Hello! I’m Aaron Kardell. In my Sunday newsletter, I pick one random topic to go deep on and have some disparate quick hits at the end.
“If you’re a Christian, then you believe that Jesus’ death was followed by resurrection – the crucifixion and the resurrection being the cornerstone of the Christian faith. But even if you’re not a believer, it is still valuable to study and learn from the life of Jesus.”
That was a quote from the most recent episode (#332) of one of my favorite podcasts – Founders, by David Senra. David releases episodes weekly, where he typically reads a single book about a famous founder or other impactful individual in business and then breaks down the learnings from his reading in shorter form on a podcast. In this episode, however, he breaks down the life of Jesus, based on his reading of Jesus: A Biography from a Believer by Paul Johnson.
Whether you believe Jesus is the Son of God or something else entirely, he is arguably the most impactful individual in human history, so it’s helpful to learn more about who he was.
Here are some of the key lessons about Jesus from the episode.
Jesus simplified all prior religious teaching, into just two commandments: 1) Love the Lord your God with all your heart, soul, mind, and strength; and, 2) Love your neighbor as yourself. He also used various parables, like the one of the Good Samaritan, to communicate that everyone is in fact your neighbor. “Your neighbors” isn’t meant to be an exclusive group.
Some of Jesus’ key maxims:
Love your enemies.
If someone slaps you on one cheek, turn to them the other also.
Judge not and you will not be judged.
Forgive and you will be forgiven.
A summary of Jesus’s teaching in two words: Be kind.
“He disliked any kind of legalism or ponderous logic.”1
Paul Johnsons’s book has a chapter on “Jesus 10 New Commandments”2:
Each of us must develop a true personality. Each of us is unique. Develop your character.
Abide by universality. See the human race as a whole.
Give equal consideration to all.
Use love in all your human relationships, at all times, and in every situation.
Show mercy. “Jesus says that if you get the glorious chance to show mercy, do so without forethought or afterthought, without reason or logic, not expecting thanks or even repentance, not to accomplish something in the way of social or personal reform. Simply for its own sake.”
Balance. Keep your head even when others are losing theirs.
Cultivate an open mind. “Jesus’ life and death where he struggled against those whose minds were closed. He disliked bigotry in any form and spoke out against in constantly.”3
Judiciously use your power.
Show courage. “Jesus showed high courage with endurance of pain and persecution, a sustained heroism in the face of inequity and a dogged persistence in proclaiming the truth at all costs.”
In summary, even if you never intend to follow Jesus spiritually or religiously, the study of his life and his teachings can be of great benefit. I recommend David Senra’s podcast or Paul Johnson’s book as a potential entry point. Though Paul doesn’t hide the fact that he’s a believer, he approaches his book on the historical Jesus as a historian.
And if you’re curious, a few other Paul Johnson books were covered in other episodes of Founders:
This Week’s Quick Hits
Framing on our new house is moving quickly. They just started on the second floor!
I think my favorite non-traditional Christmas song is Dave Matthews, “Christmas Song.” And on the more traditional side, my absolute favorite is Johnnyswim’s live rendition of “Hallelujah + O Come, O Come, Emmanuel.” That’s from a concert they did from their living room mid-COVID.
I hope you get a chance to check out, sign off, and enjoy your time with your friends and family this holiday season.
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Unfortunately, too many Christians today are known for legalism and for judging others. This is the antithesis of Jesus teachings and life.
Note: These “New 10 Commandments” are Paul Johnson’s framing entirely and not a documented part of Christendom. It’s actually kind of funny to say Jesus has 10 commandments, when he summarized everything in only 2 commandments of consequence (see above). Nevertheless, they provide a unique framing I hadn’t seen before.
How unfortunate is it that so much of Christianity is perceived (often, with good reason) to be synonymous with bigotry, and how opposed to bigotry Jesus was in his own life?