I have many, many times, been talking to someone on behalf of the Lord, or as an ambassador of my church, and knowing that my opportunity was coming to close, asked this common question: “If you died today, do you know – without a doubt – that your soul would go to Heaven?” This is one of the evangelist’s standard of approaches towards the lost man. If that man is trusting anything but the Lord Jesus Christ, his answer will have to be that he has doubts. From there, an occasion may arise to discuss what the Bible says about God’s saving grace. One of the purposes of the Word of God is “that ye may know that ye have eternal life, and that ye may believe on the name of the Son of God.” Unfortunately, on the majority of occasions when I have asked this question, I didn’t get the opportunity to go on with the precious gospel of the Lord Jesus Christ. And the fact is, those who have listened, responded and believed on Christ, have very few and far between.

It is not exactly the same thing, but Belshazzar gives us an opportunity to think about this sort of thing. “If you died today, are you sure that you would go to Heaven?” One of the reasons that people haven’t always responded to that question, is because no one expects to be among that number who will die on this particular day. Unless we know that we have a fatal disease, or unless we have been in an accident, and we can see our life’s blood flowing out of our body, no one expects to die on this particular day. And that was true of Belshazzar. (The fact that we have a terrible cold or a bad stomach flu, and wish that we could die, is not the same thing.) But Belshazzar was wrong – he was dead wrong, and in a few hours he was going to be dead dead.

While he was feasting and drinking, and as he was calling for the holy vessels from the Lord’s Temple in Jerusalem to be brought in so that he and others could drink from them and to praise their idol gods with them, the combined armies of the Medes and Persians were preparing to enter his “impregnable” city. Like the “unsinkable” Titanic, the impervious city of Babylon was going to be breached and broken. What I neglected to tell you last week, is that the primary Babylonian army had already been defeated. At the city of Opis, about 50 miles north of Babylon, and a year before Daniel 5, Cyrus, the Persian King, had crushed the forces of Belshazzar. The Babylonians may have had other troops scattered around their former empire, but they weren’t to be compared to those of Cyrus – and he was at Babylon’s front door. This makes Belshazzar’s feast all the more ludicrous and presumptuous.

Earlier this week, as I read the words of this morning’s scripture, I pictured a child, who is supposed to get out of bed. He has chores to do, or there is some place that he is supposed to go, but he doesn’t want to go. His mother has called him to breakfast, but he is still in bed. Then his father came to his bedroom door and told him in no uncertain terms to get up. And now dad is back once again, and he’s coming through the door, fuming. Immediately that boy is jumping out of bed, declaring, “I’m awake; I’m awake.” What we see in these few verses is Belshazzar jumping out of bed fully awake and terrified.

I can’t promise that this message will be chronologically logical, but it is important, so please bear with me.

In this scripture we can see Belshazzar’s CONSCIENCE COMING ALIVE.
Except for those whose mental state is sadly retarded, most people quickly learn the difference between right and wrong. They may not appreciate the spiritual nature of what is wrong – they may not know the meaning of “sin.” And most certainly they don’t grasp the fact that all sin is against God. But they do recognize that some actions are bad, and some others are good – right and wrong. Unfortunately, the more wrong and evil something is, the more some people delight in doing them, because there is a danger in doing so – there is a thrill in that danger.

I am of the opinion that Belshazzar knew that what he was doing was evil and dangerous. He certainly knew that the enemy army was outside his impenetrable walls. He knew that his supplies couldn’t last for ever, even if they did hold out for another eight or ten years. If the Persians were patient, then Babylon would fall, and he would die – but – not tonight. This is a general picture of most living things – “I know that I will die, but not tonight.” Belshazzar also vaguely knew what he was doing in bringing Jehovah’s holy vessels out of storage. Nebuchadnezzar had carefully preserved them – perhaps, initially, not even knowing why. Eventually, Belshazzar’s grandfather actually treated those things with due respect. But not so with this grandson.

As I said last week, it also appears that Belshazzar was familiar with Jeremiah’s prophecy of the overthrow of Babylon. The 70 years were expiring, and God had specifically foretold Babylon’s punishment. Belshazzar was spitting into the wind of divine prophecy. Furthermore, this man knew about what had happened to his grandfather, Nebuchadnezzar. Verse 18 – “O thou king, the most high God gave Nebuchadnezzar thy father a kingdom, and majesty, and glory, and honour: And for the majesty that he gave him, all people, nations, and languages, trembled and feared before him: whom he would he slew; and whom he would he kept alive; and whom he would he set up; and whom he would he put down. But when his heart was lifted up, and his mind hardened in pride, he was deposed from his kingly throne, and they took his glory from him: And he was driven from the sons of men; and his heart was made like the beasts, and his dwelling was with the wild asses: they fed him with grass like oxen, and his body was wet with the dew of heaven; till he knew that the most high God ruled in the kingdom of men, and that he appointeth over it whomsoever he will. And thou his son, O Belshazzar, hast not humbled thine heart, though thou knewest all this.”

