Stop Looking For Waldo

Yesterday was a rare pleasure indeed. For two pleasant hours, Dr Sinclair Ferguson preached to me.¹

The messages by Dr Ferguson on Romans 5 and 6, were nothing short of a theological thrill.  A stimulus for the mind and a feast for the soul, I left both full of ‘matter’ and worship.

Yet as the dust settles today, one line from Dr Ferguson seems to be lodged in my mind. I am sad to say it is not some weighty truth about the nature of justification by faith or our union with Christ!   Instead what I cannot shake is a  brief  parenthesis Dr Ferguson made. One of those “throw away” comments that is anything but throw away.

Dr Ferguson referred to the danger of the “Where’s Waldo” Hermeneutic.  And he warned of its alarming frequency in modern preaching.

Before going any further, I really should check that you know who Waldo is. Waldo is that little fella in the red striped jumper, with eyes bulging behind those thick, round glasses. In the series of “Where’s Waldo” books, he appears in scenes of massive crowds.

The aim of the game is to find Waldo somewhere among the masses. It can be struggle to locate him. It can take many minutes. But you know that somewhere in the throngs of people, Waldo must be in their somewhere!

Back to Dr Ferguson. His point was that many preachers use a Where’s Waldo hermeneutic. They are studying a Gospel, say, and they’re reading a passage about Jesus, the disciples and the crowds. Their immediate instinct is not to focus on Jesus. Their immediate instinct is bridge the gap to the  congregation by finding ​them ​in the text. The congregation is Waldo, and they must be in the passage somewhere!


  • maybe our congregation is the disciples, 
  • or maybe our congregation is the crowd,
  • perhaps they are the rich young man, or doubting Thomas, or blundering Peter
  • surely they are not Judas,
  • but we’d better warn them in case they’re the Pharisees
  • But one things for certain, our congregation must be in the text.

The truth is, our congregation isn’t. Our congregation is nowhere in the Gospels, or anywhere else in the bible. They live 2000 years later. They are not in the 9th chapter of Luke!

This is not to say that we cannot at times carefully observe parallels between biblical characters and ourselves today. Or that we cannot correlate the words and actions of biblical characters to teaching material later in the New Testament. But we must change our assumption that our preaching goal is to find the congregation in the text.

Take the Gospels, for example. This is where we miss the most obvious point. The Gospels are telling us about Jesus. Any sermon which majors on how we are like Peter, or like the Pharisees, or like the crowds is probably missing the point. Matthew, Mark, Luke and John are writing about Jesus.

So preacher, tell us about Jesus!

Tell us what we learn about Him!

Tell us about His character, His words, His deeds, His heart, and ultimately His sacrifice for sins and His resurrection from the grave!

Tell us about Jesus, and then tell us how to respond!

Don’t keep searching around for Waldo, when Jesus is so easy to find.



¹ Disclaimer: Dr Sinclair Ferguson was also preaching to about 100 other pastors at the Northern Ireland Ministry Assembly, 2012.

3 thoughts on “Stop Looking For Waldo

  1. Thanks for this, Colin. The point is well made as a corrective against superficial, simplistic and moralistic preaching that is in a hurry to promulgate pertinent and pithy principles for powerful people (and the like) while it misses Jesus. You are right to talk about the parallels between the Bible characters and ourselves. After all, Paul found the Corinthians in Deuteronomy 25.

    We are probably saying the same thing at the end of the day, but it seems to me that we do find ourselves and our congregations in Luke 9. While Jesus is the Bread of Life, do we not find ourselves among the disciples, asking how we can give the crowds something to eat? Do our congregations not need to answer the question of the identity of Jesus? Do we – leaders and preachers – not hear ourselves among the disciples wondering which of us is the greatest?

    I think if this (finding Waldo) is carefully done we can bring into sharper relief who Jesus is as he is revealed in relationship with people. He speaks assurance to the fearful, forgiveness to the guilty, restoration to the fickle, rebuke to the proud. Could it be that “finding Waldo” helps us to see Jesus in sharper relief?

  2. Dear Alan,

    Thanks for your thoughts. They are helpful and serve to sharpen my thinking.

    The point I was trying to make was a corrective. Like most correctives, it is doubtless overstated. My point is really two fold:

    a) that we preachers often search for Waldo before we search for Jesus in the text, and

    b) we sometimes aren’t careful enough in the way we connect ourselves to the characters in the text.

    Take Mark 4. I’ve heard countless sermons that have put us in the boat with the disciples. We too face “the storms of life.” If only we will trust in Jesus, he will say in the midst of our storms, “Peace be still.”

    The theology of this may be ultimately true, but I suspect Mark would be extremely surprised to learn that preachers were using his material in that way. Mark’s point is to show Jesus authority over nature. In light of this powerful authority, we CAN see ourselves alongside the disciples, asking “who is this?”

    Maybe if I were re-writing the post I would say this
    – be sure you find Jesus in the text before you go looking for Waldo
    – be careful that you find an actual Waldo, not an illegitimate look alike!

    Does this make sense?

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