Day 23: “Free the Captives”

You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons. (prophecy about Jesus, Isaiah 42:7b, NLT)

When you think of this verse, who comes to mind, the guilty or the innocent?

If you’re like me, the innocent come to mind.  I picture a prisoner of war, a victim taken hostage, a good citizen locked inside a cell.

Actually, I doubt that is what God had in mind here.

The Bible is clear.  Although any of us can be treated unjustly and be innocent in regards to a particular crime, all of us have sold ourselves into the bondage of sin and none of us are innocent in nature.

We have stigmas about certain kinds of crimes that lead to prison time here on earth, but the truth is, all crimes lead to prison in eternity.  We are likely to judge a rapist or murderer guilty to rot in prison, but we usually don’t think about how our sins that are very grave to God will one day be judged, too.  It won’t only be rapists and murderers who go to Hell.  It will be liars, adulterers, gossipers, hypocrites, cowards–anyone who places anything above (of greater importance) than the living GOD.

Those kind of words cause me to shift uncomfortably in my shoes.  I have a clean criminal record, and I’ve never even gotten a speeding ticket.  But does that mean I’m clean in God’s eyes?

How many lies have I told in my life?  Honestly, at least hundreds of thousands.  As Ray Comfort points out in his ministry, what do you call someone who tells lies?  A liarAnd where, according to God, do liars go?

I don’t get to have a party on judgment day because I’ve never murdered anybody.  That isn’t how it works.  Not every sin has the same severity of consequence, in this life or before God, but every sin is just as damning.

It would be like this.  Suppose I go to a professor, and ask, “What grade do I have to have to pass this class?” and my professor says, “100%.”

When I take a test, I get a 99%.  Am I going to pass the class?

Am I?  No.  Why not?  Because I didn’t get 100%.  It would be better to get 99% than 23%, but, either way, I did not pass the test.

Of course, none of us are remotely close to getting 99%.  From the way the Bible describes us, and the way I know I am, I think we’d all fall under 1%.  In the sense that God is fair in how He judges each crime, it is better to sin less.  But in the sense that even one sin damns us to Hell, it is completely irrelevant for me to spend my time judging those who I feel are greater sinners than me, seeing as how I am going to the same place as they are if I have to rely on my rap sheet.

A lot of people get mad that God won’t accept their, well, what they would probably call 95% or maybe C+.  But that’s all wrong.  That’s based on an idea about this life that’s faulty.  These people see it like this: I got an 89% in college biology, but I’m doing just fine in life without the 11% of information I didn’t know.  And, I had a professor who was nice to me and inflated my 89% to an A.

Okay, that’s great for me with biology.  But what if I’m your brain surgeon?  I walk in with my white coat and say, “Now don’t worry about a thing.  I know 89% of what I’m supposed to do when I operate on your brain.”

HUH?  You’d probably shove me out of the way to get out the door and maybe run screaming from the hospital.  Knowing 89% of how to operate on a brain is not enough to perform brain surgery–not on my brain!

What we do in this life has eternal consequence, because we are eternal beings, made in the image of God.  What we do to other humans–who are also made in the image of God–has forever consequence.  In what we do, we set a chain of events in motion that we cannot stop by any amount of effort.  Look at the chain of events Adam and Eve set in motion when they sinned against God.  Look at all the evil they birthed into the world because of that first single sin.

And we are no different.  When we violate each other by sinning against each other, no matter how small, we commit a crime of immeasurable proportions.

Discovering this truth has to be the most terrifying thing that can happen in this life.  But discovering it in this life can keep you from discovering it in eternity.  The only way any of us have a clean rap sheet, the only way any of us don’t tremble into pieces when we see our sin, the only way any of us have a hope on the day of Justice, is if Jesus Christ served our sentence for us.

If we have called on Jesus to love us and forgive us, if we trust Him to have served our sentence and wiped away our criminal record in His suffering on the cross, then we don’t have to be afraid of the Judge anymore.  He becomes our Father, our King, our beloved God who we get to love and, better yet, who loves us, for all eternity.

For us who believe in Jesus and have experienced the freedom of an open cell door, an erased rap sheet . . we have the knowledge possible to have the humility that is honest about us.  We know who we are.  And we know we’re not any more worthy to walk free on the streets than the worst criminal in prison.  We’re just as eternally guilty as them without Jesus Christ.  And that is how we can have compassion on the worst people in the world.

That segways into our mission for the day: Chuck Colson’s prison ministry.  It took a long time to get to this one, but I want us to be in the right framework before we think about this mission because we’re prone to forget the knowledge of our sin and the humility of receiving salvation that’s totally on Christ’s shoulders when we look at the knowledge of the sin of someone else, say, a convict.

Like David Berkowitz[1,2].  David is known for his insane serial killings but since 1987, he has been known for something else, too: his conversion.

A prisoner shared his faith with him, day after day.  One day, when reading Psalm 34:6, he gave his life to Jesus Christ.

This poor man cried, and the LORD heard him and saved him out of all his troubles. (Psalm 34:6)

Since then, David has shared his testimony with Christians worldwide.  (A group of Christians have a website for him, since he cannot access the computer.)  He has written his testimony in Son of Hope: The Prison Journals of David Berkowitz (2006) and a video testimony in Son of Hope (1998).  He does not get any money from his book or video.  Furthermore, when a lawyer put some of his letters and photographs in a book without his permission, he sued with the condition that he would drop charges if the lawyer donated the proceeds to the victims’ families.

Every time David has been up for parole (in New York it is mandatory every two years), and he has had the opportunity to testify for himself because of his good behavior, he has asked to not be released from prison.  At one time, he said, “In all honesty, I believe that I deserve to be in prison for the rest of my life. I have, with God’s help, long ago come to terms with my situation and I have accepted my punishment.”

The lost world can pick and choose who to help and forgive, but as believers, we cannot.  Christ Jesus has forgiven us of everything, and we cannot turn around and refuse to share His saving grace or forgiveness with anyone.

God sent a fellow prisoner to David Berkowitz to bring him to the foot of the cross.  I don’t know how that prisoner became a believer, but he gave David a Gideon Bible, so he had been ministered to by a believer outside the prison walls at some point, either indirectly (if the Bible was given to him by another prisoner) or directly.

Chuck Colson’s Prison Ministry is a mission to reach prisoners, directly (through outside missionaries) and indirectly (through prisoners who become believers through the work of missionaries).

Share the love of Jesus Christ with prisoners through

You will free the captives from prison, releasing those who sit in dark dungeons. (Prophesy about Jesus, Isaiah 42:7b)

If you are a believer, Jesus has freed you from the captivity of prison.  He has released you from sitting in a dark dungeon.

Please share that freedom and release with other prisoners.

“I was in prison, and you visited me.” (King Jesus Christ, quoted in Matthew 25:36, NLT)

Mission Credibility: Prison Fellowship Ministries (Chuck Colson’s Prison Ministry) is a member of the Evangelical Council for Financial Accountability (ECFA), is an approved Better Business Bureau charity, and is a member of Guidestar.  It is also an approved charity of the Combined Federal Campaign (CFC #11272).  Prison Fellowship® is a 501(c)(3) organization, gifts to which may be deductible as charitable contributions for federal income tax purposes.

[1] David Berkowitz, Wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/David_Berkowitz#cite_note-71, accessed 3/23/2013, with its credited sources, was used for the information about his life

[2] David Berkowitz’s testimony was used regarding his conversion http://www.ariseandshine.org/Testimony-&-Translations.html

For more information about David’s conversion, visit http://www.ariseandshine.org/index.html.

See Copyright Page for Bible translation information.

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