When I think about the Apostle Peter, I think about of his love for the Lord. His unbridled zeal for Jesus is unmatched in the Scriptures; for it was a zeal that can only be likened unto hot burning coals. Undoubtedly, he was truly a man on fire for the Lord. Yet there were other times when his testimony appears singed and scorched by the flames of failure. These two extremes in Peter’s life can be clearly seen by contrasting two events, both of which were literally marked by fire. Let us take a moment and circle around these fires and have a little campfire chat about our friend Peter.
If there was ever a disciple that many of us feel a kindred spirit with, it is our dear friend Peter. His verbal blunders and spiritual inconsistencies reflect many of our Christian pilgrimages. Just like Peter, we all can testify to moments of great victory, and moments of defeat. The first fireside gathering found within Peter’s biography was stoked during one of the darkest chapters of his life. It is what I refer to as the flame of flight. In Luke’s gospel we read, “After they had kindled a fire in the middle of the courtyard and had sat down together, Peter was sitting among them. And a servant-girl, seeing him as he sat in the firelight and looking intently at him, said, “This man was with Him too” (Luke 22:55-56). This passage records a particular event that happened soon after Jesus had been betrayed by Judas and delivered into the hands of Roman officials. And in the midst of all the chaos and confusion, the disciples had quickly scattered. Peter lurked in the shadows of the night following Jesus from a distance (Mark 14:54). But after going as far as he could, he found himself around a community fire pit. Peter was quickly recognized as a follower of Jesus Christ. And in the heat of the moment, Peter denied his Lord.
The second blaze that left a mark upon Peter’s life is found is the closing verses of the gospel of John. I refer to it as the flame of faith. The Bible says that when the disciples “got out on the land, they saw a charcoal fire already laid and fish placed on it, and bread. Jesus said to them, “Bring some of the fish which you have now caught” (John 21:9-10). This passage records the third post-resurrection appearance of our Lord to the disciples. The disciples had been fishing all night, but had come up empty handed. Jesus called out to them from the shoreline and asked if they had caught any fish (John 21:5). The disciples were initially unsure who had called out to them because it was early in the morning, and it was difficult to see the shoreline. (John 21:4). Jesus then instructed the disciples to cast their nets on the right side of the boat. Immediately their nets were overflowing with fish and the disciples had difficulty hauling all of them to the shore (John 21:6). But as this miraculous event unfolded, Peter recognized Jesus. In a leap of faith, he leaped out of the boat into the water and swam to shore in effort to be with His Master and Lord. He was not concerned with what the others might say, nor was he concerned about swimming the distance to the shoreline. He simply knew that he could get to Jesus quicker by swimming than riding in the sluggish, dragging, fish-filled boat. On the shore, Jesus had built a charcoal fire and was grilling bread and fish for breakfast (John 21:12-13). And it was while circled around this fire that Jesus poked at Peter’s heart with the piercing question, “Peter, do you love me?”
Our lives can be marked by the flame of flight when we try to follow Jesus at a distance and live in such a way that we deny Him as our Lord. Yet our lives can be marked by the flame of faith when we passionately follow Jesus. May these two fires remind us of how frail and fickle we really are, just like our friend Peter. Oh that we would be about the business of fanning the flame of faith and snuffing out the flame of flight!