The Charcoal Fire, Text: John 18:15-18, 25-27 and 21:1-19, Title: Restored by Grace


Grilling food has now become a huge industry in the US. Of course you can buy indoor grills, courtesy of George Forman, but the real adventure is the outdoor grill. These are available in increasingly larger, more complex, and more expensive editions. Often they are the only culinary experience most men get. Someone has said What we get when we read the instructions is education. What we get when we don’t is experience. In our kitchen I would much rather have my wife’s experience than my education. The charcoal fire is a wonderful story of mercy and grace. What can we learn about God and the way God deals with us?

I The Fire- God’s Wisdom

In 21:9 the fire is called a fire of burning coals, in 18:18 it is called simply a fire, but the Greek word is the same in both places. It is the word anthrax which means black fire. From this root we get the word for coal-anthracite-familiar to those of us who lived long enough to remember when we heated our homes and our water that way, in the good old days. It is also the name of a plague causing bacillus, anthrax, so called because of the black postules that form on the victims and when it devastated Europe in the middle ages it was called the black plague. Thus we have the same fuel and the same fire, the charcoal fire in the courtyard and on the beach. But what I would like you to see is the extraordinary wisdom and power of God that extends to the most minute details of our lives and is enshrined in His Word. As the disciples sat around the charcoal fire on the beach with the resurrected Savior what do you think was on Peter’s mind and heart? Do you think he possibly remembered that moment of utter shame when he had denied his Lord in the courtyard of the high priest? Could he ever forget? So here is the Christ, God incarnate, risen from the dead creating the same situation. He repeats a miracle from earlier in his ministry (Luke 5:3-7). The disciples were washing out their nets after a fruitless night. Jesus got in Peter’s boat and said launch out and let down the nets. Simon said, we’ve worked all night and haven’t caught anything, but we will do what you say-and they couldn’t manage the immense catch and had to call for help. In John 21 they are ending a sleepless and fruitless night again. Jesus appears and they do not recognize him, but he says put the net down on the right side of the boat, and it was so full they had to drag it to shore. And if that is not enough, there is another charcoal fire and with a fish, This is not their fish because Jesus says “Now bring some of your fish.” Where did Jesus get His fish? Come and dine the master calleth, come and dine, you may feast at Jesus table anytime. He who fed the multitude, turned the water into wine, to the hungry now he calleth come and dine. And Peter is saying what’s going on here? This is the wisdom of God in action then and in print now for you. Heaven and earth move to accomplish His will and you are a witness.

II The Failure-God’s Patience

I read a little rhyme: Patience is a virtue, Possess it if you can. Found seldom in a woman, Never in a man. And unfortunately, judging from the number of women who are afraid to pray for patience because God might give it to them, including my dear wife, I suspect no one has much. BUT GOD DOES. In the Old Testament it is called long suffering and is attributed to God there and in the New Testament as well. Perhaps the most remarkable reference is in Romans 2:1-6, You, therefore, have no excuse, you who pass judgment on someone else, for at whatever point you judge the other, you are condemning yourself, because you who pass judgment do the same things. Now we know that God’s judgment against those who do such things is based on truth. So when you, a mere man, pass judgment on them and yet do the same things, do you think you will escape God’s judgment? Or do you show contempt for the riches of his kindness, tolerance and patience, not realizing that God’s kindness leads you toward repentance? But because of your stubbornness and your unrepentant heart, you are storing up wrath against yourself for the day of God’s wrath, when his righteous judgment will be revealed. God “will give to each person according to what he has done.”  In a nutshell despising God’s extraordinary patience will lead to judgment. God is patient because he has an elect people who will repent and therefore the judgment is forestalled. Peter is one of them and so are we, and it is perilous to ignore the opportunity the Lord gives us to repent. In the 13th chapter of John’s gospel Jesus announces two betrayals. One is Judas and the other is Peter, and it is there that after Peter has said he will follow Jesus to the death, that he announces that Peter will deny him 3 times before the rooster crows. That very night Peter fulfilled the prophecy. According to a traditional Hebrew story, Abraham was sitting outside his tent when an tired and very old man, came toward him. Abraham rushed out, greeted him, and then invited him into his tent in typical middle eastern hospitality. He washed the old man’s feet and gave him food and drink. The old man immediately began eating without saying any prayer or blessing. So Abraham asked him, “Don’t you worship God?” The old traveler replied, “I worship fire only and reverence no other god.” When he heard this, Abraham became incensed, grabbed the old man by the shoulders, and threw him out his tent into the cold night air. When the old man had departed, God called to his friend Abraham and asked where the stranger was. Abraham replied, “I forced him out because he did not worship you.” God answered, “I have suffered him these eighty years although he dishonors me. Could you not endure him one night?” Jesus was patient with Peter, but also with Judas. What Judas did was planned, pre-ordained, predestined. Jesus is at the last supper. He tells the disciples that he is revealing his betrayal so that when it happens they will believe that he is the Messiah because it was written about him in the Old Testament as we read in Psalm 41:9, Even my close friend, whom I trusted, he who shared my bread, has lifted up his heel against me. Even though it is written beforehand, Jesus patiently submits, and he tells Judas merely,”What you are about to do, do quickly.” Immediately before the announcement, the Scripture says He was troubled in spirit. This is precisely how he reacted at the grave of Lazarus. It reflects the grief and pain of his human side. God’s patience is evident at every step.

