"I went to Jerusalem to become acquainted (Gk. istoria) with Cephas" - Paul's words from Galatians 1:18.

The Handwriting of God and the Sphincter Muscle

I heard Chris Tomlin sing and Louis Giglio speak at the Chesapeake Center in Oklahoma City this past week for their Burning Lights Tour.  Rachelle and I really enjoy both these men. They are extremely gifted and passionate in living out their respective callings, and many thousands of people, including us, have been blessed by their ministries. I confess to being a tad uncomfortable by the selling of trinkets, t-shirts, and other trivial things at the concert, an action that almost made me feel I was in a gospel marketplace where the good news is being sold rather than freely shared, but I assumed the atmosphere was intentionally designed to be more like a secular concert than a gospel gathering and so that helped me ignore my discomfort. But as I heard Louis speak on the love of God "for every single person" in the event center, and of God's desire for every prodigal sinner to "come home," I couldn't help but feel something was missing in his gospel presentation. Don't misunderstand me; Louis' message on the love of God was wonderful, but it felt like a Thanksgiving dinner where grandma forgot to put the gravy on the table. Something important was left out.

On reflection, I think what the Bible calls "the fear of God" is what is absent in most modern gospel presentations, including Louis'. Yes, sinners are told they need to be saved, but it is rarely explained  from what it is that sinners need deliverance. People living egotistical, rebellious, and godless lives are never confronted with the truth that they need deliverance from their rebellion and the meeting they will one day have with their Creator from whom they have rebelled. That meeting will be a time when everything they have ever thought, done or proposed to do in this life will be exposed, weighed, measured, and judged by their Creator God. That, indeed, is a very scary coming appointment from which sinners need deliverance. The coming judgment of God is something to fear, but our world seems to only comprehend the fear of man. John the Baptist warned the people around him to "Flee from the wrath to come."  Jesus said, "Do not be afraid of those who kill the body but cannot kill the soul. Rather, be afraid of the One who can destroy both soul and body in hell" (Matthew 10:28).  Yet, few in our modern day give thought to Amos' solemn exhortation "Prepare to meet thy God" (Amos 4:12). When an evangelist speaks of "being saved," he is referring to being delivered from this meeting with God where you will be exposed, weighed, measured, and found to have come short of God's standard for your life. After the day of righteous reckoning comes, you will experience God's righteous and holy condemnation for a life poorly lived. Let me give you a couple of illustrations of what that meeting will be like.

The picture to the right is Rembrandt's rendering of Belshazzar's Feast (Daniel 5). Belshazzar, King of Babylon and grandson of Nebuchadnezzar, was a wicked ruler who mocked the Most High, drank himself drunk with wine using the stolen vessels from God's Temple in Jerusalem, and gave no thought to the meeting he would one day have with His Creator where he would have to give an account for the way he had lived his life. In October of 539 BC, Belshazzar hosted a feast in the Palace Hall of Babylon, during which a hand appeared and wrote on the wall these four Aramaic words:

 Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin

Literally, these four words mean "Measured, Measured, Weighed, Wanting." King Belshazzar was gripped with fear when he saw the words. The biblical account of these events tells us that when Belshazzar saw the writing on the wall "his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loose..." (Daniel 5:6). The phrase "the joints of his loins were loose" is a King James expression for "he soiled his pants." Literally, his sphincter muscle (the joints of his loins) was loosened. The medical word sphincter  is Greek and means "to bind tight." Combat veterans will tell you that in times of heightened fear, incontinence often becomes reality. What caused Belshazzar such fear?

(1). The Appearance of the Hand.
Daniel 5:5 says the hand appeared "opposite the candlestick of the Temple" (Daniel 5:5). The candlestick, stolen from Jerusalem by the Babylonians in 586 BC, was giving its light in Belshazzar's Palace and cast a glow toward the wall where the Hand wrote the four words. The candlestick is a type or picture of the Holy Spirit (see Zechariah 4:1-6). The presence of the Most High was in Belshazzar's Palace. Contrary to what others might say, "What happens in ____  does not stay in _______," God was in Belshazzar's palace, measuring, weighing, and bringing Belshazzar to holy judgment for a deficient, wasted, ungodly life. Jesus said "everyone will have to give account on the day of judgment for every empty word they have spoken" (Matthew 12:36). If one gives an account for every idle word, how do some think there will be no accounting for every evil deed? There will be a reckoning with God God. He will "measure" one's life exhaustively, accurately and personally. Belshazzar's day of reckoning before the Most High God had come and the thought of it frightened Belshazzar.

