Because it was cold, the household servants and the guards had made a charcoal fire. They stood around it, warming themselves, and Peter stood with them, warming himself. – John 18:18
When they got there, they found breakfast waiting for them—fish cooking over a charcoal fire, and some bread. – John 21:9
Of all the post-resurrection appearances of Jesus, I think the story of his breakfast on the beach with Peter is probably my favorite. I didn’t fully appreciate it until I did an project about this story in seminary. In fact, it made my whole three years of seminary worth it.* Seriously. It was that eye-opening. And it is all because of one little word.
“Coal fire,” to be precise. But it’s one word in Greek. So I’m counting it as one little word.
When Peter met Jesus at the beach that morning, the Risen Lord greeted him with a meal cooking over a coal fire. It’s the exact-same word used to describe the fire that Peter used to warm himself when he denied knowing anything about Jesus.
There’s no way this was an accident.
There are different Greek words to describe different fires. The word used here is a specific type of fire. And both of these fires are the same type of fire.
If anything is communicated in the Gospel of John, it’s the fact that Jesus was in control the entire time during his ministry on earth. There is no doubt in my mind that Jesus intentionally chose to use the same kind of fire that was there that horrible night. The darkest days of Peter’s life were bookended by a coal fire. It’s storytelling at its finest.
That fire would have served as a reminder of how he had failed. Every time its smoke would burn his nostrils, it would also burn his heart because it surely would have evoked the powerful memory of how he was a coward instead of courageous and how he folded like a house of cards at the slightest question from a young girl.
This fire could have haunted him for the rest of his life.
But it didn’t.
Because Jesus took what was awful – Peter denying him three times – and used it to do something beautiful. He took the ugly and the awful and the nasty thing that Peter did and he redeemed it.
God is in the redemption business. He takes the broken and makes them whole. He takes the useless and makes them useful. He takes the unwanted and unlovely and makes them beautiful works of art.
He also takes that thing you did oh-so-many years ago that you’re embarrassed about. You know what I’m talking about. Don’t tell me you don’t have something dark in your past. I know you do. I do, too. We all do. And the only thing we want to do is run away from them. We want to hide them and hope that no one ever sees them – including God.
I have several coal fires in my history. I know you do, too. Instead of running away from them, let’s bring them to the beach. Let’s carry them before before our Master as we meet with Him for a meal.
We might be surprised to find that He already has a coal fire waiting for us and is going to use it to do something remarkable and beautiful.
And He’ll greet us with the same invitation He gave Peter: “Follow Me.”