Nelson Mandela, as a South African anti-apartheid activist, served 27 years in prison because of his struggle against apartheid. He spent much of his incarceration languishing in a single cell on Robben Island, just off the coast from Cape Town. Yet less than five years after his release, he was elected president of the country that had imprisoned him.
The Bible contains similar inspiring examples of individuals who had their standing and position radically changed from captivity to royalty, from prison to palace. Seeds of greatness were in each of those young Bible heroes, but they could only germinate when watered by faith and virtue.
God has royal plans for every believer. If we’re faithful in the little duties, God will lift us up. The apostle Paul confirmed this when he said that “God raised us up with Christ and seated us with him in the heavenly realms in Christ Jesus.”
Second chance in the palace
In contrast to those who were elevated from the prison to the palace, there are those who once enjoyed the status of being king but lost their exalted position through persistent disobedience.
Like them, there are millions who served Jesus in their youth but then drifted away. Can they ever be restored to the palace after they have lost it through neglect? The last words in the Bible book of Jeremiah tell a story that offers hope to people who have done this:
“In the thirty-seventh year of the exile of Jehoiachin king of Judah, in the year Evil-Merodach became king of Babylon, he released Jehoiachin king of Judah and freed him from prison on the twenty-fifth day of the twelfth month.
“He spoke kindly to him and gave him a seat of honour higher than those of the other kings who were with him in Babylon. So Jehoiachin put aside his prison clothes and for the rest of his life ate regularly at the king’s table. Day by day the king of Babylon gave Jehoiachin a regular allowance as long as he lived, till the day of his death.”
Consider for a moment these beautiful pictures of salvation. Amel Marduk,1 son of Nebuchadnezzar, was a great king who removed the Hebrew king Jehoiachin from prison and “spoke kindly to him.” Similarly, Jesus speaks words of grace and kindness to us. Jehoiachin was given “a more prominent seat.” We receive a new status to live and reign with our King, Jesus.
Jehoiachin changed from prison garments and was given royal robes. In the same way, Christ gives us a new robe of righteousness. Also, Jehoiachin ate royal bread the rest of his life—just as we depend on the Word of God as our spiritual food.
Another example is the Hebrew King Manasseh, the epitome of wickedness. The Assyrians carried him off to prison in Babylon, where he became truly repentant and prayed that God would forgive him and restore him to the palace. And God answered his humble prayer.
“Then Manasseh knew that the Lord is God” (2 Chronicles 33:13). If God can forgive Manasseh, He can forgive anyone!
Jesus had been preaching from Peter’s boat. When He finished His sermon, He told Peter to take the boat farther out on the lake and let down his fishing net.
Peter said that he had fished all night and caught nothing, but he did what Jesus said anyway and his net was filled with fish. Those fishermen had never had or seen a catch like that one. Following a carpenter’s advice about fishing had never paid off so well!
Peter realised he had witnessed a miracle, so he fell down at Jesus’ feet and said, “Go away from me, Lord; I am a sinful man!”
Do you know what Jesus said in reply? “Don’t be afraid; from now on you will fish for people.” He was saying, in effect, you’ve been satisfied going after smelly fish, but I see what you can become. I want you to go after beings made in God’s image. You need to see yourself in the light of what I can do through you. You need to raise the bar of who you are by following Me.
Follow Jesus. It will change your future. You are of immense value to Him. That’s why He died for you.
Jesus had never met Nathaniel. Nevertheless, when He first saw Nathaniel coming toward Him, He said, “Here truly is an Israelite in whom there is no deceit.”
Nathaniel said, “How do You know me?”
Jesus said, “I saw you while you were still under the fig tree.”
Realising that Jesus knew who he was, Nathaniel fell down at His feet and said, “You are the Son of God; You are the King of Israel.”
Jesus said, “You believe because I told you I saw you under the fig tree. You shall see greater things than that” (John 1:50). In other words, Jesus was saying, you’re thinking too small. I have bigger plans for you!
I think that one of the greatest challenges God is faced with when He calls humans to do His work is that we think too small. Jesus wants us to think with more faith, to believe that He can do great things through us if we believe. He said that “everything is possible for him who believes” (Mark 9:23).
Rags to riches stories in the Bible
- Joseph. First his brothers considered killing him, then they sold him to a travelling caravan. He ended up becoming custodian of a dungeon but was eventually elevated to the position of prime minister of Egypt (Genesis 37; 39–41).
- David. A shepherd boy on the hills of Bethlehem went on to kill a giant (as illustrated above in the 1870 engraving by Gustave Dore) and was anointed king of Israel (1 Samuel 16; 17).
- Esther. She was a lowly orphan among the Jewish captives in Persia, living under the care of her cousin Mordecai. A few years later, as queen of Persia, she was able to save the lives of her people (Esther 1–9).
- Daniel. He entered Babylon as a teenage captive but became governor of the province of Babylon and supervisor of King Nebuchadnezzar’s wise men (Daniel 1:1–6; 2:48).
You need to remember that God has a plan for your life. But so does the devil! Fortunately, you aren’t locked into following the devil’s plan. You can choose which plan you will follow. But if you just live for yourself, you’ll end up following the devil’s plan, which is not a pretty picture! However, if you follow God’s plan, you will have eternal life in a land that’s so beautiful that human words can’t describe it.
We’ve been invited to what the Bible calls the marriage supper of the Lamb. “The Spirit and the bride say, ‘Come!’ And let him who hears say, ‘Come!’ Whoever is thirsty, let him come; and whoever wishes, let him take the free gift of the water of life” (Revelation 22:17).
We’ve been invited to live and reign forever with Jesus. We should instantly, enthusiastically and gratefully accept this incredible invitation of grace because if we submit our lives to Him and place our heart in His hands, we will accomplish His plan for us.
Jeremiah tells us the Lord’s intention. “I know the plans I have for you, . . . plans to prosper you and not to harm you, plans to give you hope and a future” (Jeremiah 29:11).
God says, I have a future for you. It’s a hope. You won’t reach what you’re hoping for without faith and without pursuing it. You need to do something to activate God’s plan for your life. Why not tell Him right now you want to begin?