Five years ago, I had an opportunity to go on a prison trip to Ohio. I did not know what to expect. I had some anxiety, fear, and a little trepidation in anticipation of encountering the inmates. So many things run through your head. You could very easily talk yourself right out of going if you just let your mind run wild. Little did I know, but that trip would change my life forever in many ways.
While on this trip, I encountered men that were waiting only a few months before being released, to men that were going to be in prison for the rest of their lives. I did not have any idea how much I prejudged people and their worthiness of receiving the gift that I had so freely been given until then.
In Matthew chapter 25, we find the parable of the sheep and the goats. Jesus is telling His audience what the Kingdom of Heaven will be like. In the parable, the king is talking to the righteous and lists off a number of charitable actions that they had performed. In verse 36, He says, “I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.” The second half of that verse is on the back of the shirts we wear into prison. I had read the verse many times, but now the reality was right in front of me. Was I willing to look past what horrible sins these men may have committed to sharing with them the only thing that could give them hope?
I met a man, and he started telling me his story. He had been raised in a family that attended church regularly, but in his late teens and early twenties strayed away. He was arrested, sentenced, and sent to prison. He wanted to get plugged back into his religion. I told him my story on how religion let me down. Religion could not save me. God sent His Son to die for all of our sins so that when we accept His redemptive work on the cross, we could be restored to a right relationship with God. What God really wants is a relationship, not religion. I prayed with him and encouraged him to develop his relationship with God, not to focus on his religion. I do not know what happened to him or the decisions he made or did not make.
As he walked away, I realized I had just shared the truth of the Gospel with someone that the Bible categorized as “the least of these.” I just stood and stared. The truth that I had just shared was the truth of which I needed to be reminded. We all are the least of these. Without the relationship I told this man about, all of us would be in prison, without clothes, hungry, sick, and thirsty, without hope of being rescued.
This is why in Matthew 28:19-20, Jesus gives us the Great Commission. He is commissioning us to reach the world by giving the hopeless hope; the homeless, a home; the sick, a cure; the hungry, the Bread of Life; the thirsty, living water; the prisoners, freedom. We are to reach them so we can teach them about that freedom from our sin, and create in them an insatiable hunger to grow in their newfound hope and faith, so their desire is to repeat the process with others.
Like I said, the prison trip I went on changed me. My prayer is that God gives me the opportunity to share how I have a relationship with Him, and that when He does, that I am bold enough to speak the truth of the Gospel. It changed me and is the only thing that changes people to what God meant them to be.
John 3:17 says, “For God did not send his Son into the world to condemn the world, but in order that the world might be saved through him.”