Let us try to imagine ourselves in the Matthew 26:21-22, where Jesus is surrounded for the last time by His little band of disciples.
It is very still. There is a sense of foreboding in the air. Their very presence in that room is a secret. Each of them had come separately, hugging the shadow of the houses. The town is full of spies seeking to destroy their Master.
Who can say what scenes this night will witness? The net is closing round Him. When will the blow fall? How will it come? What will Jesus do then? These are the questions in their minds as they listen to the Master.
The blow comes from an altogether unexpected quarter. Their ears followed every sound that came from the cobbled streets below. Their eyes wandered again and again to the curtain which closed the doorway.
Yet the sound which set their hearts hammering against their breasts came not from the street below nor from the stairway but from the lips of Jesus Himself: “one of you will betray me.” Not some bitter and malicious enemy; not some unknown man who cares for nothing more than to gain a few pieces of silver; not one of the Roman soldiers who cares nothing for Me because he worships his own gods; not some depraved scoundrel dead to all that is good and pure, but one of you.
That is one of the darkest and most tragic moments in the life of our Lord. Then He saw clearly that it is not His enemies but His friends who will betray Him. One of you who have loved Me.
They did love Him. If they had not loved Him, His words would not have filled them with dismay. They had endured many things for Him. They had followed Him in spite of growing unpopularity. They loved Him but they did not love Him enough.
The lot of Jesus was to be defeated and betrayed by His friends who loved Him but did not love Him enough. To this day, He is still defeated and betrayed by those whose love is faint. Christ can only pass to victory with men and women whose love for Him is intense and consuming.
When the disciples heard these words they were filled with consternation. The words searched them through and through. They thought of their timidity, their reservations, their compromises. They realized that theirs had not been a love of utter self-abandonment, so they said, “Is it I, Lord?”
Jesus must have rejoiced when He heard them say that. How easy and how natural it would have been for them to begin to suspect one another and to say, “Is it he, Lord?” But with all their faults, they were too honest and too humble to say that. Each knew enough about himself to feel not quite certain that he might not be the traitor.
In that solemn hour these men were brought face to face with reality. This was no time for looking at the other man’s shortcomings. A terrible shadow was falling across the Master’s path. At any moment the blow might fall and the Master had said, “One of you will betray me.”
This was the hour of self-examination, so they began to be very sorrowful and to say, one after another, “Is it I, Lord?”
“Is it I?” suggests the possibilities of evil in us all. We have all sinned and fallen short of the glory of God. We all have the makings of a traitor in us. We know too little of ourselves to be sure that it is not in us to do any evil that man can do. So the right word for us is: “Is it I, Lord?”
After attending church one Sunday, Longfellow went home and wrote in his journal: “John Ware of Cambridge preached a good sermon. I applied it to myself.” We must take the Master’s warning and apply it to ourselves as the disciples did. If we do not preach to ourselves in that fashion, what other preaching will do us any good?
The world is only too ready to point the finger of scorn at us, only too happy to find us wanting in some grace or virtue. The people outside the church say: “See how those Christians love. They are always saying one thing and doing another. Do what I say not what I do. They tend the vineyard of the Lord but forget to set their own house in order.”
The real saints of God, the true Christians in every age, while they have been great as preachers to others have been greater as preachers to themselves.
Miss Laura Richards has a striking parable to this effect. The minister had just finished his sermon. The air still quivered with his burning words and the people sat erect, disturbed by his message.
“Is there,” he asked “one in whose heart these words strike like a barbed arrow for the truth that is in them?” Then he sat down.
“That was hard on John,” said James, “but he deserves it every word.”
“A blow from the shoulder for James,” said John. “Time he got one, too, if it is not too late.”
But the little saint hurried home and knelt by her bed and cried aloud in her anguish, “O God, have mercy upon me and give me for this stone a heart of flesh.”
Let us turn to the greatest of all preachers save one, the Apostle Paul. He is closing what is a great sermon full of the passion of the Gospel, summed up in the phrase, “So run that you may obtain the prize.” But now hear how he goes on with a humility that moves the soul as one reads.
