The Gospel in Culture: Prison

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Intro: Good morning FE, we are glad that you are here with us this morning. My name is Josh Aguilar, I am one of the elders here at FE.

Every so often, here at fellowship we like to pause in between our series and take a moment to look at a topic within culture, we call them Gospel in Culture. The last time we looked at the persecuted church. Today we are going to look at the Gospel and Culture and prison. Church we do have a problem when it comes to the incarcerated in America. Prison Fellowship, a Christian organization which works with prisoners states the problem pretty clear:
The United States imprisons more of its citizens than any other nation—currently more than 1.8 million. While more than 600,000 Americans are released from correctional facilities annually, two-thirds are rearrested within three years. Each year, the nation spends over $80 billion to incarcerate and reincarcerate people. Beyond the financial impact, the cycle of crime and incarceration produces broken relationships, victimization, despair, and instability impacting families and communities across the nation. Clearly, something isn’t working.
1.8 million people, just sit on that number for a second, 1.8 million people. To give you a perspective on how many people that is, take the city of Little Rock and multiply it 9 times, that is how many people are in prison. 600, 000 are released each year, but 400,000 are reincacerated within 3 years. Never mind the money it is costing America to fund the prison system, the brokenness this produces in the lives of families and communities is astronomical and is creating broken relationships, despair and hopelessness.
You may be sitting there thinking, but people in prison broke the law, they deserve to be there. I am not here to argue for a particular stance on incarceration in America, although by the numbers we can see there is a problem.
Our mission at Fellowship Bible church, across all our campuses is making disciples who live by God’s grace and for his glory at home and across the world. Making disciples, means sharing the Gospel with others, seeing lives transformed because the Gospel takes hold of a person and then teaching them to obey and follow Jesus. The question we need to answer today is, should those incarcerated be kept from hearing about the transformational power of the Gospel Jesus Christ? This morning we are going to start with some foundational beliefs and then we are going to look specifically what the Bible says about those whom society views as outcasts.

I. Every Person is valuable because every person is created in the image of God.

Genesis 1:26–28 (ESV)
Then God said, “Let us make man in our image, after our likeness. And let them have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over the livestock and over all the earth and over every creeping thing that creeps on the earth.”
So God created man in his own image,
in the image of God he created him;
male and female he created them.
And God blessed them. And God said to them, “Be fruitful and multiply and fill the earth and subdue it, and have dominion over the fish of the sea and over the birds of the heavens and over every living thing that moves on the earth.”
26 Y dijo Dios: Hagamos al hombre a nuestra imagen, conforme a nuestra semejanza; y ejerza dominio sobre los peces del mar, sobre las aves del cielo, sobre los ganados, sobre toda la tierra, y sobre todo reptil que se arrastra sobre la tierra. 27 Creó, pues, Dios al hombre a imagen suya, a imagen de Dios lo creó; varón y hembra los creó. 28 Y los bendijo Dios y les dijo: Sed fecundos y multiplicaos, y llenad la tierra y sojuzgadla; ejerced dominio sobre los peces del mar, sobre las aves del cielo y sobre todo ser viviente que se mueve[c] sobre la tierra.
Every person is valuable because we are created in the image of God, so much so that the reason people should be punished for harming another person is because people are created in the image of God. (Gen.9:5-6; James 3:9)
When we come to this passage, God is about done with his creation and before he creates humanity, God takes the time to let us know that he is making us different than everything else he created, he is making us in the image of God. We were created with the ability to rationalize, we can think, speak, talk, we can create, we can relate with each other, but most importantly we were created to have fellowship with God, to rule over creation as an extension of God himself.
Which leads into our next aspect of the image of God, is that we were created to image our Creator, to be his reflection on this earth. When you take a photo, you want to capture an image that communicates something to the world. When someone makes a sculpture or painting they are trying to communicate something to the world. When God made us in his image in essence we were created to communicate who he is, how great and good he is, we were created to communicate what he is like. We have a mirror at home, body size mirror that you can flip up, down flip all around, I almost brought it with me. Imagine that God has a mirror like this and he has it at a 45 degree angle pointing to the heavens and God shone on it and bounced off this mirror now in a 90 degree angle and is reflected in the world.

