Second Chances

January 27th, 2012
Alcatraz airs Mondays at 9PM ET on FOX.

On January 16th, the FOX network debuted the latest television series from producer J.J. Abrams, the man responsible for blockbuster films such as Super 8 and the recent Star Trek reboot, as well as the TV shows Alias and LOST. Alcatraz stars Sam Neill, Sarah Jones, and Jorge Garcia and revolves around a conspiracy that rewrites history. In the show the inmates (and many of the guards) from the federal penitentiary on Alcatraz Island weren’t transferred to another facility when Alcatraz closed in 1963. Instead they mysteriously vanished only to reappear one at a time in the present day. The former prisoners and guards, who haven’t aged a day, must cope with a world that has moved on without them for fifty years.

In the pilot episode a nonviolent inmate named Jack Sylvane reappears in the present and takes revenge on the prison warden who tormented him while he was incarcerated. In future episodes we’ll find out whether other former inmates are able to find forgiveness and redemption in the present day.

A New Direction

Reappearing after a fifty-year absence presents all sorts of challenges for the former Alcatraz inmates and guards. But it also offers them a second chance. We also are presented with second chances—opportunities for us to move in a new direction. Some of these opportunities are obvious: attending a new school where we don’t know anyone, coming to terms with a mistake we made that hurt someone, or returning home from a life-changing mission trip. All of these experiences force us to evaluate our lives and changes that we need to make.

But there are many more, less-obvious chances to put the past behind us and head in a new direction. Each and every one of us makes mistakes. As Paul reminds us in Romans 3:23, “All have sinned and fall short of God’s glory.” Every time we sin we have an opportunity to embrace the forgiveness that God offers us through Christ and to reorient our lives in accordance with God’s will. Every mistake is a chance to learn and to grow.

A Faith of Forgiveness

Forgiveness is one of the most basic and fundamental Christian principles. Ephesians 1:7b tells us that, because of Jesus’ death on the cross, “we have forgiveness for our failures based on his overflowing grace.” We all are sinners, but sin doesn’t have the final say. We can accept God’s grace, leave our poor decisions behind, and head in a new direction.

Forgiveness is an important part of the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer that Jesus taught his followers during his Sermon on the Mount and that many Christian churches recite in worship each Sunday. Jesus tells us to pray, “Forgive us for the ways we have wronged you,” but he doesn’t stop there. He adds, “just as we also forgive those who have wronged us” (Matthew 6:12). Jesus then explains that, as forgiven people, we have an obligation to forgive others.

The disciple Peter asked Jesus, “Lord, how many times should I forgive my brother or sister who sins against me? Should I forgive as many as seven times?” (Matthew 18:21). Jesus answered, “Not just seven times, but rather as many as seventy-seven times” (Matthew 18:22). The point is not to forgive people exactly seventy-seven times but to make forgiveness a habit.

Forgiving people who have hurt us is seldom easy. And, in many cases, forgiving ourselves is just as difficult. But we serve a God of second chances. We are forgiven people for whom each day brings new life and new opportunities.

This article is also published as part of LinC, a weekly digital resource for youth small groups and Sunday school classes. The complete study guide can be purchased and downloaded here.

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