by Tad Lindley
Here are the cold hard facts. I was in jail for breaking the law, and you did not come and visit me. Now some of you, had you known, surely would have come and visited me, others of you would have said, “If he broke the law, then he deserves what he got!” Either way, nobody came to visit me. The date was 1982. I came out of a blackout in a jail cell, and as soon as I was coherent enough to let them know who I was, they got a hold of my mom and she came and took me home. Nobody came to visit me in jail.
When Jesus was in jail
Jesus himself was in jail. The night before he was crucified, the Roman troopers came and arrested him at a prayer meeting in the garden of Gethsemane (Mark 14:32-52). Immediately afterwards they held an arraignment in which Jesus was confronted with false charges (Mark 14:53-65). And although the Bible is silent about what happened between his arraignment and his trial the next morning, Jesus had to have been held as a prisoner overnight. In other words, somewhere for several hours they contained him in a jail cell.
Would you have visited Jesus?
In all likelihood not a single person reading this was in Ohio in July of 1982 and could have visited me in my brief jail stint. Let’s suppose though that we could time travel back to 29 AD. Would you visit the Lord in his jail cell if the Romans permitted you? Would you attempt to give him comfort, to cleanse his wounds? Of course you would have. Right?
Jesus says, “Thanks for taking the time to visit me in jail!”
In Matthew 25 Jesus preaches several messages. One of them speaks specifically to the judgment of all nations: “When the Son of Man comes in his glory, and all the angels with him, then he will sit on his glorious throne. Before him will be gathered all the nations, and he will separate people one from another as a shepherd separates the sheep from the goats. And he will place the sheep on his right, but the goats on the left. Then the King will say to those on his right, ‘Come, you who are blessed by my Father, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world. For I was hungry and you gave me food, I was thirsty and you gave me drink, I was a stranger and you welcomed me, I was naked and you clothed me, I was sick and you visited me, I was in prison and you came to me.’ Then the righteous will answer him, saying, ‘Lord, when did we see you hungry and feed you, or thirsty and give you drink? And when did we see you a stranger and welcome you, or naked and clothe you? And when did we see you sick or in prison and visit you?’ 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.’ (Matthew 25:31-40 ESV)
Will you visit Jesus in jail?
Notice in the above passage that the people that Jesus is speaking to have never seen Jesus in jail. And so they say to him, “Stop. You’re thanking us for visiting you in jail Jesus, but we never visited you in jail.”
And Jesus says to them, “Oh, yes you did. Every time that you visited someone in jail, even the most pitiful person, even the most wretched sinner, you were visiting me. In fact every time you visited a sick person, fed someone who was hungry, gave water to the thirsty, provided clothes to the needy, it was as if you were doing those same things for me.”
Saved by serving
Some folks are going to get really uncomfortable with this, but if you read the remainder of the passage above, (Matthew 25:41-46) you will see that those who did not reach out to help the lowest of the low will end up being lost in the end. Obviously we are not saved only by doing good things for the needy, we still must repent (Luke 13:3,5), be baptized in Jesus’ name (Mark 16:16, Acts 2:38, 8:16, 10:48, 19:5, 22:16), and receive the Holy Ghost (John 3:5, Romans 8:9), but when we turn our backs on those who are less fortunate than us, it doesn’t matter how much we gave in the offering, how many church services we attended, or how much faith we had; if there is no outward evidence of our faith, we cannot be saved!
Tad Lindley is a minister at the United Pentecostal Church in Bethel, Alaska.