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Written by Nathanael Vissia

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Reasons For A “Top 5” List

As an educator of any subject, one of the greater limitations we face is the lack of time we have before a student moves on. Due to this limitation, we have to prioritize the most important aspects of our subject as a way to ensure that our students do not leave our presence without learning the most essential components of the subject.  

As Christian educators, we face the same limitation when teaching Biblical literacy to the children in our faith community. Given the time of 40 to 60 minutes once a week (and that's in an ideal world), how exactly are we going to spend those precious few moments before they've matured to the point of making their own decisions? What must we instill and teach our children to best help them in their decision to choose to be a disciple of Jesus?  

One way to answer this question is by determining which Bible stories include the most essential and important components of what it means to be a follower/disciple of Jesus.  

To break this task in to easier, smaller tasks, I recommend making lists of stories with titles like:

The Top 5 Parables of Jesus

The Top 5 Stories about Moses

The Top 5 Psalms

The Top 5 Stories from Acts

The reason for choosing 5 stories instead of 10 or 20 is because the scarcity of space creates a stronger sense of urgency when presenting arguments for each story.  More urgent arguments, then, strengthen and hone the thinking of why we choose to teach the Bible stories that we actually teach.      

Selection Method

The following five stories were chosen from stories that are simply ABOUT Jesus and do not include stories where he is teaching. The purpose of the exercise was to force myself to think about what I consider to be the most important characteristics children should know about Jesus -- I then selected the 5 stories I thought best represented my answer.  

The stories that did not make the Top 5 are not meant to be understood as inferior or less important, since all the stories about Jesus add to our perspective about, and understanding of, Jesus.  However, I certainly do hope to invite some internal reflection both by the stories I did and did not include.  

The first scripture passage listed for each story is my preferred passage to use when teaching the story.  

The Top 5 Stories About Jesus

Jesus' Baptism

Mattew 3:11-17; Lk 3:21-38; Mk 1:1-13

Jesus' ministry begins with baptism, a symbolic gesture of forgiveness of sins and a new beginning. There are a number of theories for why Jesus would choose to be baptized, which is why reading and discussing stories about Jesus are so important -- they create the opportunity and context to discuss who Jesus is and why he does what he does. While Jesus is being baptized with water, he then experiences the baptism of the Holy Spirit. Since this action marks the beginning of Jesus' ministry, it bears repeating for us - as we, too, seek to do God’s work - that if Jesus needed the Holy Spirit to do God's work, then so do we!  

The Transfiguration

Mark 9:2-8; Lk 9:28–36; Mt 17:1–9

This story is layered with multiple perspectives about Jesus' prayer life:  Insights he received from prayer; interruptions to prayer Jesus contended with; the space and prep Jesus made for prayer; results Jesus experienced from prayer (like visions); how Jesus taught others to pray (by experiencing it).  We also get to see how the disciples, even the ones who are closest to Jesus, do not yet understand the full potential of prayer at this point in their discipleship -- since they fall asleep and then Peter interrupts the results of Jesus’ praying.  

If the Transfiguration is taught with the healing story that follows directly after Jesus' descent from the mountaintop (which makes it a longer, but even better, story), a number of perspectives about healing are also then included:  How the healing of a parent is directly linked to the healing of the child; how the other disciples can't heal the child (mostly due to their approach); how Jesus teaches the disciples how to heal ("these kind only come out through prayer").  And then there’s the incredible line from the father, “I believe, help my unbelief!”  What does the father mean, and what is the significance that such a line would lead to the healing of his son?

The Gerasene Demoniac

Mark 5:1-20; Lk 8:26-39; Mt 8:28-34

Rich with imagery and symbols (chaos, legion and unclean spirits), this story shows the courage of Jesus and one of the ways in which he lived out the Good Samaritan parable during his own life and work.  In Mark, this story is sandwiched between Jesus raising a child from the dead and Jesus calming a storm - a trifecta Jesus stories that "show off" what fully trusting in God and living God's way can achieve.  There's also a glimpse of Jesus not getting it right the first time (the unclean spirit isn’t cast out after Jesus’ first attempt), and then we see how he sticks with it.  The story also offers opportunity to discuss the power of language, Jesus' willingness to spend a costly amount of other people’s possessions to heal the Gerasene man (a commentary about healthcare that is rarely, if ever, mentioned by Christians on either side of the national healthcare debate), and reasons for why people – like the villagers in this story – ask Jesus to leave their presence.  

Garden of Gethsemane

Matthew 26:36-56; Mk 14:32-50; Lk 22:40-53; Jn 18:1-11

Yes, Jesus died for us, but more importantly, Jesus lived for us. This story highlights both the cost of Jesus' choice and the immense pressure Jesus felt in this moment of decision-making. Ultimately, he followed through.  But it was no easy choice. The crucifixion is the nuts and bolts story of Jesus' death, but his prayer in the Garden of Gethsemane is the reason why he allowed his arrest, trial and crucifixion to happen in the way that it did (no fighting and no fleeing). It is a disciplined lifetime of prayer and trusting God that leads Jesus to utter and then ENACT the phrase, "Not my will, but your will be done."

Also, we again see how the disciples have not yet mastered the discipline of prayer, and in so doing, fail Jesus on a number of levels -- be it their lack of support before the arrest, attacking the people who came to arrest Jesus, fleeing during the arrest of Jesus or Peter's denial of Jesus in the courtyard.  


Acts 1:4-8, 12-14; 2:1-13, 41

This story does not directly involve Jesus, unless you include his instructions to his disciples (Which is how I teach the story and I encourage you to do the same).  Despite Jesus' limited physical presence, this story embodies the truth of who Jesus is and marks the culmination of his life's work.

Pentecost may not be the literal resurrection of Jesus, but it is the tangible one. Pentecost is how Jesus lives on. Without Pentecost, we would not be talking about Jesus today and Christianity would definitely not be a world religion today, and maybe not a religion at all.  

In the story, we see how the disciples have FINALLY come to understand prayer in the manner that Jesus was teaching them; we see how they are obedient to Jesus' command to gather together in his name.  We see the effects of their matured prayer life. The disciples do not act until God’s spirit leads them. And does God’s spirit ever lead them by helping them birth the Church, right then and there! This story also reinforces the baptism of Jesus story, where we see how the disciples' ministry does not begin in earnest until they have experienced the same beginning as their teacher did: The baptism of the Holy Spirit.

There they are: My Top 5 stories about Jesus.  Do you agree or disagree?  What are your top 5 stories about Jesus and why?

Top 5 Stories About Jesus

A fun, analytical exercise to help improve Biblical literacy