There he was, sitting right in front of me, sharing why he plans to relocate to a different incarceration facility. It bothered him immensely that he witnessed a violent attack a few weeks ago where a fellow incarcerated individual stabbed another multiple times in a clear attempt to end the victim’s life. From the reports I received, even the staff at Harborview Medical Center were surprised the victim survived.
It made this witness of the event feel quite vulnerable and uneasy. Prisons aren’t really “feel good” atmospheres. Most feel threatened, isolated, alone and afraid. Few will admit it, though. Violent attacks like these definitely add to the discomfort level, reminding everyone this is a dangerous place.
I remembered the day it happened quite well. Walking with a contractor for the state, we passed the aggressor mere moments before the incident. He was very familiar to me, having sat in my office many times. He seemed happy and friendly that day, like there wasn’t anything bothering him. Whatever happened caused him to turn violent and the whole facility was locked down for the rest of the day.
The person letting me know they wanted to relocate due to witnessing this attack had met me before and heard me preach inside the facility a couple times. Although the crowd was smaller than it would have been in a non-COVID environment, I still didn’t remember his masked face from so many months back. However, he clearly was in the crowd at least one of the times because he recalled clearly my words he heard. He wanted me to know how much a message I delivered meant to him.
On the outside, he had always been taught “where two or more are gathered, there I am with you,” meaning if two or more Christians are together, Jesus is with them. The popular teaching in most orthodox Christian churches is exactly that. Most Christians think that passage means if two or more Christians are together, Jesus is with them. Most think this because most pastors, priests, authors, televangelists and other so-called experts teach this.
This incarcerated individual believed what he had been taught. So, when he was alone as a Christian, he believed he didn’t have Jesus. In a prison environment, thinking this can be devastating. You already feel alone enough and to think because you’re the only Christian around, you’re without Jesus, well, that’s just overwhelmingly heavy.
My message highlighted the fact that the phrase we’re talking about appears in Matthew 18 in Jesus’ teaching about how to confront someone who is sinning against you. First, do it one-on-one. If you win over your Christian sibling, great. But if you don’t, you then take one or two with you, “For where two or three are gathered in my name, there am I among them (Matthew 18:20, ESV).”
If you’ve ever had to confront a Christian sibling who has sinned against you, you know it’s not easy. It’s especially harder if they force you by not repenting to take one or two with you to confront with witnesses. It feels extremely uncomfortable. That’s why Jesus in verse 19 says, “Again I say to you, if two of you agree on earth about anything they ask, it will be done for them by my Father in heaven (ESV).” Although it feels uncomfortable, God can handle it. So, if you and your witnesses agree about the issue in the confrontation, it will be blessed.
Some will argue and say something like, “No, this is about ‘when two or more are gathered, Jesus is with us.’ so we can have church.” No, I’m sorry. That’s not what that’s about and it’s false doctrine.
The reality is even if you are all alone as the only Christian on the continent, Jesus is still with you. Nowhere in Scripture are we required to have someone with us in order to have Jesus with us. Jesus will not abandon us just because we stand alone for and with Him. To teach otherwise leads to all kinds of other errors.
The man sitting across from me had his loneliness, isolation and fear incredibly increased because he had always heard and been taught “whenever two or more are gathered, Jesus is with you” out of its context. While in prison without genuine Christians around him much, he felt Christ was not with him. After hearing the message I preached months earlier, he read and reread that Matthew 18 passage, and saw that it was contextually talking about confrontation, not about Jesus abandoning us when we are physically away from other Christians.
He thanked me for helping him find peace when peace was hard to find. I thanked God I was used as a servant in helping another soul open up the Bible and believe what it actually says, contextually, over what people say it means. Additionally, I prayed more Christians will open up their own Bibles and read what it says, believing the good teachings within, even if well-meaning Christians incidentally mislead them.
If you feel alone, isolated and abandoned, know that Jesus does not leave you just because you’re not congregating with other Christians. If you’ve made Him Lord and Savior of your life, He’s not leaving you. Rest assured, you are not alone!
“I will never leave you nor forsake you (Hebrews 13:5; Deuteronomy 31:6).”
“Watch your life and doctrine closely. Persevere in them. For if you do, you will save both yourself and your hearers (1 Timothy 4:16)”
Pastor Jeff Adams is a longtime community leader, victim advocate, counselor and chaplain. He ministers internationally, nationally and locally. His column appears online weekly and he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.