I’m often asked if I have met certain well-known criminals. Well, yes. You cannot visit so many prisons to preach Christ’s redeeming love without meeting a few headline names. But usually one prisoner looks very much like another; and we present to all alike Christ crucified and risen.
‘Celebrity cults’ thrive on both sides of the bars. People are ready to worship anyone or anything except Almighty God. Pop stars, film stars and sporting heroes receive adulation — until they are cast off.
When TV news bulletins show celebrities at an Oscar ceremony, I generally have to ask, ‘Who is that?’
Recently a young lady on the USA’s border control excitedly told my wife and me that she had just shaken hands with Tom Cruise; and her hand was still shaking! We left her a Christian booklet about the person who is really worth meeting.
It is because of that unique person Jesus Christ that we preach in prisons. The young lady’s life will not really be changed because she met Tom Cruise. Her shaking hand will return to normality!
Yet the worst of men and women who personally find the Lord Jesus Christ as their Saviour are shaken to the foundations of their lost and sinful lives. Enormous changes are made in the here-and-now, and heaven is guaranteed afterwards.
Who but Jesus can do that? Just think — a multiple murderer, a notorious child-molester, a clever fraudster, a vicious aggressor, a much publicised rapist — all can be changed through the wonder of this gospel: ‘Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners’.
Or consider the 85,000 ‘ordinary’ criminals who daily populate the UK’s 158 prisons. See the Saturday night ‘bingers’ who went too far and someone died. See young lads who burgled for bravado at first but for whom it became a way of life. Meet the party guests who tried cannabis ‘just once’ and then descended into serious and destructive habits.
Listen to men who shouted drunkenly at their partners, but graduated to violence and murder. Pity weak women trying to solve their families’ poverty by carrying drugs for a one-time pay-off.
Whoever they are, we have the priceless privilege of telling them the good news of salvation in Christ, as well as sharing faithfully the ‘bad news’ that unrepentant sinners will be punished eternally for their sins.
Perhaps that is why our ‘Celebrity’ (too trivial a word for the eternal Son of God) is still ‘despised and rejected by men, a man of sorrows and acquainted with grief’ (Isaiah 53:3).
If we presented Jesus as a ‘super guru’, followers of the latest religious fashion would hail him. If we put him forward as the big ‘pep pill’, able to induce esoteric experiences, it would be ‘cool’ to follow him.
But the gospel message is about a holy Saviour, who hates and will judge sin, and who alone has the grace to forgive and restore broken lives.
In prison chapels, men and women with little or no Christian background sit absorbed as they listen intently to the message of the cross. Some are more ready than many churchgoers to contemplate Jesus dying for them and shedding his blood to cleanse and forgive them.
They know they have broken God’s law as well as men’s. They understand what it means that Jesus ‘bore our sins in his own body’ (1 Peter 2:24). ‘Despised and rejected’ as Jesus is, some in prison come to know him as their Lord and Saviour. They will continue to praise God for that, long after this world’s celebrities have left their earthly stage.
There is something compulsive about looking into prisons, but may I remind you that prison evangelism is not a spectator sport?
The glorious news that even incarcerated men and women can know spiritual liberty through Christ leads me to ask you two questions. Do you know the joy of sins forgiven and peace with God through the Lord Jesus Christ? If so, are you seeking to introduce Jesus to others?
Further information from DAYLIGHT Christian Prison Trust, PO Box 82, Leominster, HR6 6AD (Prison@DaylightCPT.org).