A note in my Bible points out that you only find a charcoal fire mentioned twice in the New Testament. The first time is in the high priest’s courtyard after Jesus’ arrest. There, Peter saddles up to the fire with some others to keep himself warm while Jesus is interrogated inside (John 18:15-18, 25-27).
The other charcoal fire is found just a few pages later . . . just a few days later . . . after Jesus’ death on the cross . . . after the discovery of the empty tomb . . . after Jesus had shown Himself alive to the disciples in the upper room. This charcoal fire is found on the shore of the Sea of Galilee . . . lit by the risen Lord Himself. Jesus is cooking fish on it and invites the disciples, most notably Peter, to “Come and have breakfast” (21:9-12).
And I’m noodling on the contrasts between those two charcoal fires, particularly as they relate to Peter. And I can’t help marvel at the difference a few days can make.
At the first charcoal fire, Peter keeps his distance from the LORD . . . both physically and associatively. I imagine it as a fire soon to go out. Day was dawning, the night chill would soon be gone, the coals in that fire were on their last legs. Kind of reflective of the fire in Peter’s heart. Confused at the unraveling of his world . . . disarmed, both figuratively and literally, when Jesus was arrested, Peter follows at a distance. Less because of hope . . . more because of disbelief. And, around that fire, Peter three times denies that he ever knew or followed Jesus. And the fire goes out.
But what a difference a few days can make. Days when the soul is reassured that Jesus is alive. Days when the mind is reminded that, far from being a cross of defeat, the cross is where victory was won over sin. Days when the heart is rekindled as it hears Jesus’ voice, through the abiding Spirit, say, “Come and have breakfast.”
Jesus lit the fire on the shore that morning. It was Jesus who called to the men while they were fishing. It was Jesus who filled their nets when they were unable to fill them themselves. it was Jesus who invited them to draw near while they were still far away. Jesus who set the table and said, “Dine with me.”
The charcoal fire that had flickered that night in doubt, despair, and denial is re-lit by the risen Christ . . . fueled by the Spirit’s abiding presence . . . fanned into flame as His disciples draw near and experience again sweet communion with their Lord.
Sometimes I can feel like Peter around that fire in the high priest’s courtyard. Not that I think I deny I knew the Lord, but I can waver in unbelief . . . perhaps because of circumstance . . . perhaps because of being overly absorbed in self. Whatever the reason, I know those times of trying to warm myself by a fading fire of my own making while keeping my distance from Christ.
But, by grace, the Spirit within me prompts me to persevere . . . to continue to follow Jesus, even if at a distance at first . . . to continue to look to the cross . . . to continue to stand before the vacated tomb . . . to determine, as much as lies within me, to keep on keepin’ on. And it isn’t long before Jesus fuels the fire, sets the table, and I respond to His invitation to eat with Him.
O’ to know the fire that Jesus lights . . . to dine with Him at the table He sets. To know the difference a few days can make.
By His grace . . . for His glory.