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The Rev. Joseph Winston December 6, 2009
Grace and peace are gifts for you from God, the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ.1 When a king constructs a road, there is no question on where it is going. You see he actually owns everything in his kingdom. This means that he gets his way. His word is literally the law. So, when the king says he wants a road from one part of his domain to another, the workers follow the king’s command to the letter. If the king demands it, the road crosses every river that stands in its way. If it pleases the ruler, the highway moves smoothly between all the valleys and the hills. If the monarch wants it, the new way removes all the extra steps required by the old crooked paths. Financing this difﬁcult work of building a new course through the country does not bother the king in the least. From one side of the empire to the other,
Romans 1:7, 1 Corinthians 1:3, 2 Corinthians 1:2, Galatians 1:3, Ephesians 1:2, Philippians 1:2, 2 Thessalonians 1:2, Philemon 1:3.
his subjects pay him tribute for the privilege of living in his land. The conquered territories provide willing workers that gladly exchange their lives for the honor of working for the kingdom. When the king adds up the resources provided by the common folk along with the proceeds from the royal lands, he can afford to do anything that he wants. Certainly, both the prophet Isaiah and the people who ﬁrst heard this message of, A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the L ORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the L ORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the L ORD has spoken.” (NRSV Isaiah 40:3-5) knew the image of the ruler getting his way. They live in the world where great kings make plans and carry them out. It is the time of empires and powerful men. Babylon is a world power; so is Assyria. Together they dominate the world and step on all the little countries that stand in their way. This describes Judah perfectly and it also describes what happens to her. Assyria threatens the insigniﬁcant country with complete and total destruction (2 2
Kings 18). This actually occurs to the kingdom of Judah. The empire of Babylon wipes Judah off the face of the earth, they render the leaders powerless, and they take the people away from their homes. Years pass and the empires change names. Today, Rome is in charge of the known world. Every one does their bidding now. They own everything in sight. They demand tribute. They collect slaves from every part of the globe to do their work. With these enormous resources at their disposal, the emperors of Rome perform accomplishments that stagger the mind even today. The Roman Army brings peace to every corner of the globe. The emperors entertain the people all over the world by assembling coliseums in their major cities. And at the direction of Caesar, the Roman Empire builds a quarter of million miles of road.2 If that was not enough to make the Emperors famous forever, Rome also pays for paving at least ﬁfty thousand miles of this road. Think about all the materials and labor required for this enormous task. Civil engineers with their assistants ﬁrst lay out the path the road will take. Next, slaves and freemen dig ditches and then ﬁll them in with sand and gravel. The next step is packing this material as tightly as possible. Finally, if required by Caesar, the laborers pour concrete and place paving stones. Most aspects of the road are tightly regulated by law. Caesar Augustus, created the law requiring the placement of a milestone every thousand paces. This marks the distance back to the temple of Saturn in the capital city and it also lists the men responsible for maintaining the road. Going back even further in history, by
The facts and ﬁgures that follow come from Roman roads.
Roman law enacted in 450 BC, the road must be eight feet wide. If the highway turns for any reason from its preferred straight path, then the road must be sixteen feet wide. After a long day’s travel on these roads, you can ﬁnd rest for yourself and your animals. If you happen to be on ofﬁcial business, then every ﬁfteen miles or so Rome will provide you with a place to stop. This house takes care of your every need at no charge to you. Common people can also travel on these roads. It is free for you. This is another beneﬁt of a Roman citizen. Without any cost, you can take the roads over both public and private land. However, a night’s rest is not free. You must pay for food and lodging. This is the world of the Gospel. Rome is in charge of everything and she builds roads. When you ﬁrst look at it, not much has changed since the time of Isaiah when he ﬁrst said, A voice cries out: “In the wilderness prepare the way of the L ORD, make straight in the desert a highway for our God. Every valley shall be lifted up, and every mountain and hill be made low; the uneven ground shall become level, and the rough places a plain. Then the glory of the L ORD shall be revealed, and all people shall see it together, for the mouth of the L ORD has spoken.” (NRSV Isaiah 40:3-5) 4
Kings still rule and they do what they want. Something however is dramatically different than before. Luke tells you that John the Baptizer is out in the deserted area around the river Jordan (Luke 3:23). There far away from civilization and off the beaten path, he speaks a word of change. He wants you to turn around.3 This is what has changed. Luke tells you that John the Baptizer is fulﬁlling the word spoken by the prophet Isaiah hundreds of years ago. But has anything really changed? You know how kings operate. You have seen it time and time again. Once they get an idea in their heads, then they go off and do it. As an individual, you cannot stop them. You do not have the resources to stand up to their might and power. If Luke is telling you that Jesus is just like a Babylonian king, then you are in trouble. Isaiah spoke this prophecy right before the total destruction of Judah. This would make Jesus the one who ﬂattens out everything He sees because He has the power to do it. If Luke wants you to believe that Jesus is a force that works in the same way as the Roman Emperor, then Jesus becomes nothing more than the strongest Caesar that ever lived. In this incorrect idea, Jesus controls all the resources in the world and hands out favors to those people who support Him. Even if Luke wants you to compare Jesus to the current government of the United States, then you must face a serious problem. This wrong approach would have you believe that Jesus takes what He wants through the power found in the governLuke Timothy Johnson; Daniel J. Harrington, S.J., editor, The Gospel of Luke, Volume 3, Sacra Pagina, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991), p. 64.
