Tribute: Ravi Zacharias

Ravi Zacharias
Ravi Zacharias

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Reflections on the Life of Ravi Zacharias

Story by Carmel Flippen

“I want to talk to you about four absolutes that you try to define: evil, justice, love, and forgiveness. Do you know of the one place in the world where these four converge? They converge on a hill called Calvary where all the evil intents of the human heart are hurled upon the very Son of God, where God in his justice took upon himself that justice, but he manifested his love for you and me in a way that is indescribable, & he offers you and me forgiveness.”—Ravi Zacharias at the 32nd UN prayer breakfast

Together 2016

Ravi Zacharias speaks to a crowd of hundreds of thousands gathered in front of the Washington Monument in 2016.

On May 19th, 2020, the great evangelist and apologist Ravi Zacharias ended his battle with bone cancer and became a citizen of Heaven. “We lost a real treasure and champion of the faith today,” reflected Pastor Greg Laurie of Harvest Christian Fellowship in Riverside, CA, where Ravi had intended to speak this month. “Thank God for the thousands of lives he touched.” Many of those lives are within the Calvary Chapel family, whether through numerous speaking engagements at CC churches, or his radio show Let My People Think.

“Thank God for the thousands of lives he touched.”
—Pastor Greg Laurie

Ravi preaching

Ravi preaching as a young man.

Ravi’s 48 years of ministry resulted in an exhaustive list of accomplishments, including preaching over 600 times in more than a dozen countries in one year alone; authoring over 30 books; counseling many world leaders; ten honorary doctorates; and helping create multiple apologetic institutes, including the renowned Oxford Centre for Christian Apologetics, through which hundreds of apologists have been trained. He founded Ravi Zacharias International Ministries (RZIM), whose offices now span 17 countries on five continents. A greater accomplishment than any of these, however, was that amidst these successes and the crowds surrounding him, he never lost sight of the significance of each individual seeker, and the questions they carried.

Heart of Compassion

In the mid-2000s, my friend Josh Bailey attended a Ravi Zacharias event in Roanoke, VA. While passionate for God, Josh had been struggling to reconcile his faith and his intellect. While the event was very helpful, afterwards Josh found his heart and mind were still churning. It felt as if the answers to his questions opened doors to even more questions, many of them too personal to be answered by a stranger on a stage—questions about his purpose in life, his struggles with sin, and what God really thought when He looked at him. Too agitated to go home, Josh began walking around the outside of the event venue, trying to clear his head.

Ravi answering questions

Ravi answers student questions at the University of Pennsylvania. He was a favorite guest speaker at college campuses around the world.

To his surprise, he bumped into Ravi himself, walking the opposite way. He could see the weariness in Ravi’s face, but wanted to quickly thank him. “Mr. Zacharias, I’m honored to meet you,” he said. “I’m sure you’re ready to get home, but I want you to know that God used bumping into you like this to show me that He really does care about what I’m going through.” That was all he intended to say, but Ravi began asking questions about Josh’s struggles, pointing him toward the answers—answers that carried Josh past a maelstrom of varied theological positions to the heart of God. Probably the whole exchange took less than half an hour, but that conversation had incredible impact on my friend’s life. Instead of losing his faith, Josh would go on to pursue a Master’s Degree in theology, always searching beyond human arguments for God’s heart.

Ravi talks to cadets

Ravi takes a moment in a hallway to speak candidly with cadets at the U.S. Airforce Academy.

“Ravi saw the objections and questions of others not as something to be rebuffed, but as a cry of the heart that had to be answered.”
—RZIM President Michael Ramsden

“Ravi saw the objections and questions of others not as something to be rebuffed, but as a cry of the heart that had to be answered,” said RZIM’s president, Michael Ramsden. “People weren’t logical problems waiting to be solved; they were people who needed the person of Christ … The love and kindness he had come to know through Jesus Christ was the same love he wanted to share with all he met.” Even in his last days of suffering, Ravi continued sharing Christ with care workers, until he literally lacked the breath to do so.

The Author of Life

In Ravi’s hometown of Chennai, India, is a statue of the disciple Thomas, known commonly as “The Doubting Apostle.” Ravi’s name for him, however, was “The Great Questioner.” This ability to see a seeker where others saw only a doubter was the key to Ravi’s evangelism, but its framework was laid through personal turmoil.

Ravi grew up as the unsuccessful member of a successful, well-known Indian family. At age 17, his loneliness and sense of worthlessness led to a suicide attempt. When he awoke in the hospital in critical condition, he felt even more hopeless. “My life was punctuated by failures,” he stated in a 2014 interview with Youth for Christ. “When you find out you didn’t know how to live but didn’t even know how to die, you’re pretty much at the bottom of the pile.” A minister acquaintance attempted to visit him in the hospital. Ravi’s mother turned the man away but agreed to read John 14 to Ravi from the Bible he offered. This verse changed Ravi’s life forever:

“Because I live, you will live also.”—John 14:19b

“As she read, I just cried out,” Ravi recalled. “It was a prayer of desperation. I said, ‘Jesus, if You are who You claim to be, take me out of here. I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.’... Five days later I walked out of that hospital room a totally different man.”

Ravi speaks at Westside Church

Ravi often was invited to speak at church gatherings and conferences.

From then on, Ravi dedicated his life to bridging, in his words, “vast chasms between the message of Christ and the mind of man.” This calling eventually led him to found RZIM, with the goal of “helping the thinker believe and the believer think.” His humility and intelligence in doing so opened doors for the Gospel in places that had long shut it out, including invitations from government officials in Muslim nations and newly post-Soviet Russia. He was always seeking out the darkest places in order to shine Christ’s light, from his first preaching tour through the villages of war-torn Vietnam; to his recent work with Death Row inmates in Angola Prison, the U. S.’s largest maximum security prison. While some of those Death Row converts built the coffin Ravi was buried in, he wrote of them, “These prisoners know that this world is not their home and that no coffin could ever be their final destination. Jesus assured us of that.”

What is Your Legacy?

Ravi’s passing should encourage all of us to take stock of our lives. Not many of us are called to be internationally renowned evangelists; however, we are all called to defend our faith and to show Christ’s love. How will you respond to the people God places in your path? Will you take the time to listen and respond lovingly? Will you shine a light in dark places? Will you leave a legacy that will be celebrated in the halls of heaven?

Passion 2016

Ravi speaks at Passion, an annual gathering of 18-25 year olds.

“The Jesus I know and love today I encountered at the age of seventeen. But His name and His tug in my life mean infinitely more now than they did when I first surrendered my life to Him. I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I have remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn.”—Ravi, from Jesus Among Other Gods

© 2020 Calvary Chapel Magazine. All rights reserved. Articles or photographs may not be reproduced without the written permission of CCM. All Scripture quotations, unless otherwise indicated, are taken from the New King James Version. Copyright © 1982 by Thomas Nelson, Inc.® Used by permission.