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Coal Fire Fellowship

Updated: May 10

When they came to shore and got out of the boat, they saw a coal fire there with fish on it, and some bread. ~ The apostle John (John 21:9)

CORE (The heart of the message):

A coal fire here symbolizes a place of pure grace as well as reunion, reconciliation, restoration, revelation, recommissioning, and revisioning our future. We all need more coal fire fellowship.

CONTEXT (What’s going on before and after this passage):

We sometimes become like embers away from the fire, cooling slowly for lack of togetherness. You may feel like this now, or at least know someone who does.

Embers away from the fire – that describes the emotional space of many of Jesus’ first disciples after they ran away during his arrest, stayed at a distance during his trial, avoided his crucifixion, and remained in hiding after his death. But the risen Jesus found them and brought them all together again for ministry by commissioning them to a fresh vision and a meaningful mission. And one time this happened around a coal fire.

In John 21 the risen Jesus is appearing to his disciples for the third time, now on the shore of the Sea of Galilee. Jesus performs a miracle, making fish multiply in their nets, which is how Peter first came to believe in Jesus (Luke 5:1-11). So now Jesus is signaling to Peter and the others that they are, in one sense, invited afresh to follow Jesus. Even after seeing Jesus on the shore, hearing his voice, and witnessing yet another miracle catch of fish, Peter seems to be in some sort of shame-induced disconnected state, since he doesn’t respond to Jesus’ presence at all, even after the miracle. He is numb. That is, until John says to him, “It is the Lord!”. Only then does Peter appear to snap out of it and immediately hurries to get to Jesus.

Peter had denied Jesus, and had reasons to believe he would be the recipient of God's wrath rather than reconciliation (more on this below). But he doesn't run away from Jesus - he runs toward him, not even waiting until the boat reaches the shore. This is telling us a lot.

Note how different this reaction is to the first time Peter was confronted with Jesus’ power and authority through a miracle catch of fish. The first time Peter’s response was shame, saying “Go away from me, Lord, for I am a sinful man!” (Luke 5:8).

This time, with John’s help, Peter’s response is to run toward Jesus. Jesus then invites all the disciples to combine the miracle fish they have just caught with the fish and bread he has already prepared, and he serves them a fish-n-bread breakfast. After eating, Jesus re-commissions Peter for ministry three times over, undoing the disgrace of his three-times-over denial.

CONSIDER (Observations about the passage):

The author of John’s Gospel specifically mentions that the fire Jesus makes is a coal fire. The Greek word (anthrakia) refers to a specific kind of fire made with coals (or charcoal) which lasts longer and burns hotter than a wood fire alone.

Now catch this: this Greek word for a coal/charcoal fire is only used one other place in the entire Bible, and that is also in John’s Gospel. John includes the detail that it is while standing around a coal fire (anthrakia) in the courtyard of the high priest that Peter denies knowing Jesus three times (John 18:18).

It is no accident that Jesus specifically prepares a coal fire to serve his disciples and recommission Peter, and no accident that John highlights this for us. Jesus seems to be intentionally setting the stage for a potent déjà vu moment for Peter and the author of John’s gospel is drawing our attention to it.

Jesus is helping Peter revisit and review his painful memories and then remove and replace them with a fresh memory of grace, acceptance, and restoration.

CONFESSION (Personal reflection):

I have been where Peter was. I have felt that numbness, alternating between times of intense pain, caused by my own self-inflicted wounds. I have been dazed and confused by my own catastrophic failure. And I have been tempted to run away from Jesus, ashamed of my sin and afraid of his wrath. But now I need to run toward Jesus, and meet him around the coal fire.

COMMENTARY (Thoughts about meaning and application):

The author of John’s Gospel is drawing our attention to a life-giving theological principle. Jesus knows us at our worst and he still loves us, forgives us, and plans a meaningful future for us.

Earlier, Jesus had given Peter the nickname “son of Jonah” (Matthew 16:17). That's saying a lot: Jonah was the prophet who ran away from his calling but was later restored.

A coal fire is the place where we remember our weakness, but also remember that God’s love is greater and that his infinite agape defines our identity more than any failure of our past. A coal fire is the place of reunion, reconciliation, restoration, revelation, recommissioning, and revisioning our future.

Ponder this: Why didn’t Peter kill himself? That seems like a harsh question, except Judas killed himself after betraying Jesus, so why didn’t Peter give up on life after publicly denying Jesus?

As an aside, whenever the topic of Judas comes up, we wonder if Judas was right to give up hope, or if he got Jesus wrong, even at the end. To this point, I'll leave this quote from the Scottish theologian, George MacDonald (1824–1905):

"I believe Jesus loved Judas even when he was kissing him with the traitor’s kiss, and I believe that he was his Savior still. I cannot believe O my Lord, that thou wouldst not forgive thy enemy, even when he repented. Nor will I believe that thy holy death was powerless to save thy foe—that it could not reach to Judas." ~ George MacDonald (Sermons)

MacDonald interpreted Judas' suicide as an act of repentance for his sin. It certainly reflected his change of mind (the meaning of repentance) about his betrayal, but apparently without any hope for forgiveness and restoration.

