Grace Lifts up the Disgraced

 

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Image Credit: Image Arcade

 

“The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces, he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth”

Isaiah 25:8

In 2012 a handful of us from Bishop Tucker School of Divinity and Theology—a Divinity School of Uganda Christian University together with some good friends—students of Divinity and Theology from Yale Divinity School (YDS) had a study tour to Nakivale Refugee Settlement one of the then biggest refugee settlement in Uganda. During this visit, I got to hear the stories of the pain of being in a refugee settlement—in a foreign country. A group of refugee women from Burundi expressed their pain of being refugees and their unfading hopes of returning to their country in a song which nearly prompted drops of tears from my eyes. Singing in their mother tongue, our interpreter told us that the song pictured their home land as Jerusalem and the country of their refuge as Babylon. That despite their suffering in “Babylon,” they were very hopeful that one day their they will return to “Jerusalem.” Being Christian women, they were hopeful that their tears, pains and sorrows will end even if not in this world, at least in their eternal home—Paradise.

Nearly everyone in the country sides of Uganda who has lived to celebrate his 30th birthday has been a refugee at least once. Although I was born in exile in the neighbouring Sudan—now the South Sudan, I was too young to remember how difficult being a refugee was since my family left the exile for Uganda when I was only three. However, the song these women at Nakivale refugee settlement sung reminded me of the excitement that was in the truck which transported us from Sudan to Uganda. My people were excited of returning home. They were happy that at least they can once again establish their homes outside of a refugee settlement, more so in their native country. The people clapped and danced waving bye-bye to the Sudanese nationals singing in Ma’di;

Bye-bye anyolu e-ee

Avipi ama dri e-ee

They were literally saying “bye-by Sudan, we are back to our native land.” The life in exile experienced by my people and the refugees we met at Nakivale is as disgraceful as that experienced by the inhabitants of Judah.

The Disgrace suffered by Judah

King Hezekiah started his reign in a righteous walk with God so the Lord blessed him in wisdom and wealth.

Hezekiah had very great wealth and honour, and he made treasuries for his silver and gold and for his precious stones, spices, shields and all kinds of valuables. He also made buildings to store the harvest of grain, new wine and olive oil; he made stalls for various kinds of cattle, and pens for the flocks. He built villages and acquired great numbers of flocks and herds, for God had given him very great riches… He succeeded in everything he undertook (II Chron. 32:27-30).

However, this enormous gain made Hezekiah proud. He received envoys from Babylon and “showed them all that was in his store houses—the silver, the gold, the spices and the fine olive oil—his armoury and everything found among his treasures. There was nothing in his palace or in all his kingdom that Hezekiah did not show them” (II Kings 20: 13). He did this out of pride. Beware of pride; for “God resists the proud, But gives grace to the humble” (James 4:6 NKJV). The pride of Hezekiah was unbearable to God, so through Isaiah, God told Hezekiah and the entire house of Judah; “Time will surely come when everything in your palace, and all that your predecessors have stored up until this day, will be carried off to Babylon. Nothing will be left, says the LORD” (II Kings 20:17).

Some years later, Jerusalem fell to the sword of king Nebuchadnezzar of Babylon. As prophesied by Isaiah, the same Babylonians to whom Hezekiah proudly showed the riches in his palace and in the temple of the Lord carried away this wealth and the people of Jerusalem. “The Babylonians broke up the bronze pillars, the movable stands and the bronze Sea that were at the temple of the LORD and they carried the bronze to Babylon. They also took away the pots, shovels, wick trimers, dishes and all bronze articles used in temple service” (II Kings 25:13-14). Their last king Jehoiachin was imprisoned for close to four decades putting on a prisoner’s clothes. The carrying away of the people of Judah and their king including the Holy articles in the House of the LORD was very disgraceful to Judah.

Isaiah’s song of anticipated Graceful Salvation

Prophet Isaiah in his song of praise to the LORD however prophetically wrote of the deliverance that will come for Jerusalem, when they will be lifted from disgrace to grace. Isaiah in his anticipated Salvation wrote;

On this mountain [Zion] the LORD Almighty will prepare a feast of rich food for all peoples… he will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth (Isaiah 25:6, 7-8).

Isaiah’s song which comes with a packed promise of hope from the LORD must have been a reliable reference for the Jews during the seventy years of the Babylonian captivity. I imagine how those who had the words of this song in their hearts continuously sung it in their comfort and those who had the parchments on which this song was written read it every day as a daily bread. The Babylonian exile was very disgraceful that this song must have really meant everything for them. I believe this was one of the songs they sung as they sat by the rivers of Babylon remembering Zion as their captors asked them to sing, as their tormentors demanded for songs of joy asking them; “Sing us one of the songs of Zion!” (Psalm 137:1-3). Like my people who were excited to return home from exile and the women at the refugee settlement who anticipated their return home, Isaiah’s song planted hope in the people of Judah that they will be one time lifted from disgrace to grace.

