Ravi Zacharias Challenges 40,000 Students at Passion 2016: Does the Truth Matter to You?
RZIM Founder and President Ravi Zacharias spoke to over 40,000 students and young adults from across the globe at the Passion 2016 Conference on Sunday, January 3. Speaking from Philips Arena in Atlanta, Georgia, Zacharias focused on the topic of truth as he addressed attendees gathered across three arenas in Atlanta and Houston as well as thousands more watching the live stream.
Zacharias was introduced by Louie Giglio, Founder of Passion Conferences and Pastor of Passion City Church.
“We have an unbelievable privilege; you are about to hear from God through one of the most amazing vessels on earth,” said Giglio. “Ravi speaks all over the world; literally on any given day that you are going to class, he could be in the Middle East, Oxford, Harvard. He speaks to the smartest people in the world, he debates the brightest people on earth, and he stands in line for hours and hours after an event to answer any and every question. His story is extraordinary and his message is unparalleled on earth at the moment.”
Attendees at Passion 2016 represented 51 countries, all 50 states in the U.S., and over 1,680 colleges and universities. In addition, people from over 145 countries watched online Sunday.
“I do have the privilege of speaking in many parts of the globe, but I don’t know if I’ve ever done anything like this,” said Zacharias as he opened his message. “Truly, what an incredible opportunity just to be part of this.”
Zacharias shared that he had received numerous email messages from people all over the globe that morning saying they were praying for the conference.
Zacharias told the crowd that although we are living in some pretty dark and dismal times, he is hopeful as he thinks about the future. “I’ve covered over 70 countries and scores of campuses and I have never sensed a time as uncertain as the times in which we live,” he said, echoing sentiments expressed by other speakers during the conference. “The only reason I have hope -- apart from the fact that we serve a sovereign and an awesome God -- is because of young people like you whose lives He will transform and make you a light in this very dark world.”
Tracing his own trajectory, Zacharias described the many questions and ideas he wrestled with as a teenager growing up in India.
“My journey to Christ began with a lot of questions,” said Zacharias, recounting his attempt at suicide as a disillusioned 17-year-old student living in New Delhi. “I said ‘Jesus, if you are who you claim to be, take me out of this hospital bed and I will leave no stone unturned in my pursuit of truth.’”
“Young people, truth is the most valuable thing in the world,” he said. “My one challenge to you today is this: Does the truth matter to you? It doesn’t seem to matter in the political arena, it doesn’t seem to matter in the cultural arena, it doesn’t seem to matter in so many other pursuits.”
Zacharias explained that truth is generally measured in three ways: logical consistency, empirical adequacy, and experiential relevance. “Is what you are seeing logically consistent? Is it empirically verifiable? Is it experientially relevant?” he asked.
“To you this afternoon I want to present a message on why do I believe Jesus Christ to be the way and the truth and the life,” he emphasized. “I’m taking some existentially relevant ideas that I hope will form the impetus within your life to carry this message everywhere you go.”
Zacharias focused on five major points that he contends demonstrate the uniqueness and sufficiency of Christ: Jesus describes the condition of the human heart; Jesus provides for our malady; Jesus equips us in suffering; Jesus gives meaning to all of time – past, present, and future; Jesus conquers death through the resurrection.
Describing examples of evil from history and recounting his visit to Auschwitz in the 1980s, Zacharias told the audience that no one describes the human heart more accurately than Jesus Christ. “The problem of evil is not so much that it’s pervasive and so strong out there, but the fact that it is deep inside your heart and mine,” he explained. “On the day that you see your heart as desperately wicked and in need of a Savior, you can become an answer rather than just another question.”
Zacharias pointed out that in every other religious worldview individuals must pay for their own sins in order to obtain forgiveness, and he demonstrated why Christianity is so distinct. “The person of Jesus Christ shows us the evil in your heart and mine; He was just and the justifier; He loved us so greatly to give Himself for us; He said 'Father, forgive them, for they do not know what they are doing,'” he explained. “This is the only answer in the world that offers you a Savior. God’s forgiveness is His provision for you and for me.”
Acknowledging the reality of pain and the fact that “life is punctuated by suffering,” Zacharias contended that there are no answers for suffering in other worldviews. “Jesus equips us in suffering. He took our wounds and transgressions upon Himself,” he said.
Zacharias also encouraged students to live with an eternal perspective even when things around us don’t seem to make sense, saying that Jesus gives meaning to all of time. “Time is the canvas on which you present your portrait. Eternity is the keyhole that takes you into the gallery that gives you the whole story,” he said. “All of history is fused with meaning because history is ultimately His story.”
Because Jesus conquered death, He is the ultimate victor and He offers us life beyond the grave, concluded Zacharias. “The resurrection is not merely a motif; it defines all of history,” he said. “They can dance all they want on the grave of Jesus. He’s not there.”
Zacharias urged the students to consider what he shared and commit to following Jesus. "Surrender to Him; love Him; follow Him; serve Him; live for Him, and take his message wherever you go."
"Will you make an altar where you are?" Zacharias asked the gathering as he led them in a closing prayer. "If you are running far away from Jesus, return to Him. If you don't know Him, give your life to Him. I promise you this, it'll be the greatest commitment you've ever made -- for your own heart, for society, and for the future of this world."
Prior to the message, hip hop artists from the 116 Clique performed a medley of songs, including “One Sixteen” which has become an anthem of a generation seeking to live unashamed of the gospel. Reach Records artists Lecrae, KB, Trip Lee, and Tedashii, who seek to present a biblical worldview through music primarily in the urban context, took to the Passion stages and simultaneously performed together across three arenas.
“I know what I’m going to do immediately after my message and that is to go to the vitamin shop that Trip Lee and Lecrae buy their vitamin supplements from,” joked Zacharias. “Romans 1:16 has always been my favorite and my life verse. Even if it weren’t before, it will be now. What an inspiration. All the music here, fabulous. It’s amazing to be part of a group like this.”
For many students Passion 2016 was their first time to hear Zacharias, while others had been acquainted with the ministry of RZIM for a long time. "As we have led up to Passion, a lot of people have just gone crazy when they realized that God had sent this particular person to Passion this year,” shared Giglio. “Others were unfamiliar as he's not one of the names they are used to seeing.”
“I appreciate that Ravi didn’t water anything down,” commented Hannah Webster, a Junior at Florida State University studying Exercise Science, who said she was impacted by Zacharias’s insights on eternity and the brokenness of humanity. “He spoke the truth with authority and talked to college kids like we are adults.”
"I'm especially grateful for Ravi's explanation of how Jesus gives meaning to all of time," Webster continued. "Without Jesus, my past is broken, my present is anxious, and my future seems daunting. But with Jesus, my past can be redeemed, my present has purpose, and my future has peace. God bridged time when He sent Jesus."
"Thank you for coming," wrote Jordan Well on Instagram. "I was at the Philips Arena. Everyone was on the edge of their seat absorbing all God was teaching them through you."
Other speakers at Passion 2016 included John Piper, Levi Lusko, and Christine Caine.
The Passion movement was birthed in 1997 with the goal of seeing the more than 20 million college students across the globe awaken to the reality of an omnipotent and glorious Creator. Passion’s core Bible verse, Isaiah 26:8 states, “Yes, LORD, walking in the way of your truth, we wait for you; your name and renown are the desire of our souls.”