Prison… What does that word make you think of? Most Christians in America would probably associate prison with criminals. People assume that you are only sent to prison if you do something wrong. Prison is seen as a place where bad people go.
However, the New Testament paints a somewhat different picture of prison. For one thing, most of it was written from prison!
In Hebrews 13:3, Paul asks Christians to “remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison.” Believers in other parts of the world can identify with this because many live in places where Christianity is illegal or where they are persecuted for their faith.
In Matthew 25, Jesus says “Whatever you did for one of the least of these brothers and sisters of mine, you did for me.” Conversely, “whatever you did not do for one of the least of these, you did not do for me.”
If Jesus was in prison, would we visit Him?
Sadly, the vast majority of Americans have never set foot in a prison. Many of us don’t even know where to begin with the idea of visiting or ministering to people in prison. Too many American Christians have become disconnected from our biblical, Christian heritage of ministering to those who are incarcerated.
Around the globe, I’ve had many opportunities to meet families who have husbands, brothers, fathers, or sons in prison for their faith. They make regular visits to their loved ones in prison because in some countries, inmates don’t eat unless their family and friends bring them food. They don’t have clothes unless someone brings them clothes.
Certainly, there are cultural barriers for us as Americans that keep us away from prisons and cause us to assume that because inmates are guilty of crimes, they aren’t worthy of our time.
But I don’t think that lets us off the hook. Jesus was talking about visiting individuals in prison that we might not even know. Strangers. The least of these that we might not have any connection with. He calls us to minister to them.
We have a biblical responsibility here. And we have to recognize that God has a special place in His heart for those in prison. That means we should too.
It is also true that prison is a place where remarkable things often happen in people’s lives. When someone is in prison, they’re in a desperate situation. It’s a unique opportunity to bring them a love that will stand out from their surrounding circumstances.
In many ways, the comforts of modern culture keep people from the Kingdom of God. Perhaps they don’t feel the need for God. But they still have an emptiness. Every human heart does. However, materialism, affluence, and personal independence can inoculate and insulate us, keeping us from recognizing our real need for Jesus Christ.
When someone is sent to prison, all of that is stripped away. Inside prison, there are no illusions. Jesus’ call to us as His Body is to go there. When we do, we may see that Jesus is already there.
Whenever we believe and live out what God has called us to do, He will do remarkable things. We need to remember the chains of those who are in prison and share Christ with them. Some of these inmates will never be released. But they can be free on the inside.
That’s why I’m so excited about the work Biblica has been doing for centuries. Way back in the 1800s, the New York Bible Society started ministry to the prisoners in the city, and we continue to stand with prison ministries across the country, equipping them with Bibles that the prison population can read and easily understand.