✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
Frequently I have preached to you about how, as Christians, our most important sense is our sense of hearing. We’re all about the ears, not the eyes. For we walk by faith in God’s words, not by sight or experience. And words first and foremost are heard. They’re spoken with the mouth and listened to with the ears. You could come into divine service blindfolded and not really miss a thing, especially if you know the liturgy by heart. The main thing here is the speaking and the hearing. Educators like to point out how learning is best achieved by involving as many senses as you can in the process. And of course that is true. However, we’re not simply talking about learning here, but about faith, the trust of the heart. And the Epistle states it very straightforwardly, “Faith comes by hearing the Word of God.”
We do use all five of our senses when we are gathered for divine service. There is the smell of the candles and the wine, even incense in churches that use it. Our sense of touch and taste are involved, too, in the Sacraments. Though even then, what is it that makes Baptism or the Lord’s Supper what they are but the spoken Word of God? Likewise, we do have enduring visual imagery here that is drawn directly from God’s Word, like the cross and the icons (though nothing so shallow as video screens with their fleeting and sometimes manipulative images). But we never put our trust simply in what we see. We trust in what we hear–the sure words and promises of God which never fail, which most assuredly bring about what they declare.
So it’s an interesting statement that we hear in today’s Epistle, when the Apostle Paul quotes the words of Isaiah, “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace.” You could understand if he said, “How beautiful is the voice” or “How beautiful is the mouth.” But instead he says “feet.” What do feet have to do with it?
We don’t usually think of feet as beautiful. They get calloused and dirty and smelly sometimes. And consider your feet also in a spiritual sense. How often have you “voted with your feet” against hearing or learning or following Christ’s Word? How often have you used your feet to keep your distance from those around you who are in need? How often have you run with those feet to share the latest bit of juicy gossip? How often have you used those feet to storm away from your spouse or your parents in anger? How often have you strutted around with your feet in pride or just kicked them up on the couch in laziness? No, our feet are not beautiful. Just as Adam and Eve were marched out of the Garden when they sinned, so God’s judgment on our rebellion is that we are driven out and cannot step foot in His presence.
But thankfully, there is One who walked in our shoes for us, who has human feet just like us, though He Himself is without sin. The beautiful feet Isaiah refers to, first and foremost, are the feet of Jesus. These are the feet of God’s Son, who was born with ten little toes just like the rest of us. These are the feet that stepped into the water of the Jordan River to be baptized for you. These are the feet of Him who walked from town to town preaching the kingdom of God and healing the sick, even walking right into a funeral procession to raise a widow’s son. These are feet of the One who spoke mercy to sinners, feet that became so beautiful to a sinful woman that she washed them with her tears and hair! These are the feet that stood before the religious leaders and the Roman Governor when Jesus was on trial. These are the feet that stumbled as they carried the cross to Calvary. And there, on that mountain, behold the beautiful feet, pierced with nails, fastened to the cross–all this to bring you the Good news that your sins are forgiven. His feet and hands and side and brow are pierced for you, for your sins. His blood washes it all away and cleanses you. Your sins are wiped out once and for all. The price has been fully paid. With His feet Jesus has crushed the devil’s head and ground the power of the grave to powder. In Jesus there is peace between you and God. How beautiful indeed are those holy feet of Jesus that walked this earth on their way to the cross for your salvation!
And it gets better still. For these feet of Jesus, that lay cold and lifeless in the tomb, walked again when He rose from the grave in glory. And these feet of Jesus, that Mary Magdalene clung to at the empty tomb, were planted firmly on the mountain in Galilee where Jesus said to the eleven, “Go and make disciples of all nations.” Jesus, who had washed the disciples feet, was now sending them on their way to use their feet to bring the good news of salvation to every nation and language and people.
This is also what the Epistle reading is speaking of, then, when it refers to the beautiful feet. It all starts with the beautiful feet of Jesus; but He sends out others in His name, that by His grace their feet may become beautiful, too, as they go and preach the Gospel and bring the gifts of Christ to His people.
“Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved,” Scripture says. However, Paul reminds us that you can’t call on the name of the Lord if you don’t believe in Him. So if there is going to be calling on the Lord, there must be believing in the Lord. But you can’t believe in a Lord that you’ve never heard of or learned about properly. So before there can be believing in the Lord, there must be a hearing of the Lord’s words. But you can’t hear the Lord’s words without someone preaching and teaching them to you. So before there can be hearing the Lord’s words, there must be a preacher. But you can’t be a preacher without being sent by Lord. So before there can be preachers and missionaries, there must be the means by which the Lord’s sends out men, calling them and ordaining them for the task. You see, it all starts with the sending. First Jesus is sent by the Father to redeem the world. Then Jesus sends His apostles to proclaim the good news, and through His church He continues to send preachers and ministers. That’s why it is written, “How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the Gospel of peace.” Saving faith that calls on the Lord’s name is traced back to the feet and the Lord’s sending. It’s about Him, not the messenger.
In our age of the Postal Service and UPS trucks and the internet, we forget the importance in ancient times of couriers who could carry a message with their feet over many miles. Especially someone bringing good news from far away would refresh the souls of those who heard it and bring joy to their hearts. You can imagine in that context how someone might praise the feet of the messenger as much as his speaking. In fact the distance race we now know as the marathon comes from a Greek legend where a soldier was sent from the battlefield of Marathon to Athens to announce that the Persians had been defeated. It is said that he ran the entire distance without stopping and burst into the assembly, exclaiming “We have won.” This is in a very real sense what the preaching of the Gospel is, an announcement that we have won in Christ; the enemy has been defeated. Now in the Greek legend, the messenger then immediately collapsed and died. And I suppose there would be no more blessed way for a pastor to die, after proclaiming the Gospel. But this is the good news, that the One who died now lives. And that is why we have won. The risen Jesus holds the field forever.
So a preacher’s feet are only beautiful because they have been washed by Christ’s mercy, and because he is now given to proclaim the glad tidings and distribute the good things of Jesus. I remember a seminary professor once telling us seminarians to think about what the people see when they come to take holy communion. He reminded us that what they see with their heads bowed at the altar rail are the pastor’s feet. His advice was more practical than theological–he told us to make sure, therefore, that our shoes were always clean and polished for the service. That’s fine advice, I suppose, which I should probably follow more often. But the theological point is the key thing: When you see any minister’s feet, remember the feet of Jesus that walked this earth for you, that bled for you, the feet of Him who sent out His ministers to proclaim the Gospel of peace, to give out the body and blood that purchased your peace.
That’s how it works: from the feet of Jesus to the feet of preachers, who deliver the Gospel into your ears so that you may confess with your mouth the Lord Jesus and believe in your heart that God raised Him from dead and be saved. “How beautiful on the mountains are the feet of Him who brings good news!” And fellow believers, today you are given to do just as the women did at the empty tomb and cling to Jesus’ beautiful, risen feet. For the heavenly Christ makes this earthly altar to be His footstool. Come and worship the risen Jesus; He is truly alive; He is truly here. Receive His life-giving body and blood for the forgiveness of all of your sins. Share in His victory. We have won.
✠ In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit ✠
(With thanks to the Rev. Mark Beutow for some of the beautiful feet material above)