Christmas Day • Isaiah 52:7–10 • December 25, 2011
by Paul Devantier
Today, we wait for word of some important event by staying close to the television, the radio, the Internet, or to our cell phones. We sit in the waiting room of a surgical unit at the hospital, hoping expectantly for the sound of the doctor’s footsteps coming out of surgery to tell us that “all went well” and that our loved one will be just fine. Parents listen late at night for the sound of footsteps in the house telling them that their teenager has arrived home safely after a night with friends. Husbands wait close to a birthing room, listening for the cry of a newborn child. Grandparents wait for the call or even the photos or video clips of the new grandchild. Tweets, texts, phone calls, news reports, and even the sound of the doctor’s feet or the first cries of a newborn can bring some very good news. We pray for that kind of news, and we are delighted when it comes.
There was no Skype at the time of Isaiah, but there was a message system—the messenger who could be seen on the hillsides at some distance running to deliver the message. But Isaiah’s reference to the “beauty” of the feet of the runner have little to do with the messenger and have a whole lot to do with the beauty of the message.
In Isaiah’s time, the message was about the restoration of Israel, the end of their captivity in Babylon. Though doubts no doubt persisted in captivity about the power of the God of Israel, the soul-uplifting message of the messenger to God’s people and the central message of Isaiah in this text was “Your God (indeed) reigns.” What Isaiah was foreshadowing for us was the ultimate message of salvation and the eternal reign of Jesus Christ. Jesus Christ is the one who brought an end to the captivity of sin. He is the one who brought to an end the bondage experienced by those with no hope because of their alienation from God. He brought freedom—freedom from the eternal consequences of sin and freedom to experience life here to the fullest and life forever with him in heaven. Hallelujah! The Lord Jesus reigns, and through faith in him, we share in his kingdom!
Those who bring this message of salvation by grace through faith for the sake of the reigning Jesus Christ can be welcomed with great joy. But it is, of course, their message that brings the greatest joy. Isaiah 52:7 is a familiar passage: “How beautiful upon the mountains are the feet of him who brings good news, who publishes peace, who brings good news of happiness, who publishes salvation, who says to Zion, “Your God reigns.” The verses following verse 7 simply underscore the joy associated with the fact that the God of Israel reigns. Paul in Romans 10:15 quotes Isaiah in talking about the importance of those who proclaim the “good news.” (“And how are they to preach unless they are sent? As it is written, ‘How beautiful are the feet of those who preach the good news!’”)
A temptation may be to glamorize the messenger. We may even border on that at the Seminary as we talk about how important pastors are and what a glorious task is theirs. “How beautiful is a pastor coming to minister,” we might say. To be sure, we celebrate God’s goodness in calling a man into the pastoral ministry, but the truly beautiful thing is the message he delivers.
As a pastor, you are called to be a messenger, with the message being paramount. And it is only truly effective if the person receiving the message is aware of how valuable the “good news” is. Thus, two messages are essential when working with this text: 1) captivity (bad news) and 2) the reign of Jesus Christ and the freedom that results (good news).
For Isaiah and Israel, the captivity experienced in Babylon was real. It hurt. It was destructive. It all but wiped out their peace, happiness, and hope for the future. But the return to Zion was glorious! The message of God reigning was greeted with great joy, and, as Isaiah makes clear in verse 10 of the text, God’s reign and salvation are for all nations.
We can identify with the Babylonian captives. Sin (captivity) is still real in our lives. It is destructive. It can bring so much hurt and obliterate true happiness. It wipes out any hope we may have for forgiveness, reconciliation, and redemption. We may be sorry for what we have done, but we can’t fix the problem. We’re captive. And then along comes a messenger with the beautiful message of God’s gift of a Savior, Jesus Christ, whose death and resurrection bring to us forgiveness, peace, happiness, freedom, and hope through faith. We can know for sure that the Lord Jesus reigns. And that message is, indeed, beautiful!