow is guaranteed. And that belief, makes me feel I have the luxury to get my priorities out of line. That I live for my parties at the expense of seeking God’s kingdom.
And I will tell you church, the pity party that I play with, that gets in my way of seeking God’s kingdom – is the Office Party. I’m a Christian who struggles with workaholism. You would think that would not problem since I’m doing the Lord’s work, but the truth is you can be so busy doing the Lord’s work that you have no time for the Lord of the work. And while being consumed with the Office Party, every now and then God would try to get my attention, that Jason your days are numbered, seek My kingdom first. A long drive home from prayer, getting sleepy behind the wheel, a close call with another vehicle – “Jason, tomorrow is not given.” Ok, I’m going to spend more time in prayer. A visit to a church member in a nursing home, walking past people whose bodies remain but their minds are long gone – “Jason your days are numbered.” Ok, God I am going to take better care of myself. I officiate a funeral service and am reminded of the brevity of life – “Jason, if this happened to you, could people say the same things of your legacy?” Ok, God I am going to change.” And I do, for awhile, but I don’t really learn the lesson, that my days are numbered and I again start living as tomorrow is guaranteed. Am I the only one who does that?
I need to hear the word “Mene” and learn the lesson that my days are numbered and gain wisdom. If you do as well, then I want you to join me in doing something that I’ve never done. In your sermon notes, I have some questions that I hope you will take the time to sit down and write out the answers to, because your brain always works better when you write things down.
How would I live differently if I only had 30 more days left on this earth? How would you live differently if you only had a week left on this earth? How would you live if tomorrow was your last day on earth? For each of those questions, think about what you would start doing or stop doing? And who would you spend that precious time with?
And let the Lord give you the wisdom to start trying to live like there was no tomorrow. To give you the wisdom to spend less time with a screen and more time in God’s creation. To complain less and to criticize less and instead rejoice that this is the day that the Lord has made. To love others more deeply and sweetly instead of being consumed in a to-do list. To invest in the next generation sharing with them lessons from your life now.
What would wisdom would you gain if you numbered your days? You might discover what party you are living for at the expense of seeking God’s kingdom. You might find that you have been living for your Pity Party. You have been living for hurt, for rehashing injuries, for bitterness, for anger that you like to call righteous indignation. All of it justifiable yes. But if you were to die in a month, in a week, or tomorrow, don’t you think you would finally forgive, finally release the anger toward whoever injured you? Do you really want to take that to the grave? Wouldn’t you finally call up, or to finally accept the invitation of the person who has been calling you, and work out those differences with someone you have been at odds with for too long? Would you really face death in the face thinking you are at peace with God when you are clearly not at peace with your neighbor? No you’d gain wisdom, do everything you could in the time you had remaining to make sure your pity party doesn’t cost you God’s kingdom.
If we took the time for this homework assignment, if we prayed David’s prayer, then likely we would hear the second word “Tekel” which means “Weighed.” We would realize like Belshazzar that we are not just limited in time, but we will be judged for how that time is used. The writer of Hebrews reminds us that, “ … it is appointed for men to die once, but after this the judgment …” The question we need to ask is will we be weighed and found wanting as Belshazzar was?
Which brings us to the next set of questions in your homework assignment.
How was the majority of your life spent in 2017? Where did you spend the majority of your life last month? Last week? Yesterday. Write it down. Be detailed. Look at how you have been spending your time. Has it been spent in weighty matters? Where have you been bringing something valuable to the world? How much of that time did you spend seeking God’s kingdom? How much time of your life was wasted on one of your parties?
Six years ago, my life was being consumed with the Office Party, work. I was serving two churches. One was having difficulty paying it’s bills. The other was in the middle of doing a building campaign and a fundraising campaign at the same time. My life was consumed with work. Burning the candle at both ends resulted in my energy being depleted so badly I was getting around like an old man at a nursing home. My doctor did some tests, the next morning I was told to admit myself to the ER ASAP. I was immediately sent to a room to find out I was severely anemic. After 3 days in the hospital my red blood count had not rebounded, so I was sent to the Medical Hospital in Charleston, with a room on the wing for cancer patients.
In that hospital room I was thankful to be alive because had I not gotten tested when I did, I likely would have died in my apartment with no one realizing until Sabbath when I didn’t show up for church. But since the doctors didn’t know what was wrong with me, since I was on the cancer wing, I realized I could still die. And I looked at my life and realized that if I did, how sad it would be that at the age of 33, I had lived for an Office Party. What would I have to show for my life other than a good GPA and pastoring fairly well? I knew I didn’t want to go down like that, and that if given a second chance I would live better.
Why am I telling you that? Because it often takes a close call with death to get us to even look at our lives and ask ourselves the question, “What will I have to show of my life? Am I living the way I really should? Am I living for my party at the expense of seeking God’s kingdom?
So church don’t wait for the near death experience to sober you, do the homework. Look at how you would live if you realized your days were numbered. And then look at how you have been living, likely believing that tomorrow is guaranteed. And see if there is a wide gap between these realities. And if there is make changes where you can.
Some changes you will not be able to make over the course of your lifetime. Because there are things you will always have to. You always have to sleep. And over the course of the average 75 year lifespan, we will spend 26 years of our lives sleeping. 10 years of our lives we will spend at work – assuming a 40 hour work week. 4 years of our lives will be spent eating while about 2 years was spent cooking. Five years will be spent driving. We will spend one year in the bathroom and another year doing domestic duties of house cleaning and laundry.
Which leaves about 25 years of our lives where we have some control to do important things, weightier things, things that would further God’s kingdom. And yet it is highly likely that you and I, if we are not intentional, will spend 15 of those precious 25 years watching a television. And five more years will be spent using social media platforms. I think you would agree we as a society are not spending the time within our control on the most weighty matters.
The athletic footwear company Reebox suggested that in an average lifetime almost 41% of our lives will be spent looking at a technological device. And Reebox’s research sadly discovered that about 7% of our lives will be spend in face to face real time with family and friends. And less than 1% of a person’s life is spent exercising. William Penn was right when , “Time is what we want most, but what we use the worst.”
So David’s prayer has never been more important for any generation with so much technology and so many distractions, “So teach us to number our days.” And never has there been a more important time for us to hear the words Mene and Tekel. Our days are not only numbered, we have to make our days count.
And so for the next several Sabbaths, we are going to Daniel for wisdom that would help us tip the scales to add weight and value to our days. Wisdom that if lived by would ultimately keep us seeking God’s kingdom first. I hope you will keep coming. I hope you will do the homework. And as a result, my prayer is that as a people we would give up the parties that are endangering us from God’s kingdom. That we would not be like King Belshazzar, and that when Jesus comes to take His children to a wonderful party, we would not hear those words, “Weighed in the balance and found wanting.”