To read any of the four Gospels you almost need a GPS. It’s hard to keep up with where Jesus is at any moment in time. First He’s a toddler in David’s hometown, then He’s growing up in Pharaoh’s old stomping grounds. Then a few years later, He’s taking a circuitous route back to the family village of Nazareth. And after John baptizes him, He’s the ramblin’ Rabbi. Into the wilderness, back to Galilee, to Capernaum, into the country of the Gadarenes, round about Jerusalem. Our Lord is here and there and seemingly everywhere. “Jesus was going about all the cities and all the villages,” (Matthew 9:35). The soles of the holy feet of God traverse the soil of the holy land of promise. Why so much walking? Why didn’t Jesus simply set up shop at a popular crossroads village or, better yet, the capital city? Let people come to Him. After all, folks were always searching Him out so they were sure to find Him. Part of the answer to that question is suggested way back in the life of Abraham. And the answer gets us to the heart of God’s mission of love, the goal of the ministry, and why the feet of Jesus’ messengers are so beautiful.
Shortly after we’re introduced to Abraham, the patriarch of Israel, he travels to Egypt because of famine in Canaan, gets into trouble with Pharaoh, the Lord sends plagues upon the regal house, and Abraham exits Egypt laden with that land’s spoils. Sound familiar? It should. What happened to Abraham was a mini-exodus; he was blazing the trail that his descendants would take in their own exodus. When Abraham arrives back in the promised land, God tells him to look north, south, east, and west. “All the land which you see, I will give it to you and your descendants,” the Lord says (Gen 13:15). Then he tells Abraham to take a hike: “Arise, walk about the land through its width and breadth; for I will give it to you,” (Gen 13:17).
Go ahead, pull out your red pen and underline that last verse. It’s key.
A custom in the ancient world—attested, for example, in Egyptian, Hittite, and Nuzi cultures—was to claim ownership of land by the symbolic act of walking upon it. The soles of your feet wrote your signature upon the soil. We see this same language elsewhere in the Scriptures, such as when God tells Israel, “Every place on which the sole of your foot shall tread shall be yours,” (Deut 11:24). God repeats the same promise to Joshua (Joshua 1:3). That’s also the reason behind the strange practice, recorded in Ruth, of exchanging ownership of property by the former owner handing his sandal to the new owner (Ruth 4:7). The shoes that had walked upon the land embody the land. To swap sandals is to exchange the land.
Thus, when God tells Abraham to traverse the length and breadth of the holy land, he’s telling the patriarch to claim it as his own. This is more than a walk, even more than a pilgrimage; it is God’s way of using human feet to demonstrate that here, in this place, on this land, he is establishing his kingdom on earth for the benefit of his chosen people. How beautiful are the feet of Abraham, for they bring the good news that this land is God’s land, where they will be his people and he will be their God.
Now let’s get back to Jesus, who never seems to sit still. Just like Abraham, Jesus also made a trip to Egypt early in His story. He had to flee when Herod was thirsty for His young blood. Later our Lord returned. He had His own mini-exodus, for He was following in the footsteps of Abraham and Israel, reliving and redeeming their lives. And just like Abraham took that symbolic journey around the holy land to claim God’s gift of holy soil as his own, so Jesus began to do the same.
Wherever our Lord walked, he was doing more than teaching and healing. He was establishing the kingdom of God. Every place on which the sole of Jesus’s feet trod, he was saying, “This is mine.” The kingdom of God, you see, is not merely a spiritual kingdom, as if physical space has nothing to do with it. We are creatures of the soil. We are rooted to the very ground from which our first father came. Thus Christ claims real dirt as His own, for real sinners reside on real soil. Wherever Christ traveled to proclaim His Father’s word, He was writing His signature upon that soil. North, south, east, and west in the holy land He traveled, everywhere pressing into that dirt the imprint of His beautiful feet that bring the Good News of salvation.
I’ve always thought it odd that Isaiah says, “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news,” (52:7). Why the feet instead of the lips or the mouth or the tongue of him who brings good news? I think we find the answer in the life of Abraham, and the life of the Seed in whom Abraham believed. These beautiful feet belong to messengers, Isaiah says, who bring the good news that says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” In other words, these feet announce a kingdom, where God reigns over His people in grace and mercy. The mouth preaches, to be sure, but so do the feet. The feet say, “God has sent me to claim this place as His own, these people as His own, as those sinners among whom Christ reigns in peace.”
Luther once said that the church is a mouth-house, for there God’s Word is proclaimed. The church is also a foot-house, for there God claims this place for His kingdom, as the dirt upon which He announces peace to the world. How beautiful are the feet of God’s servants—no matter if they’re wearing cowboy boots or wingtips or sandals—for with those feet the Lord writes His own name into the soil of the sanctuary. The Father says, “This is the holy land. Right here is my kingdom. In this place my Son is King. These people, the sons of Abraham, the brothers and sister of Jesus, will be my people and I will be their God.”
With His own feet Christ once walked in the Garden to seek out fearful, naked sinners. There He made them a promise, that with His own heel He would smash the head of the serpent who had deceived them. With that heel, He did just that when He destroyed death by His own death upon the cross, and suffered His heel to be injected with the venom from the fangs of hell. Those feet—spiked by nails, struck by fangs—rose again to stand upon the earth in victory. And still they stand. Those at the foot of Jesus stand within the feet of His messengers who announce that we are forgiven, we are restored, we are remade in the image and likeness of Christ.
The next time you’re in church, as you watch your pastor walk into the sanctuary, step to the baptismal font, step up into the pulpit, and walk up to feed you with the body and blood of Jesus—take a moment to thank God for those feet. They are beautiful, for they are God’s way of claiming this place as His own and you as His own.
One of the most grace-filled, comforting, eloquent sermons you’ll ever hear is written on the bottom of your pastor’s feet.