II. Sin has vandalized the image of God in all of us.

At the fall, Satan persuaded us that my image is more beautiful than God’s image, so we flipped the mirror and the mirror no longer reflects God, it just cast of a shadow and we have fallen in love with ourselves and the shadow that the mirror cast and we have be in love with ourselves ever since.
Sin has vandalized the image of God in all of us. Before the Gospel we were all in love with ourselves and the sin we commit. We didn’t care about reflecting the image of God. The reason is sin vandalized the image of God in us. The lies Satan got us to believe are crimes against humanity, the problem is we are so corrupted by sin we continue in sin and the consequences of sin is a broken relationship with God and broken relationships with others.
We were created to rule and have dominion but because humanity fell into sin, we are ruled, dominated by sin and have become enemies of God.
Romans 8:7–8 (ESV)
For the mind that is set on the flesh is hostile to God, for it does not submit to God’s law; indeed, it cannot. Those who are in the flesh cannot please God.
ya que la mente puesta en la carne es enemiga de Dios, porque no se sujeta a la ley de Dios, pues ni siquiera puede hacerlo, y los que están en la carne no pueden agradar a Dios.
Paul is pretty clear the mind set on the flesh is hostile to God, it is at war with God because it sees God and his law as the enemy. Before someone is transformed by the Gospel, they live in this mindset of the flesh and they cannot please God. Before the Gospel of Jesus gripped your heart, you were there. I remember before the Gospel transformed me, I didn’t want to go to church, I hated going to church, I wanted to be out doing my own thing. But the Gospel transformed my life, radically changed me from a person who was an enemy of God to someone who loves God.
As I was thinking about those who are in prison this week, I began to realize, he only difference between those who are incarcerated and in prison and us, is there sin led them to break laws that lead them to prison and ours did not. When you begin to see those in prison through that lens, you begin to realize that there are 1.8 million people, if you will a people group, in America who desperately need to hear the good news of Jesus Christ. They need to hear that God loves them and sent his Son into the world to deal with the problem of sin between us and God, they need to hear that this good news of the grace of God is a free gift and available to all who repent of their sin and believe in Jesus as the sacrifice for their sin. They need to be taught what it means to follow Jesus because

III. The Gospel of Jesus Christ Recognizes the worth of every person and seeks to restore them in a right relationship with God, including the prisoner.

