May 24, 2024
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Partying on the Edge of the Grave Manuscript

SERMON TITLE: Partying on the Edge of the Grave
TEXT: Daniel 5:1-31 (NLT)
‌SPEAKER: Josh Hanson
‌DATE: 5-26-24

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WELCOME

As always it’s a joy to be with all of you this weekend at Gateway Church. And there’s one thing I want you to know — and this is true if you’re worshiping with us for the first time — are joining us at our North Main Campus or are with our friends in Bucyrus — I want you to know that God loves you and that I love you too.

SERIES INTRO

We’re continuing our series in the book of Daniel today — looking at what it means to live in exile. And — once again — we have an entire chapter to cover — so let’s turn to our text, read it, and then we’ll discuss a trait of this land of exile in which we live: the trait of partying on the edge of the grave. But — first — our text. We’re in Daniel chapter five — beginning in verse one.

Daniel 5:1–31 (NLT)
1
Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. 3 So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone. 5 Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, 6 and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. 7 The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him. He said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed in purple robes of royal honor and will have a gold chain placed around his neck. He will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!” 8 But when all the king’s wise men had come in, none of them could read the writing or tell him what it meant. 9 So the king grew even more alarmed, and his face turned pale. His nobles, too, were shaken. 10 But when the queen mother heard what was happening, she hurried to the banquet hall. She said to Belshazzar, “Long live the king! Don’t be so pale and frightened. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, this man was found to have insight, understanding, and wisdom like that of the gods. Your predecessor, the king—your predecessor King Nebuchadnezzar — made him chief over all the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers of Babylon. 12 This man Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.” 13 So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king asked him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles brought from Judah by my predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar? 14 I have heard that you have the spirit of the gods within you and that you are filled with insight, understanding, and wisdom. 15 My wise men and enchanters have tried to read the words on the wall and tell me their meaning, but they cannot do it. 16 I am told that you can give interpretations and solve difficult problems. If you can read these words and tell me their meaning, you will be clothed in purple robes of royal honor, and you will have a gold chain placed around your neck. You will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” 17 Daniel answered the king, “Keep your gifts or give them to someone else, but I will tell you what the writing means. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. 19 He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. 20 But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. 22 “You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. 23 For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone — gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! 24 So God has sent this hand to write this message. 25 “This is the message that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is what these words mean: Mene means ‘numbered’—God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end. 27 Tekel means ‘weighed’ — you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up. 28 Parsin means ‘divided’ — your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was dressed in purple robes, a gold chain was hung around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. 30 That very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two.

INTRODUCTION

Something true for all of us — Christian or not — is that we’re all in pursuit of trying to figure out what’s wrong with us. During our time in Daniel — we’ve looked at negative aspects of this land of exile — but there are many benefits and blessings. Technology has made life so much easier for us compared to our ancestors. For example, doing laundry — though still called a chore — is nothing like what it used to be when you had to wash everything by hand, had no running water, and so on. Advancement in medicine has extended our lives and made it possible to live with various medical situations that a hundred years ago would’ve been deadly. And the Internet has made it so much easier to find recipes, purchase items, accomplish home do it yourself projects, and make plans for the weekend. There are many amazing benefits of being alive today even in this land of exile.

Yet — I’ve gotta ask — with all of these advancements — why are so many people unhappy? We were told that these advancements would make us happy but — it seems — most people are anything but happy. Anxious, yes. Angry, yes. But happy? 

Something else we’re told — in this land of exile — is that we should pursue personal happiness no matter the cost. We’re told to not sacrifice our happiness for anything or anyone. And — if you’re not happy — it’s because something outside of you — other people, social structures, or whatever — are keeping you from getting whatever it is that will make you happy. 

Now — something not so intuitive — is how this pursuit of happiness is directly related to us all knowing there’s something wrong with us. For — if nothing’s wrong — then we’d all be happy — but something is wrong. Yet — we’re all pretending like everything’s fine — you probably asked somebody this morning — how are you — and they said “fine” or “good” or something like that — as if we’re not all partying on the edge of our graves. And I think the rise of anxiety and anger — in our culture — is due to an awareness — even if it’s subconscious — that we are all partying life away — wasting our lives — even though we’re standing at the edge of our grave.

This is what we see going on in the key verse of our chapter — verse twenty-three — where Daniel tells the king…

‌‌

Daniel 5:23 (NLT)
23
For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone — gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny!

We’ll see how this new king — in Daniel’s story — is literally partying on the edge of his grave. For on this night — when he’s delighting in sin — he’s told that his life will come to an end.