III The Fish-God’s Grace

As you know, the fish was a symbol used by early Christians. The Greek word for fish is Icthus. The letters are an anagram standing for Jesus Christ, Son of God, Savior. In Greek “Jesous Christos theou 'uios soter.”  The fish is the symbol of those who have received the grace of the Son of God, our Savior. However, they are two things; they are followers of Jesus, but also fishers of men, for Jesus came to seek and to save that which was lost. The true Son of God chose fishermen to be his disciples, and then he said, follow me and I will make you fishers of men. Then I wonder as they gathered on the day of Pentecost and Peter preached the first recorded Christian sermon and 3000 were converted, did they remember the miraculous catches of fish wrought by the Son of God both before and after His resurrection? Did they remember his feeding of 5000 from five loaves of bread and two fish? They must have been small fish-they were a boy’s lunch. Did they remember that early morning on the beach when they encountered the risen Christ and he had a fire with a single ordinary fish on it. But then the Scripture says they had caught 153 GREAT fish and Jesus said bring some of them to the fire. Could they doubt the enormous extent of His grace and power? As much as some people would like to avoid it, we must ask the question, “Why isn’t every one saved?” What was the difference between Peter and Judas? Was it an act of the will? We know that Peter was sorry, but so was Judas. He went back to the high priests who had bribed him and said, I have sinned and betrayed innocent blood. Devastated with remorse, he killed himself. Was it in their genetic make-up, was it the way they were raised, was it the experiences of life? Was it mental defectiveness? In Luke 22 when Jesus predicts Peter’s betrayal, he says to him, Satan has desired to have you that he may sift you as wheat, but I have prayed for you that your faith may not fail. That same chapter tells us that Satan entered into Judas and he went and struck a bargain with the high priests. So Peter was preserved from Satan and Judas was not. How do you suppose that happened? There was what we call an intervention. Jesus intervened for Peter and not for Judas. Brethren, this is grace. It was operative for Peter and not for Judas. There is no grace without God’s choosing which is just another way of saying election. Does that mean there is no free will? Absolutely not! It does mean that both Peter and Judas exercised free will in their decisions-but Peter’s free will was determined by grace and Judas’ free will was not. If Jesus has prayed for you-you will be saved. If He has not, then you will not be saved because Jesus prayers are always answered. How do you know who he prays for? You do not know beforehand-it is impossible. But Jesus gave us the answer in John 17: 9, I pray for them, I am not praying for the world, but for those you have given me for they are yours.

