Come and See!

Jun 25, 2017

By Rev. John Harrison, PCA Board Member

In a meeting of nearby churches last week, I asked my neighbors in Christ to make some time to learn more about prison ministry. When I met resistance in the meeting, I countered by expressing the urgency, the clarity, and the simplicity that I find in Matthew 25. These are well-worn words for anyone involved in prison: “when I was in prison, you visited me,” and

“just as you did it to one of the least of these… you did it to me,”

as well as the more ominous and less quoted verse 45 “just as you did not do it to the least of these, you did not do it to me.”

My entreaty fell on deaf ears that day because I fell into the trap so many passionate people fall into all the time: I intoned these verses as a proof-text. Looking back, there is a painful irony in preaching about prison ministry in terms of a law and the division it enforces between the sheep and the goats, because that’s exactly the kind of mindset I was hoping to overcome. It’s not the judgment in these verses that leads me to new life; it’s the invitation. If we go into prison, Jesus has promised to meet us there and to reveal himself to us.

We do not go into prison to “save” people; we go in to join our brothers and sisters to meet Jesus Christ and to enjoy his salvation together. We go into prison to discover that Jesus is alive, that not even the gates of hell will prevail against his risen body, and that the bonds our Lord has loosed in heaven can be loosed right now in the land of the living, too.

Prison can be an intimidating place for churches who see mission as a one-way street where needy people receive help and generous people receive thanks. The need in prison is staggering, and the work is often thankless. It leaves a mark on us all, because within those walls, we all stand convicted together to live by grace alone. In this conviction, there is new life! In this conviction, the cross regains its power! In this conviction we come to see the Lord driving the wrong way down our one-way streets.

And so we invite you to come into prison, not with the threat of punishment, but with the promise that Jesus will come crashing into your life. The people you meet will come crashing into the way you read the Bible. Before your eyes, their stories will become the stories of God’s people in exile, and the story of your path home.

Prison is a humbling space that leaves everyone inside feeling like “the least of these,” but the promise is sure that Christ will visit you there. Prison will leave you feeling naked, but you will find yourself clothed in Christ. Prison will leave you hungry and thirsty, but Christ will feed you and quench your thirst. Prison reminds us of every sickness we share as a people, and it will remind us that Christ has come to heal and to restore us to new life. Come and see!

Category: Invitation

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