“I do not run aimlessly. I do not box as one who beats the air but I pummel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disqualified.” So Paul preached his sermon over again to himself.
Is there not a danger lest eager Christians should be so busy about other people’s souls that they should lose their own? William Wilberforce was once asked by a lady about the state of his soul and he replied: “Madam, I had forgotten that I had a soul.” The reason was that he had immersed himself in the battle against slavery.
Preachers get into the habit of opening their Bibles for the purpose of extracting lessons for other people but we can never hope to improve the world until we first improve ourselves. We may speak of the love of Christ and paint Him in glowing colors but that will be of no avail unless His love is spread abroad in our own hearts.
There is a point in the story of the two doctors who lived in the same street and bore the same name. The one was a doctor of divinity, the other a doctor of medicine. One night a messenger knocked on the door of the doctor of medicine and asked, “Are you the doctor who preaches?” “No,” was the curt reply, “I am the doctor who practices.”
The two are really inseparable. The one implies the other. This is what Chaucer meant when he spoke of the poor parson of the town who “constantly preached the teaching of Christ and His apostles but first he followed it himself.”
A sermon is only successful as each one takes it home and applies it not to his neighbor but to himself. Neither preacher nor hearer leaves the sermon behind in church as they may leave their hymnal. They both have to live the sermon in the coming week and in the light of it examine themselves and say, “Is it I, Lord?”
If we preach to ourselves in that fashion, we can be sure that the ministry is ordained of God and great shall be the harvest in the day of the Master’s appearing.
The New Testament is full of exhortations bidding us examine ourselves. “I say to every one among you,” writes Paul, “not to think of himself more highly than he ought to think but so to think as to think soberly,” or, as Moffatt renders it, “to take a sane view of oneself.” Again he writes: “Try yourselves whether you are in the faith, prove your own souls.” The Apostle would have agreed with the old Greek saying inscribed on the walls of the Temple of Apollo at Delphi: “Know thyself.”
Everyone knows how difficult that is. We all have wonderful faculties for self-deception, self-delusion, self-excuse. Yet we all have the power to get outside ourselves and to sift the inner world of motive and inclination and see ourselves in action.
Tennyson, in one of his poems, says that “every man carries a silent court of Justice in his breast, himself the judge and jury and himself the prisoner at the bar.”
Everyone of us ought, for the sake of our soul’s health, to take our temperature at intervals to see if our spiritual blood is normal in its heat. Self-inspection must lead to self-rectification. Sins, failures, mistakes are not to be brooded over and lamented but to be conquered.
Our self-examination must not end in penitence and confession. It must go on to amendment of life or else it will make us morbid. Preacher and hearer alike need to humble ourselves before the Cross of Christ, confessing our own sins and saying, “Is it I, Lord?”
Let me close with a story told of Alexander Whyte and his friend James Hood Wilson of the Barclay Church. Some traveling evangelists came to Edinburgh to hold a mission and fell to criticizing the ministers of the town. A man who was present called next day on Whyte and said: “I went to hear the evangelists last night and do you know what they said? They said that Wilson was not a converted man.”
White leaped from his chair in anger. “The rascals,” he said.
The man continued. “That wasn’t all they said. They said you were not a converted man either.”
His friend thought that Whyte would be still more angry at that charge, but he was wrong. Whyte stopped in his stride, all the fire went out of him and, sinking into his chair, he put his face in his hands. For a minute he did not speak. Then, looking up, he said to his visitor: “Leave me, friend, leave me. I must examine my heart.”
That is how a Christian reacts to a spiritual challenge. To that point, I believe, God is drawing Christian people today. An increasing number are saying: “I must examine my heart. Is it I, Lord?”
Is there anything in me that frustrates your purposes? Is there anything in me that makes your defeat possible? Is it my fault you have been defeated in my business, in my home, in my church?
As you kneel at the Lord’s Table examine yourself and in the quiet of your heart say, “Is it I, Lord?”

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