(2). The Shadow on the Wall
There was other light in King Belshazzar's Palace that night. That light cast a shadow from the candlestick onto the wall where the words "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin" were written. The shadow of the Temple candlestick (Menorah)  would look like an old fashioned scale (i.e. "the scale of justice"). It was quickly apparent to Belshazzar that the Divine Spirit was carefully measuring out the words and actions of his life and was weighing them on the scale of Divine justice. That's why Belshazzar soiled his britches. His life had been poorly lived, and the God who created him was now holding him accountable. We live among a vast population of people who give little thought to answering to the Most High God for every single evil action committed in this life, much less every idle word. Belshazzar was confronted with the fact that God was now measuring, weighing and drawing a judgment about the way he had lived. Belshazzar had been cruel instead of compassionate, hateful instead of loving, selfish instead of generous and he had lied, murdered, and stolen to get ahead. Now, the God of all goodness who had created Belshazzar to reflect His image was measuring, weighing, and dispensing proper justice. Belshazzar was terrified.

(3). The Condemnation of the Sinner
The Queen tried to reassure King Belshazzar that everything would be okay (she'd make a great modern day evangelist). However, after calling for Daniel to give a clear interpretation of the writing, the seriousness of Belshazzar's situation only intensified. Daniel told King Belshazzar:
"You have not humbled yourself before God... Instead, you have set yourself up against the Lord of heaven. You praised the gods of silver and gold, of bronze, iron, wood and stone ... but you did not honor the God who holds your life in His hand. Therefore he sent the hand that wrote the inscription. Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin means: 
'God has numbered the days of your reign and brought it to an end. You have been weighed on the scales and found wanting. Your kingdom is divided and given to the Medes and Persians.'"
Sure enough, that very night Cyrus the Great and his Medo-Persian army entered under the Great Walls of Babylon by diverting the Euphrates River into a marshland, and the Babylonian Empire came to an end after seventy years of world domination (609 BC to 539 BC). King Belshazzar's life was taken that October night in 539 BC and he entered into his eternal judgment because of his rebellion against the Most High. This story of Belshazzar's judgment by God is both gripping and true.

What was missing in the gospel presentation at the Chris Tomlin and Louis Giglio Burning Lights Tour was the solemn seriousness that comes from understanding the predicament human beings find themselves in. Until every rebel against God sees that he or she is in the same boat as Belshazzar, sinners will never look for or appreciate the deliverance that comes from God's lavish, prodigious grace in Jesus Christ.

The Adulterous Woman of John 8

There are only three times in Scripture where we are told God writes with His own hand.  On Mt. Sinai He wrote with His finger the Law on tablets of stone (see Exodus 34:1). In Daniel 5, God wrote with His own hand "Mene, Mene, Tekel, Upharsin." The third time the finger of God writes with His hand is when Jesus kneels and writes of the dirt floor of the Temple in Jerusalem (John 8).  The first time God writes He gives us His demands (Law). The second time God writes He sends His judgment for rebellion against Him (death), and on the third occasion God writes (John 8) He graciously brings deliverance to the adulterous woman from both sin and death. You know the story. A woman "caught in adultery" is brought before Jesus at the Temple. The Pharisees know that the Law says that an adulterous woman is to be stoned (by the way, they are correct), so they test Jesus and ask Him what they should do with the woman. Jesus remains silent, but bends down and writes in the dirt. One by one, the Pharisees leave and Jesus is alone with the sinful woman.
Then Jesus, straightened up and asked her, 'Woman where are they? Has no one condemned you?" “No one, sir,” she said. “Then neither do I condemn you,” Jesus declared. “Go now and leave your life of sin.”
If nothing else, this text should teach us that the Lawgiver alone is able to forgive Lawbreakers. The entire theme of Scripture is God's grace in the Anointed One, redeeming, regenerating, and restoring sinners. Grace doesn't just atone for sins; grace radically transforms sinners. The evidence of God's grace in one's life is the desire to go and "sin no more."