Judas gave up on himself, but did Jesus?

Peter somehow came to a different conclusion about his denial. He was repentant and hopeful that Jesus was forgiving toward him. But why assume this? After all, Peter had heard Jesus say these apparently hard, harsh, and heavy words:

Whoever denies me before people I will deny before my Father in Heaven. ~ JESUS(Matthew 10:33; Luke 12:9).

Gulp. These words seem definitive.

Jesus had even taken time to personally warn Peter about his impending denial - and Peter refused to believe Jesus! Instead Peter boasted about his unique fidelity to Jesus, above and beyond all the other disciples (Matthew 26:31-35). Not only did Peter deny Jesus, Peter denied his ability to deny Jesus.

Disbelief. Pride. Self-preservation. Deception. Denial. Peter's sin was significant on multiple levels.

After Peter heard the rooster crow following his denial of Jesus around a coal fire, he had every reason to remember all of this and give up hope entirely. But Peter stayed alive, and more, he ran toward not away from the risen Jesus.

Apparently, Peter remembered some other words from Jesus:

I have prayed for you, Simon, that your faith may not fail. And when you have turned back, strengthen your brothers. ~ JESUS (Luke 22:32)

“When you have turned back…” means Jesus must have known Peter would first turn away, and Jesus still had a plan for Peter’s future ministry.

"Strengthen your brothers" says Jesus. Jesus gives Peter a mission. When our lives fall down all around us we desperately need to know that God can channel our pain toward purpose. We need more than just knowing there is grace, mercy, and love on the other side of our failure. The human soul is meant for more than receiving love. That's a good start. Babies thrive by being loved in practical and caring ways. But if we want to mature, we need to have opportunities to go beyond getting love to giving love. Jesus not only gives grace to Peter, he gives Peter purpose. Jesus not only restores Peter to fellowship but to leadership. (For more on debates about restoring failed Christians leaders, see the "Confession" section of this post.)

Now Peter had a choice between which message of Jesus he would allow to become authoritative in his heart. Would Jesus reject Peter or restore Peter? Thankfully, Peter seems to have chosen to hear Jesus’ harsh words through the filter of Jesus' hopeful words.

How did Peter know? How did Peter discern which message from Jesus to make absolute – his harsh words or his hopeful words? For instance, when Peter first heard from the women disciples that Jesus has risen, why did he run toward and not away from the tomb? We can only guess at an answer, but we can say with confidence that Peter had years of experience with Jesus, observing him, learning from him, and getting to know his heart. Peter must have remembered the Parable of the Prodigal Son.

In the 1977 TV series, Jesus of Nazareth, director Franco Zeffirelli made an interesting and insightful decision when filming Jesus telling the Parable of the Prodigal Son. Jesus tells the story to a group of "sinners" at Matthew's house - the despised tax collector-turned-new-disciple. Based on how Jesus tells the story, who he is looking at, and how the characters respond, it becomes clear that Matthew is meant to see himself as the Prodigal Son coming home. And Peter, who has been judgemental of Matthew, calling him his "blood-sucking enemy", is meant to see himself as the older brother. (You can watch the scene here.) It is quite brilliant.

The apostle Peter realizing his need of grace in the 1977 TV series Jesus of Nazareth.

Peter knew that the Father wanted both of his sons - the returning prodigal and the judgemental older brother - to come into the party. And after his catastrophic failure, Peter changed the role he was playing. Peter moved from self-righteous older brother ("Even if all the others fall away, I never will!") to the fallen prodigal ("I swear to you I don't know him!"). And thankfully, Peter must have remembered the outrageous mercy of the Father, no matter what.

Peter saw how Jesus fulfilled the words of Isaiah’s prophecy:

A bruised reed he will not break, and a smoldering wick he will not snuff out, till he has brought justice through victory.” ~ The prophet Isaiah (Isaiah 42:1-4; Matthew 12:20).

Apparently, the victorious justice of Jesus is gentle, merciful, and restorative.

So, when Jesus and Peter looked at each other at the very moment of Peter’s greatest sin (Luke 22:61), Peter must have seen something in Jesus’ face that communicated hope along with disappointment, compassion as well as conviction. It was the look of love.

Like Peter, I want to approach the teaching of Jesus with a hermeneutic of coal fire faith, life-saving hope, and unconditional love.

The Bible itself tells us that the goal of all Bible teaching is love (1 Timothy 1:5); the only thing that counts is faith expressed through love (Galatians 5:6); loving others is how we love God (Matthew 18:5; 1 John 4), and what remains most important is always faith, hope, and love (1 Corinthians 13:13; Colossians 1:5; 1 Thessalonians 1:3; 5:8). Whenever there is the possibility of interpreting a Scripture passage either harshly or tenderly, to produce uncertain fear or confident faith, disheartening shame or uplifting hope, pious judgementalism or humble service, I hereby declare my bias: I will always choose the life-giving interpretation that inspires faith, hope, and love.