IV The Faith-God’s Preservation

Now the prayers of Jesus preserve the faith of Peter and the protection of that faith yields 2 results: assurance and action

A. Assurance

In John 21 Jesus is revealing his forgiveness to Peter. He knows Peter loves him, as Peter says. Peter knows that Jesus knows that he loves him, so why does Jesus ask him three times if he loves Him. Good question! Because Peter denied him three times. He was grieved because a third time seems like an infinite repetition, and, if repeated thus a third time, it may be asked of me again and again every day of my life. He was grieved from the irresistible analogy between the threefold denial of which he had been guilty, and this threefold interrogatory. But this gives Peter a greater stronger hope that Jesus loves him still and that he still has a part in the resurrection of the just. He reflects it later when he writes “Always be ready to give answer for your hope.” And on the day of Pentecost He says, God has raised this Jesus to life- repent and be baptized in the name of Jesus Christ for the forgiveness of your sins. And in his first letter he says Praise to the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ who has given us a living hope by his resurrection from the dead. If the early Christian tradition is true and it is repeated by many church Fathers, Peter bore the tragedy of his denials to the end of his life. When being martyred by crucifixion he reputedly requested to be crucified upside down His reason? He was not worthy to be crucified like Jesus because he had denied him. Now you understand grace. You do not forget the sin, but your conscience is cleansed, your hope is unalloyed, and your life is fruitful in His service. This kind of hope is born when the sins, and denials, and betrayals of the charcoal fires of our past are eclipsed by the charcoal fire where Jesus forgives and assures us of His love. This hope has always belonged to the children of God. In ancient Rome as the funeral processions pounded the streets above the early Christians buried their dead in the catacombs below. The word funeral comes from the Latin funus, which had a variety of meanings, including the corpse and the funerary rites themselves.  The word the Christians used for burial places was coemeterium-Greek for a dormitory-a sleeping place as they anticipated the resurrection. They had been to both charcoal fires.

B. Action

But Jesus not only asks Peter a question-he gives him marching orders. If you love me, then feed and tend my sheep and lambs. The shepherd, in the absence of any veterinarian on the plains of Bethlehem, presided over the birthing of the lambs as well as the nurture of the flock.

1. Sharing Salvation

Peter’s restoration is for the church and it includes all of this. In other words, to truly follow Jesus he must preside over bringing Christians to birth as did Paul. Paul writes to the Galatian Christians that he travailed over them in their birth. He refers to labor pains of a mother in bringing a child into the world. But Peter must also watch over and feed the lambs and the sheep. This is what it means to follow Jesus. You know that Peter loved Jesus. But remember Jesus said he who has been forgiven little, loves little. People like Peter the denier and Paul the persecutor  were forgiven much and so they loved much and did much for the kingdom. By the way, if you want to do much for the kingdom you ask God to show you how sinful you are so you can know how much you have been forgiven and love Jesus more. The miracle of the fish caught in John 21 is also a prediction of the success of the early church. Note in the earlier miracle of the  miraculous catch during His ministry the net broke. This net in John 21 has to be dragged to shore but does not break.  Jesus even said the kingdom of God is like a net in a parable in Matthew 13. In the parable as in commercial fishing, whether by gill net or seine, You catch things you don’t want and have to throw back. It is the same in the kingdom-BUT you bring all you should to shore. There are no leaks in God’s net.

2.  Sharing Self

Growth or edification is not about me; it’s about others. Peter’s growth has the specific aim of equipping the Apostle not only to be a great evangelist but also a great edifier of God’s people. New Testament references to edification almost always have to do with the church and not the individual. As we read in Ephesians 3:22, in Christ you too are being built together to become a dwelling in which God lives by His Spirit. (not alone, but together) and in Ephesians 4:16 from Christ the head the whole body joined and held together by every supporting ligament grows in love as each part does its work, and in I Corinthians12:27 Now you are the body of Christ and each one of you is part of it . The parts should have equal concern for each other. Feed My Sheep! The plural is vital to understanding the Christian life. The word saint in the New Testament is always in the plural. Feeding others is something we can all do and it is our job. I heard the story of a hardworking mother who was tired and discouraged. Her friend was touring Europe, and one day she received a gift from that friend. It was a book with articles and pictures about all the famous cathedrals in Europe. These beautiful architectural masterpieces are visited by millions of people.There was an inscription in the book and it said, “This is for you for all the building you are doing that only God sees.” One built through the gift to her friend, the other built by her gifts to her children. Feeding the lambs and sheep starts with sharing the gospel, and continues with encouraging,  nurturing, mentoring, and praying. I am telling you without hesitation each one of you possesses the ability to teach me and I regard what I can learn from you as important. So should you treat one another.