It is astonishing to see the parallels between Daniel 5 and John 8. Both chapters have the hand of God writing something. Both chapters have two sinners in the presence of God. Both chapters mention the candlestick of the Temple and the light that it casts. Yet in Daniel 5 Belshazzar is condemned and in John 8 the adulterous woman is redeemed. What is the difference? It seems the adulterous woman was humbled by the mighty hand of God as she submitted her life to Christ, leaving her sin and rebellion behind and finding her life transformed by His grace. All of her sins were to be borne by Christ at the cross of Calvary and the evidence of His forgiveness was her humbly coming to Christ as the Lord of her life. The character of her God began to become the character of her life - goodness, kindness, love, generosity -- i.e. the fruits of the Spirit.

Belshazzar, however, died in his sins. He died never humbling himself before God and He died never having atonement for his sins. Belshazzar met the justice of God. The adulterous woman met the grace of God. Both sides to God's character are true. He is a God of lavish grace, but He is also the Most High God of prodigious and righteous justice. The evidence of His grace in your life is the stamp of His character on your life. Belshazzar died unrepentant, unregenerated, unredeemed. The adulterous woman died repentant, regenerated and redeemed. The gospel is never really good news until the love of God is balanced with the justice of God. Where mercy and justice meet in Jesus Christ, the good news becomes really good news.

By the way, we are not told what it was Christ wrote in the dirt at the Temple in John 8. Everyone has their opinion, but I think the clue is found in the fact that "one by one" the Pharisees left. I believe Jesus, the Sovereign Creator of the universe who is able to expose the secrets of men because He is the Light of the world, wrote down the dark, secret sins of each Pharisee. One by one, they gathered to see what He was writing, and when they saw their individual sins exposed and enumerated (having been written by the Finger of God in the dirt), they left.

But where did they go? I believe they left for the toilet. Belshazzar reminds us that the handwriting of God has that effect on the sphincter muscle. Sinners exposed by God, truly exposed by Him, either run in fear or respond in brokenness. It is my opinion that what is missing in most evangelical presentations of the good news in our modern day is the seriousness of the sinner standing before a Sovereign God to give an accounting of his life. Again, only when we understand our predicament in being exposed as unrighteous before God during such an awful meeting will the Person of Jesus Christ and the lavish grace of God in Christ begin to transform our lives as we receive the Righteous One as our very life.

15 comments:

Rex Ray said...

Wade,

Very interesting Post!

I don’t believe Jesus wrote their individual sins because there wasn’t that much dirt. :)

I believe he wrote the Scripture that you left out of the story: ‘He without sin may cast the first stone.’

That’s why they departed according to age…the oldest left first because they realized there was more sin in their life than the young men.

Hillbilly Views said...

Wade as always I enjoy your post.

I guess I don’t know what was written in the sand. I do believe that not only did they leave, but nothing ever happen to her after Jesus spoke to her.

When I first became a Christian I heard the story of the women. The after shock of the story for me was I never wanted to see what was written. Because I knew what would be written for me would be the story of my life.

The Pharisee wanted to pass judgment. Christ wanted us to understand judgment. If we cant see our own sin as a one way street to judgment. We will have missed the message completely.

If I understand what you were pointing out in this post; it is that if we don’t define the problem, how will go to Christ for forgiveness.


Hillbilly Views said...

Rex, not to split hairs but there are three parts here
They say unto him, Master, this woman was taken in adultery, in the very act.
5 Now Moses in the law commanded us, that such should be stoned: but what sayest thou?
6 This they said, tempting him, that they might have to accuse him. But Jesus stooped down, and with his finger wrote on the ground, as though he heard them not.
7 So when they continued asking him, he lifted up himself, and said unto them, He that is without sin among you, let him first cast a stone at her.
8 And again he stooped down, and wrote on the ground.
9 And they which heard it, being convicted by their own conscience, went out one by one, beginning at the eldest, even unto the last: and Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst.
Ver 6 he writes
Ver 7 he talks
Ver 8 he writes

I guess I’m not sure why he would have felt the need to write down what he just said.

Wade Burleson said...

Hillbilly,

"If we don’t define the problem, how will go to Christ for forgiveness."

Bingo.

Rex Ray said...

Hillbilly,

You’re not splitting hairs, because I believe you’re 100% correct.

Before I got out of bed this morning, I changed my mind on what I thought Jesus wrote. I thought I’d tell Wade that I thought he might have written, WHERE IS THE MAN?

You’re comment really convinced me I was wrong the first time.

Thanks for bringing out the message in the sand was for all of us.

"christo" Christopher said...

Jesus writing in the sand as a counterpose to the writing on the wall is an interesting idea.

Remember John 8 is a disputed text.

