As we finish up our series on second chances, there is one thing I want to make clear. When we talk about getting a second chance with God, we are talking about getting a second chance to experience the new life, new opportunities and new beginnings that God gives. In Christ we are new creation which means we get a new life and a second chance, but these second chances are not for us to live in such a way that we earn God’s favor or find our salvation through purer thoughts and more faithful actions. God’s favor, blessing and salvation are gifts that come from God simply because God loves us. It is because of God’s unconditional love and unmerited grace that we just get a second chance to experience the fullness of life God has for us. As sinners, we don’t need a second chance to get it right, we need a Savior who always gets it right and who can therefore forgive us and set us free to live and love in new ways.
Today’s story makes this clear. One of the most familiar parables Jesus told is the story we know as the prodigal son, but it really is the story of a loving father. Actually, it is the story of our Loving Heavenly Father. Luke 15:11-24.
When the younger son asked his father for his share of the inheritance it was a slap in the face. What he was saying was that he didn’t want to wait for his father to die to get his hands on his money, he wanted it now and so he asked for it. In love – the father gave it to him. The young man then took all his father had given him and went off to follow his own will, his own way and his own passions. He spent everything he had on himself and eventually ended up with nothing. He was so desperate, Jesus tells us, that he didn’t just get a job feeding pigs (which for a Jewish man would have been the lowest you could go) but he actually ate the food that was set aside for the pigs. He had made a complete mess of his life.
At some point he realized that the servants in his father’s house had it better than he did so he decided to go home. He didn’t go home looking for a second chance at being a son, he just wanted to be hired on as a servant. He got up and headed home and then we find what to me is the most powerful line in the story and perhaps the best image of God we get in all of scripture. But while he was still a long way off, his father saw him and was filled with compassion for him; he ran to his son, threw his arms around him and kissed him. Luke 15:20b
The father throws off all sense of what is appropriate and runs out to welcome his son home and without asking him to get cleaned up or making him promise to do things right from now on he simply gives him a second chance to be his son. This is what the love and grace of God looks like. We get a second chance with God to just be with God, to be called his children and to be loved by God. While this love opens the door for us to live a new life and have a second chance at so many things in life, our living this new life is never a pre-condition to God’s love and it is never payment in return for God’s salvation. God’s love and grace are free. Salvation and new life are gifts given to us by God and not conditioned on how we live moving forward.
God’s grace and love is what gives us the second chances in life and they are given to us for one reason, God loves us. God doesn’t open this door so we can be more faithful and obedient, God opens the door because he loves us and the picture of love seen by this father is a mere reflection of God’s love for us. The first thing to notice about this father is that he sees his lost son while he is still far off. What this tells us is that there were times during the day when the father was looking for his son to return. He knew his son was in trouble and lost everything and in his heart he longed for him to return home and so every day he searched the horizon and at the first sign of his return the father runs out to greet him and that is the second image of God’s love for us – he runs out to greet us.
A few weeks ago we heard that men in Jesus’ day did not run, it was seen as being beneath them and inappropriate, but this father ran out to greet his son because he loved him so much. Not only that, it says he embraced him and kissed him. The father could clearly see the condition of his son, he was filthy and his work with pigs had made him ritually unclean but the father doesn’t care he embraced his son and welcomed him home with a kiss – making himself unclean in the process. This is how much the father loves his son – he is willing to make himself unclean to welcome him home. And then before asking his son to do anything at all, he makes this young man his son again by bringing him a robe and ring and roasting a calf in his honor. At the first sign of his son’s return, the father is all in and literally sets aside everything and is willing to give everything to welcome him home.
This is a reflection of God’s love for us. God willingly set aside all things for us and this thought was captured in one of the earliest hymns of the church. Philippians 2:6-8.
