53 They took Jesus to the high priest, and all the chief priests, elders and teachers of the law came together. 54 Peter followed him at a distance, right into the courtyard of the high priest. There he sat with the guards and warmed himself at the fire. 55 The chief priests and the whole Sanhedrin were looking for evidence against Jesus so that they could put him to death, but they did not find any. 56 Many testified falsely against him, but their statements did not agree. 57 Then some stood up and gave this false testimony against him: 58 "We heard him say, 'I will destroy this man-made temple and in three days will build another, not made by man.' " 59 Yet even then their testimony did not agree. 60 Then the high priest stood up before them and asked Jesus,"Are you not going to answer? What is this testimony that these men are bringing against you?" 61 But Jesus remained silent and gave no answer. Again the high priest asked him, "Are you the Christ, the Son of the Blessed One?" 62 "I am," said Jesus. "And you will see the Son of Man sitting at the right hand of the Mighty One and coming on the clouds of heaven." 63 The high priest tore his clothes. "Why do we need any more witnesses?" he asked. 64 "You have heard the blasphemy. What do you think?" They all condemned him as worthy of death. 65 Then some began to spit at him; they blindfolded him, struck him with their fists, and said, "Prophesy!" And the guards took him and beat him.
66 While Peter was below in the courtyard, one of the servant girls of the high priest came by. 67 When she saw Peter warming himself, she looked closely at him. "You also were with that Nazarene, Jesus," she said. 68 But he denied it. "I don't know or understand what you're talking about," he said, and went out into the entryway. 69 When the servant girl saw him there, she said again to those standing around, "This fellow is one of them." 70 Again he denied it. After a little while, those standing near said to Peter, "Surely you are one of them, for you are a Galilean." 71 He began to call down curses on himself, and he swore to them, "I don't know this man you're talking about." 72 Immediately the rooster crowed the second time. Then Peter remembered the word Jesus had spoken to him: "Before the rooster crows twice you will disown me three times." And he broke down and wept.
Sunday we continued our journey with Jesus through the last 24 hours of his life. So far we have walked with Jesus about halfway through his last day. We picked up on Thursday afternoon (all times are roughly estimated):
Jesus sends disciples into Jerusalem to find and prepare place to eat Passover meal
Jesus washes disciples feet, then they eat the Passover meal, remembering Exodus (especially Exodus 12). Jesus presents himself as the Passover Lamb whose blood will break the bonds of slavery to sin and death. Jesus also predicts his betrayal by one of the Twelve.
Jesus leaves upper room to walk through Kidron Valley to the Mount of Olives (Garden of Gethsemane). There he prays in anguish for the “cup of suffering” to pass from him.
Judas arrives in the Garden with a band of Temple guards to arrest Jesus and betrays him with a kiss.
Friday, through the early morning
The Sanhedrin gathers at Caiaphas’ house. They try to build their case against Jesus. He is questioned and their determination to have him executed is strengthened. Peter follows “at a distance,” and denies Jesus three times before the rooster crowed.
The Sanhedrin take Jesus to Pilate (for they have no authority to carry out the death penalty). (This is where we will pick up this Sunday).
This past Sunday, we focused mainly on Peter.
We remember Peter mostly for his failures. He’s notorious for his impetuousness, taking his eyes off Jesus when he was walking on water and starting to sink. He also once tried to correct Jesus prompting Jesus’ scathing response, “Get thee behind me, Satan.” And, most infamously, Peter’s biggest failure was denying Jesus three times on the last night of his life.
I’d just like to point out one thing in defense of Peter on this night: At least he’s there! The rest of them aren’t. Well, maybe John was, but nobody else. The others are running scared. Only Peter pulled out his sword and started to defend Jesus in the garden. Only Peter followed Jesus as the soldiers carried him away to Caiaphas’ house.
Still, when the rubber meets the road, Peter buckles. Standing around in the chief priest’s courtyard warming himself by the fire, Peter lost his nerve...three times...and denied that he even knew who Jesus was.
When the rooster crowed for the second time that morning, Peter was distraught. The weight of what he had just done came crashing down on him. He had failed his Lord.
I would imagine that we all know the feeling. We’ve all failed and denied Jesus, if not in word, certainly in deed.
If that describes you, there is hope in this episode from Peter’s life.
First of all, all four gospels tell us that Peter’s denial took place in close proximity to a fire. But, the Gospel of John, alone, tells us what kind of fire. It was a “charcoal fire” or a “fire of burning coals.”
That may sound sort of insignificant to you, until you know that the Greek word that John used here for fire was very uncommon in the New Testament. The most common word for fire in the New Testament was the Greek word, pur (pronounced “poor” and from which we get our words pyro-technics and pyro-maniac). But, that’s not the word John uses. Instead he uses another word, anqrakia. It means a heap of burning coals or charcoal fire. It’s only used one other time in the entire New Testament.
The other instance is also in the Gospel of John (21:9). The setting is post-Resurrection, when Jesus gathers around an anqrakia (charcoal fire) with his disciples and three times he asks Peter, “Peter, do you love me?”
Three times, Peter responds, “Yes, you know I love you.” Jesus asks him once for every time he denied him around a fire just like that one.
What does this mean? Jesus still loves him. Jesus restores him, gives him this chance to be redeemed. And John’s use of anqrakia is a clue that this is what Jesus is doing.
There is at least one other hopeful truth to be found in this passage, but let me introduce it by first asking a couple of questions: How do we know this story? How could all four Gospels tell it, even though nobody was around?
In his book, 24 Hours That Changed The World, Adam Hamilton suggests that it was such a well-known story because Peter frequently told it. Maybe it was a part of his preaching and testimony. Maybe he’d say something like this: “You might think you’ve messed up and really blown things in life, but I have to tell you, I have too. Let me tell you how bad I blew it. I denied that I even knew Jesus in a time when he needed me the most. But, you know what he did? He took me back. He forgave me. He let me declare my love to him three times around a fire on the beach, and he told me I was going to do great things for him, that I was going to preach his message around the world…”
Whether Peter said those things, we can’t be sure, but one thing we can be certain of: God can use our biggest failures in life and, if we let him, he will redeem them.
Warming myself by a fire,