DELIGHTING IN SIN

But — let’s return to the beginning of our chapter — where we see how those who party on the edge of the grave delight in sin. We’re back in verse one.

Daniel 5:1–4 (NLT)
1
Many years later King Belshazzar gave a great feast for 1,000 of his nobles, and he drank wine with them. 2 While Belshazzar was drinking the wine, he gave orders to bring in the gold and silver cups that his predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar, had taken from the Temple in Jerusalem. He wanted to drink from them with his nobles, his wives, and his concubines. 3 So they brought these gold cups taken from the Temple, the house of God in Jerusalem, and the king and his nobles, his wives, and his concubines drank from them. 4 While they drank from them they praised their idols made of gold, silver, bronze, iron, wood, and stone.

King Belshazzar — let’s talk about him because — if you’ve been with us during this series — you may be wondering, “What happened to King Nebuchadnezzar?” We’ve actually jumped forward about twenty-three years since the end of chapter four. So — if you’re keeping track — Daniel’s getting up there in age — as he’s now been in Babylon for about sixty-three years or so. After Nebuchadnezzar died — his son Evil-Merodach reigned for two years — I bet his name tells you he wasn’t a nice guy. He was murdered by his brother-in-law — Neriglissar — who became the next king of Babylon and ruled for six years. Then his son — Labashi-Marduk — became king but only reigned for two months before being assassinated and replaced by Nabonidus — who’s the last king to rule Babylon before it’s conquered by Persia.

“But wait a second Josh…you just said Nabonidus was the last king of Babylon — but you never mentioned Belshazzar? What’s up?” Technically — Belshazzar wasn’t king. His dad — Nabonidus — was king and had appointed his oldest son as the co-regent over the capital city of the Babylonian empire. A co-regent — if you’re unfamiliar with the term — is a joint ruler. Often before their death — kings would appoint their heir as co-regent to make it clear to everyone who the next king would be. And this is the role Belshazzar has at the time of our story in Daniel chapter five. And — if you happen to use a translation of the Bible that calls Nebuchadnezzar his “father” instead of his “predecessor” — know that father is being used to mean “one who came before him” — not — his biological father.

Something interesting about Belshazzar is that — for years — Daniel chapter five was the only evidence of him. In fact, Belshazzar used to be a way people would argue against the reliability of the Bible. Historical records never mentioned him and this was considered proof that the Bible contained error. That was until some tablets and letters were discovered that contained writings between Babylonian bankers and — you guessed it — Belshazzar — co-regent and — until the Persians got involved — the future king of Babylon.

But — in our opening verses — we find that Belshazzar is throwing an extravagant party — a party celebrating sin and rebellion against God. He has the gold and silver cups — which were taken from the Temple and meant to be used for the worship of God — brought in to be used to drink to idols and false gods. So this is a man so full of himself that he has no qualms with defacing sacred objects used to worship God — just to spice up his party.

Now — here’s what may be most incredible to you. He’s throwing this party while — just outside the city walls — a foreign army is ready to attack — and he’s fully aware of all of this! History tells us that the Persian army has been staged outside the capital city for about two and half years. And — thus far — Babylon has kept the invaders at bay. The walls around Babylon were as high as three hundred and fifty feet — with a width of eighty-seven feet — and the walls were designed to be impenetrable by any weapon of this time period. The area protected by the walls was so large that food could be grown because the Euphrates River flowed through the city. So they had all the food and water needed to survive within the walls — a situation seemingly so secure that the king could throw an elaborate party to mock his enemy that was just outside the city walls.

It’s quite common — in our land of exile — for people to party on the edge of their grave — believing that they’ve built impenetrable walls of security around them. But then cancer strikes. Or you lose your job. Or your spouse leaves you and the kids. 

It’s the actor who overdoses on drugs — they seemed to have it all and made us all believe they did — until the walls they built up failed to protect them. In a way — we’re all more like Belshazzar than we dare to admit — partying on the edge of our grave as an enemy is ready to attack — just outside the walls that we think will protect us.

INEXCUSABLE IGNORANCE

But some may rightfully — or wrongfully — claim ignorance. Does our ignorance excuse our behavior as we party on the edge of the grave? Let’s see. We’re in verse five.