Just as this father set aside everything to welcome home his son, so God has laid aside everything to run into this world to offer His grace so that we could be forgiven. God humbled himself and became a man, he allowed himself to become sin and even to be cursed and condemned to death on a cross so we could be forgiven. This shows us just how much God loves us. It is this love that forgives us and it is this love that makes us new and it is always this love that opens the door to new opportunities and second chances. This young son has a second chance to be a son – but he didn’t earn it, and he didn’t deserve it, it was given to him by the amazing love of his father. We get second chances in life but these second chances aren’t to try and do better or be better so that God will love us, it is a second chance to receive the love of God which helps us experience new life.
But the younger son is not the only one loved by the father and not the only one who gets a second chance to be a son. Luke 15:25-32. So it wasn’t just the younger son who left home – the older son did too. He didn’t like how his father extended his love and grace and so he stayed outside which meant that the father had to once again go out to find his son. What is different about this situation is that the father goes out to find his son BEFORE his son has started to come home.
The older son is sitting outside in his pride feeling sorry for himself. Like his brother, he has turned his back on his father and is sitting outside in his sin but before he does anything to soften his heart or turn to home, the father goes out looking for him.
This is another beautiful picture of God’s love for us. Before we come to God seeking forgiveness and before we even think that we need God’s grace – God is out there searching for us. Romans 5:8 God demonstrated his own love for us in this: While we were still sinners, Christ died for us. Long before we ever understood how our sin impacts our lives and our relationship with God and long before we ever thought we needed a second chance with God, God was at work in reaching out to us. God doesn’t come running out to us only after we have turned toward him, God comes out to find us and love us in ways that call us to turn to him. John Wesley called this prevenient grace, it is the grace and love of God that works in everyone to soften our hearts so that we might start to think about God and feel compelled in some way to return to him.
God loves us long before we even think about our need for him. God’s grace is extended to us long before we might see our need to be forgiven. God stands at an open door calling us to come and experience new life long before we even think we might want or need a second chance and all of this is simply because God loves us. Every second chance we have been talking about, a second chance to see people the way God does, a second chance to be driven and motivated by the right things in life, a second chance to love others the way God calls us to love and a second chance to even place our faith and trust in Jesus all comes as a gift from God. The second chances we get in life aren’t in order for us to do better or be better so that we can be loved by God, the second chances simply come because we are loved by God, a God who wants us to experience a better life and a life lived with him.
The younger son accepted the love of God and the second chance to experience the fullness of life, but when it comes to the older son we are left hanging. We don’t know what he does. We don’t know what choice he makes. Whatever choice he makes will not change the love of his father, his father will love him no matter what. The choice will impact his own experience of life.
Will he come in and celebrate a love that is for all? Will he come in and experience a second chance to be a family and find the fullness and joy of life? Jesus leaves us hanging here because this is the question that faces all of us and this is the second chance we all get. God’s love is reaching out to us today. It is a love that has chased us down and found us in this place and whether we have been living in God’s love for years, or we are in need of experiencing that love for the first time – the invitation is for all of us to accept the love of God. This second chance with God is for all of us today.
A Second Chance with God
A second chance with God is not an opportunity for us get it right so God will love us but an opportunity to accept that God loves us. These next steps are not things to do in order to earn God’s blessing, grace or favor but opportunities to reflect on and accept God’s amazing grace and love.
1. Reflect on how Jesus always gets it right in his relationship with God and others. Reflect on the love of God seen and heard in the Christ Hymn – Philippians 2:6-11.
2. It is because Jesus is God in the flesh and the perfect sacrifice that he can be our savior and redeem us from sin. Read Hebrews 4:14-16 and reflect on this gift of grace.
3. Read the story of the Loving Father in Luke 15:11-32.
• In what ways have you been like the younger son and found God running to you when you turned to Him?
• In what ways have you been like the older son and found God coming out to find you when you were still lost in sin?
• Give thanks for God’s love that is always here.
4. At the beginning of each day this week accept the love of God into your heart and the second chance at life with God with this simple prayer.
God, thank you for your love that reaches out to me today. Give me the assurance of your love so that my heart may be healed, my soul filled with joy and my life open to all the second chances you have for me. In the name of Jesus I pray. AMEN