Lifted from disgrace to grace

Indeed, after seventy years, the Jews returned to Jerusalem. They returned home to rebuild their city and country. Their disgrace was lifted by the gracious hand of God. However, the full realization of being lifted from disgrace to grace wasn’t fulfilled by the return from the seventy years of captivity. In addition, Isaiah’s song of salvation didn’t make a reference to the Jews alone, it pointed to a universal salvation—to all peoples of the earth. The universality of Isaiah’s foreseen salvation is evident in verse 8,

“He [the LORD] will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth”

This prophesy is also consistent with John’s eschatological vision in the book of Revelation in which John saw,

“The Holy City, the new Jerusalem, coming down out of heaven from God, prepared as a bride fully dressed for her husband.” In his vision, a voice proclaimed the ultimate rule of God in these words; “God’s dwelling place is now among the people, and he will dwell with them. They will be his people, and God himself will be with them and be their God.” John’s vision comes close to Isaiah’s foreseen hope when the voice continued to proclaim to him, “He [God] will wipe every tear from their eyes. There will be no more death or mourning or crying or pain, for the old order of things has passed away” (Rev. 21:2-4).

In other words, Isaiah’s prophetic song is pointing us to an end time event. The restoration of Jerusalem after the seventy years was just a foretaste of the future times when the old order of things would have passed away. As Jerusalem was put to disgrace by their captors—the Babylonian Empire, mankind has been disgraced by sin. For all have sinned (Rom. 3:23) and hence are “slaves of sin” (Rom. 6:20). Sin disgraces mankind, it uncovers our nakedness before God as it did with Adam and Eve in the Garden of Eden. After they sinned in disobedience to God’s command;

“Then the eyes of both of them were opened, they realised they were naked.” Sin disgraced them. They sought to cover their disgrace by themselves. “So they sewed fig leaves together and made coverings for themselves” (Gen. 3:7). Although they were given some penalties for their sin, God showed the His act of Grace, to cover the disgrace of Adam and Eve right away. He “made garments of skin for Adam and his wife and clothed them” (Gen. 3:20).

Sin is very disgraceful and it has disgraced all mankind. All have sinned and been disgraced. The disgracefulness of mankind is very evident today. The fruits of sin are being proudly displayed in our communities. In his famous January 23, 1996 prayer, also known as the Prayer in Kansas House of Representatives[1], pastor Joe Wright has shown us how mankind has become proud of profanity, how the disgrace of sin has become acceptable in our times. Wright prayed;

Heavenly Father, we come before you today to ask Your forgiveness and to seek Your direction and guidance. We know Your Word says, “Woe to those who call evil good,” but that is exactly what we have done. We have lost our spiritual equilibrium and reversed our values.

We confess:

We have ridiculed the absolute truth of Your Word and called it pluralism. We have worshipped other gods and called it multiculturalism. We have endorsed perversion and called it alternative lifestyle. We have exploited the poor and called it the lottery. We have rewarded laziness and called it welfare. We have killed our unborn and called it choice. We have shot abortionists and called it justifiable. We have neglected to discipline our children and called it building self-esteem. We have abused power and called it politics. We have coveted our neighbor’s possessions and called it ambition. We have polluted the air with profanity and pornography and called it freedom of expression. We have ridiculed the time-honored values of our forefathers and called it enlightenment.

Search us, Oh God, and know our hearts today; cleanse us from every sin and set us free.

Guide and bless these men and women who have been sent to direct us to the center of your will. I ask it in the Name of Your Son, the living Savior, Jesus Christ.

Amen.

Dear friends, through Christ Jesus, God has revealed His salvation to mankind to lift us from disgrace to grace. “For the Grace of God has appeared that offers salvation to all people. It teaches us to say “No” to ungodliness and worldly passions [which disgraces us], and to live self-controlled, uptight and godly lives in this present age, while waiting for the blessed hope—the appearing of the glory of our great God and Saviour, Jesus Christ” (Titus 2:11-13) who will be our God and we will be his people. “He will swallow up death forever. The Sovereign LORD [Jesus Christ] will wipe away the tears from all faces; he will remove his people’s disgrace from all the earth” (Isaiah 25:8).

Although this Salvation is a universal offer—to all peoples of the earth, only those who believe in the Lord Jesus—the Grace of God in this present age, those whom the Grace has taught to say no to ungodliness and worldly passions, living self-controlled, upright and godly are the ones to triumph over their disgrace.

Believers of Christ will be lifted from disgrace to Grace by the Grace of God. It is up to mankind to come to God for this salvation, for God has already revealed it to us through Christ. I am certain that my life in Christ—Christian living in this present age is just a foretaste of his Grace that is beyond human understanding. I live in this present age with a full anticipation of His coming. I eagerly wait for that time when I will join all the saints in heaven to sing together with Isaiah;

“Surely this is our God;

      we trusted in him, and he has saved us.

This is the LORD, we trusted in him;

      Let us rejoice and be glad in his

                Salvation” (Isaiah 25:9).

Amen! Rev. J

_________________________________

[1] This prayer has been accessed from https://www.thoughtco.com/kansas-house-of-representatives-urban-legends-4072737 on June 15, 2017


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Unless otherwise indicated, all scripture quotations are taken from the New International Version (NIV). Rev. Julius Izza Tabi is a pastor in the Anglican Church of Uganda, Ma’di & West Nile Diocese. Julius served as an assistant Chaplain and lecturer at the Arua Campus of the Uganda Christin University. He holds Master of Philosophy in Religion, Society and Global Issues at Det Teologiske Menighetsfakultet alias the Norwegian School of Theology, in Oslo, Norway. He is an author of the Popular Triumphing Over Odds . For pastoral assistance you can contact him here and you can also help to support this site and his ministry by donating here.

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