Where’s Wally? Do you remember Wally – the world traveller who always dresses in red and white and hides in a crowd? It took artist Martin Handford up to eight weeks sometimes to draw just one two-page sketch of the elusive Wally with hundreds of characters surrounding him, making it really difficult to find Wally. The Where’s Wally? books became extremely popular and as the series goes on, Wally becomes harder and harder to find, reducing his size on the page and surrounding him with more characters until he’s almost invisible. For some people it’s so hard to find Wally, he’s so well hidden, they just give up and walk away.
I want to suggest that playing Where’s Wally? in Handford’s books is far less challenging than playing Where’s Jesus? in the Church today. This was not the case when I came to faith back in the 1970’s. You didn’t have to play Where’s Jesus? as we sang and believed words like, “On Christ the solid rock I stand, all other ground is sinking sand … I dare not trust the sweetest frame but wholly lean on Jesus’ name … nothing in my hand I bring, simply to the cross I cling … dressed in His righteousness alone, faultless I stand before His throne … Shine, Jesus, Shine! … It’s no longer I that liveth, but Christ that liveth in me … ” Old songs, new songs, it didn’t matter, Jesus was there!
In those wonderful early days of my journey in the Church there was never any doubt that everything in the Church hinged on, had its meaning in and was empowered by Jesus, Who is the way, the truth and the life, the only mediator between us and God and the Head of the Church! In the seventies we boldly proclaimed the centrality and supremacy of Christ in our midst. We rejoiced in the Biblical truths which undergirded our whole existence.
Fast forward fifty years and I can easily find Wally, but where’s Jesus? Playing Where’s Jesus? in the Church today is getting harder by the day. Evangelism and discipleship don’t seem to be the primary ministry of the Church anymore. Leading people to Christ, teaching them how to live as His disciples who then make disciples, was the primary purpose and dominant focus of the Church I was nurtured in. What is our dominant focus today? What is our primary purpose in 2023? I guess that depends who you ask?
Some parts of the Church are spending a lot of time and resources on social issues and political activism. But where’s Jesus? Is the Creator and Sustainer of the universe, the Lord of all creation, the Saviour of humanity, the Word made flesh, the Head of the Church even getting a mention, much less being portrayed as the primary reason for the Church existing in the first place?
Of course the name of Jesus is still mentioned in our Bible readings, many of our songs and lots of our prayers … but when our people turn up to Sunday Worship each week do they encounter the real Jesus, present and active in the midst of His people? Do they have a personal encounter with Christ crucified, risen and reigning among us? Do they really “walk with Him and talk with Him along life’s narrow way” or just talk and sing about Him?
Do they affirm in their own experience that Jesus lives and reigns and is part of their moment-by-moment lives? Is our Church even ‘Christian’ anymore in word and deed? Our ancestry is Christian, our founder is Christ, but how far is our current reality from His Kingdom?
We might be ‘in Church’ but are we ‘in Christ?’
There’s a huge difference. When we are just ‘in Church,’ we can remain pretty much the same as when we are in the world. We don’t have to go through any major transformation to just be ‘in Church.’ We can utter Jesus’ name and sing about Him and pray to Him and go through the motions and not be any different inside. We can even call ourselves a Christian when we are not a Christian – millions of people are doing just that every day all over the world.
However, there’s something we just can’t do. We can’t be ‘in Christ’ without being changed. We can’t be in Christ without being ‘born again.’ We can’t be in Christ without being transformed – the old must pass away as all things become new. Our former life is hidden in Christ as a new life begins – a life lived completely in Christ, through Christ and for Christ.
The Bible says the true disciples of Jesus will be clearly visible in this fallen, dysfunctional world. They will be salt in the wounds of humanity and light in the darkness of a world held captive by Satan. “By your fruit you shall be known,” Jesus said, and that fruit is a transformed life.
If you are a disciple of Christ, you are a miracle on two legs as you sing and live and breathe those incredible words, “Amazing grace, how sweet the sound that saved a wretch like me. I once was lost but now I am found, was blind but now I see!”
You can’t get a more radical, obvious, observable, tangible change than that – and it all happens in Christ, through Christ and for Christ. It’s all about Jesus. He is the centre of our reality, the still point in a turning, changing universe; the reason for life itself and the absolute centre of the Church which Jesus promised to build.
I fear that Jesus may no longer be the centre of the Church we are trying to build in His name and that’s why playing Where’s Jesus? in the Church today is becoming harder by the day. He is so hidden, that many people just give up looking and walking away. Where is the mystery of the Church which Paul speaks about in the New Testament: ‘Christ in us, the hope of glory.’
So, when we play “Where’s Jesus? in the Church today, where should we expect to find Him? He’s not hiding in some ancient text. He’s not trapped in an old hymn. The life, the power and the reality of the risen Lord is manifested or released in the hearts and lives of His worshipping, witnessing, transformed disciples. When you walk into a room full of regenerated, transformed, Christ-centred disciples, you will come face to face with Jesus in a way you cannot ignore and will never forget.
When Jesus was here in the flesh, He always drew a crowd. He is the most attractive, alluring, captivating, loveable person in the universe and that has not changed. When Jesus is present in a group of disciples today, people who encounter those disciples want to be part of whatever they are part of because the spirit of Christ is drawing them.
Evangelism – leading people into a relationship with God though Jesus Christ – is not hard if Christ is present – He does all the work! The only Churches in this nation which are growing and impacting the world for God are those Churches where you don’t have to play Where’s Jesus? You know as soon as you encounter a group of genuine disciples – Jesus is there. You can feel Him. You can see Him in their faces and in their lives. You can hear Him in every aspect of that Church’s ministry because the whole Church is about Jesus.
All manner of ministry and community service will then flow from the reality of Christ in their midst. If God wants His people to do something about the environment or the homeless or the oppressed and forgotten, there is only one way God will do that: by releasing the reality of Jesus in our midst – not by giving us a list of dead religious works to do!
Unless the transforming presence of Christ is flowing freely through the Church – we have nothing to offer anyone! Running better programs, finding better funding, giving more time, energy and expertise to meeting the needs of our world will not make any difference at all. Unless we bring Jesus to people, nothing will change and unless we come to Jesus, we don’t have a Church – we just have a community service organization with a cross on the wall and no power to change anyone’s life!
If you have seen many Where’s Wally books you will know that as the series goes on, Wally progressively becomes harder and harder to find, reducing his size on the page and surrounding him with more other characters until he’s almost invisible. For some people, it is so hard to find Wally, he’s so well hidden, they give up and walk away.
As time has passed for the Church, Jesus has progressively become harder and harder to find, as we have reduced His size and prominence in the Church and surrounded Him with so many other characters and distractions until He’s almost invisible. For some people, it is so hard to find Jesus, He’s so well hidden now, they just give up and walk away.
I can find Wally, but where’s Jesus? Wally was always meant to be hidden and hard to find. Jesus was never meant to be hidden and hard to find.
Brothers and sisters, Jesus called, and He wants His Church back! Jesus promised to build His Church, not some hybrid version of our own making which has some man-made ethos that has nothing to do with Christ crucified! Jesus promised to build a Church where nobody has to play Where’s Jesus? ever again – a Church where Christ is present, and Christ is Lord; a Church so strong that even hell itself will not prevail against it.
So come, Lord Jesus, come. Take charge once again and let the world see You as You really are. Come, Lord Jesus, build your Church. Come, Saviour of the world, come to us today, and every day! Amen.