The Apostle Paul had a very “sketchy” past. He was of an elite sect of Jews, who persecuted Christians. He had consented and participated in the arrest and death of Christians, including Stephen. While he was traveling on the Damascus Road with a decree to arrest Christians, he encountered the Lord Jesus.
A blind Saul was led to Damascus where he encountered a man named Ananias who ministered to him, baptized him, and fed him. Saul then started testifying to the goodness of the Lord and preaching “the way”.
Saul’s work was so mighty that the Jews plotted on killing him and he had to be smuggled out of Damascus and into Jerusalem. When he arrived there, he tried to join himself to other believers, but they were afraid of him. Their fear caused them to reject Saul until a man named Barnabas came to Saul’s defense.
Barnabas acknowledged that Saul indeed had done everything that he was accused of, but, nevertheless, he had experienced a legitimate encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ and had been preaching and testifying mightily in that name. The other disciples extended the right hand of fellowship to Saul, who would later become the Apostle Paul. He would later go on several missionary journeys and would establish Churches all over the known world. He also wrote epistles that were used to make up a large part of what we call the New Testament.
How can this story be applied in our daily lives? There are numerous men in Correctional Facilities across this State whose pasts are just as “sketchy” as the Apostle Paul. They have committed crimes against the State and the people who live in it. They are guilty and deserve their punishment; there is no question or argument about it; however, like Saul, many have had a real encounter with the Lord Jesus Christ. The “scales” have fallen from their eyes and they see the truth. Their life is different than it once was and they are testifying mightily in the name of the Lord. They are going around doing the work of the Lord and are making a difference where they are at, even though they know they have been sentenced to die in prison. Yet, they serve the Lord and are no longer part of the problem, but part of the solution.
But no one seems to know about them. Where is Barnabas? If a converted Saul can be given the chance to make a difference, what about the men today? Murder is murder, and theft is theft, right? Are the crimes of today really so different from those in Saul’s day? The truth is that there are some “Paul’s” in the Department of Corrections; they have met Jesus and have been visited by Ananias, but where is their Barnabas?
Is this not what the Gospel is all about: sinners coming to repentance? The message of the Gospel is that we are out of line, out of sync with God, but through the blood of Jesus, we can be back in right standing with God and receive our reward, even though we had “sketchy” pasts. The blood of Jesus is stronger than any sin that has ever been committed or will be committed. That is the truth of the Gospel.
Yet, even though God accepts sinners, rebels, and criminals into His grace through the blood of His Son, society still refuses to. If a holy God, who has no sin or flaws in Him will receive a person, shouldn’t a society that has sin and flaws in it accept them also?
It is time for the men and women who are diligently carrying out the Great Commission to acknowledge that there are Paul’s in the prison. It is time to help these “Paul’s” achieve their destiny. There is no telling what potential these men have.
Venom is used to treat snake bites; fire is used to fight fires; ex-addicts are used to combat addictions. What about using those who once broke the Law to help fix the ever-growing crime and recidivism rates? We need to learn to forgive and restore those who were once broken. If “Corrections” truly exists, then there has to be “Restoration”. After all, it is the “Department of Corrections”, not the “Department of Everlasting Punishment”.