Monday, July 23, 2012

The Handwriting on the Wall

Reading: Daniel 5  
The Persian army was already making its approach on Babylon. Belshazzar calls everyone together in what is either denial, or an arrogant assumption that he can't be defeated. There are 1000 nobles on the guest list along with his wives and concubines. In an act of hubris, Belshazzar brings the gold and silver goblets taken from the temple right into his party and everyone begins drinking from them. As they drink, they praise the gods of gold and silver, bronze, iron, wood & stone.
Rather than facing his fears, recognizing his weakness, or preparing for the inevitable, Belshazzar is hosting an “in your face” party. In the midst of demonstrating his utter disregard for God, something rather unusual happened.
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. 6His face turned pale and he was so frightened that his legs became weak and his knees were knocking. (Daniel 5:5-6)
Archaeologists have found what remains of this very room. The wall behind the king was decorated; the other 3 were made of gypsum—plaster. Belshazzar sees the handwriting on the wall (this is where that expression comes from) and has enough insight to realize that it isn't good. He doesn't know what it says, but somehow this pulled the rug right out from under him. He could no longer ignore his impending judgment. Moments ago,he was the mocker drinking up from God's gold cups. Now he is so scared his legs give way and his knees are knocking.
On the surface, Belshazzar has no fear of God. As soon as he sees the handwriting on the wall, however, he knows it is the work of God and has an innate understanding that it isn't good. Unfortunately, it's too late. Belshazzar knew deep down that he was not in good standing with God. Maybe he thought that if he ignored God and exalted himself long enough that God would just “go away.” God doesn't go away.
What was the handwriting on the wall? MENE, MENE, TEKEL, PARSIN. Three nouns referencing three weights, or pieces of money. Each has an etymology: Number, Weigh, Divide. The interpretation is, “Your days are numbered...your life is weighed on the scales and found wanting...your kingdom is divided...”. The short version is, “Tonight you die!”
Though uninterested in Belshazzar's rewards, Daniel is clothed in purple, made royalty for a moment. When he woke up in the morning, the party was over and Belshazzar was slain. Darius conquered Belshazzar. But why is this in your Bible? What assertion is this text making about you and me? It's not just that Belshazzar's days were numbered–yours are too! It's not just that Belshazzar's life would be weighed and found wanting–your life will be weighed. How will it be found?
As our lives are examined what will count for the glory of God? What will remain and what will be blown away (Psalm 1:4), or burned up (1 Corinthians 3:11-15)? Ultimately, there is only one life that can be weighed and found sufficient: the life of God's Son with Whom He was well pleased– the life of Christ. If we are found in Him we will not come up short, but we must still build on that foundation with a life that brings honor to God and not ourselves (2 Corinthians 5:10).
We see what kind of math was applied to Belshazzar's life: division. What kind of math will be applied to you? Division or multiplication? The handwriting is on the wall for everyone of us! Our days are numbered. Our life will be weighed. Kingdom of Heaven economics will be applied to our life. Will your own little kingdom but cut to pieces like Belshazzar's? Or will kingdom economics multiply you some 30, some 60, even 100-fold?
The only way to be weighed and not be found wanting is to live by faith rather than denial. This begins by recognizing just how wanting (lacking) we are and trusting in Christ for salvation. It also means living our lives in light of “that day”— the day we stand before God. This is living in the proper fear of God. That is the foundation of faith; that is the source of true wisdom.
To find out more about Belshazzar and why, when weighed on God's scale he came up weightless (wanting) listen to the message The Handwriting on the Wall.
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Tuesday, July 10, 2012

What Was Missing from Paul's Prayer Request?

Reading: Colossians 4:2-6  
Imagine with me for a moment that you are in prison for the Gospel. You were unjustly tried and unjustly held because you weren't willing o pay a bribe (Acts 24:26). Your normal routine of traveling to churches and caring for the saints and traveling to new cities where you would preach the Gospel to unbelievers has been completely stopped. Now imagine that you are writing a letter from prison and requesting prayer. What do you think would be on the top of that list? Might it be, “Pray that the Lord would open this prison door that I might be able to travel about preaching and teaching...”? Contrast that with Paul's request.
Devote yourselves to prayer, being watchful and thankful. 3And pray for us, too, that God may open a door for our message, so that we may proclaim the mystery of Christ, for which I am in chains. 4Pray that I may proclaim it clearly, as I should. 5Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. 6Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone. (Colossians 4:2-6)
Paul was not concerned with whether or not he was locked up; Paul was concerned with whether or not the Gospel was locked up. And Paul knows that the Gospel can be freely preached by people locked up, and that the Gospel can be bound and locked up in people who are free. Paul's prayer request seems to be missing a request that the doors of the prison would open and he would go free. Instead he requests prayer that doors for the Gospel would open so that people might go free! (See Acts 26:17-18 and Isaiah 49:6, 9.)
We see a beautiful example of this when Paul and Silas were in Philippi (Acts 16:23-37). They were severely flogged, thrown in jail, and fastened in stocks; yet they were praying and singing to God at midnight. With an earthquake, the doors of the prison flew open. Rather than running out they waited, and when the jailer was about to kill himself—thinking all the prisoners had left—they stopped him. Now many would think their prayer was about to be answered as the enemy of the Gospel (the jailer) killed himself. Paul knew his prayer was about to be answered as he stopped him and preached the Gospel to him. Paul was allowing the Gospel to take captive his captors (Isaiah 14:2).
Amazingly, after going to the jailers house and baptizing his household and eating a meal, Paul and Silas returned to the prison by morning for the sake of this man's life! Paul's concern was for open doors for the Gospel, not his personal freedom. Paul knew that limits on his personal freedom could result in advances for the Gospel (Philippians 1:12-14). So Paul's prayer request is for the advance of the Gospel through his life in prison and also for its advance through the church in their lives of freedom. He instructs us, “Be wise in the way you act toward outsiders; make the most of every opportunity. Let your conversation be always full of grace, seasoned with salt, so that you may know how to answer everyone.”
Are you using your freedoms for Gospel advances? Is the advance of the Gospel the highest purpose of your life? Are you looking for those who are bound up in darkness and desiring that they be free and come to the light? Do you pray God would use your limitations for the advance of the Gospel? What are your limitations? How can they bring you before those in darkness? I remember several years ago a lady who had just found out she had cancer (after having already been through it before), rejoicing for the opportunity to share Christ with those in the hospital! If you don't have a car and you have to take the bus, think of how that limitation opens up a door for the Gospel. Wherever you are, whatever your freedoms or limitations, salt your conversation with the Gospel and make the most of every opportunity!
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,