After the tax collector Zacchaeus, someone who would be considered an outcast in the Jewish Society, decided to follow Jesus, the people grumbled, they didn’t like it. They said Jesus is hanging out with the sinners and Jesus’ response was
Luke 19:10 (ESV)
For the Son of Man came to seek and to save the lost.”
10 porque el Hijo del Hombre ha venido a buscar y a salvar lo que se había perdido.
We see a similar story, after Matthew who is also known as Levi follows Jesus, Jesus went to his souse and there were many tax collectors and sinners hanging out and eating with Jesus.
Mark 2:15–17 (ESV)
And as he reclined at table in his house, many tax collectors and sinners were reclining with Jesus and his disciples, for there were many who followed him. And the scribes of the Pharisees, when they saw that he was eating with sinners and tax collectors, said to his disciples, “Why does he eat with tax collectors and sinners?” And when Jesus heard it, he said to them, “Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick. I came not to call the righteous, but sinners.”
15 Y sucedió que estando Jesús sentado a la mesa en casa de Leví, muchos recaudadores de impuestos y pecadores estaban comiendo con Jesús y sus discípulos; porque había muchos de ellos que le seguían. 16 Al ver los escribas de los fariseos que Él comía con pecadores y recaudadores de impuestos, decían a sus discípulos: ¿Por qué Él come y bebe con recaudadores de impuestos y pecadores? 17 Al oír esto, Jesús les dijo*: Los que están sanos[g] no tienen necesidad de médico, sino los que están enfermos; no he venido a llamar a justos, sino a pecadores.
Jesus came to seek and save the lost, he came for those that are sick and need a physician. Jesus was a friend to every sinner who wanted to hear about how their lives could be changed by the Gospel. Jesus wasn’t turning a blind eye to their sin, he wasn’t here participating in sin with them, Jesus was here making disciples and teaching them how they can be transformed. Sometimes we need to remember how Jesus treated those who were considered outcast in society, including those in prison, they do not need our judgement, they have already been judged, what they need is the Gospel, which will also judge them, but it will also free them from their sin.
When Jesus started his ministry he went to the temple, grabbed the scroll of Isaiah and read this...
Luke 4:17–21 (ESV)
“The Spirit of the Lord is upon me,
because he has anointed me
to proclaim good news to the poor.
He has sent me to proclaim liberty to the captives
and recovering of sight to the blind,
to set at liberty those who are oppressed,
to proclaim the year of the Lord’s favor.”
And he rolled up the scroll and gave it back to the attendant and sat down. And the eyes of all in the synagogue were fixed on him. And he began to say to them, “Today this Scripture has been fulfilled in your hearing.”
El Espíritu del Señor está sobre mí, porque me ha ungido para anunciar el evangelio a los pobres. Me ha enviado para proclamar libertad a los cautivos, y la recuperación de la vista a los ciegos; para poner en libertad a los oprimidos; 19 para proclamar el año favorable del Señor.
20 Cerrando el libro, lo devolvió al asistente y se sentó; y los ojos de todos en la sinagoga estaban fijos en Él. 21 Y comenzó a decirles: Hoy se ha cumplido esta Escritura que habéis oído.
Proclaim liberty to the captives, historically the captives this passage is talking about are those who are in captivity to Babylon, I am sure when the Jews in Jesus read this and heard this they were thinking of freedom from captivity to Rome. The question we could ask now is when Jesus read this passage at the temple that day, was he referring to Rome? He was referring to those who are spiritually poor, those who are captive to sin, those who are blinded to the truth, those are oppressed, the Gospel of Jesus Christ makes those who bankrupt spiritually rich, sets those captive to sin free, restores sight to those who are spiritually blind, brings relief to those who are oppressed. That is what the Gospel does and we as the church are an extension of the mission of Christ to the world. we are the banners of hope to the hopeless.
One of the parables of Jesus, when he talks about separating the sheep from the goats. He talks about those who served
the hungry and thirsty
the immigrant or foreigner
those who couldn’t afford their own clothing
those who are sick
those in prison
Matthew 25:40–45 (ESV)
And the King will answer them, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brothers, you did it to me.’
“Then he will say to those on his left, ‘Depart from me, you cursed, into the eternal fire prepared for the devil and his angels. For I was hungry and you gave me no food, I was thirsty and you gave me no drink, I was a stranger and you did not welcome me, naked and you did not clothe me, sick and in prison and you did not visit me.’ Then they also will answer, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry or thirsty or a stranger or naked or sick or in prison, and did not minister to you?’ Then he will answer them, saying, ‘Truly, I say to you, as you did not do it to one of the least of these, you did not do it to me.’
40 Respondiendo el Rey, les dirá: «En verdad os digo que en cuanto lo hicisteis a uno de estos hermanos míos, aun a los más pequeños, a mí lo hicisteis». 41 Entonces dirá también a los de su izquierda: «Apartaos de mí, malditos, al fuego eterno que ha sido preparado para el diablo y sus ángeles. 42 Porque tuve hambre, y no me disteis de comer, tuve sed, y no me disteis de beber; 43 fui forastero, y no me recibisteis; estaba desnudo, y no me vestisteis; enfermo, y en la cárcel, y no me visitasteis». 44 Entonces ellos también responderán, diciendo: «Señor, ¿cuándo te vimos hambriento, o sediento, o como forastero, o desnudo, o enfermo, o en la cárcel, y no te servimos?». 45 Él entonces les responderá, diciendo: «En verdad os digo que en cuanto no lo hicisteis a uno de los más pequeños de estos, tampoco a mí lo hicisteis».
When we look at this passage we began to see that the Gospel should compel us to serve the least of these. The Gospel should have an impact in our lives personally, but the Gospel should have an impact in our communities or socially through the church. When you look throughout church history, you will see the impact the church has benefited society by taking care of the least of these, which includes those in prison, wether they are in prison because of the Gospel or they are in prison for breaking the law and need to hear the Gospel, both groups need the Gospel and need our care.
The greatest example of this is Jesus. As Jesus was dying on the cross, he was crucified next in the middle of two criminals, we are told that both these criminals were mocking Jesus in the beginning, but later one came to his senses and realized they were being punished justly for their crimes, but Jesus was innocent and he asks Jesus to remember him when he enters into paradise. Jesus could have ignored, he could have judged him, but what did Jesus do? Jesus transformed him and told today you will be with me in paradise. Jesus as he is dying on the cross, paying the penalty for my sin for your sin, is still transforming the prisoner, still transforming the criminal, serving the least of these.
What is our call to action?
Hebrews 13:1–3 (ESV)
Let brotherly love continue. Do not neglect to show hospitality to strangers, for thereby some have entertained angels unawares. Remember those who are in prison, as though in prison with them, and those who are mistreated, since you also are in the body.
Permanezca el amor fraternal. No os olvidéis de mostrar hospitalidad, porque por ella algunos, sin saberlo, hospedaron ángeles.Acordaos de los presos, como si estuvierais presos con ellos, y de los maltratados, puesto que también vosotros estáis en el cuerpo.
Remember those in prison is an imperative, meaning it is a command. we are commanded here to remember those in prison. To serve the least of these...
Today we have a couple of opportunities for you to obey this command, across all our campuses we have set up the opportunity for you to write letters to some who are in prison. In Espanol, at the connection center, they will have instructions for how you can do this.
Another opportunity is to get involved with one of our partners Pathway to Freedom who works at helping prisoners transform their lives.
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