All this raises a question: Could this love-bias approach to the Bible lead to selective Scripture reading? In other words, could we end up preferring those passages that align with and affirm the "God is love" theme that Jesus manifests in his life and death, while diminishing our emphasis on other passages that do not fit with our focus on God's love? Could we end up interpreting all violent, wrathful, and judgement oriented passages in submission to those passages that emphasize compassion, forgiveness, and acceptance? Could a confirmation bias seep into our Bible study process? The answer is: YES. Everyone has a hermeneutical bias, that is, a bias in how they interpret Scripture. Should not ours be love? In fact, in light of verses like John 1:18 and 1 John 3:16, Jesus (God's ultimate manifestation of his love) should be our intentional God-given filter when reading the Bible, since Jesus is the Word of God.

Jesus himself read and quoted Scripture selectively to highlight God's grace over judgement, as he did in his synagogue sermon in Luke 4:16-21, where he quotes selectively from Isaiah 61:1-2. Compare the two passages and notice the bit Jesus leaves out.

Not that we should ignore or devalue any part of the Bible, but we do defiantly refuse to give equal weight to all directives. As New Covenant believers, we prioritize the New Covenant over the Old Covenant, love over law, teachings on grace, mercy, and peace over teachings on wrath, judgement, and condemnation, and we unashamedly give more weight to the teachings of Jesus over, well, everything else.

In the Jesus band, love sings lead and every other idea plays backup.

If our study of Scripture isn't making us more aligned with the fruit of the Spirit (Galatians 5:22-23) and the look of love (1 Corinthians 13:1-7), we are doing it wrong. May our Scripture study and spiritual conversations always lead to life, freedom, and the beauty of coal fire fellowship.

“Whoever, then, thinks that he understands the Holy Scriptures, or any part of them, but puts such an interpretation upon them as does not tend to build up this twofold love of God and our neighbor, does not yet understand them as he ought.” ~ Saint Augustine (On Christian Doctrine)

CONCLUSION (One last thought):

When Moses spent extended time in God's presence, his face shone with the glory of God (Exodus 34). Later, Moses started wearing a kind of burqa, a veil over his head to cover his face. Why? Some think he was being gracious to his kinsmen, trying not to freak them out with his new shininess. He didn't want them to become fixated on his cool new shiny face because even that glory was part of a temporary covenant that would eventually fade away. Maybe. But the apostle Paul suggested that Moses was also aware that over time the shining glory of his face was fading and he didn't want people to wonder, worry, or judge him. The veil hid God's overwhelming glory - the original modesty cloth - but it also hid the ending and eventual absence of God's glory - the original happy clappy church mask hiding what's really going on underneath.

We are not like Moses, who would put a veil over his face to prevent the Israelites from seeing the end of what was passing away. ~ The apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 3:13)

Moses couldn't retain God's radiant glory indefinitely. He was blessed by God for an extraordinary purpose, but in the end, he was an ordinary man. And like Moses, we all have a hard time retaining God's glory (Romans 3:23-24). And like Moses, most of us try to hide our our true selves.

But a few verses later, the apostle Paul makes a powerful statement:

And we all, who with unveiled faces contemplate the Lord’s glory, are being transformed into his image with ever-increasing glory, which comes from the Lord, who is the Spirit. ~ The apostle Paul (2 Corinthians 3:18)

May our worship and our fellowship be with unveiled faces. Then the Holy Spirit is most welcome to move in us and among us and increase God's glory through us.

Coal fire fellowship is unveiled. Coal fire fellowship is courageously honest while being deeply humble (Matthew 7:1-5). Coal fire fellowship makes room for the transparent confession of sin where the only response is prayer not punishment (James 5:16). Coal fire fellowship happens when we all show up to be stewards of God’s grace to one another (1 Peter 4:10). Coal fire fellowship is where we hear one another say, “It is the Lord!” and we awaken to the presence of Jesus.

Have you failed horribly, hurt others, and harmed yourself? Jesus welcomes you home. There is a party waiting for you. Are you tempted to act as judge and jury over those who fail? Jesus welcomes you home too. But you will have to get used to partying alongside sinners.

CONTEMPLATE (Scripture passages that relate to and deepen our understanding of this topic):

John 13:34-35; 17:20-23; Romans 13:8-10; 1 Corinthians 13; Hebrews 10:25; James 5:16; 1 Peter 4:8-10; 1 John 3:14-16; 4:1-21

CONVERSATION (Talk together, learn together, grow together):

  1. What is God revealing to you about himself through this passage?

  2. What is God showing you about yourself through this passage?

  3. How have you experienced real coal fire fellowship, totally honest and accepting friendship, in your life? Talk about its impact.

  4. What is one thing you can think, believe, or do differently in light of what you are learning?

  5. What questions are you still processing about this topic?

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7 Yorum

Thank You


Beautiful. Challenging.

Full of grace!

Thank you! - Dave Weber


Vlad Paserin
Vlad Paserin
27 Oca 2023

Let’s turn the upcoming Solemn Assembly at TMH into a Coal fire fellowship.


I want to be part of a Coal fire fellowship! This speaks to my soul.


21 Oca 2023

This deeply tenders my heart as I resonate with Peter. It reminds me of an old song we used to sing...

"Trembling we had hoped for mercy, some lone place within His door

But the crown, the robe, the mansion all were ready long before."

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