Can you think of someone whom you could never imagine being a Christian? Maybe it’s an atheist or a public figure who is opposed to the Christian faith. Sometimes the least likely person is the most likely to become a Christian. No one is beyond the reach of God.
A classic example is Saul of Tarsus, a Christian killer. He hunted followers of Jesus for sport, arrested them and threw them into jail, thinking he was doing the work of the God of Abraham, Isaac and Jacob. He presided over the death of Stephen, the first martyr of the church.
One day Saul was on the Damascus road, on his way to hunt down more Christians. Saul heard the Lord himself speak to him and say, “‘Saul, Saul, why are you persecuting me? It is useless for you to fight against my will'” (Acts 26:14 NLT). God was trying to get Saul’s attention, and Saul had been fighting against it. Then Saul, the Christian killer, was transformed into the great apostle Paul, the defender of the Christian faith.
The Old Testament tells the story another powerful man coming to faith – the most powerful man on the face of the earth at the time. King Nebuchadnezzar had unlimited powers. There were no checks and balances in his government. He did whatever he wanted, whenever he wanted. No one was his rival. He had effectively conquered the planet.
Nebuchadnezzar was at the top of his game, ruling over the magnificent city of Babylon. The Hanging Gardens of Babylon were one of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. The city walls were 387 feet high, a third of the height of the Empire State Building. The mighty river Euphrates flowed through the middle of the city, where there was a massive temple erected to their false god. Ruling over it all was the great Nebuchadnezzar. But in all of this he forgot God. Even worse, he took credit for what God had done.
He should have known better, because he had seen the Lord work. Nebuchadnezzar had a dream about a statue with a head of gold and a breast and arms of silver. None of his soothsayers, fortunetellers, or astrologers could interpret his dream. So they called in the prophet Daniel, who told him exactly what it meant.
Later on, Nebuchadnezzar erected a giant golden image of himself and commanded everyone to worship it. Three courageous Jewish teenagers named Shadrach, Meshach and Abednego refused to bow and were thrown into a furnace of fire. Looking into the furnace, Nebuchadnezzar said, “I see four men, unbound, walking around in the fire unharmed! And the fourth looks like a god!” (Daniel 3:25 NLT).
Jesus was walking with them through the furnace, and afterward Nebuchadnezzar had to admit, in his own words, “There is no other god who can rescue like this!” (verse 29 NLT).
Yet he did not believe. Nebuchadnezzar knew about God. He had a respect for God. The problem was that he wanted to take the place of God. He committed a sin that is probably committed more than any other and is at the root of most sins: the sin of pride.
One night Nebuchadnezzar had another dream – a troubling dream. He saw a massive tree with a lot of fruit, and everyone was eating the fruit. Then suddenly an angel came down from heaven and cut the tree down.
When Nebuchadnezzar woke up, he called in his soothsayers, astrologers and fortunetellers, and none of them had the answer. Again, Daniel was brought in, and he gave Nebuchadnezzar the interpretation of the dream. But it wasn’t an easy message to deliver.
Daniel had to effectively tell Nebuchadnezzar that he was the tree and would be cut down. It wouldn’t have been easy to give this message to someone as powerful as Nebuchadnezzar. With one word, Daniel’s head could have been separated from his body.
He told the truth, but Daniel took no pleasure in delivering this bad news to the king. He said, “‘This is what the dream means, Your Majesty, and what the Most High has declared will happen to my lord the king. You will be driven from human society, and you will live in the fields with the wild animals. You will eat grass like a cow, and you will be drenched with the dew of heaven. Seven periods of time will pass while you live this way, until you learn that the Most High rules over the kingdoms of the world and gives them to anyone he chooses'” (Daniel 4:24–25 NLT).
Despite this ominous warning from Daniel, there was still hope. Daniel said, “‘King Nebuchadnezzar, please accept my advice. Stop sinning and do what is right. Break from your wicked past and be merciful to the poor. Perhaps then you will continue to prosper'” (verse 27 NLT).
Considering Daniel’s perfect track record, you would think the king would have listened to him. He was saying, “This doesn’t have to happen if you repent.”
But King Nebuchadnezzar wasn’t having it. He didn’t really listen. He had a full year to come to his senses, but his heart simply filled with more pride. He had a year to get it together, a year to repent. But then the dream was fulfilled, happening just as God said it would.
Yet God is a God of second chances. And after he forgave Nebuchadnezzar, after he gave him his sanity back, Nebuchadnezzar sent out a decree to all of his kingdom, saying, “Now I, Nebuchadnezzar, praise and glorify and honor the King of heaven. All his acts are just and true, and he is able to humble the proud” (Daniel 4:34 NLT).
Maybe you feel as though you’ve messed up everything. God gives second chances. Nebuchadnezzar was a wicked man, yet God forgave him. And God will forgive you.
Maybe you’ve been running from God for years and think you can run out the clock and do whatever you want. Ultimately, you will reap the consequences of your actions. God might be giving you a warning today. Don’t miss the opportunity to get right with him. You may never have another one like it again.