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Beautiful feet (June 4, 2023)

A lesson for June 4, 2023, about Isaiah 52:1-12. Eric Robinson argues that God is our crew and pacer in the running journey of faith.

Outlook Standard Lesson for June 4, 2023
Scripture passage and lesson focus: Isaiah 52:1-12

Today’s lesson starts a new series, “Righteous Reign of God,” where we will look more closely at the prophets and how they testify about God. Our journey begins in Isaiah 52, where Isaiah considers the reign of God something to be proclaimed with gladness and joy.

Beautiful feet

A good friend of mine owns a Christian non-profit. Each year, his organization hosts a 5k/10k fundraiser called “Beautiful Feet” in North Carolina. In a not-so-subtle reference to Isaiah 52:7, participants run with a purpose beyond themselves. Yes, our new Saucony or HOKA running shoes might make our feet look beautiful and runners may grace the course with a beautiful stride, but, more than anything, our intention is beautiful: we run to love our neighbor and our God.

As a trail runner, I love to run in the hills and especially the mountains. Running or racing anywhere comes with the risk of falling, dehydration, blisters, and muscle cramps, not to mention compounding weather conditions. And yet, the reward that keeps me going despite these challenges is larger than crossing the finish line. Running helps me connect with God, nature and myself by pushing me towards self-reflection, reminding me of my own humanity and limitations, and encouraging gratitude for working limbs and beautiful vistas. This experience is not one that I keep private, however. As I experience moments of joy, perseverance and triumph in a hard run, I anticipate sharing the unique story that encompasses each race first with my wife and dad.

I imagine the messenger in Isaiah 52:7 running with a focused urgency. They are running to share the message that God is freeing God’s people from exile in Babylon (v. 2), to share the message of God’s victory, not for the purpose of power or control, but for the salvation of the world (v. 10). They are expending energy and putting their bodies at risk for a higher purpose. While there is a quickness and an urgency to the messenger’s work, the people’s return to Jerusalem will be a journey taken without haste or fear (v. 12). Why? Because God’s presence will guard them directly and will guide their way (v. 12).

Crew and pacer

In most longer ultramarathons of 50 miles or greater, runners are permitted to have a crew as well as a pacer. The crew ensures that the runner has everything they need to continue, but the pacer provides “in the moment” support as they run with the runner to motivate them to keep going. When a runner enters an aid station, the crew is there to ensure that the runner is cared for and ready to continue. And when the runner falls, literally or figuratively, their pacer becomes the rear guard, ensuring they can continue the race. As the people of Israel return to Jerusalem, God acts as crew and pacer, ensuring the people return not in haste, but in safety, and acts as Israel’s rear guard for the duration of the journey (v. 12). 

The running journey of faith

Life’s journey is much like a race, isn’t it? We encounter highs and lows, moments where we feel so alive and moments where everything hurts. Paul even uses an extended running analogy to describe the life of faith (1 Corinthians 9:24-27). This passage from Isaiah invites us to consider an important question about the life of faith: What message is burning so strongly within us that we go out of our way and risk our safety to proclaim it to all who will listen? In one sense, each of us who live the Christian faith have a cosmic message to share of God’s salvation through Jesus Christ. And, as Paul communicates in Romans 10:15 when he quotes Isaiah 52:7, this message is urgent.

Yet, the message is also intensely personal. Maybe it is a message of how God saved you from a life of sin, has been faithful to you through life’s challenges, how God has forgiven your past, given you strength for the present, and a sure hope for the future. Maybe you have seen God at work through your church, your community or your family, and you can’t help but tell the world. Who will you share this message with today? Are your feet ready to travel? What difficulties are you willing to endure to ensure the message gets out?

This passage in Isaiah also poses another question. Just as an ultramarathoner would not take on a 100-mile race without a crew or pacer, we would be remiss to take on the journey of faith without confidence in God as our rear guard. Are you trying to run the race of faith alone? Are you aware of God’s constant presence to pick you up when you fall, to keep you from danger and to guide your way? Are you confident that God is faithful to complete the good work God began in your life (Philippians 1:6)?

Beautiful feet carrying an even more beautiful message, confident in God’s protection: That is how God describes God’s messengers. That is how God describes you.

Questions for discussion

  1. What message has God entrusted to you that you will urgently share with the world?
  2. Are you confident in God’s protection and guidance on the journey?

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