Allusions are remarkable things.
But—like with sarcasm—a lot can be very easily missed.
An allusion expresses something without specifically calling it to mind—usually to make a comparison between something old and something new.
They’re a bit like a Pandora’s Box and a Garden of Eden rolled into one.
See—you have to know what a Pandora’s Box is—and the Garden of Eden—for that to make sense.
Within small communities, allusions become a language all their own, and the Bible is no different.
Allusions are important today because John the Baptizer says that he’s not worthy to touch Jesus’ feet.
The priests and Levites asked John, “Why are you baptizing, if you are neither the Christ, nor Elijah, nor the Prophet?” John answered them, “I baptize with water, but among you stands one you do not know, even he who comes after me, the strap of whose sandal I am not worthy to untie” (John 1:25-27).
When John says this, we know what he means. It’s as if he says, “Christ is so much greater, I am so much less. Poor sinner that I am, I’m not even worthy to handle dirty, nasty feet.”
The footnote in The Lutheran Study Bible has this for not worthy to untie: “Compared to the Son of God, John was unworthy of even a slave’s task.”
It makes the point that John the Baptizer was unworthy even to serve Jesus.
But that’s not true.
It is the Christian’s duty, honor, privilege, joy, responsibility, job, and concern to serve his neighbor—who is Christ. As we do unto the least of these, we do unto Him. That’s what Jesus says.
So when John says, “[I am not worthy to untie the strap of His sandal],” he’s saying more than, “I’m a poor, miserable sinner.” He’s saying: “I cannot come to God. I cannot begin salvation. If I am to be saved, poor sinner that I am, God must do it. And Jesus Christ is my God and Lord.”
John says exactly that when he mentions Jesus’ sandal.
He was alluding to Ruth chapter four where we learn of a custom in Israel concerning redeeming and exchanging, buying something back from where it should not be:
“To confirm a transaction, the one drew off his sandal and gave it to the other, and this was the manner of attesting in Israel. So when the redeemer said to Boaz, ‘Buy it for yourself,’ he drew off his sandal” (Ruth 4:7-8).
John alludes to this in mentioning Jesus’ sandal.
Because in Ruther chapter four, when the man drew off his sandal, he was telling everyone that Boaz is now the redeemer. Boaz redeems Ruth, they marry and have a son. His name is Obed, the father of Jesse, the father of David.
The man who keeps the sandal is the redeemer.
If John were to untie Jesus’ sandal, he would, in a way, be claiming to be the Christ, the redeemer.
Saying it like that sounds drastic, but it makes sense when you look at the use of “feet” in the New Testament. Even though the events in Ruth occur eleven hundred years before Christ, “feet,” in Jesus’ time, still have to do with redeeming and exchanging.
The word “feet” occurs about thirty-seven times in the Gospels. Every one of them has to do with redemption in some way.
Sometimes, “feet” deals with condemnation, which is the lack of redemption:
“You are the salt of the earth, but if salt has lost its taste…It is no longer good for anything except to be thrown out and trampled under people’s feet” (Matthew 5:13).
If Christians cease to be different from the world, they become useless and will be trampled under the crushing feet of condemning judgment.
Sometimes, “feet” deals with healing, which is redemption from sin and earthly suffering:
“Great crowds came to [Jesus], bringing with them the lame, the blind, the crippled, the mute, and many others, and they put them at his feet, and he healed them” (Matthew 15:30).
Faith knows the place of true healing: at Jesus’ side, at Jesus’ feet. The Blood of Christ was shed just as much from His pierced feet as it was from His hands and side and brow.
And sometimes, “feet” deals with worship.
On Easter Sunday, “Jesus met [the two Mary’s] and said, ‘Greetings!’ And they came up and took hold of his feet and worshiped him” (Matthew 28:9).
Christians don’t worship feet, but we do worship a God Who became flesh and had them.
Of course, the most well known instance of “Jesus” and “feet” is when He washed His disciples’ feet:
Jesus Himself connects feet with redemption. He began to wash His disciples’ feet and came to Simon Peter who said, “Lord, do you wash my feet?” Jesus said, “You do not understand now, but afterward you will understand.” To this, Doubting Peter said, “You shall never wash my feet.” And Jesus said, “If I do not wash you, you have no share with me” (cf. John 13:5-8).
Like Peter, we don’t understand until afterward.
Prior to conversion, we’re at enmity with God, hating Him with a heart that wants to redeem itself.
Unless Jesus washes your feet, unless God works and saves you, you have no inheritance.
Every time “feet” comes up, it deals with Redemption.
So when John the Baptizer mentions a sandal, it’s not just a confession of humility.
We rightly confess to be poor, miserable, sinners.
And anyone who denies that has only to pinch their side and look in the mirror. There are regrets, silent and painful, that stare back at us every day.
But not for a moment should you think the answer lies with your effort and ability. By your own reason and strength, you cannot win free from sin.
Rather, you are God’s to redeem, and He redeems you.
He endures the bruising of His own heel, the piercing of His own hands and feet.
He redeems us.
He buys us back.
He exchanges His paradise for our penalty.
And this was the plan all along.
We hear of this plan on Day Seven when God said to the serpent: “I will put enmity between you and the woman, and between your offspring and her offspring; he shall bruise your head, and you shall bruise his heel” (Genesis 3:15).
That serpent, the devil, attacks our redemption, the foot of Christ. But “the one who falls on this stone will be broken to pieces; and when it falls on anyone, it will crush him” (Matthew 21:44).
That serpent, the devil, did bruise the heel of Christ, but by that bruise, the devil’s own head is crushed.
He redeemed that which He became.
So now, our enmity with God is over.
We are, to God, reconciled.
And all of this from one sandal!
You can’t untie it. You don’t wash His feet.
You cannot, by your own reason or strength, believe in Jesus Christ or come to Him.
You cannot save yourself, but ours is a God who saves.
Redemption is God’s to earn and God’s to give.
He is just and the justifier (cf. Romans 3:26).
Jesus earns our salvation and gives it.
He takes away our sins and gives to us His life.
He has come to His people to redeem them.
“Behold the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world” (John 1:29).
“God has put all things in subjection under his feet” (1 Corinthians 15:27).
In Jesus’ name, Amen!
Advent 4 Sermon, 2020
Rev. Benjamin Tyler Holt