No I don't think it's a result of pseudo but compared to other gospel stories, this one seems too trite ... sometimes.

As to WHAT Jesus wrote in the sand, I think it has to be seen as a defusing device in the context of its theatrical response to subdue the yelling.

Beyond this, about detailing hypocrisy ... or sin ...? ... individual's sins ? No.

The writing on the wall was final warning/ the writing in the sand MAYBE could be similar.

Where the "s______ muscle" comes into it ... ?

I hope you're not trying to be too "Monty Python" here? But there is a point with Evangelicals forcing results at these kinds of event.

And that can involve holding things inside falsely... like telling ministries and people they're just missing the point somehow.

I'II read your post again and see if I can try and unearth something I missed. CC. HandleBullying.Com

"christo" Christopher said...

I read your post again, and the other posters, and maybe it's reasonable given the clearly extraordinary response of the Pharisees to humiliate someone who was quite possibly in their employ.

But it seems beneath Jesus to write such matters down, no one can read writing in the sand unless it's in very large font. Maybe it was though !!!

Giglio and Tomlinson don't strike me as the worst offenders regarding Evangelical events ... but on a spectrum there are questions about all "Christian events" and forcing ourselves to respond elaborately.

Giglio's creation narratives aren't unimportant, and Tomlinson's music HAS had anointing ... but ticking doctrinal boxes at these things seems untimely right now.

Maybe something will come to me later. but asking ourselves what would cause us to "loose ourselves upon ourselves" maybe another way of asking this question without the biology might be relevant here.

Forcing things one way or the other IS the right question AND why we feel the need to do it IS the question for the moment here.

The reason is the intentional exclusion of the Spirit, and what the community has to consider doing in order to usher revival without the FORCING these events otherwise engender. Trinkets or not. That's it. CC.

Wade Burleson said...

Christopher,

The KJV "the joints of his loins were loose" means incontinence. The point of using the "s____ muscle" is to illustrate that some people should be led to fear God, particularly those who refuse Him as their Lord and Savior.

Blessings,

Wade

Anonymous said...

Pastor Wade, I for one believe you hit the nail squarely on the head in your response to what you attended, to modern presentations of "the gospel" which really isn't the gospel, and to the scripture passage.

Today instead of repent and believe so many skip that for I'm ok-you're ok--and God loves us just as we are so why change.

Serious proposal. What this post teaches is prophetic in the best sense of the word, evangelistic and anointed. If God ever sees fit to call you to do so, please give true consideration to real evangelism. I'm thinking either as in Billy Graham style, or at the very least getting this preaching televised and "out there" the way some other prominent Southern Baptist pastors do.

It is sorely needed.

After a wimpy sermon listened to yesterday, I now feel I have been to church and been actually the recipient of some fine preaching.

Linda

Wade Burleson said...

Linda,

You are very kind with your words. I am grateful you took the time to write and am even more thankful God used them to encourage me.

Anonymous said...

You are quite welcome, Pastor Wade.

I'm oilfield to the bone. Your words this week blessed me deeply, but then I'm a believer who goes searching for good preaching. So I find it on the web. But I'm thinking of the guys up around Williston, getting back late to the mancamp, and turning on the tv to catch something before they turn in and start the grind all over again.

They need this kind of preaching to just "be there" when they flip channels.

Seriously. Oilfield Christian Fellowship can do the follow up work, this kind of evangelism is needed.

And I'm sure there are those all around the world in other jobs that need to hear something besides politics, or name it and claim it, or back to politics.

Linda

Rex Ray said...

Linda,

Speaking of TV.

With some preachers and some news reporters that turn into themselves into judge, jury, and prosecutors like on CNN there’s a knob that will increase intelligence; it’s called “OFF”.

Anonymous said...

Agreed,Rex Ray. We exercise our freedom not to listen and view quite frequently.

While I have my own opinions as to who is right and who is wrong in the current Washington debacle, I'm about equally ticked at the Republicans and the Democrats.

My slogan these days is this (picture Donald Trump addressing the 3 branches of our government) "You're fired!"

I'd love to clean house there and elect some new blood.

Linda

Anonymous said...

Wade,
Another great post. It has given me a lot of things to ponder upon before I can respond to. Enjoy reading your blog entries and the comments.
Thanks

Moe Bergeron said...

Wade, There was a fourth writing and that on the hearts of his new covenant people. 2 Cor 3. -- Enjoying your posts!