Scene One by A Charcoal Fire
Preached by Jason Abbott
There are two charcoal fires in the Bible, and both are in the gospel of John. One is mentioned before Christ’s crucifixion during his trial before the high priest, and the other is mentioned after Christ’s resurrection as he meets with his disciples by the sea. When you bring these two scenes by these two charcoal fires together and begin comparing them, they shed light on one specific disciple’s relationship to Jesus. By their light, we see Peter, first, reject Christ and, then, embrace Christ. We see a man transformed by the resurrection.
On Sunday, Benjamin will look at that second charcoal fire. But, for tonight, we’ll examine that first fire. We’ll see why Peter (and we!) need a crucified Savior; we’ll see why (like Peter!) we need Christ’s resurrection power.
Let’s look at this text together.
John 18:15-18, 25-27
15 Simon Peter followed Jesus, and so did another disciple. Since that disciple was known to the high priest, he entered with Jesus into the courtyard of the high priest, 16 but Peter stood outside at the door. So the other disciple, who was known to the high priest, went out and spoke to the servant girl who kept watch at the door, and brought Peter in. 17 The servant girl at the door said to Peter, “You also are not one of this man’s disciples, are you?” He said, “I am not.” 18 Now the servants and officers had made a charcoal fire, because it was cold, and they were standing and warming themselves. Peter also was with them, standing and warming himself….
25 Now Simon Peter was standing and warming himself. So they said to him, “You also are not one of his disciples, are you?” He denied it and said, “I am not.” 26 One of the servants of the high priest, a relative of the man whose ear Peter had cut off, asked, “Did I not see you in the garden with him?” 27 Peter again denied it, and at once a rooster crowed.
1. Peter (vv. 15-18, 25-27)
Sometimes I wonder what I’d do in a situation in which my faith put my life at risk. I wonder what I’d do if I found myself suddenly in the hands of the Taliban or ISIS or some other group hostile toward Christians—especially American ones. Would I own my faith in the face of death or say anything in order to save my life? How would I react? What would I do? Have you ever wondered that?
Peter finds himself in that situation. And, rather than judge him at a distance, we should empathize and associate with his predicament. We must attempt to feel what Peter felt at this moment—the threat, the fear, the desperation of his situation around this first charcoal fire—because, we’re not meant to see him from far away but up close and personally. Peter is every disciple at this moment, every follower of Jesus stands at this fire. You and me!
Well, Peter doesn’t even get through the gateway of the high priest’s estate when asked for the first time whether he’s one of Jesus’ disciples. He’s surprised. He’s caught off guard. We know how he must have felt—completely unprepared for that question. So, he instinctively protects himself: “I am not” (v. 17).
(Illustration: As a child, I recall coming home from school and my mother asking me if I’d eaten one of my siblings’ chocolate Easter bunnies: “No, I didn’t!” I quickly lied to protect myself. I didn’t have to think about it. It was totally natural for me to say whatever would save me from getting in trouble. I imagine that’s what Peter’s first denial was like. No thought, just self-preservation!)
After getting by the girl at the gate, however, Peter would have been aware of his conspicuous demeanor. He would have been prepared for further questions or accusations about his relationship to Jesus. And, they come. And, when they do, Peter continues to lie at the fireside: “I am not” a follower of that man (vv. 25, 27). Here, Peter is shrugging off the feelings of shame associated with denying Jesus. He hardens his heart and pursues the original lie.
Peter protects himself and shuns his shame and avoids the cross.
This is what Peter is doing while he warms himself next to the charcoal fire. And, these are the very things by which we’re to recognize our sinful complicity with Peter. You see, John is setting up a contrast between us and Jesus.
2. Jesus (vv. 19-23)
Just look at the verses that fall between the texts highlighting Peter’s denials of Jesus. Look at what John shows us when Jesus is being accused.
19 The high priest then questioned Jesus about his disciples and his teaching. 20 Jesus answered him, “I have spoken openly to the world. I have always taught in synagogues and in the temple, where all Jews come together. I have said nothing in secret. 21 Why do you ask me? Ask those who have heard me what I said to them; they know what I said.” 22 When he had said these things, one of the officers standing by struck Jesus with his hand, saying, “Is that how you answer the high priest?” 23 Jesus answered him, “If what I said is wrong, bear witness about the wrong; but if what I said is right, why do you strike me?” (vv. 19-23).
Here, the religious leaders have set up a kangaroo court. They’ll hang Jesus. There’s no doubt about it. Yet, even though the outcome is sure, there’s something for us to see in these details.
Remember how Peter’s instinct was to protect himself at that first question? Well, notice that the first question Jesus faces here is “about his disciples” (v. 19). What does he do? How does he respond? Does he point outside to the charcoal fire and say: “Yep!
There’s one of them! I’ll give you all their names if you let me go.” No…he protects them. He simply speaks about his public teaching to all the Jews. He keeps the focus on him, so that he may save them.
This answer doesn’t go over well with at least one guard. So, he slaps Jesus for disrespecting the high priest (v. 22).
Have you ever been slapped when you’re defenseless and don’t deserve it? Have you ever been accused of doing something you didn’t do?
(Illustration: Once when I was in high school, the mother of a friend of mine accused me of toilet-papering her house and demanded that I come and clean it up. The trouble was that I hadn’t done it. Yet, she was the adult. She had all the power. So, I was forced to go there and clean up. I felt weak as I did it, and I felt shamed. There was, however, nothing I could do to defend myself. I had to carry the shame. And, so, I did while inwardly fuming.)
Yet, unlike me, Jesus didn’t fume while being forced to endure this shame. In fact, he wasn’t being forced at all. This is the point which we must remember about the crucifixion. Jesus endured the shame of these accusations and this slap. He endured the mocking and beating and flogging. He endured a public conviction and execution though he was innocent. Jesus endured all this shame and torture because he chose to. He wasn’t a victim! No one took his life from him by force—he laid it down willingly (John 10:18).
Friends, Jesus is carrying our shame, willingly. He is embracing the cross which we should have hung upon, willingly. He is placing himself under the wrath of God which we deserve because of our sins, willingly.
How different Jesus is from Peter! How different from us!
Just think about it. If Jesus was merely a helpless victim, if Jesus could do nothing to stop the onset of these events, then this is simply a meaningless tragedy. If, however, Jesus is in complete control (because he is the Creator-God incarnate), then his infinite love for his heavenly Father, and for you, is on glorious display during each moment of his life—a life moving purposefully and unwaveringly toward his crucifixion for our sin (Romans 4:25).
There is a good deal of debate as to why Good Friday is called Good Friday. I, however, think it has to do with this very point. The day is called “Good Friday” because it displays God’s great love for us—that he would sacrifice himself for us and, in so doing, grant us our redemption through faith in Christ. Amen!