“Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” Hebrews 13:3 (NIV)
Between his birth and death, Jesus did ministry. And one of the most notable things about it was that Jesus repeatedly ministered to the forgotten. Let’s take a quick peak into this this……. and from this we know that God is for EVERYONE!
There’s a story in the Bible, in John chapter four, that starts out, John 4:3-4, “When the Lord learned of this, He left Judea and went back once more to Galilee. Now He had to go through Samaria.” Now you need to know some history here. The Jews and the Samaritans were two different races of people. And the Jewish and Samaritan people lived in two different areas, with clearly defined boundaries. And they hated each other. They despised each other to such an extent that they wouldn’t even travel through each other’s territory. So if a Jew wanted to go from where he or she was to a place on the other side of Samara, that Jew would travel all the way around Samaria, which included two trips across the Jordan River, to get there. That was the regular practice of the day for Jews. Jews like … Jesus. Jesus was Jewish.
So in verse four when it says, “He had to go through Samaria,” it isn’t talking about a geographical necessity. No other Jewish person would of or would have had to. In fact, by doing this Jesus probably opened Himself up to a lot of criticism and questioning. But Jesus had a reason why he had to go through Samaria. The reason, we find out, is because there is a woman there. And this woman had made a mess of her life. She slept around with the men in town – and so they used her, and the women hated her. And we get the idea that she is living in guilt and shame. I am sure you know the story of the woman at the well. (John 4;7-26). In short, (really short) as Jesus travels into Samaria, he sends his followers off on an errand, and he makes his way straight to this woman. Let us stop there – and sum this up in two sentences. Jesus had to go through Samaria because this woman was shunned by everyone in her town. She was ignored by people, but Jesus wanted to make sure she knew – she was not forgotten by God.
There is another story, we find in Matthew, chapter eight, where Jesus and his closest followers get in a boat and they start traveling across a lake to the region of the Gadarenes. A storm comes up, and the Bible says that waves are breaking across the boat, Jesus’ friends are screaming, “We’re gonna drown!” And you would think they would just head back, but they don’t. It is like they must get to the region of the Gadarenes. Finally, they arrive. They stay there for only a short part of a day, only one thing happens during that time, and then they go straight back. So, the obvious question is: What was the one thing they went to do, that was so important it was worth the entire trip and risking their lives in this storm? Well, there were two men there. And their lives were a mess. In fact, it was so bad, and were considered so dangerous, that they were kept locked up in a cemetery away from the town. You know what Jesus did on his trip? He went and spent time with these two men (demons into the pigs). Jesus had to go to the region of the Gadarenes, even through a storm, because these men were shunned by everyone in his town. They were ignored by people, but Jesus wanted to make sure they knew – knew what – that they were not forgotten by God.
I reckon in Jesus’ ministry it became obvious to everyone that Jesus was for the forgotten. I think that is why the story we find in Mark, chapter one happens. In Mark one we meet a man with leprosy. Back then, the first sign of the dreaded disease of leprosy was considered a death sentence. There was no cure for it and so you just had to wait to die. The disease was considered highly contagious and so if you contracted it you were removed from society. You were sent off to live in a leper colony so you would not contaminate anyone else. You were removed from society and you were forgotten.
Lepers knew they were to keep their distance from people so as not to contaminate or inconvenience them. And that is why what happens in this story is so remarkable. Mark 1:40, “A man with leprosy came to Him and begged him on his knees, ‘If you are willing, you can make me clean.’” Notice he did not say, “If you are able.” He said, “If you are willing.” He does not doubt that Jesus can heal him, he only doubts whether Jesus would want to. Because he had been given up on by everyone, this man with leprosy understood he was not worth anyone’s attention. But he was holding onto hope that maybe Jesus really was different. And … Jesus was.
I love these next couple of verses….
Mark 1:41-42, “Filled with compassion, Jesus reached out His hand and touched the man, ‘I am willing,’ He said. ‘Be clean!’ Immediately the leprosy left him, and he was cured.” Why did Jesus touch this untouchable man? Because Jesus was filled with compassion: this leper was shunned by
everyone in his town, he was ignored by society, but Jesus wanted to make sure he knew – knew what??? That he was not forgotten by God.
As prison chaplains….you go on the inside to bring the message of love, the message of faith, to be friendly to people who are far from God in the hopes that they become friends with God. Let me assure you that we are not forgotten by God. In the book of Isaiah we read of a time when people felt forgotten by God.
Let us quickly check out God’s response in Isaiah 49 to the people,
13 Shout for joy, you heavens;
rejoice, you earth;
burst into song, you mountains!
For the LORD comforts his people
and will have compassion on his afflicted ones.
14 But Zion said, “The LORD has forsaken me,
the Lord has forgotten me.”
15 “Can a mother forget the baby at her breast
and have no compassion on the child she has borne?
Though she may forget,
I will not forget you!
16 See, I have engraved you on the palms of my hands;
your walls are ever before me.
God says, “Forgotten? (with a question mark) Can a mother forget her baby? No. But even if she could, I will not forget you.” So, if you feel forgotten or know someone who does, well, these words tell us, God is for the forgotten. And he has not forgotten you. Faith on the inside is for the forgotten.
It’s so good to know that we’re not forgotten, and it’s so important for us to let others know. To help the people we see in the prisons to explore life’s choices through the lens of FAITH.
To break it down into 3 takeaways….
1. Go to that person?
2. Touch their heart with the love of God?
3. Like Jesus, tell them even if they feel shunned, ignored, they’re not forgotten by God?
Faith on the inside – is what we do!