Another indictment against him was the man who made that last statement. Nebuchadnezzar had learned that Daniel was a genuine man of God – a servant of the one true and living God. Daniel had brains and talents which made him a very worthy employee. But more than this, God spoke to and through Daniel as His special prophet. So eventually this Daniel had become Nebuchadnezzar’s right-hand man. But nearly twenty years had passed since Nebuchadnezzar’s death, and either Evil-Merodach, or Belshazzar had removed Daniel from his former influential position. Belshazzar had deliberately forgotten about this man of God. It took the queen-mother, the wife of Nebuchadnezzar, to bring Daniel to the king’s attention once again.

Like the average unbeliever – the average lost man – Belshazzar had seared his conscience about the truth. He had been introduced to the Word of God – but he had rejected it. He had met some of God’s saints – like Daniel, Hananiah, Mishael and Azariah, but he had ignored them. He had even had some family members – grandfather Nebuchadnezzar and his wife Amyitis – who appear to have become believers in the Lord. Belshazzar had grown up in a secular society – very much like yours and mine. But he has had access to the Word of God, just as you, and me, and all of our neighbors. There were saints of God living in his community – people who were not ashamed of the gospel of God, and who even risked their lives in the service of their eternal King. And there were even some old fogies within his family whom he could remember from his youth, who believed the Bible and served the Lord.

But Belshazzar had done everything within his power to silence those testimonies and the conscience laying there in his chest. He fed off the great military victories that his grandfather had gained, and he infuriated some of those nations whom he had conquered – but what did it matter – he was king. He filled his palace with wives and concubines, children and grandchildren. He dulled his mind with parties, feasts, and gallons and gallons of wine. He may not have had television, professional sports, skiing resorts and speed boats, but there was plenty of ancient entertainment and recreation to keep his mind occupied with trivial pursuits. There was no need for him to think about spiritual questions.

But then one day God stepped through his banquet room door and COMMANDED HIM TO WAKE UP.
“In the same hour came forth fingers of a man’s hand, and wrote over against the candlestick upon the plaister of the wall of the king’s palace: and the king saw the part of the hand that wrote. Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.”

“I’m awake; I’m awake.”

There is only one Person capable of truly awakening a sleeping conscience – Jehovah. All the arguments, threats, preaching, chastisement and punishment in the world will not break the will, or awaken the conscience, of the sinner dead in trespasses and sins. All the tears that a mother may pour forth onto the face of her rebellious son, will not melt his soul. All the spankings and punishments that a father may inflict upon his son, will not break his spirit. While there may be solutions to crime, to disrespect, to rebellion and other anti-social behavior, the only solution to “sin” is the grace and power of God. And the softening of a calcified conscience in preparation for repentance, can only be accomplished by the ministry of the Holy Spirit.

Having said that this was of God – that this was something that the Holy Spirit accomplished, it needs to be said that this was very real. Whether anyone could have reached out at touched that finger as it scribed upon that wall, I can’t say. But then again, I suppose that it doesn’t really matter. What the king saw was real whether it was physical or not. And this is an important point in our skeptical world. Just because some things can’t be seen, that doesn’t mean that they don’t exist. God, the soul, the spirit, and hades are all very real. Just as gravity is real, even though it can’t be seen or measured without instruments. Whether the finger which did the inscribing was palpable or not, the inscription on the plaster was. I doubt that anyone ran up to run his finger along those mysterious markings, they certainly could have. Like blood splatter, those four words were on that wall until it was re-plastered or torn down. When Daniel arrived an hour or so later, they were still embedded in the wall in all their terrifying fashion.

Despite the spectacular nature of this revelation, the Lord opened this man’s conscience quietly. We don’t read of any fanfare – trumpets blowing and timpani drums banging away. The Lord, who is always present everywhere, simply manifested Himself in this very special way. Once again, we are reminded that Jehovah is omniscient and omnipresent, unlike the foolish objects that the Babylonians had been calling their “gods.”