Daniel 5:5–12 (NLT)
5
Suddenly, they saw the fingers of a human hand writing on the plaster wall of the king’s palace, near the lampstand. The king himself saw the hand as it wrote, 6 and his face turned pale with fright. His knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him. 7 The king shouted for the enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers to be brought before him. He said to these wise men of Babylon, “Whoever can read this writing and tell me what it means will be dressed in purple robes of royal honor and will have a gold chain placed around his neck. He will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom!” 8 But when all the king’s wise men had come in, none of them could read the writing or tell him what it meant. 9 So the king grew even more alarmed, and his face turned pale. His nobles, too, were shaken. 10 But when the queen mother heard what was happening, she hurried to the banquet hall. She said to Belshazzar, “Long live the king! Don’t be so pale and frightened. 11 There is a man in your kingdom who has within him the spirit of the holy gods. During Nebuchadnezzar’s reign, this man was found to have insight, understanding, and wisdom like that of the gods. Your predecessor, the king — your predecessor King Nebuchadnezzar — made him chief over all the magicians, enchanters, astrologers, and fortune-tellers of Babylon. 12 This man Daniel, whom the king named Belteshazzar, has exceptional ability and is filled with divine knowledge and understanding. He can interpret dreams, explain riddles, and solve difficult problems. Call for Daniel, and he will tell you what the writing means.”

Think of all that Daniel’s done for the nation of Babylon — how he faithfully served Nebuchadnezzar. And — yet — not long after Nebuchadnezzar’s death — all of that work’s been lost. May this remind us of the calling we have to hand off our faith to the next generation. Yes — they may choose to rebel against God — but may it not be because we neglected our responsibility to raise them up in the discipline and instruction of the Lord.

This goes for those of us with children in our homes. And this goes for those who have no children at home but are part of this faith family. How are you helping us disciple the next generation? How might you help us? 

I recently read an encouraging report on the openness to Jesus, the gospel, and the Christian faith by today’s teenagers. One finding of the report is that what teens need most are mentors in the faith. Where — in addition to their parents and guardians — an older Christian invests in the teen, is willing to mentor them, and read and discuss the Bible with them — all out of love for the sake of their soul. Where youth ministry isn’t seen as something for the few — but is seen for what it is — all of our personal investment in the faith of the generation who will live long after us. God, thank you for those in this faith family who invest in the next generation — and may you raise up many more.

Now — this finger appears and — in verse six — we see that Belshazzar’s “knees knocked together in fear and his legs gave way beneath him.” A more literal translation — of the original language — would be the “knots of his joints were loosened.” Most English Bibles have “his legs gave way” because this is a polite way of describing the situation. Sometimes we like politeness a bit too much — so here’s what most likely happened according to one of my Bible commentaries: “When Belshazzar saw the finger he lost control of his bodily functions — he had a wet patch under his chair.” (Duguid, 80)

So — in a soiled panic — he calls his wise men in to tell him what the writing on the wall means. And none of them can interpret it for him — eerily similar to Nebuchadnezzar’s demand when his wise men couldn’t tell him his dream. This time — though — not an unreasonable demand — but a desperate plea by the king. And — at this point — the king’s mother remembers Daniel. And — know that this would’ve added embarrassment and insult on the man who was just moments earlier partying the night away. Not only has he wet himself — he needs his mommy to tell him what to do. But — at least he knows to listen to his momma. We’re in verse thirteen.

Daniel 5:13–31 (NLT)
13
So Daniel was brought in before the king. The king asked him, “Are you Daniel, one of the exiles brought from Judah by my predecessor, King Nebuchadnezzar? 14 I have heard that you have the spirit of the gods within you and that you are filled with insight, understanding, and wisdom. 15 My wise men and enchanters have tried to read the words on the wall and tell me their meaning, but they cannot do it. 16 I am told that you can give interpretations and solve difficult problems. If you can read these words and tell me their meaning, you will be clothed in purple robes of royal honor, and you will have a gold chain placed around your neck. You will become the third highest ruler in the kingdom.” 17 Daniel answered the king, “Keep your gifts or give them to someone else, but I will tell you what the writing means. 18 Your Majesty, the Most High God gave sovereignty, majesty, glory, and honor to your predecessor, Nebuchadnezzar. 19 He made him so great that people of all races and nations and languages trembled before him in fear. He killed those he wanted to kill and spared those he wanted to spare. He honored those he wanted to honor and disgraced those he wanted to disgrace. 20 But when his heart and mind were puffed up with arrogance, he was brought down from his royal throne and stripped of his glory. 21 He was driven from human society. He was given the mind of a wild animal, and he lived among the wild donkeys. He ate grass like a cow, and he was drenched with the dew of heaven, until he learned that the Most High God rules over the kingdoms of the world and appoints anyone he desires to rule over them. 22 “You are his successor, O Belshazzar, and you knew all this, yet you have not humbled yourself. 23 For you have proudly defied the Lord of heaven and have had these cups from his Temple brought before you. You and your nobles and your wives and concubines have been drinking wine from them while praising gods of silver, gold, bronze, iron, wood, and stone — gods that neither see nor hear nor know anything at all. But you have not honored the God who gives you the breath of life and controls your destiny! 24 So God has sent this hand to write this message. 25 “This is the message that was written: Mene, Mene, Tekel, and Parsin. 26 This is what these words mean: Mene means ‘numbered’ — God has numbered the days of your reign and has brought it to an end. 27 Tekel means ‘weighed’ — you have been weighed on the balances and have not measured up. 28 Parsin means ‘divided’ — your kingdom has been divided and given to the Medes and Persians.” 29 Then at Belshazzar’s command, Daniel was dressed in purple robes, a gold chain was hung around his neck, and he was proclaimed the third highest ruler in the kingdom. 30 That very night Belshazzar, the Babylonian king, was killed. 31 And Darius the Mede took over the kingdom at the age of sixty-two.

