Luke 15:10b “There is rejoicing in the presence of the angels of God over one sinner who repents.” (NIV)
This is a verse that I particularly like to share when I am mentoring prisoners by mail through Crossroads Prison Ministries. I mark the Bible lessons that they send me, and then, I write each of them an encouraging letter. It seems to me that a prisoner would take great pleasure and comfort in this verse. He may not have seen a smile in a long time. His family is shocked and disappointed. The police and judge are grave, frowning. Everyone is angry with him; he feels worthless and alone. He is then incarcerated with others who are equally unhappy.
Imagine, then, a prisoner completing his first Bible study and slowly coming to the realization that God loves him and that his sins are forgiven! His education is probably minimal. English might be his second language. He goes to great effort to read and understand both the lesson and the Bible. He prints, in pencil. He misspells words and cannot write his thoughts comprehensibly. He may not have the money to buy a postage stamp. His life is already changing. All things considered, it takes a huge effort and a considerable amount of trust before that lesson finally reaches the mailbag.
Some time later, the chaplain hands him an envelope postmarked hundreds of miles away — already opened. Keep in mind that many prisoners never, ever, receive a letter. Imagine his apprehension. While waiting, he may have worked on the next lesson, but more likely, he is waiting to see if all this is real. Will someone else let him down? Will he be ridiculed, berated, made to feel guilty because he did not answer correctly? Remember that this is the way that he is used to being treated.
The big question, I think, would be, Will God let me down?
What he finds is a letter of compassion and encouragement, with his lesson duly marked by a volunteer. Someone is praying for him! And a word picture: all the angels in heaven lifting their robes, dancing a jig, and clapping each other on the back — Party time! — all because one person, this “nobody”, said yes to God. He is finally somebody! He is valuable after all.
I like to imagine his response: a slow grin lighting up a hardened or tear-stained face. Right then, that cell must be lit up with a thousand-watt lightbulb. But because of his untrusting nature, he will go straight to the Bible to be sure that it is true.
I will never hear from that prisoner again. Next week, I receive a lesson from another prisoner in another prison, somewhere else in Canada. I go through the same process: pray, mark the lesson, write encouraging words. I don’t know what crime they committed. I don’t need to know. All I know is that the angels are having a party, as they did for me, and also for you when you repent and invite Jesus to take control of your life — and set you free!
Hebrews 13:3 – Remember those in prison as if you were their fellow prisoners, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering. (NIV)
Prayer: Lord Jesus, You, too, know what it is like to be sentenced. Give us the opportunity to shine Your light in dark places and to cause the angels to rejoice. Amen.
JJ Ollerenshaw Belleville, Ontario, Canada