On Sunday November 22nd I led the evening worship at Woodlands Chapel. We began worship as we sang, ‘God has spoken – by his prophets’ before I led the opening prayers and the Lord’s Prayer. A member of the congregation read Psalm 72.1-7 before we sang, ‘This, this is the God we adore.’ I read Daniel 5.1-31 and a member of the congregation read John 6.1-15. We sang, ‘Break thou the bread of life O Lord to me,’ before I preached.
The theme of my sermon was the supremacy and Kingship of God. Psalm 72 was a royal psalm. It was a prayer of divine blessing on a ruling King and his people, for the King to maintain justice and defend the oppressed, for the wellbeing of the whole nation. It was the Israelite ideal to show compassion for the afflicted and to work for justice. This ideal picture of kingship shown in this psalm was seen as a messianic expectation and hope, not just for Israel but also for the whole world to embrace the poor and defenceless. God is seen as ultimately sovereign and in charge of the world, no matter what horrifying events seem to assail us day by day. We see all the terrorism whether perpetrated by nations, extremist cults or by individuals, but somehow God is still there suffering with those who suffer, even if we don’t feel it.
Belshazzar, Nebuchadnezzar’s son was the last King of the Babylonian Empire. At a great feast in his palace he called for the vessels of the Jerusalem temple and drank from them praising the gods made of silver, gold or other materials. Belshazzar suddenly became pale and shook with fear, when disembodied fingers of a human hand wrote on the wall. His wise men were unable to interpret the writing, even when they were offered the privilege of being appointed as the third highest ruler in the kingdom and being given purple clothing and a gold chain as a reward. However his mother the Queen reminded Belshazzar of how Daniel had shown wisdom in the time of his father, Nebuchadnezzar and advised him to call for Daniel. Daniel, named Belteshazzar was summoned. Daniel confirmed his identity then explained how his wise men had been unable to interpret the writing and offered him the reward of status, if he were able to tell him what the writing meant. Daniel was unconcerned about the honours offered but agreed to interpret the writing for the king.
Before he gave the king the interpretation he reprimanded the king for forgetting the lesson his father had had, when God had humbled him, deposing him from the throne and stripping him of his glory, until Nebuchadnezzar had recognised the sovereignty of God. Belshazzar should have respected the sovereignty of God like his father had done, but he had instead dishonoured God by drinking from the sacred vessels from the Jewish Temple. Because he had disrespected God now God had numbered his days and brought his reign to an end; he had been weighed and found defective and rejected; and his kingdom would now be divided between the Persians and the Medes. Even though the interpretation was unfavourable to Belshazzar he honoured his promise and clothed him in purple with a gold chain and made him third highest ruler in Babylon. The message of the writing on the wall came true and he was slain that night and Darius the Mede took over the Babylonian Empire. God does not have grandchildren, as my mother always told me; each of us has to respond to Jesus and God for ourselves. Belshazzar had not learnt to respect God, as his father had done, so he met his end that night.
God had showed compassion to his father, Nebuchadnezzar and he had learnt humility in his illness. The psalmist had recognised the way God’s justice and compassion should be seen in the actions of the righteous king. Jesus had crossed the Sea of Galilee to have some time of recuperation with God, but saw the need and hunger of the large crowd who had followed him round the Lake. He felt compassion towards the crowd and having asked Philip, initially for advice as to how to feed the crowd, but when he was unable to help, Andrew Simon Peter’s brother brought the boy with the five small barley loaves and two small fish to Jesus. Jesus took the offering and blessed them and the disciples distributed them to the large crowd and everyone had enough to eat; there were even 12 baskets of left over fragments collected up. The reaction of the crowd to the miracle was unique in John’s gospel; they hailed him as a prophet and saw Jesus as the Messiah, in their interpretation a revolutionary leader, who would lead them in an uprising against the hated occupying Romans. Jesus recognised this danger and knew he was not called to be a warrior Messiah, but a servant Messiah, a servant King, so he slipped away up the mountain to spend time in prayer and communion with his father.
Do we recognise God is ultimately in control? Do we wish God would smite those who perpetrate oppression, injustice or terrorism? If we do believe that, will that lead others to find faith in Jesus? Do we think we should retaliate with violence to acts of violence? Do we instead work for justice and peace seeking the way of service? Have we met Jesus and given our lives in his service? Each of us needs to get to know Jesus for ourselves. As we focus our eyes on Jesus growing more like him, we will grow in our faith and reliance on God and learn the way of service, love and compassion Jesus showed to us; in that way we can continually bring our needy world to the feet of our Father in heaven and begin to see He is ultimately in control of our world.
We sang, ‘The Church of Christ, in every age’ before Sue Ross, a worship leader at Woodlands Chapel led the prayers of intercession. Worship concluded when we sang, ‘May the mind of Christ my Saviour live in me from day to day.’