Looking closely at the concluding chapter of the Book of Hebrews, which I believe was a written sermon from an older preacher writing back to a church where he had spent many years preaching and has now moved on. His fear that the church may be turned back from Jesus to return to Judaism haunts him. He has poured his heart into demonstrating how much better the way of Jesus Christ is to what they had under the Old Testament. We are now under the New Covenant that is for all people, with Christ our great high priest, who intercedes for us daily at the right hand of God the Father. In this thirteenth and final chapter of Hebrews he first challenged them to “Keep on loving one another as brothers and sisters. Do not forget to show hospitality to strangers, for by doing so some have shown hospitality to angels without knowing it.” But there is another thing that he wants to make certain they keep on doing. Verse 3 says, “Continue to remember those in prison as if you were together with them in prison, and those who are mistreated as if you yourselves were suffering.” He knew of the times in the past when their concern for the prisoners was there and when their compassion for those being mistreated in the world was full. But he also knew it is so easy for such feelings and such care to die down. If it isn’t anyone we know personally and there aren’t people suffering that we are close to, we tend to think it isn’t happening any more or that they deserve what they are getting. So, he pleads for them to keep on with their actions and their compassion.
It may well be the case that he is thinking particularly of those Christians who are in prison because of their faith in Jesus. They may have been arrested, especially among the Jews and sent to prison because their faith has changed. Those being mistreated may be those in the church that are mistreated because of their faith. If you are living in a part of the world where loyalty to the family or national religion is seen as the norm and anyone who leaves that family or national religion deserves to be punished. In so many parts of the world today that form of law still exist. One caught trying to teach someone the gospel of Jesus and perhaps lead them from the accepted religion of that nation is violating the law and may well be sent to prison or be mistreated horribly for such actions. Imagine living in an area where the threat is held over you every day that if you leave the religion you grew up in and turn to Christianity, you are no longer accepted as part of the family. You are considered by the people who brought you into the world as now dead if you convert to Christianity. So, those in prison or those being mistreated may well be those who have turned to Christ from the Jewish faith and are paying a high price in their family and among their people.
One lesson that should stand out before moving further with this study is that it has never been the plan of Jesus Christ our Lord that faith in him be something that is held by constraint or fear of being thrown out of the family or nation. People don’t become Christians by legislation or by some law of the land. A faith that is forced on anyone isn’t personal, real or worth having. Strangely, some who cry out against those nations that legislate that everyone in that nation must be Muslim and follow Islam, wouldn’t see a problem if the nation was Christian and those in the nation were being forced into Christianity. It doesn’t matter what the religion is, if it has to be legislated or forced on anyone it isn’t from God! Christianity is taught, shared, accepted and believed. One person decides to either make Christ their Lord and Savior or to reject him. Jesus challenged people to follow him, he never forced them to do so. When someone cries about this not being a Christian nation or they plead for it to return to being a Christian Nation, always question what they mean by it. Nothing did more harm to the cause of Christ than when Constantine made it a law for people to be Christians. Our job is to teach and persuade people for Christ not take guns and demand that they be.
But, back to the point at hand. Whether these prisoners were there because of their faith in Christ or not wasn’t important enough that the Holy Spirit saw fit to make it part of the text. Whether their mistreatment was due to their faith in Jesus or not wasn’t considered by God as important enough to include in the plea for them to continue to remember the prisoners and those being mistreated in the world. Sometimes people are mistreated in the name of Christianity!
Here is the point I want us to see, God wanted his people to remember prisoners no matter what the reason may have been or may be for their imprisonment. He wanted us to champion the cause of those who are being mistreated in the world for whatever reason. Even if the one mistreating another happens to be those doing so in the name of Jesus. Many times people have taken their swords, guns and bombs and gone out under the flag of Jesus to attack and enforce what they believed was his cause. But Isaiah prophesied of the time of Christians and of the kingdom of Jesus in the world in Isaiah 2:2-5. In the prophesy he declared that they would beat their swords in into plowshares and their spears into pruning hooks and Nation will not take up sword against nation, nor will they train for war anymore. He wasn’t prophesying of some millennial age when there would be peace in the whole world. He was telling us that God’s people wouldn’t be like the Nation of Israel had been. The cause of Christ wouldn’t spread by means of war, but would be a kingdom of peace where the cause is spread by the preaching and teaching of the gospel of Jesus the prince of peace and his message is the gospel of peace. Many things may spread by means of war, but the cause of Jesus Christ isn’t one of them.
Those of us who follow Christ should forever be concerned for those who are prisoners and identify with them because in every age there have been those who were arrested and imprisoned for their faith in Jesus. In different parts of the world there are many in prison today because of their loyalty to Christ. Our thoughts, concerns and prayers should be with them every day. There are many around the world for all kinds of reasons who are being mistreated. Some are abused, enslaved or pressed into activity they never wanted to be a part of, so as Christians we must be on their side, pulling for them and praying for them all the time that God will rescue them from the enemy. God wants people to be saved, to be freed and to be allowed to live as they choose to live in the world. Many times we feel helpless to stop the mistreatment, but we must never turn a blind eye. Love will walk in their shoes and offer hope in Christ. At least in our own country we can strive to find and vote for the candidates that speak for freedom. Always, remember there might be the time again when we too are among the prisoners and the mistreated in the world.