A Charcoal Fire, and a lot of grace.

As I sit here in the beginning stages of writing a blog, I have many thoughts that have gone through my mind.   But in the process of thinking about what to write I felt God’s assurance that the Charcoal Fire was a great place to start, then He compelled me to give this blog the same name. This story means a great deal to me, because I come from a background of shame and sin. When I read this, I felt assured that God often uses our failures as a means to lead other people to Him.

Last thing before I get to the story. I cannot take any credit for knowing what I am about to share. God showed me these passages in my regular time with the Lord. As I read the words “Charcoal fire” they stuck out as if they were highlighted specifically for me to see. Before I recap the story in Scripture, If you decide you want to just read for yourself(which is awesome) check out John 18:15-18, John 18:25-27, and John 21:9-19.

So…. The Charcoal Fire

The story begins in the garden of Gethsemane.  As Jesus was being arrested His closest friends ran for safety. Later when the fear and chaos subsided, Peter and John decided to follow Jesus at a safe distance to watch as he was beaten and dragged into a midnight trial. In order to get a closer look they needed to enter the High Priest’s courtyard. John was a bit more daring than Peter, and while John went deep into the courtyard, Peter stayed close to the gate. Consequently his fear would lead to the biggest mistake of his life. It was a cold night so soldiers and servants of the High Priest at the gate had made a charcoal fire to warm themselves up. As Peter stood next to the fire, the light revealed his face. The servant of the High Priest recognized him, as did the soldiers, since they knew he was with Jesus when they arrested him.   They knew he was a disciple of the man on trial.

I understand the side of Peter that gets ridiculed today, He was impulsive, argumentative at times, and struggled with pride in a way that sounds all too familiar to me. Just like Peter, I struggle with sins, and when I allow those struggles to creep into my heart for too long, I end up being somewhere I know I shouldn’t be. If Peter wasn’t scared, he wouldn’t have been at the charcoal fire in the first place. I see the scene in my head, Peter stares into the fire as the questions come, “Hey, don’t you follow Jesus?” Again and again the questions come. And on three different occasions, his fear leads to denial, “I do not know this man of whom you speak” (Mark 14:71).   Jesus had healed Peter’s deathly ill mother-in-law, saved him from a massive storm, showed him a conversation with Moses and Elijah, and granted him special access to God’s wisdom. Yet in a moment of fear, Peter denied having ever met the man.

I fully understand his situation. I have made many shameful choices both before I encountered Christ, and since becoming a Christian. For Peter, every Charcoal Fire he encountered would have been a reminder of the biggest mistake of his life. Some of us (including me) know exactly what he would go through. Every time he saw some fish cooking on a charcoal fire he would have a flash to the moment he denied his best friend. He would remember the things that this man had done for him, and the way which he repaid him. So Peter handled it the way many of us handle grief, regret, and mistakes – he went back to his old life and habits. After the death of Christ some of the disciples were together, and I am willing to bet there wasn’t a whole lot of conversation going on, “Simon Peter said to them, ‘I am going fishing.’ They said to him, ‘We will go with you’ “ (John 21:3). I picture it in my head. Peter is looking down, nobody is talking and in breaking the silence Peter is almost exclaiming, “That’s it! I’m not sitting here anymore, I’m going fishing.” It was his escape. Some people work on cars, some people workout, some people eat ice cream…. Peter fished.

While on the boat John tells Peter that Jesus is on the shore, and immediately he is in the water swimming to Him. As he got out of the water he saw two things. The first was His Savior, the second was a charcoal fire that Jesus had lit. I don’t believe in coincidences. Jesus was addressing the sin of Peter without saying a word. Sometimes Scripture shows us the actions of Jesus Christ, and in these instances I see that Jesus didn’t always have to speak to get His point across.

I can’t imagine it. Peter sees Jesus, and the fire, and there is this period where neither actually says what the fire represents. I would tend to believe that Peter didn’t mention the charcoal fire incident to the other disciples. If Peter is anything like me, when he made a mistake he tried to hide it from those around him. But Jesus knew what happened and had His own charcoal fire prepared, yet He didn’t say a word. It was a non-verbal conversation between Jesus and Peter.

In one of my favorite moments in all of Scripture, Jesus shows us how full of grace and love He truly is. Jesus asked Peter three times if He loved Him. The last time Peter was asked three questions at a charcoal fire he denied Jesus. Again, I don’t believe in coincidences. Jesus assured Peter that His grace surpasses all of our mistakes. Jesus reassured Peter, “I know you love me, the night you denied me, it’s done. From now on when you see a charcoal fire, you will not see your failure. Instead you will remember this moment.”   It was here, at the new charcoal fire that Jesus appointed Peter as the first pastor of the church. Jesus took Peter’s greatest mistake, and transformed it. From this point forward the charcoal fire was the place Peter received his ministry calling from his Lord.

I have lots of “charcoal fire” moments in my life. Before deploying to Iraq my sin was at its worst. I drank, partied, went to strip clubs, and continued to fall into worse and worse habits. The worst part of it is that the sins of my past aren’t always that, but instead sins of the present. There isn’t a magic button you push when you become a Christian. The sins of our past and struggles of our hearts don’t just stop. God’s love is a crazy thing, once you experience it there are no words. My life can be summed up like this, God brought me to my own charcoal fire. He forgave me for everything when I pursued a relationship with Him through Jesus.   That kind of love is insane, it makes no sense to me. So my response is that I love Him back, and everything I do is a way of saying, “I can never repay you. But everything I am, everything I have, all of my heart, is Yours.” Because of this love, I strive to repent of my sins, I serve others, and I go where God tells me to be. My love is what produces the obedience in my life. This is the “good news” we speak of. God is just, and will punish sin. But through the redemption of Christ, we don’t have to face wrath. God is love, and ready to forgive. We just have to meet Jesus at our own little charcoal fire. It’s only through Him that grace is available after all.

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