Thursday, July 5, 2012

Will the Stones Really Cry Out?

Reading: Luke 19:28–48  
The scene is the “Triumphal Entry”. Jesus is on a donkey colt entering Jerusalem as people spread their cloaks on the road in front of him. The people joyfullly shout praises to God and say, “Blessed is the king who comes in the name of the Lord!” (Luke 19:37-38) This declaration of Jesus as the king of Israel, the son of David, the One who comes in the name of the Lord, provoked a rebuke from the Pharisees.
39Some of the Pharisees in the crowd said to Jesus, “Teacher, rebuke your disciples!” 40“I tell you,” he replied, “if they keep quiet, the stones will cry out.”
This statement by Jesus is the subject of some choruses and has brought about many statements about how we might see rocks singing the praises of Jesus if we don't! Maybe... but, maybe not. Allow me to suggest that Jesus wasn't saying that the stones will sing praises if the disciples stop singing them. In fact, the text doesn't say that at all. And you don't have to know Greek to see it; I'm talking about what your English translations say (just like the Greek). It doesn't say the stones will sing praises if the disciples don't.
What does it say? It says that the that if the disciples don't joyfully shout these praises, the rocks will cry out. However, it does not say what they will cry out. To understand what Jesus means by the rocks crying out, I believe we must understand the background to this statement.
The first hint we have to anything like this comes after the first murder. Cain has taken the fleeting life of righteous Abel. The Lord declares to Cain, “What have you done? Listen! Your brother's blood cries out to me from the ground.” (Genesis 4:10) What was Abel's blood crying out? It was crying out guilt – Cain's guilt.
This particular incident gets mentioned later. Hebrews 12:24 tells us that we have come to the blood of Jesus which speaks “a better word than the blood of Abel.” Though Abel's blood spoke of guilt, Jesus' blood speaks of forgiveness! Both had fleeting lives; both were taken in the prime of life; both were unjustly killed by a jealous older brother (figuratively in Jesus' case).
In Joshua 24, Joshua warns the people of Israel what the requirements of serving the Lord are and what the consequences of turning away from the Lord are. They choose to serve the Lord so Joshua set up a stone under an oak tree and said,
See!” he said to all the people. “This stone will be a witness against us. It has heard all the words the LORD has said to us. It will be a witness against you if you are untrue to your God.” (Jos 24:27)
The stone had been present when all the warnings were issued by Joshua; the stone heard the people's commitment to serve the Lord. In the event that the people failed to keep the covenant they couldn't deny that they had made the commitment for the stone was present. Therefore the stone could serve as a witness in a court case against the people if they failed to keep the covenant.
In Habakkuk 2:9-11 we read of stones of a wall crying out against those who had in their presence made and plotted their greedy plans. Here again the stones hear and then testify against those who did wrong in their presence. Of course, this all seems to be a figurative way of saying, “you will be brought to account for what you have done... and will not be able to deny it. These stones will serve as witnesses against you.”
When we arrive in Luke 19:40 I believe it is best to read this background into the statement Jesus makes. In other words, if after seeing all these miracles and deeds I have done no one shouts out praises and honors me as the Messianic King, your judgment is sure and the stones (possibly the stones of the temple where Jesus did some teaching), will cry out in judgment against this city! This makes even more sense as we read what immediately follows (Luke 19:41-44 where stones are mentioned again). (See also Luke 21:6.)
When I read Luke 19:40 I don't envision stones singing, I imagine stones witnessing the rejection of Christ by those who saw the miracles and deeds crying out guilt in the face of their impending judgment. May we respond and sing the praises of the King! His sprinkled blood speaks better things... (Hebrews 12:24).
Love the Gospel, Live the Gospel, Advance the Gospel,