Summary: 7th and last in this series. Concept borrowed from Tim Cook, a fellow preacher. A study of Matthew 25 and how the Church can put it into practice.
Intro: Did you see the figures at the start of services today? They’ll be in the newsletter too:
• 3,030 pounds of food collected and delivered to RRM
• $3,476.99 given to put a well in India. It’s actually enough to almost do 2!
• 210 letters, 19 pictures with notes sent to encourage the troops in Incirlik airbase in Turkey
• Enough detergent to wash 48,255 articles of clothing, given to Oblong Children’s Christian Home, and a bunch of sheets, pillows, and towels.
• We don’t know how many will be touched by help for the sick, especially kids who face heart surgery.
• And, all during this time, with the help of IDES, 10 storage sheds have been given and built for people who had losses from the tornadoes - $11,000 of raw materials, and some 500+ man (& woman!) hours.
Let him who boasts, boast in the Lord. I am boasting about what God is doing through His people.
It’s a good start.
MDA phone-a-thon – once a year, “locked up for good” to raise money for the MDA. They take your picture. It’s for a nice cause, and it’s done in fun. That’s what they do at MDA. I guess it works, but I can tell you, that’s as funny as prison gets. After the MDA thing is done, there’s no more funny in prison.
Today, we’re considering the last group mentioned by Jesus in “The Least of These.” I was in prison. Most of us can’t relate to that, and we don’t want to. Right away we’ve got to figure out what that meant in the 1st century compared to now. I’m going to bet that most of us also can’t relate to visiting someone in prison. Maybe by the end of this, that will be changing.
Prison in Bible times was different. It was almost always 1 of 3 things: a place where a person was held until his trial, until his punishment, or until a debt paid. Right away, that makes it different from most prisons in our country and most others today. Today, a person’s stay in prison is punishment in itself. They will remain there, based on the severity of their crime, and then be released back into society. I have my own set of opinions about the effectiveness of this. But let it be enough said that Scripture knows of no such system – a penitentiary, where people are committed to confinement and supposedly are penitent and then reformed until they are released. I’m not running for office, but if it were up to me to change the system, I’d start by making prisons something besides a place where criminals stay at our expense to get smarter and stronger and then get released. But I digress…
When Jesus mentions someone in prison, remember, why that person is there is not as important as the fact that he is there. Why he was there was much more likely to be for some unfair, oppressive reason than our modern prisons. Remember Joseph? He was put in prison 2X when he didn’t deserve it. Remember JB, the Apostles? They were imprisoned because they spoke the truth. That’s why I especially want us to think about people who are prisoners because of their faith in Jesus.
Something else that was different in biblical times was the conditions of prisons. Many of our modern day prisons in the US have gyms for workouts, libraries, and cable TV, as well as movie nights. Prisoners receive medical care and 3 meals a day. Most of them don’t do a thing for it. You and I are paying the bills.
That wasn’t the case in 1st century Roman prisons. Conditions were very often cramped, dark, and full of disease. Prisoners often depended on people on the outside to care for them, and that was dangerous, because a prison visitor was no longer anonymous. He might be associated with the crimes of the person he was visiting. If the visitor was a slave, he might be required to be a witness in court to his conversations with the accused, and the testimony of a slave was admissible only if it was given under torture. To visit a prisoner, he’d have to be lowered in by a rope, and he’d leave when the guards were willing to let him leave. Still, there was this slave named Onesimus who came to visit Paul in prison. It’s quite possible that he was risking his life every time he came to visit Paul.
Philemon 1:10-14 (NIV)
I appeal to you for my son Onesimus, who became my son while I was in chains. Formerly he was useless to you, but now he has become useful both to you and to me. I am sending him--who is my very heart--back to you. I would have liked to keep him with me so that he could take your place in helping me while I am in chains for the gospel. But I did not want to do anything without your consent, so that any favor you do will be spontaneous and not forced.