Summary: Your Heart’s Road Is More Important than the Henday (a highway located in Edmonton, AB) 1) It cost more to build. 2) It leads to a better destination. 3) Keep it well maintained!
Motorists travelling around Edmonton now have access to 21 more kilometres of free-flowing road thanks to the recent completion of the northwest leg of Anthony Henday Drive. Construction began three years ago and cost $1.42 billion. That’s over $67.6 million per kilometer, $67,600 per meter, or $676 per centimeter! No, they didn’t pave the road with gold; they had to build 27 bridge structures which contributed to the hefty price tag. What do you think? Was it worth it? I have yet to hear any complaints. People love being able to get to the airport from St. Albert in a half-hour now instead of 45 minutes.
The Henday may be the new darling in the Capitol Region but our sermon text this morning speaks about an even more fantastic highway. Your heart’s road is more important than the Henday because it cost more to build, it leads to a better destination, and so we’ll want to keep it well maintained.
If you were part of the crew building the Henday, you would have worn a hard hat and orange vest to work every day. That’s not how the construction crew who works on your heart’s road usually dresses, however, especially not the one at work 2,000 years ago. John the Baptist, who had been called to prepare hearts for Jesus, wore a camel skin coat with a leather belt. His lunch kit didn’t hold salami sandwiches but fistfuls of locusts and a lick of wild honey. The strangest thing about John, however, was his tools. He didn’t have a jackhammer or operate a dump truck. He used God’s Word and the sacrament of Holy Baptism to prepare hearts for the coming of King Jesus. I’m comparing John to a road worker because this is how the prophet Isaiah described him. He foretold that John would be a voice calling out in the desert to “make straight paths for [the Lord]” (Mark 1:3b). John’s message was meant for us too as we prepare for Jesus’ coming at Christmas as well as for his coming on Judgment Day.
But do you know how difficult it is to make straight paths? Even with bulldozers it still took 2.7 million man-hours for the Henday workers to wrestle from the bush 21 kilometers of paved road. To put that into perspective, it means that had you worked on that project alone putting in 40-hour weeks, it would have taken you almost 1300 years to complete! Even if anyone was able to survive that many Alberta winters, this is a project that no one could accomplish on their own. I mean what would happen to the completed stretches of highway while you worked on the new? They would be ruined by snow and ice unless you could somehow continue to maintain them while building new road. Impossible!
It’s just as impossible to build a smooth highway for God to come to our hearts. A lot of people think they have done it, however. The Pharisees in Jesus’ day was one such group and outwardly they had seemed to straighten out all crookedness. They made the study of God’s Word a priority. They gave generous donations to synagogue and temple. They fasted so they had more time to pray. (When’s the last time you skipped lunch so you would have more time to pray?) But what the Pharisees couldn’t fix was their love for people’s praise at how “wonderful” they were. In fact this is what was motivating their show of piety.
In the same way I may work hard to rein in my temper, not so much to mirror God’s patient love however, but to impress people at what a kind-hearted father I am. And while I’m laboring to rein in my temper I may start to lose the battle against my greed for money. Then when I work hard on straightening that out I fall into self-righteous judging as I wonder why others don’t take God as seriously as I do. Building the Henday was a cinch compared to what God demands of us. Straighten out my life…all of it…including my impulses? Impossible!
That’s why John the Baptist didn’t just call on his listeners to repent – like me telling you to go out and build the next leg of the Henday by yourself. John baptized his listeners so they would receive forgiveness – forgiveness which Jesus would earn for them. In other words it’s Jesus who builds a road to your heart. John made that clear when he said of Jesus: “Look, the Lamb of God, who takes away the sin of the world!” (John 1:29) The people of John’s day must have been used to seeing big oxen employed to make new roads as these beasts hauled away boulders and brought in dirt to smooth divots. But it would take a lamb to build the most important road in the world. How so? Just as countless lambs had shed their blood in Old Testament times in front of the temple to divert God’s anger away from sinners, Jesus gave up his life on the altar of the cross to divert God’s wrath from us. And like a new coat of asphalt, Jesus’ blood covered all divots of deceit and potholes of perversion. Every heart’s road has been repaired and made brand new again.