Pastor’s Blog: The Projected Jesus

Pastor’s Blog: The Projected Jesus

The First Commandment

You shall have no other gods.

What does this mean?

We should fear, love, and trust in God above all things.

Matthew 10:37 (ESV)

Whoever loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and whoever loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me.

The projected Jesus is rather beguiling, because that Jesus is a projection of what “I” want Jesus to be. In other words, the projected Jesus is not the real Jesus but rather how “I” imagine him to be. One hears that often when people on television talk about Jesus in the past tense or about the “nice” Jesus. Speaking of Jesus as a historical figure from the past or about Jesus in a way that is not grounded in the Jesus of the New Testament is a projected Jesus.

The projected Jesus is a very malleable Jesus, who is likely to endorse everything from the health-wealth gospel to the liberation gospel to whatever gospel scratches the latest cultural itch. The projected Jesus can be any ethnicity, any pigmentation, any political party, any economic theory, and any extreme makeover theory to improve lives in three key steps this week. The projected Jesus in the hands of a preacher, a politician, or a performer can stir the emotions, empty wallets, and move people from the point A to the point B of the powerful Jesus projector.

The problem with the projected Jesus is that he isn’t the real Jesus, and, by that, we aren’t talking about some kind of historical Jesus behind the New Testament, because that “historical” Jesus is just a slightly more sophisticated projected Jesus by scholars who don’t believe the Scriptures. The real Jesus is the One, whom the Scriptures declare is God’s Son, born of the Virgin Mary, truly God and truly human, crucified, dead, buried, raised, ascended, and certain to return to judge the living and the dead. The real Jesus will judge everyone, so it matters which Jesus one loves and follows. Loving and following the projected Jesus won’t cut it. Both testaments agree.

We pastors are a rather unimpressive lot. In the words of Daniel Niles from Sri Lanka, we are just beggars telling other beggars where to get the Bread of Life. Poor miserable sinners that we are, we preachers make easy targets because, if we love and follow Jesus, we cannot not warn folks about the projected Jesus that fills big amphitheaters and makes people feel good. The real Jesus does not make people feel good. He points to His Father’s good and gracious will and is obedient unto death for the sins of the world. The real Jesus is not nice. He is the Friend of sinners and the bane both of idolaters and of God, Incorporated. The real Jesus accepts no competitors, especially from whatever false god the projected Jesus always turns out to be.

The real Jesus is the only One who can save us from sin, death, and the devil. All those projected “Jesus-es” offer some other kind of this worldly salvation. The followers of those “Jesus-es” are known by their rejection of the only One who can save – the Crucified Jesus, whose blood can wash the foulest clean. Instead of the real Jesus they offer another savior by ballot box, or education program, or check in the mail.

The projected “Jesus-es” make fearsome demands and offer exorbitant rewards in exchange for love and fidelity. Let the buyer beware. Only the real Jesus can save, and He does it by suffering and dying for the sins of the whole world. Loving and following Him begins when you are baptized into His death and resurrection. Loving and following Him is a way of life in which you lose everything and everyone for His sake until you finally are totally His forever. Whoever would save his or her life will lose it.

Who do you fear, love, and trust more than the real Jesus, His Father, and the Holy Spirit? Who or what does your projected Jesus look like? You can’t serve two masters. The real Jesus is calling you now. Repent. Turn around. That’s a hard word for those preaching a projected Jesus.

St Matthew's Pastor Sam Zumwalt


The Rev. Dr. Samuel Zumwalt has worked in churches for 44 years and in May 2020 celebrated the 39th anniversary of his ordination to the holy ministry. He is a member of the Society of the Holy Trinity ( In 2004, Pr. Zumwalt moved with his family to Wilmington from Texas, where he served for 23 years as pastor of small, midsize, and large congregations.