Daniel explains to Belshazzar — Mene means numbered. Tekel means weighed. Parsin means divided. “Time is up — Belshazzar. God’s numbered your days. And — you haven’t measured up — so your kingdom will be divided. You were partying on the edge of the grave and you had no idea that tonight would be the day you die.”

The Persians figured out how to use the Euphrates River to their advantage — that’s how they eventually got inside the city walls. They blocked the flow of the river and used the dry riverbed to enter under the city wall. Sure — it took them a few years — but eventually they figured it out. And the party was over for Babylon and Belshazzar.

CRUSHED BY OUR SIN

When your time is up — when your days have come to an end — when it’s time for the wealth and stuff you’ve accumulated to be divided up among others — will you find that you measured up to God’s standard or — like Belshazzar — will you find yourself crushed by your sin — maybe even lacking control of your bodily functions as you realize how foolish you’ve been to ignore the warnings God graciously gave to you time and time again? You see — God’s warnings against sin and the commands he gives us — are proof of his love for us — proof of his love for you. If God didn’t love you he wouldn’t have warned you about the consequences of sin. You judged his commands and warnings as oppression — as if God was trying to keep you from being happy — when all the while his warnings were meant to lead you to eternal happiness and away from eternal despair.

You see, God doesn’t delight in the punishment of the wicked — he desires their repentance. Thus he warns all of us of the consequences of sin so that we’ll avoid it — and repent of it — and turn and live for him. Yet — as Paul tells us — there are many whose lives are an echo of Belshazzar’s. They are…

Romans 1:18b–32 (NLT)
18
…sinful, wicked people who suppress the truth by their wickedness. 19 They know the truth about God because he has made it obvious to them. 20 For ever since the world was created, people have seen the earth and sky. Through everything God made, they can clearly see his invisible qualities — his eternal power and divine nature. So they have no excuse for not knowing God. 21 Yes, they knew God, but they wouldn’t worship him as God or even give him thanks. And they began to think up foolish ideas of what God was like. As a result, their minds became dark and confused. 22 Claiming to be wise, they instead became utter fools. 23 And instead of worshiping the glorious, ever-living God, they worshiped idols made to look like mere people and birds and animals and reptiles. 24 So God abandoned them to do whatever shameful things their hearts desired. As a result, they did vile and degrading things with each other’s bodies. 25 They traded the truth about God for a lie. So they worshiped and served the things God created instead of the Creator himself, who is worthy of eternal praise! Amen. 26 That is why God abandoned them to their shameful desires. Even the women turned against the natural way to have sex and instead indulged in sex with each other. 27 And the men, instead of having normal sexual relations with women, burned with lust for each other. Men did shameful things with other men, and as a result of this sin, they suffered within themselves the penalty they deserved. 28 Since they thought it foolish to acknowledge God, he abandoned them to their foolish thinking and let them do things that should never be done. 29 Their lives became full of every kind of wickedness, sin, greed, hate, envy, murder, quarreling, deception, malicious behavior, and gossip. 30 They are backstabbers, haters of God, insolent, proud, and boastful. They invent new ways of sinning, and they disobey their parents. 31 They refuse to understand, break their promises, are heartless, and have no mercy. 32 They know God’s justice requires that those who do these things deserve to die, yet they do them anyway. Worse yet, they encourage others to do them, too.

