I have seen men who live behind prison walls. I have sat beside them, spoken with them, and eaten a Thanksgiving meal with them. They look and sound no different than some outside, but they were caught and pay the earthly price.
But more than stone and steel, there is something that encloses the hearts of all men, a sickness and disease that eats up hope and holiness within.
Sin, if left to beget more sin, will flourish until there is nothing left of man, but numbers, names, and wasted days. No earthly prison can cage the soul; it is sin, and the love of it, that keeps man from being free, from being whole.
Jesus Christ came to set the captive free: to call to repentance, to proclaim liberty. But He could only do and say those things, because He would pay the price ultimately.
Barabbas, though he was a murderer and a criminal, was set free from prison and from execution, but Jesus paid the price in his stead. A thief who hung next to Jesus now abides with Him in Heaven, though he deserved the punishment he was given. Does that make sense to you; that a righteous man should suffer the same punishment as sinners and suffer in their stead? It does not make sense, but love never does; neither does grace, mercy, or justice. But somehow, those virtues that lie beyond our understanding have found their way into this broken existence.
Was it by human wisdom or natural evolution that those virtues came to be? Impossible. There are certain things that can only be seen and felt in order to be grasped. Just as those who have never seen the Sun cannot fathom it, so, too, are the virtues of grace, mercy, love, and justice. For many, those virtues and everything that is good in the world point to the greatest One that cannot now be seen, because they conclude those gifts came from a wise, gracious, merciful, loving, and just, Creator King.
It seems so simple to say that good proves God, but the world’s formula posits that good and bad are relative thoughts, and cents is only found in paper, metal, and shiny rocks. To the world, right and wrong are left to interpretation, but such philosophy will never stand, as a shifting of earth will reveal the foundation to be merely sand, and those standing thereon will fall into a pit that they cannot escape. For a people and society so open to interpretation of right and wrong, they are sticklers when it comes to their personal definitions. “You cannot tell me how to live my life.” Well, the government tells you and it doesn’t have the authority of Christ. Laws can neither save nor judge your soul and the hands that carry them out can only lock you up or destroy your flesh.
Ultimately, no one can make you do what is right and keep you from doing wrong. Even Christ gave you the choice of life or death; you can believe on His name and wear His righteousness, being secured in eternal life through His sacrifice; or you can face the consequences of your sins, whether stone walls and metal bars or worse, unquenchable fire. Faith in an awesome God does not mean that you will be taken off the cross, but it does mean you will be with Him in paradise, and your witness may help save some from the consequences of their sins in this life and the next.
Men who live behind prison walls and stay behind prison fences, needless to say, look rough around the edges. But just like any mortal man, they will perish; just like any mortal man, they need Jesus. It is easy for the world to deceive itself, thinking all people are in their own boats to their own destinations, but that is what Satan wants you to think; that you can earn your keep and decide when you stay and when you leave. No man knows the day or the hour when judgment comes; when good works and evil will be tested in the Light of the Son. Those who are condemned under law still have redemption through Christ, and those free within the law, may be condemned by their own choices and actions.
There are only two kinds of people, those in the boat and those drowning: those within trust the God of the storm, those without hopelessly fight the waves until they call upon the One Who walks on the water or until darkness swallows up their life and laughter.
Thinking back on those men’s faces, I am struck by the power of grace.
I know Jesus has seen the tattooed tears, but He has the power to cover every one; to transform those sons of sin into sons of God. Already, knowing that they work to earn their keep for a Christian-owned company gives me hope that they will see Jesus and choose liberty in Him. Though some of them still have eight years behind prison walls, they can settle their eternal debt even now; they can call on Jesus, and they can grow to be His disciples: ambassadors for the cross. I know that not all of those men will choose life. Some will leave the prison, only to return again. Some will leave and dive into sin, only to break their necks. But some will leave, having a changed heart and life. To that end, I pray. Even so, save them, LORD Jesus, and not only them, but all men and women still drowning and stuck in their prisons. Amen.