Something else about God’s work on that evening was that it was quite unexpected. Does the atheist expect God to speak to him? Don’t be ridiculous. Does the unbeliever expect the God – whom he doesn’t believe – to address him? Of course not. In studying evangelistic techniques years ago in Bible college, I remember one man’s negative approach. “But what if you are wrong? You don’t believe that Hell exists? But what if you are wrong?” So you think that baptism washes away your sins? But what if you are wrong? You say that when people die, that is the end; there isn’t anything more. But what if you are wrong?” Belshazzar wasn’t looking for Jehovah to speak to him, but he was wrong.

And WHAT HAPPENED when Belshazzar’s conscience was awakened?
“Then the king’s countenance was changed, and his thoughts troubled him, so that the joints of his loins were loosed, and his knees smote one against another.” “Then was king Belshazzar greatly troubled, and his countenance was changed in him.”

When he saw those divine fingers and he could see, but not understand the inscription, immediately the blood drained from his face. He probably stood, but felt somewhat feint, and his knees began to knock against each other. When the Bible says that his “loins were loosed,” let’s just say that this was thoroughly embarrassing.

“And his thoughts troubled him.” What were those thoughts? This has to take us back to what he had previously known and rejected. He has just ordered his drunken friends to drink even more – out of the holy vessels of God. He has raised one of the golden vessels of Jehovah and praised some of the useless idols of Babylon. Immediately some of things that he had been told about Jehovah came streaming back into his mind. “And his thoughts troubled him.” “What are these strange characters which have been inscribed on my wall? What do they say? This cannot be good news.”

There will be a day – a moment – in the life of every wicked soul – when he will face something just like this. I suppose you could say that when the unbeliever stands before the Great White Throne Judgment, there will be a moment similar to this. That may not actually be the case, because by that time, the wicked will already have learned about their stupid, sinful folly, and what lays ahead for them, and yet for all of them there will be a kind of “aha” moment in their future.

Luke 16 doesn’t describe the last judgment, but sometime soon after the man’s death – and centuries before he is cast into the eternal Lake of Fire, there was a certain rich man – one who rejected Jesus the Christ. He died and was buried. “And in hell he lift up his eyes, being in torments, and seeth Abraham afar off, and Lazarus in his bosom. And he cried and said, Father Abraham, have mercy on me, and send Lazarus, that he may dip the tip of his finger in water, and cool my tongue; for I am tormented in this flame.” If that man had not had a Belshazzar moment sometime earlier in his life, he did when he died, He awoke to his sins at the moment of his death – but for him it was too late. Eventually, after enduring about 2,000 years of torment in hades, he will be raised from that hell, to hear of his eternal condemnation from the lips of the Lord Jesus Christ. “And the sea gave up the dead which were in it; and death and hell delivered up the dead which were in them: and they were judged every man according to their works.” “And I saw a great white throne, and him that sat on it, from whose face the earth and the heaven fled away; and there was found no place for them. And I saw the dead, small and great, stand before God; and the books were opened: and another book was opened, which is the book of life: and the dead were judged out of those things which were written in the books, according to their works. And death and hell were cast into the lake of fire. This is the second death.”

What a blessing it was for Belshazzar to have this awakening at a time in his life, when there was still something that he could do about it. Unfortunately as it appears, he didn’t respond in the proper fashion.

Perhaps our most important point this morning is that AN AWAKENED CONSCIENCE IS NOT ENOUGH.
After Daniel was brought in to read and interpret the writing on the wall, Belshazzar reacted in a kingly fashion. He had promised a reward to the man who could make the meaning clear – and this was done. “Then commanded Belshazzar, and they clothed Daniel with scarlet, and put a chain of gold about his neck, and made a proclamation concerning him, that he should be the third ruler in the kingdom.” We should commend the king for keeping his promise – this should always be the case. Promises are promises. Especially for kings, who seem to have the power to keep their promises.

But Belshazzar’s need at this moment was not to behave like a king. At this moment, he needed to see himself as a sinner – a slave to sin and in desperate need of salvation. Yes, his kingdom was coming to an end, and his life was soon to be over. But that only meant that a new aspect to his life was beginning – one to be spent in eternity. The purpose of the God-awakened conscience was to bring him to his knees before the Lord. Without a statement to this effect, we are forced to assume that Belshazzar died as an unbelieving idolater.

So why did the Lord go through all of this if it didn’t result in the salvation of this man? Perhaps it was done for you. You came into this world as sinful and wicked and Belshazzar did. You may not be a king, but you are sinner – you need to repent before Daniel’s God. You need to trust in God’s provision for deliverance from sin. You need the Lord Jesus Christ. Repent before God and believe in the Lord Jesus Christ.