By Jasmine Timm
As we huddled together in a cold Sunday school classroom on a Thursday evening to listen to Jackie Hill Perry, I could feel my paranoia rise. Jackie cautioned, “There will be false teachers among you — your favorite Christian authors and speakers, and even Bible study leaders — some of them will turn out to be amongst these disobedient people.”
I found myself thinking, “Is it I? Could some of us in this room be deceiving ourselves? Do false teachers even know that they’re false teachers? What if some of us in this room believe ourselves to be sheep when we in fact are amongst the people who are practically denying Jesus as Lord by the way we live?”
It was an eerie experience to be sitting among God’s people, wondering whether the people Jackie spoke of could be part of us, or even myself. Although God does not call His people to live in paranoia or to wonder whether we are phonies, there is something to be said for examining ourselves, occasionally asking the question, “Is it I?”
In Mark 14, we hear the disciples echoing this same fear. During the Passover, Jesus’ last meal with the disciples before His crucifixion, Jesus tells His companions that one of them will betray Him. One by one, the disciples ask Him sorrowfully, “Is it I?” (Mark 14:19).
Jesus replies, “It is one of the twelve, one who is dipping bread into the dish with me” (Mark 14:20). Later that same evening, Jesus tells them yet again, “You will all fall away, for it is written, ‘I will strike the shepherd, and the sheep will be scattered…’” (Mark 14:27).
Peter replies confidently that although everyone else will fall away, he will not. Jesus looks Peter squarely in the eye, telling him that he will indeed deny Him before the night is over. Peter cannot fathom this and tells Jesus that it will not be so.
What Jesus says comes true. One of them, Judas, betrays Jesus into the hands of His killers, and Peter denies any association with Jesus before dawn breaks. The disciples scatter, and Jesus bears His cross alone with none of His disciples by His side. Three days later, Jesus rises from the dead, and He returns to personally greet His disciples, who had denied Him. He rebukes them for not believing the women’s report that He was indeed risen from the dead, and with the same breath, He commissions them to be His ambassadors yet again, taking the good news of the gospel to the far reaches of the earth.
We also see Him address Peter personally, giving him the opportunity to repent and to confess his love for his Lord, and from this, we see the pillar of the church emerge as a man humbled and changed by the love of Christ.
It is remarkable that Jesus not only returns to those who denied Him, but also reinstates them to a position of privilege as bearers of good news. The disciples failed, but Jesus graciously kept them and reclaimed them as His own. There is something for us to learn from the disciples when they ask, “Is it I?” and there is something to learn from Peter’s zealous response.
Although unbelief and fear got the best of them, the question “Is it I?” demonstrates a type of humility that is essential for us as followers and ambassadors of Christ. It is important to note that the disciples were initially wary of their own ability to remain committed to Jesus, but later joined Peter in his zealous self-confidence that he would be different, that he somehow possessed a greater inner strength which would keep him from denying Jesus. It is likely this very pride that caused Peter to flee from his Lord’s side, and it should cause us to wonder whether the disciples would have remained by His side if they had taken less confidence in their own flesh.
The question “Is it I?” demonstrates a recognition of our own frailty. False teachers are not asking this question. They are not examining themselves to see whether they are in the faith (2 Corinthians 13:5). Jesus’ people, however, place no confidence in the flesh (Philippians 3:3). They place their confidence in the power of their Lord Jesus, who loved them and gave Himself up for them (Galatians 2:20).
The question “Is it I?” causes us to direct our gaze to the only One powerful enough to sustain our weary hearts, which are prone to unbelief. As we recognize that it is not us, but Christ, who keeps us secure, we are enabled to rejoice in the privilege of knowing Him and becoming like Him (Philippians 3:7-11), remaining confident that those whom He loves, He also keeps safe from wandering astray.
Just as Jesus kept the disciples from totally turning away from Him, He is able to keep us from stumbling. We are to keep ourselves in the love of God and, like Peter, we gain stability as we remember that we are the beloved of the Lord. We do not endure based on our own zeal or stamina, but rather are enabled to continue in the faith as we remember that Jesus Himself has bestowed the love of the Father on us.
The love the Father gives is one that cannot be taken away, and as we abide in His love, we obtain the confidence we need to face the difficulties of life, including false teachers. Our aim is to know Christ deeper, day by day, and we do this by growing in our understanding of Him through His Word, His Spirit and His Church. The key to perseverance is confidence in the crucified Christ. We do not persevere by relying on our own strength and capabilities. We persevere by remembering Christ, who alone holds the power to keep us from stumbling.