One of the greatest leaders of the modern church has passed into Christ’s presence.
Ravi Zacharias, well-known teacher and apologist, left behind an incredible legacy.
But many don’t know how his incredible journey started with one simple sentence.
Zacharias was born in Chennai, India, in 1946. Raised in Delhi, he grew up as the son of a powerful and influential businessman.
“[My father] had very little time for his kids,” Zacharias remembered, reflecting on the loneliness he suffered as he grew up.
Zacharias’ parents were “nominal Christians” who went to church each week but didn’t fully understand the Gospel. Consequently, Zacharias and his siblings didn’t embrace Christianity on a deeper level.
As he grew up, Zacharias found that he was more interested in playing cricket than studying, and he set his sights on a career in the sport. This didn’t please his father, however, who was angry as Ravi’s grades in school plummeted.
“My life was punctuated by failure,” Zacharias said. “This built a lot of hostility in my father’s mind towards me.”
“As a result, I took some pretty bad thrashings.”
Ravi’s strained relationship with his father caused him to drift through life aimlessly. He wasn’t seeking God—but little did he know that God was seeking him!
The spark of the Gospel first came to Zacharias’ life when his sister invited him to a Youth for Christ rally. Giving up cricket for the evening, the 17-year-old Zacharias went along out of curiosity.
“When I went for that first time…there wasn’t even any refreshment served after [the preaching],” he laughed. “I was quite disgusted with it.”
But Zacharias stayed at the meeting, and his life was forever changed.
A message on John 3:16 transformed Zacharias’ outlook on life and spirituality. When the speaker—evangelist Sam Wolgemuth—gave an altar call after his sermon, Zacharias was the only person to respond and walk up the aisle to receive Christ.
“As a lone walker…I had never felt more alone than at that time,” he recalled. “So I walked up…I knew something was happening, but I didn’t know what it was.”
After receiving Christ, Zacharias might have expected life to become easier—but it didn’t. A few months into his new life, he lost hope entirely, to the point that he was ready to attempt suicide.
He blended chemicals together and drank the whole mixture, hoping for a quick end. But as God would have it, the mixture was so salty that Zacharias’ body rejected it immediately.
The family’s servant found Zacharias retching in a bathroom and took him the hospital, saving his life.
“When you find out you don’t know how to live and you don’t even know how to die, it’s pretty much at the bottom of the pile,” Zacharias remembered.
One of the Youth for Christ ministers came to see Zacharias in the hospital, offering hope from John 14:19: “Because I live, you will live also.”
The verse meant something special to a teenager who had just tried to die.
And that’s when Zacharias uttered the one sentence that would start his incredible journey.
“Jesus, if You’re Who You claim to be, then get me out of here, and I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth,” Zacharias prayed.
And God answered that prayer!
Zacharias recovered and was released from the hospital, and true to his word, he started seeking God like never before.
“I walked out of the hospital…a totally different man.”
From then on, Zacharias’ life was characterized by a single-minded pursuit of Christ. He led Bible studies, discipled others, and worked with Youth for Christ to reach teens across India.
After winning a preaching contest at Youth for Christ, Zacharias knew that he was called to preach the Gospel and defend the faith on a world stage.
He completed theological training and graduate work, as well as studies at Cambridge University, and founded RZIM, an organization dedicated to reaching “those who shape culture with the credibility of the gospel of Jesus Christ.”
Zacharias also wrote more than 30 books on Christianity throughout his lifetime, touching on a variety of topics such as “the logic of God” and God’s storytelling nature.
Renowned as an emotional and persuasive speaker, he made a global impact for Christ while remaining humble.
Through his use of rational apologetics, he also convinced many skeptics of the truth of Scripture and the Gospel.
When he was diagnosed with cancer in early 2020, Zacharias didn’t slow down but kept preaching and teaching through his suffering.
His battle with the disease ended just two months after his diagnosis, and he passed into the presence of Christ on May 19, 2020. He is survived by his wife, Margie, and their three children, Sarah, Nathan, and Naomi.
Zacharias’ life serves as a shining example of God’s goodness and faithfulness—and His desire to work through even those who reject Him at first!
As we mourn the death of Ravi Zacharias, let’s take inspiration from his life, his work, and his deep love for Christ.
Zacharias’ testimony can best be summed up in his own words:
“I came to Him because I did not know which way to turn. I remained with Him because there is no other way I wish to turn. I came to Him longing for something I did not have. I remain with Him because I have something I will not trade.”
“I came to Him as a stranger. I remain with Him in the most intimate of friendships. I came to Him unsure about the future. I remain with Him certain about my destiny.”
If you’d like to know more of Zacharias’ story, read his autobiography, Walking from East to West: God in the Shadows, today.