Legacy of Hope
On the 19th of May 2020, the world lost one of its greatest evangelical minds. Christian apologist and evangelist Ravi Zacharias, the founder of RZIM, passed from this earth into glory. He leaves behind him a legacy that will continue to proclaim the hope of the gospel for generations to come. As it is for many of us who have been greatly impacted by his teaching, our hearts and minds begin to ponder the reality of an eternity in the presence of the Lord, a truth so integral to the Christian worldview.
I added my voice to the throngs of tributes from gracious believers all over the world who posted their eulogies on social media. I was moved to quote the following words:
“He has finished the course; and though we do not lay him to sleep in the grave with the sorrow of those who have no hope, yet we cannot but mourn that a great man and a prince has fallen this day in Israel.”1
These words were spoken by C.H. Spurgeon three days after the death of the great evangelical philanthropist and social reformer Lord Shaftesbury (1801-1885). The words from Spurgeon’s eulogy seemed fitting for such an occasion. At Shaftesbury’s funeral, thousands lined the streets to pay respects to the man whose devotion to Christ had touched so many, and I am sure, if circumstances would allow, the same would be true of Ravi Zacharias.
A Living Hope
As I meditated on the words that Spurgeon spoke, that I have quoted again over one hundred years later, a common theme emerged – that of hope! This is a powerful and often neglected idea in the Christian worldview that these men so beautifully exemplified. Why do we not grieve as “those who have no hope” (1 Thessalonians 4:13)? This is the crux of the issue! Where do we place our hope? Or more correctly in whom do we trust?
For the Christian, we are bound by that threefold cord – faith, hope and love (1 Corinthians 13:13). However, far from being merely abstract concepts, a vain longing for something better that may or may not materialise, we find the ultimate realisation and fulfilment of these virtues encapsulated within a person. The person of Jesus of Nazareth. The Apostle Paul wrote:
"Paul, an apostle of Christ Jesus according to the commandment of God our Savior, and of Christ Jesus, who is our hope" (1 Timothy 1:1).
Jesus Christ is "The Hope" of the Christian. In His life, death and resurrection, we find all the assurance and security that we need to live in this world – more than that, to overcome this world (1 John 5:4)! As it was for the young Zacharias, when he lay on a hospital bed from an attempted suicide, the promise of the Gospel holds out hope: “because I live, you will live also” (John 14:19), were the words by which he was motivated to give his life to Christ.
A Hope for the World
In a world that is being shaken by events that have disrupted the normality of routine and caused people to look for something to hope in, a warning must be given by the church to the world. – Place your hope in that which can sustain you, not in the things of the world which cannot. As the temporal nature of the world is exposed – only that which is eternal shall remain. The God of Israel is the only hope for this world.
This is the message of the gospel so pertinent for our times. The prophet Jeremiah put it like this:
"O LORD, the hope of Israel, all who forsake You will be put to shame. 'Those who turn away on earth will be written down, because they have forsaken the fountain of living water, even the LORD'" (Jeremiah 17:13).
There is a beautiful wordplay in the text here that sheds light on the teaching of Jesus Christ in the New Testament. The word “hope” in the verse is the Hebrew word Miqveh – a noun which can mean hope, but also “water reservoir” (Exodus 7:19). Then a second wordplay in the same verse completes the picture with a poetic elegance to rival Shakespeare. The phrase translated “put to shame” is the word yevoshu, a verb which can mean put to shame but can also mean “dry up”.
So, what we have here is the declaration that those who forsake the hope of Israel, the water reservoir of Israel, will be put to shame, or they will dry up. Then notice the last line of the verse which answers why they will dry up – because they have forsaken the fountain of living water. Here, I believe, is the background that Jesus draws upon in his famous statement in the Gospel of John that:
"He who believes in Me, as the Scripture said, ‘From his innermost being will flow rivers of living water" (John 7:38).
Here Jesus used the theme of living water to self-identify as the God of Israel, the "Hope of Israel", and the one who is the water reservoir of Israel. This living water was now the hope of the Samaritans and of the entire world.
Jeremiah furnishes us with two types of people:
"Thus says the LORD, 'Cursed is the man who trusts in mankind and makes flesh his strength, and whose heart turns away from the LORD. For he will be like a bush in the desert and will not see when prosperity comes, but will live in stony wastes in the wilderness, a land of salt without inhabitant. "Blessed is the man who trusts in the LORD and whose trust is the LORD. For he will be like a tree planted by the water, that extends its roots by a stream and will not fear when the heat comes; but its leaves will be green, and it will not be anxious in a year of drought nor cease to yield fruit'" (Jeremiah 17:5-8).
The man who forsakes the Lord to trust in something that the world offers those "will thirst again” (John 4:13), and the man who trusts in the Lord, the source of the living waters, the Hope of Israel, the Lord Jesus: This man will not fear when the heat comes, nor will he be anxious, but will have a life that brings forth fruit.
People in the world now are anxious; they are fearful, and they are searching for something to place their trust in. The hope of the message of Jesus Christ is what motivated men like Lord Shaftesbury and Ravi Zacharias; it was the living water from the reservoir of the God of Israel that brought forth the fruit of their respective ministries.
It is this same hope that we cling to today, the same living water that Jesus offers us today, and the same message that the church must proclaim to an otherwise hopeless world.
1 "Departed Saints Yet Living," The Metropolitan Tabernacle Pulpit Sermons, Vol.31 (London: Passmore & Alabaster, 1885) P 541-542.