One of the most impactful experiences I had as a young pastor in rural West Tennessee was my monthly visit to our local jail to preach to the inmates. Walking into the Tipton County Jail, I sensed the unmistakable institutional nature of my surroundings. The look of the guards as I approached their desk. The sound of my keys clanking in the small bowl on the cheap folding table next to the concrete wall. A final check of my pockets to make sure I hadn’t forgotten anything and then stepping through the metal detector.
Once through security, the guard would escort me to where I was allowed to preach – literally through the bars of the cells – to those inmates willing to listen. The room was shadowy. The air was still and stale as I greeted the guys. Some I’d met before; others were new, curious about why I’d come.
As I began to share the gospel, some prisoners would gather close, showing interest; others would walk away. A few would try to argue or debate, but I wouldn’t take the bait. I was there to share the Good News of the Gospel and trust the Holy Spirit to speak to and change their heart. Hardly a week passed when there weren’t one, two, three or more who would listen intently, respond personally and bow their head on the bars and trust Christ as Savior and Lord.
I remember one Thursday when I had the opportunity to preach to a young man who claimed to be a Muslim. He wasn’t interested at first but soon made his way closer to the side of the cell where I was. I shared about the Creator God who loved him so much that He came to earth, died on a cross, and rose from the dead so that he could have his sins forgiven and an eternal relationship with Jesus. When I asked if he would like to repent of his sins and trust Jesus as his Lord and Savior, he said yes. Standing there with the cold, metal, paint-chipped bars between us, that inmate prayed a sinner’s prayer and gave his heart to Christ.
I will never forget what happened next. As I explained what he needed to do to grow in his new relationship with Jesus, he looked at me and asked, “Does this mean I can now eat barbecue?” I laughed and said, “Absolutely!”
In Luke 4, Jesus walked out of the wilderness in the power of the Spirit, returned to his hometown of Nazareth, entered his synagogue, opened the book to Isaiah’s prophecy and began to read:
“The Spirit of the LORD is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me To preach the gospel to the poor; He has sent Me to heal the brokenhearted, To proclaim liberty to the captives And recovery of sight to the blind, To set at liberty those who are oppressed; To proclaim the acceptable year of the LORD.” – Luke 4:18-19
Jesus announced at the beginning of His ministry that He not only came to proclaim liberty to the captive, He came to set them free! He preached this radical truth and then went out and practiced it: delivering a demon-possessed man in the synagogue and others who were in demonic bondage. Throughout His ministry, Jesus set free those who were slaves of Satan, self, and sin. By doing so, He was showing us that He came to set captives free.
We are called to preach the same message with the same purpose. All around us — in the streets where we walk and very often sitting in the pews as we preach — are people who are slaves to Satan, self, and sin. They may not be physically behind bars, shackled like inmates in the Tipton County Jail, but they are spiritually enslaved. Jesus wants them to be free.
Jesus’ sermon in Luke 4 gives us a practical, pastoral example of how we should preach to the spiritually enslaved who need to be set free.
Jesus read about Himself from Isaiah. “The Spirit of the Lord is upon Me, Because He has anointed Me…” Jesus’ ministry is personal — both on His part and the part of those He came to deliver. It’s so personal He had to leave Heaven, come to earth, live with sinful people, and die on the cross. Nobody else could do that. He couldn’t send someone in His place, couldn’t delegate His suffering and death. He had to get personally involved.
Everything about Jesus’ life points to His purpose to redeem those in bondage. Why did Jesus come? Salvation. What does that look like? It looks like healing those brokenhearted by sin and restoring sight to those blinded by sin. Notice that in this scripture Jesus read that day we find two references to “liberty.” Thus, we must preach with the purpose of proclaiming the good news that Jesus came to set people free from sin that shackles them.
Jesus didn’t just speak about these things; He preached them, “proclaimed” them. There was no doubt urgency in His voice as He read the scripture for He knew why He’d come, where He was going, and what He would do when He got to Golgotha. His passion didn’t begin with His arrest in the garden; it marked His entire life and ministry.
- Our lesson
To see those enslaved by sin set free by the power of the risen Lord, we must follow the example of Jesus and get personally involved. We must be willing to go where they are to share the gospel and see them delivered from sin’s shackles. We must share the purpose of our Lord who is “not willing that any should perish but that all should come to repentance.” Our lives must be marked by a passion for doing whatever it takes to get the gospel to those who are subjugated by sin and see them set free by the Savior.
About: Dr. Brad Whitt is the Senior Pastor of Abilene Baptist Church in Martinez, GA. He earned a Doctorate of Ministry in Expository Preaching from Southeastern Baptist Theological Seminary and is currently pursuing a PhD at Southwestern Baptist Theological Seminary. He has served on numerous associational, state and SBC committees. In 2010 he served as the President of the South Carolina Baptist Convention Pastors’ Conference. He is the author of 40 Days of Refreshment: Quiet Times for Hectic Hearts and Rooted: Deepening Your Relationship with Jesus. He has preached in over 100 revivals and conferences in the United States as well as in Latin America and Europe.