Be careful with Paul’s list of sinful wicked behavior. As followers of Jesus, we’ve tended to focus on the sexual immorality he mentions — sin to be sure — sin that this land of exile celebrates. But what about the sins of greed, hate, envy, quarreling, deception, and gossip? Sins that have become acceptable by many who claim to be followers of Jesus as they’ve adopted sinful values of this land of exile. 

What’s your reaction to the sins Paul mentions? Not just generally — but when you see them in our culture? An obvious response is anger — that’s what this land of exile is full of — anger towards those who do things deemed wrong.

Something those of us who follow Jesus should consider is whether or not our anger is all that helpful. I mean — I don’t know of anyone who’s turned from their sin and believed in Jesus because of a Christian’s anger. I’m not wanting to dismiss righteous anger towards sin — but never forget that Jesus didn’t just get angry towards sin — he grieved because of it. And maybe — just maybe — the church will find its voice and — maybe this land of exile will desire to hear what we have to say — when we make it a practice to express grief because of our own sin — as well as for the sin of this land of exile. Grief for those who are caught up in chasing after happiness — yet never being able to find it because they’ve bought into the lies of this land. Grief because people long for purpose while being crushed under the weight of the demands of this land.

And — maybe — when they see us grieve for them — because we love them as Jesus loves them — maybe then they’ll turn to the One who was crushed by sin on their behalf. As the prophet says…

Isaiah 53:10–11 (NLT)
10
But it was the Lord’s good plan to crush him and cause him grief. Yet when his life is made an offering for sin, he will have many descendants. He will enjoy a long life, and the Lord’s good plan will prosper in his hands. 11 When he sees all that is accomplished by his anguish, he will be satisfied. And because of his experience, my righteous servant will make it possible for many to be counted righteous, for he will bear all their sins.

In this land of exile — people believe, live, and act as if their sin and rebellion against God doesn’t matter — that it doesn’t even matter to him — and nothing could be further from the truth. In fact — my sin and yours — matter so much to God that he sent Jesus to pay for the debt of our sin — to be crushed by it so we might escape judgment — all because of his great love for us. And — all who respond to God’s love — as displayed in Jesus — are now to live with our lives as vessels of worship. A vessel not made of gold and silver — like the cups taken from the Temple and defamed by Belshazzar — but vessels like that of jars of clay — as the apostle Paul tells us — vessels which contain a great treasure — the light of Jesus Christ. 

This is why how we live — while in this land of exile matters. This is why how you live — in this land of exile matters — for our lives — including yours — are meant to be lived for God’s glory — not for partying on the edge of our grave. If our lives display a party — may it be because Christ’s grave is empty and he’s promised us life that will last all eternity. Let’s pray together.

PRAYER

Heavenly Father, thank you for your patience with us. So often we go about life thinking little of you, your plan for us, your gift of life to us, and we party our days away on the edge of the grave. Paul had pride in his list of sins — and nothing but pride would cause us to so flippantly go about life. Yet — at the same time — we thank you that you’re not against elaborate feasts and parties — for you have the party of all parties planned for your people.

Spirit of God, keep our eyes fixed on Heaven. For when our eyes are fixed there — our eyes are fixed on our God and the true realities this land of exile tries to keep us distracted from. We’re too weak — in our own strength — to keep our eyes fixed on Heaven — we need your help. Thank you for helping.

Jesus, you came to earth having left the riches of heaven behind. You threw no elaborate parties — though you did throw a few feasts for thousands of people with some borrowed bread and fish. More importantly, we think of the humble meal you shared with your disciples on the night of your betrayal. A feast which guaranteed that the sins — of all who turn to you in faith — would be paid for on the cross as you gave your life as an offering for our sins. This was the good plan that you, your Father, and the Holy Spirit made before time began — a plan of love, and hope, and salvation for your people.

Finally, Father, Son, and Holy Spirit — may you open the eyes, minds, and hearts of those who’ve yet to realize that — like Belshazzar — as it currently stands — their days are numbered and they don’t measure up. May they hear this and not rebel — but may they humble themselves by acknowledging that they don’t measure up — for none of us do — only one ever has. And he — who we’re to turn to for our salvation, hope, purpose, and happiness — is Jesus Christ. May many turn to you — Jesus — today. In your name we pray. Amen.

BENEDICTION

May you go with your eyes fixed on Jesus — for the one who was crushed for your sins is preparing a feast for you in paradise. Amen.

God loves you. I love you. You are sent.

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