The Parable of the Push-ups

A high school student named Steve was having difficulty in school and had been kicked out of several classes. A kind seminary teacher finally allowed him into his sixth-period class. One day, the teacher planned a special lesson. He asked Steve to stay after class so he could talk with him. The teacher asked, “How many push-ups can you do?”
Steve replied, “I do about two hundred every night.”
“Two hundred?” the teacher said. “That’s pretty good. Do you think you could do three hundred?”
Steve answered, “I don’t know—I’ve never done three hundred at a time.”
The teacher said, “Can you do three hundred in sets of ten?”
“Well, I think I can,” Steve answered. “Yeah, I can do it.”
“Good! I need you to do this on Friday.”
Well, Friday came, and Steve went to class early and sat in front. When class started, the teacher pulled out a big box of donuts. Now these weren’t the normal kinds of donuts. They were the big, extra-fancy kind, with cream centers and frosting swirls. Everyone was excited. It was Friday, the last class of the day, and they were going to get an early start on the weekend.
The teacher went to the first girl in the first row and asked, “Cynthia, do you want a donut?” Cynthia said yes.
He then turned to Steve and asked, “Would you do ten push-ups so that Cynthia can have a donut?”
Steve said, “Sure,” and jumped down from his desk to do a quick ten. Then Steve sat again at his desk. The teacher put a donut on Cynthia’s desk, then went to the next student and asked, “Joe, do you want a donut?” Joe said yes.
The teacher asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Joe can have a donut?”
And so it went, down the first aisle, and down the second aisle, until they came to Scott, the captain of the football team and center of the basketball team. When the teacher asked, “Scott, do you want a donut?” his reply was, “Well, can I do my own push-ups?”
The teacher said, “No, Steve has to do them.”
Scott replied, “Well, I don’t want one then.”
The teacher then turned to Steve and asked, “Would you do ten push-ups so Scott can have a donut he doesn’t want?”
Steve started to do ten push-ups. Scott said, “Hey! I said I didn’t want one!”
The teacher said, “Just leave it on the desk if you don’t want it,” and he put a donut on Scott’s desk.
Now, by this time, Steve had begun to slow down a little. He just stayed on the floor between sets because it took too much effort to be getting up and down. You could see beads of perspiration on his brow. The teacher started down the third row. Now the students were beginning to get a little angry.
The teacher asked Jenny, “Do you want a donut?” Jenny said no.
Then the teacher asked, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Jenny can have a donut that she doesn’t want?” Steve did ten, and Jenny got a donut.
By now the students were beginning to say no regularly, and there were many uneaten donuts on the desks. Steve was also really putting forth a lot of effort to get these push-ups done for each donut. Sweat was dripping onto the floor beneath his face. His arms and face were red from the effort.
The teacher said he couldn’t bear to watch all of Steve’s work for those uneaten donuts, so he asked Robert to make sure Steve did the push-ups. The teacher started down the fourth row.
During his class, some students had wandered in and sat along the heaters on the sides of the room. When the teacher realized this, he did a quick count and saw thirty-four students in the room. He started to worry if Steve would be able to make it.
The teacher went on to the next person and the next and the next. Near the end of that row, Steve was really having a rough time. He was taking a lot more time to complete each set.
A student named Jason came to the door and was about to come in when all the students yelled, “No! Don’t come in! Stay out!”
Jason didn’t know what was going on. Steve looked up and said, “No, let him come in.”
The teacher said, “You realize that if Jason comes in you will have to do ten push-ups for him.”
Steve said, “Yes, let him come in.”
The teacher said, “Okay, I’ll let you get Jason’s out of the way right now. Jason, do you want a donut?”
“Steve, will you do ten push-ups so that Jason can have a donut?” Steve did ten push-ups very slowly and with great effort. Jason, bewildered, was handed a donut and sat down.
The teacher finished the fourth row, then started among those seated on the heaters. Steve’s arms were now shaking with each push-up in a struggle to lift himself against the force of gravity. Sweat was dropping off of his face, and by this time there was not a dry eye in the room.
The last two girls in the room were cheerleaders. The teacher went to Linda, the second to last, and asked, “Linda, do you want a donut?
Linda said, very sadly, “No, thank you.”
The teacher said, “Steve, would you do ten push-ups so that Linda can have a donut she doesn’t want?”
Grunting from the effort, Steve did ten very slow push-ups for Linda.
Then the teacher turned to the last girl. “Susan, do you want a donut?” Susan, with tears flowing down her face, asked, “Can I help him?”
The teacher, with tears of his own, said, “No, he has to do it alone. Steve, would you do ten push-ups so Susan can have a donut?”
As Steve very slowly finished his last push-up, with the understanding that he had accomplished all that was required of him, having done 350 push-ups, his arms buckled beneath him and he fell to the floor.
The teacher turned to his class and said, “And so it was that our Savior, Jesus Christ, prayed, ‘Father, into thy hands I commend my spirit.’ With the understanding that Jesus had done everything that was required of Him, He collapsed on the cross and died—even for those that didn’t want His gift. And just like some of us, many choose not to accept the gift that was provided for them.”

P.S. This parable is expanded from actual events and has been replicated so many hundreds of times that it is hard to trace it back to the original. It has been traced back to at least 1991. A few years ago, writer and director Robert Hatch asked me to edit an original screenplay, inspired by these events, for a video titled Infinite Gift: What Does It Mean to You? I suggested that the young man doing the push-ups be named Joshua (coming from the Hebrew Yeshua, which translators eventually rendered as Jesus). The video is an extended discussion of the Savior's Atonement with a beautiful score by Merrill Jenson. To read about the video, click here


  1. Love this story. My son's YM teacher read this on Sunday. My son told me about it with tears in his eyes and a new understanding of the Atonement. Thank you for putting this here. I cried too.

    1. You're welcome. Any time that we spend sharing the good news of the gospel is time well spent. Feel free to forward the link to others who might benefit.

  2. Beautiful. And even more than push-ups, Jesus died for our sins.

    But God demonstrates His own love toward us, in that while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. But God commendeth his love toward us, in that, while we were yet sinners, Christ died for us. Romans 5:8

  3. Love this!! We actually had this same lesson when I was in seminary. It completely changed my perspective and understanding of the Atonement. Although, we can in no way comprehend the Atonement and the sacrifice our Father in Heaven and Savior made for us, it sure helped a tiny tiny bit.

  4. Glad that you loved this. Thanks for your insight and kind comment.

  5. I love it! Is this a true story or a fictional parable? Just curious. Thanks.

    1. Thanks for your question. I found that an earlier version of this referenced a Dr. Christianson of a western state, and it occurred to me just this week that this might be Jack R. Christianson. When I reached out to him, he confirmed that he did teach such a lesson and that a boy named Steve did the push-ups. He did not recall the drama of people asking others not to enter the class nor so many donuts, but they did indeed have donuts that day. So some creative license has transformed the story into what it is today.

  6. I am a Young Life leader in Arizona, and this next week will be the 3rd time I’ve used this example as one of my club talks. It always hits the kids so hard, and even makes a few angry. But it makes them understand how much Jesus loves them.

  7. You are awesome! Thanks for sharing this parable about how much Jesus loves us!

  8. I remember hearing this in seminary and I graduated in 1986! Always a favorite.


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