ment. He then uses this authority to level the playing ﬁeld for the disadvantaged. Each of the concept about how Jesus might operate in this world completely misses the mark. Yet, here in the United States these all are extremely popular models. We have Christians who want to call down God’s wrath on all those people they cannot stand. Followers of Jesus in some circles feel that God rewards them with wealth and health. Others Christians ﬁrmly believe that God prefers the oppressed to everyone else. These different ideas simply transform Jesus into a king that gets His own way. The Bible does not teach you this. All the facts about how Jesus builds roads are there for you in the Old Testament. Just after the prophecy of Isaiah to King Hezekiah of Judah’s complete and total destruction but before the prediction of the coming of the Messiah, God gives these words of compassion, Comfort, comfort my people, says your God. Speak tenderly to Jerusalem, and cry to her that her warfare is ended, that her iniquity is pardoned, that she has received from the LORD’s hand double for all her sins (RSV Isaiah 40:1-2) The coming of the Son of God to the earth is not a time of destruction of your enemies, reward for followers, or even preferential treatment for some small part of the world. The construction that Jesus oversees opens the way to freedom. The message that comes to you straight from God is abundant forgiveness. Without even asking for it, God has already wiped clean every mark against you. All by 6
itself, God’s complete and total acceptance of you is enough reason to build a road to every person. You need to know this. Nothing is holding you back from life with God. As if this was not enough for you, God pardons you a second time. That is right. Two times, God removes the stains from your life. You have a clean slate. You can start over. Jesus builds a road to you and tells you this. You are free to live This avenue from God goes to everyone. Listen to the prophecy of Zechariah found in the New Testament and sung every new day by the Church for thousands of years, By the tender mercy of our God, the dawn from on high will break upon us, to give light to those who sit in darkness and in the shadow of death, to guide our feet into the way of peace (Luke 1:78-79). The light of the sun shines on the entire earth. Surely, the Son of God can do as much. He constructs the road from God to all of humanity. He offers to you and to everyone else compassion. Like clockwork, Jesus travels that road to your heart every day. He wants you to accept the gifts of grace, love, and life. Even during the dark moments of your life, Jesus builds a road to you. He wants to show you the truth about life. He wants to tell you that God loves you. He desires to show you the peace that passes understanding. When the king makes a road, there is no question on where it is going. He owns everything. The real question you must answer is cooperation. Are you going to stand in his way are will you take advantage of all the beneﬁts a Royal Highway offers you? That is the issue facing you today. Jesus builds the way to God. You 7
can ignore this fact and suffer the consequences or you can join Him on the way and tell everyone you meet what this King has already done for you. “The peace of God, which passeth all understanding, keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus.”4
Anonymous, Roman roads, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Roman_ roads, Last checked on December 5, 2009. Johnson, Luke Timothy; Harrington, S.J., Daniel J., editor, The Gospel of Luke, Volume 3, Sacra Pagina, (The Liturgical Press, Collegeville, MN: The Liturgical Press, 1991).
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