18 Prominent Biblical Passages – and Why
Recently I was asked to provide a list of my top ten verses in the Bible. The request specified that each of the ten selections be restricted to just one, or at most, several verses and no more. I tried, but I could never boil my list down to just ten brief passages, so I decided to respond by expanding on the original request.
I set out to make a list of top ten passages. At first I thought that I could come up with my top ten passages in the Bible if I allowed for “passages” to be more than simply a verse or two but a chapter or even an entire book of the Bible. But then, after working on that plan, I was still stymied. I couldn’t boil my list down to just ten passages.
So before I begin, please know that I am not suggesting the list I am going to share with you is better than one you may devise or better than anyone else’s. It’s just my list. So here are 18 Prominent Biblical Passages—and Why. I’ll also refer to this list as the Elite 18.
1) Creation—Genesis 1-2: My Elite 18 includes bookend passages, one at the very beginning of the Bible and another at the end. Genesis 1-2 is important because the Bible begins with what some call the first cause, the question of origins. Where did we come from? What’s the origin of all life?
2) The Lord is My Shepherd—Psalm 23: Like many of the passages I have chosen, this one is self-evident. An entire series of sermons could be dedicated to this chapter. Entire books could be written, and of course many have been, about this fascinating picture of our relationship to God, who is the Lord our Shepherd.
3) The Gospel According to Isaiah—Isaiah 40: This 40th chapter in Isaiah is part of a remarkable new covenant emphasis. It includes so much grace, within an Old Testament setting, that some call it (and related passages in Isaiah) “the gospel according to Isaiah.” Here is a Christ-centered message about the comfort God gives as we find ourselves in dark places in our lives.
4) The Suffering Servant—Isaiah 53: This chapter might also be considered as a part of “The gospel according to Isaiah.” The words of Isaiah 53, often called a suffering servant passage, were used in the lyrics of Handel’s Messiah. Isaiah 53 reveals the love of God, in Christ, for us in staggering, incredible detail.
5) The Sermon on the Mount—Matthew 5-7: These three chapters are filled with radical and revolutionary teachings of Jesus. Chapter 5 repeats the words of Jesus over and over again, it has been said (or it was said)…but I say unto you. In what may seem (unless you fully believe Jesus to be God the Son) bold and audacious statements, Jesus explains that his teaching is not “religious” in the way that the world at large defines “religious.”
6) The Good Samaritan—Luke 10:25-27: This is the first of two parables on my list and I had a tough time only including two parables! The Good Samaritan is such a powerful, Christ-centered teaching, such an amazing insight into the lengths that Jesus went, and continues to go, in order to demonstrate his love to us and minister to our needs.
7) The Prodigal Son—Luke 15: This is, in my opinion, the most incredible parable of all of Jesus’ parables. Here is the gospel in a nutshell—here is the truth about each of us—as we, in some way or another, find ourselves playing the role of one of the brothers. The one brother is incredibly wasteful or extravagant—the meaning of the old English word “prodigal”—and spends his inheritance. The other brother stands in judgment, having worked hard to fulfill all of the rules he thinks he ought to obey and all the deeds he should perform. There, with both of them, is their prodigal Father (our prodigal Father) whose supply of extravagant grace will always meet our every need, so that we will never find ourselves disowned or disinherited. The parable also might be titled “The Prodigal God.”
8) The Crucifixion and the Resurrection—Luke 22-24: The center and foundation of our faith hinges on the twin pillars of the death of Christ on his cross, and his victorious resurrection.
9) The Word Became Flesh—John 1: The first chapter of the Gospel of John is in many ways, the New Testament and new covenant parallel of the Old Testament/old covenant story of creation. Here we read of the Word of God, who was in the beginning with God, who was and is God, who came to be one of us, full of grace and mercy.
10) Spiritual Transformation—John 3: This chapter includes the conversation Jesus had with Nicodemus, explaining to him that the kingdom of God is a gift given to those who are spiritually reborn so that the very heart of God is given to them, and Christ lives within them. And of course, the great one verse summary of the gospel (John 3:16) is part of this chapter.
11) Last Discourse of Jesus—John 13-17: These five chapters are filled with some of the most intimate and revealing glimpses into the love of God which forms the foundation of the relationship he offers us by his grace. These are the last words that Jesus gave to his disciples before he was crucified.
12) The Book of Romans: The book of Romans is a step-by-step, brick-by-brick, logical explanation of the gospel of the kingdom of God. Here is a brilliant explanation of how God’s grace makes all religion obsolete.
13) Love—1 Corinthians 13: This chapter, often part of many marriage ceremonies, speaks of the attributes of God’s love. As we pause to consider these definitions, we can be swept into the divine nature of God, for no human love is like this love.
14) The Book of Galatians: Galatians is the Magna Carta of Christian liberty and freedom. Galatians utterly destroys the false pretexts of religious legalism, leaving it in the dung heap of human accomplishment and performance. Because of my own religious journey, Galatians is my favorite book in the entire Bible!
15) God’s Amazing Grace–Ephesians 2:1-10: For me, this passage is the one single, most concise statement of God’s amazing grace. I never tire of reading verses 8-10!
16) The Fullness of Christ—Colossians 1:9-23: Along with the first chapter of the Gospel of John, this passage in Colossians explains the fullness of Jesus Christ— who he was, who he is and who he always will be, and the centrality of all that he is in our lives.
17) The Book of Hebrews: Hebrews carefully, step by step, compares and contrasts Jesus with the old covenant—and for that matter, performance-based religion at large. Hebrews, over and over again, consistently comes to the same conclusion: Jesus is supreme—he is superior to any and all religion.
18) The New Heavens and New Earth—Revelation 21 and 22: Earlier, I described Genesis 1-2 as one bookend of the Bible, and of my Elite 18. Here is the other bookend. The first two chapters of Genesis start in the Garden of Eden and the last two chapters of Revelation conclude the biblical revelation of God with another garden—the paradise of the new heavens and the new earth, the New Jerusalem which comes down from heaven. Here we see that the final conclusion in our religious journey is not so much that we go to heaven, but that God comes down from heaven to this earth. In the First Coming Jesus came, descending out of heaven to become one of us, becoming flesh like we are. In the Second Coming, God, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, come down from heaven to dwell with us eternally.
Of course, my list is open to critical examination, including questions that ask why I left out certain passages. Why, for example, did I omit The Ten Commandments in Exodus 20? That’s another sermon of course, but it’s a valid question. Some might say that my four Old Testament passages demonstrate my new covenant bias. Such an observation is dead-on!
Once again, I realize that my Elite 18 is nothing more than my list, and that your list, if and when you make one, may be a far better summary of the gospel of Jesus Christ. So take some time to come up with your own list of prominent biblical passages. Whether you wind up with 10, 15 or 20 or more, the discipline of constructing a list is a great way to focus on the gospel of Jesus Christ!